The title of this week’s episode of The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons was “The Perks of Being a Rookie.” In traditional Challenge seasons, the “perks of being a rookie” include early exits, empty wallets, and the experience of being targeted by veterans whose line between “unconscionable hazing” and “we’re just having a little fun” is as blurry as my vision every morning pre-contact insertion or the yesteryear brit pop band. I fondly remember Leroy and Mike’s adorable bromance taking them all the way to the final challenge on Rivals, but this rookie pair succeeded because Mike was a late game addition after insane Adam Royer fought his way off the show (he got booted) and because Mike and Leroy were the opposite of adversaries going into the season. Otherwise, it is Challenge tradition, practice, and expectation for rookies to be sent home early.
Going into Battle of the Seasons, we knew that the sheer number of rookies would be new terrain for the rookie one and done policy, but this week’s action-packed episode presented an entirely unexpected scenario: there are rookies who are legitimately running the show.
Let’s recap what happened with some good old-fashioned bullet points:
- We got to finally see the production heavy opening titles (held in episode 1 to create more Team Fresh Meat suspense). These openings are always goofy. I particularly liked the close-up of T.J. at the end. Nothing compares to the Duel II opening titles (you have to watch the behind the scenes video – high level unintentional comedy).
- We learned that Melinda has a GBH (Guy Back Home) and Danny has a LAH (Lady at Home). They both seemed genuinely happy. Based on the timing of this scene and the dramatic structure template that Challenge episodes follow, this does not bode well for the divorced couple to remain in the game much longer.
- This week’s challenge was called “Oil Change,” a wrestling match in a pit of olive oil. If you force your opponent out of the pit past the perimeter red line, you are out. The first team to win four matches is the new power team. The last team to win four matches is going into the arena. Also, as T.J. said, “You may not know this, one of Turkey’s national sports is wrestling.” No, I didn’t know. Hey T.J., you may not know this, but I don’t really care.
- Before the challenge, it is revealed that a purposeful alliance (start watching at :37, priceless) has formed among Teams San Diego, Cancun, Las Vegas, and New Orleans. Teams Brooklyn, Fresh Meat, and Austin didn’t have their stuff together and are only connected by default. Team St. Thomas is on their own island (some things don’t change). This reality becomes the central focus of the challenge when the coalition (led by C.J. and Frank) discovered that by keeping the wrestling matches insular among their alliance teams, they would freeze out the other teams and ensure one of Teams San Diego, Cancun, Las Vegas, or New Orleans the victory. This was executed (with minor setbacks) to a tee. Many matches were immediately tapped out in obnoxious theatrical displays (T.J.‘s response: a disdainful “Jesus Christ”). Team San Diego won (led my new Challenge mastermind, Frank) and was the new power team, followed by Cancun, New Orleans (riding the cottails of alliance mates), and Vegas (Dustin had to fight off Robb with two “Bs” for a legit win).
- Chet realized that “somebody is getting screwed” among the four remaining teams. Team Brooklyn and Fresh Meat completed the challenge first, leaving the last place spot to be fought over between Austin and St. Thomas. After an epic draw between Danny and Trey, Laura beat Melinda and sent Team Austin into their second straight arena (after having lost Wes and Lacey last week).
- Captain Frank and Team San Diego held court with Team Fresh Meat and Team St. Thomas to determine who would face Austin in the arena. Despite Fresh Meat’s pathetic groveling (Brandon at one point said, “Pleaseeeeee”) and Trey’s as good as throwing himself in arrogance, San Diego sent Fresh Meat back to the arena anyway.
- Team Fresh Meat could not decide which two competitors would face Danny and Melinda in the arena, yielding the decision to Team San Diego. T.J, was accusatory when he asked Cara Maria and company, “You couldn’t come to a decision? Why not?” San Diego selected Camila and Big Easy to represent Fresh Meat in an endurance game called “Balls Out.” T.J. in classic form: “I hope you did your running.”
