Power line technician Cyril “Zeus” Ontai III blasts into the CBS reality show Tough as Nails, proving he’s got both the name and game to do extraordinary things.
Being named after a deity might seem a bit presumptuous, but local boy Cyril “Zeus” Ontai III more than lives up to the moniker.
His work as a power line technician with Hawaiian Electric earned him the nickname after the Greek god who wields a thunderbolt, and the dedication he shows to his craft and his community landed him a spot on the CBS reality competition show Tough as Nails, which highlights individuals from across the nation who do difficult and often dangerous work.
“I watched season one, and there were no linemen on the show, there was no one representing the trade I’m currently in,” he recalls.
His position as a lineman requires Ontai to work on high-voltage power lines, often when conditions are not ideal.
“When there’s a power outage, we’re the ones who go out and get the power back on,” he says.
That means going up in bucket trucks and climbing utility poles in rough weather like heavy rain and high winds.
“It doesn’t matter what it’s like outside, rain or storm, we’re out there,” says Ontai, who’s been a lineman for about nine years now.
So, after seeing an audition call for the second season of Tough as Nails, Ontai applied online and within a week got a reply to set up an interview video call. The powers that be must have been impressed because Ontai made the cut and flew to Los Angeles to continue the audition process.
When season two kicked off in February, viewers were introduced to Ontai and the 11 other competitors vying for a chance to win $200,000 and a new Ford F-150 truck. But, unlike other reality shows that thrive on the drama of elimination, Tough as Nails makes its mark by touting the importance of teamwork. In this environment, Ontai shines, showing viewers around the nation what the aloha spirit is all about.
During episode four’s individual challenge, for example, Ontai and the rest of the Tough as Nails cast were tasked with herding sheep into pens. Hilarity (and a bit of frustration) ensued as each person was seen running around yelling and chasing sheep across the field. To say it wasn’t working would be an understatement. Ontai was quick to take a step back and came up with a game plan to benefit everyone. Though technically an individual competition, the Kapolei High graduate realized that everyone needed to work together and stay calm, the latter of which he’s especially well-versed with as a lineman for HECO.
Ontai took the lead, lowering his voice to a calm timbre, and encouraged everyone to make a human wall to guide the sheep — and it worked.
“I got to represent Hawai‘i and represent linemen,” he says.
While each competitor was jockeying for the top individual prize, it’s not surprising that the team challenges were Ontai’s favorite part of the whole show. An avid athlete in high school, he was a standout strong safety/running back on the Hurricane football team, and his performance on the field earned him a scholarship to the U.S. Naval Academy. Working as part of a team is second nature for the Wai‘anae native.
From window-washing high-rises and bulldozing tires to transitioning the Los Angeles FC stadium from a concert venue to soccer field, Tough as Nails team challenges run the gamut and test a variety of skill sets. The fortitude it takes to accomplish big tasks like those means collaboration is required at every turn.
“Every team challenge was an opportunity for us to showcase what we can do,” he says. “If you watch from the first challenge up until now, you can see how we grew as a team, and everyone kind of found a role in every challenge.”
But, Ontai even shone in the individual competitions, winning the top spot on episode seven after picking a hundred pounds of oranges and separating the produce into 25-pound boxes based on size. It was part brute strength, part tedious, and Ontai powered through with resilience and the win.
“What drove me when I was on the show was that I was representing Hawai‘i, and I needed to make it count,” he says.
Filming has wrapped for Tough as Nails season two, but that doesn’t mean Ontai is any less busy. In fact, his future is looking pretty bright and filled with those who light up his life. Upon returning home, he’s been spending a lot of time with wife Meghan, son Jax, 4, and daughter Aiko, 3, all of whom couldn’t be with him while he was on set in California. He also accepted a promotion to be a linemen trainer with HECO.
“My wife, Meghan, is happy about that. I won’t have to do anything dangerous anymore,” he says, with a hint of a smile in his voice.
Tune in to Tough as Nails Wednesdays on CBS to see if Ontai gets the job done.
Cyril “Zeus” Ontai III — one of the top competitors on the CBS show Tough as Nails — has one of the most dangerous jobs in the U.S. As a power line technician with Hawaiian Electric, he’s out climbing utility poles, making sure individuals on O‘ahu have power in their homes and businesses. And while he’s good at what he does, his ingress into the trade was never prominent in his after-high school plans. After graduating from Kapolei High School in 2009, Ontai went on to the U.S. Naval Academy, but left after his sophomore year to continue his schooling closer to home. He enrolled at Leeward Community College to finish his degree, but his dad’s encouragement led him down a different path. “I was always a schoolboy,” Ontai jokes. His dad, Cyril Ontai Jr., was a lineman with Hawaiian Electric and encouraged his son to apply for line work. “I ended up really liking it and seeing what the trade has to offer,” Ontai shares.