When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About… 


1. Silver Linings Playbook, although benefiting from some “once a decade” performances from some supporting actors (more on this later), shines because of its two brightest stars.  Bradley Cooper (a long-time favorite since his early 2000s Alias days as Will Tippin) and Jennifer Lawrence (a revelatory acting performance after already having a breakout 2012) exude old-fashioned silver screen charisma.  Their scenes together sparkle with an undeniable dynamism and energy that at worst is the most memorable scene presentation in an MFA acting class and at best could win them both Academy Award nominations (this a likelihood for Mr. Cooper and a near certainty for Ms. Lawrence after their Golden Globe nominations).

2. Silver Linings Playbook has great bench support.  Robert De Niro, as Bradley Cooper’s sports gambler, Philadelphia Eagles die-hard fan dad, gives his best performance in recent memory and maybe his best of the 21st century (and there have been some seriously bad ones: See Killer Elite or Righteous Kill).  This finally felt like a movie where Sir Bobby cared more about the movie (in content, as exemplified through nuanced acting and general effort) than the paycheck.  Jacki Weaver is a delight as Bradley Cooper’s devoted but enabler of a mom.  In case you missed them and the budding promise that was, Chris Tucker (I am surprisingly happy to say, welcome back!) and Julia Stiles steal scenes (albeit in roles written a little bit too much as caricatures).

3. If you love American football, you will connect with and find much of Silver Linings Playbook quite enjoyable, but may find the football part’s execution a bit unrealistic and inauthentic.  If you don’t love American football and share a home, life, or family with someone who does, you may not get the football fandom (and sports betting for that matter) parts of Silver Linings Playbook (of which there are many), but you will think it was completely authentic and realistic (As a sports fan, some of the “football talk” read as exposition heavy and fake).

4. Unfortunately, Silver Linings Playbook has some tough, late game plotting distractions in the final half hour that seem inconsistent with the rest of the honest, humorous, and emotionally engrossing movie that you have just invested the first ninety minutes in.  There are several such plot struggles, but none are more irksome than when the trusted psychiatrist of Indian descent seems to take “not-on-call” to mean “absolved of any human responsibility.”  Thankfully, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence fill their screen time with an abundance of audience directed good will.

5. Silver Linings Playbook is an engaging, emotionally provocative, and often satisfying movie that despite some troublesome, unrealistic, and (perhaps) sloppy late movie plot points, leaves a successful game plan for combining talented, hungry actors with a screenplay and characters that warrant our attention.

David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about pop culture and the NBA for Bishop and Company.  His weekly X Factor column appears on Afterbuzztv.com and his weekly THE CHALLENGE: BATTLE OF THE SEASONS Power Rankings can be read on Derek Kosinski’s ultimatechallengeradio.com.


When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About… 


1. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey takes us to a reminiscent locale that I did not expect nor, if I had known, would I ever have wanted to indulge in the journey: Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace.  Both are prequels that provide sprinklings of appreciated nostalgia for the original trilogy (its characters, its world, its themes), but often fall flat and pale in comparison to the original work (Gandalf is Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Gollum is Yoda.  Boss Nass is the Great Goblin).  More acutely, both movies rely more heavily on CGI than their predecessors (the great “could/should” debate so eloquently presented in Jurassic Park) and the CGI is often a problem.  Yes, Gollum’s enhanced motion capture technology (we are almost ten years since the Return of the King release) is fantastic, but too many times Peter Jackson relies on character CGI in instances where great makeup in the previous trilogy would have sufficed.  The result is a movie that juxtaposes the lush and beautiful Middle-Earth surroundings (New Zealand should win some kind of film award for its incredible work here, yet again) with the clearly fake (and as a result cheap) artificial creatures and settings that oft inhabit it.  It is just (literally) not a good look.

2. Martin Freeman, as the younger Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm is back in the opening sequence as the older version of Bilbo who we recall with a bit of fear and concern from the Lord of the Rings trilogy), is a perfect fit for the big feet and warm-hearted Hobbiton community of the Shire.  Freeman, whose notable credits include the role of Tim from the British version of The Office (the model for the American version’s Jim) and Dr. Watson on the BBC’s incredible and riveting series Sherlock, has the self-effacing humor, kindness, and gentility to immediately become the Hobbitest of Hobbits.

3. Of the 50,000 camera shots in the movie (a random and hugely inaccurate layman’s estimate), 49,934 are moving.  The movie is in constant motion and sometimes I just which I could see a moving image in a motionless frame.  Maybe this was a mask for the less than CGI (your eyes had limited time to adjust), but it was distracting and did not work as the standard practice for almost the entire movie.  While we’re still on the CGI/direction challenges, the wide shot CGI heavy transitions to closeup real person moments were the opposite of organic and seamless.  Honestly, I am not sure what was going on with Peter Jackson much of the time during this movie.  He was having a tough time.

4. Gollum (played again by the brilliant Andy Serkis) is in only one scene of the movie (as called for by the source material novel) and the movie suffers because of it.  Couldn’t part of the “unexpected journey” of the title been some type of Gollum quest through Middle-Earth?  Mr. Jackson already picked through other Tolkien universe source material to provide padding for three movies.  An original Gollum story couldn’t have fit in as well?

5. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a simple tale of a movie cloaked in an epic motion picture’s body (splitting this book into three movies seems to have been a wee bit self-indulgent) that, although it hits several points of endearing nostalgia, does not create many lasting memories of its own.

David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about pop culture and the NBA for Bishop and Company.  His weekly X Factor column appears on Afterbuzztv.com and his weekly THE CHALLENGE: BATTLE OF THE SEASONS Power Rankings can be read on Derek Kosinski’s ultimatechallengeradio.com.

The X Factor Season Finale Part II Running Diary – The End is Here

Last night, the final three acts of The X Factor performed for the last time before America’s final vote.  Tonight’s season finale part II is supposed to be a celebration of the season and will feature the big reveal of the winner of the $5 million recording contract.  As has become my way in other Wednesday night show recap/columns, I thought a running diary was the way to go.  Unlike the first performance of tonight, this diary was written live


8:00 – It’s the X Factor red carpet and a “countdown” until the show begins.  This is ridiculous.

8:01 – It’s LA Reid!  He looks like a hobbit next to Khloe’s Gandalf.

8:02 – It’s Demi Lovato!  She looks incredible, is incredible, but does not seem to be enjoying this silly interview with Mario Lopez.  Can you blame her?

8:02 – It’s Simon Cowell!  Khloe’s interview goes nowhere (a constant theme of season 2).

8:04 – It’s Britney!  It’s Pitbull!  It’s One Direction!  Honestly, this red carpet routine feels uber-staged and insincere.  This is embarrassing.

8:06 – The montage from last night reminds me of just how bad LeAnn Rimes performed last night in her duet with Carly Rose.  If Carly Rose loses this, I am holding the “I am worried about you” version of Miss Rimes accountable.

8:08 – Did Pitbull get his nickname because he kind of looks like a pitbull?  Can someone explain this to me?

8:10 – The packaged descriptions of the top three finalists (“the family man”) are too packaged (another unfortunate theme of this season).

8:10 – Hmm, what just happened? (I went back and watched.  Here is what happened: Mario says, “Right now America, here are the X Factor top 3!”  Then there is an excruciating six-second pause in which Mario and Khloe are frozen.  Next, in silence, Mario and Khloe cross stage left and begin to talk, but the mics are turned off so you don’t hear their attempts to save the moment.  Flash to a picture from outside of the red carpet of an SUV limo that may have been taken earlier in the evening.  Mario’s mic comes back on and he makes some joke about how the contestants are so nervous that they are “making a deal” if one of them wins.  Good try, Mario.  Khloe laughs nervously and says, “I think we are ready.”  Mario then again announces the top three and crosses stage right with a smile that says he wants to strangle whomever screwed this moment up so badly.  All of this epitomizes so much of what has been wrong this season)  That was unprofessional and inexcusable.  Wow.

8:11 – Lip-synching opening performances should not be happening on a season finale of a Simon Cowell produced reality competition program.  This is a complete mess so far.

8:12 – The walkthrough, SNL-like opening montage (“Look at all the performers that have come before you!”) is meant to be fun.  Only Camila from Fifth Harmony seems to be having any.  CeCe is getting her makeup done in the chair!  Look, there’s Diamond White!  Give her a hug Carly Rose!  This is just embarrassing.

8:18 – The LA Reid “animated at the judges desk” montage set to the Nutcracker suite is the best produced segment on The X Factor in many weeks.

8:21 – I have written this many times before: if I were a fan of country music, I would really dig Tate Stevens.  His voice shines on this slow-tempo Christmas jam.  This is the highlight of the night so far.

8:25 – This video montage from Tate’s family and friends from back home in Belton, MO is a genuinely beautiful moment.  His reaction to his mom and his son is what this show can be all about.

8:26 – Khloe, please be quiet with your “how did it make you feel” questions.  They are unnecessary and silly.

8:32 – The whole Simon “is the Grinch” montage feels very 2003.  Are they going to bring out Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard next?

8:34 – I am a sucker for “Baby, Please Come Home” and I am (admittedly) a sucker for Fifth Harmony performances.  Win or lose tonight, there is definitely something “X” as a factor with these five young women.

8:37 – Director of the X Factor: please show Dinah’s reaction to Dinah’s family and Normani’s reaction to Normani’s family.  Thank you.

8:38 – Quick update: Camila’s little sister Sofia is now the highlight of the episode.

8:39 – Fifth Harmony members all have seemingly amazing families.  This was a beautiful segment.

8:44 – Mario tells us that it is about to “get really intense in here.”  Is he describing the meeting he is about to have with Simon when Simon lets him know that he will not be returning next season?

8:45 – The Britney reaction shots video may highlight an underlying truth: is Britney’s body language communication more effective than her verbal communication?  Answer: Without question.

8:46 – Yeah, it was probably time for Carly Rose to tackle Mariah.

8:48 – These “funky toy soldier” dancers backing up Carly Rose are doing great work.  It is unclear whether they are young people or not.

8:50 – Doris, Carly’s piano teacher, is a special woman.  “Go Carly!”

8:52 – No, Mario.  It is hard to explain how montages like that make one feel (although Carly Rose manages an eloquent answer because she is just that good).  Stop asking, please.

8:53 – This Khloe interview with a fan is unintentional comedy in its ultimate form.  Steve Jones would be proud.

8:58 – Hello unexpected Khloe costume change.

8:59 – Fifth Harmony is in third place!  (This is not entirely unexpected).  Khloe’s first comment is unintelligible. (“Fifth Harmony, you guys are out of the competition, but you guys fought a crazy fight to stay where you guys have.”) Has Khloe been taking Britney’s speech classes?

9:03 – Quick final take on Fifth Harmony – I give Simon much credit here.  He recognized that there was something special with this combination of voices and personalities and mentored them to an improbable third place finish.  They were always engaging and enjoyable to watch (the anti-Sister C) and certainly fill a gap in the marketplace.  I wish them the best of luck in the future.

9:10 – Khloe continues to ask awful questions of the Stevens and Sonenclar families.  Simon and X Factor brain trust: let’s find some new host talent for season 3.

9:14 – Watching this video montage of the entire season inspires this lingering thought: Jennel Garcia deserved to go further in this competition.