- This led to one of the best exchanges in Challenge history – T.J.: “Easy, what happened man, you ain’t politicking right, what happened?” Big Easy: “I don’t give a f–k. How about that?” T.J. : “Sounds good to me.”
- Big Easy and Camilla beat Danny and Melinda and eliminated Team Austin from the game. Seven teams remain and Team Fresh Meat seemed like a mess.
So, how could this rookie-led takeover be happening?
There are several key factors. First, there is a MAJOR power vacuum without Johnny Bananas, Jenn with two “Ns”, Paula, Kenny, Evan, Laurel, or Derek, providing their traditional physical or political domination. Even the players that have had past success have been retired for some time (Alton) or may need a strong partner to be kept in line (Camila).
Second, although a team like San Diego is made up of all Challenge rookies, they still have a team like St. Thomas below them on the totem pole to walk all over. If Team San Diego were the only rookie team in the game, they may not find their journey so easy.
Third, this season’s vets are in dysfunctional teams. Sarah and Chet are working with the likes of JD and Devyn, Team Austin is already out, and Team Fresh Meat is (up until this point in the game) a terrible combination of ex-players. There is no calm, cool alpha. Just think if they had Kenny, Evan, Ev, or Laurel calling shots. Camila is a beast, but may not have the disposition to be a team leader. Big Easy may have the disposition, but his track record is lackluster.
The time was right for a mind like Frank to take advantage, but he definitely has some external circumstances in his favor. We will see how long he can remain the big dog of the Turkish pound.
To the weekly power rankings…
WEEKLY CHALLENGE POWER RANKINGS
NOTE: the rankings will be based on an un-Hollinger/sabermetrics method known as “My experience and observations” (See: Marc Stein’s great NBA weekly power rankings). 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 15
“Who doesn’t like Alton? He’s probably the most amazing guy on the planet.” – Sarah. Yes, he may be. We only wish that the challenge required more of him. It appeared like his “Oil Change” battles were inconsequential. Still, any week Alton manages to be under the radar and on the side of the power team alliance, no will touch his place at the top of these rankings.
2. Dustin (Team Las Vegas) – Last week: 2 of 15
Unlike Alton, Dustin was put to the test and could not have performed better. His epic draw with Zach (to the delight of women and men who like to see attractive men wrestle) was a signal of just how ready Monsieur Zito is to compete against the best of his competition. Zach is bigger and stronger, but Dustin would not let up and definitely gave teammate Alton a preview of what his younger Las Vegas teammate is capable of. Team Las Vegas did have a moment that mattered (when San Diego, Cancun, and New Orleans had already finished the challenge), but Dustin handily took care of business against the outmatched (but still a really tall dude) Robb with two “Bs.” This is just it – at this point in the game, Dustin is just taking care of business. We will see how he fairs when his alliance mate (I still think Las Vegas has the loosest of ties with the current in crowd) Frank brings up his pay porn past as teased on “This season on…”
3. CJ (Team Cancun) – Last week: 3 of 15
4. Zach (Team San Diego) – Last week: 4 of 15
Both Zach and C.J. represent the new Challenge uber-athlete competitors who are going to be in these competitions because of sheer athleticism and consummate off-season “training.” Think Landon or Derek (although Zach and C.J. are not even close to being in the same league as these Challenge legends yet). C.J. in particular is showing a keen, strategic mind (he seemed to be alongside Frank step by step in the “Oil Change” takeover). Although Jonna “doesn’t mind the view” of an oiled up Zach wrestling and wants to “be yours” to Zach when The Challenge is over, Zach has a ways to go in the political maneauvering that must take place outside of the athletic competition and Jonna cuddling.
