Opening night of the fifth American major professional sport (a “Challengoliday” as coined by the Czar himself, Dave Jacoby), dictates some special treatment, so a retro running diary of the festivities was the best possible way to encapsulate the greatness that was. I have decided to split up the retro diary from the new week 1 power rankings (to be released later in the week) in order to have more time to consider the game implications of what I just witnessed. Without further ado, on to the episode and welcome to the new season!
10:00 – And so we begin…This season The Challenge drops with a dramatic montage of clips from the past, teasers for future episodes, and some beautiful aerial shots of the green jungles of Phuket, Thailand. Not included in the clips montage: past clips from Ruins, the last time The Challenge ventured to Phuket, and the backdrop for this unfortunate chapter in Challenge history. It is like setting the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Dealey Plaza in Dallas. Something just doesn’t feel right. Random additional note: I did not expect to be making mediocre allusions to the JFK assassination in the first point of this running diary. As Bananas says, “All is fair in love and war and Challenges.”
10:01 – Welcome to the Jungle! When Naomi says it looks like “Nightmare on Elm Street” it begs the question, does Naomi know what “Nightmare on Elm Street” is?
10:01 – “Welcome everybody to Phuket, Thailand. My name is TJ Lavin. I am a pro BMX dirt jumper, and I am your host for The Challenge.” They must have edited out the part where he tells them that he is a “hero among men” and he essentially spends his life “killing it.”
10:02 – TJ describes the rivals conceit. According to TJ, the reasons for rivalry are: fighting, backstabbing, beating someone in a challenge, or…”dogg[ing] each other out in social media.” Yikes. I guess this is a thing now.
10:03 – TJ reveals the rivals and the only pair that seems to have any real hatred toward one another are Zach and Trey, or as Zach calls him, “Mighty Mouse.” Zach “despises this kid” and thinks Trey is “truly a disgusting human being.” Did I just miss this on Battle of the Seasons?
10:04 – Jess calls her pairing with Anastasia “like Team Barbie…stop…lipstick break.” I call their pairing “early elimination.”
10:04 – Derek, upon the reveal of Robb as his partner, thanks God that “his fight (on Battle of the Seasons) was with one of the biggest guys in the competition.” The Challenge: a place where it may be advisable in the long run to fight with someone twice your size.
10:05 – Paula crosses her fingers in hopes that Emily will be her partner. It doesn’t hurt to have a “lost X-Man” on your team. Leroy calls Ty “crazy” because “he is crazy.”
10:06 – Cooke brings “a lot of strengths to The Challenge being a division I athlete.” Would she have as many strengths coming from a D3 NESCAC school?
10:06 – Next up: Preston, who has the combination of a look of a man who would like to be anywhere but Phuket and a French painter. He acknowledges that having to depend on Knight “to get through these challenges is the worst thing possible.” Knight describes Preston’s biggest strength as his “toenail polish.” Team New Orleans 2.0!
10:07 – There is a depressed look on Dunbar’s face when he realizes Tyrie will be his partner. “He’s one of the worst players in the game,” Dunbar says. It reminds me of the look on Mike Dunleavy’s face when he was told that he would be partnered with Billy “The Whopper” Paultz in the 1981 Houston Rockets best looking teammate competition (The last bit I just made up…my hypothetical scenarios are a little bit of a struggle this early in the season.)
10:08 – Frank and Johnny are partnered because they had a “serious beef on twitter.” Frank acknowledges “that was an expensive fucking tweet.”
10:09 – TJ describes the game format (it could not be any simpler) like he is addressing a group of seven year-olds. Their eyes light up when TJ floats intel on a total potential winnings pot of $350,000 ($125,000 for each winning gender team, $35,000 for second place, $15,000 for third).
10:10 – TJ tells us that “there might be a couple of surprises, so be prepared.” Message received, TJ. Message received.
10:11 – We venture into a house that makes Marlon think he is on a show like “lifestyles of the rich and famous.” (“I’m Robin Leach, I’m yelling, and I don’t know why!”) CT, fighting off his own sweat in the Thai nighttime heat, promptly gives rookies Jess and Anastasia the following ground rules: Rule 1. No pooping. Rule 2. No open door policy. Rule 3. No food, no bugs, no problems. CT – it is a pleasure to have you back.
10:12 – As the “nighttime extracurricular activities” begin, Trey and Zach have a heart to heart in the pool where they both talk about how wonderful they are as athletes (no dispute from me). Early strategy talks like this are good sign for this team of mutual hatred. My wildcard pick for them to make the finals is so far so good.
10:13 – Marlon trips and accidentally breaks a glass that falls in the pool. CT immediately responds by creating Rule 4. If glass gets in the pool, we can’t go in the pool no more. Glass in the pool make CT very angry…
10:14 – …enough to begin a water fight to the throat with Marlon. Please cut to commercial!