9:17 – When asked what her favorite moment of the season was, Britney’s reponse: “The whole season has been pretty amazing to me.”  Classic.

9:18 – What is Drew Chadwick talking about?  Renting a cabin and going snowboarding?  Thankfully, one thing Khloe did learn this year: take away the mic from Drew Chadwick before he finished a sentence.  We will all be better for it.

9:23 – My wife’s comment: “Pitbull looks like an old, creepy guy.  He is not even that good and this song is stupid.”

9:25 – She continues, “He has a little ghost goatee.  That is disgusting.”  Speak the truth.

9:32 – The chemistry between Demi and Simon is undeniable.  Of all the things that need to continue in season 3, this is it.

9:36 – One Direction came and went.  Honestly, it was too easy to tune them out.  I want the “biggest boy band in the world” to more effectively hold my attention.

9:42 – Carly Rose and Tate on the stage one last time and together singing a duet is a potential treat.  Unfortunately, “The Climb” is stuck in no-man’s land for their two diametrically different voices.

9:46 – The Tate and Carly Rose hug at the end is an unexpected moment.  These two finalists really care for one another.

9:48 – Simon has now unbuttoned three additional shirt buttons.  He is trendsetting a new form of shirt called the “Helm’s Deep V-Neck.” (And no, I am not sure what this spontaneous pun means either.)

9:52 – Khloe’s costume change no. 3 does not work.  This bedazzled pink and gold get-up is off-putting.

9:54 – This is it….the winner of The X Factor and the $5 Million dollar recording contract is…

9:55 – …Tate Stevens!

9:55 – Tate and then LA’s hug with Carly Rose is complete class.  Credit to both of these men for understanding what it must feel like for a thirteen-year-old girl to come this far and then fall short.

9:56 – Carly Rose is visibly disappointed.  Don’t you fret, girl.  We will be hearing more from you soon.

9:58 – Demi and Simon have a sweet moment next to one another when they watch Tate sing through his “I am the winner” song.  If anyone was going to beat Carly Rose, I am happy that it is this talented and kind man.

9:59 – Emblem3 are making fools of themselves on stage.  Tough lasting impression, lads.

10:00 – The final image of the season? Camila giving Tate a congratulatory hug from behind as we fade to black.  The X Factor season 2 season is now in the books and I think we all need a little break…

Stay tuned for a reflection on the whole season and an assessment of the current state of X Factor affairs in the coming days (or weeks).  Until then, happy holidays to all!

David Bloom can be reached on twitter at @davidbloom7.  His THE CHALLENGE POWER RANKINGS appear weekly on Derek Kosinski’s UltimateChallengeRadio.com. 

THE CHALLENGE: BATTLE OF THE SEASONS Weekly Power Rankings – Finals Edition

Almost four months ago, eight teams of four embarked on an incredible journey in Turkey to reach the point at which we now find ourselves.  Teams Austin (an unfortunate early exit), Fresh Meat (troubled from the start), New Orleans (Knight and Jemmye had a valiant showing), St. Thomas (an amazing rookie season), and Cancun (deserved to be in the finals) are no longer with us.  The three remaining teams, Brooklyn, San Diego, and Las Vegas (minus Nany and Alton) all deserve to be at this point and all have worked hard, played hard, and persevered amidst various obstructions, blowups, and internal combustions.  There is one obstacle left: the final challenge, an unknown and potentially dangerous sojourn in the Namib Desert.  These are the last weekly power rankings before the finals.  I hope you enjoy.

NOTE: Check out the retro-running diary of the penultimate episode here.


The rankings will be based on an un-Hollinger (recently hired to work in the Memphis Grizzlies front office!)/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 (1) Chet (Team Brooklyn)


The Journey So Far:

In my initial preseason rankings, I wrote that Chet “could be a real sleeper.”  By the first episode, he and Sarah were on the same page (apparently even liking one another, something that was inconceivable while they spent four months in Brooklyn on The Real World) and he has consistently performed in both challenges and arenas (valiantly in two with Sarah), has a great social game (despite the others claim of narcissism), is willing to help alleviate house fights, and has had the most consistent excellence in male sound bite delivery (Devyn has the female crown).  I have discussed the JEK Dynasty male power vacuum that so many competitors tapped in to this season, but I am not sure if anyone benefited more than Chet.  He was given room to blossom amidst all the chaos surrounding him, became an incredible leader and guide for his team, a wonderful balance and loyal companion to Sarah’s female dominance, and goes into the finals fearless, team and self-aware, and ready to anything that it takes to help Team Brooklyn win.  Congratulations to you, Chet.  Win or lose on Wednesday night, you will be one of the biggest winners of this season.

Chet in the Finals:

Chet has the endurance (both physical and mental), the calm and patience, and the courage to take the Namib desert head on.  He will helpful to inspire his team in more positive ways (although often successful, the anti Johnny Bananas) and could be a necessary balancing force when Sarah’s competitiveness clashes with the enigma of JD and the less travelled athleticism of Devyn.  Yes, in the finals, you are only as good as your weakest player, but in Team Brooklyn’s case, Chet could have close to a similar effect as one of the strongest players.

2 (3) Dustin (Team Las Vegas) 


The Journey So Far: 

If Dustin and Team Vegas win the finals, it would be hard to argue against Dustin as the MVP of this season’s The Challenge.  His five week reign in the number one spot in the rankings highlights his game dominance and competitive greatness.  I remember back on his Vegas season when an indoor car race loss exposed his at the time inability to modulate in the moment competitive strife.  His recent rankings dip, although emanating from the same personality difficulty, came with more justification and further exposed just how badly Dustin wants and cares to win.  He was so much more than Alton’s Scottie Pippen.  This was Dustin’s season and he should be proud of all he has accomplished, both as a competitor and as a clearly kind, sensitive, and generous of spirit person.

Dustin in the Finals: 

If any guy is built to succeed in a crazy, TJ Lavin African final in the Namib desert, it is Dustin Zito.  He has the endurance, the strength, and the will to fight until his body does not allow him to.  His relationship (so sweet the last few weeks) with Trishelle will inevitably be central to his performance.  Can he inspire her?  Can he motivate and connect in a positive way?  I would not be surprised if we see Team Las Vegas cross the finish line first.

3 (2) Zach (Team San Diego)


The Journey So Far: 

I knew in the first power rankings that Zach was “built for the physical demands of this serious physical competition,” but I didn’t know (especially after his antisocial Ashley relationship in San Diego) that he would be so successful in the social game (a place he has thrived).  Zach has been fierce in almost every challenge, willed two victories (with a not so confident Sam) in the arena, and has managed to manage his relationship with Frank (perhaps the most significant development of this season) despite some midseason struggles into a fruitful (he just received a Christmas gift from Mr. Sweeney!), bizarre, passionate, loyal, challenging, but clearly loving friendship.  His relationship with Jonna was never a distraction, always an asset both emotionally and strategically, and at least according to the edit, never hurt his ex-girlfriend and teammate Ashley.  In a season of many new stars, Zach’s certainly burns bright.

Zach in the Finals:

Zach is going to be in beast mode in the finals, particularly in anything that is physical and may ask him to support (by weight and by motivation) one of his three teammates.  I also think he has a strong handle on the strengths (Frank’s cardio) and weaknesses (Sam’s cardio) of his teammates and of himself and will be able to balance these factors in effective ways.  If he can keep himself out of the mud pit of human interaction that was his role (and Frank’s) in the “Logged Out” challenge, Team San Diego can win the finals.

4 (4) Frank (Team San Diego)


The Journey So Far:

Of any player in the game, Frank has had the most and least control of this game and both have been because of his own brilliance or his own failings.  His early season strategy is an essential reason why Team San Diego is in the finals, but his late night tomfoolery, pugnacious and unnecessary brutal comments, and his desire to fuel house turmoil almost unraveled all the good he had done.  As just stated, his relationship with Zach (especially when they got through some midseason drama) has marked why Frank is sitting on the verge of the finals.  In San Diego, Frank struggled (as did this humble viewer) with why Zach and Ashley were so difficult to get along with and wanted nothing more than to find common ground for relationship building.  His relationships with Zach and Ashley now (it helps that they are independent of one another) are so strong and may provide the loyalty and commitment to sustain a group finals effort.  Frank is the most polarizing figure in the modern Real World/Challenge community and a victory in the finals would help justify why some of his cruel and unusual antics are not the whole picture of this passionate and competitive man.

Frank in the Finals: 

From all reports coming out of podcasts and interviews, Frank is a cardiovascular freak.  The finals will require all players to exert an energy that all may not have, and, if Frank is at a higher level of endurance, this will be a key factor.  Unfortunately, the last time endurance was in play in a challenge (“Logged Out”), Frank had an episode on his struggling teammate (there is no love loss there), Sam.  He has to be able to motivate Sam in such a way that will inspire and not deflate.  If he is unable to do so, his personal abilities will be moot.

5 (6) JD (Team Brooklyn)


The Journey So Far:

It is a striking statistic that JD’s highest power ranking is this week (no. 5) when there are only five players remaining.  However, what is statistically misleading is that JD has shown some great improvement over the last few weeks (dolphin training does come in handy!) and is considered a valuable player and not a liability (according to Chet) for Team Brooklyn in the finals.  JD’s journey has been mostly under the radar, off screen, and out of the spotlight.  Producers of The Challenge love competitors who get involved with the drama (Marie will be back), who provide insightful sound bites (Devyn made her living here this season), and who have compelling stories to tell (Sarah is perhaps the best at this).  JD has not been featured, so at least one (and likely more) of these three categories is not JD’s strong suit.  Has he ridden the Team Brooklyn coattails to the finals and should be lucky to be here?  Probably, but credit him for bringing positivity, loyalty, and that JD “je ne sais quoi” dolphin training personality that remains a mystery to us all.

JD in the Finals:

JD is in good shape, will do his best to do what he is told, and will be willing to do anything with little objection.  These are all important factors in the finals.  If Team Brooklyn wins, it won’t be likely because of JD, but if Team Brooklyn loses, I do not think he will be most responsible.

WEEK 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Chet 8 5 6 4 4 3 4 2 2 1 1 1
Dustin 3 2 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 3 3 2
Zach 6 4 4 6 7 6 5 8 3 2 2 3
Frank 14 14 5 5 5 2 3 9 7 4 4 4
JD 9 11 13 9 13 9 9 7 6 6 6 5


1 (1) Sarah (Team Brooklyn)


The Journey So Far:

Sarah’s twelve week journey has been nothing but a joy to watch.  She locked her number 1 ranking in week 4 and has been unsurpassable since.  As noted in previous columns, Sarah has received the raw end of the stick in recent challenges (most notably the terrible decision to send her home on Exes when Vinny acted stupidly – I still don’t understand why Kenny, Mr. Beautiful himself, was not brought in), and you can tell that she has humbly taken advantage of every moment in her time in Turkey and now in Namibia.  She has led, along with Chet, Team Brooklyn threw real adversity early on, through two arena victories, and to a consummate state of positive team morale that is unbreakable and the central reason that Brooklyn is in the finals.  She is a great person in a game that sometimes rewards the opposite and she has managed to utilize her fun, energetic, passionate, and positive energy and personality to a competitive advantage.  Of all the people on this season, no one deserves a win in the finals more.  Sarah, thank you for all the joy you bring.

