We are now five episodes, two full team eliminations, countless Camila meltdowns and T.J. “we killed its,” three Big Easy induced disqualifications, one GBH (guy back home) breakup over the phone, one messy drunk Frank night, one troublesome instance of Knight helping Nany with her laundry, several episodes in which JD and Robb did not make the edit, and a few sketchy rumors about why certain teams (Real World: Sydney) and players (Johanna from Real World: Austin) did not participate (it may have had something to do with not wanting to be around a certain ginger-haired ex-boyfriend) into this “living up to the hype” season of The Challenge. So far, the “Battle of the Seasons” format has provided a worthy framework for some unexpected power grabs, either seemingly unbreakable team unity or habitual team dysfunction, and a likely fabricated but relevant influx of Real World season pride. To the credit of Bunim-Murray/MTV producers, this season’s The Challenge feels both fresh (game format innovation, some worthy new blood) and familiar (some “ready to the take the leap” competitors, reliably dramatic and entertaining).
Before we take stock of this week’s episode (featuring the outcome of two arena eliminations and the continuation of a major power shift), it is important to take a moment for a brief big picture assessment. Now that Team Fresh Meat (just a brutal showing all around) and Team Austin (targeted and executed early by the ruling alliance) are no more, we are down to six teams and twenty-two competitors (Knight and Jemmye are all that is left of Team New Orleans after perennial power rankings bottom feeders, Preston and McKenzie, made an admirable, but inevitable exit this week).
The ruling alliance that had prescribed the first four arena eliminations is finally showing some cracks. Not only did they face their first communal elimination this week (albeit Preston and McKenzie), once loyal Team Las Vegas has clearly moved on (although I am not sure how well they have aligned with Team Brooklyn or Team St. Thomas). This much is clear: there is a clean line between San Diego, Cancun, and New Orleans and the other three teams. If Brooklyn and Las Vegas can start to dominate together, bring in Trey’s St. Thomas faction as an additional ally, and begin to route out some of the Cancun/San Diego power players, they have a real shot at changing the course of this game.
A few other observations:
- After three consecutive arena wins, Team Brooklyn is not afraid and is growing stronger by the week (even JD and Devyn are making real contributions).
- Team Las Vegas has to reunify after their dissension a few weeks back. How well they work together from this point forward will determine their ultimate success.
- I am baffled by the good fortune of Team St. Thomas. We are five eliminations in to the game, and they have yet to come close to participating in an arena. On every previous season of The Challenge, they would have been gone by now (or at least would have had to prove themselves in some way). If Frank, CJ, and Jonna are controlling their alliance (as it continues to appear they are), this St. Thomas situation may be the greatest manifestation of how well the Cancun/San Diegoers have controlled the game up to this point. The rookiest of Challenge rookies are still alive and well and this is a completely underrated and under the radar fact.
Before we hit the rankings, let’s digest the key moments and machinations of this week’s episode:
CAMILA VERSUS BIG EASY
In the dysfunctional unreality that is Team Fresh Meat, it was inevitable that their final farewell would go down with somewhat of a bang. I did not expect that this bang would make those watching at home (I can only imagine what it was like to be there in person, some shots of facial expressions capture this idea) feel so uncomfortable.
In the understatement of the decade, Camila deduced that “communication isn’t our biggest strength as a team.” This was before the “Water Torture” arena battle that required a human pulley system coordination between she and Eric. Easy had to spend some time holding his breath upside down under water while she played a cruel game of hanging monkey concentration. To Camila’s credit, she had the right intentions: “All I am going to do up there is keep calm and if he needs to tell me anything, he just needs to voice it.” Sadly, Big (never) Easy was struggling and decided to voice it by quitting (TJ Lavin is pissed off alert!).
“You are not done. You are not done. You are not done. No, you are not done, Easy. You are not done. You are not done. This is not fair. He’s quitting, not me. I am climbing this motherfucker if I have to, you son of a bitch. I am not giving up because of him. I am not losing because of him. It’s not fair. He’s done. I’m not, so what do we do now? Cause I’ll go in the fucking water. You want me to go in the water? I’ll go in the water.”
