Category Archives: Television

“The Leftovers” first trailer – welcome back to TV Damon Lindelof

The Entertainment Weekly Fall Television Preview issue has traditionally been one of my most anticipated magazines of the year (since 1996!). Although increasingly less potent in recent years now that television has morphed into a twelve month release schedule, when my favorite television show debuted in 2004, it was everything.

There were many reasons why I chose to add Lost to my VCR recording schedule (it wasn’t that long ago) as informed by EW’s coverage – I had been an avid fan of one of JJ Abrams other properties (Alias) and was excited to see Terry O’Quinn on another series, I had a fondness for Matthew Fox from his Party of Five days, I had a fondness for Harold Perrineau from his Oz days, I loved the “plane crash on a deserted island” concept – but not one reason involved an excitement for a then relatively unknown (unless Nash Bridges was your jam) writer/producer named Damon Lindelof. This was soon to change. With JJ Abrams quickly venturing into other lens flaring projects, Lost quickly became the adored creative child of Lindelof and showrunner partner Carlton Cuse. Although not a flawless experience by any means (the entire Tailies subplot ended up being irrelevant, time travel gave the audience more headaches and nosebleeds than the characters experiencing it, that ending), Lost remains the most prolific and meaningful television journey I have taken to date and I have Lindelof and Cuse (with some Jack Bender stalwart direction) to thank for being such passionate, compassionate, and trusted storytellers.

After Lost closed its tale in 2010, Lindelof and Cuse both took a necessary break from television. Cuse came back last winter with Bates Motel (a show that has been sitting in my DVR queues for far too long – according to most critics, this is my loss). Lindelof dabbled with the screenwriting of classic properties (Prometheus and Star Trek Into Darkness) and of properties that no one was pining for (Cowboys and Aliens…oops.). At long last this summer, Lindelof returns to the medium that made him a star as the co-showrunner of “a new dramatic series” from HBO, The Leftovers. Based on Tom Perotta’s book (Perotta will be the other showrunner) about a mysterious rapture-like event and how it affects the suburban community of Mapleton. If Bo knows and TNT knows drama, HBO knows (among other things) how to craft a scintillating trailer. Behold the first full-length trailer for The Leftovers (debuting June 29):

There is just so much to like…

  • The use of James Blake’s soaring anthem “Retrograde” is tremendous.

  • Justin Theroux (Mr. Jennifer Aniston) has a Matthew Fox-like gravitas (before he got really angry and strange tattoos on Lost) as the lead character policeman guy.

  • The haunting beginning scene involving the ramifications of people disappearances (especially that beautiful baby Sam) feels eerily like the Lost pilot (this is a great thing).

  • I have never been one to judge, but Amy Brenneman’s white-dressed group plays like a neo-Others.

  • Other pilots “directed by Peter Berg?” Friday Night Lights.

  • Liv Tyler is back on television (it has been a long time since Aerosmith’s “Crazy” music video).

  • HBO allows for more realistic content (pay cable!) and if the trailer is any indication, Mr. Lindelof is taking appreciated advantage.

  • Shows are not often built on both a central mystery and a compelling ensemble of characters (they do not often get both right). The enthralling trailer seems to succeed at both.

Game of Thrones is holding strongly to my “Lost Favorite Current Television Show Championship Belt,” but the time has come for some competition. May it be The Leftovers. In Damon Lindelof we trust.

The Challenge: Free Agents Episode 3 Photo Diary

If a picture says 1000 words, then 17 pictures say 1936 words. Here is an annual The Challenge photo diary for episode 3 of Free Agents, “The Thumbsucker.”

Jasmine
Jasmine takes her “Challenge House Whore” aspirations seriously.

Two things that are true of a Challenge house: there is much sexual tension (often realized) and there is a lot of time to kill. How did these two truisms collide in this week’s “The Thumbsucker'” (Nia gets her Challenge moment) third episode of Free Agents? Cohutta and Nany decide to “get married,” so there are some faux-Bachelor and Bachelorette parties to be had! Jasmine decisively beats out fervent competition for the role of female stripper at the Bachelor party.