Sarah in the Finals:

Sarah is primed and ready for her return to a Challenge finals (and ready to overcome fears about the heatstroke incident that pulled her out the last time she was in this position).  Armed with a team of positive thinkers (a culture that she cultivated), she has a group of people that want to work together and want to see each other succeed.  I am excited to see Team Brooklyn doing their thing when faced with the Namib Desert adversity and to see Sarah cross the finish line having left all of yourself in this competition.

2 (2) Ashley (Team San Diego) 


The Journey So Far:

I always thought that Ashley was tailor-made for The Challenge (in a way that she never was for The Real World), but often throughout this season she was in the background, playing a third or fourth fiddle to her more rowdy and expressive teammates.  However, in recent weeks, she has found her groove (especially as a Frank loyalist, confidant, and partner), will be athletically and physically prepared for the finals, and seems to have come out of her shell.  Now that Team San Diego’s internal strife has been quelled (now may not last too long), Ashley seems to be having fun and enjoying her other cast mates (and we, the viewer, enjoy her!).  I give her the ultimate credit for understanding and connecting with Frank and for not letting her ex-boyfriend Zach’s new romance with Jonna cause trouble for her game or for the early season alliance.  The finals could be a formative time for Ashley to rise even further in The Challenge world.  Even if San Diego does not succeed in the finals, a pre-finals no. 2 ranking is an amazing place to have ended this very competitive season.

Ashley in the Finals:

My prediction is that Ashley is going to be an awesome competitor in the finals, and, if Frank and Sam have another “Logged Out” fight, she will be better equipped to help solve these issues.  This is could be bad news for Teams Brooklyn and Vegas and very good news for Team San Diego.

3 (5) Trishelle (Team Las Vegas) 


The Journey So Far:

As I reflect on this season and Trishelle’s role in it, I realize how much I have missed watching Trishelle on television.  This “older sister” version of her (a great Chet-ism) has been engaging, strong-willed, kind and considerate, competitive and strategic, and always interesting to watch.  She could have backed down and flopped with all of these newcomers surrounding her in the Turkey house (something Alton struggled with), but instead she embraced relationships, flirtations (well-played Chet), challenges, and her new Vegas teammates (she allied with Nany effortlessly, her Dustin journey has been more of a struggle, but I think they really get each other heading in to the finals) to a deserved place in the final episode.  If this is Trishelle’s last rodeo, it has been a memorable one and will seal her lasting reputation in the most positive of ways.

Trishelle in the Finals:

Trishelle’s success in the finals is linked to her relationship with Dustin.  When troubles come their way (and based on TJ’s warning, they will), can she and Dustin help one another succeed?  Will they be supportive or, as the Nany/Alton elimination episode illuminated, butt heads?  I think that these two have figured it out and needed to go through that awful few days (is Dustin going home?) to get some of those personality clash potentialities out of their systems and equip them with understandings and tools to better manage conflict.  Trishelle wants to win the money as much as anyone and will do what it takes to put herself in the best position to do so.

4 (4) Devyn (Team Brooklyn)


The Journey So Far:

I struggled with Devyn (in fairness, the game did as well) in the early weeks of this season because I didn’t really know her as well as everyone else, she didn’t really know the concept of working out as well as everyone else, and her relationship with Big Easy (it was very cute) did not seem to have any competitive benefits.  As I, and the viewing audience, have come to know Devyn better, what we see is a beautiful person whose humor, dynamic personality, loyalty and team understanding, and unique and appreciated perspective on all happenings has been one of this season’s most rewarding revelations.  I always assumed that she wouldn’t make it this far (and may still hurt her team in the finals, Chet is a little concerned), but I cannot imagine this season without Devyn’s wonderful presence.  Although a Challenge may not always be the best fit, a television program that Devyn is in always will be.

Devyn in the Finals:

There are some legitimate concerns about Devyn’s physical (her mental is airtight) abilities in a high-end athletic competition.  If she can galvanize around her teammates and find the adrenaline and will to perform, Team Brooklyn has a shot to win.  Chet is planning to carry her on his back if she fails at this, so she could win via another method as well.

5 (6) Sam (Team San Diego) 


The Journey So Far:

Despite a minor dip coming out of the “Logged Out” challenge, Sam has been consistent this season, but a bit of a surprise disappointment.  Considering her time and competitive nature in San Diego (a frequent ping pong partner of Zach), I thought she would be more heady and effective in this competitive scenario.  She has often been the brunt of Frank aggression and there was that Marie push that forced her into a plant (tough moment for us all).  I think that unfortunately Sam may not have been placed on the best team for her (I can imagine seeing a different and improved version if she were with Chet and Sarah on Team Brooklyn) and had to fight back for her relevance and placement in this game far too often.  A great performance in the finals could change all that.

Sam in the Finals:

If you consider “Logged Out,” her endurance could be a real liability.  If this is so, she needs both Frank and Zach to support her and inspire her, not to belittle her and demean her.  This big “what if?” is an essential question in deciding the inevitable winner of this season’s The Challenge.

WEEK 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Sarah 2 1 3 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Ashley 7 10 5 4 7 11 8 8 6 3 2 2
Trishelle 10 7 9 6 5 5 6 4 3 7 5 3
Devyn 15 15 13 9 10 6 9 7 5 4 4 4
Sam 6 6 6 7 8 9 10 9 7 6 6 5


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 (1) TEAM BROOKLYN Average: 2.75, last week: 3

Sarah (1), Chet (1), JD (5), Devyn (4)


How do they win?

They win by continuing their teamwork centered, positive, and supportive identity, by having a once and a lifetime athletic showing by Devyn, and by pacing their performance throughout.

2 (T-4) TEAM LAS VEGAS Average: 2.5, last week: 4

Dustin (2), Trishelle (3), Eliminated: Nany, Alton

Las Vegas

How do they win?

They win by getting along, motivating each other, and taking each checkpoint of the final one at a time.

3 (2) TEAM SAN DIEGO Average: 3.5, last week: 3.5

Zach (3), Sam (5), Ashley (2), Frank (4)

San Diego

How do they win? 

They win if Frank can stay in control, if Sam can perform at a high level, and if Zach has an amazing, Herculean showing.


I think that Dustin and Trishelle benefit from being a strong two (as opposed to the other teams strong threes plus one), get along, and ride their late season momentum to a first place finish.


It is now time to jump out of planes into the Namib Desert.  Tune in at 10 PM on MTV for the final episode of The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons.  It is going to be an epic conclusion to this wonderful season.

David Bloom can be reached on twitter at @davidbloom7.  His CHALLENGE POWER RANKINGS appear weekly on Derek Kosinski’s UltimateChallengeRadio.com. 

The X Factor Final 3 – Why Talent is All That Matters

The second season of The X Factor in the United States has been an exercise of mixing the forced lowering of expectations (Simon’s lofty season one ratings predictions were not achieved and may have been a set-up for inevitable letdown) with a self-aware-less internal hype machine that presents the stakes (a five million dollar prize and a ticket to super stardom) as industry affecting, monumental, and an assured successful career.  This dichotomy between our collective understanding of the X Factor’s cultural footprint (a smaller one in a few too many reality singing competition world) and the footprint that the hype machine apparatus so overtly suggests often leaves the viewer feeling like it is all irritatingly inauthentic, and, most of the time, it is.  Thankfully, talent, although subjectively adjudicated, is universally felt.  When Khloe this week did one of her silly, crowd-surfing interviews with young female fans, she met a young tween who was there in support of Mr. Simon Cowell.  When the tween was asked why she loved Simon, her response was “he’s always right…I love him.”  Simon opinion infallibility is a bit hyperbolic, but he is musically insightful, has a verbal command that America recognized and fell in love with (albeit for some, for his meanness) over a decade ago, and knows what it takes to foster the growth of a budding recording artist.  We tune in because he is talented (and one of the best in the industry).

Khloe and Mario

This season on The X Factor, for all of its many demerits, missteps (more on this later) and overhyped buzz-less buzz, has managed to present some moments of genuine, authentic, and notable talent that have sent emotionally charged goosebumps throughout our bodies.  When Carly Rose Sonenclar’s “star was born” several weeks ago, we felt the ripples of this movement.  When Jason Brock, the over 25s first live show casualty, dramatically dominated his “New York State of Mind” rendition in initial auditions, we felt the ripples of this movement.  When Diamond White channeled her inner Whitney and Mariah and when Jennel Garcia created such an impression at boot camp with just that look while she performed, we felt the ripples of this movement.  Too often though, we are told by Mario, Khloe, and the X Factor publicity team that what is taking place is significant, but our hearts and our ears listening to the judges (Simon has been consistently on point, LA and Demi have been in recent weeks, Britney is not even in the oral communication continent) often tell us the opposite.

Fortunately, this penultimate week of The X Factor was both infused with a proper display of real talent (Wednesday night’s final four performances on the whole delivered) and genuine buzzworthy results (Emblem3’s shocking Thursday night departure, Britney’s reaction when Fifth Harmony was announced as one of the final three looked like she had just tasted liver for the first time) that justify all the hype.  Last week we cared, but this week, The X Factor mattered, and, for a show whose momentum (Carly Rose brilliance excluded) has often been embodied in a typical Britney Spears sound bite (i.e. passionless and lost), it couldn’t have come at a better time.  Although it was a suspect ride to get there, the final three of Carly Rose Sonenclar, Tate Stevens, and Fifth Harmony (the big shocker) will make for an interesting final week, an unclear outcome (the weekly leader board may have been one of the best things that the X Factor did this season), and the potential for a star (Carly Rose, Tate at least in the country world) to have their defining musical moment.

Before we recap the happenings of this week’s final four performances and look toward next week’s final, I wanted to begin by briefly assessing the performances of some of the lesser known people who contribute to the X Factor behind the scenes (next week I will adjudicate the season’s performances of judges and hosts – quick preview: Britney and Khloe need to go):

Lil’ Eddie, vocal coach – From his wikipedia page, I learned that Lil’ Eddie is an R&B/soul singer-songwriter (written for Usher and Pink) born in 1988.  No offense to 24-year-olds (several are the nearest and dearest to my heart), but in a competition show where a judge is 20, is Lil’ Eddie really the best choice for vocal coach?  He seems really chill, but his work with Emblem3 (particularly Drew and more recently Keaton) did not show much vocal coaching.  I do appreciate his warm energy which is in sharp contrast to…

Autumn, vocal coach – …who seems really unhappy to be working on The X Factor and with artists like Paige Thomas and Fifth Harmony.  I wish she could have a little more fun.  At least she held Harmony, Fifth accountable for their namesake this week.

Whoever designed the title credits – The whole “outer space” motif has always worked poorly for me.  It is yet another example of humblebraggery and overblown hype.  As far as we know, the music (if you can call it that – too soon?) of artists like CeCe Frey should not be categorized as intergalactic.

