For several weeks now, I have been singing the praises of several Challenge competitors (Team Las Vegas, Sarah and Chet from Team Brooklyn) and destroying several others (Team New Orleans) without having any real statistical data from this season as support. Past Challenge and Real World seasons have provided useful insight, but on paper is one thing – you still have to play the games. For better or worse, this week’s aptly titled “What Happens in Vegas…” episode tested the fortitude of a preseason favorite team, further confirmed the comical futility of another, and presented the rise of a Challenge veteran who may have just made the leap and is now definitively the one to beat on Battle of the Seasons.
A chronological recap does not seem to fit the makeup of what was an insightful and informative hour of classic Challenge action. Last week, we discussed the rise of an alliance spearheaded by Frank connecting Teams Cancun and San Diego with (and to a lesser extent) Las Vegas and New Orleans. This week, as Team Fresh Meat continues to be marinated, Las Vegas’ internal makeup was put to the test and Sarah, aided by the (fast-becoming) perfect sidekick Chet, was given an early season exam. Her score was off the charts and it feels like the game has finally begun.
Here is what must be discussed:
Last season on Exes, MTV producers unjustly sent Sarah home because her Exes partner (and this was a liberal use of ex and partner – I am not sure there was much to their relationship past a one night hookup on Fresh Meat II) Vinny, not known for his common sense, decided to pull off Mandy’s top and you just can’t do that. Partners have been replaced in the past (Mike, Leroy’s bro, replaced Adam “Crazy” Royer on Rivals), but for some reason last season, Sarah was forced to pay for her partner’s idiocy. I remember watching the moment from my uncomfortable living room futon empathizing with the visible disappointment and devastation on Sarah’s face. (There must be a story as to why Mr. Beautiful was not flown in. And, Bunim-Murray, if Nate and Priscilla were considered exes for their awkward bed cuddling in San Diego, then the Kenny and Sarah flirtation on The Ruins must count).
I came in to Battle of the Seasons hoping that Sarah would not only have the opportunity to compete again without facing silly producer decisions, but would (now on her sixth challenge) possibly find a way to put it all together and reach her ultimate goal (think LeBron in 2012). There is something about her that makes you want to root for her and this made the Trishelle assault in this episode seem like it was coming from out of left field. I recognize that I know her through a produced reality competition television program lens (and I know, the Challenge is so much more than that), but I really think Sarah is genuinely one of the good people in this world (and certainly on this show). We will get to her competitive dominance in a moment, but the instance that struck me the most on this episode was unexpected. It was her response to a perhaps too-off colored joke by Chet about selling her body to Alton for game benefits. Sarah is tough and no one can deny that, but she was sensitive and hurt by Chet’s comment and was forthright in telling him so. This moment of vulnerability (or the moment she broke down and cried when T.J. told her the bad news last season) is the essence of Sarah’s greatness. She is strong, she is competitive, she will fight to win at all costs, she cares more than anyone, but she is also a human that feels. These few cracks in her often impenetrable armor may make her the most relatable and genuine person that The Challenge has ever known.
Beyond her more affable traits, Sarah is a warrior. Her decision to go into the arena, the admirable confidence and joy she had in the “Knot So Fast” strategy game, and the way she worked with Chet to find a way to win, were out of a chapter from the How To Win the Challenge textbook (with other chapters by the Miz, Kenny, Laurel, Derrick, and Johnny Bananas among others). She was in complete emotional control, had keen and focused understanding of what to do, and had a incredible humility about the decision to be sent in to the arena in the first place. “I’ll tell you the truth, I think people are starting to see that I am not a girl that they want to mess with and yeah, I’d want to get rid of me too.” She gets a game that is played fairly and strategically, knows her place within it, and has the utmost confidence in herself (and now I think Chet) that she can win. For all the other teams, Sarah (if she is with Chet) is the one to beat.
TEAM LAS VEGAS
For the first time this season, Team Las Vegas was tested. In the “Hook, Line, and Sinker” challenge, they narrowly beat out Team Cancun (it was the opposite outcome in week 1) and fulfilled their destiny as the dominant challenge force. This part was easy. Now, as the power team, deciding who to throw in the arena proved to be the real challenge.
Alton wanted to throw in alliance member Team New Orleans because of consistent poor performance (and captain obviously, because of his burgeoning relationship with Sarah). Trishelle wanted to throw in Team Brooklyn because she thinks they are a threat to Las Vegas and teammate Alton because of some pre-challenge intel on Sarah (more on that later). This pitted a Team Las Vegas internal battle between Alton and Trishelle and Nany that forced Dustin into a bit of a conundrum. Nany’s take: “Team Vegas is in shambles.”
