Are you ready?
Tonight’s main event has crept up on me like an over-hyped hurricane (thankfully not of the Nia nature) that was detected by meteorologists so early on that I could not possibly believe it to be real (despite the evidence delivered by the first teaser trailer only a handful of weeks ago), but now, as 10:00 p.m. EST tonight fast approaches, I can hardly believe that this is actually happening. Brace yourselves. There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne!
Back in February, when the MTV blog tantalized fans with the prospect of an All-star 24th season of The Challenge (Originally an offset of the Real World and Road Rules, this American competition institution allows past cast members to extend their fifteen minutes of fame to sometimes unprecedented durations while competing in a series of elimination competitions that all lead to a death defying (I wish I were kidding) final challenge. The team who wins the final challenge wins a fair amount of money. T. J. Lavin has been the stalwart and often heroic host for many years now (“He killed it!”) and will be (hallelujah!) yet again for Rivals 2) and asked for a public vote on who should participate (and, as in the NBA, not all players make the all-star ballot), I presented my picks (12 men, 12 women, 1 wildcard chosen for each gender from players not on the ballot) as a pipe dream of possibility. Five month later, MTV has delivered on this promise in the most wonderful of ways. With a roster of 16 men and 16 women featuring essential veteran players (Johnny Bananas! CT! Paula! Sarah! Camila! Wes!) and a crop of promising younger talent (Leroy! Frank! Zach! Nany! Marlon!), Rivals 2 was born. Although not an All-star season in name, Rivals 2 is unequivocally an All-star season in talent and scope. The Rivals format that places two historic enemies on the same team, demanding a cease-fire in the pursuit of a monetary windfall, is a structural win. Great moments will arise (Who can forget Kenny literally carrying Wes on his back in the finals of Rivals I?), long lasting and redemptive friendships will be born (Laurel and Cara Maria built an incredibly supportive bond on Rivals that exemplified what it meant to be a great teammate), and you may even learn how to replicate every detail of a campsite while carrying a literal ball and chain (this is also known as “a walk through a simulation of hell”).
This season’s pairings of competitors on Rivals 2 are notable for two things: hardly any of them are in fact Rivals (Did MTV producers give the green light on the structure after having only signed up CT and Wes or after only having read the Zach and Trey’s twitter interactions? Dunbar doesn’t even know “rival” Tyrie’s last name!) and, beyond a few teams that are clearly at the top and bottom of the totem pole, there is an argument to made that most teams have a legitimate chance to go to the finals. This wide open competitive landscape with few clear alliances gives a win to dramatic potential and an opportunity for anything to happen.
My team previews already exhausted ten thousand words on the prospects of our competitor tandems (if you read all of them, much credit is awarded), but before I hit the preseason power rankings, here are a few additional thoughts on the season:
The Fifth American Major Professional Sport – Yes, this has been a moniker for The Challenge, expertly conceived by Bill Simmons and his Czar of Reality TV, David Jacoby, so many years ago, but for the first time, its hyperbolic essence may be waning. Like American’s niche relationship with the NHL outside of Detroit and Denver in the mid-90s through at least the first lockout, you are either a diehard fan of The Challenge or you are not a fan at all, and for the first time, the diehards are growing and are really coming out to support. Certainly the twitter revolution (admittedly effecting my own power rankings commentary this week) has played a critical role, creating a direct line of access and a platform for fan connection (only the David Stern Retirement Tour has been this clairvoyant in other major professional sports with the use of new media and new technology). This has fostered growth in the brand and in the intensity of fandom. Already of the highest level of athletic competition and with a finals that is infinitely more interesting than any component of the “too late for youngsters time of night advertisement fest destroyed by the annoyance of listening to Joe Buck” that is the MLB playoffs, The Challenge may actually be the fifth major American professional sport.
Where is Laurel? – The truth of the why concerning the exclusion of Evan and Kenny (both are Challenge royalty) from Rivals 2 (and other recent Challenges) is likely imbedded somewhere in a legal document drafted by Tonya Cooley’s lawyers, but there is no explanation why Laurel (3 seasons, 3 finals) is not a part of this seven week Thailand adventure. Her Amazonian awesomeness will be sorely missed.
