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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.