Brian Friedman, supervising choreographer and creative director – You may have seen Mr. Friedman’s work in music videos (“Toxic” and “I’m a Slave 4 U” to name a few) and over the years on The X Factor and America’s Got Talent.  I think he is an insanely talented man and his stage ideas continue to impress.  Unfortunately, he is a choreographer who intrinsically puts more (movement is inherently more) into a medium that often calls for less (Carly Rose’s “Imagine” this week is a perfect case in point).  I wonder if his creative director role is in contention with his choreographer role.

The video production designer – Although the images are often seriously misguided (the Fifth Harmony fire montage during “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” a few weeks ago comes to mind), I give this individual credit for coming up with so much content week after week.

Whoever choreographs Mario and Khloe to walk across the stage while announcing – This is always so silly.  Also, since it is so silly, you may want to rehearse this at least once before trying each week.  For unintentional comedy purposes, thank you.  For quality work purposes, this is a disgrace.

The backup vocalists – Or, as I like to say when Emblem3 and Fifth Harmony perform, the co-lead vocalists.  One of the most challenging aspects of this season’s musical failings has been the overuse of backup vocalists (who are legitimately killing it) to mask some of the potential issues that may arise from the vocal dynamics of the groups.  I want Fifth Harmony to be five or Emblem3 (moot point now) to be three.  Their issues can be masked, a luxury the Tates and Carly Roses are not afforded.

The faceless X Factor announcer voice – He is really annoying.

Now, on to a breakdown of this week’s performances from the final three and the now departed Emblem3.  Because we are on a “leaderboard blackout” this week, I have ranked the artists in the order of “who should win season 2 of The X Factor.”  Also, note that Britney Spears, Khloe Kardashian Odom, and Mario Lopez are not ranked and although not officially competing, should lose season 2 of The X Factor.  I am just saying…


Carly Rose SonenclarThis week:

Compared to her normal, otherworldly self, Carly Rose had a tough week.  Did Britney’s initial introduction of her as “my little thirteen-year-old didav” or “diav” (I certainly couldn’t tell) throw her off?  Did the loss of her competition best friend, Diamond (they showed their beautiful departing moments), affect her confidence?  Was she just due for an off week and it just happened at an unfortunate time?  Either way, I was nervous for her to go home and was relieved when she was announced as the final of the final three (Even worse, after her two performances, Khloe asked Carly Rose, “What are you going to do to make sure you are in the finals?”  Carly Rose, after having already sung her two songs: “Well, there is nothing else I can do.”  C’mon, Khloe).

Her first song, a uniquely arranged rendition of Elton John’s “Your Song,” was mostly classic Carly Rose (a good thing), but for the first time in the competition, she seemed her actual age of thirteen while performing (this was bound to happen).  Still, the early judge comments validated her song choice.  LA thought she “did things with that song that [he] never heard done before” and Demi, despite thinking it was “still very predictable,” thought it was her “favorite song” that Carly has ever performed.  Simon and I agreed that it was a “beautiful version of a fantastic song,” but that she “can do better than that.”  Britney, in predictably incoherent form, told Carly that she was “right before my eyes.”  Yep.

Carly Rose on the pianoSimon’s analysis of her second song, “Imagine” by John Lennon, hit all the right notes.  Britney suggested (rightfully so) that Carly show her piano playing as part of her performance (after Tate and Drew of Emblem3’s guitar “playing” earlier this season, a low bar for instrument usage had been set), but instead of riding the piano the entire song, she stood up, walked around, belted (at times unsuccessfully) some unnecessary high notes before finally returning to the piano at the end.  Simon said this “made a beautiful song fussy,” wasn’t sure “that song needs those big notes,” and thought it was “overcomplicated” (preach Simon, preach).  The outcome of this movement happy mentor direction (either Britney, Autumn, or Brian) made a potential game-winning move into a sloppy mess and one of Carly Rose’s least outstanding performances.  In contrast, a balladic, simple, piano performance of one of the greatest songs of all-time (and on that note, I credit Carly Rose for tackling Mr. John and Mr. John Lennon in the same week, gutsy) could have been an opportunity for Carly Rose to seal her victory.  Instead, she was on the brink of going home.  Mentor/judge/enigma Spears majorly dropped the ball and could have cost this legitimate star an opportunity to compete in the finals.


Tate Stevens

This week:

Tate’s week exemplified what he has been the entire competition: consistently good.  I am no active listener or frequent enjoyer of the genre of music called “country,” but I get why Tate is a viable and potentially successful country artist.  Despite Britney’s out of nowhere “I don’t think it was your best” comment, Tate elevated his uptempo “Bonfire” as far “out in the sticks” as one could possibly imagine.  What was so remarkable about this first performance was the passionate energy emanating from this midwestern road worker (who may or may not have lost his job).  Simon said it best when he noted that Tate looks “like a man right now who believes he can win this competition.”  His age, often used as an asset, showed a poise that that his younger competition do not have the years to embody.  His “Bonfire” performance was the most fun LA has had since he has done this show.

His second song, “Fall” by Clay Walker, a big country love ballad, was Tate Stevens doing his best Tate Stevens.  He was so at home, rocking the rousing choruses, connecting on the key change (with a nice little falsetto line), and making his wife of fifteen years (Happy Anniversary!) oh so proud.  Even Britney, who has somehow seen Tate “hit and miss a lot” (WHAT?), thought it was a “direct hit.”  Tate is maybe not a transcendent performer, but is really good and if he wins next week, he will be deserving.

Tate to the final 3


This week:

Fifth Harmony

Fifth Harmony, Simon’s “second group, because Demi hasn’t got any,” had their best performance in this competition with their contestant’s choice song, “Anything Can Happen” by Ellie Goulding.  The performance, arrangement, costumes, and concept were all incredibly dynamic.  The harmonies were tight and clear (despite the backing vocalists who continue to do too much).  No, the male waiters with butterfly wings serving food to the ladies at the table made little sense, but I was more distracted by the undeniable energy coming out of the five young woman (especially Normani who was on fire this week!).  The judges (and the voting public, apparently) saw what I saw.  LA called it “the very best performance” Fifth Harmony has ever done and Simon thought that now “anything could happen” for this clear underdog. (Britney found it to be “inspiring girl power.”  Of course she did.)

Fifth Harmony

Although their second performance (and second time in the competition – the first at Simon’s house back when they were called Lylas) of “Impossible” did not connect with all the judges (Britney: “I would be surprised if you were here next week.”), this reminder of why Simon “fell in love in the first place” was enough to compel the American vote.  For many weeks, I have placed their ceiling as top three and, after their “Anything Can Happen” success story, here they are.  They may be a wee bit annoying in their over the top “we love everything and each other” pre-performance video each week, but when the music of Fifth Harmony connects (“Anything Can Happen” and “Impossible” that first time), we feel something special.  Although Emblem3 earned a spot in the finals after their awesome week (more on that in a bit), I am happy that Fifth Harmony made it.  They will make for a compelling finals.



This week:

Yes, Fifth Harmony over Emblem3 in the finals is serious surprise and unfortunate because Emblem3 were likely the best act of the week.  Both of their performances (an unexpectedly effective “Baby, I Love Your Way” and a surprisingly good “Hey Jude”) were electric and moving.  Simon contended after their first song that “if this doesn’t get you into the finals, nothing will.”  They did everything they could have done – command the stage, connect with many audiences, appear humble, show great musicality – yet America’s vote was the only arbiter this week (no judge controlled sing off) and their eventual demise.  My Emblem3 enjoyment journey this season has been a bit of a roller coaster, but I found myself this week, particularly during the Beatles sacred “Hey Jude,” surprised and becoming a legitimate fan.  If Simon’s kind work ethic and passion compliments are true about Wes (absolutely killing it this week with his vocals), Keaton, and Drew “we will miss your sleeveless self” Chadwick, their one direction to One Direction stardom has only just begun.  As Drew said when sound board operators failed to mute his mic, “we are going to do something great in this world…we need your help.”  I would not be floored if he were right.

My prediction for next week: Fifth Harmony will finish in third place (last year they announced this result at the top of Thursday night’s result show, poor Chris Rene) and Carly Rose will beat out Tate for first place (or at least that is what I hope will happen).  Honestly, it is anyone’s game and, for the first time all season, The X Factor matters.

Tune in Wednesday night at 8:00 PM on Fox!

David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about pop culture and the NBA for Bishop and Company.  His weekly THE CHALLENGE: BATTLE OF THE SEASON Power Rankings appears weekly on Derrick Kosinski’s ultimatechallengeradio.com.

THE CHALLENGE: BATTLE OF THE SEASONS Penultimate Retro Running Diary

The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons remaining competitors are literally on the verge of jumping out of a plane into the Namib desert to embark on a final challenge that even TJ thinks is undoable. In order to best encapsulate the awesome and incredible season this has been, I have decided to split up the column this week. First, is the retro running diary of the penultimate and final elimination episode. Early next week, I will release my pre-final power rankings and some further analysis of the remaining teams and their chances in the Namib Desert experience. Here we go…

THE WEEK 11 Penultimate RETRO RUNNING DIARY (power rankings to follow in a separate column)

The times are EST on the night the original episode aired, so feel free to follow along while viewing for the first time or while re-watching.

10:01 – There is one more challenge left and our faithful competitors are off to Namibia, Africa (“The homeland!” as coined by Devyn) for the rest of the season. Dustin: “Well there’s no tigers. Is there tigers? I don’t know.”

10:02 – 3o hours later, we arrive in Namibia…The edit shows us Survivor-esque shots of dangerous looking (beetles, snakes) animals, less dangerous looking (ostriches, gazelles) animals, and the dune-rich sandy deserts of a Tatooine-like landscape. Will our remaining teams be roughing it out in the African wilderness? Not this time. MTV splurged for an Atlantic Ocean side beach three-story that appears to have been transplanted from a Santa Barbara villa. There is African fused urban chic decorum! There is an indoor pool! There is enough alcohol to last a Frank evening! Trishelle: “We are in Africa!” Cue the third single from Alanis Morrisette’s Jagged Little Pill album…

10:03 – Sarah sets the stage for the final challenge with an experienced command that only she has: “This is the most important challenge yet. There are only four teams left: Vegas, who everybody is thinking is going to lose this challenge, San Diego, the clearly strong team, Cancun, who is shacking up with clearly the strongest team here, and Brooklyn. There’s no way we won’t be going in if we don’t win.” There it is.

10:03 – At the challenge, Sam sees an ATV and a ramp going into the water and all she can think of is Steve-O and Jackass. This concerns me on so many levels.

10:03 – TJ: “Today’s challenge is called ‘Sling Shot’.” Team San Diego starts laughing uncontrollably upon hearing the pun heavy title. Maybe I am obtuse for not getting it, but why is this so funny?

10:04 – “Sling Shot,” according to TJ, borrows a little “technique from the rednecks.” Ignorance?

10:05 – TJ explains the challenge (some ATV driving, a human sling shot into the water, lots of swimming to a dock, ring the bell, more swimming back to shore to cross the finish line) and the enhanced stakes (“You don’t want to go home now.”) Two people participate at a time, so the average time of the Brooklyn and San Diego’s respective two heats will be the counted score. This could be a distinctive advantage (if they do well) or disadvantage (if they do poorly) to the two person teams.

10:05 – TJ: “Today’s challenge has a little bit more riding on it today.” Devyn: “Literally.” Boom!

