A vintage Johnny Bananas performance, an excruciatingly enjoyable challenge, stellar sound bytes, a fair share of extracurricular nighttime activity, a hall of fame outing for the great TJ Lavin, and the most dramatic Jungle elimination of the year all mixed together make for the best episode of this season of The Challenge: Rivals 2. The best episode calls for only one thing: an in-season retro running diary. Usually saved for premieres and finales, this episode was just that good. Without further adieu, let’s go back to 10:00 PM EST this evening where it all began…
10:01 – This season’s opening credits are kind of lame. Albeit, nothing will ever compare to the unintentional comedy fest that were the opening credits to the Duel II. Highlights include:
- Davis struggling to find the right facial expression during his intro. First he smiles, then realizes that is not the direction they are going for (this is serious business), and then tries to save it with his best intimidating scowl face. You can imagine that by the thirtieth take this was the best they were going to get from Davis.
- The spelling of Brittini’s name and how easily she is to forget.
- The moment Evan starts to yell the war chants. His commitment is a work of Canadian art.
- Isaac’s chanting section brings another level of joy because unlike everyone else on this cast, you could actually picture him expressing himself through such nonsensical gibberish in real life. “C’mon, guys. Let me show you how it is done.”
- Big Easy’s “Night at the Roxbury” head bobbing during his lead chant turn. This could be Big Easy’s best moment he has ever had on The Challenge.
- Kim is just so over it.
- Adam unleashes the tongue as an act of intimidation. CT was not swayed.
- TJ Lavin in the foreground overlooking this unnatural performance like an artiste taking in his masterpiece.
10:02 – Diem calls Aneesa the “Queen of Excuses.” Does this make Knight the “Jester of Bodyguards?”
10:02 – Aneesa: “If I could change 1 to 5 things about Diem, it would kind of be that you would get off my back.” Diem wants to put Aneesa through some insanity partner workouts in preparation for the Finals. Frank tells Aneesa to embrace the cards that she has been dealt and “deal with it.” Aneesa looks at Frank like he is the silliest of lads. This is kind of awesome.
10:04 – Paula says that “Aneesa and Diem are partners whether they like it or not and they do not.” This all reminds me of the Shakespearean comedy, Much Ado About Nothing.
10:04 – TJ describes the premise of the “Blind Leading the Blind” challenge, but unfortunately no one is listening because we are all distracted by Phukie (as in Phuket), the little furry white dog that TJ has brought to The Challenge. Phukie ranks somewhere below the Johnny Bobble-head, but above Daisy and Irene’s Teddy Bear from Real World: Seattle in the rankings of the best non-human participants in Bunim/Murray history.
10:05 – You just couldn’t stay away from shocking the competitors, could you production?
10:06 – Ty speaks alert! “So we already know who is going first…” Six minutes in and we have already heard Ty speak more than in the first three episodes!
10:07 – The first heat in the challenge is CT and Wes for the men and Aneesa and Diem for the women. In the challenge, competitors, blind-folded and attached on one side via arm and leg, must navigate a maze in thirty minutes. This would not seem as daunting a task, but for the fact that each person must wear a dog shocker on one wrist and one ankle that increases voltage and frequency the more you go in the right direction. This is both incredibly sadistic and potentially a lot of fun to watch.
10:07 – Diem: “It feels like someone is caddle prodding you and you are getting electrocuted through your entire body.” What’s the over/under on how many times Cara Maria and Abram have actually attempted this on their ranch in Montana this summer? Eight? Ten?
10:07 – Apparently the VMAs are live in Brooklyn this Sunday. Like my post Challenge viewing nights (4:03 AM as I edit), there is apparently no sleep (‘til Brooklyn).
10:09 – Brooklyn Nine-Nine (premiering on Fox on September 17) looks increasingly promising with each promo. Andy Samberg, although at times a little juvenile in a Adam Sandler circa 1995 kind of way, and the great Andre Braugher butting heads in a squad room? Yes, please.
