The ends of prolific athlete careers can be difficult for both athlete and fan to endure. Frequently during those final games of final seasons all that remains is a shell of the former self, a shadow and a memory of the good times we’ve had and a reminder of just how quickly time can pass us by. Larry Bird’s final season in 1992, before his career succumbed to a debilitating back injury, had such a quality. I remember on a Sunday afternoon in March listening to a throwback game on the radio against the Blazers when Larry was the Legend again for one last time. As young fan and admirer of my Celtics hero, I knew that this was a special day that I should cherish because there would not be too many more like them (Bird retired that summer).
On rare occasion there is a moment like 1998 Michael Jordan (the Bryon Russell crossover, game-winning basket against Utah that could have been the perfect ending for the greatest basketball player of all-time), when an athlete is able to walk away on the absolute top of the sport that he has dominated. The promise of these Jordan first endings is often cancelled out by the athlete’s hunger to compete again, resulting in ill-advised comebacks that nostalgically pull at our heart strings and make us yearn for a hopeful reality that is realistically condemned to the past tense as hard as we may wish for it to be like old times. Watching Jordan on the Wizards in the early 2000s (or Magic in his mid 90s Laker comeback) was at first special because it was Michael in certain flashes, but inevitably was disappointing and painful because it was just not the same player.
In my preseason The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons rankings, I had Alton firmly ranked at number 1. This is what I wrote at the time:
“Many of you new Challenge viewers will not remember Alton (he was last on The Inferno 3 in 2007). All I can say is, watch out competition. Alton is the MJ of Challenge lore. It would be like if MJ retired in 1993, but instead of coming back in 1995 against largely the same competition, he came back in 2002 to show upstarts like Mr. Bryant and Mr. Iverson just whose league it really was (ironically, this is what he ended up doing with the Wizards). Alton is a physical specimen (pre Challenge steroid era), super competitive, and a really nice guy. He is in Turkey for one reason only – to win. The question is will he be able to bring his teammates along (a la 1991 Jordan) for the ride? Also, is Nany then his Kwame Brown? If so, does that make Trishelle his Jud Buechler?”
First off, Nany and Trishelle: I apologize for ever comparing you to Kwame Brown and Jud Buechler. This is a major misjudgment on my part. You both have proven yourselves worthy competitors. As for my Alton assessment, I may have been right to compare him to preretirement MJ, but Wizards MJ is a far superior 2.0 than Alton has turned out to be. On this week’s aptly titled “Going Insane” episode of The Challenge, we witnessed the unraveling of a former great into a shell of his former self. (It would be like out of retirement Jordan playing on the Wizards for a month and then quitting on his team because he couldn’t handle the jabbing and joking from Kwame Brown and Richard Hamilton.) This tragic and terrible fall from grace was depicted throughout the hour in the following incidents:
Incident #1: Alton versus Frank in the gym
This childish man-off got physical (a little pushing by the weights) and could have erupted, but Alton didn’t think it was the time. Frank was “here all day, bro” and could have continued his verbal sparring beyond the workout session. It was unfortunate to watch Frank so easily bring Alton down. The status difference in this space between veteran and rookie was remarkable. Alton has always been a shorter man who looked humungous. In this case, he was just a shorter man who looked short.
Incident #2: Alton doesn’t want to go to a beach party
In order for the beach party to happen, all cast members must attend, and Alton wants to stay home and sabotage the fun because he is “just generally annoyed by these kids and their bravado.” Two of his only (barely hanging on) allies, Sarah and Dustin, kindly plead their case, but Alton seems to care less. When Frank gets wind of the ensuing storm, he calls it like it is, “It is kind of selfish and you are kind of throwing a temper tantrum like a little five year old.” Alton leaves the room and then in an amazing moment of loyalty, Dustin supports his Vegas teammate in front of Frank (“another man doesn’t get in people’s face”). Compared to Dustin’s chivalry and poise, Alton looked like a broken and selfish individual.
Incident #3: The Insane Games
In the first event, “The Chariot Race,” Alton took the reigns as the horse runner and led Vegas to an early lead. Five years ago, this would be a show of Alton’s athletic and competitive dominance. There was no way that he would let anyone catch his team. In the fall of 2012, Alton was not only caught and beaten by young guns Frank (leading San Diego to second) and CJ (leading Cancun to first place), but Alton was so gassed that TJ had to actively cajole him to continue with his team on the next event. Here is Frank’s take: “Alton, I just beat you and now you are on the ground. Do you feel emasculated? Because you should.” Ouch.
Incident #4: Alton and Zach conversation in the kitchen
After Team New Orleans (the feisty twosome of Knight and Jemmye) wins the “Insane Games” challenge, Alton approaches Zach in the kitchen to ask him to tell Knight to throw in Vegas. Two things are terribly wrong: 1) He can’t even ask Knight on his own and 2) HE WANTS TO HAVE VEGAS THROWN IN TO THE ARENA!!! Why Alton? “For me, the arena is the path out of here.” What is going on?
