CHALLENGEMANIA: The Road to Rivals II – Winners, Losers, and Questions

To continue to tease our already overwhelming appetite for all things The Challenge in preparation for the July 10 season premiere of Rivals II (and to shamelessly cross-promote some shows called Girl Code and Guy Code that I admittedly had never heard of), MTV aired a one hour The Challenge part retrospective and part new season preview.  Hosted by the modern MTV and Jersey royalty tandem of Challenge stalwart Kenny “Mr. Beautiful” Santucci and Nicole “Snooki? Now that I am half my original size, I go my Nicole now, bitches!” Polizzi, the hour was mostly an exercise in historically bad cue card reading (more on this in a bit), unnecessary opinions from Girl and Guy Code cast members that nobody asked for, and clips from MTV’s pre-HD past.  Despite mostly  “I wish I had fast forwarded over this” filler, there were some important takeaways, some charming former Challenge cast member commentary, and a second season preview scored to the fiery furor of Nico Vega’s “Fury Oh Fury.”  Before we delve into brief analysis of matters of consequence, here are some quick take winners, losers, and questions posed by ChallengeMania: the Road to Rivals II.

Question: What happened to Snooki?  Beyond her incredibly gaunt and emaciated appearance (she’s been working out apparently), the author and mother of one didn’t seem her usual “hot mess” of a self.  Her affect felt flat, disengaged, and enigmatic.  I never thought of Snooki as talented in any way beyond being a unique individual in a reality TV world of mostly personality repetition and replication, but now I know that acting or in any way improvising should not be a her next career move…ever.  Poor Kenny struggled to get through her feeble attempts at banter and seemed so relieved when Paula Walnuts came on stage toward the end of the taping.  I thought Snooki always had a degree (I am stretching a little bit here) of charisma and perhaps maybe a little charm on camera, but this Snooki .5 is a depressing figure.

Loser – Snooki, the cue card reader – Snooki should not be reading cue cards.  Period.

Other lingering Snooki questions:  Why does she seem so obsessed with Johanna?  Does she really watch The Challenge?  Where is her baby during the taping of this show?  Is she serious when she says she is working out to be on a future Challenge?  At this point, is Snooki a human?

Losers – The writers of all dialogue between Kenny and Snooki – Tough moment for MTV writers.  If their aim was to make Kenny and Snooki sound as unnatural and fake as possible, mission accomplished.  This was a disaster.

Winners – The viewer while watching classic clips – It brought great joy to loyal The Challenge fans to reminisce and recall classic moments and people from a wonderful, twenty three season history.

Question: With Evan, Kenny, and Tonya featured prominently in retrospective clips, did MTV have to run this by legal before airing?  Since the settlement, Kenny and Evan have not been back on The Challenge.  Was this a never made public part of this agreement?  Why else would two all-time greats be kept off recent seasons?

Winners – Promos for the new season – Bananas is back!  CT is back!  Camila is unstable!  If these teasers don’t get you pumped, nothing will.

Winners – The great fights retrospective  – I vividly remember the genuinely scary CT and Adam melee (Isaac as an initial peacemaker may not have been the best call), but I had forgotten about the Wes and Evelyn room assault and the Katie battle with topless Veronica.  Watching Evelyn stomp around and destroy plants while Wes tells Johnny he is the “worst person in the world” is priceless television.

Loser – The making out segment and the terrible elevator music that accompanies it – This was a few too many levels of awkward.

Loser – Brad’s wedgie meltdown – Poor Brad.  Although he will be inducted into The Challenge hall of fame (although not on the first ballot), his wedgie reaction is not the best of looks.

WinnerThe Miz Only a WWE superstar can get away with a wedgie attack.

Winner – Sarah for her reaction to the Katie plunger meltdown – And otherwise for just being great.  Her commentary interviews are spot on.

Loser/Winner – Katie and the plunger meltdown – She is a loser for having a meltdown over a plunger.  She is a winner for finding a reason for a meltdown that seems to best match the great eccentricity of her persona on The Challenge.