The Challenge is like the United States Men’s Basketball Team…
Rivals I and Battle of the Exes were like the 2008 Men’s Olympic Basketball Team. They featured the best players in the world (Kobe, Johnny Bananas, Lebron, Kenny, Laurel, DWade, Evan, Ev, the 2008 Dwight Howard, CT, Melo, Paula), some aging veterans who everyone respected (Jason Kidd, Mark Long), and a few random players that everyone forgets about (Michael Redd, Tayshaun Prince, Davis, Katelynn). If an apt comparison, Battle of the Seasons was like the 2010 World Championship Team. Some of the best veteran players took the summer off (no Kobe, Johnny, CT, Lebron, Paula, etc.), allowing some on the verge younger talent to gain some experience out of the shadow of the big boys (Kevin Durant, Frank, Derrick Rose, Zach, Russell Westbrook, Nany, Dustin, Derrick Rose). Rivals 2 is like the 2012 Olympic Team. Kobe, Lebron, and Melo are back (Johnny, CT, Paula), DWade and Howard are injured (Kenny and Evan – sorry to you both, I don’t particularly care for either Dwyane or Dwight), but the young talent of Durant, Westbrook, and Love (Frank, Zach, Nany) are now ready to play with the big boys. (Yes, I spent too much time coming up with this. Yes, in this “filled with holes” metaphor Dustin Zito is Derrick Rose.)
As usual, alliances will rule, but it sure could be confusing. – We do not yet know the official rules (revealed to the cast on the first episode), but if it is at all similar to Rivals I, alliances will still be as important as ever. What makes the possibilities this season so interesting is that the lines between veterans and rookies and connections and enemies are more blurred than ever. Let’s go down just one rabbit hole: of course Johnny (and subsequently Frank) will be closely aligned with Paula (and subsequently Emily). Here’s where it gets interesting – Emily and Paula, from past relationships, should be closely aligned with Ty (partnered with Leroy who got along with Johnny really well on Exes and Rivals I). This all makes sense so far. Johnny’s partner, Frank, is going to be close with Zach (partnered with Trey) from their Team San Diego days. Zach, no longer involved romantically with Jonna, is going to have an adversarial relationship with Jonna and Nany. Nany, dating back to her Real World: Las Vegas days, will be connected to Leroy. This could be problematic for Leroy if he aligned with Johnny and Frank and Trey and Zach because they will have beef with Jonna and Nany. Where is Jenn (with two “n”s) when we need her to be the consummate “playing both sides” figure in this game? (Also, why is Jenn not on this season). How all of these alliances fall is anybody’s guess. Beyond some very clear unbreakable bonds, I expect some “sorry Paula, we are choosing Ev instead of you”-esque alliance destruction throughout the season.
There are many pursuits of a first The Challenge win, but Sarah’s is the one we care the most about…
There are several competitors this season who have been on at least six Challenges and have never won (CT, Aneesa, Diem, Tyrie who has yet to even be near a finals), but no pursuit of a first championship quite captivates our heart like Sarah’s (now in her seventh straight season attempt). Sarah embodies all that is good in a The Challenge world that too frequently becomes a series of drunken, violent, and embarrassing “extracurricular nighttime activities.” Her drive to compete is so earnest – she is a throwback to simpler time when competitors care most about the love of the game. Any time the great T.J. Lavin announces a traditional one-time a season trivia contest (as I am sure he will again this year), Sarah’s spontaneous infectious and contagious display of joy provide the viewer just that. She is someone we can all root for, and, with a savvy and driven partner like Trishelle, she has as good a shot as she has ever had before at finally winning.
On to the rankings…
As became tradition last year during Battle of the Seasons, the individual competitor power rankings and team power rankings will be released weekly sometime shortly after each new episode airing. Here are the individual and team rankings going into the season. Some postseason award and final predictions will follow…
PRESEASON RIVALS 2 INDIVIDUAL POWER RANKINGS
NOTE: the rankings will again be based on my un Zach Lowe-like analysis/sabermetrics method known as “My subjective experience and observations watching all 24 seasons of the show.” Weight will be given to how well teams and individuals do on competitions, on strategy and in the social game, and whether he or she is a “good competitor.”
1. Johnny Bananas (9th season, 5 finals, 4 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Exes 22)
Records held: Most Season Appearances, Men – 9 (tied), Most Seasons Won, Men – 4
Tweet comment: Legendary and undisputed Challenge king primed to make triumphant return. Found the perfect balance between strategy and athleticism.
2. CT (9th season, 4 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Exes 22)
Records held: Most Season Appearances, Men – 9 (tied)
Tweet comment: Perennial #1 Challenge intimidator, recently mellowed. Must find way to manage collective animus toward Wes, fight off lady distractions.