10:16 – And we’re back! Jordan realizes that he better go prevent his partner from getting into any more trouble and CT dismisses his head in the water. After sixteen minutes, CT is earning his paycheck.
10:17 – Leroy (no surprise here from this classy dude) helps cool CT down. “What do you like more – money or some bullshit, bro?” CT responds to Leroy with, “When it comes down to it, I love you man.” The Challenge is back! Some major takeaways from the fight: Marlon is a tougher guy than I ever knew. CT is huge person and gets off on relentless intimidation, but Marlon is fearless and would not back down in the pool scrum. Both Jordan (go to defend) and Wes (let this CT iteration be alone) knew how to handle their respective partner situation. Will Wes’s laissez-faire attitude toward CT wildfires come back to haunt him?
10:17 – In other news, to the amusement of many a passerby (and clearly to the fancy of the MTV editing room), Tyrie is passed out and naked on the toilet with the door open. Way to buck your own personal trend of disappointing Challenges, Tyrie. There are reasons why some competitors are successful and some competitors are not. This is just not a good look from Tyrie.
10:18 – It only took eighteen minutes into the episode to have our first revisit of the Diem and CT classic love story. It is possible I have now read this book too many times now. On a more sincere note, Diem’s fight against ovarian cancer is simply incredible. Her courage and fortitude are an inspiration to us all.
10:19 – CT uses the old “take off that weave” trick, playing into Diem’s confidence (or lack thereof) without her wig. He has the majority of the audience of this show officially swooning.
10:21 – The Chet/Devyn soundbyte king and queen vacuum is real. Knight has announced his candidacy for the job: “I hope that this first challenge is nothing physical for Preston’s sake, while I also hope it’s nothing with sharks because I don’t fuck with sharks.”
10:21 – Preston give a self-assessment: “I’m smaller than all the other guys, I’m less athletic than all the other guys, but I can run like a gazelle, I can accessorize, and I have lavender hair.” The ability to accessorize will be of particular relevance. Poor, Knight.
10:22 – The challenge is called “Game of Inches.” One team member has to tangle from a rig over the water and the other team member jumps off a plank onto the teammate who must catch and hold them for fifteen-seconds. Whoever makes it, moves on to the next round. Each round, the plank moves further and further from the dangling teammate. Eliminations will alternate with each challenge and “Game of Inches” will be a guy’s elimination. If you are the winning team, you are safe from elimination. If you are the losing team, you go straight into the jungle.
10:34 – Emily and Paula beat Jonna and Nany to win the women’s heat of the first challenge. The frontrunners have made a statement indeed.
10:37 – The guys rounds appear to be a perfect way to have rivals hug out some of their differences, or in CT’s case, to inflict further pain on Wes.
10:38 – Dunbar and Tyrie (no surprise here) are the first men’s team eliminated and will find themselves in the first jungle elimination. Dunbar continues to look like he is about to cry; he is so disappointed to be partnered with Tyrie.
10:44 – Trey and Zach hold on to an impressive win. Johnny’s take speaks for itself: “Trey, the little elf, managed to jump into the arms of the jolly green giant and now we are going to have listen to these two idiots talk more about themselves.”
10:50 – CT begins to talk some voting strategy with Leroy on the bus back to the house. His target: Johnny Bananas because CT “hopes to win one of these one of these days” and Johnny’s mob tactics in the past (as he used according to CT on Rivals) will be an obstruction to this said aspiration. The idea of Johnny Bananas running this local syndicate feels oddly appropriate. I could see him fitting into the world of Boardwalk Empire with relative ease.
10:50 – Tyrie, in a brief fit of obvious wisdom, “Johnny Bananas has become almost synonymous with the word The Challenge.” Go on, Tyrie. “I don’t have anything to lose if I lose to Johnny and Frank, but if I win, the whole scope of the game changes, so we might as well call out the king.” You might as well, Tyrie, go against the strongest team in this game. I guess when your reputation and track record are that bad, why not give yourself a lesser chance to survive?
10:51 – The most underrated part of the strategy scrambling pre-public villa vote is the role Wes takes: quiet bystander. After a very early exit on Battle of the Seasons and some strong lingering anti-Wes sentiment still pervasive in many of the competitors, his conscious choice to keep a lower profile is a sound strategy. For Wes, it is unfortunate that CT took the opposite approach by attempting to be at the center of every battle or conversation. For now, Wes is doing exactly what he needs to do.
