THE CHALLENGE: FREE AGENTS Preseason Power Rankings – Men Division – Part II

Read Part I of the MEN DIVISION here.



6) LEROYLeroyWhere did we last see him? We last saw Leroy and partner Ty come up short against rookie sensations Jordan and Marlon in the Jungle elimination of episode seven of last season’s Rivals 2.
The Challenge History: Free Agents is Leroy’s fourth season on The Challenge. Previous appearances were in Rivals (season 21 and a trip to the finals with Mikey Mike), Battle of the Exes (season 22), and Rivals 2 (season 24).
Why would you sign Leroy? Leroy is straightforward and direct. He tells you what he thinks, but has the stature and respect of his fellow competitors. He is a phenomenal athlete who competes at the highest level in a number of events. He is well-regarded by both the Johnny Bananas and CT power trees of the modern Challenge era. He is a loyal friend and will always have the back of those that are close to him.
Why would you not sign Leroy? Since a breakout The Challenge rookie campaign, his performances in Battle of the Exes and Rivals 2 (partners Naomi and Ty may have had a little something to do with this) fell a little short. Sometimes you have to get a little dirty to be successful on The Challenge and this may not come naturally to Leroy.
Potential Allies: Dustin and Nany (Real World: Las Vegas Strong); Brandon (Las Vegas Strong); Johnny Bananas and CT
Potential Enemies: From strictly a competitive standpoint, the other most physically gifted competitors like Zach, Frank, and Jordan
Best-case scenario: Based upon expectations and/or track record, Leroy has never been matched with the best partner. Thankfully, when Adam Royer embarrassed himself on the first few days of Rivals, his replacement was Leroy’s best bud, Mike, from Real World: Las Vegas. Their strong relationship propelled them to exceed expectations. Both Naomi and Ty were going to limit Leroy’s ultimate staying power in his last two seasons. Now, unencumbered by a fatal partnership on Free Agents, Leroy will be able to do his solo thing, compete against the frontrunners, and have a legitimate shot to compete in the finals.
Worst-case scenario: Either he is targeted to go into an elimination because he is such a big threat or he falls victim to “The Draw” against one of the game’s elite physical competitors (CT, Zach) and loses an close battle.
The Verdict: I incorrectly predicted that Rivals 2 would be Leroy’s season (a preseason MVP prediction) to “make the leap.” It is time to go at least a few steps out on that lim again: Leroy will be around for at least the final elimination before the finals. Free Agents will be his return to form, but due to the stiffest competition he has faced, this may not be “the leap” season quite yet.


5) DUSTINDustinWhere did we last see him? We last saw Dustin instrumentally drive his faltering relationship with Trishelle to a second place finish in the Namibian Desert Battle of the Seasons final challenge.
The Challenge History: This is Dustin’s third season on The Challenge. Previously he was on Battle of the Exes (season 22) and Battle of the Seasons (season 23 and a finals trip).
Why would you sign Dustin? Dustin is an outstanding athlete and may have more of an issue with losing than any of the other twenty-seven competitors this season (he likes to win!). He is a loyal supporter of his fellow Las Vegas cast members (Nany and Leroy) and has proved that he will always have their back. He will excel in a number of different types of challenges. He is headstrong and fearless.
Why would you not sign Dustin? Sometimes his tireless pursuit of winning can rub less-inclined competitors the wrong way. His motivational tactics are not always supportive (more like Frank than like Leroy). If his enemies stay true from Battle of the Seasons, they are powerful players in this game.
Potential Allies: Nany and Leroy (Las Vegas Strong); Jemmye (New Orleans Strong); he and Chet worked well together on separate teams during Battle of the Seasons
Potential Enemies: Frank and Zach
Best-case scenario: Dustin has always been destined for The Challenge greatness and Free Agents, through frequent challenge domination and sound alliance building, could be the season that he wins in the finals.
Worst-case scenario: Sometimes taking a season off after a finals trip can be a momentum killer. A challenge DQ places an early elimination target on Dustin’s back that forces him to battle with one of the other elite players who is ultimately too much to overcome.
The Verdict: Free Agents is tailor-made for a competitor of Dustin’s skill set. He will excel with a solo mission (especially away from his frequent, albeit at times warranted, frustration with female teammates) format and will return to the finals with a plausible opportunity to win.

4) FRANKFrankWhere did we last see him? We last saw Frank and teammate Johnny Bananas get outlasted and outplayed in the Rivals 2 final challenge by eventual winners CT and Wes.
The Challenge History: Amazingly, this is Frank’s third season on The Challenge. He won Battle of the Seasons (season 23) as the vocal leader of Team San Diego and made it to the finals again last year as Johnny Bananas twitter sparring partner (some rivalry) on Rivals 2 (season 24).
Why would you sign Frank? His track record speaks for itself – two seasons in and Frank has proved himself as one of the elite Challenge competitors. His second season, despite an early CT mashup, was the most drama free of his Bunim-Murray tenure. He is in peak physical form, one of, if not the the best, swimmer, and may have more running endurance (until Preston can prove himself!) than any other guy. His strategic game is Johnny Bananas-level elite.
Why would you not sign Frank? Despite this mellower version of himself, there are several competitors this season who have been recipients of Frank’s nighttime extra-curricular activity blow-ups and may want to enact some degree of revenge. He may benefit from a more team-oriented game suited to his strategic advantages. After a free-flowing and potentially contract-breaking interview on Grantland’s Right Reasons podcast with Juliet Litman and Dave Jacoby last season, his positive energy toward the franchise may have wained.
Potential Allies: Johnny Bananas (they created a mutually beneficial partnership last year surprisingly well); Jordan; Are he and Zach close again?
Potential Enemies: CT; Dustin; Nany; Chet; Camila
Best-case scenario: Frank once again dominates the social/strategic game while backing up his supremacy with consistently strong performances in challenges. This leads to his third straight finals appearance in three tries and a credible shot to win it all.
Worst-case scenario: Frank’s past enemies pounce on him early. Unprotected from a team or partnership, he must face off in an early elimination against a strong competitor who ends up beating him.
The Verdict: Something feels a little strange of about Frank heading into this Challenge season. Promos have been noticeably leaving him out (he had been a fixture the last two seasons), which leads me to believe that he will not be hanging out in Uruguay for too long a time. This is just conjecture – a hunch – but something doesn’t feel right (I was surprised to even hear he participated after his Bunim-Murray fall out last season). I could be completely off-base (as has happened many times before), but I have a feeling that this is not going to be one of Frank’s best seasons. I would graciously like to be proved wrong, but for now, I predict an early exit.

