Category Archives: Features

The Challenge: Free Agents – The Game of Chance

I watched this week’s second episode of this season of The Challenge: Free Agents (titled “Love in the Fast Lane”) next to the beautiful and perspicacious host of AfterBuzz TV’s The Challenge after show, Roxy Striar. On loan from her Los Angeles digs for an in-person showing of what it means to be Boston Strong, Roxy’s presence and insight were my distinctive privilege. In a season that continues to be more of a Space Mountain kind of ride (much of its up and down journey through almost complete darkness throws you for a loop) than an It’s a Small World (repetitive, kitschy, and very predictable), we ruminated on the role that unfortunate, unpredictable, and at times frustrating chance will play in the relative success or failure of our beloved competitors.

An admitted better commentator than predictor, my preseason predictions are already a little embarrassing (I think that the eliminations of Jemmye last week and Dustin this week, two of my predicted final eight, rightfully constitutes such shame). “The Draw” is more than just an obnoxious device that forces competitors to be in an habitual state of packing. It has reshaped the way we must all think about strategy on The Challenge, made winning challenges that much more important, and created a state of uncontrollable anxiety that is much worse than the normal elimination anticipation (Frank spoke to this idea at the end of the episode). If you don’t want to leave it up to chance, win. If you don’t win, then you are susceptible to an elimination and no social game maneuverings that Challenge greats have relied upon in the past will work this time around. This is an individual game that you have a limited amount of control over.

Roxy and I sat there watching the agonizing draw card reveal for the men with a fair amount of dread. Could Frank, a Challenge champion and recent season centerpiece of both gameplay and nighttime extra-curricular activity, possibly draw the kill card two weeks in a row? Frank in an elimination meant that either he or Dustin (another man at the top of the pack that we all want to see compete) would have to go home on week 2. This is like losing either Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook for the playoffs because of a coin flip (at least the aforementioned NBA players lost time because of injuries that came from actual competition). It is cruel, unusual, and bad luck (in both kind and fortune). With the third safe card drawn, Frank fate was sealed.

The Challenge has yet to develop a commitment to advanced metrics and analytics (it can’t be a pioneer on all aspects of professional sports!), but I thought Frank’s worst possible outcome (two weeks, two times a victim to “the Draw”) was a reason to start. I pored over the mathematics of this equation for some time (admittedly both longer than anticipated and longer than I really should have) to figure out what the probability of this event occurring was. Here is what I found (beyond that writing up math equations is not a muscle I oft flex):

In week 1, there were 14 guys. Frank had a 7/14 (or 1/2) chance of being on the winning team. His Red Team lost, thereby placing Frank in “The Draw” picking contention.

Once in the pool of potential “The Draw” participants, Frank had a 6/7 chance of avoiding the winning team vote. When Chet received the most votes to go into the elimination (normally a moment of relief for the remaining competitors), Frank became officially “The Draw” eligible.

Now, in a pool of six eligible guys, Frank had a 1/6 chance of pulling the kill card.

Therefore, the probability of pulling the kill card in week 1 was:

1/2 (the chance of losing) x [6/7 (the chance of going into the draw) + 1/6 (the chance of picking the kill card)] = 1/14 or 7.1 %

The probability of pulling the kill card in “The Draw” week 1 = 1/14 or 7.1% (odds of 13:1 that this would not happen)

This all makes sense. One of the fourteen players was going to draw the unlucky kill card week 1. With that in mind, what are the odds of pulling it two weeks in a row?

In week 2, there are 13 teams of 2. 12/13 of those teams are going to lose, but only the bottom 4/13 (another gameplay wrinkle this week) teams are “The Draw” eligible.

Frank and Nia were in the bottom four, so his “The Draw” nightmare continued. There was then a 1/4 chance that he would pull the kill card.

4/13 (the chance of being of the four losing teams) x 1/4 (the chance of picking the kill card) = 4/52 or 7.7%

The probability of pulling the kill card in “The Draw” week 2 = 1/13 or 7.7% (odds of 12:1 that this would not happen)

Now we have to combine the two events using probability equations.

1/14 (the probability of pulling the kill card in “The Draw” week 1) x 1/13 (the probability of pulling the kill card in “The Draw” week 2) = 1/182 or 0.55% (odds of 181:1 that this would not happen)

So it is INCREDIBLY unlikely that Frank’s unlucky fate in “The Draw” in the first two weeks of Free Agents would happen (Was this a karmic punishment for his less than kind treatment of Sam on Battle of the Seasons or for his potentially contract-breaching appearance on Grantland last summer?). I wondered – were some of the other happenings and events of episode 2 on The Challenge as unexpected? Let’s review some (oftentimes totally subjective!) odds and percentages from “Love in the Fast Lane.”

Two women both wear Catwoman costumes to the costume party: 1:2 or 33%
Admittedly pure conjecture (I will have to ask around about this one), but it couldn’t just be coincidence that 26 people remembered to pack a costume on the Uruguayan adventure. There must have been an email/facebook/text chain about this (I predict that either Bananas or Cara Maria was behind it) and active discussion about what everyone else was going to wear. I can see Nany and Camila discussing what a cool idea it would be to dress the same way (a sexy costume-off per say) and that Nany was the one to suggest the feline comic book character.

Johnny Bananas wears a banana costume: 100%
Was there every any doubt?

The first woman chosen in the schoolyard pick-fest at the challenge is Theresa: 1:8 or 11%
Theresa certainly can ball (especially with a basket), but with some stellar woman picks on the table, one should question Swift’s strategy,

Swift would do something that warrants open questioning of his intuition: 4:1 or 80%
Swifty should feel very grateful that he is still around heading into week 3…

Jordan would target Laurel as a potential romantic possibility: 8:5 or 62%
The uber-competitive (with the freaky athleticism to support him) Jordan wants to compete against the best. It is no surprise that he would also attempt to make out with the best (and really, Laurel’s no.1 ranking in the weekly power rankings is a strong no. 1). It will be most interesting to see how this plays out throughout the season, especially if they try to combine forces in challenges.

Jessica would continue to destroy the competition in week 2: 9:2 or 81%
If you haven’t read my profile of Jessica yet, do. Princess Hulk is making waves this season, readers. Princess Hulk is making waves.

Jessica’s storyline would be the “A” story of the episode (not including the challenge and the elimination): 1:40 or 2.4%Dustin and JessicaJessica’s southern flirtation story with Dustin (a short-lived Challenge romance and nothing more since) was the central arc (Bunim-Murray folks love them some dramatic structure) of the episode. Let’s say you are completely new to The Challenge world and these first two episodes of Free Agents are all you have known. The following thoughts and questions would be completely plausible:

This TJ Lavin host guy is pretty awesome.
I am not sure why they call him Johnny Bananas, but he seems to be the dude running the show.
Zach reminds me of a Norse God and he is hilarious.
I am concerned about Jasmine’s season intentions.
What is going on with Jonna’s hair?
Wow, that Swift guy doesn’t make any sense when he talks.
Um, I have a celebrity crush on Laurel. She is gorgeous.
Did Cara Maria have trouble winning in the past because she seems to be really surprised at how well she is doing?
How long has Jessica been the star of the show?

Jessica is currently, if you were forced to pick (as TJ Lavin the Great keeps telling us, this is an individual game), the star of this season. Consider my mind blown.

Dustin and Jordan would take competing in a racing challenge really seriously: somewhere over 113%Nany and DustinPreston would finally get the opportunity to show us that he was a sneakily good runner: 1:17 or 6%

Preston sometimes struggles to quell the perception that picking him last is always warranted, but I hope the others were watching this week because this Massachusetts native can fly! #TeamPreston.

CT would be the one to pick up the nightclub drinks tab: Pre Rivals 2 – 1:11 or 8%. Post Rivals 2 and after a payout reward – 1:2 or 33%
CT is one of four people on this season who would ever think to own such a large bill. The other two: Leroy (the man has such a generous heart) and Swift (because he was too busy “boppin” to care). There is no way that Johnny Bananas picks up this check alone (although he would go in with Aneesa and CT).

Either Nany or Camila would be involved in the first real instance of nighttime extracurricular activity: 5:1 or 83%
Both Nany and Camila would be involved in the first real instance of nighttime extracurricular activity:
3:2 or 60%Camila and Nany
And what a bizarre fight it was! As far as I can discern, Camila was all upset with CT and his check-owning (I am not sure why exactly, but the “why” is usually hard to answer when considering Camila’s behavior) and Nany came to her defense. Camila was so wrapped up in her drunken mayhem that she misinterpreted everything that Nany was trying to do, so they decided to fight. Thank goodness for Dustin’s big brother relationship with Nany (a relationship that was again severed prematurely when Dustin was eliminated) or not all of Camila may have remained in one place after Nany the destroyer got to her. One final, equally bizarre moment: Nany and Camila had a sit-down the next morning in which they apologized and renewed their vows of friendship. The events of the night before? Over. The Catwoman costumed pair was back. I just hope that they also reached out to every other house mate and apologized for their questionable behavior.

Emilee beats to Jonna in the elimination: 1:300, 0.3%Emilee and JonnaJonna and her wild current hairstyle are a strong competitors, but this one is mostly about Em.

A Frank versus Dustin elimination: EVENDustin and FrankI had no idea who was going home and I didn’t know who to root for. The Challenge: Free Agents has two weeks in a row (last week was Jemmye and maybe even a little bit, Chet) sent home someone who makes the show better and could have been a viable performer in a final. I am finally fully learning that The Challenge: Free Agents is going to be a master class in expecting the unexpected. May the odds ever be in your favor favorite competitors. This is going be one wild ride in the innovative “Tomorrow Land” of season 25.

Stay tuned for the Weekly Power Rankings later in the week.

Jessica McCain: A CHALLENGE FREE AGENTS Profile

“You look at the Johnnys and the CTs and you wonder – Of these rookies, who’s going to replace them?” Jessica McCain’s tone is smooth and collected. Her North Carolinian accent is effortlessly sweet, popping more acutely when her voice sparks and sizzles while discussing a passion (of which there are many). She speaks without irony and with a self-confidence and a nuanced self-awareness. I wonder if she realizes that the answer to her question may be closer to her than she realizes.

Every season of The Challenge has its own distinctive characteristics. The gameplay format is a transient tool that allows for heightened stakes in a particular dynamic (often social) range. The location, climate, and living conditions affect the type of challenges that can take place and can influence the relative happiness of the competitors (the air conditioned-challenged Thai house on Rivals 2 was a test for all). Despite many veteran constants and consecutive season streaks, player participation is an independent variable that makes the road to victory easier for some (Team San Diego benefitted from the rookie heavy cast on Battle of the Seasons) and harder for others (partner seasons seem to have a higher level of difficulty).

There are also a set of Challenge tropes and constants that have become near sacrosanct as we embark on this silver anniversary season. Since season eleven, TJ Lavin the Great has been the indelible and trusted host, guide, and spiritual leader, doubting internal fortitude of quitters and offering up “You Killed Its” to the lucky deserving few. The Final Challenge has become a kind of right of passage into insanity, asking competitors to push the human body to an unimaginable extreme often involving some wacky, weird, and wild stuff and lots and lots of running. And, each season, there are a handful of new (or newish) competitors who come out of the Real World farm system to break out, to reach unthinkable and unimaginable heights, and to establish themselves as deserving competitors to compete with the big boys (CT, Johnny Bananas) and the big girls (Paula, Ev) of the modern Challenge era (Frank did it on Battle of the Seasons. Jordan did it on Rivals 2). This cycle of greatness, present in all forums of professional athletic competition, does not allude this Fifth Major American Professional Sport, and in many ways, is even more pronounced in an environment constantly infused with new and promising talent.