3. Frank (2nd season, 1 finals, 1 win – last appearance: Battle of the Seasons 23)
Tweet comment: Temperamental Extracurricular Nighttime Activity wild card, but strategic mastermind of BoS win. A Johnny Bananas in training.
4. Zach (2nd season, 1 finals, 1 win – last appearance: Battle of the Seasons 23)
Tweet comment: “Thor” is physical beast, gave mostly (Sam may object) calming force on Team San Diego BoS win. Must find way to get along with enemy Trey.
5. Wes (8th season, 3 finals, 1 win – last appearance: Battle of the Seasons 23)
Records held: Most Elimination Rounds in a Single Season, Men – 5, Most Elimination Wins in a Career, Men – 11
Tweet comment: Arrogance & self-proclaimed brilliance aside, has had amazing Challenge resiliency amidst slew of enemies. Must find a way to work with CT.
6. Dunbar (6 seasons, 1 finals, 1 win – last appearance: Battle of the Exes 22)
Tweet comment: Often on wrong alliance, faces upward battle with yet to prove himself, Tyrie, as partner. Must rely on experience and strength to succeed.
7. Ty (4th season, 1 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Exes 22)
Tweet comment: Coming off great performance on BoE, must continue to ride that momentum, stay out of conflict. Leroy is ideal partner to keep Ty in check.
8. Leroy (3rd season, 1 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Exes 22)
Tweet comment: Most welcome return after 1 season off, has to excel in social game & manage potential Ty outbursts. Takes care of business in challenges.
9. Derek (3rd season, 0 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Seasons 23)
Tweet comment: Had very successful run on Team Cancun on BoS, great team player. Will work well in social game, but impressive in challenges too.
10. Robb (2nd season, 0 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Seasons 23)
Tweet comment: Bulked up in offseason, already huge dude. Derek fight non-factor. Could break out this season w/o Marie. Social game prowess is unknown.
11. Knight (2nd season, 0 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Seasons 23)
Tweet comment: Left BoS riding a little momentum, primed to be strategy power player in future. Can he motivate Preston and keep things positive?
12. Trey (2nd season, 0 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Seasons 23)
Tweet comment: Unexpected major feud (at least in social media) with Zach. Athleticism and drive to be great will supersede bad blood. Could go far.
13. Marlon (Rookie season)
Tweet comment: Great addition to The Challenge. Ready to have a big rookie campaign. Well-matched with Jordan athletically. Will surprise people.
14. Jordan (Rookie season)
Tweet comment: Fulfilling Challenge destiny, will be perfect fit as freak athlete. Must tweak social game. Partnership w/ Marlon: Leroy/Mike in Rivals I?
15. Tyrie (6th season, 0 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Exes 22)
Tweet comment: Yet to prove much in 6 seasons, strange partnership w/ Dunbar. Although overdue for success, still likely early exit. Weak in social game.
16. Preston (2nd season, 0 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Seasons 23)
Tweet comment: Not quintessential Challenge material, but apparently, he can run! Mostly poor showing on BoS. Gained some confidence toward the end.
1. Paula (10th season, 4 finals, 1 win – last appearance: Battle of the Exes 22)
Records held: Most Season Appearances, Women – 10, Most Appearances in a Final, Women – 4 (tied)
Tweet comment: Longest tenure in Challenge history, much wiser & stronger now. Great w/ strategy, amazing partner in Emily. Close ties to Johnny Bananas.
2. Sarah (7th season, 3 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Seasons 23)
Records held: Most Consecutive Seasons, Women – 7
Tweet comment: Just an amazing person. 7 straight Challenges, due for a win. Trivia master and has great relationships. Will partner well with Trishelle.
3. Emily (3rd season, 2 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Exes 22)
Tweet comment: Yet to win a finals, best position yet with Paula as partner. Most athletic women this season (no Laurel!). Rivalry with Paula non-issue.
4. Nany (2nd season, 0 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Seasons 23)
Tweet comment: Resilient, strong, willing to step up for her team. Well-matched w/ Jonna. Left BoS too soon. Must stay grounded, esp. while intoxicated.
5. Jonna (3rd season, 0 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Seasons 23)
Tweet comment: Out of Zach romance, can have more focus on Rivals 2. Will partner well w/ Nany. Must exhibit next level strategy. Strong in challenges.