3) JORDANJordanWhere did we last see him? We last saw rookies Jordan and Real World: Portland partner, Marlon, destroy their Rivals 2 competition, leading to a finals appearance (at least to day 1) and a third place finish.
The Challenge History: Free Agents will be Jordan’s sophomore season on The Challenge. Last year he made it to the finals on Rivals 2 (season 24).
Why would you sign Jordan? Jordan is an INCREDIBLE athlete who seems to excel at everything you put in front of him. He won “Rookie of the Year” in my postseason awards column and he was a legitimate MVP candidate. His competitiveness is aptly matched by his unwavering will to fight against adversity. He is unafraid and will stand up to anyone, but gets when it is time to take a backseat to the strategic in-fighting of others. Made for the Free Agents format because he has the chance to dominate all individual challenges (the only ticket to safety against the unpredictability of “The Draw”).
Why would you not sign Jordan? You would sign Jordan. His inherent pugnacity could be used against him.
Potential Allies: Jess, Johnny, and Nia (Portland Strong); I see he and Cohutta getting along really well, the women competitors in general
Potential Enemies: As previewed in the trailer, Johnny Bananas; the rest of the competition
Best-case scenario: He dominates challenges, avoids eliminations, and makes the right alliances to find himself in a return trip to the finals with a totally credible opportunity to win.
Worst-case scenario: The worst-case scenario is that his greatest foes are hip to his potential threat and keep putting him into eliminations to test his might. After several wins, Jordan’s luck runs out against another elite player selected by “The Draw.”
The Verdict: Jordan will not have a sophomore slump, will ride the momentum from an outstanding rookie campaign on Rivals 2 to several challenge wins, and will be back competing in the finals as once again, a potential season MVP candidate.


2) JOHNNY BANANASJohnny BananasWhere did we last see him? We last saw Johnny Bananas graciously cede his The Challenge crown to long-time and deserved foe, CT, in the Rivals 2 final challenge.
The Challenge History: Free Agents is Johnny Bananas’ tenth season on The Challenge. He has previously appeared in The Duel (season 13), The Inferno 3 (season 14), The Gauntlet III (season 15), The Island (season 16), The Ruins (season 18), Cutthroat (season 20), Rivals (season 21), Battle of the Exes (season 22), and Rivals 2 (season 24). He has been to the finals six times and has won four times (The Island, The Ruins, Rivals, Battle of the Exes).
Why would you sign Johnny Bananas? Johnny Bananas is the most successful competitor in The Challenge history. His brand of excellent physical play, strategic genius, and brash competitiveness has been instrumental in solidifying The Challenge’s fifth MAPS (Major American Professional Sport) status. Still in his prime, he has been to three straight finals (with two wins). He can work with even the most unexpected competitor (as he proved last season with Frank) and will forge mutually beneficial relationships that push him further in the game. He has strong relationships with many guys and girls.
Why would you not sign Bananas? His final challenge performance last season was a little bit of a disappointment (even if last season seemed to be all about destiny’s child, CT, finally getting over the victory hump) and showed some cracks in his armor. The journey to win a solo game like Free Agents will be one of the hardest obstacles Johnny Bananas has faced in his ten seasons. Some of his consummate and loyal supporters are not participating this season (Paula is having a baby! Kenny and Evan are still not allowed to participate?)
Potential Allies: Just going down the list, depending on what is in his best strategic interest: Frank, Leroy, Jordan, CT, Laurel, Aneesa, Dustin, Jemmye, Camila, Jessica, Brandon, Preston, Cohutta
Potential Enemies: Respected foe CT; respected competitor Jordan; there is no love loss between Johnny and Cara (although their may strategic alignment benefit).
Best-case scenario: With Johnny’s track record and continued excellence, a finals appearance and a Challenge win are consistently in play.
Worst-case scenario: Free Agents could force Johnny to compete early and often in eliminations, something he frequently avoids. Father time will come to him at some point on The Challenge. Will this be the year?
The Verdict: Further inspired by a disappointing finals, Johnny (and his Bobblehead) will be back this season with a vengeance. Whilst facing his own Challenge mortality, I look for this to be a classic Johnny Bananas performance and a record seventh finals appearance.