10:54 – It’s public vote time and the women are up first. Here is how it goes down:
Emily and Paula vote Derek and Robb because “they haven’t really had any conversations with this team at all.” Anastasia (“I like you guys, but…”) and Jess vote Derek and Robb as well. Jonna and Nany (“…are not voting for Derek and Robb”) vote for Preston and Knight. Camila (“I like you guys, but right now, there is really no loyalty between us…”) and Jemmye vote for Robb and Derek. Cooke and Naomi vote Jordan and Marlon “just because.” Sarah (“Although we love them…”) and Trishelle vote Derek and Robb. Jasmine (“It’s nothing personal, but the rookies as well…”) and Theresa vote Marlon and Jordan. Diem and Aneesa vote Derek and Robb because they have also not “had any real conversations yet.” The final vote tally is 5 for Derek and Robb, 2 for Jordan and Marlon, and 1 for Knight and Preston.
10:55 – TJ delivers one of those aforementioned surprises. Be prepared: “Derek and Robb, if it was up to the girls, you would be going to the Jungle, and well, guess what you guys, it is up to the girls.” As Sarah sound bytes, “This changes everything.” The girls will be deciding for the guys and the guys will be deciding for the girls.
11:00 – Tyrie speaks some indiscernible words to Marlon about beating Robb and Derek in the Jungle. The. Writing. Is. On. The. Wall.
11:01 – Johnny and CT have a little public dispute that centers mostly on past Challenges and the sanctity of tactics used. Johnny calls CT “Chris” which is like an angry mom using a child’s full name when sending him to his room without supper. Frank thinks that now that CT has fired shots, he and Johnny should not really worry too much about another coup attempt. Frank thinks that we should “let him shake…LET HIM SHAKE!”
11:01 – Go Wes! He comes up with the idea to turn the living room and kitchen into a fake nightclub and group buy-in seems to be all in with this idea. So far, Wes has stayed out of CT troubles and contributed in a big way to the social world of a Challenge house. I am digging this Wes version 2.0.
11:03 – After a night of constant flirting, Ana and CT end up being caught much more than making out by a surveillance cam. Jessica just goes for it: “Anastasia trying to sleep with CT isn’t going to end well. Anastasia is emotional and I just don’t want her to get attached because if she does, it’s gonna be a bad day in a Challenge for her and I.”
11:09 – Poor Naomi must go home because her estranged dad is having some serious heart problems. This harrowing chapter for her (can you imagine just how long that plane fight must feel from Phuket to NYC?) may ultimately create a bond between Naomi and Cooke, so there’s that silver lining. Other weird irony: one cast member from Real World: Las Vegas has now gone home after one week of competition on each Rivals. Mikey replaced Adam the first time. Will we see Heather replace Naomi this time?
11:10 – “Welcome to the Jungle…” The challenge between Robb and Derek and Tyrie and Dunbar is called “Last Chance” and it involves running through each other to ring a bell first. The first team to ring the bell twice stays another week.
11:17 – In the first round, Derek manages to run by the larger frames of Dunbar and Tyrie with Robb setting a nasty screen.
11:23 – The second round is a photo finish and by a tenth of a second, Robb and Derek ring the bell first (poor Dunbar missed it on the first swing. Luck was not his friend this season).
11:23 – Robb and Derek are very happy to be coming back and might celebrate, according to Robb, by cuddling together tonight.
11:23 – Tyrie doesn’t really have a thing to say and Dunbar is just really pissed off. I am not sure I have seen a more depressing losing team ever on The Challenge and this is likely to be, after six very unsuccessful seasons, Tyrie’s last.
11:25 – Everyone celebrates and loves life in a Thai nightclub that seems more like a sweat lodge.
11:26 – Johnny pokes at Anastasia about her pursuit of CT. Ana’s response, “I am single and I’m having fun.” According to the slap heard round the modern The Challenge world in the trailer, this will not last too long.
FINALLY, on the full “THIS SEASON ON” (identical to the Zapruder Analyzed Trailer) this is what I saw:
- CT maniacally laughing
- Jonna not having Leroy’s back
- Sarah knows that “at the heart of all of us are good people” (go her!)
- Trey knows that “they are way more nervous and way more scared than we could ever possibly be”
- Romantic connections between Jemmye and Marlon, Jordan and Sarah, Nany and CT, Leroy and Theresa
- Aneesa thinks that Trishelle is “always going to be trash”
- A camera gets in Zach’s face
- Camila’s finger gets in Theresa’s face
- Jonna and Jordan approach a romantic kiss
- Johnny declares, “All is fair in love, war, and challenges”
- Paula “doesn’t care who we piss off.”
- and finally, TJ welcomes everyone to the “scariest elimination round we have ever had” that seems to feature an electric chair
Stay tuned for the week 1 individual and team power rankings to be released later this week. Until then, spread the good word.
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 throughout the season.