On the The Challenge: Free Agents season premiere episode last week, there were a few competitors who placed their names on the ballot as candidates to join this aforementioned cycle of greatness as early as this season. Jessica’s fear and adversity conquering on the rolling log of doom, set over a forty-two story urban Uruguayan drop, was instrumental in setting up her team for the win and in dispelling a chattering chorus of doubters. It was also one of those symbolic, “against all odds” moments on The Challenge that matter more in an attempted ascension up the competitor latter. I had the pleasure of speaking to Jessica last week on the precipice of this new season. Our wide-ranging interview touched on topics far and wide, from her spotlighted, public MTV career to the values, the people, and the hopes and dreams that fill her heart and consume her dedicated daily efforts.

Jessica’s speaks so confidently, eloquently, and passionately while discussing her professional aspirations that it at first takes you aback. Many of us continue to live with the unknown (I know this is certainly a struggle for me) on the question of “what are we going to do with our lives?” Jessica’s understanding of her journey has a commendable focus. “My all-around goal is to become a well rounded and dynamic personal trainer to meet the needs of various types of people, specializing with athletes.” Her answer strikes with a polish as if its repetition was part of her daily workout. Then Jess delivers the end game as she were talking to a prospective client about training goals, “I would like to open up my own gym someday.” Her two season experience on The Challenge (“…and if I am lucky enough for them to pick me again in the future”) is just another arena for her to train and continue to learn how to train.

Despite editing on The Real World that may have pushed a different narrative, fitness training and athletic activity are not new passions. “Fitness has been a part of my life for a long time even though on the shows it doesn’t really…it’s not really apparent.” In the offseason, Jess describes functional fitness like “cross fit, hiking, and biking as part of [her] daily life.” Although both The Real World and The Challenge afford time for maintaining her fitness regimen, Jess encountered an unexpected result. “I gain a lot of weight when filming due to stress.” Undesirable weight gain is one thing. Undesirable weight gain while filming on television is quite another and Jess has received some unfortunate feedback. “On my show when I gained some weight, I had some problems with an ex-boyfriend telling me that I needed to work out more. It gave me a kind of a body complex.” She recounts this tale deliberately and with a refreshing openness. This happened. It was difficult, but here is what I have learned. She continues, without missing a beat, “It made me realize that if I’m feeling that way about my body than other girls and other guys are going to feel the same way and I can help them.” It is hard to doubt her commitment, partly because of how clear it is how much Jessica trusts herself and partly because of the weight of her uninhibited openness. The consideration and thoughtfulness of her ideas and beliefs are most apparent, with a spirituality and generosity deeply rooted in her faith in God.

Jessica before and after
The results of Jessica’s training regimen

Jessica has at times struggled to manage the ramifications of her edited television persona in which “only part of you is going to be shown and only part of the story is going to be told.” Much of her narrative, cultivated on a sometimes tumultuous experience filming The Real World, has focused on how she goes about romantic relationships. “I know on TV they make me look like this hopeless romantic and that I fall in love with everyone, but I usually get really excited about dating someone new for about two or three weeks – maybe four weeks – but after that, I find something wrong with them and a reason not to date them anymore. So, my parents call me either the ‘black widow’ or a serial dater.” (She makes a point of differentiating between “dating” and a relationship. “I wouldn’t call it a relationship because relationships are when you’re serious.”) When I press her on this issue, she quickly identifies the root cause. “I have a fear of commitment.”

This “hopeless romantic” misconception about Jess has been filtered through her Real World fling (I am not sure she would call it a “relationship”) with Tyler, one of her last serious dating experiences that also happened to take place in front of a national audience. “I was terrified to be with Tyler. I wasn’t sure. And they don’t show any of that. They just show the dumb part.” She is comfortable and open talking about the ups and downs of her past and is ready to take responsibility for what role she may have played in things not working out. She also knows some of the reasons why she can be challenging to be with. “I’m a mess. I leave wet towels on the bed or on the floor.” She may not be hopeless, but I am not convinced she isn’t inherently romantic. The vivaciousness and joy retelling stories from her past and the heightened interpersonal savvy describing the kind of man she wants to be with showcase a person who sees the promise of love, but is realistic and at times subsequently risk averse about its potential downfalls. I believe she is increasingly open to finding the right person and will be able to fully embrace him and all that comes with it when that time arises. For now, don’t even think about talking to her about marriage. “I don’t think I’ll be ready for that anywhere in the next seven years.”

Jessica came upon the Real World in an unusual way. Living in the confines of Fayetteville, North Carolina, she had minimal knowledge of the pioneering reality television institution before applying. “I was sitting in my kitchen looking at casting calls because I was into modeling at the time. I saw it and said, ‘Do you want to go live in a house and are you adventurous?’ It just listed all these things and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m that. I’m that too.’ It found me in a way.” Compelled by the desire to discover a world outside of Fayetteville, Jess went into the process with an open heart and mind, but the adventure did not always live up to its promise. “It turned out to be the best and worst experiences of my life.”

Having your lived taped twenty four hours a day is one level of intrusion, but having to watch it back and face the public criticism and scrutiny is an entirely different level. I ask Jess to describe the night of the premiere. “I think I was at home on my couch with my family. That’s where I usually watch everything. You’re excited. I mean, I was scared. I didn’t know what…I mean I knew what they were going to air because they sent me the DVD [screener], but I was just so nervous and excited. When you watch that first video, you’re just like, ‘Man it’s all over with now.’ That was filmed long ago.” Much of the initial positive excitement dissipated deeper into the season. “The first episode wasn’t so bad, but once you get midway into the season you start to cringe…It’s just a lot of self-reflection and self-torment.”

Jessica describes dealing with some of her detractors. “You start to tear yourself down and if anyone says they didn’t do that [when on] television, it is a bold-face lie. Sometimes when we show up on TV, someone has something negative to say and you just have to struggle and fight past all of the negativity to find your reason to continue to do it.” Sometimes Jessica wishes that her Real World edit had painted other sides of her personality more accurately. “I am lot more intelligent than they portray and I am a lot more feisty and quirky. I am such a dork, but they didn’t show that. They almost show me as a prude, and that is the furthest thing from what I am.” Jess has been able to find ways to cope better (“Usually I have a glass of wine on hand…sometimes a bottle…most of the time.”) as her time on television has continued and is finding re-watching The Challenge significantly easier than watching back The Real World: Portland.

Jessica’s first season on The Challenge aired last summer immediately after her Real World season finished airing. She only lasted two episodes on Rivals 2 before she and partner Anastasia were defeated in a jungle elimination round. Unlike her partner Anastasia, a bird that did her share of feather ruffling in the short amount time she was in Thailand, Jessica had a positive social experience (she describes Diem as being particularly supportive) and turned some heads with a gutsy performance in both her final challenge (marking the creation of her Princess Hulk moniker) and in her elimination. Despite this promising, but short rookie campaign, Jess is surprised to see herself heavily featured in one of the most memorable Free Agents promotional clips (the aforementioned rolling log of doom challenge atop Uruguay’s tallest building). “When I saw it, I was so excited. I mean people hardly know that I was even on Rivals 2 because of my performance and if they did know that I was on Rivals 2, either they are like, ‘Yeah, you picked that girl up’ or ‘Yeah, you’re the chick that got kicked off first.’ It’s kind of thrilling to see that I made an impact on producers and on the staff enough to give me my own promo as a second season rookie.”

Jessica
Jessica focuses her approach to the “rolling log of doom”

The exhilarating clip depicting Jessica’s battle against a fear of heights compels a reaction. One of the strongest comes from Jessica’s grandmother. Jessica recalls, amping up her souther drawl, “My grandmother saw the preview and she goes, ‘Oh my god, Jessica. You better get down from there.’ ‘Grandma, we filmed it a year ago.’ And she goes, ‘Oh, ok.’ I said, ‘But to be honest with you, when I was standing up there, I’ve never been closer to Jesus in my life.’” Upon viewing the episode, Jess digs deep to conquer this fear, completing the challenge and setting her team up to win. For a competitor with a short Challenge track record, this was a bit of an “I have arrived” moment.

If Jessica had barely heard of The Real World before applying, she may have known even less about The Challenge. I try to question whether she was at all starstruck by appearing on a show with Johnny Bananas and CT, but she sincerely answers that these are “just people I compete against.” Unaware of most of the Challenge social world and its dynamics, she is relieved to have seen a familiar face again. “I was really glad that Nia was going to be there because I didn’t really know that many people this time. The fact that Nia was going to be there gave me great comfort because at least I was going to have a friend. I think we are two of the most misunderstood people [of] my season [on the Real World]. They just see the villain for her and then the innocent, no nothing [for me]. Having her there to reconnect with was really awesome.”

She describes the lack of social game knowledge as one of her potential weaknesses in this game. “As far as my weaknesses: my social game and definitely alliances…I still don’t get it. I just want to be friends with everybody. I just want everybody to get along and be honest and not everyone’s honest.” Although she may “suck at” the social game, it allows her to have greater focus on her performance in challenges and converts this potential weakness to a core strength. “I might be short, and smaller than most of the other girls, but I’m strong. I take every single bit of anger from what I’ve been through in my life – every little heartbreak and tragic moment that I’ve experienced – and I put it into my Challenge competition.” One episode into Free Agents, so far so good.

The more I speak to Jessica, the more she continues to impress me and surprise me with her intuition and her diversified set of interests and passions. Her all-time favorite movie is Forrest Gump because she appreciates the unconventional romantic story and she feels a certain kinship with Forrest’s love interest (“I kind of feel like my alter-ego is Jenny.”). Her favorite television show of the moment is Burn Notice (“…any kind of crime TV”) because she “needs a conclusion.” After an enriching European trip this past winter (Venice was the highlight), she would love to do more traveling (Australia is her most desired destination). I am fascinated when I ask her to come up with artists for her “Mount Rushmore” of musical interests. She answers Frank Sinatra and “Motown” without flinching, and then takes more time (and was more uncertain) throwing in “Good ‘ole Redneck” Miranda Lambert, and Hillbilly Casino. She describes her ideal birthday meal as a plate of steak (“medium rare”), twice baked mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese made with truffles and is quick to mention the restaurant Elliotts on Linden (in Pinehurst, North Carolina) as a place where you can get it.Jessica shoot

I ask Jess how many people in this world she trusts completely. Throughout our conversation, Jessica has an infectious warmth and vibrancy, but I am not sure I hear more potent passion than in her answers to this question. “Two – I can tell you who they are. My mother and my best friend Shelby.” Hearing Jess speak of her mother is like hearing an awestruck fan speak of her idol. “I think the most special thing about my mother is her giving heart. She is so loving and she is so caring and so selfless. Her heart is more concerned about other people than her own well-being. It’s beautiful. She amazes me every single day.” Jessica tells me a story whose details I will refrain from sharing (“my mom would kill me”), but let me tell you that Jessica’s mom walks the walk of selfless giving and generosity. “I just hope that someday when I have children that I’ll be able to provide for them financially, but especially spiritually and emotionally the way that she has nurtured me.”

Jessica’s friendship with Shelby dates back to the fourth grade. “My absolute favorite thing about Shelby is just her personality. Her personality is so dynamic. One minute she is so giving and loving. The next minute she is doing something crazy and we’re laughing until our stomachs hurt. I think God accidentally put my soulmate in a female body sometimes.” When I ask Jess what Shelby likes the least about Jess, her answer is totally unfiltered, “She would probably tell you that I am selfish. She would probably say that I am a selfish brat.” Conversely, when I pressed Jess on what Shelby loves about her, it is just as easy, “She loves that I am who I am and that I’m honest about it.”

This is hard to dispute. Jessica is just “honest about it” and everything we spoke of. It’s been an enriching experience removing the filter from the television narrative lens that frames our collective experience of these real people we watch on television. The real Jessica that I spoke to has an electric and dynamic energy, is a thoughtful and insightful open and honest book, and bleeds her passions through her loving heart. As the “Johnnys and the CTs” reach their final chapters on The Challenge, somebody has to replace them. Why not Jess?

For my final question, I ask Jess to consider how she wants to be remembered – ostensibly what does she want the first line of her life’s byline to read. “Jessica was a light to the world.” And Free Agents may just be the perfect chance to turn that switch on, although I am confident she has already been glowing for some time.