1) CTCTWhere did we last see him? We last saw CT and his long-standing nuisance and rival Wes put their differences aside and ride a dominant performance in Rivals 2 to his first The Challenge win.
The Challenge History: Like Johnny, Free Agents will be CT’s tenth season on The Challenge. He has previously appeared on The Inferno (season 8), The Inferno II (season 10), The Duel (season 13), The Inferno 3 (season 14), The Gauntlet III (season 15), The Duel II (season 17), Rivals (season 21), Battle of the Exes (season 22), Rivals 2 (season 24). He has been to five finals. Rivals 2 was his first win.
Why would you sign CT? Like Johnny Bananas, CT is one of the handful of competitors that has spearheaded the development of The Challenge as the fifth MAPS (Major American Professional Sport). He is a physical animal who has been striking fear in the competition since season 8 (season 8!). CT’s training and strategic game have greatly improved over the last several seasons. He has never been better and is peaking at a time in his career when he should be taking a few steps backwards. CT is the ultimate “Free Agent.” Under all circumstances, you would rather have CT on your side than against you. Diem is not on this season, so CT is devoid of what could be traditionally his biggest distraction (although it didn’t seem to affect him much last season).
Why would you not sign CT? Will he lose some competitive momentum and drive after finally getting over the finals hump last year? He always going to be a target and will have even more people gunning for him this year. His bodyguard, Knight, will not be participating.
Potential Allies: Isaac (although, we are not sure if he really has his back according to one of the promos); Aneesa, Laurel, and Cara Maria (you will not find three stronger woman); women that are seduced by his charms
Potential Enemies: long-time and respected foe, Johnny Bananas; Frank
Best-case scenario: The taste of victory was sweet for CT and he wants some of the action again. No one will want to chance going up against him in an elimination, so “The Draw” may be the only way he sees an elimination. He rides this protection to another finals appearance and a chance at winning two Challenges in a row.
Worst-case scenario: The worst-case scenario is that CT loses some of his edge and just wants to have a relaxing vacation. He loses “The Draw” and then underestimates one of the new elite (Dustin, Frank, Jordan, Zach, Leroy) in an elimination.
The Verdict: The reigning champion and the reigning MVP will want a taste for more and there aren’t too many competitors out there with much of a chance to stop him. He should be returning to the finals.


NEXT UP: Part I of the Women Division

THE CHALLENGE: FREE AGENTS Preseason Power Rankings – Men Division – Part I

So it begins…

At long last, the season premiere of the new The Challenge season, Free Agents, is a mere days away (the season premiere is Thursday, April 10, at 10:00 PM EST). The Challenge, the fifth MAPS (Major American Professional Sport), is entering its 25th season as a cultural institution of competition, entertainment, and nighttime extra-curricular activities. A consummate star (capital “S”) maker and cultivator (Johnny Bananas, TJ Lavin the Great, CT, the Miz, Ruthie, Paula Walnuts), Twitter chatter centerpiece, and the only entity to be on both the professional sports and reality television Mount Rushmore, The Challenge is a modern pioneer and trendsetter for what greatness is all about. Like in “love” and in “war,” all “is fair” in The Challenge (thank you for this, Sir Bananas), and Free Agents proves to be an entirely new and innovative chapter to add to this proven commodity’s prolific history.

Culture Challenged will be following The Challenge: Free Agents every step of the way this season with commentary, interviews, recaps, Zapruder film analysis, and weekly power rankings. Before we delve deep into the first part of the preseason power rankings (the men will be first up), let us peruse the season description (a luxury not often released until after the season begins) to discover more. The MTV description is in bold and my commentary is below.

Twenty-eight money-hungry competitors arrive in Punta del Este, Uruguay,
Yes! A return to South America! Clearly a professional sport that sets the international trends, this summer’s World Cup and the 2016 Olympics and Rio are following The Challenge‘s lead. The only previous season to begin in a South American country was The Duel (season 13) and the last time our favorite competitors set foot this far below the equator in the Western Hemisphere was on Rivals (season 21) when Johnny Bananas did some winning and Laurel did some Cara Maria defending.
expecting to be teamed up with an ex, an enemy, or even a weak rookie.
Is “weak rookie” referring to LaToya? Johnny from Bridgewater? Swifty? You can call rookie Nia many things, but weak would not be one of them. Honestly, when the competitors size up the competition, which rookie is the one nobody wants to work with? The rankings may provide some answers…
Little do they know, this is an individual game, and they’ll be answering to no one but themselves in the most unpredictable Challenge ever.
This is a lofty statement. One could argue that the Shauvon implant experience represents the ceiling of unpredictability, but that’s just me. Either way, an unpredictable game format is only a good thing.

The 25th season, Free Agents, forces players to compete on their own in a battle of perseverance and luck.
“Perseverance” sounds promising. “Luck” does not. For savvy veterans like the Legendary Johnny Bananas, CT, and Laurel, they have earned a certain status to not have to worry about an elimination based upon chance. Evening the playing field is one thing. Respecting the sanctity of earned greatness of the elite competitors is quite another.
The players will have no idea if they’ll be competing in teams, pairs or as individuals until moments before each challenge begins.
Now we are talking, Bunim-Murray. One of the great opportunities for The Challenge are the challenges (Yes, it can get confusing when the name of the professional sport is the same name as the events that take place within the professional sport). I love the potential application of this conceit. Forcing competitors to pick a partner or to pick teams will immediately identify the totem pole of respect, the value placed on winning over alliance loyalty, and we will finally see what happens when petty schoolyard hurt feelings come to The Challenge arena (wait, we have already seen this many times).
Winners are not only safe from elimination, but also have the power to choose one guy and one girl to send in.
Yes, this is a stock The Challenge formula, but since it works, there is no need to fix it.
The losers from that day’s challenge must take part in the game’s biggest elimination twist yet, “The Draw”, where one guy and one girl are selected by pure chance to face the two nominated players in the elimination round.
“Luck” immediately sounds better with a name like “The Draw” surrounding it. I really hope the edit shows a healthy dose of “The Draw” talk. Also, who will be the first competitor to whip out the clever, albeit cliché “Win, Lose, or Draw” allusion? My money is either on The Legendary Johnny Bananas or Leroy.
With competitors’ fates being determined by a flip of a card, no amount of strategy can protect them.
Or, in other words, the only way to ensure safety is to win challenges. Never mind, I have changed my mind on the whole “perseverance and luck” duo. This will be legit.