Question: Why wasn’t a Katie/Veronica rival pairing included this season?  Veronica may have Challenge retired, but who wouldn’t want to see these two classic enemies play again?

Winner – Entertainment for the viewer…seeing Camila walk into a pool again on her night of crazy.  What is most remarkable to me is that Johnny and Camila won after this happens.  Of all the things Johnny Bananas has accomplished on this show, recovering from Camila’s night at Arkham Asylum may be his greatest achievement.

Winner – Jessimae Peluso – I mostly tuned out the random members of the cast of Girl Code and Guy Code who were randomly asked to become Challenge experts, but Jessimae kept bringing it with her witty insight and playful crushing on CT.  Some bio investigation garnered additional intel about her comedic beginnings in Boston (check), infatuation with John Stamos (check), and appearance on “The Tyra Banks Show” (check plus).

WinnerPaula walking us through a web of “Challenge Family Tree” connections – This was one of the more relevant (albeit unintentionally comedic) portions of the preview show.  Finding threads (even loose ones) to piece through the participants was a win for production.  Paula, unlike the little Snooki creature, can read a mean cue card and narrated this segment like a pro.

Winner – Whoever decided to call Wes a “self-proclaimed, political mastermind” – I like how with Wes, adding “self-proclaimed” to any description of him adds more authenticity.  Wes – a self-proclaimed redhead.  Wes – a self-proclaimed entrepreneur.  Wes – a self-proclaimed intellectual.

Losers – Connections that don’t actually exist – Paula connected Aneesa and Robb in her “family tree” because they both live near Philadelphia.

Losers – Rivals that have never met – I am a proponent of twitter and all, but to partner Johnny and Frank as rivals because of a twitter feud?  It may be a partnership that is great for gameplay, but it seems to take away from the sanctity of the construction of the season.

Winner – Kenny – He does professional work throughout, fending off the train wreck that is Snooki .5, maintaing great focus, managing several digs at Wes, and flooding the camera with his quintessential charisma and charm.  Could Kenny be a viable replacement for the legend of TJ Lavin if he ever decides to retire the hosting throne?

Although Paula’s connecting of the dots (“And don’t forget the four members from the cast of Portland who are connected by being new!”) flimsily weaved a rival backstory, the real fresh meat is in the showing of the original Rivals II trailer (already Zaprudered here) and the final “this season on” teaser (the real “this season on” will undoubtedly be unveiled at the end of the season premiere).  Here are a few key takeaways:

  • Anastasia seems to slap CT (not once, but twice – the second time in the back of the head) and then kick CT in the back of his legs.  Bird never struck me as such a dangerous predator while in Portland, but I guess a certain amount of time in the eye of the Nia storm will ruffle anyone’s feathers.  This is not the first time CT has been the object of someone’s uncontrollable aggression and it will certainly not be the last.
  • Speaking of fighting CT, it appears that Frank has a little run-in with him.  No one is in the least bit surprised.
  • I eagerly anticipate the interplay and strategic game manipulation of the Johnny and Frank tandem.  Maybe not the most real of rivalries, seeing them work together could be a treat of “Kenny carrying Wes on his back” proportions.
  • I can’t help myself but to kiss and tell.  Jordan and Sarah?  CT and almost Cooke?  Leroy and Emily?  Jonna and almost Jordan?  CT and Diem!

We are now less than two weeks away from The Challenge: Rivals II premiere (Wednesday, July 10 at 10/9c.  You won’t believe your eyes!).  I will be dropping a preview column and preseason power rankings before then, so stay tuned.  Until then, let me leave you with the final cue card reading improvisation catastrophe of Snooki: “Holy crap, the rivalries just keep getting more and more intense.  I’m obsessed.  Bye, we love you.”  Yep, thank you Nicole.

David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about The Challenge, pop culture, and the NBA for Bishop and Company.

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