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THE CHALLENGE: BATTLE OF THE SEASONS Weekly Power Rankings – Week 3

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The title of this week’s episode of The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons was “The Perks of Being a Rookie.”  In traditional Challenge seasons, the “perks of being a rookie” include early exits, empty wallets, and the experience of being targeted by veterans whose line between “unconscionable hazing” and “we’re just having a little fun” is as blurry as my vision every morning pre-contact insertion or the yesteryear brit pop band.  I fondly remember Leroy and Mike’s adorable bromance taking them all the way to the final challenge on Rivals, but this rookie pair succeeded because Mike was a late game addition after insane Adam Royer fought his way off the show (he got booted) and because Mike and Leroy were the opposite of adversaries going into the season.  Otherwise, it is Challenge tradition, practice, and expectation for rookies to be sent home early.

Going into Battle of the Seasons, we knew that the sheer number of rookies would be new terrain for the rookie one and done policy, but this week’s action-packed episode presented an entirely unexpected scenario: there are rookies who are legitimately running the show.

Let’s recap what happened with some good old-fashioned bullet points:

  • We got to finally see the production heavy opening titles (held in episode 1 to create more Team Fresh Meat suspense).  These openings are always goofy.  I particularly liked the close-up of T.J. at the end.  Nothing compares to the Duel II opening titles (you have to watch the behind the scenes video – high level unintentional comedy).
  • We learned that Melinda has a GBH (Guy Back Home) and Danny has a LAH (Lady at Home).  They both seemed genuinely happy.  Based on the timing of this scene and the dramatic structure template that Challenge episodes follow, this does not bode well for the divorced couple to remain in the game much longer.
  • This week’s challenge was called “Oil Change,” a wrestling match in a pit of olive oil.  If you force your opponent out of the pit past the perimeter red line, you are out.  The first team to win four matches is the new power team.  The last team to win four matches is going into the arena.  Also, as T.J. said, “You may not know this, one of Turkey’s national sports is wrestling.”  No, I didn’t know.  Hey T.J., you may not know this, but I don’t really care.
  • Before the challenge, it is revealed that a purposeful alliance (start watching at :37, priceless) has formed among Teams San Diego, Cancun, Las Vegas, and New Orleans.  Teams Brooklyn, Fresh Meat, and Austin didn’t have their stuff together and are only connected by default.  Team St. Thomas is on their own island (some things don’t change).  This reality becomes the central focus of the challenge when the coalition (led by C.J. and Frank) discovered that by keeping the wrestling matches insular among their alliance teams, they would freeze out the other teams and ensure one of Teams San Diego, Cancun, Las Vegas, or New Orleans the victory.  This was executed (with minor setbacks) to a tee.  Many matches were immediately tapped out in obnoxious theatrical displays (T.J.‘s response: a disdainful “Jesus Christ”).  Team San Diego won (led my new Challenge mastermind, Frank) and was the new power team, followed by Cancun, New Orleans (riding the cottails of alliance mates), and Vegas (Dustin had to fight off Robb with two “Bs” for a legit win).
  • Chet realized that “somebody is getting screwed” among the four remaining teams.  Team Brooklyn and Fresh Meat completed the challenge first, leaving the last place spot to be fought over between Austin and St. Thomas.  After an epic draw between Danny and Trey, Laura beat Melinda and sent Team Austin into their second straight arena (after having lost Wes and Lacey last week).
  • Captain Frank and Team San Diego held court with Team Fresh Meat and Team St. Thomas to determine who would face Austin in the arena.  Despite Fresh Meat’s pathetic groveling (Brandon at one point said, “Pleaseeeeee”) and Trey’s as good as throwing himself in arrogance, San Diego sent Fresh Meat back to the arena anyway.
  • Team Fresh Meat could not decide which two competitors would face Danny and Melinda in the arena, yielding the decision to Team San Diego.  T.J, was accusatory when he asked Cara Maria and company, “You couldn’t come to a decision?  Why not?”  San Diego selected Camila and Big Easy to represent Fresh Meat in an endurance game called “Balls Out.”  T.J. in classic form: “I hope you did your running.”
  • This led to one of the best exchanges in Challenge history – T.J.:  “Easy, what happened man, you ain’t politicking right, what happened?”  Big Easy: “I don’t give a f–k.  How about that?”  T.J. : “Sounds good to me.”
  • Big Easy and Camilla beat Danny and Melinda and eliminated Team Austin from the game.  Seven teams remain and Team Fresh Meat seemed like a mess.

So, how could this rookie-led takeover be happening?

There are several key factors.  First, there is a MAJOR power vacuum without Johnny Bananas, Jenn with two “Ns”, Paula, Kenny, Evan, Laurel, or Derek, providing their traditional physical or political domination.  Even the players that have had past success have been retired for some time (Alton) or may need a strong partner to be kept in line (Camila).

Second, although a team like San Diego is made up of all Challenge rookies, they still have a team like St. Thomas below them on the totem pole to walk all over.  If Team San Diego were the only rookie team in the game, they may not find their journey so easy.

Third, this season’s vets are in dysfunctional teams.  Sarah and Chet are working with the likes of JD and Devyn, Team Austin is already out, and Team Fresh Meat is (up until this point in the game) a terrible combination of ex-players.  There is no calm, cool alpha.  Just think if they had Kenny, Evan, Ev, or Laurel calling shots.  Camila is a beast, but may not have the disposition to be a team leader.  Big Easy may have the disposition, but his track record is lackluster.

The time was right for a mind like Frank to take advantage, but he definitely has some external circumstances in his favor.  We will see how long he can remain the big dog of the Turkish pound.

To the weekly power rankings…

WEEKLY CHALLENGE POWER RANKINGS

NOTE: the rankings will be based on an un-Hollinger/sabermetrics method known as “My experience and observations” (See: Marc Stein’s great NBA weekly power rankings).  Weight will be given to how well teams and individuals do on competitions, in the social game, and whether he or she is a “good competitor.”

THE MEN

1. Alton (Team Las Vegas) – Last week: 1 of 15

“Who doesn’t like Alton? He’s probably the most amazing guy on the planet.” – Sarah.  Yes, he may be.  We only wish that the challenge required more of him.  It appeared like his “Oil Change” battles were inconsequential.  Still, any week Alton manages to be under the radar and on the side of the power team alliance, no will touch his place at the top of these rankings.

2. Dustin (Team Las Vegas) – Last week: 2 of 15

Unlike Alton, Dustin was put to the test and could not have performed better.  His epic draw with Zach (to the delight of women and men who like to see attractive men wrestle) was a signal of just how ready Monsieur Zito is to compete against the best of his competition.  Zach is bigger and stronger, but Dustin would not let up and definitely gave teammate Alton a preview of what his younger Las Vegas teammate is capable of.  Team Las Vegas did have a moment that mattered (when San Diego, Cancun, and New Orleans had already finished the challenge), but Dustin handily took care of business against the outmatched (but still a really tall dude) Robb with two “Bs.”  This is just it – at this point in the game, Dustin is just taking care of business.  We will see how he fairs when his alliance mate (I still think Las Vegas has the loosest of ties with the current in crowd) Frank brings up his pay porn past as teased on “This season on…”

3. CJ (Team Cancun) – Last week: 3 of 15

4. Zach (Team San Diego) – Last week: 4 of 15

Both Zach and C.J. represent the new Challenge uber-athlete competitors who are going to be in these competitions because of sheer athleticism and consummate off-season “training.”  Think Landon or Derek (although Zach and C.J. are not even close to being in the same league as these Challenge legends yet).  C.J. in particular is showing a keen, strategic mind (he seemed to be alongside Frank step by step in the “Oil Change” takeover).  Although Jonna “doesn’t mind the view” of an oiled up Zach wrestling and wants to “be yours” to Zach when The Challenge is over, Zach has a ways to go in the political maneauvering that must take place outside of the athletic competition and Jonna cuddling.