10:05 – Brooklyn is confident pre-challenge. Sarah, to her team: “You are a swimmer (to JD) and I am a swimmer. And you guys are the drivers. (To Devyn) You don’t even have to get your hair wet.” This is followed by a high-five and reason number 731 that Team Brooklyn has been a joy and a revelation to watch this season.

10:06 – Dustin and Trishelle have some pre-game confidence acknowledging (by a proud hand raise) that they fit right in with an event that connects to the redneck experience. Dustin: “That would be me!”

10:06 – Team Vegas is first (as chosen by San Diego’s power team privilege) and the Dustin ramp launch is teased into a commercial break…

10:09 – It’s Sway, introducing some end of the year TV event. I am distracted by the following notions: the fact that Sway is still around, how Sway got to appear on TV in the first place, whether or not Sway has any colleagues left at MTV News, whether MTV News still exists, why Gideon Yago is not a bigger star, why John Norris dyed his hair blonde during the mid-90s, how MTV used to be about music, and how The Real World and The Challenge longevity is one of the most underrated and unheralded TV stories (why aren’t more people talking about this?). Back to Sway – I am probably not going to spend my New Year’s with you. Sorry, buddy.

10:10 – Dustin “I feel like a superhero right now” Zito literally flies into the water (“I feel like I am here to save the day.”) off the ramp. Dustin absolutely kills the swimming portion of the challenge (TJ: “Way to dig deep”) and Team San Diego looks nervous. Dustin’s post performance vomiting (a longer swim than anyone thought) does not quell the fears of the other teams.


10:12 – Next up: Sarah and Chet for Brooklyn. Sarah battles with the deceptively cold water, bests a minor dock elevation misstep, and swims her heart out to the shore line as her teammates (in the truest sense of the word) cheer her on. Like Dustin before her, vomiting and artificial oxygen support are necessary (“We are in Africa!”).


10:13 – The JD/Devyn tandem seem to have the same success. JD’s (“This is fun!”) dolphin training experience is yet again a difference maker in this game.

10:15 – Derek struggles with the swimming (“I can’t breathe”) and is forced to backstroke much of the return trip to the shore. Things do not look good form Team Cancun.

10:16 – Ashley’s ATV stalls and Frank’s ramp acceleration flops like your average play from Reggie Evans. He has to swim longer than anyone else before him and although he does maintain a steady pace throughout, was it fast enough?


10:17 – Zach (“the last time I swam competitively was never”) owns his heat and competition in general. This guy was made for The Challenge.

10:18 – Team Cancun is the losing team (no surprise there) and will be forced into the final arena and Team Vegas is the winning team (the Vegas comeback is on!). TJ puts it in historical perspective: “Very rarely is a team get picked to go first and then win.” Dustin sees this late challenge adversity as “the best preparation for the final.” He may be right.

10:23 – Dustin and Trishelle must instantaneously deliberate (an appreciated African twist) and choose Team San Diego to go into the arena.

10:24 – TJ: “So which game are they going to play?” Trishelle: “Do we have a second to talk about it, or…?” TJ: “I mean, you got a second.” TJ Lavin – this is what host greatness is all about. (BTW – Dustin chooses “strategy” as means of leveling the playing field for Cancun while making San Diego “sweat.”)

10:25 – Chet gets the poetic drama of the final arena battle: “Jonna has been boning her way to the final and now Zach’s team has to go against her. I mean could you ask for a better final elimination?” There will be a serious depreciation of life quality without the man, the myth, the legend that is Chet on my television once a week.

10:25 – Dinner is served (on three, four-person tables – an odd configuration) and Sam is publicly basking in the glow of Frank’s ramp elevation issues in the challenge (completely the ATV or Ashley’s, the ATV driver, fault). Frank vents his frustration to Ashley in the nastiest of terms (as only Frank can). Poor Jasmine’s low weight is dragged into the mess. Is this a potential team turmoil fueled harbinger for what is yet to come for Team San Diego? (The seating chart, by the way: Zach, Jonna, Sam, and Dustin are at one table. Trishelle, Devyn, Sarah, and Chet are at another table. The third table is Derek, JD, Ashley, and Frank. So much incredible interpersonal and social structure understanding can be gleaned from this configuration. I am fascinated.)

10:30 – Even though Sarah is off of arena duty and has a ticket to the finals, her strategic game is at play: “As much as I loathe (gulp, unexpected) conversation with her, I give Jonna advice on how to do the strategy one, hoping that maybe she can send San Diego home. It would mean Brooklyn would be the only four person team running in the final, and maybe we could win the whole thing.”

10:31 – Understatement of the episode alert from Ashley: “Nothing is every easy for Team San Diego.” Doubts about the arena abound. Frank feels like he is going to puke.

10:32 – The “Knot So Fast” arena strategy game is transported to Africa. It is the same rules and concept as in Turkey’s fire pit locale, but the large metallic domes have been replaced by wooden teepees. Production must have run out of resources or money after decorating the Namibian digs.

Knot So Fast

10:35 – Round 1 (the rope twisting part) is over. San Diego and Cancun both feel good about what they did. The viewer struggles (knot so great translation to television) to have any idea about just happened.

10:37 – Round 2 (the rope untwisting part) begins and it looks like (from this obstructed view vantage point) that Cancun is neck and neck with Frank and Ashley. The entirety of Brooklyn and Vegas are instructing Jonna and Derek’s every move. Yes, Chet. The Cancun v. San Diego final elimination was a perfect ending, but another arena battle (more understandable suspense) may have yielded more tangible evidence to support this claim.

10:40 – During the commercial break, a The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 television promo tries to make the connection between “holiday season” and this final installment of the popular movie franchise (a reach like Robb’s arms). I try to keep myself in the center of pop culture, but this Edward/Jacob/Bella journey is one that I am glad I have never partaken in.

10:41 – Frank and Ashley make an “oopsy” in their rope untangling, or as I like to call it, the night in San Diego that Nate and Priscilla “hooked up.” This was the most lenient possible interpretation of the word “exes” in human history.

Ashley and Frank

10:41 – Jonna struggles with all the side-coaching and instead of tuning them out, decides to engage and yell back (“just shut up!”). Derek recognizes the problem with this reaction.

10:42 – Ashley and Frank win and Jonna is still focused on the “too many voices” that affected her performance. Thankfully, Zach is their to comfort her. Jonna intimates that she was in the “worst place of her entire life” before coming on The Challenge (that poor guy she dumped on the phone from the season premiere must be struggling with this revelation) and that Zach has been the best thing that has happened to her. Underrated subplot of the season: how functional Zach and Ashley seem to be with their post-breakup existence. San Diego had to overcome much diversity to get to the final and I am not sure they could have sustained another interpersonal impasse. Credit to both Ashley and Zach on this front.

Zach and Jonna

10:43 – Frank and Ashley “love each other” and are as bonded as any two people on this season. This is yet another aspect of the Jekyll & Hyde Team San Diego experience.

Ashley and Frank

10:44 – Derek and Jonna walk off into the Namibian desert horizon. We are down to the final three teams. TJ sets the scene while addressing Teams Brooklyn, Vegas, and San Diego: “You are officially in the final. I hope you guys dig a little bit deeper. I’ve been on over a hundred challenges. I don’t think anybody can finish that final, but if you can, you are getting $250,000 for first place. See you at the finals. Congratulations.” He follows this by rocking a cool hand signal gesture. There is only one TJ Lavin.

10:46 – The cast finds a new wardrobe for the finals (including under armor full body suits and new sneakers) waiting for them at Camp Namibia. Dustin models the new gear. The “night before” excitement is real.


10:46 – Chet and Trishelle have a heart to heart about the finals makeup of Team Brooklyn (particularly the potential liability of Devyn). Chet is in beast mode and will “carry Devyn up a hill across an ocean” if he must. This why Chet is rightfully ranked number 1 in the rankings.

10:46 – Chet’s interview analysis takes the clear plot forecasting a step further: “I have the endurance of a young virgin cult. I could win this thing by myself if I were allowed to, but Devyn thinks that taking the spoon from a peanut butter jar to her mouth constitutes a workout.” Well, there’s that.

10:47 – Trishelle has some legitimate (the episode two weeks ago warrants this feeling) concerns about her ability to work with Dustin in a stressful, competitive environment. There are now doubts percolating around each team. This is real.

10:51 – The morning of the final is here! The “butterflies are doing their thing” in Dustin’s stomach. According to Sarah, JD is “looking good.” Zach has a “pit in his stomach the size of a bowling ball.” Devyn puts on her weave. Now it is time.

10:52 – Sarah reminds us that the last time she was in a final, she “got heatstroke and ended up in the back of an ambulance.” She also lets us know that she is “not going to do that this time,” that she “came here to win,” and that she is “never giving up.” Competition, be warned. Sarah has her game face on and is ready to dominate.

10:53 – TJ, in front of three helicopters and four planes, breaks down the potential earning situation: first place is $250,000, second place is $60,000, and third place is $40,000. Everyone is at least winning $10,000 and Dustin and Trishelle could walk away with $125,000 if Team Vegas wins.

10:53 – TJ: “Welcome to the vast and empty Namib desert. You are officially entering no-man’s land. There is only one way in. So to start things off, you guys are going to be jumping out of those (pointing to the planes).” That’s what I’m talking about, The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons! You are killing it!

10:57 – Trishelle thinks Dustin give her the look of “I will rip your head off you back out of this.” I think it was more of the look of “this is the coolest thing I have ever done.” Just sayin…

10:57 – TJ’s inspirational wisdom: “This is going to be the hardest thing you have ever done in your entire lives. You will be a better person for finishing this thing. So, no matter what happens…when you are going, and you feel like you can’t go anymore, just ask yourself is that your mind speaking or your body. Ninety percent of the time, it’s your mind. So just tell it, no I am cool. Just keep on moving. Good luck. I will see you soon. Make it happen.”

10:58 – Ashley has an amazing way of making every post production interview feel super happy and cute, even when she is talking about jumping out of planes.

10:59 – The ominous music says, “there is a storm coming.” Well-played, sound designer. Well-played.

Chet and Devyn

10:59 – Dustin’s jump (the one originally teased in the pre-season trailer) leads into a “to be continued” fade to black screen…next week is The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons final challenge and I could not be more ready…


Stay tuned for my pre-final power rankings and my analysis and predictions of how well Teams Brooklyn, San Diego, and Las Vegas will fare in the finals (out sometime on Monday). Then, tune in Wednesday at 10 PM on MTV for the final episode of The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons.

David Bloom can be reached on twitter at @davidbloom7. His CHALLENGE POWER RANKINGS come out weekly on Derek Kosinski’s UltimateChallengeRadio.com. The Week 12 power rankings will be available sometime before the final.


Can you feel it?  The momentum of The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons has picked up like the volatility in Frank’s personality while drinking.  Each moment of each episode now feels like an essential window into the potentiality of the final challenge.  This past week, the Challenge cast journeyed from near and far to New York to film the reunion special, a sign that the end is near.  With only one episode left before the final, I have decided to keep on the retro running diary train to make sure that every important moment (and as you will soon find out if you actually read through all of this prose before hitting the rankings) gets mentioned.  On to our last night spent in the confines of Turkey before a major location change in preparation for the final…

THE WEEK 10 RETRO-RUNNING DIARY (power rankings to follow)

The times are EST on the night the original episode aired, so feel free to follow along while viewing for the first time or while re-watching.