There was one point where Camila actually started to climb her wooden concentration board tower. She was not going to give up (commendable) under on anyone else‘s terms.
Then she took it a little too far (you could see this one coming). Eric’s raised his middle fingers while passing the distraught Camila, inciting this almost unspeakable reaction in his Brazilian anti-partner:
Wise big sister, Trishelle put it best: “Camila says the most horrible degrading things to Big Easy. I don’t think that anyone deserves that, no matter what happens. No one deserves to be spoken to that way.” No one deserves to be spoken to that way, and unfortunately for Easy, this is not the first time he has had to endure such verbal bashing on The Challenge.
What can we make of all this? I feel for both Camila and Big Easy. Camila is a winner who will fight to win no matter what the personal cost or personal attack (she may have spent a little too much time last season learning the Johnny Bananas ways). Easy did quit on her (and was central to her team’s troubles in the first place), so I get it when she says, “I have no desire to ever talk to him again.” It was her tough luck (and maybe the reason the savvier Laurels and Evs stayed away from the doomed Fresh Meat team) to be with a player that was just unable to compete at the necessary level. As for Easy, I think he gave every thing he had, and it just may be that what he has does not amount to all that much in the uber-competitive athletic/social gladiator pit known as the Challenge. Thankfully, it does seem like he found love in a hopeless place with Devyn and can look back on his Turkey experience with a worthy consolation prize.
Finally, I think there is some real truth to when Eric says, “we didn’t have that Real World season to get to know each other.” Easy may be an overall weak competitor, but he is (by all accounts) a good dude, and a hypothetical Real World roommate would know Easy (beyond his athletic failings on the competition geared Challenges) well enough to more graciously forgive him for his failings. He and Camila have only done Challenges together and may not have had the opportunity in a more controlled social environment to make those vital connections.
TJ HATES QUITTERS
Exchanges like this both confirm the greatness of TJ Lavin and explain why he is essential to creating and maintaining the competitive environment of the Challenges:
TJ: “That’s one thing I hate worse than anything else in the world – and that’s quitters. Big Easy, man, why did you quit?”
Big Easy: “We were fighting an upward battle, man, it wasn’t going our way, and it didn’t look like anything was going to change.”
TJ: “Yeah, but when the chips are down bro, don’t you just think you should give it to them?”
Big Easy: “I’ve been giving it to ‘em since I got here, I am over it.”
TJ: “You want to let your teammate down like that?”
Big Easy: “She’s not my teammate, we’ve been playing a single person’s game since our team walked into the house. It is what it is. Words are words.”
TJ: “Alright…(slow pause, obviously not agreeing), Camila, what do you think about that?”
Camila: “Exactly, we are not teammates because I am not a quitter and I don’t align myself with quitters like you. JD did it. He never let Devyn down, so you know what, once a quitter, always a quitter my friend, there is no excuse for that.”
Above all else, TJ hates quitters. You can be un-athletic, awkward, boring, or largely disliked, but if you give it your all in front of TJ, you are killing it on The Challenge.
If you quit or give up, well, there is no excuse for that. If TJ has any say (and if he doesn’t he should), I think we have seen the last of Big Easy on The Challenge.
THE “CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD” CHALLENGE
Before this week’s “Chairman of the Board” trivia contest, TJ declared it his “favorite” challenge. Similar to past spelling/trivia competitions in recent challenges, competitors were asked questions in various categories and of varied obscurity. If you get a question wrong, you are not only out, but TJ gets to pull a lever that connects to your chair, propelling you uncontrollably too many feet into the raging Mediterranean waters below. The last team standing (or sitting in this case) wins and the first team to have all team members miss a question lose and must fight for life in the arena. The intentional comedy of watching our favorite competitors struggle mightily on easy answers only to be sent flying at the hands of TJ into the sea is complete joy (and understandably TJ’s favorite challenge).
