This is Part 4 of a BuzzFeed News investigation.
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Tony Robbins punishes followers who fail at his self-help tasks by calling them onstage in front of large crowds and making them drink an unidentified mixture “designed to have a lasting effect for several hours.”
Video and internal documents reviewed by BuzzFeed News reveal that Robbins places “L” stickers on audience members’ foreheads and then, while the song “Loser” by Beck plays over the speakers, forces them to down a “gross shot” whose contents he does not disclose to them.
The practice is part of a pattern in which the embattled self-help superstar urges his followers to ingest potions while on their quest to “live a healthier, wealthier, more fulfilling, passionate and purposeful life.”
One former staffer told BuzzFeed News that audience members are deliberately led to believe that the “nasty” mixture contains laxatives. "I always felt that this was highly inappropriate and falls into the category of public shaming, which is common for Robbins," he said.
Two more former insiders said they had also witnessed fans being given drinks at other Robbins events, which they were told would have health benefits but made many people sick.
“Participants were throwing up all over the place, in public restrooms, hotel rooms,” said Gary King, Robbins’ former director of security.
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Robbins’ lawyers denied that the “gross shot” contained laxatives –– only “pickle juice, apple juice, lemon juice, tomato juice and a dash of tabasco” — and insisted that no “formal report or complaint was ever made” about the drink.
The new accusations have emerged after BuzzFeed News revealed in May that Robbins has berated abuse victims and subjected his followers to unorthodox and potentially dangerous techniques, while some former female fans and staffers have accused him of sexual misconduct.
Robbins has vehemently denied all the allegations and accused BuzzFeed News of “flat-out lying.” The self-help superstar claims to have helped millions of fans overcome their darkest difficulties, while building a multibillion-dollar business and working with celebrities including Oprah, Serena Williams, the Kardashians, Donald Trump, and Bill Clinton.
In response to questions, Robbins’ lawyers presented BuzzFeed News with nearly two dozen glowing statements from employees attesting to his character. One current staffer said that no laxatives were used in the “gross shots,” which “usually” consisted of safe ingredients that the venue had to hand, such as pickle juice and tabasco. She added that Robbins uses the shot as a “reminder” to followers to implement the “fundamental business tools” he teaches at the seminar.
But others told BuzzFeed News that “losers” at Robbins’ events were led to believe they were being fed laxatives as a punishment.
One former follower said she attended a Robbins event in Florida in 2016 at which audience members were split into teams competing to “provide the most value” to the rest of the room. Rose, who asked BuzzFeed News not to use her full name, said Robbins ordered the losers to come up onstage in front of the rest of the crowd. The song “Loser” by Beck played on the speaker, and the letter “L” was placed on each team member’s forehead, she said.
Robbins told them it was time for the losing team to take their drink, she recalled. He handed them a plaque of the famous “Thinker” statue, and told them to drink the shot, which Rose believed contained laxatives. She felt that Robbins was bullying them.
“A lot of people are there because they’re really struggling. I really feel like he preys on the vulnerable, and he preys on the vulnerable’s checkbooks,” she said.
An internal planning document for a Robbins “Business Mastery” event in January 2019, obtained by BuzzFeed News, described how those who failed at a key task would be given an “L-sticker” and a “gross shot” to drink, while the winners would be presented with a trophy. Followers paid around $10,000 to attend the five-day event in Palm Beach, where Robbins promised to help them “achieve an extraordinary level of both professional and personal fulfillment.”
A video clip of the exercise, reviewed by BuzzFeed News during a meeting with Robbins’ lawyers, showed the guru berate two followers who had failed at a task for being the “worst team in existence.” As they stood onstage, Robbins ordered the crowd to give them “the official signal” and made the hand gesture for “loser” across his forehead. The video shows “L” stickers being placed on their foreheads, and they were handed a shot of brown liquid and told to drink it.
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“These are special shots that are designed to have a lasting effect for several hours,” Robbins boomed into the microphone. “They will remind you what happens when you don’t step up.”
Gary King — who worked for Robbins for 25 years, including as his director of security — said that even outside of competitive events, audience members were often pressured into drinking supplements and juices that were intended to have health benefits but sometimes made people sick.
Glen Lechtanski, who was a registered emergency nurse during more than a decade spent volunteering for Robbins, including as director of medical operations for his live events, said he too had witnessed participants getting sick after being pressured into drinking “health” shots.
Robbins’ lawyers did not respond to a question about the allegations that participants were fed health shots that made them sick. They have previously said both Lechtanski and King were “disgruntled” and unreliable. The lawyers gathered statements from several employees dismissing King’s claims, saying that his concerns were “unfounded” and accusing him of speaking out to get “recognition” and “further his own agenda.”
Robbins treats the losing team at his “Business Mastery” events with kindness, his lawyers said, referring to them as the “Learning Team.” He ends the events with a note of “encouragement” for everybody: “I salute you, my brothers and sisters on the path. No matter what happens in the short term, if you will commit to the long term of adding value, you’ll be one of the few who do versus the many who talk.”