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.
WEEKLY CHALLENGE INDIVIDUAL POWER RANKINGS
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.
FULL TEAM RANKINGS
Note: Team rankings are compiled by adding up the individual rankings and dividing by number of players remaining. Teams with the lowest total average ranking are ranked better than the highest (i.e. you want as few points as possible)
1 (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.