Power team Cancun set the strategic order (Brooklyn, St. Thomas, Las Vegas, New Orleans, San Diego, Cancun – also revealing their own status rankings), but not before Team Las Vegas suffered a one person deduction when Trishelle’s dehydration forced her to sit this one out (to the chagrin of Alton and Dustin). Here is the order of elimination, including some wrong answer high(low)lights:
Marie, Dustin, McKenzie (In what country was the very first Fresh Meat filmed? Europe.), Jasmine (What is the capitol of England? Liverpool.), Sarah, Laura, Alton (Who was Kim Kardashian married to before filing for divorce after 72 days? Kris Duncan.), Knight (Who did Prince William marry in 2011? No clue. Jemmye: We watched it!), Preston (In basketball, what city are the Suns from? Utah), JD, Robb, Jemmye (making Team New Orleans the first team eliminated), Frank, Jonna, Devyn, Trey, Nany (she was clutch on two answers, saving Team Las Vegas), Ashley (The Challenge has been produced on how many continents? 21), Derek, and finally Chet who incorrectly spelled “narcissistic” (Chet: “I wish he had given me “whiny bitch” because that is an easy one to spell. F-R-A-N-K.” Brilliant.)
Thanks to Frank’s correct answer domination (he stayed on so long that Zach and Sam never had to answer a single question) and no thanks to Ashley’s answer of “21” to a question about the number of continents (tough moment), Team San Diego won and reclaimed power team status.
TEAM BROOKLYN FLEXES SOME MUSCLE
I have said it before and I will say it again, there is something about this group and although it does seem to originate with Sarah and Chet, both Devyn and JD made key contributions this week. Team Brooklyn has now won three straight arena eliminations and if anything, they seem to be only getting stronger. As the anti-Fresh Meat, the following are several instances and statements that help explain why Team Brooklyn is all over what it means to be the good guys in this game and how they could carve a very real pathway to victory:
- Before the first arena elimination, TJ: “I sense some team unity. I like that.” Yep.
- After the Camila/Easy meltdown, Sarah and Chet cheer on Devyn and JD to finish. It is such a contrast.
- When Camila uses Brooklyn’s example to show Eric his deficiencies, Devyn does not accept Camila’s comparison: “But we talk to our teammates with respect, always.”
- Sarah: “Brooklyn ain’t going anywhere. We are like the cockroaches you can’t kill. No problem.”
- In the second arena elimination, Sarah and Chet are so ready to compete for their team. It leads to this classic exchange: Sarah: “It always comes down to who wants to be here more, and I want to be here, real bad.” Chet: “Yeah it comes down to who wants to be here more, but it also comes down to Preston is a terrible competitor, and he ain’t sending me home.” There is no way, Chet.
- Sarah: “The best thing about this Brooklyn Team is our team unity…I am ready to go in and I can’t wait.”
- Devyn: “We are like that toe fungus that you had. You are just going to have to wait it out. You are not going to get rid of us this fast.”
Beware Cancun and San Diego higherups. The lovable “toe fungus” is growing and it may not be extinguishable.
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.”
THE TOP TIER
1. Dustin (Team Las Vegas) – Last week: 1 of 13
2. Frank (Team San Diego) – Last week: 5 of 13
3. Chet (Team Brooklyn) – Last week: 4 of 13
4. CJ (Team Cancun) – Last week: 2 of 13
5. Alton (Team Las Vegas) – Last week: 3 of 13
Although there was some major movement this week in this group (both CJ and Alton dropped, Chet and Frank moved up), it is clear who the top five male competitors are in this game. I must continue to give Frank credit. He singlehandedly secured victory for his team and is the champion of maintaining alliance supremacy. It will be very interesting to see (as teased in the “Next Week on”) how the male San Diego versus male Las Vegas off court battle plays out. In many ways, this could be the pivotal moment for the power structure of this game.
Chet continues to man up in the arena with athletic execution and inescapable wit. He has now orally bested CJ (live) and Frank (during his must watch interviews) in successive weeks.
THE NEXT LEVEL
6. Zach (Team San Diego) – Last week: 7 of 13
Zach and Frank both pointed out their perceived irony of Chet struggling to spell the word “narcissistic.” After Chet’s anti-Frank quip, the battle lines have been drawn.