5. Frank (Team San Diego) – Last week: 14 of 15

Frank said, “I think this is our time” as he plotted the Rookie Revolution in a confessional interview.  Frank, you may be right.  My, have the tides changed.  Frank’s crazy drunk night in the season premiere seems like a long time ago.  His nine position jump is earned for a remarkable transformation from a loose canon to a thoughtful, plotting mastermind.  I knew that Frank had this in him, but I did not expect it to happen so soon.  He is cool, cutting, and completely aware of what the right move was to make at each juncture.  A must listen or must watch is his interview with the AfterbuzzTV Challenge after show where he outlines his motivations and sizes up other competitors (afterbuzztv, by the way, may be the best place to get weekly Challenge intel).  He reminds me of a combination of Kenny’s confident sass and Johnny’s political scheming.  I am very impressed.  In the episode, his most striking moment may have been when Trey (an “egomaniac, a Wes Jr. if you will” as Frank coins him) pushes Zach’s last nerve in their “why we should save St. Thomas” discussion.  Zach gets up and his ready to leave and Frank forcefully responds, “Zach, sit down.”  This Frank/Zach relationship, so troubled in San Diego and its environs, may be the key to their victory on Battle of the Seasons.  Zach keeps Frank’s drunken messes in check and Frank keeps Zach’s quick temper and impatience in line.  As individuals they are strong, but as teammates, they may be the only guy pair that can compete with Dustin and Alton.

6. Chet (Team Brooklyn) – Last week: 5 of 15

Chet has “never wrestled in oil” and it shows.  He also has a very telling indictment of Cancun’s yielding their power team status to San Diego: “Cancun is so stupid and so naive that now Frank holds all the cards.  He’s the new guy.  We are supposed to be tossing him in.”  Chet knows that Frank’s takeover is dangerous.  Does he have enough game to make a countermove?  I say yes.

7. Derek (Team Cancun) – Last week: 6 of 15

In this episode, Derek tried to beat Frank in an “Oil Change” wrestling match and lost.  At least he bought into the “Frank wins” theme of the week.

8. Eric (Team Fresh Meat) – Last week: 10 of 15

9. Brandon (Team Fresh Meat) – Last week: 7 of 15

Big Easy was in serious “vet mode” all episode, but I am not sure it did any good.  It was sad and slightly pathetic to watch him fighting for his life against San Diego’s power team power.  Give me a break for one day is all I am asking.  They did not give him a break, but to Easy’s credit, his anger, pride, and unwarranted “I’ve won before and can win again” attitude may have been the difference in his second straight arena win.  Here’s what I will say – at this point, I would rather have Easy’s fight than Brandon’s seemingly lack of backbone.  Easy has always been the underdog because of his endurance and physical issues, but now, after two arena wins, he may have earned a temporary reprieve from facing an elimination for the time being.  This week Brandon had a draw wrestling match versus Trey, easily threw in St. Thomas in his conversation (grovel session) with Team San Diego, and even asked them to save him politely.  Also, Brandon, I get that you did a few too many eliminations in the past, but at some point you have to step up.

10. Trey (Team St. Thomas) – Last week: 8 of 15

From Marie cooperation issues, to his introspective awareness that he is “not really good at keeping [his] mouth shut,” to the “these are people that already dislike me” emotional sit-down with Laura at the end of the episode, Trey is having a tough time in Turkey.  He did fight hard in the challenge and clearly wants to win, he may not be ready this year.  If the aforementioned denouement is any indication (some of Frank’s talking points in the Afterbuzztv podcast and show may have hinted at this as well), Trey and Laura may be going home next week.

11. Robb (Team St. Thomas) – Last week: 12 of 15

Although Robb with two “Bs” lost his chance to beat Dustin and Team Las Vegas and potentially flip the balance of power in the challenge, he at least seemed into the game this week and moves up one spot just for this reason.

12. Preston (Team New Orleans) Last week: 15 of 15

13. JD (Team Brooklyn) Last week: 11 of 15

14. Knight (Team New Orleans) Last week 13 of 15

Last week Devyn said that “J.D. is kind of creepy.”  This week, JD and Knight couldn’t beat each other wrestling.  As Jemmye says, Knight’s main intentions are about her, not about winning the money.   Yes, Jemmye, That is a lot to take in.  Preston even called the Knight vs. JD battle “a mess.”  Anytime Preston calls you out, you have to take a dive in these rankings.

ELIMINATED: Danny (Team Austin) Last week: 9/15

Biggest Rise: Frank (Team San Diego)

Biggest Fall: Tied – Brandon (Fresh Meat), Trey (St. Thomas)

THE WOMEN

1. Jonna (Team Cancun) – Last week: 3 of 15

I am little bit relieved because we’re not the power team and we don’t have to make the decision of who to send in.  This is the statement of a master player and moved Jonna to the top of the rankings.  She knows that winning the first challenge is one thing, but you don’t want the attention consistently on you too early.  She let San Diego have this week because she knew that her team was safe, but would benefit from letting them do the dirty work and make some enemies on their own.  If her budding Zach romance can remain in the cuddly honeymoon phase, it will be an asset going forward.

2. Jasmine (Team Cancun) – Last week: 5 of 15

It was a quiet week for Jasmine (not a bad thing for Jasmine or her audience to have every once and a while) and she got body slammed by Ashley, yet she still deserved to move up three spots.  This blows my mind.

3. Sarah (Team Brooklyn) – Last week: 1 of 15

Although Sarah may have been behind the curve on the “forming of alliance” part of Challenge strategy (I will blame the fact that she has JD and Devyn on her team), she had a great moment during “Oil Change” when she galvanized the remaining teams against St. Thomas.  Sorry, Frank and co.  You may fool her once, but if next week’s trailer is any indication (her potential relationship with Alton could be a game changer), Sarah is not going to let you stay on top for too long.

4. Camila (Team Fresh Meat) – Last week: 2 of 15

Poor Camila.  For all she has going for her (and believe me, I would pick her against every girl in an elimination), there is a bit of a not-so-good duality that always seems to crop up.  Even in her victorious Exes run last season, there was one night when it all came loose and Johnny feared for his Challenge life.  This time around Camila pissed off Frank, which would not have been a bad thing, but for the fact that Frank was in control and threw her into a much too soon arena elimination.  I do wish that Camila had volunteered to go in (leaving it up to San Diego should have been her demise), but I credit her for at least acknowledging that “everyone is watching their own back” on Team Fresh Meat.  If you cross her, she will beat whatever is in front of her (Marie in a wrestling match and Danny and Melinda in the arena discovered this), but I fear this game may have even more to do with politicking than she knows how to handle.  Her first order of operation is to improve the dysfunction that is her team.

5. Ashley (Team San Diego) – Last week: 10 of 15

In this episode, Ashley body slammed Jasmine in the “Oil Change” challenge and her team won.  It also appears that she has fallen into line with both Frank and Zach and that this will certainly pay off.  She and Frank earned their large jumps in the rankings.

6. Sam (Team San Diego) – Last week: 6 of 15

Her team won, but with Ashley stepping up, I am not sure where Sam is in all of this.  According to Frank in the aforementioned Afterbuzztv interview, her head (and face?) may be somewhere besides in the game.

7. Cara Maria (Team Fresh Meat) – Last week: 4 of 15

This was a tough week for Boston’s own Cara Maria and she definitely loses some standing for seeming to create some of Team Fresh Meat’s dynamic problems.  I did think she had the right attitude about the grovel session to San Diego.  “We are so experienced in this game and we are begging rookies to keep us.  I am not feeling this.”  Nor should you be.  Also, it seems like she lucked out when San Diego chose Camila to go into the arena when she said she was “not really good with balls.”  Yep.

8. Laura (Team St. Thomas) – Last week: 9 of 15

Laura valiantly beat Melinda to save her team from the arena, but her linkage to Trey may be her ultimate demise (see: Trey section).

9. Trishelle (Team Las Vegas) – Last week: 7 of 15

10. Nany (Team Las Vegas) – Last week: 8 of 15

Trishelle and Nany are still waiting for their moment on this season (Nany losing a wrestling match to McKenzie was not such a moment).  From the preview for next week, it seems that Trishelle is not too pleased with a connection between Alton and Sarah.

11. Marie (Team St. Thomas) Last week: 12 of 15

“The bitch is strong, ok.”  Apparently Marie is a beast in the “Oil Change” wrestling ring.  Camila still took care of business.

12. McKenzie (Team New Orleans) Last week: 14 of 15

‘Kenzie beat Nany in a oily match to move her up a few spots, but her own words speak for themselves: “Everyone that knows me says that I am too nice to really be competitive.”  I trust those who know McKenzie.

13. Devyn (Team Brooklyn) Last week: 15 of 15

Devyn had an actual revelatory moment when she beat Melinda to stay alive, so ride that momentum, girl.

14. Jemmye (Team New Orleans) Last week: 13 of 15

Some things do not change: Jemmye is a hot mess when she is drunk.“Knight and I will get back together over my dead body.”  I don’t believe you.

