Preparing for a Challenge season premiere episode is like preparing for a dinner at your favorite, upscale restaurant. You know you will love the atmosphere. You know your food is going to be delicious. You know that your favorite server (the great T.J. Lavin) will take care of you tonight. You have definitive and reliable dishes on the menu that you anticipate ordering, but there is a chance that one of the nightly specials will entice you and may even propel your meal to a place you did not know it was going. There was one time you ordered the special and it caused grave indigestion (CT and Adam’s bloody fight on The Duel II comes to mind), but most of the time, the special is what makes a successful restaurant experience fully realized.
This week’s special dish on The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons season premiere was unexpected and very delicious. As explained in my preseason rankings blog, Challenge format is explained by master server T. J. Lavin (he particularly killed it this week) to the audience and cast on the first day. We knew that Real World seasons would be battling, but the how and subsequently the what and why of the game had yet to be revealed.
What is this season premiere’s special dish? Yes, there are eight teams of four (as expected, Team Fresh Meat was a huge surprise addition, didn’t see that coming) who are competing for a $250,000 prize (You have to hand it to MTV producers for always finding the most astonished crowd shots when the money amount is revealed. Devyn (no joke) thought about how many shoes she could buy). They will compete in a series of challenges. The winning team of each challenge becomes the power team. The team that came in last place in a challenge will automatically be sent in to the arena, a mystical Turkish gladiator competition sand pit where your Challenge fate is sealed. The power team chooses the other team that will face the losing team in the arena. Does it all make sense so far? At this point, the format closely resembles last season’s Battle of the Exes. So, what is the special tonight? As T.J. said, “Now there’s a twist.” Only two of four team members (a guy and a girl) compete in each arena battle and individual teams decide who from their team they will send in. If they cannot reach a consensus, the power team steps in and decides. The losing two competitors in each arena duel, are immediately sent home, leaving the two non-arena team members to fend as a pair.
So what happened in the competition parts week 1? Quick summary of the episode: T.J. killed it. The Turkey villa is “easily the best Challenge house ever” according to Danny. Eric couldn’t physically do the “Don’t Cross Me/climbing a rope ladder/balance cross” challenge and disqualified his team. Lacey and Preston got credit for unexpectedly finishing (i.e. no one believed they could). Team Cancun narrowly beat out Team Las Vegas (but according to T.J., both teams “killed it”) to win the first challenge. In a vindictive move, Team Cancun, the first power team, sent in Team Austin into the arena, pinning Austin (Wes and Lacey) vs. Fresh Meat (Eric and Cara Maria). It was a strength competition called “Hall Brawl” to see could run the other person over in a thin, glass tunnel. Cara Maria destroyed Lacey (no surprise) and Eric ran through (first leg) and over Wes (literally). Wes and Lacey were eliminated, leaving real-life exes Danny and Melinda to fend alone as Team Austin.
Now, how does this new game format grossly influence the weekly power rankings? Teams can now be looked at in a very different light. Instead of relying on the strength (or potential weaknesses) of all members, dead weight can be eliminated and the best male/female pair of a team could take it all the way to the end. Great players stuck with horrible players on their team of four now have a viable way out. To account for these differences in format, the rankings will now feature four categories: men, women, full teams, and the top ten potential(or actualized) pairs. This just got real.
WEEKLY CHALLENGE POWER RANKINGS
NOTE: the rankings will be based on an un-Hollinger/sabermetrics method known as “My experience and observations” (See: Marc Steins great NBA weekly power rankings column starting sometime next month). Weight will be given to how well teams and individuals do on competitions, in the social game, and whether he or she is a “good competitor.”
1. Alton (Team Las Vegas) – Last week: 1 of 16
2. Dustin (Team Las Vegas) – Last week: 3 of 16
It was a relatively quiet first week for the Challenge MJ 2.0, but do not be fooled, his supremacy is real. Apparently since we last saw Alton, he has only gotten better. Alton explains it best: “Actually I feel like I am in the best shape of my life. I climb stronger, skate harder, surf bigger waves. Last time I was here, I was like, ok I was Alton. Right now, I feel like Alton 2.0.” Watch out competition. Alton and Dustin had a phenomenal guy only team meeting early in the episode where they assessed their team and shared intel. It was like Jordan and Kobe getting together to share insight into whether Ron Harper and Robert Horry were any good. This connection and bonding between Alton/Dustin (Mr. Zito clearly had much respect) makes this the definitive male duo to beat. Team Las Vegas barely missed out on power team placement (no surprise there) and I predict will win many a challenge in the coming weeks. Also, did you see Jasmine’s fawning over Alton’s workout regimen and adonis abdomen? Unless he faces Big Easy’s heavy bull stampede in an arena, who is going to beat him?