The Challenge: Free Agents – Episode 1 Retro Running Diary and Power Rankings

There is really no other way to begin a Challenge season that begins so ceremoniously than with a retro running diary. Unfortunately, ninety minutes is a longer time to diary than I initially imagined. Pace yourself, readers. This is a long one. My week 1 power rankings can be found all the way at the end (if you even get there).

Episode 1 – “Live Free or Die” Retro Running Diary

10:00 – MTV voiceover guy is back (!) with a quick sojourn into a short “This season on” vignette. After a relatively disappointing first trailer experience and with promos that mostly skirted around the issue, we are finally seeing a series of compelling competition clips. What’s that you say, MTV voiceover guy? Each week two players will be eliminated? On behalf of momentum and power ranking fodder: dig.

10:01 – Hey, MTV producer editing room – good job by you. The juxtaposition of the snowy mountain peak of victory with tension escalating highlights has delivered the mood. Ready, set, The Challenge!

10:01 – Johnny Bananas has consistently set the tone for his nine seasons on the The Challenge. It is poetic and appropriate then for Johnny to have the first word on year 10: “The last Challenge that I was on, I came in second place. It definitely was a heartbreaking defeat, but every game is a new game and I feel ready to come back here and reclaim the title.” Competition, be warned. Bananas is back to reclaim what was his. This is what greatness is all about.

10:01 – Camila adds in an interview, “Every time I get a call for The Challenge it’s like do I really want to go back in the house with those crazy people?” This is followed by clips from past seasons of Camila acting like the crazy person she describes. MTV editors for the win again!

10:02 – Emilee (welcome, back?) just broke up with her boyfriend and has been going through a rough patch. She thinks that is will be “an empowering situation.” I know Emily was on Cutthroat for a hot second, but has Emilee even seen this show before? Ems, it may not be the healthiest environment for someone going through a difficult time. Trust me on this one.

10:02 – “I am Nia aka “Hurricane” Nia…you are going to have to kill me to get me out of here.” And based upon the Real World: Portland assault footage shown in conjunction, should we really have any reason to doubt her?

10:03 – There is a lot of talk about what the format is going to look like. Johnny wonders if it is going to be “Brain versus Brawn.” “That’s us,” says this season of Survivor. Jordan (no surprise here because he is a freaky incredible athlete) wants it to be an individual challenge. Cara Maria (who has struggled a wee bit with the whole group thing in the past) unexpectedly wants it to be a group Challenge. Theresa is “very nervous.”

10:04 – TJ Lavin the Great, minus his quintissential “do you wear that to formal events too?” (I’ve always wondered) hat, makes his beloved opening season speech (my commentary is imbedded): “For those of you who don’t know (and if you don’t, you need to know who this great man is), my name is TJ Lavin and I’ll be your host for The Challenge. This Challenge marks a very special milestone (Is he referring to this season’s exclusion of Knight?). This is the 25th season of The Challenge (Yeah, it is. Yes, it is appropriate to applaud everyone). This season you all have been chosen to be here for a reason (unlike when Vinny was allowed to participate). I’ve seen you guys compete as teams, as pairs, and as individuals. And I’ve heard every excuse in the book as to why you didn’t win The Challenge (That’s right, Teej. Don’t you tolerate any lame excuses) – You had a terrible partner, you had a horrible team (Laurel makes the most incredible perplexed face at this statement. Maybe she is thinking about her fellow Fresh Meat cast team debacle on Battle of the Seasons). Some of you winners call yourselves champions when you were the worst player on the best team (Shots fired, Tonya on Inferno 3). Rookies – you guys always have a target on your back just for being new. Well, we’re changing it this season. No more excuses you guys. (Weird over dub alert) It’s time for you to prove that you’re truly the best (cut to Laurel). I’d like to welcome everybody to The Challenge: Free Agents.” Drop that mic, TJ Lavin the Great. You killed it.TJ Lavin

10:04 – Mass confusion ensues. Camila isn’t even sure what a “free agent” is (“What does that mean?”). Tell us Teej: “For the first time ever, before every challenge, you’re going to be randomly selected for either a team, a pair, or be asked to go at it alone. You will never know until you get to the challenge that day what it’s going to be.” The competitors go crazy with a partly giddy, partly psychotic, partly horrified reaction. Yes, Aneesa. This is a “mind fuck.” Zach says it best, “One day I could be working with Devyn (preseason ranking of 12 for the women). The next day I could be working with CT (preseason ranking of 1 for the men). You never know. It freaks me out.” For the first time in as long as I can remember, chance does play a significant role in potential success during The Challenge, not just in the preseason team or partner selecting (as Sarah has learned the hardest of ways).

10:05 – There’s more. TJ Lavin the Great explains that the winning team, partner, or individual chooses the guy or girl from the losing team to face an elimination. This is par for The Challenge course, but wait. TJ Lavin the Great is not done: “Get ready for another twist you guys. Everyone that lost the challenge that day are going to take part in what is known as “the draw.” “The draw” is where two players – one guy and one girl – are selected by pure chance to go against the two nominated players in the elimination round.”

10:05 – Jemmye, a consistent contributor of an intrepid mix of interview wisdom and hilarity and no pawn of President Snow, puts it perfectly: “You could literally get picked in a moment’s notice and have to go into the elimination. I did not sign up to play in the Hunger Games and I do not like this at all.” Since the comparison has been introduced, how would I cast these competitors in a Hunger Games movie? Here are my picks: Laurel as Katniss, Cara Maria as Primrose. Cohutta as Peeta, Preston as Cinna, Johnny Bananas as Haymitch, LaToya as Effie, and Dustin as Gale. Zach and Nia would play some of the enemy combatants in the games. Frank would play Seneca Crane. Bearded CT would play President Snow. So, who would like to assist me with my Kickstarter campaign video to fund this thing?Camila, Chet, Jordan, Jemmye

10:06 – TJ Lavin the Great drives the point home. This is an individual game and the first place guy and girl goes home with $125,000 dollars. Cut to Jordan celebrating (foreshadowing?).

10:07 – Jonna reminds us that she’s “always had a problem where she like relies on other people,” but now “wants to be an independent woman and be able to follow [her] dreams.” Jonna, does your Challenge participation actualize this desire?

10:07 – CT points out that “he’s always been a free agent” and that now everyone else “has to play his game.” Strangely, CT, despite his reigning champion status and first place placement in the preseason power rankings, still feels a little bit like a sleeper pick to win. The format could not be better for this most veteran veteran. If his team or partnership loses, good luck sending him into an elimination. No one is going to want to compete against him, but with the unpredictability of “the draw,” you might have to anyway. The rankings of players you most fear to face in an elimination are as follows: 1) CT 2) Laurel 3) CT 4) CT 5) CT.

10:07 – Yes! Finally there is a house tour to alleviate the competitive tension. Unlike the sauna bug den of Thailand, the Uruguay house is “sick” (credit to Cara Maria).

10:08 – So Swift’s ego apparently has changed too much since Real World: St. Thomas: “I am technically a rookie as they like to call it, but I’m extremely cocky. But I’m cocky and I’m confident for a reason ’cause when it comes to competition time, people are going to be like, oh snap, Swift gets poppin.” Hmm. Things I hope for: Swift versus CT in an elimination round in which Swift does whatever “gets poppin” means and CT does whatever “destroying Swift in an elimination” means.

10:08 – The reason this is the best The Challenge house in history: there is a basketball court. Again, there is a basketball court.

10:08 – Isaac gives it “about forty minutes” until this place is trashed. I give it about twelve minutes until Isaac says or does something incredibly bizarre.

10:08 – The Challenge officially begins with a toast of what appears to be Ecto Cooler led by Johnny Bananas. “Let the games begin!”

10:08 – Jordan, declaratively single, assesses some of the women prospects. Camila “always shows up,” Emilee is “always good looking,” and Laurel is “a physical specimen.” Jordan, keep your eyes on the prize. You were my preseason pick to win!

10:08 – Jasmine is single too and she has decided she wants to be the “whore of The Challenge” and to get “dick and balls, all day, every day.” I am not even sure how to comment on this.

10:09 – And it took only one minute! Isaac made a shot glass out of a lemon and let Zach know that, according to wikipedia, 2013 was a great year for the South American lemon. With ironic self-awareness: “The Challenge takes the weirdest of the craziest psychos and puts them in a house and says, beat each other up for money. Yeah, it’s going to get weird, but hey, I like weird.” Isaac, it is great to have you back.Zach and Isaac with the lemons

10:10 – In the least surprising news of the season, Devyn’s relationship with ship with Big Easy “fell off a cliff” and is no more.

10:11 – In more romance/relationship news: Nany thinks Cohutta is “cute,” Emilee is ready to mingle, and Johnny (of Real World: Portland) is no longer with Averey. The real question: does he have Daisy visitation rights?

10:12 – So, Dustin made a pact with old fling Heather that he would be a good boy on The Challenge. Johnny Bananas does not think this is realistic. Nany does not think one should trust Johnny’s relationship advice. This led Bananas to make the following statement: “I might be a man on the outside, but I am a woman on the inside.” Perhaps not “All’s fair in love, war, and Challenges” nor the “much respect to CT” speech made in defeat last season, this line will at least go down in this legend’s “top twenty best statements made while on The Challenge.”

10:13 – I think I just witnessed the most enjoyable minute in the history of extra-curricular nighttime activity ever on The Challenge. CT and Theresa, on the aforementioned basketball court, played a game of “strip basketball” (As LaToya says, “All’s fair in love and basketball”) to eleven. Before CT won the game by one point on a crazy, J.R. Smith launch from downtown, the following things happened: Isaac played the role of center court promoter (of course he did), Camila got on Laurel’s shoulder and they performed a cheerleading routine, Theresa gained a fair amount of competitive “street creed” (also, she is deceptively tall), and CT and Theresa both took off most of their clothes. When the game finished CT conducted his own post game interview with the cameraman in which he said, while being hugged and congratulated by Leroy (subtitles were provided), “Bottles and bottles all night tonight, baby! Bottles and bottles!” And no, you can’t make this stuff up.CT, Isaac

10:14 – Laurel: “I am back and am going to be the same dominating Laurel in the challenges, but hopefully offer a nicer side that I don’t feel everyone got to see before. But at the end of the day, it’s me vs. you and I love that.” In my best Nicholson Joker impression, “Laurel, YOU are my number 1…”

10:15 – There is some mutual flirting and Southern hospitality going on between Jessica and Dustin. Storytelling seed successfully planted.

10:16 – It’s finally time for the first challenge of the season and it is going to take place at Uruguay’s World Trade Center, the highest building in the country (42 stories!). Bananas thinks that “it is going to be really high and really scary.” Yep, pretty much. We could use a commercial.

10:21 – TJ Lavin the Great describes the “Out on a Ledge” challenge and, as Nany, says, it is “crazy!” There will be two teams of fourteen and three stages. The first stage is six people from each team running the 42 flights of stairs while chained to each other (sounds like fun!). The second stage is four people from each team completing a puzzle (oh how Survivor of you). The third stage involves four people walking across a rolling log over open air (completely horrifying). The look on the competitors faces: a combination of confusion (there were a lot of directions!) and all-consuming fear.Chet and Nia

10:21 – The Captains of the two teams were randomly drawn to be Chet and Nia. They then pick their teams, alternating gender with each pick. Here is the draft that these playground social ostracizing tactics yielded (my comments follow in italics):

Nia’s picks – 1) Jordan (a strong first pick) 3) Laurel (the only choice for first girl) 5) CT (Nia’s GM skills are apparently excellent) 7) Aneesa (picking a competent and savvy vet is a sound move) 9) Cohutta (Her first misstep over Dustin, Leroy, and Bananas. Will Chet capitalize?) 11) Nany (I am thinking more and more that I may have had her too low in my initial power rankings) 13) Bananas (Bananas was picked 13? 13??!!! On one level, credit to Nia for nabbing him at 13, but did she and Chet really pick six guys before him?)  15) Devyn (You could tell that Nia really wanted Theresa here) 17) Johnny (Let Portland troubles stay in the past) 19) Jessica (She is SO ready to dispel her doubters) 21) Swift (Brandon gets no respect) 23) Jasmine (Openly gunning for “whore of the Challenge” and no friend to Nia according to Twitter interactions) 25) Preston by default (Poor Preston gets NO love. My Break Out pick for the men is going to surprise a lot of people this season. Preston, you won’t feel like you are seven on the kickball team too much longer.)