ELIMINATED: Melinda (Team Austin) Last week: 11/15

Biggest Rise: Ashley (Team San Diego)

Biggest Fall: Cara Maria (Team Fresh Meat)

FULL TEAM RANKINGS

Note:  Team rankings are compiled by adding up the individual rankings and dividing by number of players remaining.  Teams with the lowest total average ranking are ranked better than the highest (i.e. you want as few points as possible)

1. TEAM CANCUN Average: 3.25, last week: 4.25 (1)

CJ (3), Jonna (1), Jasmine (2), Derek (7)

They get even stronger by leaving their perch as the power team.  Well done, indeed.

2. TEAM SAN DIEGO Average: 5, last week: 8.5 (5)

Zach (4), Sam (6), Ashley (5), Frank (5)

This is a fantastic week for the new power team.  The Frank-led rebellion has begun.

3. TEAM LAS VEGAS Average: 5.5, last week: 4.5 (2)

Alton (1), Dustin (2), Trishelle (9), Nany (10)

It feels like we are still in the preseason for Team Las Vegas.  They have yet to be adequately tested.

4. TEAM FRESH MEAT Average: 7, last week: 5.75 (3)

Camila (4), Cara Maria (7), Brandon (9), Eric (8)

Frank calls Team Fresh Meat this season’s “most dysfunctional team” and wonders since “they don’t have any loyalties, why would they come together?”

5. TEAM BROOKLYN Average: 8.75, last week: 8 (4)

Sarah (3), Chet (6), JD (13), Devyn (13)

Look for a comeback week from Team Brooklyn in episode 3.

6. TEAM ST. THOMAS Average: 10, last week: 10.25 (7)

Laura (8), Trey (10), Robb (11), Marie (11)

There are “the Rookies, The Vets, and then there is St. Thomas.”  Tough.

7. TEAM NEW ORLEANS Average: 13, last week: 13.75 (8)

Knight (14), Jemmye (14), McKenzie (12), Preston (12)

Holding on for dear life is easy to do when you align correctly.  Well done.

TOP 10 PAIR RANKINGS:

Based on this fail-safe system that I created, these are the best top ten pair combinations for this week.  At this point, all are hypothetical (the only actually current pair were not close to the top), but you can definitely get a sense of what intra-team strategy may need to be employed.

1. CJ and Jonna (Team Cancun) Average: 2

2. CJ and Jasmine (Team Cancun) Average: 2.5

3. Derek and Jonna (Team Cancun) Average: 4

T-6. Sarah and Chet (Team Brooklyn) Average: 4.5, Jasmine and Derek (Team Cancun) Average: 4.5, Zach and Ashley (Team San Diego) Average: 4.5

T-9 Alton and Trishelle (Team Las Vegas) Average: 5, Zach and Sam (Team San Diego) Average: 5, Frank and Ashley (Team San Diego) Average: 5

3 teams tied at 12 Alton and Nany (Team Las Vegas) Average: 5.5, Dustin and Trishelle (Team Las Vegas) Average: 5.5, Sam and Frank (Team San Diego) Average: 5.5

And finally, during the “NEXT WEEK ON” preview, this is what I saw:

  • Alton about Sarah: “I just feel like I have been waiting my whole life to meet you.”  Trishelle is concerned.
  • Marie is afraid of heights and “can’t even look down” at the challenge.
  • and Camila and Brandon have a huge blowout fight.  Watch out.

Until we all meet again, watch the next episode of The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons at 10 PM on Wednesday night on MTV.

THE CHALLENGE: BATTLE OF THE SEASONS Weekly Power Rankings – Week 2

Preparing for a Challenge season premiere episode is like preparing for a dinner at your favorite, upscale restaurant.  You know you will love the atmosphere.  You know your food is going to be delicious.  You know that your favorite server (the great T.J. Lavin) will take care of you tonight.  You have definitive and reliable dishes on the menu that you anticipate ordering, but there is a chance that one of the nightly specials will entice you and may even propel your meal to a place you did not know it was going.  There was one time you ordered the special and it caused grave indigestion (CT and Adam’s bloody fight on The Duel II comes to mind), but most of the time, the special is what makes a successful restaurant experience fully realized.

This week’s special dish on The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons season premiere was unexpected and very delicious.  As explained in my preseason rankings blog, Challenge format is explained by master server T. J. Lavin (he particularly killed it this week) to the audience and cast on the first day.  We knew that Real World seasons would be battling, but the how and subsequently the what and why of the game had yet to be revealed.

What is this season premiere’s special dish?  Yes, there are eight teams of four (as expected, Team Fresh Meat was a huge surprise addition, didn’t see that coming) who are competing for a $250,000 prize (You have to hand it to MTV producers for always finding the most astonished crowd shots when the money amount is revealed. Devyn (no joke) thought about how many shoes she could buy).  They will compete in a series of challenges.  The winning team of each challenge becomes the power team.  The team that came in last place in a challenge will automatically be sent in to the arena, a mystical Turkish gladiator competition sand pit where your Challenge fate is sealed.  The power team chooses the other team that will face the losing team in the arena.  Does it all make sense so far?  At this point, the format closely resembles last season’s Battle of the Exes.  So, what is the special tonight?  As T.J. said, “Now there’s a twist.”  Only two of four team members (a guy and a girl) compete in each arena battle and individual teams decide who from their team they will send in.  If they cannot reach a consensus, the power team steps in and decides.  The losing two competitors in each arena duel, are immediately sent home, leaving the two non-arena team members to fend as a pair.

So what happened in the competition parts week 1?  Quick summary of the episode: T.J. killed it.  The Turkey villa is “easily the best Challenge house ever” according to Danny.  Eric couldn’t physically do the “Don’t Cross Me/climbing a rope ladder/balance cross” challenge and disqualified his team.  Lacey and Preston got credit for unexpectedly finishing (i.e. no one believed they could).  Team Cancun narrowly beat out Team Las Vegas (but according to T.J., both teams “killed it”) to win the first challenge.  In a vindictive move, Team Cancun, the first power team, sent in Team Austin into the arena, pinning Austin (Wes and Lacey) vs. Fresh Meat (Eric and Cara Maria).  It was a strength competition called “Hall Brawl”  to see could run the other person over in a thin, glass tunnel.  Cara Maria destroyed Lacey (no surprise) and Eric ran through (first leg) and over Wes (literally).  Wes and Lacey were eliminated, leaving real-life exes Danny and Melinda to fend alone as Team Austin.

Now, how does this new game format grossly influence the weekly power rankings?  Teams can now be looked at in a very different light.  Instead of relying on the strength (or potential weaknesses) of all members, dead weight can be eliminated and the best male/female pair of a team could take it all the way to the end.  Great players stuck with horrible players on their team of four now have a viable way out. To account for these differences in format, the rankings will now feature four categories: men, women, full teams, and the top ten potential(or actualized) pairs.  This just got real.

WEEKLY CHALLENGE POWER RANKINGS 

NOTE: the rankings will be based on an un-Hollinger/sabermetrics method known as “My experience and observations” (See: Marc Steins great NBA weekly power rankings column starting sometime next month).  Weight will be given to how well teams and individuals do on competitions, in the social game, and whether he or she is a “good competitor.”

THE MEN

1. Alton (Team Las Vegas) – Last week: 1 of 16

2. Dustin (Team Las Vegas) – Last week: 3 of 16

It was a relatively quiet first week for the Challenge MJ 2.0, but do not be fooled, his supremacy is real.  Apparently since we last saw Alton, he has only gotten better.  Alton explains it best: “Actually I feel like I am in the best shape of my life.  I climb stronger, skate harder, surf bigger waves.  Last time I was here, I was like, ok I was Alton.  Right now, I feel like Alton 2.0.”  Watch out competition.  Alton and Dustin had a phenomenal guy only team meeting early in the episode where they assessed their team and shared intel.  It was like Jordan and Kobe getting together to share insight into whether Ron Harper and Robert Horry were any good.  This connection and bonding between Alton/Dustin (Mr. Zito clearly had much respect) makes this the definitive male duo to beat.   Team Las Vegas barely missed out on power team placement (no surprise there) and I predict will win many a challenge in the coming weeks.  Also, did you see Jasmine’s fawning over Alton’s workout regimen and adonis abdomen?  Unless he faces Big Easy’s heavy bull stampede in an arena, who is going to beat him?

