Most major professional sports have offseasons filled with blockbuster trades, upside loaded drafts where we hear constantly about things like wingspan, player signing periods, and a consistent flow of media attention (something has to fill all twenty four hours of television programming on ESPN and its numerous subsidiaries). The Challenge, widely accepted at this point as the fifth major professional sport (at least in the United States, international football nitpickers), is uniquely kept under a contracted (designed to be Frank Sweeney proof) veil of secrecy. Some early rumors sustain our rampant excitement, but can they be trusted? What if a speculated participant’s strange twitter absence this fall was due to an intended social media purge and not because they were in some remote location filming? If MTV and challengers won’t confirm the inevitable competitor picture collage that surfaces, should we consider it reliable?
All of this uncertainty surrounding the twenty fifth (Twenty five seasons! Incredible!) of The Challenge faced its celebrated demise earlier this week when official cast pictures were unwrapped for the new season. With an enormous appetite officially whetted, today the first appetizer course was served. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present you the first trailer for The Challenge: Free Agents:
Things just got real. It is time for my annual “Zapruder Analysis” (frame by frame dissection) of this scintillating sixty seconds of glorious footage. So we begin…
0:01 – This opening aerial shot of the maze-like collision star set against the foreboding underscoring is an immediate tone-setter. “Welcome to The Challenge. Warning: competitive danger lies ahead.” One second in and the excitement level could not possibly higher.
0:02 – I have watched this collision back now several dozen times, and this is the real deal, people. Nany obliterates Cara Maria (finally here to start a season for a change!) head on and then ricochets into the modern Amazonian goddess, Laurel (Welcome back! We missed you). The Challenge: Free Agents is a full-contact sport and will show no mercy.
0:04 – In case you have any doubts about just how dangerous things will get, this burning demonstration should dispel these doubts.
0:05: “This season, it’s an individual game – Free Agents,” explains TJ Lavin the Great. The time had come for a move to a more individual game free from the alliances of old and the attempts to dethrone them of the new. One bittersweet realization is that Sarah will not be competing for the first time in seven challenges. No one deserves a shot at individual The Challenge glory more than Sarah who had the misfortune of being teamed up with a quitting partner (Trishelle on Rivals 2), Devyn in an endurance heavy final (on Battle of the Seasons, although I am happy to see Devyn compete a second time), and a partner who assaulted another competitor (Vinny on Exes). Can’t she be a late game arrival like Cara Maria? Could she at least be brought on this time as “The Confessioner?” Let us hope. In the meantime, Cara’s reaction to TJ’s announcement is without a price.
0:06 – TJ Lavin the Great without a hat and his “flow” haircut underneath? This season does promise to have many changes.
0:11 – CT’s soundbite: “I’ve always been a free agent. Now everybody’s gonna have to play my game.” The defending champion and Boston’s strongest is back! I agree with him. This season could have been called The Challenge: Experience what CT goes through every year. My question is, like in the other four major professional sports, can you sign free agents to work for your team? Great season title, Bunim-Murray.
0:17 – Lost in the “challenges that are up high are really scary” surface level understanding of these images is the triumphant return of Jessica, last season’s surprising Real World: Portland alum. The heroic valiance of her Princess Hulk final performances was not lost on this loyal Challenge commentator (nor was her dedicated offseason workout regimen). My preseason power rankings are forthcoming (sometime in the next three weeks), but I have a feeling Jessica’s placement is going to surprise a lot of people. Bold prediction: she is one of the handful of competitors to watch this season and could go deep.
0:19 – Seriously though, please be careful when you are up that high or you might fall off. Oops.
0:21 – “This is an individual game. This is not a team game.” – Johnny Bananas. The Challenge does not really begin until the legendary Johnny Bananas has a say. Although maybe not of the poetic permanence of Johnny’s “All’s fair in love, war, and Challenges” from last season, the profound simplicity of his two sentences stands out. The subtext: “It is every man and woman for his or herself and I plan to win. This time I am playing only for Johnny.” Welcome back, Johnny. The Challenge is what it is today because of you and will not be the same when you finally hang up your oversized bandana. (One additional note: congrats to reigning champ and recent Challenge retiree Paula who is recently engaged and having a baby).