10:00 – The episode begins with an artistic opening shot of the moon cross-faded into the Turkey compound pool followed by some wind swept drapes billowing in the ominous post-arena evening.  Ladies and gentlemen – The Challenge means business tonight!

10:01 – First off, where in the house is this Team Brooklyn communication den?  Second, I love how Brooklyn serves as the home to Vegas therapy sessions.  In this sequence, they seem to be good listeners.  Third, the Dustin and Trishelle impasse seems impenetrable.  Trishelle can’t get Dustin to see the big picture!  Dustin is so distraught he may be forced to go home!  What is going to happen?  At least in-episode cliffhangers last all of one minute because the next day…

10:01 – The next morning Jedi Master Chet (vintage Ray-Ban sunglasses and all) is doing some crazy force work on Padawan Dustin: “These are the cards you have (mock card dealing motion).  It’s a team of Dustin and Trishelle.  That’s all you can play right now.  So you either do it, or you quit, and I know you are not a quitter.”  Listen, when you are number one in the rankings, you are number one in the rankings.  The force is strong in Chet as he gives Dustin “a second wind” with Trishelle.  The Team Vegas crisis is officially averted, so Dustin can now go about his business of jumping out of a plane (as teased in the original trailer and photos for the season) in a future episode.

10:02 – Back in a different Team Brooklyn communication den, Sarah and Chet discuss the strategy for Brooklyn going forward (aptly recognizing that both Cancun and San Diego are the obstacle in front of them).  JD’s input: “Well, let’s move forward and prosper.”  Dolphin trainers are apparently good at speaking in generalized mixed clichés (among so many other things).

10:02 – Today’s challenge is called “Force Field” or (to kick it old school) “what everyone needed when around Beth S. of Real World: Los Angeles.”

10:03 – The challenge is based on a simplistic, but hard to explain, point system of which team can stay on the platform longest and out of the surrounding mud pit while battling each other in inner tubes (one team per tube).  The longer you stay on the platform, the higher your point value.  The scores from the girl’s and guy’s heat will be added together to determine the winner.  TJ seems particularly excited about watching this one.

10:04 – The girl’s heat is first “and, out of nowhere, [Jonna] sees four inner-tubes heading towards [her].  What the hell is going on?”  Perhaps there is some homelessness envy going on.  Jonna is in the mud.  Cancun has 0 points.  Zach is none too pleased.

10:05 – Trishelle lazily makes her attack and Team San Diego’s Sam and Ashley duo bounce her into the muddy waters.  Dustin is “glad to see Trishelle try.”  Maybe Dustin did not have access to the replay of the viewing audience because from my perch at home, Trishelle’s “try” left something to be desired.  I am just saying (20 points to Vegas).

10:05 – Devyn: “You do know who you are going up against, right?  Sarah and Devyn – two of the baddest girls here.”  Surrounding mud pit, meet Team San Diego (40 points).  Sarah likens the challenge to “human Mario Kart” and the episode’s sound editors provide a “wink and a nod” musical homage.  To answer your question, yes we are having fun, yet.

10:05 – Sam is still stuck on Marie’s plant pot push from last episode and does not appreciate the continued Marie assault (this time in “Force Field”).  According to Sam, Marie is an “all-around [indistinguishable expletive].”  Zach is pissed about the San Diego girl loss and is going to take it out on Chet and JD because he “doesn’t care.”

My writing of this column just took a bit of a delay.  My newly acquired Christmas tree decided to randomly fall over in the middle of my living room (luckily just missing my laptop and television by a few inches).  Unfortunately, Rapunzel and Pinochio were casualties of the event.  Not good times…

10:06 – Sarah and Devyn (“It feels sooooo good”) knock Marie off and win the girl’s heat.      It is the boys turn.  Zach pre-game strategizes with Frank: “Now we have to be able to move together.  It is just like true becoming one.  Honestly.”  The edit playfully plays on the homo-eroticism between Zach and Frank.  JD and Chet’s pre-game strategizing lacks the same charisma.

10:10 – The first boy’s heat begins and an initial battle between Cancun and Brooklyn (trying to eliminate Cancun) yields the first penalty for both.  You are not allowed to fall in “Force Field” (three times and you dq).  Sarah (“Oh my God you guys, stop!”) and Jonna (“Go for Brooklyn.  That is fucked up.”) side coach from the sidelines.

10:10 – The Brooklyn boys fall again and Devyn and Sarah are none too pleased that their first place finish in the girl’s heat is in jeopardy.  Clearly, they presume it is JD’s fault.  Sarah: “JD, don’t fuck around!”  Devyn (in her post interview): “JD is spazzing around like a headless fish.  What is wrong with you?”  Poor, JD.  Even his indiscriminate action is a cause for team concern.

10:11 – Brooklyn falls for a third time and is disqualified.  The JD directed tirade continues.  Sarah: “JD, what’s your problem with listening to directions?”  JD is “pissed off” that “his team is attacking him…Of course, JD gets all the blame.”  Again, poor JD.  Even when his team wins, he can’t win, and, when his team loses, he is the scapegoat.  There has got to be something to this, though.  Maybe he is conditioned to listen to dolphin sounds instead of human directions?  For the first time in weeks, there is some tension in Team Brooklyn’s team corner.

10:12 – Dustin tries to survive as long as he can, but San Diego’s attack is too strong.  Tough times for Team Vegas in this challenge.  Frank thinks he and Zach are “giggling” inside the inner tube like “two sisters on a beach vacation.”  Touché.

10:13 – In succession, San Diego knocks out Robb and Derek to win the “Force Field” challenge.  Zach: “San Diego is definitely the best team in the game at this point.”  With the Team Brooklyn fall out boy heat, he can reasonably make this argument.

10:13 – The Team Brooklyn post challenge interview is particularly dysfunctional and the blame is still JD centered.  Chet, on one hand, defends JD, but acknowledges to the incredulous Sarah and Devyn that he was “in the damn tire with him” and gets what they are saying, but because he is their teammate, they all have to stick with him.  JD gives a sincere apology and looks shell-shocked and broken.  Again, poor JD.

10:14 – Vegas comes in last place and will be heading back to the arena.  Dustin remembers his fallen comrades of Nany and Alton and wants to “make them proud.”  He  is again is composed and clear.  After an episode off of the emotional deep end, Mr. Zito seems back in the zone.  This is going to be bad news for whomever he faces in the arena (and very good news for his recently reconnected partner, Trishelle).

10:15 – The San Diego deliberation on who to send in reaches a bit of an impasse.  Zach wants to send in St. Thomas because Marie “assaulted Sam” and Frank wants to keep St. Thomas and send in Brooklyn because Robb and Marie are his best friends here (“Thanks a lot, Frank,” says his entire team).  This should be interesting.

10:16 – Chet and Sarah have one of those conversations that harkens back to the premiere episode and makes this avid and close (yes, I know…definitely too close) viewer of The Challenge giddy.  Sarah and Chet know that Devyn and JD are supposed to go in, so if Brooklyn is the San Diego pick, Sarah and Chet are at least safe for another week.  Chet is worried about an arena cold feet incident like Trishelle last week (JD remains the season’s biggest enigma) and cannot be complacent.

10:16 – San Diego pulls Brooklyn in for a meeting (the background music tells you it is an important, high stakes meeting).  San Diego wants Vegas out and asks Brooklyn what arena event they think they have the best shot against Vegas in.  Devyn’s answer is the “mental” memory/inverted water dive arena, but indicates that in order to knock Vegas off, St. Thomas would be a better choice.  The plot thickens.

10:17 – The Marie/Robb meeting with San Diego does not go so well.  Marie is not talking, leaves it to Robb to give his preferred arena events, and promptly walks out.  The pride this girl has is close to incredible.

10:18 – Zach is not having any of Marie’s “you owe us” attitude.  After all, no one else is “throwing one of [his] teammates into a flower bush.”  C’mon Frank, she is “Staten Island trash.”  Zach is rocking the effective metaphors tonight!

10:20 – Marie (she is a self-titled “crazy bitch”) comes back to further discuss with Frank and Ashley and the tears begin to stream down Frank’s face.  Central to their team conflict is the “flower plant push” incident and Zach and Sam cannot get past this (Listen, who pushes another person into a flower pot anyway?)  Cue melancholic emotional song and fade to pre-commercial black.  MTV is on point this evening.

10:24 – Team San Diego chooses St. Thomas to go back to the arena and seems to have completely disregarded Robb’s arena game request (I think this was a just an oops moment, but understandably tough for Robb and Marie to swallow).


10:26 – On the bus to Turkish nightlife, Marie is now on crying duty.  Frank’s lack of “friend protection” has quite the effect on her.  Turkish nightlife may not be the best elixir at this time.

10:26 – Devyn, on the dance floor, to Chet and Sarah: “Go Team Brooklyn!  We are still alive!”  Two things: this is wonderful and where is JD?

10:27 – Marie and Frank have a talk that does not go well.  Robb’s step-in to support Marie makes things even worse.  Names are called, insults are slung, and friendships are tested.  The night is too young for this to end well…

10:28 – The bus becomes the site of the next rumble (taking the form of a battle of stand-ups).  Marie calls everyone “corny” (urban dictionary: “trying to be cool, but ultimately very uncool indeed, and often even extremely embarrassing”), proving that it takes one to know one.  The lead-in to the commercial took a turn for the unintentionally comedic and surreal.  Marie: “Sam, i would kill you by the way.”  Zach: “Yeah, but I would kill your man, so shut up!”  Marie, in response: “And I would fucking kill your girl, how about that.”  As Sarah hides in the seat next to all of this, my mind goes to the bus driver.  What must he think of a scene like this?  Does he have a sense of who these people are?  Does he comprehend their celebrity status?  Does he think Robb is an NBA player?  Did he recognize Trishelle from The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning TV movie?  Does he make small-talk with JD?  We need a commercial to suss this all out.

10:33 – The action starts back at the house and Marie is still its center.  Chet tries to intervene: “Marie.  Chill.  Go to bed.”  Marie decides to direct her response at JD (inexplicably): “Don’t even talk to me.  You don’t even count, so.” (Marie follows this with a mocking dolphin impression – he just can’t win!).

10:34 – Fear not!  The dolphin trainer fights back!  JD: “Marie, have fun looking outside that airplane window.”  Marie then starts to go at JD for being a weirdo and “dol-phin trai-ner.”  This is all so overwhelming.

10:34 – Marie asks, who’s next?  Answer?  Derek, and he is not gonna take it anymore!

10:35 – Robb tries to support Marie (the broken record persists, at least they have each other’s back) and then gets mixed up with Derek (who, for the second straight house drinking event, is in it to win it).  It goes there to the point where Robb must take off his shirt in a show of strength while Chet and Frank (Now a peacemaker!  What is going on?) try to maintain order.  Commercial break, please.

10:37 – MTV contends that everyone is talking about Catfish.  So far, I have met only one person who is talking about Catfish.  Where are these people?