3. CJ (Team Cancun) – Last week: 4 of 16

One of the surprise showings of episode 1, C.J. was instrumental in setting up Wes’ departure.  The revengeful ex-NFL hopeful brought it in the challenge and seems primed to play a more strategic game than in his past challenge.

4. Zach (Team San Diego) – Last week: 6 of 16

Zach and his dashing good looks were all over the place in episode I.  We learned that he and Ashley are no more (could be tough on team chemistry), he and Frank apparently get along so well now that casual lip kissing and collaborative pink speedo wearing happens, and his budding romance with Jonna of Team Cancun could have both gameplay and sexual benefits.  He also single-handedly (more like full-bodily, we saw the sweat) prevented Crazy Drunk Frank from being sent home during one of those really scary, really uncomfortable Frank blowouts.  Real World: San Diego Zach may have been pissed at his hairy (and in awesome shape, way to go Frank) teammate, but Challenge Zach was cool (like an autumn breeze) under pressure.

5. Chet (Team Brooklyn) – Last week: 8 of 16

I really like Chet.  Last week I mentioned that Chet “gets along with the right important people, seems to be a really nice dude, has a great female teammate in Sarah,” but this week Chet showed a different side to his awesome self that I didn’t know he even had: master strategist.  His realization convo with Sarah that the dead weight on Team Brooklyn (my analysis of Devyn seemed to be pitch perfect, thank you very much) does not have to bring down his potential lethal pairing with newly blonde Sarah who is, after five challenges, even hungrier for her first win.  Chet said to Sarah, “If you and I go (to the finals), we are a team.  We just need to focus on us.”  Look for Devyn and J.D. to find themselves in the arena together sometime soon.  Also, props to Chet for the line of the episode: “To be quite honest, most of the people here are total idiots.”

6. Derek (Team Cancun) – Last week: 10 of 16

Derek continued to impress and is very much a vital member of what looks like the most functional foursome team of this season.  His strong individual relationships with C.J., Jonna, and Jasmine were a major underestimation of my preseason rankings.

7. Brandon (Team Fresh Meat) – Last week: 5 of 16

His team d-qued and lost the challenge all because of Eric, but if he had gone into the arena against Wes, I don’t think he would have been able to destroy him as Eric did.  I think Brandon can be a great supporting player, but I am just not sure yet if he has leading man potential.

8. Trey (Team St. Thomas) – Last week: 12 of 16

I should have known from his awkwardly possessive existence in St. Thomas (see: whenever Laura was in the same room as another guy) that Trey is someone who needs control of his world.  I also should have known that when Trey is competitive he is at his best (when Trey is on an island with six roommates he is at his worst I guess?).  Competitive Trey is alive in well in Turkey.  His gaming led him to a short-lived alliance with Wes and drew the suspicion of the powered Cancun squad.  Although C.J.’s vitriol for Wes may have saved St. Thomas’ rookie sacrificial destiny for a week, clearly Trey came to The Challenge to win.

9. Danny (Team Austin) – Last week: 15 of 16

Danny made this week’s biggest male jump in these polls largely by surviving the first elimination.  Admittedly, he seems to be the best version of himself (the guy I really connected to in Real World: Austin) again and has a “Challenge stalwart Brad really deserves this win more than anyone” vibe going from a few seasons ago.  Brad’s team did win and it wouldn’t be crazzzzzzzy if the same thing happened here.  Notwithstanding, he is only alive in the game because Wes went into the arena and now must play the rest of The Challenge with his ex-wife as his only teammate.  Tough.

10. Eric (Team Fresh Meat) – Last week: 7 of 16

I got to give Big Easy some credit.  I am not sure it was possible to have both the worst (he is just not made to climb rope ladders) and best (his bull run of Wes may have been almost as good as CT’s body slamming of Johnny Bananas) performance in a given week.  His challenge showing had to drop him down a few slots and it is likely that there will be other events that he may not be able to complete in, but man, Easy, no one in this game (Alton 2.0?) can beat him in strength.  More impressive, I thought he handled Cara Maria’s brief pre-arena anxiety meltdown with the an appropriate response (“Hey, I am trying to prepare mentally here…”).  He is a smaller, leaner version of himself (70 pounds lighter) and after a major blunder in the challenge, maybe he will ride the arena momentum and continue to knock more opponents down.  Only time will tell.

11. JD (Team Brooklyn) – Last week: 9 of 16

Take it away, Devyn: “J.D. is kind of creepy.”  I am sorry, I am just not sure what to make of you yet, and now that Chet and Sarah can do their own thing, I am not sure how long you are for this game.

12. Robb (Team St. Thomas) – Last week: 13 of 16

It was a quiet first week for Robb with two “B’s.”  He did what he had to do in the challenge and will continue to do so, wouldn’t let Crazy Drunk Frank get in his face, but he seems a little lost in the social/strategic shuffle.  He definitely contrasted Trey’s “let’s kick it” game demeanor.  Robb is a good man and I hope he comes out of Turkey with some of his sanity intact.

13. Knight (Team New Orleans) – Last week 11 of 16

If Knight can’t stay away from Jemmye drama (so far there is no evidence that he will ever be able to), his days are numbered.

14. Frank (Team San Diego) – Last week: 14 of 16

Jacoby did great work on Crazy Drunk Frank in his GRFL Column this week and said it better than I could ever hope to.  My additional take is that until Frank can show me that he can control the crazy, he will be a MAJOR liability to a potentially sleeper team.  Frank even lacks confidence in himself, “I have absolutely no filter, so I am not going to be great at stopping myself, ever.” C’mon Frank.  Keep it together.  You are a good man.

15. Preston (Team New Orleans) – Last week: 16 of 16

Knight, sarcastically, calls Preston “the most intimidating competitor” and “one of those people that he doesn’t like something, he quits on it.”  To Preston’s credit, he completed the challenge after some initial difficulty.  This is certainly admirable, but as Preston said in his first interview, “I am not good at anything.  For me, my personal challenge is to keep my heart in it.”  His supremely flawed and dysfunctional group will not make his journey any easier.  His placement at the bottom is unrivaled.

ELIMINATED: Wes (Team Austin) – Last week: 2/16

Biggest Rise: Danny (Team Austin)

Biggest Fall: Eric (Team Fresh Meat)

THE WOMEN

1. Sarah (Team Brooklyn) – Last week: 2 of 16

2. Camila (Team Fresh Meat) – Last week: 1 of 16

Sarah’s flip with Camila may be a bit more about an inevitable fall for the Brazilian reigning champ  after her team loss and brief pre-arena dysfunction than about anything that the savvy Challenge veteran did, but as mentioned before, her immediate recognition that she and Chet could dominate as two must not go unnoticed.  Could this be her Olajuwon 1994/1995 seasons, filling the void left by Evelyn, Paula, and JEK world?  Camila, on the other hand, was mostly relegated to the editing/producorial sidelines (I felt the absence of her Bananas’ Exes dynamic), but the competitor in her is alive in well – Big Easy and Cara Maria be warned: if you don’t pull your weight on Team Fresh Meat, Camila is not afraid to get out the grill and do some sauteeing.

3. Jonna (Team Cancun) – Last week: 4 of 16

Of all my accurate preseason rankings (and there were several fails), the Cancun girls may be my most successful.  Jonna showed real Challenge promise on Rivals, but now seems primed to take it up to another level.  Let’s review her acumen in episode 1: part of the winning power team, decided that she was into the best looking guy (although not my jam) in the house, had the unprecedented courtesy to break off her budding relationship with her GBH (guy back home) before she and Zach took a leap, was on the right side of Frank’s blowout (protecting Zach and understanding that Frank could be San Diego’s downfall), and continuing to compete for the most disparate name spelling/pronunciation in cast (Jemmye is her main competition).  Jonna will go far in this game and now knowing that her Jasmine ties can be severed without her own demise, watch out other teams.  Plus, she seems to believe that she “needs the money more than anyone else.”  If this is true, in it to win it she is.

4. Cara Maria (Team Fresh Meat) – Last week: 3 of 16

Cara Maria’s Boston roots, her love of horses, her obvious sweetness, her unconventional but gorgeous good looks, and her always “just a little nervous about everything” affect have always endeared her to me.  I thought the “Carley Johnson” under armor wear mix-up fit the narrative perfectly.  As did her mini-meltdown pre-arena, her arena dominance over competition (poor Lacey), and her post win reconciliation interaction with Camila that came in the form of a boundary pushing dance.  Cara Maria or Camila can only go as far as Big Easy can climb (tough), and Cara Maria may not have the ruthless competitiveness to beat out her female teammate.  In the interim, I am grateful for her presence in my Battle of the Seasons experience.