The potential problems are clear. If Alton’s heart is too much of a driving force and is causing him to reason something that “is not the plan,” this is an issue. Trishelle also thinks that “Alton will say anything to save Sarah” and that this “relationship is taking his head out the game.” If Vegas is going to win, they need Alton to be focused and away from distractions. Additionally, Trishelle went right to CJ and Knight (what up with that?) about her team issues. She has got to keep family business in the family.
All of this could be bad news for Team Las Vegas, but my take is a little different. Yes, when it was said and done, Dustin sided with the ladies and voted 3 to 1 to send Brooklyn into the arena, potentially further isolating and offending his Alton running mate, but what he said on the way back from the challenge may be more important. When Alton and Trishelle first go at it, Dustin knows that “things are going to get heated and that’s ok.” The most successful teams in all major sports (of which The Challenge is clearly one) are going to have these moments when they tested. How they deal with this adversity will ultimately determine whether they have it in them to be a champion or not. This is such a moment for Las Vegas and although some resentment may linger for a time, they must now move forward. Dustin is going to be the key. He called it straight with Alton and told him he was power tripping (wow, that was an incredible moment from Mr. Zito) and Alton took it. He was able to hear from Nany and Trishelle without being steamrolled. The question remains: can he bring the factions back together and will he be able to continue to independently (as I believe he did in this case) make the call?
Finally, this may have been editing, but it appeared that Vegas gave Alton the say of who to pick from the Fresh Meat team to go against Sarah in the arena. This power consolation shows a functioning team who dealt with conflict, but can still operate as a compromising unit. This was a test. The results are pending, but I have a feeling they passed.
TRISHELLE VS. SARAH
Every time a professional poker player is pitted against a warrior sweetheart, there are going to be some issues. Here are some quotations highlights:
Trishelle on Sarah: “Before I came on this Challenge, I was told my multiple people, Sarah is extremely manipulative. She might be manipulating Alton and he is an easy target.”
Trishelle to Devyn: “He (Alton) is picking vagina over his own teammates.”
Trishelle, on her prediction that Sarah would try to avoid the arena: “She should really just be a woman and go in.”
This all led to an AMAZING exchange between Trishelle and Sarah. The confrontation went something like this:
Trishelle: “Trust me, I’m a poker player.”
Sarah: “I think you are not as good as a bluffer as you think you are.”
When Sarah won the arena strategy competition, “Knot So Fast,” Trishelle conceded defeat:
“I am the person that had to eat my words…it’s embarassing, I hate to eat my words, but I had to.”
In this Fresh Meat defeat and in this defeat conceit, we learned much about these two woman. In Trishelle’s defense, she probably had bad intel about Sarah’s true intentions going into The Challenge, but if she believed what she heard, eliminating Sarah from the game makes sense. I am impressed with both her vigilance in trying to do so and in her acknowledgement that she may have been wrong. Sarah, on the other hand, showed tremendous fortitude by confronting Trishelle, speaking truth, and proving herself worthy in her arena performance. I predict that mutual respect may arise from this early escalation and I think it is in the best interest of both parties (especially with Alton in the middle) to align.
SARAH AND ALTON
The Challenge has sprouted many a romantic connection and most are slightly curious (Paula and Ty, Evan and Veronica), too easy (Wes and Mandy), violent (Tyrie and Jasmine), beautiful and bizarre (Cara Maria and Abram), or horrifying and on a roof (CT and Shauvon). There are not many Brad and Tori success stories (I so rooted for CT and Diem!), and more often than not, a Challenge romance is a challenge.
Alton and Sarah are great people and for those hopeless romantics out there (of which I am one), I wish them nothing but the best. In the interim, I will leave you with some of Alton’s best verbal discoveries:
“You are like me only like a white girl. But I’m like you, but only like a bald black guy that is much older.”
“Sarah completes a picture for me…”
“What I like most about Sarah – she reminds me of home. She could be my best friend in real life.”
Battle of the Seasons is a team game and you are only as good as your partner. Poor Fresh Meat is learning that most Big Easy scenarios are not going to be easy. As much as Sarah’s star shined brightly this episode, it is even more pronounced in light of the fact that her final partner could be Chet. From a comedic (“It’s all your fault JD. Would it kill you to get in Frank’s bed?”), strategic (he has been ready to play since day one), and “who do I want to hang out with” perspective (Chet seems super chill), Sarah is doing really well. Chet rocked the arena and “wanted to be the ones (he and Sarah) to set the example for [his] team,” leaving every inch of himself in the sandy pit (including the hard work, high exertion vomit emmission) Sarah said it simply, “Chet’s got my back and I’ve got his.”