A grand total of $350,000 is up for grabs, and with so much money on the line, these already blood-thirsty competitors turn vicious.
Listen, “blood-thirsty” may be stretching this a little too far…
Heated rivalries will take shape, bitter enemies will clash, and heart-tugging relationships will form.
This could be the composition of any The Challenge season description. I, for one, am most interested in what “heart-tugging” relationships will form. It all sounds so perfectly dramatic.
Only the lucky few will face the epic final challenge that starts in dangerous rapids and ends at the top of an active volcano.
End of season SPOILER ALERT!
In the end, this season will find the most worthy challenger yet, the ultimate FREE AGENT.
And then it begins…on to part 1 of the The Challenge: Free Agents Preseason Power Rankings – Men Division.



14) JOHNNYJohnnyWhere did we last see him? The last time we saw Johnny and his long-lasting buzz cut, he was curled up next to his two favorite lady friends, Daisy and Averey, on The Real World: Portland, surviving an infamous hairdryer and a few Hurricane Nias.
The Challenge History: This is his first Challenge.
Why would you sign Johnny? The intrinsic kinship of recent past season formats were beneficial to rookie success stories (Jordan and Marlon on Rivals 2, Frank and Zach on Battle of the Seasons), but Free Agents is not likely to afford such possibility. You would sign Johnny because he will be eager and earnest in his pursuit of victory, an easily persuadable alliance member (he fits the definition of “happy to be here”), and he is no longer distracted on a daily basis by Averey’s all-consuming beauty (Sources say that a Bridgewater breakup has occurred). He flirted with a pro hockey career, so he has some serious athletic chops.
Why would you not sign Johnny? He is a classic rookie patsy for conspiratorial veterans to pounce on. Unlike the other two men from his Real World: Portland season who were ready-made The Challenge competitors, no one was chomping at the bit to see Johnny spread his athletic prowess on The Challenge game field, despite his hockey skills (there are not likely to be too many hockey rinks in Uruguay). Also, are we sure Johnny can handle this much time apart from Daisy?
Potential Allies: Portland mate Jordan, CT and Zach (Greater Boston ties could run deep), Swift (on his own rookie island as well)
Potential Enemies: Nia (the hairdryer indentations on his head prove it)
Best-case scenario: Johnny gets lucky early when the group targets Swifty first, allowing Johnny to stick around a little longer than expected.
Worst-case scenario: Johnny is the first guy thrown into an elimination and loses to a tough competitor picked by “The Draw.”
The Verdict: The Challenge has only room for one Johnny. This will be a short, forgettable first season for Bridgewater’s own.

13) SWIFTSwift Where did we last see him? We last took frequent naps (a bit of a yawn of a season) while watching Swifty pull live chicken pranks on Real World: St. Thomas, or as I like to call it, “The Real World: when we find out what happens when people stop being polite and are isolated from the rest of society by a body of water: i.e. boredom.”
The Challenge History: This is his first Challenge.
Why would you sign Swift? Swift is a little bit of an irrational confidence guy in the Vernon Maxwell/Jamal Crawford mold. How good he is may be a question for others to pose, but in Swift’s mind, he is the best, and this could be useful against this season’s veteran guy murderer’s row.
Why would you not sign Swift? Like Johnny, in a cast of veterans, rookies tend to stand out. His height and size could be an issue in any challenges that require brute force.
Potential Allies: St. Thomas bickering partner LaToya (there just aren’t a lot of other options here)
Potential Enemies: I cannot see Swift getting along too well with Jordan, Frank, or Nia; his irrational confidence ego
Best-case scenario: Swift gets lucky early when the group targets Johnny first, allowing Swift to stick around a little longer than expected.
Worst case scenario: Swift is the first guy thrown into an elimination and loses to a tough competitor picked by “The Draw.”
The Verdict: Like his Real World season, Swift’s first season on The Challenge will be soon forgotten, but this time not because of boredom, but because of shortness (and I may also be referring to the length of his stay).


12) ISAACIsaacWhere did we last see him? We last saw Isaac, probably still reeling from the CT and Adam violent brawl on night one, lose to all-time great Landon in an elimination on season 17 of The Duel II.
The Challenge History: The Duel II was Isaac’s one and only Challenge and he last five episodes.
Why would you would sign Isaac? Isaac has always been a little bit of a wild card, and in an individual game, this can be an asset. His long Challenge absence could be used to his advantage as an up for grabs alliance member (CT, Aneesa, and Cohutta are the only people who have been on a season with him before).
Why would you not sign Isaac? He may be the closest thing The Challenge has to Tyson Zone membership. As Real World: Sydney viewers may remember, Isaac was an actual juvenile delinquent, and, after years of heavy LSD use, would occasionally hallucinate about prophetic birds (and no, I am not making this up). He is older now and undoubtedly more grounded, but I am not sure a Challenge house is the best environment for someone with some unstable tendencies.
Potential Allies: Cohutta (Sydney Strong), CT (Animalistic Connectedness Strong)
Potential Enemies: I am not sure that Isaac and Camila will have much in common, hallucinations
Best-case scenario: Since we last saw him, Isaac has become an athletic beast that everyone fears, destroying competition in eliminations and in the social game. This could get him as far as the middle episodes.
Worst-case scenario: A black bird hallucination means something most awful and he takes himself out of the game to protect fellow competitors from impending doom.
The Verdict: Honestly, I have no idea what to expect. It has been so long and it is hard to know both how the others will take to him and how he will take to the others. My best guess is that he will be a mellower version of his former self, but without clear bonds with some of the new elite, he will find himself fending off competition in early eliminations.