5. Jasmine (Team Cancun) – Last week: 5 of 16

Besides one Jasmine “Are you talking to me”/pugnacious burst during the Frank melee, she kept her cool and seemed thrilled to be in the supportive/winning culture of Team San Diego.  She even acknowledges her weaknesses now: “I have to prove that I can be cool, calm, and collected.” If she continues to play within her game, acknowledges and harnesses her weaknesses, and keeps away from Alton’s body, she is heading to the finals (her cigarette smoking stupidity may not match the Sahara dry heat too well, same goes for you Jonna, Alton, etc).

6. Sam (Team San Diego) – Last week: 6 of 16

I give Sam all the credit in the world for choosing to ride the Frank Tsunami out, especially his pointed and demeaning comment about her GBH (girl back home).  Now that Zach-ley/Ash-ary is no more, she can be the female counterpart to Zach in Team Cancun (a winning place to be).  I also really appreciated her visible support for other teams during the challenge.  As much as Frank will rub the world the wrong way, she could rub the other teams the right way (although some last minute intel from an inside source may say the opposite).

7. Trishelle (Team Las Vegas) – Last week: 10 of 16

8. Nany (Team Las Vegas) – Last week: 12 of 16

Not much action from these two (a preview of a future Nany fight), but I will say this, they both seem more ready to compete than I expected.  Trishelle (a professional poker player since we last saw her) is NOT Tonya 2.0 (a trajectory that had some potential a few years ago) and seems to be happy to be in a drama-less Team Las Vegas amalgamum with Alton MJ and Dustin Pippen.  If Nany and Trishelle can be Ron Harper and Robert Horry, I feel pretty good about my preseason favorite to win the whole thing.

9. Laura (Team St. Thomas) – Last week: 8 of 16

10. Ashley (Team San Diego) – Last week: 7 of 16

It didn’t take Frank long to break out the “you never open up to us” diatribe to Ashley.  We have seen this before (see almost every episode of Real World: San Diego), but what made this time different?  Zach now sides with Frank, and, if Jonna and Zach continues to be a thing, Ashley will be on her own island of one.

11. Melinda (Team Austin) – Last week: 9 of 16

Goodbye, Lacey.  Goodbye, Wes.  Hello new life for Melinda?  I know she dropped this week (losing a teammate like Wes will do that), but her “all-in” alliance with her ex-husband had an indescribable charm.

12. Marie (Team St. Thomas) – Last week: 13 of 16

Yep, you may want to think about getting along with Trey, Marie.  Good call.

13. Jemmye (Team New Orleans) – Last week: 11 of 16

14. McKenzie (Team New Orleans) – Last week: 14 of 16

15. Devyn (Team Brooklyn) – Last week: 15 of 16

Jemmye seems to be a mess in Knight’s presence again, McKenzie likes to sunbath, and Devyn doesn’t work out.  It is not a matter of how, but when with these three.

ELIMINATED:

Lacey (Team Austin) – Last week: 16/16

Biggest Rise: Nany (Team Las Vegas)

Biggest Fall: Ashley (Team San Diego)

FULL TEAM RANKINGS

Note:  Team rankings are compiled by adding up the individual rankings and dividing by number of players remaining.  Teams with the lowest total average ranking are ranked better than the highest (i.e. you want as few points as possible)

1. TEAM CANCUN Average: 4.25, last week: 5.75 (2nd)

CJ (3), Jonna (3), Jasmine (5), Derek (6)

They won the challenge, eliminated Wes, Jasmine kept herself mostly grounded, and Jonna began a potentially fruitful alliance with Zach and Team San Diego.  It was a incredible week for this mid-level contender.  Jonna: “The four members of my team, we are like family.”

2. TEAM LAS VEGAS Average: 4.5, last week: 6.5 (3rd)

Alton (1), Dustin (2), Trishelle (7), Nany (8)

Alton and Dustin made a strong connection (very bad news for the field).  Nany aptly recognized that as two different Real World seasons combined, there are “starting fresh” and this will have its advantages.

3. TEAM FRESH MEAT Average: 5.75, last week: 4 (1st)

Camila (2), Cara Maria (4), Brandon (7), Eric (10)

Team Fresh Meat is certainly a weird mix and Eric’s challenge liability is a real concern, but maybe their late addition to the show didn’t give them time to fully gel.  We will get a better sense this week how this talented crew will fair long-term in this game.

4. TEAM BROOKLYN Average: 8, last week: 8.5 (5th)

Sarah (1), Chet (5), JD (11), Devyn (15)

Team Brooklyn is only successful as its weakest player.  Therefore, saying goodbye to JD and Devyn is required for Sarah and Chet to go far.

5. TEAM SAN DIEGO Average: 8.5, last week: 8.25 (4th)

Zach (4), Sam (6), Ashley (10), Frank (14)

This season’s enigma team whose self-combustion (I am looking at you Frank) is a real concern.  If they can keep it together, they have the athleticism to compete, but this is a BIG if.

6. TEAM AUSTIN Average: 10, last week: 10.5 (6th)

Melinda (11), Danny (9), Eliminated: Wes, Lacey

Danny and Melinda, now free of the shadow of Wes and his shady reputation, could stay below the radar for a little while.  They must do well in challenges and stay out of the arena (thanks Admiral Obvious).

7. TEAM ST. THOMAS Average: 10.25, last week: 11.5 (7th)

Laura (9), Trey (8), Robb (12), Marie (12)

They got through week 1 without facing an elimination.  I am not sure they will have the same luck in week 2 unless Trey can continue to work his strategy game to an advantage.

8. TEAM NEW ORLEANS Average: 13.75, last week: 13 (8th)

Knight (13), Jemmye (13), McKenzie (14), Preston (15)

I would not be surprised if the arena this week feature a pair from Team New Orleans

TOP 10 PAIR RANKINGS:

Based on this fail-safe system that I created, these are the best top ten pair combinations for this week.  At this point, all are hypothetical (the only actually current pair were not close to the top), but you can definitely get a sense of what intra-team strategy may need to be employed.

T – 1   CJ and Jonna (Team Cancun) Average: 3, Sarah and Chet (Team Brooklyn) Average: 3

T – 3   CJ and Jasmine (Team Cancun) Average: 4, Alton and Trishelle (Team Las Vegas) Average: 4

T – 5   Alton and Nany (Team Las Vegas) Average: 4.5, Derek and Jonna (Team Cancun) Average: 4.5, Dustin and Trishelle (Team Las Vegas) Average: 4.5, Brandon and Camila (Team Fresh Meat) Average: 4.5

T – 8   Dustin and Nany (Team Las Vegas) Average: 5, Zach and Sam (Team San Diego) Average: 5

Finally, because you only get one “This season on…” per season, I thought it would be important to note the moments that stand out in this glorious 30 second trailer.

This is what I saw:

  • J.D flying out of a plane (will he be Sarah’s final challenge partner?)
  • Knight suggestively lying on Trishelle.  Trishelle says, “It would be better if you were lying under the covers naked..”
  • A kiss between Big Easy and Devyn (unexpected!)
  • Kissing between Jonna and Zach and Ashley looking sad
  • Frank ragging on Dustin for his porn career past.  Nany comes to his defense.  Dustin and Frank have an altercation.
  • Zach getting in Alton’s face (bad move cowboy).
  • “This place will drive you crazy,” says Jasmine.  At least she knows.
  • Robb with two “Bs” and Derek having a physical battle (very bizarre) and then Marie coming to his defense by attacking Derek.  “I am not going to sit here and let you push my man.”
  • “You are officially entering no-man’s land.” says T.J. Lavin in what looks like the Sahara Desert.

Until we all meet again, watch the next episode of The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons at 10 PM EST on Wednesday night on MTV when the battle continues!!!!

Revolution: All right, all right, all right

I finally got around to watching the pilot of NBC’s Revolution last night.  Since the days of Rambaldi prophecies and SD-6, J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot Production family have been my goto team, my Steven Spielberg of television.  His unique storytelling vision and serialized, comic book sensibility seemed to closely align with my personal TV viewing needs and the idea of a new show “from J.J. Abrams” always unleashes my inner smoke monster.  The perfect storm occurred (mentioned in the aforementioned post) eight years ago when the Lost pilot changed my TV life forever.  At that time, Alias was still doing some of its best work and season 1 of Lost became a pop cultural touchstone.