7. Derek (Team Cancun) – Last week: 6 of 13
THE RISING CONTENDERS
8. Knight (Team New Orleans) – Last week 10 of 13
Last week’s power rankings may have gone after Knight a little too harshly (although I did not go as far to call him a sociopath, Jacoby). To his credit, he is playing this game to win and for a first timer, is admittedly doing really well (good initial alignment, controls the machinations of his own team, has a good sense of humor, getting along with Jemmye). Additionally, he was responsible for my favorite moment of this week’s episode. As the recipient of the t-mobile text message pre-challenge, he opened the message report with his own hilarious faux-intro, “Thank god the wicked witch from Brazil is gone.” Well played, Knight, Ryan Knight.
9. JD (Team Brooklyn) – Last week: 13 of 13
In a pleasant surprise, we finally heard something from JD this week before he faced elimination in the arena: “I am ready for this. This is what I was born to do. I am a water person. I have trained whales and dolphins in the past. I am a competitive swimmer. You can’t win something you have already won, so let’s just get this over with.” Yes you can, JD.
LOWEST ON THE TOTEM POLE
10. Trey (Team St. Thomas) – Last week: 8 of 13
11. Robb (Team St. Thomas) – Last week: 11 of 13
I continue to struggle placing Team St. Thomas in this game. Do I think they have power? Most of the time, no. However, if I put my Survivor hat on, one could argue that they have much power because if they ever settle their inconclusive alignment, they could serve as the majority determinant. Although team votes are not a part of the deliberation process, it would be a moral victory for Vegas and Brooklyn if they developed some real bond with this rookie rookie team.
ELIMINATED: Eric (Team Fresh Meat), Preston (Team New Orleans)
Biggest Rise: JD (Team Brooklyn)
Biggest Fall: 3 tied
THE TOP TIER
1. Sarah (Team Brooklyn) – Last week: 1 of 13
Sarah had another one of those weeks where she flexed her personal and competitive greatness.
Sarah, how do you feel about a trivia challenge? “I love trivia. It is even on my business card. It says speaker, artist, trivia master, right under my name. I can’t wait to do this Challenge.”
Sarah, how do you feel about getting a question wrong? “No worries. Instead of painfully flopping, I will just have to do an awe-inspiring flip dive. I love this game!” (I made this quotation up, but the dive was really cool)
From her self-described “nervous pees” before her arena battle, to her checking out a working out Alton, to her “see you next time” comment to TJ after winning, she is incredible and infectious to watch. Fearless, but never overconfident, and having so much fun in the process, she is in a very good place to continue her game domination.
2. Jonna (Team Cancun) – Last week: 2 of 13
There was a telling moment this week when Jonna and Frank had a disagreement (Frank: “I saw you rolling your eyes”) at the alliance gathering. Although Frank’s choice to send Brooklyn in won out, Jonna’s awareness that Las Vegas is a formidable opponent that must be addressed at some point did not go unnoticed. She is playing this game and continues to be a force.
3. Nany (Team Las Vegas) – Last week: 4 of 13
Nany ended up being super clutch for Team Vegas in the challenge (thank goodness she knew what city the Red Sox are from and what person is on the quarter), saving her team from their first arena appearance. Although her questions were handed to her, she did execute when her team needed her to and represented for Vegas woman (in light of Trishelle’s dehydration issues). Dustin “couldn’t be more proud of Nany if [he] was her father.”
4. Jasmine (Team Cancun) – Last week: 3 of 13
Poor Jasmine. She may be a hero to Liverpool FC and Beatles fans everywhere, but your mom is a geography teacher! C’mon.
THE NEXT LEVEL
5. Trishelle (Team Las Vegas) – Last week: 5 of 13
Fact: Trishelle almost cost her team the challenge due to an awful bout of dehydration (Alton: “What is up with her?”). Notwithstanding, her place in the fifth spot in the rankings is quite secure (low competition behind her) this week, but will be tested when the Vegas and San Diego men come to blows next week.
THE RISING CONTENDERS
6. Devyn (Team Brooklyn) – Last week: 10 of 13
Devyn is a rising commodity on this list. Her interview sound bites are go-to and she is a big proponent and provider of the Brooklyn Team Unity. With her heart torn asunder after Big Easy’s departure, she will have extra motivation to fight for her man and her game will only benefit with the removal of a potential tense relationship distraction.