Johnny kissing Nia
Has there every been someone who has more inexplicable good luck (especially with opportunities to make out with beautiful women) than Johnny?

Camila is the maid of honor, so you know there is going to be a level of crazy mixed into the festivities. Case in point: she hires Johnny of Bridgewater as her male stripper. After he pulls down his underwear (a common choice for Johnny while filming Bunim/Murray properties), he makes out with Nany (isn’t she supposed to be faithful to husband-to-be Cohutta?). How I yearn for the costume party of last week!

Frank
Frank speaks to his mom about his deteriorating physical condition.

Having already defeated odds depressingly not in his favor through the first two eliminations, Frank’s body is violently attacking him from within, so he reached out to Mom for some help. Should he stay to compete? Her encouraging and sound advice: “Yes, you will get better eventually. But, will you be exhausted and able to play to your potential? Absolutely not, you won’t. Until you get better. If you think you can pull through, stay!” Frank’s mom can problem-solve effectively like her son! Frank admirably decides to stay (he’s just beasted through two possible eliminations in less than peak form, so gutting out some discomfort through the next few days is totally doable). Let’s hope the MTV producer early exit police do not randomly and deplorably intervene here as they have done in the past (an injustice twice befallen the undeserving and amazing Sarah Rice)…

Frank
Frank’s understandably emotional reaction to TJ Lavin the Great in the role of (don’t kill the!) messenger.

Guys, TJ Lavin the Great has something very serious to talk about. “First things first…Frank, I’ve talked to the Challenge doctor, and they said that you have a viral infection. He said that you’re very contagious, so I can’t have you in the house. I got to let you go man. I’m sorry. This ends your time in Uruguay.” This is simply ridiculous. You’re telling me that a man who just fought through his viral infection (and on The Challenge, who doesn’t have a viral infection?) to win an elimination is too contagious for everyone else? Was quarantining him for a few days not an option? Who objects? Who is this Challenge doctor and why should we trust him? Does he also review some of the unsafe things that go on in challenges and during especially rowdy nighttime extracurricular activities or does he just stick to the contagious infections? Does Frank get any agency on this (the man is willing to fight through it!)? After the Sarah fiasco “send home” last season (not to mention the Sarah fiasco “send home” from Battle of the Exes), this kind of troublesome and inconsistent exiling seems to be just the way they operate. Frank you were grossly mistreated, deserved better, and will be missed. (The Frank karma/”what goes around comes around” segment during the after show was in embarrassingly poor taste).

CT and Cara
CT and Cara find new ways to strengthen their #BostonStrong friendship during “The Bar Crawl.”

The “Bar Crawl” challenge requires the meticulous movement of 2x4s followed by an intimate “hurry-up-and-wait” balancing act between teammates. CT and Cara’s team (along with “Boppin” Swift and Aneesa) go first and struggle with the “hurry” part of the challenge, failing to make it across the course in the allotted amount of time.

Johnny and Devyn
Johnny continues to find himself with the inexplicable opportunity to be physically close with other “Challenge” women.

Johnny and Devyn’s team (along with Theresa and Zach) overcome a brief strategic misstep (amazingly Zach’s giant wingspan does not equal the more diminutive wingspan of Johnny) to finish the challenge. Of course Johnny has to make a comment about enjoying “going down on” Devyn’s “great ass” to move the planks.

Jordan
Jordan reflects on an inadvertent 2×4 drop and his resulting team disqualification.

With Frank sent home by the Challenge doctor,” the numbers for “Bar Crawl” don’t work out so well. There would have to be one team of three in a challenge meant for four. Jasmine, Jonna, and Jordan are given the option to sit out. In doing so, they would not be eligible for “The Draw,” but would be eligible for elimination nomination by the winning team. In a surprise that shocked no one that has ever participated or witnessed Jordan engage in athletic competition, they decide to compete. You could call it a little bit of over-confidence (I would argue the confidence has justification) and maybe a little bit of hubris (more likely), but Jordan is unable to execute flawlessly this time.