11) COHUTTACohuttaWhere did we last see him? We last saw Cohutta on the classic JEK Empire victory season, The Ruins, season 19, but it feels even longer than that.
The Challenge History: Cohutta has performed in two The Challenge seasons – The Island (season 16) and The Ruins (season 19). His best finish was Top 8.
Why would you sign Cohutta? Cohutta is a really sweet guy who gets along with almost everybody. More often than not, he manages to stay above the nighttime extracurricular activities fray. His southern twang is easy to root for.
Why would you not sign Cohutta? In the past, relationship entanglements have not exactly helped his game. He is not one of the most physically intimidating guys this season. Cohutta has been out of the mix for a long time and when he was in the mix, he willed his way to relatively strong finishes by being so likable. The quality of competition this season may not be so lenient. His lack of connection to the new elite could be a problem.
Potential Allies: Isaac (Sydney Strong), I have a strong feeling that he will get along really well with fellow Southerners Dustin, Jess, and Jemmye
Potential Enemies: Brute strength in the form of Zach or CT, female entanglements
Best-case scenario: With a little bit of good fortune and some key partnering, Cohutta could slip into contention and have an outside shot at the final challenge.
Worst-case scenario: He is the unlucky recipient of the first “The Draw” iteration and gets out-muscled by a bigger guy.
The Verdict: I have a hunch that Cohutta is going to be a key player this season (A similar trajectory to Chet in Battle of the Seasons, perhaps?). In his two Challenges, he has excelled at staying a little unassuming and a little under the radar, so look for a similar strategy this time around. Although not likely, I would not be surprised to see Cohutta competing at the end.


10) BRANDONBrandonWhere did we last see him? We last saw Brandon as an ill-fated member of the dysfunction that was Team Fresh Meat on Battle of the Seasons (season 23). Thankfully, he and Cara Maria got off the sunk ship in episode three before having to witness the embarrassing elimination competition between their teammates, Camila and Big Easy, who were apparently attempting to show the worst version of themselves.
The Challenge History: Free Agents will be Brandon’s fifth season. Previous seasons include Fresh Meat II (season 19), Cutthroat (season 20), Rivals (season 21), and Battle of Seasons (23). His best previous finish was Top 10 (among guys) on Cutthroat.
Why would you sign Brandon? After much frustration and futility, this could be a make or break season for Brandon on The Challenge, so it may be a worthy risk. In the past, his teams and teammates have not been easy sells, so as a solo artist on Free Agents, he might have a greater chance at success. He well-liked and gets along with most people.
Why would you not sign Brandon? His The Challenge track record looks more like Tyrie’s than like Derrick or Kenny’s. Although well-liked, his bonds may not be the strongest. His athletic chops (despite some worthy elimination fight) remain largely in question.
Potential Allies: Cara Maria and Laurel (Fresh Meat Strong); He and Leroy are Las Vegas buddies
Potential Enemies: Isaac does not seem to be someone he will find points of connection with; If he watched any of Real World: Portland, Brandon will be having none of Hurricane Nia; things did not end well with Camila on Battle of the Seasons
Best-case scenario: Brandon makes the right alliances, stays out of the ire of challenge winners, and has some luck with “The Draw” to make it to the middle of this game (Top 6 or 7).
Worst-case scenario: An early elimination drawing against one of the frontrunners sends Brandon packing prematurely.
The Verdict: Brandon, due to many past disappointments, is one of several people this season who has the most to prove, but consequently, may have the most to lose. If he doesn’t take the leap on Free Agents this season, five seasons of mediocrity may be the death knell on his The Challenge career. I think that there is a realistic shot that he could go far, but it is hard to see him beating any of the frontrunners one on one.


9) PRESTONPrestonWhere did we last see him? Although during his eventual Rivals 2 (season 24) elimination episode, we last saw Preston saving face and more than showing up his disgraceful partner and until Free Agents, Bunim-Murray cellmate, Knight.
The Challenge History: This is Preston’s third season on The Challenge, but first season away from the haunting shadow of Knight as a teammate on both Battle of the Seasons (season 23) and Rivals 2 (season 24).
Why would you sign Preston? Preston’s potential can now be finally unleashed outside of Knight’s demeaning and derogatory wrath. This freedom could propel one of the best long distant runners on the show into the top group of men. He has a great social game and seems to bond with everyone not named Knight. He is really tall and will be difficult for smaller players (Swift, Cohutta) to beat in more physical eliminations.
Why would you not sign Preston? His will to compete has been a growing work in progress. He still may have some athleticism and risk aversion opportunities. Does he live to compete in Challenges?
Potential Allies: Jemmye and the other woman of the house; Frank, reasonable people, and any anti-Knight faction that is thrilled to see him freed from Knight’s darkness
Potential Enemies: His will to compete
Best-case scenario: The best-case scenario for Preston involves a whole lot of elimination luck and some solidified alliances, but there is a slight chance that he could be on the verge of a final if he gets the dealt the right cards and uses them effectively.
Worst-case scenario: The worst-case scenario is that his opposition to Knight was a galvanizing force at the end of last season and that the momentum built from his promising finish lacks the same motivation this time around.
The Verdict: This is a talented group of male competitors, but there are enough clear advantages for Preston to make it out of the first several eliminations. If he manages to stay out of the drama and under the radar of the game’s heavyweights, there is potential for a breakout season.