10:37 – Chet (number 1 in the rankings for a reason) summates the return to action as only Chet can: “This night is pathetic to watch.  It is further evidence that Robb and Marie are unstable as both competitors and, more importantly, as human beings.”  Of all the people on The Challenge who I would most like to sit and watch The Challenge with (or watch life with, for that matter), three are on Team Brooklyn and this does not even include JD (whose head would be fascinating to be inside for a day).  Chet’s successful peacemaking is just beautiful to watch.  A star he is.

10:39 – It gets even better back in bunkhouse Vegas.  Chet: “Trishelle is kind of like that recently divorced mom that is trying to party with her daughters.  She’s been flirting with me quite a bit.  I wouldn’t mind having my way with her.”  Chet, yes you can!  Trishelle is flirting right back.  Trishelle: “Chet’s adorable.  He is funny, cool.  There is nothing wrong with flirting.  It is just innocent fun.”  In the scheme of social subplots, this is a great one.

10:42 – It’s arena time and the event is “Water Torture.”  The vibe coming from Team Las Vegas is refreshingly endearing.  Dustin and Trishelle are positive, joking with one another, and both seem relaxed for the circumstance they are in.  After an off-week for these two, win or lose tonight, they were able to rediscover some of their Challenge mojo.

10:43 – As “Water Torture” begins, the early drama is figuring out the breathing system.  Both Robb and Dustin are doing so with a sense of humor, an unusual response to torture.  Props, gentlemen.

10:44 – The weekly Challenge clip during the commercial break shows a Team San Diego hoedown at some daytime party.  Devyn seems to accurately portray this group dance as a “hot-ass mess.”

10:45 – I have no idea what to make of Jack Reacher.  It could be a sneaky good action movie or it could be a disaster.  I literally have no idea.

10:48 – Torture time, and according to Devyn, “Dustin is making it look easy.”  She is also enjoying looking at his “six pack abs” because “that is easy too.”  Devyn, when considering your participation on this year’s The Challenge, the pleasure has been ours.

10:49 – There is yet another commercial midway through the arena.  I can imagine the drama live in the arena, but alas, the “Water torture” is a bit mundane while watching at home.  Memory following does not translate well on TV and I struggle to follow the happenings (except when Camila and Easy imploded many many weeks ago).

10:55 – I guess there was some drama (Trishelle may have messed up a few squares), but Team Las Vegas, led my Dustin’s amphibious (Zach, again, nice work with the metaphors) skills prove to be too much for Robb and Marie.  Trishelle has a great moment of exultation: “Dustin, I love you even though we fought for the last three days!”  It feels like three years ago.

10:56 – Dustin and Trishelle’s post-game interview involves more smiling, more laughing together, and more cuteness.  Whatever they had in their system, it is long gone.  Team Las Vegas is back.

10:56 – Marie and Robb go out with some pride and sense of humor.  Robb: “I think the rest of the house is gonna feel probably relieved.  They don’t have two drunken assholes T-Rexing around anymore, so.”  Marie: “They don’t have to deal with my mouth anymore.”  Marie hopes that no one hugs her on her way out because she will “body slam them like…” until Robb stops her from finishing.  Robb and Marie have been a consistent fixture on our Wednesday nights for some time and the viewer could not have asked for a better send off.  As TJ says, hopefully we will see you in the future.

10:57 – TJ resets the game.  There are four teams left, one challenge, and one elimination.  If you get power team status, all of you have to do is “make it through [TJ’s] final, and you get money.”  All you have to do.  TJ, we know better that what you have to do is going to be a wee bit difficult.

10:58 – After a text from TJ, the remaining competitors learn that the next challenge will be in Namibia!  There is universal excitement, but Zach sums up the other prevalent sentiment: “Where is Namibia?”

10:58 – Trishelle: “Is it an animal?  Is it a state of mind?”

10:58 – Dustin is super-excited to be heading to Africa, but, at the same time, scared about what Africa is going to bring.  Cue a preview of some scary Africa clips (including the Dustin jump out of a plane clip from the original season trailer).  This is going to be a bit cray.



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 (1) Chet (Team Brooklyn) – Chet had one of those episodes where he was given adequate airtime to display his array of gifted interpersonal ability, savvy gameplay, peacekeeper essentiality, teammate loyalty, witty banter, and in a somewhat surprising showing, his flirtation skills.  He is the total Challenge: Battle of the Seasons package and has been flexing this muscle for weeks now.

2 (2) Zach (Team San Diego) – Not only a master of interview metaphor and pink scarves, Zach dominated the “Force Field” challenge and was the definitive leader of Team San Diego in their St. Thomas arena-send-in decision.  His free spirit and lack of self-effacing humility and humor have been one this season’s great revelations.

3 (3) Dustin (Team Las Vegas) – Last week I wrote, “I have a feeling Mr. Zito will be able to recover next week.”  I didn’t how right I would be.  His southern charm, competitive spirit, and encouraging teammate self were back and maybe even better than before.  He was in “nothing to lose” mode which translated to “will not lose” in the arena.

4 (4) Frank (Team San Diego) – Frank was again dominant in the challenge, but again the provoker (Marie was mainly to blame on this one, though) of the house drama.  I do credit him for being able to help the situation as best he could (his attempts were genuine) and I felt for how the Marie arena decision devastated him.

5 (7) Derek (Team Cancun) – Derek held his own (for as long as possible) in “Force Field” and, although he could not avoid drama this episode, he seemed to be completely in control and mostly justified.  Derek has every chance to be a key player in the two remaining episodes.

6 (6) JD (Team Brooklyn) – JD got the most airtime this week of any previous week, although I thought most of it was at his expense.  There has to be some truth in Team Brooklyn blaming him for their “Force Field” dq and in Marie’s dolphin-themed attack.  If anyone can better explain JD to me, please do!

ELIMINATED: Robb (Team St. Thomas) – Robb grew on this show week to week and ended his long St. Thomas run with a respectable showing.  Robb with two Bs, we will miss your presence on Wednesday nights.  You are welcome to come back soon.



1 (1) Sarah (Team Brooklyn) – Despite some JD inspired teammate disparagement, Sarah’s game face is always on.  Her “Force Field” complete domination (and teamwork with Devyn) and strategy session with Chet display this focus.  Sarah will be in the final and will be ready.

2 (3) Ashley (Team San Diego) – Ashley continues to rise in the rankings with a delicate (but effective) handling of some of her more temperamental teammates and consistent (although not too successful this week) showings in challenges.  She has yet to step into an arena (amazing) and unless San Diego is sent there next week, may not have to.

3 (5) Jonna (Team Cancun) – Jonna was fiesty as ever and has one more week to survive to the final.  I continue to appreciate her push for the win and uber-competitive spirit.  She has managed to keep her Zach relationship drama-less and has reaped the benefits of the personal connection and team alignment.  She has played an overall outstanding game.

4 (4) Devyn (Team Brooklyn) – Devyn has been a joy to get to know and furthered her successful run in this game with some “bad-ass” inner tube work with Sarah.  Always quotable, her interview skills would be ranked first among women.

5 (7) Trishelle (Team Las Vegas) – Trishelle may have still had difficulty bringing the edge to the challenge, but her subsequent performance in the arena, newly formed resolution with Dustin (and sense of humor that came with it), and smile inducing Chet flirtation seemed so carefree.  After the team turmoil of last week, she and Dustin are more unified than before and potentially very dangerous for other teams.

6 (6) Sam (Team San Diego) – Poor Sam came back from last week’s plant pot incident as the continual receiver of Marie’s wrath.  Marie really got to her (as Frank did earlier in the season), but fortunately, for Sam, she is no longer in Marie’s cross hairs.

ELIMINATED: Marie (Team St. Thomas) – Marie went out with a bang (the definitive star of the episode) and defined herself as one of the great new female characters, competitors, and drama centers that The Challenge has had in years.  She was in the game from the beginning, aligned with right people, and stood up for herself when it was time.  For she and Robb to last so long should be a point of pride.  We look forward to seeing her again.



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 (1) TEAM BROOKLYN Average: 3, last week: 3

Sarah (1), Chet (1), JD (6), Devyn (4)

Can they win as foursome? Although Team Brooklyn buckled under pressure a bit after the JD/Chet disqualification, Chet was able to simmer the tide and show that when faced with adversity, there is an internal mechanism to combat it.  More and more, I think JD (over Devyn) may be the team liability (the other’s lack of belief in him rests the primary reason), but if appropriately supported and encouraged, he may be fine.  If Sarah and Chet’s conversation is a harbinger of things to come, we may not see this foursome reach the finals.

What pairings can win?  Sarah and Chet can win The Challenge.  JD and Devyn cannot.  There is little to no scenario that Sarah and Chet are going into the arena (if Brooklyn is forced to, Devyn and JD are up), so the JD/Devyn combo will not ever be alone.

2 (3) TEAM SAN DIEGO Average: 3.5, last week: 4

Zach (2), Sam (6), Ashley (2), Frank (4)

Can they win as foursome? Yes.  This is a strong team, and Sam, their weakest link, is now completely supported by Zach.  I think they are stronger as four than as two.  The personality clashes under pressure are still their major Achilles heel (and a big one at that).

What pairings can win?  I have a feeling that this question is a moot point.  I think we can expect their foursome to be in the finals.

T-4 (4) TEAM LAS VEGAS Average: 4, last week: 5

Dustin (3), Trishelle (5), Eliminated: Nany, Alton

Can they win as a pair? Yes!  They got their stuff together this week (at least in time for the arena) and showed what a dynamic pairing they can be.  As long as Dustin stays in supportive southern gentlemen mode, they have a very real shot at winning this thing.

T-4 (5) TEAM CANCUN Average: 4, last week: 6

Jonna (3), Derek (5), Eliminated: CJ, Jasmine

Can they win as a pair? At this point, I would consider them the biggest underdog to win this game.  They have to get through three more (the next challenge, a possible arena, the final final challenge) to win, and I am just not sure if they are strong enough to get past all three.  Derek and Jonna remain combative and passionate, so it would be foolish to in any way count them out.

And finally, during the “NEXT ON THE CHALLENGE” preview, this is what I saw:

  • Devyn (along with everyone else left) is going to Africa, “the homeland.”
  • Zach has never seen so many people go to the medic in his life.
  • There are three helicopters (what what?) in the final challenge and (SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!) Sarah and Trishelle react (score one for DVR and Teams Las Vegas and Brooklyn).

We are heading to Namibia for the final challenge, arena, and final final challenge!  There are only two episodes remaining (sadly), so brace yourself for an amazing finish.  Tune in at 10 PM on MTV for the next episode of The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons.

David Bloom can be reached on twitter at @davidbloom7.  His weekly CHALLENGE POWER RANKINGS come out weekly on Derek Kosinski’s UltimateChallengeRadio.com.  The Week 12 power rankings will be available sometime after December 13.