Jasmine and Jonna
Jasmine and Jonna realize that they have a scheduled date for “The Draw.”

“But picking Jordan meant that we are supposed to win! How am I going to fully realize my Challenge House Whore aspirations?” – the thoughts in Jasmine’s head (just a guess)

Camila, Brandon, Jessica, and Bananas
The “Bar Crawl” winning team of Camila, Brandon, Jessica, and Johnny Bananas are sneakily great.

The phrase “Team Brandon wins” is not often heard in TJ Lavin the Great’s announcement of winning challenge teams, but “obviously Brandon knows how to pick some partners.” Camila is thriving in this open Free Agents format and is an asset to all daytime challenge activities (nighttime extra-curricular activities remain another thing entirely). Jessica continues her assault on the competition and continues her consummate ceiling raising of fellow competitor expectations. At some point her schoolyard picking position (too low) will match her performance (after three weeks, the rise of Princess Hulk is no fluke). And then there is Johnny Bananas who lest we ever forget has had his historic The Challenge success because of his strategic mastery and his superior and dominant performances in challenges. Bananas and Cohutta are the only two guys who have not yet packed their bags (they have yet to see “The Draw” or have been chosen for an elimination. The women list? Laurel, Nany, Jessica, and Devyn).

Brandon, Camila, Jessica, and Bananas
The Challenge: Free Agents – where winning team deliberations take place overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

The functionality of this group deliberation is refreshing. There is immediate rationality to a guy vote for Johnny (of Bridgewater). Camila wants to interview some of the potential women before making her decision and all are comfortable with this. Johnny Bananas, bobble-head in hand, presides over the team like a sagacious king lion.

Johnny and Jessica
The old lion councils the young cub.

There are some great photos from this week’s episode, but this one (along with the cover photo described later in the column) seems to carry a little more weight. Jessica tells Brandon and Camila that she too has some women to talk with to help her make her decision, but first she goes to Johnny Bananas for guidance. This is a classic conversation for the ages between the wisest of the wise veterans and the most earnest and dynamic of the new crop of competitors who seems to have a whole lot of “it” and may just be on the cusp of realizing her full potential in The Challenge. What’s notable about the content of their conversation is that Jessica knows what to do going in (This is Free Agents. Vote with your gut and don’t be swayed by pressure from others), but gains some confidence and benefits from Johnny’s encouragement and validation. This kind of mentorship and experiential torch passing, in the mold of David Robinson to a young Tim Duncan or Kareem to a young Magic, is one of the most rewarding aspects of a long committed fandom to a professional sport. I am hopeful and optimistic that there will be more iterations of this compelling relationship deep into The Challenge: Free Agents.

Jordan
Like the Blazers of Game 4 against the Rockets, Portland avoids a loss.

The “Challenge” doctor continues to haunt the proceedings of this episode, this time in “The Draw.” Johnny of Bridgewater will be saved from facing an elimination if the kill card is not selected. By the time Jordan steps up to pick (CT and Swift already picked safe cards), he has a 50% chance of picking the kill card. Reacquiring a little bit of that special sauce that he seems to always have when he competes, Jordan avoids the kill and saves his Portland buddy in the process. After a disappointing week of competition, Jordan is grateful to be coming back next week largely unscathed.

Cara Maria
Cara Maria is not too be pleased to be going into an elimination.

After two weeks of elimination avoidance, “The Draw” finally catches up to her. Her face says everything.

Nia and Cara
Preparation begins for the epic Nia and Cara Maria elimination showdown.

The elimination game, “Looper,” may not have Joseph Gord0n-Leavitt or Bruce Willis starring in it, but it is as every bit a strain on your mind. A tug of war from hell, Nia and Cara attached by ropes are literally fighting against one another’s fortitude, strength, and endurance to reach a distant bell on other end of the sand pit.