8) ZACHZachWhere did we last see him? Zach was last seen sophomore slumping on Rivals 2, eventually disqualifying himself (there was a bit of a directions folly) in the Jungle elimination week 5.
The Challenge History: Free Agents will be Zach’s third straight Challenge season. His Team San Diego (where verbal abusing teammates happens) won it all on Battle of the Seasons (season 23) and the aforementioned Rivals 2 (season 24) was a bit of a letdown.
Why would you sign Zach? Zach is an athletic and physical power. He feeds off of competition and gives all of his physical and emotional self in an attempt to win. Freed from the entanglements of partnering with others (he and Trey did manage to find some common ground before imploding at the end), the Free Agents format will benefit Zach as much as anyone else. He will be hungry to bounce back from a disappointing second season.
Why would you not sign Zach? Rivals 2 exposed some of his weaknesses. Will they be quelled this time around? Although this is billed as an individual game, relationships will still matter and the ones that were most important to his success on Battle of the Seasons (Frank and then, cuddle buddy, Jonna) have either ended (Jonna) or have inexplicably gone off the rails (Frank). There is much competitive pressure in a Challenge house and Zach has yet to prove how well he can handle it.
Potential Allies: CT and Johnny (Boston Strong); it is possible that he and Frank have reconciled again
Potential Enemies: Dustin; There was some healthy antagonistic banter between Zach and Chet during Battle of the Seasons; Does Jonna have lingering animus?
Best-case scenario: Zach has the physical ability to go the end in a “every man for himself” competition and through a series of elimination gut checks and momentum gains, wills himself to a final challenge appearance (at which point it is anybody’s game).
Worst-case scenario: Zach lets other competitors get in his head and it paralyzes him in an elimination round against an inferior opponent, sending him packing earlier than expected.
The Verdict: Zach as a partner or teammate is very different than Zach as an individual. Free Agents will absolutely play to his strengths. He desperately wants to win and, on paper, is completely ready to do so. I have a feeling that his Rivals 2 sophomore slump will be an aberration in his Challenge career.

7) CHETChetWhere did we last see him? We last saw one of the sport’s most reliable interviewees anchoring Team Brooklyn (along with his amazing female teammate, Sarah) to a third place finish on the sand dunes of the Namibian Desert on Battle of the Seasons.
The Challenge History: This is Chet’s fourth Challenge season. Previous seasons were The Ruins (season 18), Cutthroat (season 20), and Battle of the Seasons (season 23) when his Team Brooklyn made it to the finals.
Why would you sign Chet? As Battle of the Seasons proved, Chet is more than just a bow tie promoter. Of all the men participating, he will not let the nighttime extra-curricular activities affect his game. Although totally competent athletically, others will underestimate him (as they did on Battle of the Seasons), keeping him from being targeted early and often. He has proved he can handle endurance challenges.
Why would you not sign Chet? There are several guys participating who are physically much stronger. This will be his first challenge without Sarah, and, although able to more than stand on his own, Team Brooklyn loyalty runs deep. It is unclear who he will align with this time around. He is one of the competitors who likely benefits from being part of a team.
Potential Allies: Cohutta; Johnny Bananas; Jemmye; Devyn (Brooklyn Strong, if he can forget her Namibian Desert hair choices); pretty much everyone
Potential Enemies: Zach; CT; unnecessary drama; Camila
Best-case scenario: Chet makes the right alliances early and stays out of “The Draw” against formidable competition, paving the way for another final challenge appearance.
Worst-case scenario: The Free Agents format does not align well with Chet’s strengths and forces him to have to prove himself in an early elimination against a dominating physical force.
The Verdict: Not that Battle of the Seasons was any bit of an easy go, but I think the Free Agents conceit will be a harder sell for Chet’s game. If he finds the right people to align with and competes well in challenges, he has a legitimate shot at a finals return, but the competition will be that much better this season. I expect a strong showing, but that Chet will not be as successful as he was on Battle of the Seasons.

Read Part II

GOTHAM pictures make me happy

Whether official publicity shots or unofficial onset bootlegs, pictures leaking out from the new series Gotham just make me happy. Kevin Reilly and Fox Television for the win!

David Mazouz as Bruce Wayne
Bruce Wayne

The Wayne Family
The Wayne Family

Camren Bicondova as Selina Kyle
20140325-143625.jpg Selina Kyle

Donal Logue as Detective Harvey BullockDonal Logue

Ben McKenzie as Detective Jim Gordonarticle-2585945-1c751ee400000578-819_306x747 Jim Gordon Jim Gordon

Detectives Bullock and GordonDonal Logue and Ben McKenzie

Sean Pertwee as Alfred PennyworthAlfred

Robin Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot20140325-143527.jpg Oswald Cobblepot article-2583043-1c6027b500000578-293_634x1055