10:10 – “Wow, I really was pining for a continuation of the Riddick series on film!” – says nobody
10:11 – Meanwhile, back at the challenge, let the uncomfortable squeamish laughter commence! Every time a competitor is shocked and omits a cry of pain, you chuckle a little on the inside, catch yourself, and then chuckle a little on the outside, before catching yourself and realizing that you are taking too much joy at the expense of another’s pain (but it really is kind of funny to watch…)
10:12 – Wes takes over full control of the challenge from CT and has a healthy dose of humility about it: “As soon as I take over, everything starts going extremely smoothly. He might have more brawn than me. He might be bigger. He might be scarier, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s my dog on a leash. I am the greatest human being that has ever lived.” Ok, I made up the last part.
10:12 – The Wes and CT bromance continues after they finish. There are some pats on the back, some faux-hugs, and some declarations of mutual pride. Somewhere at home, Kenny is yelling at the TV, “You can have him!”
10:13 – Cara Maria: “Blind folds and electric shocks – it’s nothing really new to me, so I should be ok.” Neighbors of Abram and Cara Maria watching at home in Montana nod approvingly.
10:14 – So, this is not the kind of pain that Cara Maria enjoys. Cooke tries to take a moment to listen to the ocean. Cara Maria, as if overtaken with a mild (if clichéd) bout of Tourette Syndrome, unleashes a “fuck” for every shock.
10:15 – Jordan is, according to Johnny, doing some “geometry in there” and saying things like “wait a minute – this is a forty-five degree angle.” Jordan uses Johnny’s voice to determine where the finish is not located. It’s all just a little hilarious to watch.
10:16 – Cooke has a post-mortem “don’t do that ever again talk” with Cara Maria that sounds like vintage Laurel/Cara Maria circa early in the first Rivals season. Comparing Cooke to Laurel is the highest of praise.
10:17 – Ty speaks alert! This time he leads Leroy to the beginning of the maze (Aneesa: “Talk about the blind leading the blind”). Meanwhile, Paula and Emily are killing it as usual. Paula takes the reigns on this one as Emily squeaks her way through the pain.
10:20 – Katy Perry is performing live in 4 days at the VMA awards in Brooklyn. Meanwhile, Lady Gaga is taking her clothes off in the strangest of ways every day in off-putting Kickstarter campaigns and V Magazine photo shoots. So there’s that.
10:21 – When Paula and Emily finish the maze, Paula declares that she is going to “make a phone call to PETA as soon as [she] gets back in America and ban those.” I will gladly sign your petition, Paula.
10:22 – When they finally finish, Leroy tells Ty that he “killed it,” but production always seems to depict Ty doing the opposite. Who am I to trust?
10:23 – Frank and Johnny actually kill it. Johnny’s post maze take, as Challenge eloquent as ever: “They say the key to every successful relationship is communication and me and my main man, Franklin over here (patting his partner’s chest), I think we communicated well. Pain is your key to victory, and hopefully our time is going to hold up.” This is just vintage, 1998 MJ mode for Bananas. There will be more of this to come later in the episode.
10:24 – Frank compares Nany and Jonna’s performance to “like watching two five-year-olds trying to go through a haunted house.” My addendum on this is that the five-year-olds in Frank’s metaphor actually walked through the haunted house. Nany and Jonna sort of took two steps into the maze before creating a ball of fear and frustration for the next thirty minutes.
10:24 – Classic TJ: “You don’t know what to do – just move towards the shock.” Can we get this man some kind of lifetime achievement award at this point?
10:27 – Camila (Preston: “Camila was the savior today”) literally dragged Team New Orleans through the maze. This begs the question, does Camila have strange powers over the Real World: New Orleans cast? Should Sahar be calling her up for musical advice? Would she be able to magically make Ryan into a more tolerable person? Also, how was Camila able to sustain the shock without the appearance of pain? What Brazilian super powers does she possess?
10:28 – Aneesa and Diem are the women winners (thank you Wes!). Diem does a very cool dance to celebrate. TJ asks her, despite the heat, to do the dance again because it was just that good. It is in these little moments where The Challenge greatness can be found. TJ Lavin – the myth and legend is a man among men.
10:28 – TJ announces Johnny and Frank as the winners (and safe from elimination) and either Ty and Leroy or Jordan and Marlon as the losers, but not before getting another dig at Jonna and Nany’s embarrassing performance. I have to give credit to Jonna and Nany who seem to have a good sense of humor about it all.
10:29 – I RSVPed to The Great Gatsby Blue-Ray event of the year that I could not attend because I have better things to spend two hours of my time on (although it was at times visually stunning).