Nia
Hurricane Nia fights to save her season.

As the MTV after show revealed (hosted expectedly poorly by Jonny Moseley who should never again be put in a situation in which a physical altercation may occur), Nia faced serious injury coming out of this elimination. The dramatized epic footage was the real deal. I give her a lot of credit for her fight in the elimination, but after a storming through the Bunim/Murray world on The Real World: Portland, the hurricane in Uruguay was grossly underwhelming.

Cara Maria
Cara Maria earns the respect of all.

After six seasons, two finals appearances, and a fair amount of success throughout her career, Cara Maria still seems to be fighting to be respected (let alone liked). This time, after seventy-five minutes of a grueling stalemate with the artist formally known as Hurricane Nia, Cara Maria, inspired by present tense Johnny Bananas digs and years of put-downs, decides she has had enough. Fighting through the agonizing pain, Cara wills herself and her thirty pound lighter frame to ring that bell (and so endearingly again and again after she has already finished). The support of the crowd, loyally led by Laurel, is not lost on Cara, “This is the first challenge that I’ve ever had so much love behind me…it means so much to me.” There is praise, and then there is praise from TJ Lavin the Great who does not often share his personal power rankings so candidly, “Cara Maria – If I had to pick anyone to go against, you would be the last person I would choose, for sure. That was one hell of a performance.” Amen, TJ Lavin the Great. Amen.

Cara and Johnny
Cara Maria thanks her great motivator, Johnny Bananas.

Although they have always had their differences, Johnny Bananas knows when to take the foot out of his mouth and commendably congratulates Cara Maria on her incredible win. Cara thanks him for giving her the somewhat vitriolic fuel to motivate her. This is just so many levels of awesome.

The Challenge Free Agents: Weekly Power Rankings – Week 2

Simply put (in a dramatic move away from normal verbosity), here are this week’s power rankings. For more analysis on last week’s episode, you can read here.

A couple of quick notes:

– Johnny Bananas moves up to no. 1 in the men rankings for the first time this season. All is right with the world again.

– I would have to investigate further, but I am not sure that Preston (no. 8) or Jasmine (no. 6) have ever ranked higher in my three season’s of doing power rankings.

– This week’s rankings are on a 1-12 scale, although I considered making the women on a 1-30 scale to create some separation between Laurel and the rest of the women (there should be a chasm).

– Camila and Nany both took a little dip because of their nighttime extra-curricular activity blowout fight. This was inevitable.

– I am struggling to figure out what to do with the men ranked 4-7. They are really strong and the exact order could really go in any direction. I tried to reward Cohutta and Leroy for their dominant performances in the challenge, but is hard to discount Frank’s elimination win and Zach’s already underrated interview performance in the first two episodes.

Week 2 Power Rankings

MEN

Eliminated – CHET (week 1), DUSTIN (week 2)

12) JOHNNY (last week: 12)

11) SWIFT (last week: 10)

10) BRANDON (last week: 13)

9) ISAAC (last week: 11)

8) PRESTON (last week: 9)

7) ZACH (last week: 6)

6) LEROY (last week: 8)

5) FRANK (last week: 3)

4) COHUTTA (last week: 5)

3) JORDAN (last week: 4)

2) CT (last week: 1)

1) JOHNNY BANANAS (last week: 2)

WOMEN

Eliminated – JEMMYE (week 1), EMILEE (week 2)

12) JONNA (last week: 12)

11) NIA (last week: 9)

10) DEVYN (last week: 11)

9) LaTOYA (last week: 10)

8) THERESA (last week: 7)

7) NANY (last week: 6)

6) JASMINE (last week: 8)

5) CAMILA (last week: 2)

4) JESSICA (last week: 5)

3) CARA MARIA (last week: 3)

2) ANEESA (last week: 4)

1) LAUREL (last week: 1)

Let’s Get a Few Links Off My Chest: The Challenge Hibernation Edition

To my few loyal readers who may not be as interested in the minutia and the “inside the competitor’s studio” unrelenting coverage of all things The Challenge, do not fear: my pop culture and sports identity has not lost its mojo (a fair presumption). The reality of covering the “Fifth Major American Professional Sport” (that also happens to be a TV show) full-time is that other writing takes a little bit of a backseat. With so much going on (NBA Playoffs! Game of Thrones! Colbert taking over Late NightThe remarkable cultural ascendancy of Billy on the Street!), I thought I could at least send you to the right places.