Incident #5: Alton’s conversation with Nany and Trishelle
Alton tells his Vegas female teammates that he “would love to go into the arena and lose,” forgetting that his selfish decision would result in one of their eliminations, and Nany and Trishelle understandably do not want to go home. Nany (growing week by week as an irrepressible life force in this game) brings it and asks Alton if the Zach and Frank bullying is at the root of Alton’s unrest. Alton won’t come close to listening. “I don’t see it as throwing it. I see it as letting the kids have fun.” He continues, “If I want to go into an arena to use it as a passport back to the states, that is what I am going to do.” Who is this imposter pretending to be Alton?
Incident #6: Alton discusses the situation with Sarah and Trey
This is where things get even weirder. He tells us that he came on The Challenge this season because “he just wanted a vacation.” According to Alton, team rumblings about Nany and Dustin going in to the arena (to prevent Alton from screwing over Trishelle or Nany) must not be taken seriously and that they will inevitably chicken out, giving Alton the exit opportunity he so covets.
Incident #7: Alton at the arena with Zach and CJ
Team Cancun and San Diego alpha males are surprised that after all of his talk, Alton is not even going to compete for his team in the arena. CJ calls him out, Alton objects to the screaming, and Zach gets in his face and tells Alton, “I’m not screaming.” Poor Nany and Dustin are trying to focus on arena strategy while their “teammate” makes a scene on the sidelines. Both CJ and Zach have “tough to hear but likely true” interview takes. Zach: “He’s just an old fart who is lucky enough to get a call to come here.” CJ: “I thought Alton was the man who wanted to prove himself as a competitor.” CJ, I thought the same thing. I guess we were both wrong.
Incident #8: Alton’s final fall
Perhaps the least overt Alton incident may be the most telling. During Nany and Dustin’s eventual arena victory over Trey and Laura, you can hear Alton speaking to Trishelle about Nany and Dustin’s apparent struggles, “These kids, they don’t listen.” In these five condescending words, Alton’s fall has finally reached its low point. No, he has not left the show yet, but his complete disrespect for Nany and Dustin, two people (especially Dustin), who have been so supportive to him throughout the season, is unforgivable. Maybe “Zach and Frank have gotten to his head” as Trishelle suggests. Maybe this is some evil Alton clone who has come to the Challenge to disparage the mighty “kids.” Maybe an epiphany will occur and he will suddenly snap back into the Challenge hero that I remember, but I fear it may be too late. Time may heal these wounds and someday we will remember Alton again for that incredible competitor that so impressed us in the past, but for now, we are left with a selfish, unpredictable, horrible teammate, and questionable dude.
Before we hit the rankings, here are a few more non Alton-tidbits to pull from this episode:
- The Insane Games were completely silly and MTV has a GREAT time with it. The “ear pull” and “egg drop” took close to zero strategy (Chet: “There is no strategy to ear pull. I mean, what do you do?”), but producers sure had fun in post production with sound effects and slow motion replays. The “15 pound fish” duel for elimination was quite the event. I loved the intensity of Marie’s conviction about her fish dueling skills compared to Laura. TJ’s fake horse neigh is a top ten moment of the season.
- Before jousting in the final event, Knight hysterically pointed out the “destiny” of his name in such an event. Good for New Orleans to achieve power team status (even if in a silly event).
- Although Trey and Laura were eliminated in the arena, TJ pointed out “there are no quitters today,” a final dig at Big Easy. There is nothing that TJ hates more than quitters.
- Despite Alton’s antics, Nany and Dustin (in the arena) and Sarah (in the loser’s bracket duels against Laura) again showed their incredible resolve and drive to win.
- Laura and Trey should be commended for lasting so long in this game. After spending every Wednesday night with these two for the past several months, I hope their break from a weekly TV appearance will give them some real time to figure out if what is between them (there loyalty and connection are really commendable, especially in this reality TV medium).
On to the rankings, with some serious movement this week…
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. Dustin (Team Las Vegas) – Last week: 1 of 11
What makes Dustin special is that he can overcome moments of justified confusion and despair (“I don’t know where to turn. I have to clean up whatever mess Alton made. I don’t know what to do.”) to galvanize his teammates (“Nany is like my little sister. If she needs me to show up for her, I will.”) and find ways to win (“Dustin is a fighter. I am thinking, I am so glad that you’re my partner.” – Nany). As mentioned earlier, I love how he was able to be brutally honest and critical of Alton surrounded by family (in this case, Sarah and Chet), but when Frank’s wrath interrupted his space, he was loyal to Alton and kept family business private. He didn’t want to go into the arena, but helping Nany and helping his team was more important than his personal feelings. We see Dustin cross a physical contact line with Frank in the preview for later in the season. Let us hope that Mr. Zito can stay in the game to have the opportunity to continue to lead his team to have a shot in the final challenge.