5 Things You Need To Know: Muppets Most Wanted

When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About…


1) Nostalgia for pop culture can be a tricky thing. Formidable memories and experiences from an early age (or at least an earlier age) retain a certain degree of romantic appreciation and unavoidable bias. We remember all of the good, barely any of the not so good, and see the given movie, television series, franchise, or album through an impenetrable lens of celebratory devotion. While both our tastes and preferences evolve with the inevitable progress of a given medium, our most beloved entities are captured in time, protected from objective critique and heightened discernment. This is not to say that by looking back in a haze of rose-colored love, what we remember is somehow lesser than. As objectively considered as possible, The Wizard of Oz will always be great, The Godfather and The Godfather II remain pillars of film history, and The Wire still holds the “best television series I have ever watched” crown (Breaking Bad‘s final season had more than something to say about this). Greatness is greatness in any context, era, or through any cloud of nostalgic bias. It was of tremendous and satisfying relief last April when my Jurassic Park 3D experience held up against that voracious fandom of my youth. Jurassic Park remains a phenomenal cinematic experience, whether 1993 or 2013. As “they” (people who consider these kind of things) say, it has aged well. It is through this starry-eyed vision that I consider the Muppets. The Muppets are my original, longest-standing, and most beloved franchise. I have been a consumer of their blissful humor and irreverent joy since before I could read the opening credits of their movies. There is a video recording that exists showcasing my four-year-old self’s voice acting and singing prowess on the song “Saying Goodbye” from The Muppets Take Manhattan (I was particularly good at Floyd and Gonzo and particularly challenged by lyrical accuracy). Jim Henson’s tragic death in 1990 remains one of the handful of saddest days of my life and still, all these years later, is one of my profoundest “I remember every detail of that day” experiences. I even have recordings of every Muppets Tonight! episode on VHS (not the most successful or well-received of ventures with Muppets in the title), my apartment is adorned with Muppets figures and replica models of Kermit, Animal, and Gonzo, and I sometimes watch the DVDs of Jim Henson’s funeral as a reminder for what it really means to creatively collaborate (as becomes abundantly clear through the inspirational and beautiful tributes by the other Muppet performers). The Muppets are ingrained in my consciousness, imbedded in my psyche, and central to the development of my soul. Jason Segel’s 2011 Disney restart, The Muppets, a nostalgic ode and love letter to fans brought to fruition by one of the biggest out there, put Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy, and the other Jim Henson furry creations back on the map (as unrealistic as traveling on a map in the movie may be – we have to move right along with travel time exposition, naysayers). It was at times inspirational and muppetational, although often more for its existence (a new Muppet movie in 2011!) and awareness of fan desires (renewed focus on classic characters like Rowlf, Scooter, and Dr. Teeth who had been sidelined or retired after the deaths of Henson and RIchard Hunt, another core Muppet performer), than for its storytelling prowess. It was still the Muppets and as musical numbers like “Man or a Muppet” proved, the Muppets can still be amazing. When I spoke to Jason Segel a few months ago and asked him why he would not be returning for the sequel (there was disappointment from this fan), he intimated that his intention was always to facilitate a Muppet return and cultural rebirth, but then hand the property to others (fueled by the power of the Disney marketing albatross) to tell subsequent stories.

Nostalgia can be a tricky thing, and, fully (and admittedly exhaustively) acknowledging the hyped-anticipation and blinders of adoration that surround my viewing, Muppets Most Wanted was a neatly packaged, cleverly executed, mostly enjoyable ride of a movie that certainly quenched my Muppets thirst, but still left me ravenously hungry for the days of Jim Henson.

2) There is a lot of wonderful to take away from the Muppets Most Wanted movie experience. Walter is already fully immersed in the Muppet world and feels like he has been around a lot longer than three years. With Kermit separated from the gang for most of the movie, Walter fills in the sentimentality gaps quite nicely. Constantine, through an awesome performance from Matt Vogel and a series of great bad Kermit impressions, is one of the movie’s great successes. He is not a good frog, but through a campy, villainous persona, he is a joy to root against. Core Muppet characters are featured once again (Rowlf and Scooter especially) and it seems like everyone this time has at least one moment to shine (One of the best scenes of the movie lets Rizzo and Robin, relegated to sideline status in this Disney reboot after so many years of being featured players, openly vent about their apparent demotion). The pacing never drags, the songs are just the right length and levity, and there are enough mystery plot tropes (albeit predictable) to carry a coherent story. I exited the movie refreshed, amused, and with a smile on my face.

3) In Muppets Most Wanted, Muppets look like the Muppets, they sound like the Muppets (special recognition goes to Eric Jacobson for doing such credible and incredible vocal performances of all of the characters of Frank Oz), but tonally, something feels a bit off. I recognize that the times have changed, that our comedy attention has diverted to a more pithy, sardonic, single-camera sensibility, but there was always a padded layer of warmth behind the Muppet zaniness. There is some of that here, but something just doesn’t feel totally right. It’s almost as if the central conflict of Constantine’s unrecognized Kermit imposter impersonation is a metaphor for the movie at-large. I feel like I am Animal (way to go, old friend), and later Walter and Fozzie, who see through the surface level impression to know that this isn’t the real Kermit. By no means is this a deal-breaker or a lack of appreciation for what is mostly a funny and entertaining experience, but it definitely discolors the post viewing consideration. So, what is missing? And what role is Disney playing in all of this? The answer to the former is on one level quite obvious. Each passing year takes us further from the glory years of The Muppet Show and subsequent three Muppet movies (of which The Muppet Movie is the best). Jim passed twenty four long years ago. Richard Hunt (Scooter, Janice, Sweetums) passed in 1992. Frank Oz is retired and hasn’t performed with the Muppets in over a decade. Jerry Nelson (Robin, Floyd, Crazy Harry) passed last year and hadn’t performed prior to his passing several years before that. Only Dave Goelz (Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew) and Steve Whitmire (Rizzo the Rat, Kermit and other Jim characters since his death) remain from the original troupe. The new guys (Bill Barretta, Eric Jacobson, David Rudman, Matt Vogel, Peter Linz) are all super talented and give credible essence performances on all original characters, but they are still new guys. The next level answer to the first question may lie with the role of Disney in all of this. If you are marketing a reboot of a franchise, you want Disney on your side. They put out in their marketing onslaught unlike any other big boy at the table (it has been hard to get through a half hour of TV in 2014 without coming across some type of Muppets advertisement or promotional material). Their belief and support in the Muppets has been much appreciated, but at what cost? As just another arm on a tree of Disney properties (Marvel! Princesses! Pixar!), the Muppets lose some of their inherent individuality. Don’t get me wrong – it is much much much better to have Muppets around, even if slightly off, than no Muppets around at all, but I just wish that Animal’s metaphoric drumming was more off the beat.