Without further ado, let us get a few links off my chest…

I am not sure I would call this the “greatest shot in playoff history” as some have suggested…

(greatness demands higher stakes than Game 2 of a first round series), but I would be hard pressed to find a more incredible basketball play and the replays only make it look better.

Beno Udrih’s reaction non-reaction (at 0:18) says everything.

For the record, this remains my favorite playoff basketball play that I ever seen (you are really watching what greatness is all about)…

Speaking of Larry Legend, Jalen and Bill have an interesting chat about LeBron’s place in the “greatest forward of all-time conversation…

They both reluctantly argue (and subsequently mourn) that if LeBron wins his third championship this season, he passes Bird on the all-time forward list. I may not be there yet, but this is not an erroneous argument by any means. LeBron, beginning the playoffs in his eleventh season, is already right there. Incredible.

While were still in the land of Larry, somebody finally got into a fistfight with Lance Stephenson, and, not so surprisingly, it was Evan Turner (not exactly anyone’s favorite teammate). Despite a decisive game 2 victory against the Hawks, Pacers championship aspirations are in a whole lot of trouble. At least Roy Hibbert isn’t for sale on Amazon.Roy-Hibbert-Cover

I had the pleasure of watching the epic game 1 showdown between Houston and Portland. Is there a more fun glue guy/crowd pleaser/enforcer in the league right now than Patrick Beverley? This is his response to being hit with a Mo Williams flagrant foul.

Thunder fans may object, but you have to love what this guys brings to the table.

If Patrick Beverley had played in 1980s, he would have been a perfect insertion to the Pistons. I certainly loathed the “yellow, gutless way” they did things, but it is hard not have some respect for the Bad Boys of Detroit as a compelling and dynamic basketball team (I had forgotten how eloquent Isiah Thomas is and how bizarre Adrian Dantley seems to be).

There have been many great 30 for 30 documentaries, but I am not sure one resonated (or provided a greater opportunity to relive and reminisce) more than this one.

Thank goodness for Robert Parish’s revenge enactment (start at 0:17). Amazingly, he was not ejected. Respect.

That’s what you do, Paul Pierce. That’s why the Celtics miss you so much.

On to the other spectrum popular culture, Season 4 of Game of Thrones has already been responsible for its share of reactions (SPOILER ALERT!) and has further proved why Westeros is apparently the worst place to have a wedding. This week brought out some mixed opinions about the transfer of a book scene to television. I am still ruminating on the ramifications of the scene in question and as a television viewer first and foremost (I have only read the first book and aim to stay at least two books behind because I enjoy watching the television show too much), I will wait to see where Mr. Weiss and Benioff take me, but for now, if you are watching, read Andy Greenwald because he writes amazing things about an amazing television show.

My feeling after watching this video: I think we may be witnessing the birth of a political star…

The future of late night is bright with these two. John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight debuts Sunday night on HBO. I remember his final The Daily Show with a nostalgic fondness.

Speaking of Late Night television, I admittedly have never been a Letterman guy. This is entirely a byproduct of my age (too young), my sensibility (I appreciate a different type of comedic irreverence), and my late night habits during formative late night habit-forming years (I have been a loyal follower of The Daily Show, an affinity that first awakened to the brilliant laughter and learning combination in college). Notwithstanding, I get it. I get why and how Letterman inspired a generation and why he is justifiably a comedic and television legend. Bill Simmons carves out a beautiful piece of prose to put all in perspective. Stephen Colbert (a Daily Show disciple on his own right) is the worthiest of replacements and will add to the already thriving renaissance of the medium.