Chet’s best moment (and perhaps the episode’s as well) came when Trishelle was talking some Alton-Sarah unrest. Chet went right at Trishelle: “Have you heard their conversations? They talk about stars and wind….You are delusional. You are a conspiracy theorist.”
Trishelle retorts, “She is going to try to save herself…she is selfish,” Chet’s response: “That is where you are wrong.” Chet and Sarah are the team to beat.
WHAT ABOUT TEAM ST. THOMAS?
Lost in the Vegas deliberation over “Team Brooklyn or Team New Orleans in the arena” was the question: what about Team St. Thomas? Apply this take by Knight about New Orleans to St. Thomas: “I think we are probably looked at as the weakest team but could actually be beneficial to us because they want to keep the weakest teams around until the end. Hey, I’ll take that.” The reality? Knight may have been right.
The “HOOK, LINE, AND SINKER” challenge
The “Hook, Line, and Sinker” challenge was “one of the most difficult five legged races you have ever seen” according to T.J. “the great one” Lavin. Having seen so many, I totally get it. Chet’s take: “Devyn doesn’t want to get her weave wet and I don’t want to fall and like skewer my penis.” Perfect segway to…
TEAM FRESH MEAT
…on the challenge Big Easy “needed a break” and then fell (his second disqualification causality) and the third straight Fresh Meat arena appearance. Camila said it best: “We’ve been given this burden called Eric.”
Meanwhile, Easy was romancing the Devyn stone and thinks “Devyn likes having a good time with Eric.” This led to Devyn’s in your face wine drinking confrontation, “What is exactly going through your mind?” At the same time, Brandon and Camila had their previewed blowout fight, Chet laughs, Brandon thinks Camila needs therapy, and Camila yells, “I’m done. I’m done. I want to leave. I’m going home. I’m leaving.” The next morning, all was well and Camila got after Cara Maria for not wanting to volunteer an arena appearance (especially since Camila was trying to keep the team together).
Can you understand why Fresh Meat suffered its first elimination? Poor Brandon and Cara Maria were victims of another tough showing for Big Easy, an inexplicable refusal from Easy to volunteer, some bad luck, and the juggernaut that was Sarah and Chet in the “Knot So Fast” arena battle. I will miss them both, especially Cara who deserved a more stable team makeup. I have said it before – Team Fresh Meat had the worst possible combination of players (although three were strong as individuals) and needed an alpha (Laurel, Johnny) to lead them away from their dysfunctional ways. As for Cara “I’ve hung on a few ropes in my day, so I will see what I can do” Maria, I hope that Abram’s arrival in Boston brings beautiful possibilities to her real life and that on the next challenge, she and Laurel can once again partner together to even greater heights.
Onward 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. CJ (Team Cancun) – Last week: 3 of 14
CJ is top dog for the first time this week. His Jonna-like insight cannot go unnoticed: “Las Vegas wins. It’s a win-win for our alliance. I don’t have to sweat anything. You guys make the decision.” Vegas sweated, CJ relaxed, and Cancun remains as strong as ever. Also of note, it appears that Trishelle has a clear connection to CJ (she conversed with him about strategy on a view included segments). Since his Wes overthrow in week one, he has uncontested control of this game and will continue to assert it if Teams like Vegas remain loyal.
2. Dustin (Team Las Vegas) – Last week: 2 of 14
3. Alton (Team Las Vegas) – Last week: 1 of 14
Although Nany did describe Alton as a “thirty-two-year old man having a temper tantrum,” (not a good look and the reason for a slight drop in the rankings), he dealt with a difficult situation with as much poise as you could expect (as in he showed the anger but did not go all ballistic). As Trishelle noted, he is a feeler and leads with his heart (I remember you Irulan, don’t worry). It is part of why he wins and what makes him great, he just needs to reign it in a little bit (especially with the momentum of a Sarah arena victory). Despite some above the surface emotions, his game analysis is spot on: “New Orleans is weak. It is so obvious that for Preston and McKenzie, it is time for you to go home.” Obviously.
As mentioned before, Dustin was faced with a tough situation, and I think his handling of it showed true character. In this weathering of the storm (“There is a part of me that believes Alton, but I am not sure where to way to go. I am being tugged from so many different angles, I am about to rip apart.”), Dustin continues to rise.