7. Marie (Team St. Thomas) – Last week: 6 of 13
Marie is a struggle in challenges, although her answer of “TJ Lavin” was a reasonable one. If she were smart, she would sit down with Sarah, Chet, and Team Vegas and make the St. Thomas connection. I have a feeling her relationship with Frank could be her game demise.
8. Jemmye (Team New Orleans) – Last week: 12 of 13
Jemmye had some great moments this episode (When discussing the “identify the man on currency” category: “Everyone uses debit cards, let’s be real, this category sucks” and when asked why Team New Orleans is in the bottom this week, her response, “We lost.”) and feels like a burden has been lifted now that Preston and McKenzie were forced to say their inevitable goodbyes. I think she and Knight always do better when it is just them and I would not be surprised if we see a more feisty and subsequently successful Jemmye/Knight tandem in future challenges and arenas.
LOWEST ON THE TOTEM POLE
9. Sam (Team San Diego) – Last week: 8 of 13
10. Laura (Team St. Thomas) – Last week: 11 of 13
11. Ashley (Team San Diego) – Last week: 7 of 13
Sorry, Ashley. You share the award this week for “worst answer to an easy question” with McKenzie (Europe is not a country). In what pressured universe is any answer to “how many continents?” ever “21”? This was an automatic demotion to the bottom of the rankings.
ELIMINATED: McKenzie (Team New Orleans), Camila (Team Fresh Meat)
Biggest Rise: Devyn (Team Brooklyn)
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 LAS VEGAS Average: 3.5, last week: 3.25 (T-1)
Alton (5), Dustin (1), Trishelle (5), Nany (3)
Vegas is back on top after many weeks away. Next week they will face their truest test yet when Alton and Dustin face the wrath of Frank and Zach.
2. TEAM CANCUN Average: 4.25, last week: 3.25 (T-1)
CJ (4), Jonna (2), Jasmine (4), Derek (7)
A brief slip pushes them from the top for the first time in a while.
3. TEAM BROOKLYN Average: 4.75, last week: 7 (4)
Sarah (1), Chet (3), JD (9), Devyn (6)
Here comes Brooklyn! JD and Devyn are starting to show some fire and Chet and Sarah seem to be unbeatable in the arena.
4. TEAM SAN DIEGO Average: 7, last week: 6.75 (3)
Zach (6), Sam (9), Ashley (11), Frank (2)
Frank is doing incredible work, but increasingly, seems to be carrying this group. Will his early season impenetrable pairing with Zach become relevant again?
5. TEAM NEW ORLEANS Average: 8, last week: 12 (7)
Knight (8), Jemmye (8), Eliminated: McKenzie, Preston
With Preston and McKenzie gone, Team New Orleans jumps to fifth place in the team rankings. I credit them for making the right initial alliance.
6. TEAM ST. THOMAS Average: 9.5, last week: 9 (5)
Laura (10), Trey (10), Robb (11), Marie (7)
Although still in the dark about what to do with them, I have a feeling that we are going to learn more in the coming weeks.
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. Sarah and Chet (Team Brooklyn) Average: 2, Dustin and Nany (Team Las Vegas) Average: 2
T-3. CJ and Jonna (Team Cancun) Average: 3, Dustin and Trishelle (Team Las Vegas) Average: 3
T-5. CJ and Jasmine (Team Cancun) Average: 4, Alton and Nany (Team Las Vegas) Average: 4,
T-7. Chet and Devyn (Team Brooklyn) Average 4.5, Derek and Jonna (Team Cancun) Average: 4.5
9. Alton and Trishelle (Team Las Vegas) Average: 5
10. Jasmine and Derek (Team Cancun) Average: 5.5
And finally, during the “NEXT WEEK ON” preview, this is what I saw:
- At the challenge, somebody smells disgusting and CJ vomits
- Frank and Alton scuffle, Zach and Alton scuffle
- Frank tells Dustin that he dying to get his hands on a man 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.
David Bloom can be reached on twitter at @davidbloom7. His weekly CHALLENGE POWER RANKINGS come out every Monday on Derek Kosinski’s UltimateChallengeRadio.com. The Week 7 power rankings will be available on October 29.