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What Makes A Good Cult, And Why GORUCK Knows Something Other Companies Don't

Jason McCarthy describes GORUCK Selection as “a 24 hour endurance event, followed by another 24 hours”.

And folks at GORUCK seem to know something other companies don’t – how to keep thousands of people engaged, how to create a community, and how to market events effectively, without coming across as sleazy.

I am in the GRT community, as I am in many communities, toes in, toes out. Few challenges done, few patches earned. Yet, once a year, I am once again pulled to the closest screen, watching some poor sucker suffer for hours.

Forty eight hours later (provided the class does not go black) the next GORUCK Miss Universe is crowned for the year, showered in social media attention, and peppered with stupid (yes, there are stupid questions) questions.

What kind of training did you do? What was your mileage? Did you go keto? And, of course, the one question so ubiquitous and cliche, it became something of a meme in the GRT community – what boots did you wear?

Stony shakes his head. “They just don’t get it”.

Alex adds: “I like when peeps ask for advice, but then shoot down everything I have to say. Ok… I guess I’ll see you next year with a patch”.

Ok, tangent.

Who do you think has a bigger chance of finishing Selection? Someone mentally healthy and well adjusted? Or a truly disturbed motherfucker? (Bonus question – are these mutually exclusive?).

I would argue in favour of chill and easy going over dark and tortured.

Your own baggage, luggage, damage will only take you so far. Self-loathing is a good starter fuel, but rarely works well for endurance. Having the pleasure of knowing multiple Selection finishers, I can attest that they are a pretty damn even keeled bunch.

And… we are back.

GORUCK’s approach to Selection coverage checks off all the requirements for any good cult – mystery, scarcity and sense of belonging.


Stay mysterious. Keep the element of drama, of surprise, of the unexpected.

We never quite know if there will be another GORUCK Selection. This may be intentional, this may be not intentional. The uncertainty keeps us on our toes. THIS one may be the last one.

Selection coverage has always been shrouded with a cloud of secrecy. Candidates are not listed anywhere until their photos start popping up after the start of the event, and even then, they are only referred to by numbers – leaving friends and family frantically messaging each other, figuring out who is who.

An occasional update from cadre sends virtual spectators into a flurry of panic – “049 quit”, “013 was performance dropped”. Omg, is that John? What number is Susan again? The community is left to their own devices to deduce whether their buddy, brother, sister are the ones in question.

Information is shared in piecemeal fashion, which creates a sense of urgency. This is instrumental conditioning at its best – intermittent reward schedule has always created the most stable behavioural patterns. If updates were posted every hour on the hour, engagement would drop. Instead, like Skinner’s pigeons, we keep poking at the damn buttons, hoping for another morsel of information.


Want people to want more? Create scarcity. Real or perceived – does not matter.

With Selection, it’s never enough. Not enough information about the event itself, about the training required, about the boots to wear.

All GORUCK events go on sale, and Selection doubles in price (true story). Why? Fuck you, that’s why.

Notice the coy, almost resistant attitude Goruck manages to keep up when it comes to Selection. We really kind of hate it, but if you guys insist.

Doesn’t it just make you want it more?

There is a distinct “shut up and take my money” attitude in the GRT community. Just GIVE IT TO ME! New ruck? Yes! Shirt? Yes, please! Weight plates? Getting my credit card out now.

It’s as if folks at GORUCK are not even that interested in your money. Which, of course, makes it that much more appealing.

The brilliant marketing strategy deployed this year at the last minute (although probably not conceived at the last minute) should not go unnoticed: Oh, you want Selection coverage? Sign up for enough events, and THEN we will give you Selection coverage. Otherwise, nothing. Because, you see, WE don’t care. Insert eyelash batting here.

Blackmailing at its best.

What? A specific task given to a group of people to achieve together in exchange for something they want?

Pffft. You bet your GR1, there were enough sign-ups to warrant full coverage. GRTs locked arms and got it done.

Shut up and take my money.


Group membership makes people emotionally invested.

You complete a challenge, you get a patch, and become part of the GRT tribe.

In Selection, the whole tribe eventually bands together to support ONE person. Imagine this – thousands of people spend 48 hours glued to their screens – some pulling all nighters, some taking time off work. Because knowing what is happening LIVE is just that important. We are not talking national election, we are talking a guy walking around with a backpack.

And, as Stony observes dryly: “The live feed has a bizarre effect of making people think they can do it”.

The one beef that GRTs had with the coverage this year is that it was publicly available – streamed directly from the Goruck FB page. And, public access violates one of the basic tenets of any cult – exclusivity. If everyone belongs, then nobody belongs. Some criteria for membership are necessary.

OCRWC quickly became a favourite in OCR, largely because it was the first event to be exclusive. You can’t JUST enter. You have to “qualify”. It’s “us” vs. “them”. “They” are outsiders, and “they” don’t understand.

Of course, the path to growing any business is to convert more and more “them” into “us”. And for that, public exposure is necessary. Out of every hundred random folks who watch Selection coverage, ten would get that weird tickling sensation in the gut.

“What is this?” “I hate this”. “I am curious about this”. “This is stupid”.

Before you know it, you are signing up for a Challenge in your city. Voila. You are on your way to becoming one of “us”. Another year, and you’ll be griping about the Selection coverage being publicly available.

From the business perspective, I see few logical next steps when it comes to upcoming Selection events: premium membership and betting.

1 – Premium membership for access to event coverage.

Pay $25, and you’ll get wall to wall Selection coverage. A certain percentage of all sales goes to GORUCK’s favourite charity (like Stop the Bleeding Foundation – an organization that provides realistic medical training for first responders).

2 – Betting on your “horse” before the event kicks off.

If you are rooting for a buddy, you can support them by betting on them. Gambling?! Yep, one of the oldest forms of entertainment in the world. It’s like betting on your favorite gladiator. Complete with blood, sweat, and maybe, even brown pee.

There is already a multitude of social betting apps available (“yep, there is an app for that”), making it possible to bet on anything from tomorrow’s weather to upcoming Oscar nominations – why not Selection finishers? If your horse wins, you get a ruck, and the remainder of money is donated to charity.

TL;DR While Spartan and Tough Mudder are partnering with Facebook Live, and are making up yet more ways to end up in front of racers’ eyeballs, ranging from reasonable to desperate, GORUCK goes ahead and puts out an event with wall to wall coverage with nothing but few weirdos with cell phones.

Hat off to you, GORUCK. I think I might register for another Challenge next year. [SEE???]

Hugs, SOLO

Liked this post? Check out more of my writing:

  • my friend Stony

  • GR1 review

  • Toronto GORUCK Challenge 2012

  • Toronto GORUCK Challenge 2013

  • Book recommendations from GRTs for GRTs


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