Chet’s picks – 2) Camila (She is the only women who has won, but it is really hard not to go with Laurel here) 4) Frank (A strong pick, but with CT, Laurel, and Jordan already on the other side, you have to go Bananas at no.4, Chet) 6) Cara Maria (Yep, she is ready to dominate this season) 8) Zach (He deserves high draft status in any playground style pick. You want him competing with you and you don’t want him competing against you) 10) Jonna (Living the dream and riding an inflated competitive rep) 12) Dustin (Dustin is a sound pick, but still no Bananas? Really, Chet?) 14) Theresa (You would think that she would get a greater basketball game bounce, but this area is about right) 16) Isaac (The master of random lemon facts is in the right area of the draft, but with Leroy still on the board, this is the wrong pick) 18) Jemmye (I had Jemmye ranked third in my preseason power rankings. Maybe Chet missed Rivals 2?) 20) Leroy (This man gets no Challenge respect. I can feel his redemption coming) 22) Emilee (A complete wildcard at this point.) 24) Brandon (Poor Brandon) 26) LaToya by default (As clear as Laurel first. The rookie has to pay some dues.)

Nia’s team is significantly better on paper. Let’s see how it plays out. As a comparison, here are the picks I would have chosen in Chet and Nia’s position:

Nia – 1) Jordan 3) Cara Maria 5) CT 7) Aneesa 9) Zach 11) Jemmye 13) Leroy 15) Theresa 17) Brandon 19) Jasmine 21) Isaac 23) Emilee 25) Swift

Chet – 2) Laurel 4) Bananas 6) Camila 8) Frank 10) Nany 12) Dustin 14) Jessica 16) Cohutta 18) Jonna 20) Preston 22) Devyn 24) Johnny 26) LaToya

Emilee, Jemmye10:23 – Nia’s the Black Team (to Chet’s the Red Team) has an open discussion about who is partaking in the heights gut check that is the third stage. Jasmine is out. Nia is doing running (the first stage). Jessica, bringing out her Princess Hulk right off the gate, volunteers herself for the heights stage because she is not “deathly terrified” and because “nobody else is stepping up to do it, so if it has to be done, [she’ll] do it.” Jordan objects to her offer (maybe Jordan has prescient powers and could sense the Jessica and heights collision foreshadowed in preseason promotional material). Jessica does not back down: “Jordan is being a little bitch. If I volunteered to do it, then let me do it.” The Real World: Portland interpersonal machinations run deep, but this time, Jessica is all the stronger and wiser. We will see how this plays out in a bit.

10:25 – So the stairwell climb is awful (Zach: “There are no genders. This is all-out war). Take me to some sponsors, please.

10:29 – Back to the action, Johnny Bananas goes to phase 2: prevent Cara Maria from getting past him. Poor, Cara. She can’t win. Laurel is having none of it: “That’s just stupid. You don’t have to put a girl in a chokehold, Johnny.”

10:30 – Frank is first to the top for the Red Team and hands his key off to the puzzlers: Emilee, Isaac, Chet, and Jonna. Frank and Leroy then work to prevent the Black Team from making it out of the stairwell. Swift promptly decides to jump on top of a group of people to obtain the Black Team key, smashing LaToya’s head into the door in the process. Swift thinking, Swift.Red holding back black

10:31 – It is a tale of two puzzles. CT and Aneesa lead Black to finish first whereas Red gets a little stuck. Camila is not sure Chet “knows what the hell he is doing.”

10:32 – So, Swift’s little crowd surf has some ramifications. LaToya’s eyes are rolling to the back of her head and it seems like she is about to pass out. Paramedics are rushed in and they rush her out to a hospital, concerned that she may have injured her head. The tumultuous back-and-forth built in St. Thomas between LaToya and Swift just opened up another chapter.

10:36 – The Red “puzzle people” finally finish the puzzle, but lost a significant time lead in the process. Chet, Isaac, Jonna, and Emilee lack a certain amount of collaborative chemistry. Who could have ever predicted?

10:38 – Devyn is first up for the Black Team on the rolling log of doom. Devyn is unafraid of heights, but does feel like God’s wind is trying to throw her into the ocean or something. Cohutta compares Devyn’s balance to that of a “male bull elephant.” God’s wind gets the best of her. Rolling log of doom – 1. Humans trying to cross the rolling log of doom – 0.

10:38 – First up for the Red Team is Brandon. The dude goes for it, grabs the flag, and lunges for the platform of safety, but just misses the ringing of the bell before falling off the log. Rolling log of doom – 2. Humans trying to cross the rolling log of doom – 0.

10:40 – It is time for the cliffhanger (or “buildinghanger” in this case) that has been heavily promoted and teased in the preseason. Jessica is up for the Black Team and is not too comfortable with heights: “I can just feel the pure fear from my soul just bubbling out of my pores. Like, how the hell am I going to do this?” Jordan and his ultra-competitive self poses a similar question. She is frozen with fear, 42 stories above Uruguayan ground, and the clock is ticking. How the hell is she going to do this? Time for a break.JessicaEveryone watches Jessica's run

10:44 – Upon return, Jessica’s inner motivators get angry, unleashing her Princess Hulk from last season. She attacks the rolling log, grabs the flag, and saunters across to ring that bell. Afterwards, emotion takes over: “I don’t know if I want to cry or scream or what, but I’m overwhelmed.” Just a moment before, her loudest detractor, Jordan is now her biggest support: “I have never been more happy to eat my words. Thank you, Jessica.” Rolling log of doom – 2. Jessica killing it and representing the Black Team – 1. As predicted, Jessica’s season break out is ON.

10:45 – The rolling log of doom victimizes two expected challenge dominators: Dustin for Red and Jordan for Black. Rolling log of doom – 4. Jessica representing Black – 1.

10:46 – Earning first women pick status, Camila successfully travails the rolling log for the Red Team. Frank puts it best: “Camila, the Brazilian Brouha whips across that thing. I mean, she was literally on her broom.” The Red Team celebrates as if they had just won a Brazilian football match.Camila

10:47 – Cohutta, a nuanced and descriptive balance expert, beast the rolling log of doom for the Black Team. It all comes down to Jemmye’s run for the Red Team.

10:53 – Back from the broadcasting revenue source, balancing on the rolling log of doom is too much for Jemmye and she falls off. The Black Team wins. The Red Team loses. This should get most interesting.

10:55 – LaToya makes her return to the house. It turns out that Swift’s full body attack did not cause her medical incident. Apparently dehydration from brawling up 42 flights of stairs did. Go figure.

10:57 – The Black Team deliberation gets heated. The loudest voices are coming from Johnny Bananas, Laurel, and Jordan. There is some disagreement surrounding not only who should get voted in, but how the game is supposed to be played. Johnny keeps reinforcing the “individual game” construct: “If it’s this ugly this early on, it’s only going to get worse.” Free Agents strategy development has only just begun.

11:01 – We are past the one hour mark and it is voting time. Jasmine starts things off with a vote for LaToya. Swift begins his “I am just going to go with the majority” speech, and TJ Lavin the Great cuts him off: “Hang on one second. Before you do that, I just want you guys to know,  this is an individual game. So it’s an individual vote.” Two things: this TJ interruption clarification is downright Probstian and Bananas was right all along.

11:01 – The vote for LaToya is “trending.” The final women vote: LaToya – 11. Emilee – 2 (voted by Swift and Devyn). Theresa – 1 (voted by Preston).

11:03 – The men’s vote is all over the place. Devyn votes for Leroy because she doesn’t know him that well and will be able to shake some cleavage in his face to make him forget about it later. The final men vote: Chet – 7 (Voted by Jasmine, Jessica, Johnny Bananas, Laurel, Cohutta, Nia, and Swift). Dustin – 3 (voted by Jordan, CT, and Johnny). Isaac – 1 (voted by Nany). Frank – 1 (voted by Preston). Leroy – 1 (voted by Devyn). Brandon – 1 (voted by Aneesa).

11:03 – Avoiding the vote is one obstacle, but “the draw” still remains. Cara Maria explains it well: “My name did not come up once in this entire voting process, but the rest of the lucky ones get to participate in  “the draw.” So, there’s really no safe position to be in right now.”

11:11 – “The Draw” takes Jemmye and Frank victim. As a viewer, I am not sure I have ever been so nervous. I can only imagine what they were going through.Jemmye11:12 – TJ Lavin the Great explains the elimination round titled “Balls In.” There is a barrel in the middle of a large circle. There are five rounds. Each round each player will get the opportunity to play both offense and defense. The goal on offense is to put the ball in the barrel. The goal on defense is to talk the ball out the circle or knock the offensive player out of the circle. Five rounds? This is going to be an epic elimination.

11:13 – Chet and Frank begin their battle and as Daniel Day-Lewis once brilliantly headlined, there will be blood. After the scoreless first round, Chet accrues a nasty nasty cut on his chin. His choice: get stitches now and forfeit or bandage up his cut and get stitches later – a win win scenario, really.Chet and Frank11:13 – The cut is really bad as you can tell from the reaction of the spectators…time for advertisements to take our attention away.The spectators11:16 – We’re back and MTV decides to show some footage all in black and white, but for Chet’s bloody chin which pops in a disturbing red. Hey MTV, perhaps editing trickery like this is meant for poignant storytelling in Schindler’s List, but perhaps you could restrain yourselves next time. This is excessive.

11:17 – Despite TJ Lavin the Great’s condescending disapproval of anything he deems in the ballpark of quitting, Chet decides to forfeit and go take care of his face. Frank “wins” the first men elimination round and Chet is the first Free Agents participant heading home.

11:20 – Two rounds into the Jemmye and LaToya elimination battle and the score is tied 1-1. LaToya is showing an amazing amount of fight and this is not going to be any cakewalk for the more experienced Jemmye. LaToya objects to Jemmye kicking her head. Jemmye chocks it up to “just a part of the game.” As Cara Maria points out, these are some NFL moves these ladies are putting on. I am not sure I have seen a women’s elimination quite like this before.LaToya

11:20 – Both Jemmye and LaToya score in round 3, evening up the score at 2-2.Jemmye and LaToya

11:21 – Leroy points out that this is “hands down the most impressive battle” he has seen “between two girls.” LaToya scores in round 4 on offense and on defense, gets angry (Swift provides the Real World: St. Thomas perspective), pushing Jemmye out of the circle. The score is LaToya 3 – Jemmye 2 – heading into the final round.

11:27 – Despite rampant support from the crowd, Jemmye cannot break through the LaToya’s defensive scheme to tie the score. LaToya wins the elimination and Jemmye is going home. In a showing of graciousness, Jemmye congratulates LaToya and says, “You proved yourself this game.”
The crowd is in it

11:27 – TJ Lavin the Great, for the first time this season, take it away: “LaToya, you absolutely killed it.” And she really did.LaToya

11:28 – Jemmye is ALL class in defeat, even giving LaToya some encouragement going forward: “They’re not coming for you anymore. I promise you that.” It is unfortunate that Jemmye had to go home so early in this game (this completely throws off some of my season predictions for the women), but it wasn’t for lack of effort or heart. Jemmye continues to build on to her Challenge resumé and this valiant defeat, although a disappointment, will only be a temporary setback.

11:28 – Thoughtful contemplation is all the rage back at the house. Frank has some insight: “This Challenge is everything on the line and it’s all on you. So that feeling of responsibility is overwhelming, it’s awesome, and this is going to be the most intense Challenge that has ever played out.” After the first ninety minutes, it is hard to disagree.

FINALLY, we were exposed to the first major “This season on…” of Free Agents. Here is a collection of what I saw:

– Theresa doesn’t “trust a single person here.”