3. CJ (Team Cancun) – Last week: 4 of 16
One of the surprise showings of episode 1, C.J. was instrumental in setting up Wes’ departure. The revengeful ex-NFL hopeful brought it in the challenge and seems primed to play a more strategic game than in his past challenge.
4. Zach (Team San Diego) – Last week: 6 of 16
Zach and his dashing good looks were all over the place in episode I. We learned that he and Ashley are no more (could be tough on team chemistry), he and Frank apparently get along so well now that casual lip kissing and collaborative pink speedo wearing happens, and his budding romance with Jonna of Team Cancun could have both gameplay and sexual benefits. He also single-handedly (more like full-bodily, we saw the sweat) prevented Crazy Drunk Frank from being sent home during one of those really scary, really uncomfortable Frank blowouts. Real World: San Diego Zach may have been pissed at his hairy (and in awesome shape, way to go Frank) teammate, but Challenge Zach was cool (like an autumn breeze) under pressure.
5. Chet (Team Brooklyn) – Last week: 8 of 16
I really like Chet. Last week I mentioned that Chet “gets along with the right important people, seems to be a really nice dude, has a great female teammate in Sarah,” but this week Chet showed a different side to his awesome self that I didn’t know he even had: master strategist. His realization convo with Sarah that the dead weight on Team Brooklyn (my analysis of Devyn seemed to be pitch perfect, thank you very much) does not have to bring down his potential lethal pairing with newly blonde Sarah who is, after five challenges, even hungrier for her first win. Chet said to Sarah, “If you and I go (to the finals), we are a team. We just need to focus on us.” Look for Devyn and J.D. to find themselves in the arena together sometime soon. Also, props to Chet for the line of the episode: “To be quite honest, most of the people here are total idiots.”
6. Derek (Team Cancun) – Last week: 10 of 16
Derek continued to impress and is very much a vital member of what looks like the most functional foursome team of this season. His strong individual relationships with C.J., Jonna, and Jasmine were a major underestimation of my preseason rankings.
7. Brandon (Team Fresh Meat) – Last week: 5 of 16
His team d-qued and lost the challenge all because of Eric, but if he had gone into the arena against Wes, I don’t think he would have been able to destroy him as Eric did. I think Brandon can be a great supporting player, but I am just not sure yet if he has leading man potential.
8. Trey (Team St. Thomas) – Last week: 12 of 16
I should have known from his awkwardly possessive existence in St. Thomas (see: whenever Laura was in the same room as another guy) that Trey is someone who needs control of his world. I also should have known that when Trey is competitive he is at his best (when Trey is on an island with six roommates he is at his worst I guess?). Competitive Trey is alive in well in Turkey. His gaming led him to a short-lived alliance with Wes and drew the suspicion of the powered Cancun squad. Although C.J.’s vitriol for Wes may have saved St. Thomas’ rookie sacrificial destiny for a week, clearly Trey came to The Challenge to win.
9. Danny (Team Austin) – Last week: 15 of 16
Danny made this week’s biggest male jump in these polls largely by surviving the first elimination. Admittedly, he seems to be the best version of himself (the guy I really connected to in Real World: Austin) again and has a “Challenge stalwart Brad really deserves this win more than anyone” vibe going from a few seasons ago. Brad’s team did win and it wouldn’t be crazzzzzzzy if the same thing happened here. Notwithstanding, he is only alive in the game because Wes went into the arena and now must play the rest of The Challenge with his ex-wife as his only teammate. Tough.