0:22 – Camila shows the new elimination format twist (TJ Lavin the Great loves a good twist!) confirmed in today’s BuzzFeed article
: one person in the elimination round will be chosen by the winner of the challenge, but the other person will be chosen by a random drawing. If you want to be safe, you have to win.
0:24-0:28 – Aneesa, Devyn, and Jonna cannot believe their eyes. Chet lets us know that he is “going to fight for every inch.” The elimination arena does not seem like the happiest of places.
0:30 – “Romance” is in the air (after this disastrous season of The Bachelor
, I couldn’t be more ready)! Last season, Jordan had a momentous hookup with Sarah in a closet. This season, it appears he is smitten with Laurel. Beyond impeccable taste in women, Jordan is a legitimate threat to win this Challenge. In other Real World: Portland
news, Johnny (as in Daisy Dog, Bridgewater, MA Johnny) continues to inexplicably kiss beautiful women (First Averey, now Nany).
0:32 – “I believe that hooking up in the game may have its advantages.” Jemmye knows what’s up. I would also argue that a Challenge without Knight has its advantages for the audience, for other’s pining to guard CT’s body, for those wishing to be treated with respect, and especially for Preston and Jemmye who can finally be out from under Knight’s disrespectful behavior for the first time.
0:33 – Wait, who is Dustin kissing?
0:35 – So, Nany likes to kiss…
0:37 – …and may be crying because of it. Poor thing. I am just glad Dustin is back as her “big brother” emotional support rock.
0:38 – “The only way to stay safe in this game is to win.” TJ Lavin the Great should know.
0:38 – Isaac has returned after a seven season hiatus. Always a little bit of a wildcard (as erratic behavior on his original Real World: Sydney season showcased), Mr. Stout and his fashion pioneering haircut will be an interesting addition to this group of mostly established Challenge competitors.
0:39 – This is some nice camera focus work highlighting this potential showdown between likely women’s favorite Laurel and Theresa (another breakout performer, especially in extracurricular nighttime activity, early on last season). In case you haven’t already realized, this cast is kind of stacked.
0:42 – Listen, Swifty is not the tallest of men, so he needs to elevate himself sometimes to get through a scrum. Also noteworthy in these images is the most substantive footage of Frank in the entire trailer. Is this an intentional slight? Is MTV that burned by his open, honest, and apparently contract-breaching Grantland interview
that they have gone out of their way to edit him out here? Or, does the lack of footage indicate an early elimination? You can say many things about Frank, but one thing you must admit is that he has been GREAT for the last two seasons of The Challenge
. Let us hope that this is all “much ado about nothing” conjecture.
0:43 – Um, who is this woman?
0:43 – I feel like Zach is often in a lot of pain.
0:44 – “It’s me vs. you and I love that.” And this Challenge commentator loves that you are back, Laurel. After three finals losses (the last of which was on the first Rivals too many seasons ago), Laurel deserves another shot to be the first person of a season to reach the proverbial Challenge mountain top. A few years removed, a few years wiser, but still the same exceptional athlete and beautiful presence, Laurel is the woman to beat.
0:47 – I think that canoes are meant to stay upright, but I could be wrong.
0:48 – Perhaps the most telling moment of the trailer comes around the forty eight second mark. Although a brief conversation, there is potentially so much here. Jordan: “I will send you home.” The Legendary Johnny Bananas: “I will end you, bro.” These two had some competitive clashes in Thailand last season on Rivals 2, but now that each individual has a degree of free agency, it could get even more interesting this season. Their battle for supremacy could be one of the central story lines of Free Agents.
0:51 – Yes! There will be snow on the final! There will be a midseason climate change! That’s what I’m talking about!
0:54 – Boom.
0:57 – …And on Thursday nights? Very interesting. The countdown to April 10 has officially begun.
Note: Culture Challenged will be covering The Challenge: Free Agents all season (I moved all my work from Bishop and Company). Stay tuned for preseason power rankings columns in the coming weeks.
The Challenge: Free Agents premieres April 10 at 10 p.m. on MTV.