The X Factor Top 4 – It’s Finally Time to Tune In

The X Factor takes a fair amount of self-referential pride in being a trendsetter, a buzz machine that drives popular culture, and a weekly live event that supposes to be the centerpiece of the musical universe.  In reality, little of this has been true in its first and now (nearing the end of) second United States season, but, in order for it to succeed, The X Factor and its most essential promoters (the hosts and the judges, the mad men from Pepsi-Cola, not always Fox) must believe it be true.  Khloe and Mario (congrats on the marriage this past weekend), befuddled and overmatched as they may be, are paid to facilitate a consummate self (as in The X Factor’s self) promotional tour.  They spend their weekly three hours of live airtime reminding the viewer just how important the many happenings on the stage are.  They improvise questions (habitually disastrous and poorly timed) of fabricated significance, they react to playful banter between Demi and Simon as if they are observing moments of unheard of dramatic tension, and they introduce each judge entrance and contestant performance as if the fate of the universe (listen, the opening credits justify my hyperbolic metaphor) is in play.  Unfortunately, we too often see through the work (a generous term) of Ms. Kardashian Odom, the artist formally known as AC Slater, and the publicity junket juggernaut to find all of the glitz and glamoured overproduction disingenuous.  Does this competition and all the baggage that too often comes with it really justify a $5 million recording contract prize?  Do any of these contestants even deserve it?  Should the brain trust of the show be sent to the naughty corner?

With these questions and thoughts too frequently pervading the audience psyche during each weekly viewing, something made this week’s shows featuring an audience “choose your own adventure (at least in CeCe’s case) of a song” Pepsi-Challenge and an “unplugged” performance feel so different.  On one level, the judges panel (excluding Ms. Spears who wears her passion on her sleeve, except she doesn’t seem to wear any sleeves) could not have been more committed to their mentees and the performers at large.  Simon (always strives to reach the $5 million ceiling of the show), LA (finally grooving after faltering earlier in the season), and Demi (with newly sharpened edges and some refreshing honesty) went to bat for the contestants and the competition itself.  They were passionate, clear, forward-thinking, enthusiastic, and largely accurate in their understanding of performance success or lack there of.  They cheerleadered the answer to the big “so what?” question that the X Factor must continually face with a contagious energy.  I cared because they cared.

Although judge positive activity (in its many manifestations) is an essential component to the success of this show, ultimately, it is about the contestants, and for the first time all season, this group of contestants left everything on that stage.  Maybe this is a byproduct of the depreciating numbers and proximity to the finals, but something universally clicked and we, the audience at home, were finally faced with the music (stealing X Factor puns is my right).  Riding the birth of a Carly Rose star nation wave (she is really in a different league), the momentum throughout the first night of performances was filled memorable musical moments and heightened clarity as to who these artists are right now and what they may become.

Two eliminations later, we are down to the top 4, and for the first time all season, the buzz (especially surrounding the privilege of experiencing a Carly Rose Sonenclar performance) is worthy.

Before we scout out the top 4 contestants and take a moment to honor the fallen two, here a few side notes that must be addressed:

  • Drew Chadwick of Emblem3 wore sleeves all week.  Apparently the memo was received.
  • The Sony X headphones segment was vomit-inducing (in a Survivor private cinema showing of Jack and Jill kind of way).  The product placement propensity is one thing, but to ask the contestants to discuss the origins of their love of music synonymously with their use of the Sony X headphones was unforgivable.
  • The segments involving conversations over tea between Carly Rose and Diamond could be made into a very watchable television show (I so wanted to hear more of their analysis on last week’s Vino exit).  It could be called “Teenage Tea Talk” or “An Afternoon with Carly Rose and Diamond” or “Britney said what?” (clearly my show titles need some work).
  • I know I mentioned this a little bit above, but Demi is doing great work on this show.  For a few weeks there she was struggling to find her mentor wings (and maybe never did), but her seat at the judge’s table continues to bring insight and perspective (whether I agree or disagree).  Her ability to frame her own opinion, challenge contestants with largely tangible constructive criticism, and articulate her ideas in a compassionate way have all impressed.  We sometimes forget how young she is to be doing this very high-profile gig so well.  Whether she is back next year or not, I am proud to have become a fan of Demi Lovato (now off to the naughty chair with you).

Now to the top 4 and some goodbyes to Diamond, CeCe, and Demi’s mentor role…

The Top 4 (as ranked by America)

1 (2) Tate Stevens (should be 2)

Is this the right ranking? This displacement at the top is not the right ranking (Carly Rose should be a definitive number 1 – more on that in a bit), and despite a mini-comeback with his Pepsi-Challenge Garth Brooks tune that fit in the best part of his wheelhouse, the acoustic “Living on a Prayer” is not soon annulled from the record.  For many weeks now, I have been asking for Team LA/Tate to explore the “countrification” of a song outside of Tate’s comfort zone genre, so I do applaud the attempt.  Simply put, this attempt failed.  As high note limitations were illuminated by not attempting the iconic chorus lead vocal, so too were artist limitations.  This is no offense to country music, the sanctity of its industry, and an acknowledgment of its continual instances of crossover appeal, but its niche audience (albeit a huge one that can from time to time dominate the billboard popular music charts) has a certain American cultural ceiling (the metropolitan cities on the coasts are not central audience hubs).  Tate is the same way.  He can be a successful and even a very good country singer (or so I am told by Demi), but he not of the caliber of singer/performer to deserve a $5 million recording contract.

What needs to happen going forward to win? At this point, Tate needs to stay country.  I think that he may not be capable of the crossover artistry that I have craved and his best chance at winning is to keep doing what his fans love him for.

2 (1) Carly Rose Sonenclar (should be 1)

Is this the right ranking? No.  Carly Rose should be number 1 and should win The X Factor.  I agree with LA that Carly Rose’s performance of Justin Bieber’s “As Long As You Love Me” was record ready.  She, probably in ways that she has not before, showed such incredible and nuanced musical restraint that allowed some of the less travelled components of her artistry to shine (in contrast to her impressive big note belts that have highlighted previous week performances).  I have heard the song once or twice before Wednesday night, and, through this lack of familiarity, heard it almost fresh as a real Carly Rose track.  As mentioned last week, like Adam Lambert on AI before her, her vocal and performance capabilities are so awe-inspiring that I eagerly await each new performance in a middle school crush kind of way (the butterflies and goosebumps begin with the anticipation).  Although “If I Were a Boy” had some moments slightly below the pitch on some of the high belted notes (see Simon and Demi – she is human after all!), the idea that she continues to attack some of the best female vocal performers in history (and this week, she didn’t even have a choice) and so competently perform them, is simply remarkable.  With four acts left in the competition, it is not too late to jump onboard the Carly Rose Sonenclar train to tune-in to witness the birth of this star.

What needs to happen going forward to win?  She nailed the nuanced artistry this week on her Bieber track.  Now, I am with Demi that combatting an uptempo number should be part of Carly Rose’s next challenge.  With the finals just a few weeks away, she must work to find new ways to increase her voting block and overtake Tate once again.

3 (3) Emblem3 (should be 4)

Is this the right ranking? No, they should be fourth, and the difference between Emblem3 and Fifth Harmony is widening.  Last week, Demi called for a change-up from the physically clumping reggae/ska/pop performances that Emblem3 seem to have stalled at.  Wesley responded with talk about “playing their own instruments” and “writing their own songs.”  This comment was curious because from the start of my Emblem3 journey, I have questioned their musical abilities (certainly as singers) and have struggled to consistently understand their dynamism, but coming out of the acoustic “Just the Way You Are,” a no-frills attached performance was not a friend of changing my opinion.  Unlike Carly Rose, who, when singing Celine or Beyoncé, benefits by living up to the comparison to the original, Bruno Mars is an amazing vocalist and the boys of Emblem3 did not come close, thereby hurt by the comparison.  Even more disappointing was the performance of Drew “sleeved this week” Chadwick who finally got the opportunity to sing outside of his faux-rapping style that we have grown accustomed to in earlier performances.  Sadly, he really shouldn’t be singing (let alone in a $5 million competition) at all (he has the most bizarre vowel usage) and his guitar seemed to only add background filler to the track.  I am happy that these boys love music and skateboarding and I think they have found a way to fuel some of their more negative energies or tendencies, but this is the big leagues and they should not be a part of that.

What needs to happen going forward to win? I don’t think they can win.  With fewer acts, they are more exposed as teenage boys who crashed a party that they should never have been invited to.

4 (4) Fifth Harmony (should be 3)

Is this the right ranking?  I would have them ranked ahead of Emblem3, but well below Tate and Carly.  Fifth Harmony (or Fifth Unison as LA would like to think, brilliant) were solid to good on both of their performances (they set fire to the rain, but it blew out quickly), but, in LA’s request for more substantive representation of the their name in their song arrangements comes a challenge they have yet to overcome.  What is their musical identity?  I do appreciate that recent weeks have had fewer “pass the solo” to all performer moments and have focused more on one or two leads (Lauren has been the primary beneficiary, more Camila please), but I still don’t get what I am hearing beyond five pretty good to awesome solo artists.  Demi was sweet to applaud their version of her “Give Your Heart a Break,” but I can objectively disagree with her assessment that they did it better than the original.  They still have too much Fifth Unison going on and not enough time to right the ship to victory.

What needs to happen going forward to win?  Last week I wrote: I want to connect more them as a musical artist and less as a sweet, “so happy to be here” teenybopper story.  This remains true and as Carly Rose and Tate have started to define who they are (or not in the case of Tate’s Bon Jovi fail) in musical terms, Fifth Harmony is still finding that footing.  Material that provides a more dynamic harmonic background (think a female version of Mumford and Sons, in cases like this I yearn for a group like Sister C) could propel them closer to the final.


CeCe Frey (should be 6)

On Wednesday night, CeCe Frey tried to take on Lady Gaga and Katy Perry (the audience’s choice) and did a solid showing, but her fate was sealed a long time ago.  Simon keeps applauding her for being a fighter and for “making this competition interesting.”  I agree, but it has been for all the wrong reasons.  CeCe has spent Season 2 of The X Factor as a competitor on this edge of glory who has provided the editors a through storyline of futility, overconfidence, and unhealthy competition.  The Paige and CeCe bootcamp sing-offs and all access initial audition behind the scenes footage never gave the audience a chance with CeCe.  She was polarizing from the start (some of it is just the way we react to her), but, if they really believed in her talent (albeit closer to false than true), why not cultivate it instead of making her into a pawn in a contrived narrative?  Notwithstanding, CeCe’s time had come and she took it all in stride.  She is a woman who grew so much during the X Factor process and whose production team did not let the audience always in on these changes.

Diamond White (should be 5)

One of my favorite moments of Thursday night was Diamond’s comment to Mario and Khloe after having been eliminated about how Cher Lloyd (a successful recording artist that had not reached my purview until her performance on The X Factor several weeks ago) also finished fifth on The X Factor (in the UK) and that this could bode well for Diamond in the future.  This optimism, this sparkle in her eye, and her exceptional vocal talent will be missed.

My rankings:

  1. Carly Rose Sonenclar
  2. Tate Stevens
  3. Fifth Harmony
  4. Emblem 3

What do you think?  Did you forget about Melanie Amaro too?  Can Carly Rose retake number 1 before the finals?  Why did Drew start firing an air machine gun after his second performance?  Is Drew the new Vino (a live tv director’s nightmare) when it comes to unscripted microphone chatter?

David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about pop culture and the NBA for Bishop and Company.  His weekly THE CHALLENGE: BATTLE OF THE SEASON Power Rankings appears weekly on Derrick Kosinski’s ultimatechallengeradio.com.