10. Eric (Team Fresh Meat) – Last week: 7 of 16
I got to give Big Easy some credit. I am not sure it was possible to have both the worst (he is just not made to climb rope ladders) and best (his bull run of Wes may have been almost as good as CT’s body slamming of Johnny Bananas) performance in a given week. His challenge showing had to drop him down a few slots and it is likely that there will be other events that he may not be able to complete in, but man, Easy, no one in this game (Alton 2.0?) can beat him in strength. More impressive, I thought he handled Cara Maria’s brief pre-arena anxiety meltdown with the an appropriate response (“Hey, I am trying to prepare mentally here…”). He is a smaller, leaner version of himself (70 pounds lighter) and after a major blunder in the challenge, maybe he will ride the arena momentum and continue to knock more opponents down. Only time will tell.
11. JD (Team Brooklyn) – Last week: 9 of 16
Take it away, Devyn: “J.D. is kind of creepy.” I am sorry, I am just not sure what to make of you yet, and now that Chet and Sarah can do their own thing, I am not sure how long you are for this game.
12. Robb (Team St. Thomas) – Last week: 13 of 16
It was a quiet first week for Robb with two “B’s.” He did what he had to do in the challenge and will continue to do so, wouldn’t let Crazy Drunk Frank get in his face, but he seems a little lost in the social/strategic shuffle. He definitely contrasted Trey’s “let’s kick it” game demeanor. Robb is a good man and I hope he comes out of Turkey with some of his sanity intact.
13. Knight (Team New Orleans) – Last week 11 of 16
If Knight can’t stay away from Jemmye drama (so far there is no evidence that he will ever be able to), his days are numbered.
14. Frank (Team San Diego) – Last week: 14 of 16
Jacoby did great work on Crazy Drunk Frank in his GRFL Column this week and said it better than I could ever hope to. My additional take is that until Frank can show me that he can control the crazy, he will be a MAJOR liability to a potentially sleeper team. Frank even lacks confidence in himself, “I have absolutely no filter, so I am not going to be great at stopping myself, ever.” C’mon Frank. Keep it together. You are a good man.
15. Preston (Team New Orleans) – Last week: 16 of 16
Knight, sarcastically, calls Preston “the most intimidating competitor” and “one of those people that he doesn’t like something, he quits on it.” To Preston’s credit, he completed the challenge after some initial difficulty. This is certainly admirable, but as Preston said in his first interview, “I am not good at anything. For me, my personal challenge is to keep my heart in it.” His supremely flawed and dysfunctional group will not make his journey any easier. His placement at the bottom is unrivaled.
ELIMINATED: Wes (Team Austin) – Last week: 2/16
Biggest Rise: Danny (Team Austin)
Biggest Fall: Eric (Team Fresh Meat)
1. Sarah (Team Brooklyn) – Last week: 2 of 16
2. Camila (Team Fresh Meat) – Last week: 1 of 16
Sarah’s flip with Camila may be a bit more about an inevitable fall for the Brazilian reigning champ after her team loss and brief pre-arena dysfunction than about anything that the savvy Challenge veteran did, but as mentioned before, her immediate recognition that she and Chet could dominate as two must not go unnoticed. Could this be her Olajuwon 1994/1995 seasons, filling the void left by Evelyn, Paula, and JEK world? Camila, on the other hand, was mostly relegated to the editing/producorial sidelines (I felt the absence of her Bananas’ Exes dynamic), but the competitor in her is alive in well – Big Easy and Cara Maria be warned: if you don’t pull your weight on Team Fresh Meat, Camila is not afraid to get out the grill and do some sauteeing.
3. Jonna (Team Cancun) – Last week: 4 of 16
Of all my accurate preseason rankings (and there were several fails), the Cancun girls may be my most successful. Jonna showed real Challenge promise on Rivals, but now seems primed to take it up to another level. Let’s review her acumen in episode 1: part of the winning power team, decided that she was into the best looking guy (although not my jam) in the house, had the unprecedented courtesy to break off her budding relationship with her GBH (guy back home) before she and Zach took a leap, was on the right side of Frank’s blowout (protecting Zach and understanding that Frank could be San Diego’s downfall), and continuing to compete for the most disparate name spelling/pronunciation in cast (Jemmye is her main competition). Jonna will go far in this game and now knowing that her Jasmine ties can be severed without her own demise, watch out other teams. Plus, she seems to believe that she “needs the money more than anyone else.” If this is true, in it to win it she is.