5. Frank (Team San Diego) – Last week: 14 of 15
Frank said, “I think this is our time” as he plotted the Rookie Revolution in a confessional interview. Frank, you may be right. My, have the tides changed. Frank’s crazy drunk night in the season premiere seems like a long time ago. His nine position jump is earned for a remarkable transformation from a loose canon to a thoughtful, plotting mastermind. I knew that Frank had this in him, but I did not expect it to happen so soon. He is cool, cutting, and completely aware of what the right move was to make at each juncture. A must listen or must watch is his interview with the AfterbuzzTV Challenge after show where he outlines his motivations and sizes up other competitors (afterbuzztv, by the way, may be the best place to get weekly Challenge intel). He reminds me of a combination of Kenny’s confident sass and Johnny’s political scheming. I am very impressed. In the episode, his most striking moment may have been when Trey (an “egomaniac, a Wes Jr. if you will” as Frank coins him) pushes Zach’s last nerve in their “why we should save St. Thomas” discussion. Zach gets up and his ready to leave and Frank forcefully responds, “Zach, sit down.” This Frank/Zach relationship, so troubled in San Diego and its environs, may be the key to their victory on Battle of the Seasons. Zach keeps Frank’s drunken messes in check and Frank keeps Zach’s quick temper and impatience in line. As individuals they are strong, but as teammates, they may be the only guy pair that can compete with Dustin and Alton.
6. Chet (Team Brooklyn) – Last week: 5 of 15
Chet has “never wrestled in oil” and it shows. He also has a very telling indictment of Cancun’s yielding their power team status to San Diego: “Cancun is so stupid and so naive that now Frank holds all the cards. He’s the new guy. We are supposed to be tossing him in.” Chet knows that Frank’s takeover is dangerous. Does he have enough game to make a countermove? I say yes.
7. Derek (Team Cancun) – Last week: 6 of 15
In this episode, Derek tried to beat Frank in an “Oil Change” wrestling match and lost. At least he bought into the “Frank wins” theme of the week.
8. Eric (Team Fresh Meat) – Last week: 10 of 15
9. Brandon (Team Fresh Meat) – Last week: 7 of 15
Big Easy was in serious “vet mode” all episode, but I am not sure it did any good. It was sad and slightly pathetic to watch him fighting for his life against San Diego’s power team power. Give me a break for one day is all I am asking. They did not give him a break, but to Easy’s credit, his anger, pride, and unwarranted “I’ve won before and can win again” attitude may have been the difference in his second straight arena win. Here’s what I will say – at this point, I would rather have Easy’s fight than Brandon’s seemingly lack of backbone. Easy has always been the underdog because of his endurance and physical issues, but now, after two arena wins, he may have earned a temporary reprieve from facing an elimination for the time being. This week Brandon had a draw wrestling match versus Trey, easily threw in St. Thomas in his conversation (grovel session) with Team San Diego, and even asked them to save him politely. Also, Brandon, I get that you did a few too many eliminations in the past, but at some point you have to step up.
10. Trey (Team St. Thomas) – Last week: 8 of 15
From Marie cooperation issues, to his introspective awareness that he is “not really good at keeping [his] mouth shut,” to the “these are people that already dislike me” emotional sit-down with Laura at the end of the episode, Trey is having a tough time in Turkey. He did fight hard in the challenge and clearly wants to win, he may not be ready this year. If the aforementioned denouement is any indication (some of Frank’s talking points in the Afterbuzztv podcast and show may have hinted at this as well), Trey and Laura may be going home next week.
11. Robb (Team St. Thomas) – Last week: 12 of 15
Although Robb with two “Bs” lost his chance to beat Dustin and Team Las Vegas and potentially flip the balance of power in the challenge, he at least seemed into the game this week and moves up one spot just for this reason.
12. Preston (Team New Orleans) Last week: 15 of 15
13. JD (Team Brooklyn) Last week: 11 of 15
14. Knight (Team New Orleans) Last week 13 of 15
Last week Devyn said that “J.D. is kind of creepy.” This week, JD and Knight couldn’t beat each other wrestling. As Jemmye says, Knight’s main intentions are about her, not about winning the money. Yes, Jemmye, That is a lot to take in. Preston even called the Knight vs. JD battle “a mess.” Anytime Preston calls you out, you have to take a dive in these rankings.