10:31 – Ty and Leroy are crowned the losers and Jungle elimination bait. Ty is uncharacteristically silent.
10:32 – There is a Johnny and Frank strategic session with some of the women teams about who should be sent in the Jungle. Johnny and Frank are pulling for Jordan and Marlon “whose time has come,” but really Johnny is hoping that the layup of Knight and Preston sneaks around long enough to be in the Finals and become an immediate team that Johnny and Frank will beat. Jordan listens intently from the other room. Not to overstate my Confessioner gimmick, but wouldn’t the Confessioner have told the strategy party to wait to have this conversation when Jordan is in the shower, on a run, or at least out of earshot?
10:33 – “So how’s the campaign coming?” With these four words and a conjunction, Jordan begins his Frank provocation, and it was just that easy.
10:34 – Frank’s outburst begins (Emily and Diem are the primary listeners at this point) while Aneesa comically sprints by. See Diem! Aneesa is exercising, but just on her own time!
10:34 – Emily gets the ultimate credit in the world for putting Jordan in his place and guiding him away from behaviors that will wake the Frank sleeping bear that has been dreaming happy thoughts while in hibernation since the CT blow-out earlier in the season. Her attempts, although valiant, only do so much good when Frank…
10:35 – …absolutely loses it.
10:37 – Following a much needed commercial break, all is calm again at the voting proceedings. Johnny provides an impromptu (but so appreciated) speech in which he can’t stop gushing about his excellent, but volatile partner: “I gotta give all the credit to my partner, Frank here. Without him, I could not have done today’s challenge. He’s got a higher threshold for pain apparently, so thank you sir.”
10:38 – Knight is not optimistic about his chances of avoiding a Jungle trip: “My team is an easy target for the Jungle because everybody knows that Preston can’t do anything.”
10:39 – TJ thanks Marlon for his lipstick to face vote tallies. He then calls Camila, “Mila.” Can this man be any more exceptional?
10:39 – The vote is overwhelming. Four teams vote for Jordan and Marlon (Nany and Jonna hold out and vote for Preston and Knight). Paula’s rationalization: “I need Johnny to make my game as easy as possible, so I have to vote the way he wants me to.” We are now 399 minutes into this season and this is really the first time we have heard Paula or Johnny speak about their unwavering alliance. The time had come.
10:39 – Leroy brings some levity to the moment: “I would like to wish the rookies the best of luck in the Jungle, but I really hope that you LOSE!” Ty remains silent.
10:40 – Some conversations are just this good…
Camila, fighting through intoxication and speaking with her unbreakable loyalty to Johnny in mind: “You’re a rookie. You’re going in. You have to prove yourself!”
Jordan, shirtless: “Then riddle me why…”
Camila, interrupting him: “–Listen to me.”
Jordan, incredibly rational: “…Johnny and Frank win, and they had to go campaign.”
Camila: “They weren’t necessarily campaigning. They’re our friends.”
Jordan: “But until Johnny and Frank went in there and said, ‘Look – this needs to happen. They’re rookies. They need to go in.’ And that’s what you just said, you’re rookies, you need to go in, so the vote was changed because someone wanted it to be changed that was not a girl.”
Wait, did Jordan just say, “riddle me why?”
10:41 – Frank overhears all and volunteers to be a fact checker (again, where is the Confessioner?). This lasts for all of three seconds before Frank settles into full-fledged nighttime extracurricular activity mode and unleashes his verbal spite on the Real World: Portland veteran (and a resident fact checker, according to Marlon in the challenge last week, of his own).
10:41 – Johnny Bananas, can you please bring some calm and clarity to this situation? Johnny Bananas, in classic form, has a little something to say to Jordan to deescalate the situation while still supporting Frank. Pay close attention – this is the stuff that legends are made of: “You don’t understand. The way that the guys are looking at this is that there is a team that obviously everybody wants here for a final.”
Right. Go on…
“So the way this game’s played – you leave the easiest team here. That way, if you have to go in, you’re hedging your bets, ok? You guys are a great team, ok? You’ve proved it time and time again, but your time’s up, dude. It’s your time to go in and it’s your time to fucking earn your stripes, dude. I don’t blame you. This is a fucking dirty game, bro, but I’ve always said is that all is fair in love, war, and challenges.”