– Johnny Bannas is wrapped in sandy saran wrap.

– Jordan will “send Johnny Bananas home.”

– LaToya is going at Laurel who apparently “looked her in the eye and didn’t say what she felt.”

– Jordan and Jessica have one of those Real World: Portland blowout fights.

– According to CT, Isaac should have had his back.

– Cara Maria and CT are apparently voted into an elimination together. Theresa thinks Cara Maria is “full of shit.” Cara Maria asks Theresa not to “talk to [her]” like that. TJ Lavin the Great asks that they not do this while he is here, please.

– There will be lots of kissing and one marriage proposal (Nany drops Cohutta the question)!

– Preston has to hold Nany back.

– Cara Maria: “Trust yourself. You only have you.”

Week 1 Power Rankings

MEN

Eliminated – CHET

13) BRANDON (last week: 10)

12) JOHNNY (last week: 14)

11) ISAAC (last week: 12)

10) SWIFT (last week: 13)

9) PRESTON (last week: 9)

8) LEROY (last week: 6)

7) DUSTIN (last week: 5)

6) ZACH (last week: 8)

5) COHUTTA (last week: 11)

4) JORDAN (last week: 3)

3) FRANK (last week: 4)

2) JOHNNY BANANAS (last week: 2)

1) CT (last week: 1)

WOMEN

Eliminated – JEMMYE

13) EMILEE (last week: 13)

12) JONNA (last week: 8)

11) DEVYN (last week: 12)

10) LaTOYA (last week: 14)

9) NIA (last week: 11)

8) JASMINE (last week: 9)

7) THERESA (last week: 10)

6) NANY (last week: 6)

5) JESSICA (last week: 7)

4) ANEESA (last week: 4)

3) CARA MARIA (last week: 2)

2) CAMILA (last week: 5)

1) LAUREL (last week: 1)

Stay tuned for some very exciting CHALLENGE content later in the week!

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

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.

The Men rankings can be found here: Part I  Part II

Read Part I of the Women Rankings here.

PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS – WOMEN DIVISION

THE NEW ELITE

6) NANYNany

Where did we last see her? After a tough disqualification in “The Blind Leading the Blind” challenge shocker on Rivals 2, Nany and Jonna lost a little bit of their sanity and edge (can you blame them?) and were eliminated a week later.

CHALLENGE History: Free Agents is Nany’s third straight season on The Challenge. She was previously on Battle of the Seasons (season 23) and Rivals 2 (season 24).

From her MTV bio: Every time Nany arrives on The Challenge, she gives it her all. Unfortunately on Rivals II, and Battle of the Seasons, her all wasn’t quite enough. Nany declares, “I have this thing called the “Challenge Curse,” where I get eliminated right before finals. And I’m so sick of it. I just really, really, really want to get there this time and win.” With nothing holding her back this time, Nany is more determined than ever to prove she is a top competitor. However, this fun-loving lady quickly finds love in the house, giving her an unexpected ally and confidant. Is Nany still doomed by her Challenge Curse? Or will being a Free Agent finally take her to the end?

Why would you sign Nany? Nany’s loyalty runs thick and she certainly benefited from Dustin’s “big brother” presence on Battle of the Seasons. His return on Free Agents will be most welcome. Nany has been a particularly unfortunate victim of circumstances (weirdness from Trishelle and Alton on Battle of the Seasons and inhumane shock therapy on Rivals 2), and the Free Agents format should level the playing field. Although relatively successful, she may have taken a few steps backwards on Rivals 2. Her hunger to compete and win are unquestionable. Nany only benefits from having an “unexpected ally and confidant.”

Why would you not sign Nany? I may not agree with this “Challenge Curse” notion, but if she does and it is in her head, this could pose a problem. Nany is a feeler and sometimes she lets her emotions (and the effects of alcohol) get the best of her. She has had strong partners or teams in her first two seasons and she was an important member of them, but how she will fair as a solo artist remains to be seen.

Potential Allies: This aforementioned “unexpected ally and confidant”; Dustin and Leroy (Las Vegas Strong is the Strongest); Jonna

Potential Enemies: Frank and Nany have some difficult history; Memories of Adam Royer

Best-case scenario: Nany, set up for success in Challenges for years to come, has a flawless third season, wins some challenges, takes out worthy competition in eliminations, and rides this momentum into the finals.

Worst-case scenario: Nany’s “Challenge Curse” premonitions are real. She is a “The Draw” victim early, faces a strong competitor targeted by that episode’s challenge winner, and goes home prematurely.

The Verdict: Supported by more established relationships, this new mystery man, and Dustin’s consummate loyalty, Nany will have a bounce back season on Free Agents and will be in the mix to make the finals at the end.

IT’S COMPLICATED

5) CAMILA

CamilaWhere did we last see her? We last saw Camila and #teamsubtitles partner, Jemmye, struggle in the first day of the finals of Rivals 2. To the end, communication was never their collective strong suit.

CHALLENGE History: Free Agents is Camila’s sixth straight challenge (the second longest current streak). She has previously been on Cutthroat (season 20), Rivals (season 21), Battle of the Exes (season 22), Battle of the Seasons (season 23), Rivals 2 (season 24 and her second finals trip). She and partner Johnny Bananas won Battle of the Exes. She is the only women on Free Agents who has won before.

From her MTV bio: While several of her fellow competitors have made it to a final, Camila is the only girl on Free Agents who knows the thrill of Challenge victory. After winning Battle of the Exes, Camila advanced to the finals of Rivals II, but finished a disappointing third. She’s ready to redeem that performance, stating, “I’m at that point in my Challenge history that I want that big money no matter what. I don’t care who I have to cross. I will do what I have to do.” Fearless and feisty, this Brazilian bombshell doesn’t flinch when it comes to daring physical feats or dishing out a verbal assault. Can Camila keep her temper in check long enough to make another final? Or will an emotional meltdown send her packing?

Why would you sign Camila? She is “fearless and feisty” and one of the most experienced women competing. Camila’s win on Battle of the Exes was most impressive. When Camila is checked into the game and not into extracurricular nighttime activity drama, she is unstoppable. After recent disappointments over the last two seasons (especially on Battle of the Seasons), Free Agents could prove to have a redemptive quality. Freed from the partnership challenges she has had the last two seasons (Rivals 2 was all about communication difficulty. Battle of the Seasons was all about being on a dysfunctional team with Big Easy), Free Agents can all be about Camila competing against the limits and with the strengths of herself and herself alone.

Why would you not sign Camila? At least one emotional meltdown is to be expected during the season, and, without a partner to hold her back, how will she fair? The target on her back always seems to be large and her strongest competition will immediately see her as a threat.

Potential Allies: Will she get along with Johnny again this season? She and Jemmye had a tough ending, but were largely compatible most of Rivals 2.

Potential Enemies: Alcohol at night; Expressing herself so that others understand her; Frank and Camila have often kept it close to upheaval

Best-case scenario: Camila maintains a laser competitive focus all season and fearlessly fights off the competition to another finals appearance and shot at finals victory.

Worst-case scenario: Camila’s worst-case scenario is always the extent and forum of her emotional meltdown. In an elimination (as it was with Big Easy on Battle of the Seasons) is different than the night before a men’s elimination.

The Verdict: I have a feeling that Camila is going to thrive under the Free Agents format. As her MTV bio conveys, she is thinking about things like this point “in her Challenge history.” She gets that she has an opportunity to move into the next tier of Challenge greats (any women two-time winner is in elite company – Paula, Tori, Susie, Rachel) and will keep this in mind throughout this season. I expect at least a trip to the finals and she will be one of the short handful of contenders who could win it all.

A FINAL GO-ROUND?

4) ANEESAAneesa

Where did we last see her? We last saw Aneesa valiantly fighting toward a fourth place finish in the women’s bracket (her pairing with Diem was the final women team eliminated before the finals) in Rivals 2 and occasionally running through altercations while working out on the Thailand house deck.

CHALLENGE History: With Free Agents, Aneesa ties The Challenge record for most seasons with 10 (Paula and now Johnny and CT share the distinction). Previous seasons include: Battle of the Sexes (season 6! In 2003!), Battle of the Sexes 2 (season 9), The Gauntlet 2 (season 11), The Duel (season 13), The Inferno 3 (season 14), The Duel 2 (season 17), Rivals (season 21), Battle of the Exes (season 22), and Rivals 2 (season 24).

From her MTV bio: Talk about an unstoppable force, “Elimination Queen” Aneesa arrives on Free Agents after a devastating exit one spot short of the Rivals II final. Aneesa is brimming with confidence going into Free Agents, “Doubt me all you want. I’m more about being humble and letting my actions speak for themselves. I have the heart and fight. I don’t, I never quit. Ever.” Aneesa may be a threat on the field, but this opinionated vet can rub some of her housemates the wrong way. Will Aneesa be able to fight her way to the top? Or will she face another crushing elimination?

Why would you sign Aneesa? You don’t get the nickname (as coined by MTV.com “writers”) “Elimination Queen” without being a force when facing adversity. Over ten seasons, Aneesa has shown great competitive improvement throughout the years, and, after an awesome run on Rivals 2, deserves to be “brimming with confidence.” Although not always able to have a bite as loud as her bark (don’t tell that to Trashelle Trishelle), Aneesa is now as wise as she is tough. If there was ever a season on The Challenge where she was due for her long sought after win, it is with the solo artist format of Free Agents. You don’t get to come back on The Challenge a record (tied with the Bananas/CT/Paula tri-force) nine times without doing something right.

Why would you not sign Aneesa? After CT got over the hump last season, Aneesa’s 0-9 record heading into Free Agents must mean something. Aneesa has been fighting Challenge mother time for many seasons, and, although she seems as strong as ever before, something will have to give at some point. Could Free Agents be that season?

Potential Allies: Always seemingly on a small island on the wrong side of the alliance, at this point whomever can improve her chances of winning

Potential Enemies: Much of the history among Johnny, CT, and Aneesa is not all warm and cuddly

Best-case scenario: Aneesa thrives in the every woman for herself format of Free Agents, builds off some of her Rivals 2 momentum and confidence, and comes out of the gate taking no prisoners. She fears no one, other women fear her, and she destroys the competition on a journey to her third finals appearance and a legitimate shot to win.

Worst-case scenario: A worst-case scenario for Aneesa is a season where she is eliminated somewhere in the middle of the pack and retires from competition without one final close chance at winning her first Challenge.

The Verdict: I am torn on Aneesa this year and keep going back and forth over what type of season she will have. A bit of a refreshing surprise on Rivals 2, it is going to be difficult for her to replicate her success on Free Agents. At the same time, she was made for a season on The Challenge that may ask each competitor to prove her or himself more frequently in elimination situations (something that Aneesa has proven to be very successful at). The jury remains in deliberation on this one.

THE LEAP

3) JEMMYEJemmye

Where did we last see her? Jemmye, despite her #teamsubtitles trials and tribulations with partner Camila, made it all the way to the finals (a day one elimination) in Rivals 2.

CHALLENGE History: Free Agents will be Jemmye’s third straight season on The Challenge. She made it to the finals on Rivals 2 (season 24) and earned Challenge cred for competing on the same team as Knight on Battle of the Seasons (season 23).

From her MTV bio: Jemmye proved to be a true competitor on Rivals II, reaching the finals in only her second Challenge. The epitome of “work hard, play hard,” this former Division I athlete is ready to top last season’s performance. She explains, “At this point, the only thing that’s acceptable is first or second. If I don’t get first or second, then I didn’t do what I came here to do.” Brimming with confidence, Jemmye will take on the most daredevil tasks in challenges and has no fear when it comes to elimination rounds, “I’ve been to enough eliminations at this point where I’ll go in against whoever, but I’m not gonna count any of these females out.”

Why would you sign Jemmye? Jemmye is a perfect combination of athletic ability and physical toughness. Like fellow New Orleans cast mate, Preston, she will have an automatic bump in performance without Knight’s troubling shadow hanging over the festivities and CT bodyguard detail. After tasting the finals on Rivals 2, she can say things like this, “At this point, the only thing that’s acceptable is first or second. If I don’t get first or second, then I didn’t do what I came here to do.” Jemmye is here for a reason. She combines a healthy balance of fearlessness and respect for the competition. She can negotiate challenging communication situations (the #teamsubtitles experience).