Unfortunately, “from J.J. Abrams” has increasingly been not all it is cracked up to be.  Six Degrees (I literally forgot about it), What About Brian (never found its footing), or Undercovers (the pre-show buzz was so bad I never gave it a shot) all came and went faster than Nikki and Paulo’s turn on the Oceanic Flight 815 crash site.  Fringe (now in its final season, relegated to the purgatory night of TV that is Friday) has been a slightly more successful beast (at least in the eyes of its loyal but very small fan base), but after giving season 1 a try on dvd, the sci-fi balanced too much on the fiction side of real.

Last season’s TV lineup brought new promise to the J.J. Abrams name.  Two new shows were debuting that each had J.J. Abrams as the executive producer, a fantastic actor from Lost back on the case, and a film actor from one of my favorite movies as one of the stars.  The first of which is Person of Interest, saddled in CBS procedural land which doubles as the land of the TV success factory franchise (although you may not know a soul who watches them: see anything with the CSI or NCIS prefix to name a few of these monster ratings hits).  POI, with Michael Emerson (Ben Linus from Other-ville) as an enigmatic pre-crime watcher and Jim Caviezel (who I have loved on screen in The Count of Monte Cristo and The Thin Red Line) as a Batman-like (without a costume) vigilante action hero, provides a very satisfying, taut hour of television.  Sadly, its less serialized leanings and largely procedural format yield the upkeep of viewing less essential.  I have watched and enjoyed most of season 1, but the final four episodes have literally sat idle, unwatched in my DVR queue since May and let me tell you, I have had many a three hour stretch since to crank them out, but for some reason, I haven’t gotten around to (yielding POI on the DVR season pass death watch for season 2).

The other new “from J.J. Abrams” show last season was Alcatraz.  Debuting in Fox’s American Idol charged midseason lineup, “The Rock” had Jorge Garcia playing the most Hurley-like character imaginable (which was all good), Sam Neil of Jurassic Park (a top 20 film favorite), a cute leading lady played by Sarah Jones, an oft-coma-ed Parminda Nagra who seemed out of place and wanted back on the soccer field or to an er led by Dr. Carter, and a mythology driven/villain of the week format that had real initial promise.  My Alcatraz viewing story closely resembled that of the general populace (a rarity in recent years) – the further in to the thirteen episode run and more we knew about the time traveling mysterious circumstances, the less I cared.  After the finale (I was off the island by then) ratings reached a new low, another J.J. Abrams vehicle had been permanently extinguished.

As you can probably imagine, the journey into the electricity-less land of Revolution must be a lesson in caution and reasonable expectations (especially when NBC is the network).  Pre-pilot buzz has been mostly lukewarm: cool premise and good technical execution, but mostly forgettable actors and missing a heartfelt connection.  I do know that pilots have to be viewed with an understanding that they are often unable to replicate what the show will really be like due to budget difference, the time prep differences, and exposition obligations.  A good pilot does not mean a bad show.  A bad pilot can be a good show and so on.  In the humble opinion of moi, Revolution was a predominantly successful pilot that may have resonated more cinematically than as a serialized TV show.

Here is what it got right:

– The Giancarlo Esposito character, Captain Tom Mellville of the militia, was a welcome return to my TV life.  Since the Gus Fring character “blew up” on Breaking Bad, Mr. Esposito has been a pleasure to watch and its seems no different here.  This is casting at its best.

– Jon Favreau knows how to direct action.  His fighting sword play scenes were great for the medium and gave the pilot its most dramatic moments.

– The Lost connection is much appreciated with Elizabeth Mitchell playing a “did she really die” mom.

– The premise is really interesting.  What would happen to your life if you no longer had any of the technology you use and love?  The dystopian transformation of America set fifteen years in the future is well executed especially the ivy-enhanced Wrigley Field  and the use of cars as large planting pots.  The mystery behind this event (what happened? who did this?) is enough to want to watch more and may have given my stomach a Lost like feeling a la Charlie’s “Where are we?”

– Crossbows rock.

Here is what did not sit well:

– Besides Giancarlo Esposito and Billy Burke (apparently he is in Twilight – don’t care), there were no standout performances or characters in the pilot.  It is going to be an ensemble-piece and in its infancy, it was hard to make the connections.

– From what we do know of the mythology, I am not sure if the writing team can sustain the concept long-term.  It seems ripe for 4-5 episodes, but beyond, the gimmick may fade to black if we don’t care about who is living it.

– There was too much focus on the quest to Chi-Town and not enough on establishing the society and how it has been affected at the familial level.  The need for action early offset the need to care.

– The pacing suffered halfway in – it didn’t move the way you want a pilot to move.

The overall good news, I was pleasantly surprised.  Revolution gave me enough to want to come back for more…and I will.  Its pilot ratings may have been the best news NBC has received since the late 90s, and I am so rooting for it to be a success.  With The Voice as a lead-in extraordinaire (do lead-ins matter anymore anywhere but CBS?), it should have some time to find sure footing and I really hope it does.  In the interim, spending an hour with Juliet and Gus Fring every week continues to be my privilege.  I say I want a Revolution (for now) and (for now) “don’t you know it’s gonna be alright.”

The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons Weekly Power Rankings – Week 1

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Ladies and gentlemen, the time has come.  It has now been 167 long and (certainly at times) hard fought days since Team Johnny Bananas and Camila killed it and beat the competition to win The Challenge: Battle of the Exes.  Upon completion of this aptly named “Viking Quest” up a frigid and frightening Icelandic peak, Camila and (especially) Johnny sat on top of the Challenge mountain.  This was the second straight and fourth total win for Mr. Bananas (accumulating an awe-inspiring $266,543 along the way – thank you wikipedia) and the Bunim(RIP)-Murray produced franchise needed to go in a new direction away from the JEK dynasty, CT, and Paula Walnuts this time around.  The unofficial fifth major American professional sport has chosen a cast that will offer some new unproven competitors (I promise you, if you watch an episode, you will hear at least one reference to someone being a “good competitor”) and some unsuccessful veterans a chance to prove themselves.

So what does that mean in terms of numbers for The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons (2012) (debuting tonight at 10 PM EST on MTV)?  Here are some quick stats:

  • Of the 32 contestants, 15 are rookies, 5 have been on only 1 season, and 4 have been on only 2 seasons.
  • Unlike in previous challenges, there are few established veterans.  Wes (6 challenges) and Sarah (5 challenges) have the had the longest tenures.
  • There are 3 entire teams where all 4 people are rookies.
  • 6 of the 8 teams have at least 1 rookie.

For you Challenge newbies out there, here is what you need to know to catch up:

Originally an offset of the Real World and Road Rules, The Challenge allows past cast members to extend their fifteen minutes of fame to sometimes unprecedented heights and compete in a series of elimination competitions that all lead to a death defying (I wish I were kidding) final challenge (Have you seen the clips this year?  Was that the Sahara desert?).  The team or individuals who wins the final challenge win a fair amount of money.  T. J. Lavin has been the stalwart and often heroic host for many years now (“He killed it!”) and he will be your guide along the way.  This year, the contestants were liberally chosen from eight past Real World casts (two people from each of two Las Vegas casts were merged into one team) and one conglomeration from three of the challenges many iterations called Fresh Meat I and II and Spring Break Challenge (these people were never actually on The Real World) into eight teams of four.  Beyond that, the specific rules will be revealed by T.J. during the episodes.  In habitual Challenge tradition, rookies are at the bottom of the totem pole and veterans dominate like Women’s USA Basketball at the Olympics.  What will make this year so interesting is that some of the best veterans are gone and the ones remaining are stuck with some of the least proven, greenest contestants.  Oh, and I forgot to mention – unlike say the NFL or the NBA where you watch the games, The Challenge is about watching the games and watching all of the political and emotional debauchery that goes on surrounding the games in their posh IKEAed digs in fill-in the blank remote locale (this year will take place in Turkey – unexpected).

To further establish The Challenge as the unofficial fifth major American professional sport, I will introduce the inaugural Weekly Challenge Power Rankings – Individual and then Team.  For now, my rankings will be based on an un-Hollinger/sabermetrics method known as “My experience and observations” (See: Marc Stein’s great NBA weekly power rankings column starting sometime next month).  Weight will be given to how well teams and individuals do on competitions, in the social game, and whether he or she is a “good competitor.”  Below are my preseason rankings.  I have separated them into three categories MEN (seem to always dominate), WOMEN (seem to always follow the men with a few exceptions), and TEAM (particularly relevant this time).