6. Camila (5th season, 1 finals, 1 win – last appearance: Battle of the Seasons 23)
Tweet comment: Ready for comeback season after Big Easy debacle on BoS. Killer instinct, drive like no other but must be corralled. Jemmye as partner? Yes!
7. Trishelle (4th season, 1 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Seasons 23)
Tweet comment: Made strong comeback on BoS after many years away. Wants to win – rivalry will be non-issue with Sarah. Must push herself a little harder.
8. Diem (7th season, 2 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Exes 22)
Tweet comment: Courageous and incredible in real life – fought cancer twice. Struggled at time on Challenges. Relationship with CT can be a distraction.
9. Jemmye (2nd season, 0 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Seasons 23)
Tweet comment: Predict a breakout season. Sneakily good athlete, committed, well-liked, will get along with Camila. #Team subtitles could be surprise.
10. Aneesa (9 seasons, 2 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Exes 23)
Records held: Most Elimination Wins in a Career, Women – 8
Tweet comment: Challenge veteran back for an 8th season. Hasn’t been in finals in some time. Endurance has always been an issue, but in best shape ever.
11. Jasmine (4th season, 0 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Seasons 23)
Tweet comment: Took major positive steps on BoS. Valuable member of Team Cancun. Still must fight against small frame. A calmer version of former self.
12. Theresa (4th season, 0 finals, o wins – last appearance: Rivals 21)
Tweet comment: Took past 2 seasons off, must build up some new relationships. She and Jasmine will be physical underdogs – good to be under the radar.
13. Cooke (Rookie season)
Tweet comment: Professional Filipino soccer player, how long will she be partnered w/ Naomi? Must make good alliance decisions or face early elimination.
14. Jessica (Rookie season)
Tweet comment: Should be a classic rookie – happy to be there, but early elimination. Counting on dirt biking (her forte) in one of the challenges.
15. Naomi (2nd season, 0 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Exes 22)
Tweet comment: Rumored to leave early, nothing to do with game. Unproven. Challenge may not be best forum for her.
16. Anastasia (Rookie season)
Tweet comment: Breakout star of Rivals 2 trailer w/ CT slap. Could put target on back. Not someone you would expect to bring much to table athletically.
RIVALS 2 TEAM RANKINGS
Note: Team rankings are compiled by averaging the two individual rankings. Teams with the lowest total average rankings are ranked better than the highest (i.e. you want as few points as possible). First tiebreaker goes to number of total past wins. Second tiebreaker goes to years of experience.
- Johnny and Frank – Team Average: 2
- Paula and Emily – Team Average: 2
- CT and Wes – Team Average: 3.5
- Sarah and Trishelle – Team Average: 4.5
- Nany and Jonna – Team Average: 4.5
- Ty and Leroy – Team Average: 7.5
- Camila and Jemmye – Team Average: 8
- Zach and Trey – Team Average: 8
- Diem and Aneesa – Team Average: 9
- Derek and Robb – Team Average: 9.5
- Dunbar and Tyrie – Team Average: 10.5
- Jasmine and Theresa – Team Average: 11.5
- Knight and Preston – Team Average: 13.5
- Marlon and Jordan – Team Average: 13.5
- Cooke and Naomi – Team Average: 14
- Anastasia and Jessica – Team Average: 15
Postseason Awards and Predictions
MVP – Men: Johnny Bananas (runner up: Leroy); Women: Emily (runner up: Sarah)
Most Improved Player – Men: Trey; Women: Jemmye
Rookie of the Year – Marlon
Some bold predictions:
- Both Marlon and Jordan and Camila and Jemmye will come very close to making the finals, but fall short.
- Dunbar and Tyrie will learn each other’s last names, but will not be able to avoid an early elimination.
- There will be a moment in which Johnny, Frank, and Trey strategize together.
- Jasmine will not do too well in terms of competition, but will continue to showcase a more mellow version of herself.
- Cooke will have a moment on the show that everyone is talking about.
- CT and Wes will be on the wrong side of the alliance and will have to prove themselves in an elimination early on.
Teams in the Finals – Men: Johnny and Frank, Ty and Leroy, Zach and Trey; Paula and Emily, Sarah and Trishelle, Nany and Jonna
Winners – Men: Johnny and Frank, Women: Sarah and Trishelle
My first episode recap and Week 1 power rankings will be out sometime later this week. Enjoy this season!
David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about MTV’s “The Challenge,” pop culture, and the NBA for Bishop and Company. His “The Challenge: Rivals 2″ power rankings will post weekly starting on July 10.