ELIMINATED: Danny (Team Austin) Last week: 9/15
Biggest Rise: Frank (Team San Diego)
Biggest Fall: Tied – Brandon (Fresh Meat), Trey (St. Thomas)
1. Jonna (Team Cancun) – Last week: 3 of 15
I am little bit relieved because we’re not the power team and we don’t have to make the decision of who to send in. This is the statement of a master player and moved Jonna to the top of the rankings. She knows that winning the first challenge is one thing, but you don’t want the attention consistently on you too early. She let San Diego have this week because she knew that her team was safe, but would benefit from letting them do the dirty work and make some enemies on their own. If her budding Zach romance can remain in the cuddly honeymoon phase, it will be an asset going forward.
2. Jasmine (Team Cancun) – Last week: 5 of 15
It was a quiet week for Jasmine (not a bad thing for Jasmine or her audience to have every once and a while) and she got body slammed by Ashley, yet she still deserved to move up three spots. This blows my mind.
3. Sarah (Team Brooklyn) – Last week: 1 of 15
Although Sarah may have been behind the curve on the “forming of alliance” part of Challenge strategy (I will blame the fact that she has JD and Devyn on her team), she had a great moment during “Oil Change” when she galvanized the remaining teams against St. Thomas. Sorry, Frank and co. You may fool her once, but if next week’s trailer is any indication (her potential relationship with Alton could be a game changer), Sarah is not going to let you stay on top for too long.
4. Camila (Team Fresh Meat) – Last week: 2 of 15
Poor Camila. For all she has going for her (and believe me, I would pick her against every girl in an elimination), there is a bit of a not-so-good duality that always seems to crop up. Even in her victorious Exes run last season, there was one night when it all came loose and Johnny feared for his Challenge life. This time around Camila pissed off Frank, which would not have been a bad thing, but for the fact that Frank was in control and threw her into a much too soon arena elimination. I do wish that Camila had volunteered to go in (leaving it up to San Diego should have been her demise), but I credit her for at least acknowledging that “everyone is watching their own back” on Team Fresh Meat. If you cross her, she will beat whatever is in front of her (Marie in a wrestling match and Danny and Melinda in the arena discovered this), but I fear this game may have even more to do with politicking than she knows how to handle. Her first order of operation is to improve the dysfunction that is her team.
5. Ashley (Team San Diego) – Last week: 10 of 15
In this episode, Ashley body slammed Jasmine in the “Oil Change” challenge and her team won. It also appears that she has fallen into line with both Frank and Zach and that this will certainly pay off. She and Frank earned their large jumps in the rankings.
6. Sam (Team San Diego) – Last week: 6 of 15
Her team won, but with Ashley stepping up, I am not sure where Sam is in all of this. According to Frank in the aforementioned Afterbuzztv interview, her head (and face?) may be somewhere besides in the game.
7. Cara Maria (Team Fresh Meat) – Last week: 4 of 15
This was a tough week for Boston’s own Cara Maria and she definitely loses some standing for seeming to create some of Team Fresh Meat’s dynamic problems. I did think she had the right attitude about the grovel session to San Diego. “We are so experienced in this game and we are begging rookies to keep us. I am not feeling this.” Nor should you be. Also, it seems like she lucked out when San Diego chose Camila to go into the arena when she said she was “not really good with balls.” Yep.
8. Laura (Team St. Thomas) – Last week: 9 of 15
Laura valiantly beat Melinda to save her team from the arena, but her linkage to Trey may be her ultimate demise (see: Trey section).
9. Trishelle (Team Las Vegas) – Last week: 7 of 15
10. Nany (Team Las Vegas) – Last week: 8 of 15
Trishelle and Nany are still waiting for their moment on this season (Nany losing a wrestling match to McKenzie was not such a moment). From the preview for next week, it seems that Trishelle is not too pleased with a connection between Alton and Sarah.