There are so many important takeaways here: Jordan shows incredible restraint during Frank’s outburst. Frank, although unleashed, manages to find an inner peace much faster than imaginable. Paula and Emily are keeping Camila’s point of no return somewhat checked in the background of the shot. But this moment is really about Johnny Bananas, the Michael Jordan of The Challenge. This is the same Johnny Bananas who was the first person eliminated on his first The Challenge season of The Duel (like when Jordan was cut from his Varsity basketball team) so many years ago. This is the same Johnny Bananas who couldn’t get over the hump on Inferno 3 or The Gauntlet 3 (Jordan’s repeated attempts to pass the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals). This is the Johnny Bananas who put it all together when he was able to learn how to rely on his teammates on The Island (the 1991 Championship) and again on Ruins (the 1992-1993 Championships). Then came the trials of Cuthroat, the nadir being CT’s elimination demolition (the baseball career, the 1995 playoffs). A Rivals win brought some redemption with long-time competitor, Tyler (the 1996 Championship). Battle of the Exes was not as easy as the one before, but that much sweeter when Johnny and Camila reached the top of that Icelandic mountain peak (the 1997 Championship). If Rivals II is the 1998 season, then you know where Jordan’s career goes next. Let us hope the Jazz series is stretched out for as long as possible, but if Rivals II is meant to be his last stand on The Challenge, what a ride it will have been. Tonight The Challenge legend of Johnny Bananas is just doing his thing.
10:47 – Let’s get to the Jungle (Take it away. Johnny: “We’ve got ourselves a good, old-fashioned head banger!”) and skip over the weird commercial break segment about Ty and Aneesa hooking up. We will just pretend this didn’t happen.
10:48 – “Leroy, do you think Ty has got this?” Even TJ acknowledges Ty’s silence. By the way, why has Ty been silent this season? Was he coached?
10:48 – The event is “Last Chance,” a retread of the first Jungle elimination from Week 1 between Tyrie and Dunbar and Robb and Derek. The memories of this first elimination faded that night, so fresh does this feel!
10:49 – Jordan and Marlon are talking about the “Oklahoma drill” that they worked in football practice every day. Maybe Ty is silent out of fear for these two athletic beasts?
10:49 – Leroy is going to “play defense and nobody is getting by without getting touched.” Ty is, as is custom, silent.
10:49 – Round 1 features an initial collision followed by what looks to be a tie for both teams to the bell ringing on either side of the course. The crowd, like Ty, is silent waiting for the instant replay.
10:50 – The replay shows that Marlon and Jordan won the first round by the smallest fraction of a second. Ty remains silent.
10:50 – Round 2 goes to Leroy and Ty after Ty shoots out of the gate like a train. This elimination is as physical and evenly matched as I have ever seen. I am not sure there has ever been a Challenge elimination as much cumulative talent participation.
10:51 – Round 3, the deciding round, appears to be leaning in Ty and Leroy’s favor, but a Seacrestian commercial break (and the habitual longest one of an episode) prolongs the suspense. Was my Zapruder Analysis wrong and could Marlon and Jordan lose this thing?
10:56 – There was no way. Jordan’s dive for the bell (as teased in the “Still to come this season on Rivals 2” trailer from last week) was in fact the moment of victory. The most impressive rookie campaign in Challenge history just got even more prolific.
10:57 – Ty speaks alert! – “I wouldn’t rather have any other game and to have lost to them in something I think we should have beat them in, I just don’t even really know what to say right now.” No really, was Ty advised not to speak all season? He is a really articulate guy who has gone a little overboard at times emotionally, but all kidding aside, something has seemed a little off this season for Ty in his mostly limited screen time.
10:58 – Awwwwwwwww. Ty and Leroy’s exit interviews were both really sweet. Despite the sounds of silence this season for Ty, these are two genuinely good dudes who will be missed.
10:59 – Jordan: “I am really over all the politicking, so we’re just going to win it.” This is why Jordan is a legitimate season MVP candidate.
10:59 – Frank’s ready to let his “beast out of his cage” and Johnny is concerned that if Frank starts “punching holes in their ship” that Johnny will “be sinking right along with you.” If there were any doubts before, The Challenge is on.
Until we meet again for the power rankings later in the week and prepare for Camila’s teased extracurricular nighttime activity…
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.