Why would you not sign Jemmye? With only two previous seasons under her belt, she is still a relative newcomer against some of the more established veterans. She has never had to face Laurel in a Challenge before.

Potential Allies: She definitely had her girl group on Rivals 2 and didn’t rile too many feathers

Potential Enemies: Ketchup bottles; Lingering Knight-mares

Best-case scenario: Jemmye’s best-case scenario involves a return trip to the finals and at least a second place finish (because if not, she “didn’t do what she came here to do”).

Worst-case scenario: Jemmye’s luck of “The Draw” results put her in a competitive elimination round against someone like Aneesa, Nany, or Laurel and she loses a close battle.

The Verdict: Jemmye is one of the few women competitors who seems be a lock to be in the mix for the finals. She has improved exponentially in her first two seasons and may just be ready to take it to an elite level. I would not be surprised to see her successfully competing at the end.

2) CARA MARIACara Maria

Where did we last see her? We last saw Cara, a too frequent fellow cast mate punching bag and producer go-to replacement, embrace underdog status with partner Cooke all the way to a finals appearance and an eventual second place finish on Rivals 2.

CHALLENGE History: Free Agents will be Cara Maria’s (and this is incredible) seventh straight season on The Challenge, but her first of the last three in which she was not a late-game replacement (for whatever happened to Real World: Sydney on Battle of the Seasons and for Naomi on Rivals 2). Her previous seasons are: Fresh Meat II (season 19), Cutthroat (season 20), Rivals (season 21), Battle of the Exes (season 22), Battle of the Seasons (season 23), and Rivals 2 (season 24). She has made three appearances in the finals (CutthroatRivals with Laurel, and Rivals 2 with Cooke), but has never won.

From her MTV bio: After three runner-up finishes, Cara Maria is ready to stop being an underdog and take her rightful place as a legitimate threat to win. Cara Maria arrives in Uruguay in the best shape of her life, but believes her mental outlook is keeping her from taking first place. She elaborates, “I know physically I can do anything, but mentally I second-guess myself. It’s almost like I’m afraid to win.” Pegged as an oddball, Cara Maria yearns to break free of the social awkwardness that has plagued her in the past. Is Free Agents finally Cara Maria’s time to shine? Or will her unlucky streak continue?

Why would you sign Cara Maria? You would sign Cara because if she can get the mental game straight (even the acknowledgement of it is a major step forward), she is going to be a physical beast (and she came this close on Rivals 2 to beating the incredible Paula and Emily domination force). Cara Maria “arrives in Uruguay in the best shape of her life.” She also arrives in Uruguay when everyone else arrives – something that hasn’t happened to this replacement player since Battle of the Exes. Having her bestie Laurel to support her and push her to achieve will be a major boost to an already burgeoning confidence. She is one of the few women who CT will always support (not a bad male ally to have – especially defending champion CT).

Why would you not sign Cara Maria? Until she wins, the mental second guessing remains in play. Challenge houses are difficult places to live, and, based on the edit, Cara struggles with the conditions more than most.

Potential Allies: Laurel (Fresh Meat II and Rivals Strong); CT

Potential Enemies: Johnny Bananas and his continent have never been Cara’s biggest supporters

Best-case scenario: The wide-open Free Agents plays to all of Cara’s strengths. Freed from the ups and downs of symbiotic partnerships, her self-reliance and personal drive are catalysts for excellent performance in challenges and in potential eliminations. She makes a return trip to the finals and positions herself for a win.

Worst-case scenario: Cara’s worst-case scenario is some type of confidence destroying experience that takes the wind and drive out of her sails and forces her into an early elimination unprepared mentally and physically, eventually losing to an inferior competitor who took advantage of her heightened emotional state.

The Verdict: Cara Maria is going to kill it (TJ would be proud) on Free Agents. She is on my short short list to win it all.

THE FRONTRUNNER

1) LAURELLaurel

Where did we last see her? Laurel has been off-duty (for three long seasons – her return is most welcome) since building a lasting friendship and eventual finals run with Cara Maria on Rivals (season 22)

CHALLENGE History: Free Agents will be Laurel’s fourth season on The Challenge, although it seems like she has been on many more. In each of her three previous seasons – Fresh Meat II (season 19 and partnered with Kenny), Cutthroat, and Rivals (partnered with Cara Maria) – she made the finals, but has yet to win.

From her MTV bio: Last seen making a runner-up finish on Rivals, Laurel returns to The Challenge after a three-season layoff. She may have made the final in every Challenge she’s competed in, but a win still eludes this fierce competitor. Laurel hopes Free Agents will allow her to break the streak, “I’ve had three second-place finishes which is somewhat impressive, yet disappointing at the same time. I’ve been waiting to be on my own and this is a chance for every person to show what they’ve got individually.” Unlike many of her peers, Laurel can separate her emotions from the competition, but her road to victory takes an unexpected turn when she falls for one of her fellow competitors. Can Laurel maintain her laser focus and keep her eye on the prize? Or will romantic entanglements derail her plans?

Why would you sign Laurel? Laurel, despite an 0-3 finals record, is at her best, one of the most dominant women in The Challenge modern era (right up there with Ev, Emily, and late career (happy wedding!) Paula). She, of all competitors in both the Men and Women division, was made for the solo artist format of Free Agents. After three seasons off, she is going to be in the best mental and physical shape of any previous challenge she has been on. Laurel steps into Free Agents a so much happier and healthier version of herself. Of all twenty-eight people ranked in these power rankings, the only givens were that Johnny and CT would be either no. 1 and/or no. 2 for the Men and Laurel would be no. 1 for the Women (By the way, if Emily were competing in Free Agents, I would still choose Laurel over her in the preseason rankings – her competitor status is just that prolific).

Why would you not sign Laurel? There may be a little rust to clean off after a three season hiatus. She is definitively “the one to beat” among the women and will have to fight against the target on her back the entire season. She has no experience competing against some of the new elite (Jordan, Dustin, Frank, Nany, Jemmye) and it is unclear how their relationships will play out.

Potential Allies: Cara Maria (Fresh Meat II and Rivals Strong); CT

Potential Enemies: The field (because it is really a game of Laurel vs. the field)

Best-case scenario: Laurel, hungry, wiser, and more determined from her prolonged break, absolutely crushes it, winning challenges, gut-testing eliminations, and the admiration and respect of all of her fellow competitors. This reign of excellence culminates in her first win on The Challenge.

Worst-case scenario: She spends the entire season fighting off the obvious target on her chest, and, after winning many close calls, succumbs to an up-and-coming competitor in a late game elimination.

The Verdict: I think the three year break and Free Agents format will galvanize and inspire this already fierce competition destroyer to reach another finals and once again be there at the end, fighting for the win.

Next Up: A quick post of season predictions and preseason awards leading up to the 90 minutes season premiere of The Challenge: Free Agents at 10:00 PM on Thursday, April 10 on MTV.

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

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.

The Men rankings can be found here: Part I  Part II

And then it begins…on to part 1 of the The Challenge: Free Agents Preseason Power Rankings – Women Division.

PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS – WOMEN DIVISION

THE ROOKIE

14) LATOYALaToya

Where did we last see her? The last time we saw LaToya she was BFFing with Marie and giving Swifty the habitual cold shoulder on Real World: Seclusion St. Thomas.

CHALLENGE History: She is a rookie on The Challenge: Free Agents.

From her MTV bio: Feisty and energetic, rookie LaToya comes into this game focused on one thing, making it to the end. LaToya reveals, “I don’t care about all the beefs. I’m here for the almighty dollar.” LaToya may not be into creating drama, but she isn’t afraid to stand up for herself. Upon learning the game-changing format, LaToya is confident about her chances despite her rookie status. She declares, “The new kids on the block actually have a chance, a strong chance at winning.” Look for this newbie to make an impression, but could her wild-card status make her a target?

Why would you sign LaToya? As the MTV bio contends, she is “feisty and energetic” and this can be a good thing. She did manage to stay out of most of the drama on her Real World season and seems to get along really well with other women. When push comes to shove, she will defend herself.

Why would you not sign LaToya? She appears to be a classic Challenge rookie: happy to be there, but not going to stay for very long – in year one you pay your dues. When watching Real World: ill-advised location St. Thomas, the only person who seemed less of natural fit for The Challenge was Brandon. On a pure physical comparison, she may have a hard time up against the more physically dominating fellow women of this season (Laurel, Nia, Jemmye, Nany, Aneesa).

Potential Allies: Challenge rookies and sophomores like Jessica and Nia; I have a feeling she is going to hit it off with Jasmine

Potential Enemies: Have she and Swifty worked out their business? Veterans looking to target a rookie, but are afraid of Hurricane Nia may target LaToya.

Best-case scenario: Some internal dissension among the women target strong competitors first to go into eliminations, and LaToya sticks around longer than expected.

Worst-case scenario: LaToya’s rookie status places her in the first elimination and “The Draw” comes up with a veteran competitor who will not be losing to a rookie in a first elimination.

The Verdict: I am not sure what to make of LaToya’s participation this year on The Challenge, but I think it will be both short and memorable enough to want to see her come back another time.

 

SOPHOMORES

13) EMILEEEmilee

Where did we last see her? Emilee’s last Challenge ride was as the original Captain of the Blue Team on Cutthroat. She and fellow Real World: Cancun castmate, Derek, were eliminated in the first episode.

CHALLENGE History: Free Agents will be Emilee’s second Challenge and the first episode of this season will also be her second episode on The Challenge in light of her aforementioned early elimination on Cutthroat (season 20).

From her MTV bio: Last seen being eliminated first on Cutthroat, Emilee is back for a second chance on Free Agents. This Boston native may not be the most intimidating athlete in the house, but believes she has what it takes to excel in other aspects of the game. She confides, “I’m really great when it comes to puzzles. I’ve got a brain and it’s not all good looks and girlish charm.” Fun and flirtatious, Emilee quickly sets her sights on a newly single guy, but discovers that on The Challenge, competition isn’t limited to the playing field. Watch for Emilee to make a new rival when they clash over one guy’s affections.

Why would you sign Emilee? Her first Challenge experience was so short that people may underestimate her. She could be afforded both the benefits of being a rookie (people are intrigued, fresh start) and may not have to face some of the downsides (first person targeted). She is a Boston native. Her little Real World: Cancun group of women could make some collective noise (and I am not referring to that one night a Challenge in which Jasmine has a little too much to drink).

Why would you not sign Emilee? For all intensive purposes, she is like a rookie and this may not be the best thing. Her elimination on Cutthroat was a long time ago and some of the game’s women power players have changed since then. There traditionally aren’t that many puzzles on The Challenge.

Potential Allies: Jonna and Jasmine (Cancun Strong); fellow “Bostonians” CT and Johnny and current resident Zach

Potential Enemies: Whomever this “new rival” is alluded to in her bio

Best-case scenario: The best-case scenario is that Emilee gets a favorable match-up in an early elimination, wins, and then manages to stay out of the limelight longer into this game than expected.

Worst case scenario: The winners have a soft spot for LaToya and are afraid of Nia, so Emilee is the next logical first women thrown into the first elimination.

The Verdict: This is a deep group of strong women and I just don’t see Emilee surviving beyond the first two or three episodes. Prove me wrong, fellow Bostonian!

 

12) DEVYNDevyn

Where did we last see her? We last saw Devyn, although a breakout interview star throughout the season, struggling to compete against the formidable Namibian Desert maelstrom that was the Battle of the Seasons final challenge.

CHALLENGE History: Battle of the Seasons (season 23) was Devyn’s first finals appearance on her first Challenge (fellow Brooklyn alums Sarah and Chet had a little bit to do with this).