4. Cara Maria (Team Fresh Meat) – Last week: 3 of 16
Cara Maria’s Boston roots, her love of horses, her obvious sweetness, her unconventional but gorgeous good looks, and her always “just a little nervous about everything” affect have always endeared her to me. I thought the “Carley Johnson” under armor wear mix-up fit the narrative perfectly. As did her mini-meltdown pre-arena, her arena dominance over competition (poor Lacey), and her post win reconciliation interaction with Camila that came in the form of a boundary pushing dance. Cara Maria or Camila can only go as far as Big Easy can climb (tough), and Cara Maria may not have the ruthless competitiveness to beat out her female teammate. In the interim, I am grateful for her presence in my Battle of the Seasons experience.
5. Jasmine (Team Cancun) – Last week: 5 of 16
Besides one Jasmine “Are you talking to me”/pugnacious burst during the Frank melee, she kept her cool and seemed thrilled to be in the supportive/winning culture of Team San Diego. She even acknowledges her weaknesses now: “I have to prove that I can be cool, calm, and collected.” If she continues to play within her game, acknowledges and harnesses her weaknesses, and keeps away from Alton’s body, she is heading to the finals (her cigarette smoking stupidity may not match the Sahara dry heat too well, same goes for you Jonna, Alton, etc).
6. Sam (Team San Diego) – Last week: 6 of 16
I give Sam all the credit in the world for choosing to ride the Frank Tsunami out, especially his pointed and demeaning comment about her GBH (girl back home). Now that Zach-ley/Ash-ary is no more, she can be the female counterpart to Zach in Team Cancun (a winning place to be). I also really appreciated her visible support for other teams during the challenge. As much as Frank will rub the world the wrong way, she could rub the other teams the right way (although some last minute intel from an inside source may say the opposite).
7. Trishelle (Team Las Vegas) – Last week: 10 of 16
8. Nany (Team Las Vegas) – Last week: 12 of 16
Not much action from these two (a preview of a future Nany fight), but I will say this, they both seem more ready to compete than I expected. Trishelle (a professional poker player since we last saw her) is NOT Tonya 2.0 (a trajectory that had some potential a few years ago) and seems to be happy to be in a drama-less Team Las Vegas amalgamum with Alton MJ and Dustin Pippen. If Nany and Trishelle can be Ron Harper and Robert Horry, I feel pretty good about my preseason favorite to win the whole thing.
9. Laura (Team St. Thomas) – Last week: 8 of 16
10. Ashley (Team San Diego) – Last week: 7 of 16
It didn’t take Frank long to break out the “you never open up to us” diatribe to Ashley. We have seen this before (see almost every episode of Real World: San Diego), but what made this time different? Zach now sides with Frank, and, if Jonna and Zach continues to be a thing, Ashley will be on her own island of one.
11. Melinda (Team Austin) – Last week: 9 of 16
Goodbye, Lacey. Goodbye, Wes. Hello new life for Melinda? I know she dropped this week (losing a teammate like Wes will do that), but her “all-in” alliance with her ex-husband had an indescribable charm.
12. Marie (Team St. Thomas) – Last week: 13 of 16
Yep, you may want to think about getting along with Trey, Marie. Good call.
13. Jemmye (Team New Orleans) – Last week: 11 of 16
14. McKenzie (Team New Orleans) – Last week: 14 of 16
15. Devyn (Team Brooklyn) – Last week: 15 of 16
Jemmye seems to be a mess in Knight’s presence again, McKenzie likes to sunbath, and Devyn doesn’t work out. It is not a matter of how, but when with these three.
Lacey (Team Austin) – Last week: 16/16
Biggest Rise: Nany (Team Las Vegas)
Biggest Fall: Ashley (Team San Diego)
FULL TEAM RANKINGS
Note: Team rankings are compiled by adding up the individual rankings and dividing by number of players remaining. Teams with the lowest total average ranking are ranked better than the highest (i.e. you want as few points as possible)
1. TEAM CANCUN Average: 4.25, last week: 5.75 (2nd)
CJ (3), Jonna (3), Jasmine (5), Derek (6)
They won the challenge, eliminated Wes, Jasmine kept herself mostly grounded, and Jonna began a potentially fruitful alliance with Zach and Team San Diego. It was a incredible week for this mid-level contender. Jonna: “The four members of my team, we are like family.”