11. Marie (Team St. Thomas) Last week: 12 of 15
“The bitch is strong, ok.” Apparently Marie is a beast in the “Oil Change” wrestling ring. Camila still took care of business.
12. McKenzie (Team New Orleans) Last week: 14 of 15
‘Kenzie beat Nany in a oily match to move her up a few spots, but her own words speak for themselves: “Everyone that knows me says that I am too nice to really be competitive.” I trust those who know McKenzie.
13. Devyn (Team Brooklyn) Last week: 15 of 15
Devyn had an actual revelatory moment when she beat Melinda to stay alive, so ride that momentum, girl.
14. Jemmye (Team New Orleans) Last week: 13 of 15
Some things do not change: Jemmye is a hot mess when she is drunk.“Knight and I will get back together over my dead body.” I don’t believe you.
ELIMINATED: Melinda (Team Austin) Last week: 11/15
Biggest Rise: Ashley (Team San Diego)
Biggest Fall: Cara Maria (Team Fresh Meat)
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: 3.25, last week: 4.25 (1)
CJ (3), Jonna (1), Jasmine (2), Derek (7)
They get even stronger by leaving their perch as the power team. Well done, indeed.
2. TEAM SAN DIEGO Average: 5, last week: 8.5 (5)
Zach (4), Sam (6), Ashley (5), Frank (5)
This is a fantastic week for the new power team. The Frank-led rebellion has begun.
3. TEAM LAS VEGAS Average: 5.5, last week: 4.5 (2)
Alton (1), Dustin (2), Trishelle (9), Nany (10)
It feels like we are still in the preseason for Team Las Vegas. They have yet to be adequately tested.
4. TEAM FRESH MEAT Average: 7, last week: 5.75 (3)
Camila (4), Cara Maria (7), Brandon (9), Eric (8)
Frank calls Team Fresh Meat this season’s “most dysfunctional team” and wonders since “they don’t have any loyalties, why would they come together?”
5. TEAM BROOKLYN Average: 8.75, last week: 8 (4)
Sarah (3), Chet (6), JD (13), Devyn (13)
Look for a comeback week from Team Brooklyn in episode 3.
6. TEAM ST. THOMAS Average: 10, last week: 10.25 (7)
Laura (8), Trey (10), Robb (11), Marie (11)
There are “the Rookies, The Vets, and then there is St. Thomas.” Tough.
7. TEAM NEW ORLEANS Average: 13, last week: 13.75 (8)
Knight (14), Jemmye (14), McKenzie (12), Preston (12)
Holding on for dear life is easy to do when you align correctly. Well done.
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.
1. CJ and Jonna (Team Cancun) Average: 2
2. CJ and Jasmine (Team Cancun) Average: 2.5
3. Derek and Jonna (Team Cancun) Average: 4
T-6. Sarah and Chet (Team Brooklyn) Average: 4.5, Jasmine and Derek (Team Cancun) Average: 4.5, Zach and Ashley (Team San Diego) Average: 4.5
T-9 Alton and Trishelle (Team Las Vegas) Average: 5, Zach and Sam (Team San Diego) Average: 5, Frank and Ashley (Team San Diego) Average: 5
3 teams tied at 12 Alton and Nany (Team Las Vegas) Average: 5.5, Dustin and Trishelle (Team Las Vegas) Average: 5.5, Sam and Frank (Team San Diego) Average: 5.5
And finally, during the “NEXT WEEK ON” preview, this is what I saw:
- Alton about Sarah: “I just feel like I have been waiting my whole life to meet you.” Trishelle is concerned.
- Marie is afraid of heights and “can’t even look down” at the challenge.
- and Camila and Brandon have a huge blowout fight. Watch out.
Until we all meet again, watch the next episode of The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons at 10 PM on Wednesday night on MTV.