From her MTV bio: We last saw Devyn being dragged up a sand dune by her teammates in the final challenge of Battle of the Seasons, where she took third place. Although you’re still more likely to find this NYC diva shopping on Fifth Avenue than hitting the gym, Devyn is ready to quiet the haters and prove it takes more than muscle to win The Challenge. She explains, “I’ve gotten a lot of comments that I’m not athletic or people think that I can’t compete. But I don’t think you have to be a fitness pro to win this.” Devyn is a shrewd political player and extremely well liked by her fellow competitors. Can Devyn make up for her weaknesses on the field with crafty gameplay? Or will this fierce fashionista unravel under pressure?

Why would you would sign Devyn? She has an infectious and hilarious personality and excels at the social game. Besides a situation in which teammates have to rely on her to perform athletically, she is always a joy to have around. Battle of the Seasons must have given a taste of what it means to compete, knowledge that she can use to her advantage this time around.

Why would you not sign Devyn? Despite her proclamations that you don’t have to be “a fitness pro to win this,” endurance is a component of the final challenge and if you don’t have it, you won’t be able to win. The Battle of the Seasons format played to her strengths (great teammate, positive attitude, hysterical), but Free Agents may play to her weaknesses (athletic and competitive drive).

Potential Allies: Doesn’t everyone get along with Devyn? She and LaToya are going to be fast friends (if only there were shopping options in Uruguay).

Potential Enemies: The heat of her hair

Best-case scenario: I think a finish somewhere in the middle is the best-case scenario for Devyn. The women at the top of this bracket are just too strong to make it that far. I can see her having a gutsy elimination win where she proves everybody wrong. There is also a scenario where other competitors keep her around because they see her as someone they can beat in the Finals. However, in a an every person for his or herself format, it is going to be most difficult to fall through any cracks and this scenario is highly unlikely.

Worst-case scenario: Her worst-case scenario is bad luck with “The Draw” and a tough elimination competitor to face because Devyn is not going to get picked to go in early eliminations.

The Verdict: Anything in the range of the top seven or eight women is a victory for Devyn and I have feeling she is going to get there, but not much further. We viewers all benefit from having her comedic potential around as long as possible, so let us hope that her sophomore slump is not too dramatic.

 

THE WILDCARD

11) NIANia

Where did we last see her? Nia was last seen embodying a natural weather phenomenon in the Real World: Portland house, leaving a path of fear, destruction, and devastation in her wake.

CHALLENGE History: Although Nia is a Challenge rookie, her stormy reputation will not be a surprise to anyone.

From her MTV bio: “Hurricane” Nia was last seen wreaking havoc on the Real World: Portland where she terrorized her roommates. Having matured and mellowed from the experience, this Challenge rookie assures that she is more interested in competition than stirring things up in the house. Nia declares, “I do intimidate people, but not on purpose. I don’t really know what it’s like to lose. I am going to win. There is no other option.” Nia may have the competitive drive it takes to win the Challenge, but will she be able to hold back her inner hurricane?

Why would you sign Nia? When she says, “I don’t really know what it’s like to lose. I am going to win,” you believe her. When she says, “I do intimidate people, but not on purpose,” the consideration of the intent is lost in the intimidation factor. She has spent lots of time around professional athletes (according to her book on dating) and may have picked up some moves. She is a tall and strong woman who will have many a physical advantage over the majority of her fellow women. A “matured and mellowed” Nia added on to the dominating force that she already is could be a dangerous thing for other competitors.

Why would you not sign Nia? “Will she be able to hold back her inner hurricane?” – this is a fair question. Those who do not fear her will want her eliminated as soon as possible.

Potential Allies: Jess (Portland Strong)

Potential Enemies: Certainly Johnny and maybe Jordan (Portland Not So Strong); There is no way she and Camila (a tropical storm at times in her own right) see eye to eye

Best-case scenario: Nia decidedly wins challenges and eliminations, corrals her weather systems, and works her way to a conceivable shot at the finals.

Worst-case scenario: Hurricane Nia detection has improved since Portland. Some of the savvier veterans target her early and often in an attempt to diffuse her threat.

The Verdict: Part of the experience of Hurricane Nia on Real World: Portland was unpredictability. Unpredictability is not something that usually succeeds on The Challenge. I think Nia may struggle to find her footing in her rookie campaign.

 

SOMETHING TO PROVE

10) THERESATheresa

Where did we last see her? An original competitor from Fresh Meat II, Theresa had one of her most memorable Challenges on Rivals 2. Unfortunately, the erroneous team vote for Leroy ended up being strategically misguided.

CHALLENGE History: Free Agents will be Theresa’s fifth season. Previous seasons include Fresh Meat II (season 19), Cutthroat (season 20), Rivals (season 21), and Rivals 2 (season 24). Her best previous finish was Top 5 (among women) on Fresh Meat II.

From her MTV bio: Returning for her fifth challenge, Theresa is optimistic about her chances in Free Agents. Hampered in past games by relationship drama and unreliable partners, Theresa is ready to let her impressive athletic abilities speak for themselves. She explains, “Since my friends usually always screw me over in this game, I love that I can rely on myself and only myself.” Theresa may be comfortable with the physical aspects of the Challenge, but she’ll have to dig deep to harness the mental toughness it takes to win. Theresa notes, “If you get me riled up, I don’t keep my cool.” Will Free Agents give Theresa the opportunity to shine? Or is she one outburst away from a plane ticket home?

Why would you sign Theresa? Like her Fresh Meat II cast mate Brandon, this could be a make or break season for Theresa on The Challenge, so her level of competitiveness may be heightened. She has not traditionally been matched with the most dominant teams or partners, so the individual format could be to her advantage. She is one tough cookie and will not back down from anyone (This pugnacity landed her spots on Rivals opposite Camila and Rivals 2 opposite Jasmine). You can sense her hunger.

Why would you not sign Theresa? Despite circumstances out of her control, her track record is not the strongest (she has never been within an elimination of the finals). Relationship drama seems to follow her during most Challenges. Her pugnacity is sometimes on the edge of volatility.

Potential Allies: Jasmine (Rivals 2 Strong)

Potential Enemies: Laurel, Cara Maria; Things did not end well with Jordan

Best-case scenario: The Free Agents format caters to Theresa’s talents and she becomes one of the key competitors in challenges, winning some, and avoiding early eliminations. With a little bit of luck from the infamous “The Draw,” she could be a long shot to make the finals.

Worst-case scenario: She seals her partner for Rivals 3 early on. This bodes well for her return for another season, but does not bode well for Free Agents.

The Verdict: I could go either way on Theresa. She and Nia are definitely the two from the back half of the preseason rankings who I would not be surprised to see in the top group at the end. I do not for a second question Theresa’s drive to compete and have a hunch she is going to be around for a while, but if the trailer does in fact show us an elimination round against Laurel, that will mark the end of her game.

 

9) JASMINEJasmine

Where did we last see her? We last saw Jasmine, despite an embarrassing women voting debacle in her second to last week, have one of her best Challenge performances to date on Rivals 2 (while partnered with Theresa).

CHALLENGE History: Incredibly, Free Agents is Jasmine’s fifth straight season on The Challenge. Previously she appeared on Rivals (season 21), Battle of the Exes (season 22), Battle of the Seasons (season 23), and Rivals 2 (season 24). Her best finish was in the top 8 (of women) on Battle of the Seasons.

From her MTV bio: Pint-size siren Jasmine made it halfway through Rivals II paired with her nemesis, Theresa. Having conquered her fears, Jasmine is excited to compete on her own. Jasmine reveals, “Free Agents, this is the kind of challenge for me. I think people are going to be really surprised because I can really hold my own and I’ve got some fight in me.” Prepared for anything, Jasmine is determined to enjoy her time on Free Agents and immediately sets her sights on a younger man. Jasmine confesses, “I’m single, I’m gonna have a little bit of fun. So, that’s what I’m gonna do right now.” Will Jasmine’s small stature hold her back? Or can she prove Free Agents really is anyone’s game?

Why would you sign Jasmine? Jasmine can be so much fun to have around and now that she is “single,” watch out. No one has ever questioned her fight or drive (maybe her state of sanity when intoxicated though). Despite a slightly better finish on Battle of the Seasons than on Rivals 2, she has performed so much better on her last two Challenges than she did on her first two Challenges. She is trending up for a reason.

Why would you not sign Jasmine? Her size continues to have some limitations in physical challenges and the women this season are not getting any smaller. Her track record on The Challenge is mixed at best and Jasmine may be better served on a larger team (as was the case on Battle of the Seasons) than all by herself.

Potential Allies: It’s complicated, but Jonna and Emilee (interesting Real World: Cancun cohort), Theresa (Rivals 2 strong)

Potential Enemies: Dating back to her first two seasons…wine glasses.

Best-case scenario: Jasmine gets lucky, stays out of eliminations because of her strong social game, and when she does have to go in, faces someone who she can beat. She lasts until the middle of the season.

Worst-case scenario: The worst-case scenario involves some misfortune courtesy of “The Draw” and is then physically overmatched in an early elimination.

The Verdict: Barring some crummy luck, Jasmine is going to make it into the middle rounds of this game (Top 8 or 9 women), but will not go much further than that.

 

8) JONNAJonna

Where did we last see her? We last saw Jonna struggle with electrocution and partner communication on her second to last challenge before losing to Cara Maria and Cooke in a late game Rivals 2 Jungle Elimination.

CHALLENGE History: Free Agents will be Jonna’s third straight Challenge season and fourth overall. Her Team Cancun almost made the finals on Battle of the Seasons (season 23). She was on Rivals (season 21) and Rivals 2 (season 24).

From her MTV bio: Reeling from a series of dramatic Challenge showmances, Jonna has one priority this season, herself. She confesses, “Every single Challenge that I competed in, I’ve always been concerned about someone else. But this time around it’s about me.” With a brand-new mindset, Jonna comes into Free Agents on a mission to prove she’s a real contender, “I’m here to prove to everyone and even more importantly, prove to myself that I am a strong, confident woman.” Will Jonna succeed on her mission and reach a final at last? Or will she once again become a Challenge casualty?

Why would you sign Jonna? Each of the past two seasons, she has had strong male partnerships. She is a strong performer in challenges. As stated in her bio, she comes into Free Agents with a little chip on her shoulder and something to prove to the competition.

Why would you not sign Jonna? Can she stay away from showmances that may not always be the best thing for her game? Jonna can sometimes have rocky relationships with some of the other women competitors. She has yet to prove how well she can do on her own (strong teams and partnerships have helped her succeed on the last two seasons)

Potential Allies: Jasmine and Emilee (Cancun Strong); Nany (Rivals 2 Strong); Frank

Potential Enemies: What remains from her relationships with Zach and Jordan?

Best-case scenario: Jonna gets her game over the hump, is all about Jonna, and competes at the kind of high level she is capable of, giving her an outside shot into the top group of finals prospective participants.

Worst-case scenario: Jonna has another shomance, but this time, the Free Agents format puts a target on her chest that forces her into an early elimination against the not so luck of “The Draw.”

The Verdict: On a totally subjective hunch, I would not be surprised if this is not Jonna’s best season and she leaves the show earlier than expected. I could also be easily convinced of the opposite, but I will embrace and own my feeling that Jonna will “once again become a Challenge casualty.”

 

READY TO SHOCK

7) JESSICAJessica

Where did we last see her? We last saw Jess, albeit ever so briefly, earning her Challenge nickname, Princess Hulk, for her valiant performance in defeat in the second episode of Rivals 2.

CHALLENGE History: Free Agents is Jessica’s second season on The Challenge. She and partner Anastasia (a tough go on her first The Challenge season) were eliminated in their second episode.

From her MTV bio: Good girl Jessica left Rivals II following her partner Anastasia’s epic meltdown. No longer held back by a teammate, Free Agents is Jessica’s chance to show what she’s made of. Jessica proclaims, “I don’t think people see me as a threat this time because I didn’t last very long in the previous Challenge. I have to play it cool and then just bam, hit them with it.” Although she claims she’s not looking for romance in the house, Jessica is all smiles when she makes an instant love connection. Don’t underestimate this former pageant queen—when it comes to performing in challenges, she just might shock everyone.

