THE CHALLENGE: How Production Loses Again and a Rivals 2 Photo Diary Recap

When I opened up my Macbook Pro last night to begin my weekly post The Challenge: Rivals 2 episode writing recap ritual, I found myself stuck in a flash Thailand hail storm of prose creation blockage.  The fourth episode of the season had just ended with an unexpected twist.  The Mighty TJ Lavin, adorned in a campy mad scientist apron, had just presented the Jungle elimination as a sadistic and creepy game of which team can sustain an electric shock longer.  The Challengers are often subjected to a degree of physical pain throughout a season while partaking in feats of athleticism (particularly the endurance fest the finale has become), but this electrified conceit was shockingly (pun so intended) inappropriate and in the poorest of tastes.  Not since the gas chamber challenge on Cutthroat had the good people at Bunim/Murray crossed the line so far.  I sat there on my “you are not making the eventual move from this apartment because you are so uncomfortable” futon wishing that little Jasmine would refrain from participating because I had genuine concerns for her life.

All of this mongering of fear had been for not.  TJ announced that this Jungle was a bit of a ruse and that there would be no elimination tonight.  Normally, I would say, “Oooooh, a twist!”, but after an immediate analysis, Trishelle’s untimely departure and the Bunim/Murray unconscionable removal of Sarah from the competition, left the women teams uneven with the guys.  Jasmine and Theresa (great episode for both) and Cooke and Cara Maria, the bottom two women teams in the competition (both according to my power rankings and in where they stand in the power structure of the game) would be safe from elimination this week because production needed to realign the numbers.  If you shared my displeasure with last week or had the pleasure (I hope!) of reading my scalding condemnation of production for unfairly saying goodbye to Sarah (now a second time), this week’s “sorry, the challenge didn’t really matter, you are all safe!” declaration just exacerbated the bitter taste already lingering in my mouth.

The decisions of the last two weeks bring the sanctity of the competition into question.  As the debacle of officiating in the NBA over the last decade plus (an applicable nadir was the erroneous and series/destiny changing suspensions of Boris Diaw and Amare Stoudemire in the Suns/Spurs series in 2007 for leaving “the immediate vicinity of the bench” after Robert Horry’s hip check of Steve Nash into the scorer’s table) has had an adverse effect on the outcome of games, series, and careers, these production decisions are negatively affecting the careers of competitors (you think it is easy for Paula and Emily to win four challenges in a row and then have the fourth deemed null and void?).  With all of this in mind, I needed to take a break from this tomfoolery last night and tabled my recap until this morning.

Although my perspective may be fresher, my unrest and displeasure remain as potent.  Subsequently, it seems like the perfect time then for this season’s first photo diary (utilizing the weekly images provided by MTV.com) to structure and focus my thoughts and keep me away from another rant.

The Challengers get there party on...
The Challengers get their party on…

Before this picture was shot, Wes (of all people) gave a little toast at the Diamond Beachclub of Phuket, Thailand: “This to the family we never had…”  I know that strong and lasting relationships are built over course of Challenge seasons, but such a proclamation fits into the unintentionally comedic gentility of this new version of Wes.  The once centerpiece of Challenge competitive angst and subsequent opponent animosity, now simply views The Challenge as a vacation with family.  Can we please fly in Kenny and Evan to inspire some competitive drive and spirit back into him?

Nany confronts Diem about her supposed rap.
Nany confronts Diem about her supposed rap.

You had me at “supposed rap.”  This begs several questions: does Diem come up with raps often?  Who are her hip-hop influences?  Did she run some of the lyrics by Jay Dillinger before publicly presenting?  Besides Jemmye, who else was her desired audience?  If her rap were a more melodic song, would Nany have cared?  What if her rap were actually good, would Nany have respected it?  If I had told you before tonight’s episode that Nany confronts Diem about a supposed rap, would you have ever believed me?  Did Nany write a rap of her own as retaliation?  If so, who were her hip-hop influences?

Paula enjoys the made up rap with other housemates.
Paula enjoys the made up rap with other housemates.

In the rap saga part II, Johnny and Leroy (a candidate for episode MVP) come up with a rap about Nany of their own.  It goes something like this (and yes, I transcribed most of it):

“Me and my partner are like Clyde and Bonnie

but if it’s one person in this house I can’t stand, it’s this whore named Nany.

You’re just a rookie so stay in your place,

You keep trying to fuck CT I will slap your face.

Johnny’s nothing but an asshole modern day Tom Sawyer.

Nany is clearly the classiest girl in this house because she fucked Adam Royer.

I know this rap song makes me sound bitter.  I can’t wait to block her ass on twitter.

I’m Diem DB Brown.  Nany don’t be mad at me because the whole house knows your always (too hard to make out)

I’ve never seen so many hoes with broke ass faces, now everybody go to sleep…#shhhhhhh.”

First, any disparaging or condescending reference to Adam Royer is much appreciated (my least favorite member of any The Challenge cast ever).  Second, I give much credit to Johnny and Leroy for their writing, Paula for her impromptu performance, and the jovial bystanders and participants for converting the silliest of extracurricular nighttime situations into a fun daytime group activity.  Poor Nany did not find it as much fun (her immediate destruction of this historical text was swift and decisive).