WEEKLY CHALLENGE POWER RANKINGS 

THE MEN

“Not sure why you signed up”

16. Preston (RW: New Orleans)

For the life of me, I have no idea why Preston was chosen from the New Orleans cast.  Clearly Ryan (the body blowdryer) was not going to make the trip back to TV, but was Eric that established as a real person to pass up a free trip to Turkey?  You may remember Preston (a Boston resident when filming in NOLA) from his suspect use of Ryan’s toothbrush.  It is not that I don’t dig Preston – we got along mostly – I am just not sure that The Challenge is the right venue for him.

“Will he ever win?”

15. Danny (RW: Austin)

Poor Danny (also a Boston resident – we miss you CT).  He is recently divorced from fellow competitor Melinda (also an Austin vet) and he has been a proven disaster in his first five challenge seasons.  His team seems to be ready made for dysfunction and his past appearances do not lead me to believe otherwise.  He can always turn it around, but a low preseason ranking is well deserved.

“The Rookie Wall”

14. Frank (RW: San Diego)

13. Robb (RW: St. Thomas)

12. Trey (RW: St. Thomas)

11. Knight (RW: New Orleans)

Here are four untested unknowns that all have some potentially problematic relationship issues with their teammates.  Last week, we just got off the Trey/Laura drama boat that was St. Thomas and after the really unexpected blowout between Robb with two “Bs” and Marie at the reunion special, I do not expect much cuddle time from these two.  Frank (head-banded sometimes angry gent) from San Diego is apparently a great dude (someone I trust told me this and I completely believe it), but I can surmise that being in close quarters with Zach and Ashley again (it just did not work) and some of these other individuals (I can’t picture Frank having much to do with Danny or Wes) is a good thing.  Knight and Jemmye with money on the line is like watching the Sacramento Kings try to establish an unselfish, offensive flow – complete disaster.

“Underdogs with some potential”

10. Derek (RW: San Diego)

9. JD (RW: Brooklyn)

8. Chet (RW: Brooklyn)

All have had positive (although unsuccessful) showings on their first challenges.  I remember Derek especially stepping out of his caddy Real World persona.  Chet (always rocking great hipster glasses) could be a real sleeper.  He gets along with the right important people, seems to be a really nice dude, has a great female teammate in Sara, and will only perform better under both physical and social pressure.  I look at him as being in a similar place as Tyler (RW Key West) was. After a few unsuccesful seasons, big T figured out his Challenge grand strategy through a good social game and lots of eating (He and Johnny won Rivals on account of an even distribution of both of these factors).  JD I know little about beyond that he is on a team with Chet and Sarah (Reggie Jackson is only benefiting from spending days in practice with KD and Westbrook – you know what I mean?).

“The Wildcard”

7. Eric (Fresh Meat)

Commonly known as “Big Easy” because of his un-challenged on The Challenge size (a bigger man, although Vinny was packing the pounds for Exes), B.E. has been a liability on final challenges because of endurance or before final challenges because teammates are worried about endurance issues.  After a few seasons off, is he now in better shape?  He can only benefit from a very strong team of supportive people who will not belittle and insult the man (I am looking at you Johnny Bananas and Laurel) when he is passing out.  The jury is still out on Big Easy.

“Great on paper…”

6. Zach (RW: San Diego)

5. Brandon (Fresh Meat II)

4. CJ (RW: Cancun)

3. Dustin (RW: Las Vegas II)

This is an interesting group of men.  Zach pretty much went on the Real World so he could compete in The Challenge.  He was built (and certainly works out enough) for the physical demands of this serious physical competition.  Brandon, although ultimately unsuccessful, came into his own on Rivals and showed that he is going to be tough to beat in an elimination (if they end up having them).  CJ was close to making the NFL (albeit as a punter) and Dustin is uber-competitive and may just be the Scottie to teammate Alton’s MJ (more on that in a bit).  All four of these guys are only going to be as good as the people around them.  Look for Brandon and Dustin to be the most successful out of this group.

“The disliked, misunderstood veteran”

2. Wes (RW: Austin)

Poor Wes.  Although maybe more arrogant than anyone I have ever seen on TV and so often without means to back it up, I sometimes feel that Wes got screwed over in these Challenge glory years because he was the opposition to the JEK Empire.  I will give him one thing – if The Challenge was determined by who thought he should win the most, Wes would always win.  Although they have watched him and should know his mind games and dirty tricks by now, Wes should feast on the vulnerability of the rookies and use them to his competitive advantage.  Unfortunately, his team is already ready to completely fall apart (and thank you Lacey for probably adding close to nothing), but sometimes Wes is at his best when he is up against a ten foot wall.  Similar to the common angle on my NBA viewing, I am all about the vets who have been through the rodeo before and I think I may (gulp) find myself rooting for the ginger-haired Adonis (in his mind) this time around.

“The superstar coming out of retirement”

1. Alton (RW: Las Vegas I)

Many of you new Challenge viewers will not remember Alton (he was last on The Inferno 3 in 2007).  All I can say is, watch out competition.   Alton is the MJ of Challenge lore.  It would be like if MJ retired in 1993, but instead of coming back in 1995 against largely the same competition, he came back in 2002 to show upstarts like Mr. Bryant and Mr. Iverson just whose league it really was (ironically, this is what he ended up doing with the Wizards).  Alton is a physical specimen (pre Challenge steroid era), super competitive, and a really nice guy.  He is in Turkey for one reason only – to win.  The question is will he be able to bring his teammates along (a la 1991 Jordan) for the ride?  Also, is Nany then his Kwame Brown?  If so, does that make Trishelle his Jud Buechler?

THE WOMEN

“Not sure why you signed up”

16. Lacey (RW: Austin)

15. Devyn (RW: Brooklyn)

14. McKenzie (RW: New Orleans)

I am really not sure why any of these three Challenge rookies are here – Lacey because she was miserable on the Real World, Devyn because I mistakenly missed the Brooklyn season so I admittedly know nothing about her, and McKenzie because I am not sure she was made for athletic competition.  Good luck, ladies.  Devyn does have Sarah (so hungry after the Vinny technicality last season) on her team so I wouldn’t be surprised if she eventually rises in the rankings.

“The Rookie Wall”

13. Marie (RW: St. Thomas)

12. Nany (RW: Las Vegas II)

11. Jemmye (RW: New Orleans)

I can honestly picture all three of these Challenge rookies being pretty good athletes, but like TNT’s mid oughts marketing campaign, they know DRAMA.  Their success will be determined by how well they handle the drama, how much drama they create for others, and how well their male counterparts handle their drama.  Both Jemmye (pronounced Jiiiiiimmy in your best souther drawl) and Marie can put an undo burden on their men (Knight and Robb with two “Bs” respectively).  Look for Nany (carried by the Alton and Dustin juggernaut) to make it the longest of this group.

“Old baggage”

10. Trishelle (RW: Las Vegas I)

9. Melinda (RW: Austin)

It has been a tough post Real World public journey for these two Challenge veterans.  After finishing her hot mess of a first (she came Back to Vegas for a second time years later) season in Las Vegas’ transformational Real World when production’s focus went from “let’s show them go to a cool job” to “let’s show them live in a casino and go to a cool nightclub in the Palms,” Trishelle extended her fifteen and D list stardom by dabbling in taking her clothes off in bad films and taking her clothes off in other reality TV shows (try a “Trishelle Surreal Life” google search and see what pops up) , but it has been a while since we have seen her in MTV land.  Melinda married and divorced Danny – enough said.  One can guess that both are here on The Challenge this season to not only win money but to win back some dignity.  Sadly, they didn’t get the memo that The Challenge may not be the best place for such a goal.

“Underdogs with some potential”

8. Laura (RW: St. Thomas)

7. Ashley (RW: San Diego)

6. Sam (RW: San Diego)

These three rookies seem like they were meant for The Challenge and that may be why watching them on The Real World was so difficult sometimes.   You may remember Ashley as Zach’s boring gym buddy who seemed to be training for Turkey while in San Diego.  She and Zach made a great team on the elliptical machine of their lives, so why not on The Challenge?  Sam is an interesting case because she did butt heads with both Zach and Ashley on their season, but I have a feeling that she will be a beast in challenges and has a such a great bond with Frank which could offset Team San Diego dysfunction.  Laura would have been ranked much lower, but her feisty showing at the RW: St. Thomas reunion last week and her seemingly renewed sexual relationship with Trey may have started in Turkey.  She may do well because she is a guy’s girl and will be able to stay out of girl drama.