2. CJ (Team Cancun) – Last week: 4 of 11
How did CJ do in the “Chariot race” event (the only event that took any real skill), Jonna? “CJ dominated it.” Coupled with his on point stand up to Alton pre-Arena, CJ plays the game at a very high level and expects his competition (especially the best of it), to do the same. His Landon-ian performance is still in line to have a shot in the final challenge.
3. Frank (Team San Diego) – Last week: 2 of 11
Zach was on Derrick Kosinski’s podcast last week and perhaps his most telling statement was about Frank’s incredible endurance in challenges. This was on display in the “Chariot Race” and in the preview for the rest of the season. Frank takes a slight dip this week because although he may have showed up Alton in their little tiffs, Dustin came across as the more righteous dude in his heated encounters with Frank.
4. Chet (Team Brooklyn) – Last week: 3 of 11
Chet’s line of the week during the challenge: “JD already looked like an idiot. I guess it’s my turn.”
5. Zach (Team San Diego) – Last week: 6 of 11
Zach is back in the big boy mix with an informative ultimatechallengeradio.com podcast, some justified tension with Alton, and the realization that he and Frank are running one part of the house. In a astute hypothetical question posed by Derrick on the podcast about a rookie dream team in future challenges, I was further impressed with his selection and competitor respect for supposed opponent Dustin.
6. Knight (Team New Orleans) – Last week 8 of 11
Yes, “The Insane Games” were foolish, but the Team New Orleans victory was a significant accomplishment for Knight and Jemmye. Respect for Knight grows by the week.
7. Derek (Team Cancun) – Last week: 7 of 11
8. Robb (Team St. Thomas) – Last week: 11 of 11
Derek was silent, whereas Robb, for the first time in many weeks, had something to say of real value. His competitive fire during the challenge and his arena support of Trey and Laura were refreshing and appreciated. The foreshadowed duel between these two (as again previewed in the promo for the rest of the season) will determine the ultimate power advantage to these two “nice guys, happy to be here” competitors.
9. JD (Team Brooklyn) – Last week: 9 of 11
JD’s week was encapsulated in the following quotations:
Chet, on JD’s look during the “Chariot Race”: “He looks like a prepubescent Secretariat.”
JD, on why he struggled so much: “Not only am I having to pull Chet, I’m having to pull his big ego, Devyn’s double D tits, and Sarah, so it is a lot of weight to carry.”
Chet, on why JD failed his team: “He was horsing around too much.”
Devyn, on how Sarah’s fish faired against Laura’s in the loser’s bracket elimination: “The fish put in more effort than JD did in the horse challenge. I am just saying.”
10. Alton (Team Las Vegas) – Last week: 5 of 11
See above. One final note: Alton’s low ranking and current game doghouse designation do not have to be permanent. He is welcome to break out of this undesirable state at any time. Sadly, if the after show (hosted by hair fashion novice Jonny Moseley) is any indication, there may be some issues going on with our fallen hero. I am hoping that I am wrong.
ELIMINATED: Trey (Team St. Thomas) – Last week: 10 of 11
Biggest Rise: Robb (Team St. Thomas, kind of a surprise at this point)
Biggest Fall: Alton (Team Las Vegas)
1. Sarah (Team Brooklyn) – Last week: 1 of 11
Sarah takes care of her business. She destroys Laura in the loser’s round (“My game face is on. I never thought in a million years I would be so serious about smacking someone with a fish.”), keeping Team Brooklyn out of the arena for the first time since Team Austin left. She understands that her connection with Alton (the after show proved that it was never anything too serious, let alone a relationship) is not worth jeopardizing the strength of her team: “I am way more concerned about Brooklyn than I am about anything going on with Alton. Everything that he is involved with is an extra stress that I definitely don’t need…I don’t have the energy to deal with that. I will give him his space.” This social-emotional intelligence flexing is an asset to Sarah and her team. She is not blinded by a crush to understand that Alton has reached a tipping point away from “fun to hang out with” and towards “volatile and may need some space.”
2. Nany (Team Las Vegas) – Last week: 3 of 11
Nany has earned her way to number 2 in these rankings. Since her clothes in the pool episode (so not her fault), she has been a consummate fighter and a formidable competitor. She handled the Alton situation with great poise and strength (“I am not going to go out of this game looking like a punk.”) and was willing to step up to the arena sand to take matters of her fate in this game into her own hands. It also helps her that, if traditional practice dictates, she will continue to be linked to Dustin in arena battles and won’t have to worry about whether Alton is ready to end his vacation.