Cooke and Cara Maria become "stumped" during the challenge.
Cooke and Cara Maria become “stumped” during the challenge.

This was a hard challenge to watch because you could never really tell what was going on.  The competitors were in the middle of a bamboo maze that they could barely figure out, so the viewer was in an even more untenable position.  However, just listening to the challenge was quite entertaining and presented many different examples of both ineffective and effective partner communication.  Cooke and Cara Maria were leading the charge for ineffective communication.  Paula and Emily (female winners), Johnny and Frank, and Marlon and Jordan (male winners) proved that in the Rivals conceit, how well you and your partner communicate in the moment can determine your ultimate success.  Preston and Knight, it what feels like for the 100th time, couldn’t get their act to together and didn’t seem to care (TJ, can we penalize them again?).  Jemmye and Camila continued to prove why the #teamsubtitles is appropriate and most entertaining.

Diem and Aneesa get creative as they compete.
Diem and Aneesa get creative as they compete.

Power rankings don’t lie.  Do not sleep on Aneesa and Diem.  Aneesa, in incredible physical shape and keenly aware of the importance of partner loyalty and alignment, is growing stronger by the week.  Her creativity here was one of the only physical moments of the challenge that you could tell was beast and almost led to a victory over Paula and Emily.  After staving off Cooke’s attempt to send them in to the Jungle that didn’t actually matter, they seem to be reasonably protected from any assault from some of the younger challenge competitors.  For a team that I did not predict could go too far, they are proving me wrong.

The Challengers watch another team compete.
The Challengers watch another team compete.

This is not the most exciting of photos, but the only one of the batch that highlights Jasmine and Theresa, who, despite losing the challenge, had one of the best weeks of any team.  They both finally made it off of the cutting room floor to have some featured airtime (Jasmine’s fro of intimidation at the vote and Theresa’s wise opportunity taking with Leroy were particular highlights) and managed, through another production decision snafu, to avoid elimination and participation in a Jungle that seemed to be life threatening (especially to Jasmine).  Welcome to Rivals 2, ladies!

Johnny bobble-head throws Cooke and Cara Maria under the bus.
Johnny bobble-head throws Cooke and Cara Maria under the bus.

On Real World: Portland, there was Daisy, the little provocative, but lovable trouble maker of a house pet cared for by Averey and Johnny, and clandestinely beloved by the Hurricane they called Nia.  Now, as every major professional sport must, The Challenge: Rivals 2 has its own mascot in this Johnny Bananas bobble-head (available at suckyeah.com, the J.E.K. Empire’s clothing line).  Aware of the incredible possibilities that this bobble-head can provide, production wasted no time utilizing his obvious talents.  More Johnny Bananas bobble-head in the future is only the best of things.

Cooke pleads with Wes and CT for teams safety.
Cooke pleads with Wes and CT for teams safety.

Cooke gave a valiant attempt (and even inspired Leroy and Ty to have a most random vote for Nany and Jonna), but other teams were not so easily swayed.  Unless they win a challenge, Cooke and Cara Maria are at the bottom of the totem pole and will continue to have to prove themselves in eliminations.

Knight gets into an argument with Jemmye.
Knight gets into an argument with Jemmye.

Well, a Knight and Jemmye blowout was bound to happen at some point.  Jemmye was engaged in a random depantsing of Cooke and took offense to Knight’s attempt at involvement.  Knight, just tired of hearing Jemmye’s voice and probably a little jealous (or so production implies) that Jemmye had a little flirtatious thing going with Leroy, couldn’t help himself.  This led to this…

Jemmye has a meltdown after having ketchup thrown at her.
Jemmye has a meltdown after having ketchup thrown at her.

…We all have our breaking points and for Jemmye it is an acute case of Mortuusequusphobia (the title of the episode): the abnormal fear of ketchup.  Knight, ready to exploit Jemmye’s greatest weakness in both an attempt to embarrass and derail, attacked her with her personal kryptonite.  I realize that it was just ketchup, but to Jemmye (especially after witnessing her horrified reaction) it means the end of the world.  Knight’s action is just cruel.  I am really not sure what is going on with Knight this season.  He plays the “I am better than all this” attitude card, but then says things and does things that are so mean-spirited.  Why can’t he attempt to showcase his better qualities than having to devolve into a unlikable jerk?  I expected more.  The winner in all this is Leroy (furthering his episode MVP case), who, after observing the just too much drama, moved on from Jemmye to Theresa.

After gaining some confidence dances freely without her wig.
After gaining some confidence dances freely without her wig.

Finally, this was truly a beautiful moment.  Diem’s incredible and heroic battles against cancer and the consummate model and example she leads is the most important thing that has come out of this Challenge world.  Her self-consciousness in regards to her hair loss, once the centerpiece of a budding romance between she and CT so many seasons ago, remains a point of low self-esteem.  To see her lose this inhibition one more time and be able to overcome this last obstacle of this part of the journey is a privilege for us viewers.  Diem – I so wish you could always understand just a beautiful a person you are and how thankful we are for you to have shared your story with us.  This pixie cut is fantastic.

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.

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