4. Chet (Team Brooklyn) – Last week: 6 of 14
See above. Chet is a player in this game.
5. Frank (Team San Diego) – Last week: 5 of 14
6. Zach (Team San Diego) – Last week: 4 of 14
Frank was on the sidelines (not a bad thing with his alcohol track record), but did not lose momentum. He was calm and cool when Ashley faced fear in “Hook, Line, and Sinker” and showed strategic awareness with his “two teams at once?” rule clarification. He is still in it; he just took a short breather.
It was not the best week for Zach. He had this moment: “Brooklyn is just all around softer than puppy turds. Obviously we are going to send them in first.” Wrong. Even Knight highlighted something problematic: “Zach, you’re a monster. We need a steroid test.” Tough.
7. Derek (Team Cancun) – Last week: 7 of 14
Although his team came in second in the challenge, he remains mostly a silent partner (he did have some on point Sarah/Chet insight). In the part of the episode that is not really part of the episode (I still don’t get it), Derek got naked, so there is that.
8. Trey (Team St. Thomas) – Last week: 10 of 14
9. JD (Team Brooklyn) – Last week: 13 of 14
10. Robb (Team St. Thomas) – Last week: 11 of 14
Once again, Chet, take it away: “It’s all your fault JD. Would it kill you to get in Frank’s bed?” Brilliant. JD also managed to not compete in the arena. Brilliant.
11. Knight (Team New Orleans) Last week 14 of 14
Knight knew this: “All I have to do is get past where Big Easy fell.” That’s it big, man. Way to set the bar high.
12. Preston (Team New Orleans) Last week: 12 of 14
Alton openly identified him as a weak player adding him to a list of Knight, myself, and Preston who have acknowledged his Challenge challenge.
13. Eric (Team Fresh Meat) – Last week: 8 of 14
He may have found love with Devyn (and I am happy for him), but Easy is struggling in challenges. The Fresh Meat elimination this week is squarely on his shoulders.
ELIMINATED: Brandon (Team Fresh Meat) – Last week: 9 of 14
Biggest Rise: JD (Team Brooklyn)
Biggest Fall: Eric (Team Fresh Meat)
1. Sarah (Team Brooklyn) – Last week: 3 of 14
See above. After a week away, Sarah is back at the top. Her attitude, her enthusiasm, her tenacity, her drive, and her coolness under pressure may keep her there for some time.
2. Jonna (Team Cancun) – Last week: 1 of 14
3. Jasmine (Team Cancun) – Last week: 2 of 14
4. Ashley (Team San Diego) – Last week: 5 of 14
They continue to do what they need to do in challenges to avoid the arena. Yet to be fully tested, will they have the same fight as Sarah or the Vegas girls? The answer to this question could be the ultimate answer in determining who wins this season.
5. Nany (Team Las Vegas) – Last week: 10 of 14
6. Trishelle (Team Las Vegas) – Last week: 9 of 14
Finally! Nany and Trishelle were given some opportunity to show their stuff and they brought it. They receive high praise for convincing Dustin to vote for Team Brooklyn (and against Alton) and showed some strategic chops. Putting an Alton/Sarah relationship aside, Brooklyn was a threat and they were right to try to force an elimination. Trishelle’s first two comments post challenge were: “I would like for Chet and Sarah to get Camille (tough) and freakin one of the Fresh Meat guys out” and “we need to keep New Orleans around because they are weak.” The poker player is here to play. Although Nany may be “just letting Dustin and Alton guide [her] through this entire challenge,” she and Trishelle are performing and have a voice. Their best next move? Reconcile with Alton and consider a new alliance (Brooklyn, St. Thomas, and the carcass of fresh meat) that lets them get out from under the San Diego and Cancun shadow.
7. Sam (Team San Diego) – Last week: 6 of 14
8. Laura (Team St. Thomas) – Last week: 8 of 14
9. Devyn (Team Brooklyn) Last week: 13 of 14
Devyn may have found love in a hopeless place. – and she has Chet and Sarah as teammates. Two wins for her. Each week we peel back the onion under threat of weave destruction, we may learn more about Devyn’s ceiling in this game (not too high, easily persuaded by others – see Trishelle Sarah bashing), but she is certainly not anonymous. And, if you are going to choose a person on another team to canoodle with that no will be threatened by, Big Easy is your man.
10. Camila (Team Fresh Meat) – Last week: 4 of 14
Camila is having a tough time on Battle of the Seasons. Her slight victory in avoiding an arena is offset by having to continue to team with Big Easy in challenges. This is not her year. Like David Robinson in 1997, hang it up early this year and come back next year with a high draft pick (the return of Evan perhaps?).