Why would you sign Jessica? Jessica is making personal training her profession and enters Free Agents in phenomenal shape. When asked to perform athletically (anything involving heights may be the exception), she is primed to dominate. Without many complicated past relationships, she brings a fresh perspective to the festivities that will be particularly useful in the “nothing to lose, everything to win” solo mission that will be Free Agents.

Why would you not sign Jessica? Her first season could not have been shorter, so she comes into Free Agents as basically a rookie. She is not too aware of the hows and whys of the social/strategic game.

Potential Allies: Nia (Portland Strong), LaToya

Potential Enemies: Zach; CT; unnecessary drama; Camila

Best-case scenario: Get ready: Jessica’s best-case scenario is an outside chance at being in the top group of women with a potential shot at making the finals.

Worst-case scenario: Free Agents is dominated by veteran alliances and Jess is unable to clean off the lingering rookie dust, forcing her into early elimination battles against formidable foes pulled from “The Draw.”

The Verdict: My The Challenge bold predictions have always had a wide range of outcomes (some obviously more successful than others), but I won’t let it stop me here. Bold Prediction: Jessica “might just shock everyone” and is a dark horse candidate to make the finals. I was surprised when she made an appearance in one the few MTV promotional videos airing on television (one featured CT, one featured Bananas, one featured the always entertaining, Camila) and I have a feeling that this was intentional on MTV’s part. I look for her to have a breakout second season on The Challenge: Free Agents.

PART II will come out later in the week.

 

RANK EVERYTHING: Vacation Destinations (compiled from the hometowns of Spurs players)

This is the second installment of a new features series called RANK EVERYTHING.  In each installment, I will take a topic or category from pop culture and sports, no matter how essential (all-time favorite NBA players, a Lost character fantasy draft), random (best use of the name Walter), or essentially random (the third tracks off every U2 album a.k.a. The “With or Without You/One” Battle to the death), and make a ranking on a given scale or set of criteria.  Some rankings will be of manageable length (10-20), some rankings may be of a slightly unmanageable length (if I ever get around to my Top 100 movies, albums, or TV show lists), and some rankings may feature only one or two items (For example – Best/Strangest Use of “World” when an NBA player changes his name: 2. Metta World Peace [formally Ron Artest]; 1. World B Free [formally Lloyd Free]).  The goal: to rank everything.

One additional note: rankings will always count down: the lower the number, the [insert given adjective/qualifer here] the item.

RANK EVERYTHING: Vacation Destinations (compiled from the hometowns of the current members of the San Antonio Spurs)

The Vacation Destinations will be based on a hypothetical ten day trip during a time of year of my choice. Travel time will be considered. The ranking is entirely subjective.

The why: On my way to work a few days ago, while considering last Thursday night’s loss to OKC that ended the Spurs incredible streak of nineteen straight wins (their last previous loss was back on February 21!), I went down a rabbit hole of Spurs related thoughts. I am astounded by their fifteen years of excellent basketball. I am in awe of their system, of the genius of Gregg Popovich (what I would do to get an inside look inside his brilliant basketball mind), and of the culture of winning that they continue to foster. Always a compilation of international players, it has been a while since the years of Fabricio Oberto, Rasho Nesterovic, and Beno Udrih. I wondered: Do the Spurs still have as high a number of international players (another consistent attribute of the “House that Popovich and Duncan Built” success story) as they usually do? The answer: Yes they do. Five of fourteen players on the Spurs current roster were born in the United States (six if you count Tim Duncan’s U.S. Virgin Islands place of birth). This means that at least eight of their players came of age elsewhere (a remarkable number). I began to think about a hypothetical summer road trip in which Pop takes the team on a tour of every player’s hometown (and you know if this would contribute to more wins, he would decide to embark on such a trip in a time period shorter than his average sideline reporter television interview). This fantastic idea led to the topic for this second installment of “Rank Everything.” Without further ado…

14) North Babylon, NY (hometown of Danny Green)Danny Green

Why North Babylon? I am sure it is a lovely town…North Babylon High

Why not North Babylon? It is in the middle of Long Island and not on the coast; A “vacation” and the headline “Squatters are spoiling North Babylon” do not mix so well together

A little taste of North Babylon culture:

13) Concord, NH (hometown of Matt Bonner)Matt Bonner

Why Concord? Concord is a lovely, quintessential New England state capital; It is within driving distance from my house; It was originally settled by a man named Ebenezer; Matt Bonner is awesome; There is a statue of the esteemed President Franklin Pierce “downtown”Concord, NH

Why not Concord? New Hampshire’s “Live free or die” motto doesn’t ever sit well; Ten days is a long time to spend vacationing in Concord, NH; the Massachusetts (blatant bias) Concord is better; The Concord police force needs to chill

A little taste of Concord culture:

12) Ontario, CA (hometown of Jeff Ayres – the artist formally known as Jeff Pendergraph)Jeff Ayres

Why Ontario? Ontario has an airport; Ontario sports the self-professed largest mystery murder dinner show in America; Ontario has an annual “Pancake Breakfast and Car show” and are notable pioneers for even considering this concept; Landon Donovan is a resident; By all accounts, it is kind of a beautiful placeOntario, CA

Why not Ontario? The last edition of Kenny Rogers Roasters closed in 2011 and this the saddest of news; known as the “gateway to Southern California” – gateways to places are never as fun as the places themselves; Jeff Ayres is not exactly the most compelling member of the San Antonio Spurs

A little taste of Ontario culture:

11) Riverside, CA (hometown of Kawhi Leonard)Kawhi Leonard

Why Riverside? The birthplace of the CA citrus industry; the largest Mission Revival building in the country; 47 minute drive to the Pacific; Riverside has 28 neighborhoods and neighborhoods are wonderful to exploreRiverside, Ca

Why not Riverside? Referred to as a “smog belt” – pollution is a problem; It is close, but still a 47 minute drive to the ocean in Los Angeles is not a 47 minute drive; This annual Dickens festival seems more creepy than cool

A little taste of Riverside culture:

10) Irvine, CA (hometown of Austin Daye)Austin Daye

Why Irvine? The weather is almost always sunny and warm; The presence of an In-N-Out Burger; Some cool movies have filmed there; Will Ferrell is a resident; I always liked Austin’s father Darren Daye; It is the safest big city in the country (populations over 100,000)Irvine, CA

Why not Irvine? In 1918 there were 60,000 acres of lima beans grown on the Irvine Ranch – I don’t like lima beans; Irvine is apparently the home to Jim Rome and Aubrey O’Day

A little taste of Irvine culture:

9) Canberra, Australia (hometown of Patty Mills)Patty Mills

Why Canberra? Canberra has tried to do some wonderful environmental things with greenhouse gas emissions and waste; The Shine Dome; Home to the National Folk Festival and the Royal Canberra Show and who doesn’t want to attend an agricultural show with rides – there is “so much fun to be had”Canberra

Why not Canberra? It’s not Sydney or Melbourne; The flight to get there is going to take an incredibly long time; Although close, Canberra is not on the ocean; Winter in Canberra is winter; “That’s no harbor, that’s a lake (a fake lake!)”; A great place to be a bureaucrat

A little taste of Canberra culture:

8) Joinville, Brazil (hometown of Tiago Splitter)Tiago Splitter

Why Joinville? The climate is “always relatively hot”; interesting history of German descendants; The only city other than Moscow to house a branch of the Bolshoi Ballet; Home to the “world’s largest dance festival”Joinville

Why not Joinville? Close, but not on the water; not the most diverse city in Brazil; It is far from Sau Paulo and even further from Rio; the tragic fights at a football game in December are not too welcoming to tourists

A little taste of Joinville culture:

7) Toronto, Canada (hometown of Cory Joseph)

Cory Joseph

Why Toronto? Toronto has both an American and European flavor; It is the manageable kind of large metropolis that you can experience on a ten day vacation; Rob Ford as a menace to society and as a perfect example of Tyson Zone potential; Rob Ford press conferences; the pronunciation of the word “Toronto” with a Canadian accentToronot

Why not Toronto? Rob Ford; The fact that the people of Toronto seem to tolerate Rob Ford; The Raptors and Blue Jays are usually really bad; The cold in the winters is really cold

A little taste of Toronto culture:

6) Bahia Blanca, Argentina (hometown of Manu Ginobili)Manu Ginobili

Why Bahia Blanca? The city was founded as a fortress! There is a daily train to nearby (relatively) Buenos Aires; There are two zoos! Manu Ginobili is a national treasure – any place that Manu Ginobili calls home is a place I want to visit; It is on the Atlantic OceanBahía BlancaWhy not Bahia Blanca? Although a port city, you have to travel a little ways to get to real beaches for swimming

A little taste of Bahia Blanca culture:

5) Cormeilles-en-Parisis, France (hometown of Boris Diaw)Boris Diaw

Why Cormeilles-en-Parisis? It is where Boris Diaw is from (this should say it all); A quiet suburb of Paris? Yes, please; It has an awesome fortCormeilles-en-Parisis

Why not Cormeilles-en-Parisis? It is landlocked; You are inevitably going to want to take transport to Paris during many of your ten days

A little taste of Cormeilles-en-Parisis culture:

4) San Giovanni in Persiceto, Italy (hometown of Marco Belinelli)Marco Belinelli

Why San Giovanni in Persiceto? It’s in Italy; There is a castle where you can stay; Some of its history goes back to the year 728; There was a healthy anti-facist resistance force during World War II; It’s in ItalySan Giovanni in Persiceto

Why not San Giovanni in Persiceto? It is not on the water and is a little bit of a distance from larger cities; It may be a better place to live than a place to vacation

A little taste of San Giovanni in Persiceto culture:

3) Bruges, Belgium (hometown of Tony Parker)

Tony Parker

Why Bruges? “One of the most romantic places I have been to” – Deniz; Sometimes referred to as the “Venice of the North” because of its canal system; The city is about 1300 years old; Most of its medieval architecture is still intact; The city still employs a full-time carillonneur to work the bells of the 13th Century belfry; If you want to live history (as I do!) on your San Antonio Spurs player hometown trip, Bruges may be your best choiceBruges

Why not Bruges? Bruges is known for its lace – I am not sure this is a good thing; The recent movie In Bruges starring Colin Farrell put me to sleep

A little taste of Bruges culture:

2) Christiansted, Saint Croix, US Virgin Islands (hometown of Tim Duncan)Tim Duncan

Why Christiansted? Christiansted has a near perfect tropical climate for beach activities; Alexander Hamilton was once a resident and then moved to New York and helped found the United States; Tim Duncan was once a resident and then moved to San Antonio to begin a fifteen years (and counting!) NBA dynasty; Christiansted has some cays and cays are awesome; Island hopping!Christiansted

Why not Christiansted? Hard to avoid its checkered history as a Danish colony town built by African slaves; Tropical paradise is not the right vacation for all

A little taste of Christiansted culture:

1) Gisborne, New Zealand (hometown of Aron Baynes)

Aron Baynes

Why Gisborne? The possibility that there is a “Sir Guy”; Beautiful beaches with great surf; The annual Rhythm and Vines Music Festival; Gisborne often makes skinny dipping world record attempts; Potential for Lord of the Rings sites day trips; First city in the world to see the sun each day (for part of the year)Gisborne

Why not Gisborne? It is a trek to get there

A little taste of Gisborne culture:

What do you all think?  Did I underrate any destinations? Did I overrate any destinations?  How would your rankings differ?

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

Read Part I of the MEN DIVISION here.

PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS – MEN DIVISION

RETURN TO FORM

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.

THE NEW ELITE

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.

LEGENDARY STATUS

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.

WATCH THE BANANAS PROMO

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.

WATCH THE CT PROMO

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 MTV.com 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.

PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS – MEN DIVSION

THE ROOKIES

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).

BACK FROM SYDNEY

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.

THE LAST CHANCE?

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.

NO KNIGHT, NO PROBLEMS

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.

SOMETHING TO PROVE

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