3. Jonna (Team Cancun) – Last week: 2 of 11
4. Jasmine (Team Cancun) – Last week: 4 of 11
Consistent and drama free work coupled with unquestioned team unity translates to frontrunner status. Will this blissful existence remain when J and J are actually challenged in this The Challenge?
5. Jemmye (Team New Orleans) – Last week: 8 of 11
This “softball player [who] knows how to throw eggs” may not be having any victory sex tonight with Knight (her response was one of the episode’s finest moments), but her power team accomplishment moves her up into the top five in the rankings. For all their dysfunction as a couple, as a couple of teammates, Knight and Jemmye are loyal, communicative, and dynamic. I will not be surprised if they continue to go far in this game.
6. Trishelle (Team Las Vegas) – Last week: 5 of 11
“I don’t want to stay here with Alton. That is like a death sentence for Team Vegas.” Sadly for Trishelle, her potential linkage with Alton in an arena lowers her stock in this game. Can she put on your poker face girl and get your Vegas housemate in line?
7. Marie (Team St. Thomas) – Last week: 7 of 11
I wasn’t sure why Marie wanted to fish attack so badly (“Whenever you are in a competition, you pick your best player, and it is probably me.”), but from the result, clearly she was right. She wants to win (Alton could learn a thing or two) and knew Laura would not do well against Sarah. With Laura/Trey out of the picture, she and Robb have an opportunity to prove themselves in this competition. I can now say with strong assurance that no matter what, Marie will bust everything she has to make this happen.
8. Ashley (Team San Diego) – Last week: 11 of 11
Zach’s positive podcast comments about Ashley’ competitor worth moved her up a few spots this week. I am still waiting for more intel and screen time from this one.
9. Devyn (Team Brooklyn) – Last week: 6 of 11
It is not that Devyn got weaker, it is just that her competition seems to be a little stronger. With that said, she is giving Brooklyn teammate Chet a run for his money as the best interview on this show.
10. Sam (Team San Diego) – Last week: 9 of 11
It looks like next week’s preview (of Sam struggling in the challenge) may be the validation for her bottom ranking.
ELIMINATED: Laura (Team St. Thomas) – Last week: 10 of 11
Biggest Rise: Jemmye (Team New Orleans)
Biggest Fall: Devyn (Team Brooklyn)
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, last week: 4.25 (2)
CJ (2), Jonna (3), Jasmine (4), Derek (7)
They are back on top again with a strong showing in the challenge and a CJ step up to Alton.
2. TEAM LAS VEGAS Average: 4.75, last week: 3.5 (1)
Alton (10), Dustin (1), Trishelle (6), Nany (2)
Alton’s insanity is the cause for their big drop. Nany, Dustin, and Trishelle would be the strongest team of three.
3. TEAM NEW ORLEANS Average: 5.5, last week: 8 (5)
Knight (6), Jemmye (5), Eliminated: McKenzie, Preston
Team New Orleans at number 3? What is this?
4. TEAM BROOKLYN Average: 5.75, last week: 4.75 (3)
Sarah (1), Chet (4), JD (9), Devyn (9)
JD and Devyn find their ways back to the bottom of the rankings, further pushing the full Team Brooklyn down with them.
4. TEAM SAN DIEGO Average: 6.5, last week: 7 (4)
Zach (5), Sam (10), Ashley (8), Frank (3)
The Frank and Zach tandem are a huge force in this game, but the female contingent is still unproven.
6. TEAM ST. THOMAS Average: 7.5, last week: 9.5 (6)
Robb (8), Marie (7), Eliminated: Laura, Trey
Marie and Robb are primed for a resurgence out of the Trey and Laura shadow.
TOP 10 PAIR RANKINGS:
Based on this fail-safe system that I created, these are the best top ten pair combinations for this week.
1. Dustin and Nany (Team Las Vegas) Average: 1.5
T-3. Sarah and Chet (Team Brooklyn) Average: 2.5, CJ and Jonna (Team Cancun) Average: 2.5
4. CJ and Jasmine (Team Cancun) Average: 3
5. Dustin and Trishelle (Team Las Vegas) Average: 3.5
T-7. Derek and Jonna (Team Cancun) Average: 5, Sarah and JD (Team Brooklyn) Average: 5
T-9. Knight and Jemmye (Team New Orleans) Average: 5.5, Frank and Ashley (Team San Diego) Average: 5.5
10. Jasmine and Derek (Team Cancun) Average: 6
And finally, during the “STILL TO COME ON BATTLE OF THE SEASONS” preview, this is what I saw:
- Frank and Sam going at it in a challenge
- Marie vomits
- Frank goes off on a teammate
- Dustin and Frank have a physical altercation
- Marie cries on the bus
- Zach and Frank have an altercation
- Devyn says, “You just got your ass beat by the same girl chasing your ex-girlfriend.”
- JD vomits
- The final challenge in the desert looks impossible
- Dustin hits Frank
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 8 power rankings will be available on November 11.