2. TEAM LAS VEGAS Average: 4.5, last week: 6.5 (3rd)
Alton (1), Dustin (2), Trishelle (7), Nany (8)
Alton and Dustin made a strong connection (very bad news for the field). Nany aptly recognized that as two different Real World seasons combined, there are “starting fresh” and this will have its advantages.
3. TEAM FRESH MEAT Average: 5.75, last week: 4 (1st)
Camila (2), Cara Maria (4), Brandon (7), Eric (10)
Team Fresh Meat is certainly a weird mix and Eric’s challenge liability is a real concern, but maybe their late addition to the show didn’t give them time to fully gel. We will get a better sense this week how this talented crew will fair long-term in this game.
4. TEAM BROOKLYN Average: 8, last week: 8.5 (5th)
Sarah (1), Chet (5), JD (11), Devyn (15)
Team Brooklyn is only successful as its weakest player. Therefore, saying goodbye to JD and Devyn is required for Sarah and Chet to go far.
5. TEAM SAN DIEGO Average: 8.5, last week: 8.25 (4th)
Zach (4), Sam (6), Ashley (10), Frank (14)
This season’s enigma team whose self-combustion (I am looking at you Frank) is a real concern. If they can keep it together, they have the athleticism to compete, but this is a BIG if.
6. TEAM AUSTIN Average: 10, last week: 10.5 (6th)
Melinda (11), Danny (9), Eliminated: Wes, Lacey
Danny and Melinda, now free of the shadow of Wes and his shady reputation, could stay below the radar for a little while. They must do well in challenges and stay out of the arena (thanks Admiral Obvious).
7. TEAM ST. THOMAS Average: 10.25, last week: 11.5 (7th)
Laura (9), Trey (8), Robb (12), Marie (12)
They got through week 1 without facing an elimination. I am not sure they will have the same luck in week 2 unless Trey can continue to work his strategy game to an advantage.
8. TEAM NEW ORLEANS Average: 13.75, last week: 13 (8th)
Knight (13), Jemmye (13), McKenzie (14), Preston (15)
I would not be surprised if the arena this week feature a pair from Team New Orleans
TOP 10 PAIR RANKINGS:
Based on this fail-safe system that I created, these are the best top ten pair combinations for this week. At this point, all are hypothetical (the only actually current pair were not close to the top), but you can definitely get a sense of what intra-team strategy may need to be employed.
T – 1 CJ and Jonna (Team Cancun) Average: 3, Sarah and Chet (Team Brooklyn) Average: 3
T – 3 CJ and Jasmine (Team Cancun) Average: 4, Alton and Trishelle (Team Las Vegas) Average: 4
T – 5 Alton and Nany (Team Las Vegas) Average: 4.5, Derek and Jonna (Team Cancun) Average: 4.5, Dustin and Trishelle (Team Las Vegas) Average: 4.5, Brandon and Camila (Team Fresh Meat) Average: 4.5
T – 8 Dustin and Nany (Team Las Vegas) Average: 5, Zach and Sam (Team San Diego) Average: 5
Finally, because you only get one “This season on…” per season, I thought it would be important to note the moments that stand out in this glorious 30 second trailer.
This is what I saw:
- J.D flying out of a plane (will he be Sarah’s final challenge partner?)
- Knight suggestively lying on Trishelle. Trishelle says, “It would be better if you were lying under the covers naked..”
- A kiss between Big Easy and Devyn (unexpected!)
- Kissing between Jonna and Zach and Ashley looking sad
- Frank ragging on Dustin for his porn career past. Nany comes to his defense. Dustin and Frank have an altercation.
- Zach getting in Alton’s face (bad move cowboy).
- “This place will drive you crazy,” says Jasmine. At least she knows.
- Robb with two “Bs” and Derek having a physical battle (very bizarre) and then Marie coming to his defense by attacking Derek. “I am not going to sit here and let you push my man.”
- “You are officially entering no-man’s land.” says T.J. Lavin in what looks like the Sahara Desert.
Until we all meet again, watch the next episode of The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons at 10 PM EST on Wednesday night on MTV when the battle continues!!!!