11. Marie (Team St. Thomas) – Last week: 11 of 14
12. McKenzie (Team New Orleans) – Last week: 12 of 14
13. Jemmye (Team New Orleans) – Last week: 14 of 14
Marie is “petrified.” McKenzie says, “Don’t fall. Don’t fall. Don’t fall.” Jemmye literally disappears. With Devyn gone, the bottom three are intact. It looks like Marie Marie comes out next week. The Battle of the Seasons cast can now commiserate with Swifty and the St. Thomas viewing audience.
ELIMINATED: Cara Maria (Team Fresh Meat) – Last week: 7 of 14
Biggest Rise: Nany (Team Las Vegas)
Biggest Fall: Camila (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: 3.25 (1)
CJ (1), Jonna (2), Jasmine (3), Derek (7)
They finished strong in “Hook, Line, and Sinker” and remain on top of the standings.
2. TEAM LAS VEGAS Average: 4, last week: 5.5 (3)
Alton (3), Dustin (2), Trishelle (6), Nany (5)
Last week: It feels like we are still in the preseason for Team Las Vegas. They have yet to be adequately tested. This week they learned that “winning the challenge is the easy part…making the decision on who we are going to send in is the tough part.” They dealt with this adversity and in light of Sarah and Chet’s arena win, Trishelle ate her words, and Alton will be complete again.
3. TEAM SAN DIEGO Average: 5.5, last week: 5 (2)
Zach (6), Sam (7), Ashley (4), Frank (5)
It was a slow, uninteresting week for San Diego, reminiscent of many Real World: San Diego episodes that featured Zach and Ashley GTSing (Gym, Talking, Subway). Look for them to be back in the mix next week.
4. TEAM BROOKLYN Average: 6, last week: 8.75 (5)
Sarah (1), Chet (5), JD (9), Devyn (9)
Last week I said: Look for a comeback week from Team Brooklyn in episode 3. Success. Derek kills it: “Sarah and Chet aren’t on the strongest team, but together, they are definitely a strong duo.” Yes they are.
5. TEAM ST. THOMAS Average: 9.25, last week: 10 (6)
Laura (8), Trey (8), Robb (10), Marie (11)
Fresh Meat’s fall is their gain. They have definitely had the easiest time as straight off the boat rookies in Challenge history.
6. TEAM FRESH MEAT Average: 11.5, last week: 7 (4)
Camila (10), Eric (13), Eliminated: Cara Maria, Brandon
Last week Frank called Team Fresh Meat this season’s “most dysfunctional team” and wonders since “they don’t have any loyalties, why would they come together?” This week, something had to give. I feel for Cara Maria, Camila, and Brandon as competitors and am certainly happy for Big Easy in the land of love, but criticize producers for allowing such clear dysfunction on screen. They never had a chance.
7. TEAM NEW ORLEANS Average: 12, last week: 13 (7)
Knight (11), Jemmye (13), McKenzie (12), Preston (12)
Their weakness (as Knight pointed out) is becoming their strength. I, like Alton, don’t think there is a place for this in The Challenge (whereas in Survivor it makes sense) when the final is about beating the best. Oh well.
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: 1.5
2. CJ and Jasmine (Team Cancun) Average: 2
3. Sarah and Chet (Team Brooklyn) Average: 2.5
4. Dustin and Nany (Team Las Vegas) Average: 3.5
T – 5. Alton and Nany (Team Las Vegas) Average: 4, Dustin and Trishelle (Team Las Vegas) Average: 4
T – 8 – Alton and Trishelle (Team Las Vegas) Average: 4.5, Derek and Jonna (Team Cancun) Average: 4.5, Frank and Ashley (Team San Diego) Average: 4.5
T- 10 – Zach and Ashley (Team San Diego) Average: 5, Jasmine and Derek (Team Cancun) Average: 5
And finally, during the “NEXT WEEK ON” preview, this is what I saw:
- Zach is “dying up here” during the challenge
- Marie is not “keeping her voice down” and “doesn’t give a fuck who hears me now.” Jonna is astonished.
- Nany has one of those nights and wants to go home (see Dustin taking care of things, once again)…
Until we all meet again, watch the next episode of The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons at 10 PM on Wednesday night on MTV.
Dr. Bloom can be reached on twitter at @davidbloom7. THE CHALLENGE: WEEKLY POWER RANKINGS comes out every Monday. Check back here on October 15.