4) Most of the humanity in Muppet movies usually comes more from the Muppets than the humans, but Muppets Most Wanted, as The Muppets did before it, uses the human characters most effectively. All three human stars – Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, and Ty Burrell – fit seamlessly in a Muppet world. Gervais portrays Dominic Badguy, frequently reminded of his “Number 2” villain pecking order status behind Kermit doppelganger (add the mole) and “Number 1” villain, Constantine, with a fair share of David Brent cadence whimsy. I do wish he were given more improvisational freedom (the plotted script seems very deliberate), but his onscreen time is always comedically appreciated. Tina Fey’s Nadya character, a Gulag guard turned variety show supporter, gives this modern comedy heavyweight some fun material. Her burgeoning crush on the mistakenly incarcerated Kermit is a lovely B plot. Ty Burrell’s Interpol agent, Jean Pierre Napoleon (Inspector Clouseau inspired), odd couple with Sam the Eagle, playing a CIA agent, is a wonderful conception. Their interrogation song may have been one of the movie’s best moments. The random collection of other Gulag prisoners (Ray Liotta! Danny Trejo!) and their “A Chorus Line” aspirations is a whole bunch of funny fun. The incessant line of cameos is the one major misstep of the human experience in Muppets Most Wanted. Each inclusion (especially Salma Hayek, Lady Gaga, Usher, and P. Diddy) seems a little bit desperate, a little bit pandering, and a little bit unnecessary (another downside of the Disney commercial train). I have been trying to erase the closing musical number (in which the human cameos all come back in the worst display of CGI in the history of cinema) forever from my memory. I am just going to pretend that it didn’t happen.

5) Muppets Most Wanted is a movie that taps into our collective nostalgic heartstrings, but plays an everso slightly different melody that’s enough to keep us both satisfied and wanting more. It is a privilege for new audiences to be able to experience the Muppets for the first time in a 2014 movie theater and Muppets Most Wanted will be a serviceable entry point, it is just hard for those of us who have been devoted fans not to actively reminisce about the good old times.

Billy, Lena, and Elena: A modern comedy trio

Whether you are into the ethnic, third-world jewelry business or not or have any clue who Lila Downs is, if you enjoy things like laughter and comedy, then your mind is about to be blown. In last night’s second episode of season three of Billy on the Street, Billy invited a favorite participant from last season to square off against Lena Dunham on a new game called “Cash Cow.”

Let’s go to the transcript…

BILLY: And here, playing opposite Lena is the one and only, the only contestant from Billy on the Street to haunt my dreams and nightmares. Please welcome back from season 2…you know her…you love her?…Elena!!! How are you, Elena?

ELENA: Good, thanks. It’s so good to see you.

BILLY: What has been happening since you were on Billy on the Street the first time? Give us a little update.

ELENA: Well, I’m not as famous as she [Lena Dunham] is.


ELENA: However…I’m so famous.

Sho ’nuff. And Elena was just getting started. You can’t write this kind of comedy, and Billy Eichner doesn’t begin to try to. He knows that when you combine irreverent, pop-cultured, and referential humor, a random person on a New York street, Lena Dunham, and a cow, you are already on the right track to laughter. Elena – you are a star and Billy didn’t say “Whertle.” This is incredible.

Trust me, watch the full clip:

Then, review the “whertle” confusion incident:

Billy on the Street. He’s making comedy dreams come true.


Best News of the Day: Do Not Count Out Sarah

This is really the best news of the day. Just three weeks until the season premiere of The Challenge: Free Agents, one of the fifth major professional sport’s elite performers (and a dominant national trivia champion), sitting off this season for the first time in eight, has a major (and most appreciated) announcement. Sarah’s The Challenge participation will not end until she wins.

We will all be rooting for the day.

Let’s Get a Few Links Off My Chest

I am usually on top of the major sports and pop culture news and able to comment in a timely fashion, but the past several days have flooded my inbox of disposable time.  Let me try to reconcile…

The final Game of Thrones season four trailer was released yesterday. The devil is inside indeed. Bran needs to make it. Arya must be careful because Brienne is after her. Why have the Gods made Jamie love a hateful woman? Have I ever been more excited for the return of television series? Answer: probably not.

Chris Martin is the new mentor this season on The VoiceInteresting move for the Coldplay frontman with their new album, Ghost Stories, out in May and the “best band in the world” championship belt up for grabs. The Voice has been a wise career move when you are not at the top of your commercial and cultural game, but when you are, it seems a little ill-advised.

Speaking of the “best band in the world championship belt,” first Billboard reports that a new U2 album and tour would be delayed until 2015. Then The Guardian said hold up, 2014 is still in play. Hey Bono, Edge, Larry, and Adam – can we get some intel on this, please? I am trying to figure out my travel plans. In the meantime, Steve Hyden has some great career advice for U2, Lady Gaga, and some other side-stepping musical acts.

Woj feels that the Phil Jackson experiment will only work in Knicks land if James Dolan gets lost.  Fair.

Speaking of Phil, the new (Nate Silver’s new ESPN statistical journalism platform) uses data to show why Phil Jackson should hire Phil Jackson as coach. His success rate as an NBA head coach is astounding.

There is reason to rejoice! BD Wong and his under-utilized Dr. Henry Wu (a much more interesting character in the original book) will be in the forthcoming Jurassic Park IV.

I am not going to lie. I really wish I had thought of thisRank Everything: Muppet Show Music Numbers.

Seth Meyers spoke to Jason Sudeikis last night on Late Night and announced the “Second Chance Theater,” a compilation of old SNL sketches that were too sketchy to make it to air. Brilliant.

Despite showrunner rationalization, the quality of kid acting performances wasn’t the only disturbing part of this week’s Walking Dead episode.

and finally, Twitter is a force…