“The Melting Pot”

5. Jasmine (RW: Cancun)

4. Jonna (RW: Cancun)

Seeing Jasmine ranked no. 5 may be the most surprising thing about these preseason power rankings.  Jasmine in the past two challenges has won the competition for both “most wine glasses thrown on the floor” and “most wine glasses thrown at other people.”  So why is she here?  She is here for three reasons: 1) because she and Jonna (pronounced Jon-ay, yep weird) were a relatively functional team on Rivals (think a poor man’s Cara Maria and Laurel); 2) at this point she is one of five or six most veteran girls and this does mean something; and 3) Tyrie (the recipient of many a wine glass toss) is nowhere to be found.  If Jasmine can keep it together and if Jonna can keep Jasmine together, her real craziness may be kept in check.  On the other hand, Jasmine still ranks no. 2 for “the person who is most likely to go home for a reason other than losing a challenge” behind McKenzie who could leave unexpectedly because she got “too overwhelmed”  (Jasmine would leave because she would Challenge illegally hit Jemmye or Frank).

“The unlucky, misunderstood veterans”

3. Cara Maria (Fresh Meat II)

2. Sarah (RW: Brooklyn)

Sarah has been unlucky (as mentioned, see the Vinny debacle on Battle of the Exes) and Cara Maria has been at times misunderstood (she did not get along with the JEK dynasty or Wes), but they both have been through some serious adversity on these shows and are ready to take the Camila leap (on Exes).  It is possible that format and teammates will hold them back, but both of them are going to be supportive and positive members of their respective teams and will unquestionably treat others better than they have been treated.  It will be a pleasure to see them both (and Camila for that matter) out from under the JEK shadow and for Cara Maria, free from the trials of and tribulations of her relationship (I really think they are adorable) with spontaneous body-tattooing beau, Abram.

“The Returning Champion”

1. Camila (Spring Break Challenge)

Camila pulled a LeBron in the spring of 2012 and with Johnny Bananas (I will miss you, JB) climbed the Iceland tundra to the Exes money pot.  Will she be able to repeat?  Unlike partner Johnny who is game for anything physical, she is going to have to motivate and push Brandon, Eric, and Cara Maria to reach their fullest potential.  As long as she leaves her crazy drunk and mascara messy self at the door, this could really happen for Team Challenge Only.

THE TEAMS

Note:  Team rankings are compiled by adding up the individual rankings.  Teams with the lowest total score are ranked better than the highest (i.e. you want as few points as possible).

8. TEAM NEW ORLEANS – 62 pts

Knight (11), Jemmye (11), McKenzie (14), Preston (16)

7. TEAM ST. THOMAS – 46 pts

Laura (8), Trey (12), Robb (13), Marie (13)

6. TEAM AUSTIN – 42 pts

Wes (2), Melinda (9), Danny (15), Lacey (16)

5. TEAM BROOKLYN – 34 pts

Sarah (2), Chet (8), JD (9), Devyn (15)

4. TEAM SAN DIEGO – 33 pts

Zach (6), Sam (6), Ashley (7), Frank (14)

3. TEAM LAS VEGAS – 26 pts

Alton (1), Dustin (3), Trishelle (10), Nany (12)

2. TEAM CANCUN – 23 pts

CJ (4), Jonna (4), Jasmine (5), Derek (10)

1. TEAM FRESH MEAT – 16 pts

Camila (1), Cara Maria (3), Brandon (5), Eric (7) – NOTE: This team has not been officially announced on the MTV press, but can be seen on the preview clips.  It is possible that their inclusion may not commence immediately or will be imbedded in some kind of surprise.  Stay tuned for a full explanation after tonight’s episode.

My preseason predictions:

Final four: FRESH MEAT, LAS VEGAS, BROOKLYN, ST. THOMAS

Runner-up: BROOKLYN

Winner: LAS VEGAS

Let the games begin!

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Although some may anxiously anticipate the beginning of the fall season for the return of the NFL (on the briefest of tangents…I am having serious mixed feelings this year.  See this 2009 Malcolm Gladwell article or read Bishop’s earlier post and you may know why) or the increase in apple cider options at your local supermarket, my fall excitement centers around the official return of primetime network television.  This annual pumpkin pie mush of old favorites, old not-so favorites, promising pilots that never go anywhere (see Flash ForwardThe Nine), pilots premises that are dead on arrival (last year’s The Playboy Club immediately comes to mind), and that one diamond in the rough (that amazing night in 2004 when I first saw Lost remains my most special pilot experience ever) that can become your television staple for many years to come is enough to turn my leaves some beautiful foliage colors.

In the coming days and weeks, I will be carving out my fall TV impressions – the good, the bad, and the potentially life-altering.  Thanks to my trusted EW fall TV preview (an old friend since ’96) and the inspiring words of Master Andy Greenwald of Grantland, I have been able to determine what is getting a shot, what remains a DVR mainstay, and what is just not gonna ever be watched this year…oops.

“A covering all my bases” note: I am aware that most of the best television currently being produced and my favorite shows are on basic (Mad MenBreaking Bad) or pay cable (Game of Thrones, Homeland, Girls).  I know that the chances of finding another Lost or a new comedy that I really enjoy via the big three (plus two) networks (I thought I should get my first NBC dig in early) are similar to the chances that the Miami Dolphins have of winning the AFC East this year if Ryan “competes with Brandon Weeden as the worst starting QB in the league” Tannehill remains their quarterback.

For now, here is my network by network breakdown as I enter the fall TV season:

ABC:

Returning shows that I will watch and DVR Season Pass: Revenge (last season’s surprise survivor), Modern Family

New shows that get immediate DVR Season Pass: Nashville (Connie Britton and some wonderful press), Last Resort (the new show I am most excited for – welcome back to primetime Frank Pembleton)

New shows dead on arrival: 666 Park Avenue (sorry great Terry O’Quinn), The Neighbors

CBS:

Returning shows that I will watch and DVR Season Pass: Survivor: Phillippines (I made my alliance with Jeff Probst during the finale of Season 1 in 2000 and I don’t break my alliances)

Returning shows up for 2012 Season Pass cancellation: The Amazing Race (my most inconsistent staple over the years), Person of Interest (the fact that last season’s final four episodes remain unwatched five months later says something)

New shows that get a pilot viewing chance: Vegas (I have never been too keen on Dennis Quaid), Elementary (the PBS Sherlock is so good, do I have room for a CBS procedural with Lucy “don’t get it” Liu?)

New shows dead on arrival: Partners, Made in Jersey (nope)

CW:

Returning shows…: None.  The last time I turned on the CW was to watch the new 90210 many years ago.  I am not even sure if I know more than one person who actually watches this network.

New shows that get a pilot viewing chance: Arrow (It has the worst time slot to be on, up against Survivor and The X-Factor, so I have some major doubts, but I owe a new DC character at least one shot)

New shows dead on arrival: Emily Owens, M.D., Beauty and the Beast (has there ever been a movie that I loved so much that inspired a TV show that I wanted so little to do with?)

FOX:

Returning that I will watch and DVR Season Pass: The X-Factor (Yes!  A more detailed review is coming, but so far new judges Demi Lovato and Britney Spears are doing great work…)

New shows that get immediate DVR Season Pass: The Mindy Project (Tuesday night is light on my DVR and my time with Mindy on The Office has always been splendid – this is the new comedy that has a chance to be a long-term runner)

New shows dead on arrival: The Mob Doctor (no thank you), Ben and Kate

NBC:

Returning that I will watch and DVR Season Pass: The Office (If it weren’t the final season, I would be out), Parks and Recreation30 Rock, Saturday Night Live

Returning shows up for 2012 Season Pass cancellation: The Voice (like Cee-Lo and Christina in Season 4, I think I am ready to move on)

New shows that get immediate DVR Season Pass: None

New shows that get a pilot viewing chance: Revolution (J.J. and I go way back – see Alias or Lost – but from all I have read, I am not sure I will make it to October), Go On (already tried and already failed)

New shows dead on arrival: The New Normal, Go On, Animal Practice, Guys With Kids, Chicago Fire

Finally, tomorrow night marks the return of the most important fall premiere, America’s fifth major professional sport (which could move up to third with the impending NHL lockout and the fact that MLB is at this point unwatchable), MTV’s The Challenge!  Expect a full preview tomorrow…

Until we meet again, same bat time, same bat channel…