Yes, they may not be the most incredible pre-publicity images I have seen, but they are still images from Jurassic World!Jurassic World

Bryce-Dallas-Howard Director-Chair

While on the subject of Steven Spielberg properties…will a collaboration with Tony Kushner be his next project or will it be a collaboration with Tom Hanks? I will gladly take both.

Coldplay is making me very excited for their new album, Ghost Stories, out May 19-20. Every song they have put out thus far simultaneously sounds entirely unique and yet eerily connected to one another as if from some carefully constructed masterwork. The latest release (as a live BBC performance) of “Oceans” furthers this trend:

I have tried and failed to read J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter follow up, The Casual Vacancy, four times now. The “right timing” stars have never aligned. Maybe this just announced HBO miniseries will quell the trend.

The Leftovers debuts this summer on HBO and has Damon Lindelof’s stamp written all over it. The long awaited return to television by The Lost showrunner presents something extraordinary.

Finally, two games in, and LaMarcus Aldridge’s 2014 postseason is OUT OF CONTROL. Whether the Blazers win the series or not (Houston is heading back to Portland down 2-0), Aldridge’s rise to one of the game’s elite players (and mid-range jumper master) has already happened.

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 Season Predictions

I have always been better at reflection than at prediction, but this won’t stop me from throwing a spoonful of subjective sauce into The Challenge: Free Agents prognostication pot. As we are about to embark on tonight’s much anticipated season premiere (at the time of writing, this is just a few hours away) and journey to Uruguay for the silver anniversary season of the Fifth Major American Professional Sport, here are my season predictions:

Best Interview

Awarded to the woman and the man competitors on FREE AGENTS who consistently give the most comedic interviews. RIVALS 2 winner: Paula; BATTLE OF THE SEASONS winners: Devyn and Chet

DEVYNDevyn

CHETChet

The Breakout

Awarded to the woman and the man competitors on FREE AGENTS who erupt out of their past CHALLENGE and REAL WORLD performances and personas, exceed expectations, and prove themselves as essential participants in future seasons. RIVALS 2 winner: Jemmye; BATTLE OF THE SEASONS winner: Chet

JESSICAJessica

PRESTONPreston

The Leap

Awarded to the woman and the man on FREE AGENTS who make the leap this season to elite status, solidifying themselves as perennial contenders in all future seasons of THE CHALLENGE. RIVALS 2 winner: Frank; BATTLE OF THE SEASONS winner: Dustin

JEMMYEJemmye

JORDANJordan

Rookie of the Year

Awarded to the season’s best performance by a first time THE CHALLENGE participant. RIVALS 2 winner: Jordan; BATTLE OF THE SEASONS winners: Frank

NIANia

Some Bold Predictions

 • Isaac will be a worthy candidate for “The Break Out” and will surprise many people with his performance.

• Frank will not make his third straight trip to the finals and will be a surprising early elimination.

• Jasmine will be the last member of her Real World: Cancun contingent in the game (Emilee and Jonna will be eliminated first).

• Zach is going to have a most successful comeback season that will be unexpectedly cut short in an unusual manner.

• There will be several times this season when Sarah will be missed.

• Johnny Bananas and CT will find themselves working together more in Free Agents than in any other season prior.

• TJ Lavin the great will take competition hosting to an entirely new level of “killing it.”

• Camila will be involved in the biggest fight of the season, but it will mostly not be her fault.

• The Johnny bobble head will have more screen time than Swift.

The Final Four

My predictions for the final four women and the final four men on FREE AGENTS.

LAUREL LaurelCARA MARIACara MariaJEMMYEJemmyeJESSICAJessica

CTCTJOHNNY BANANASJohnny BananasJORDANJordanDUSTINDustin

 Most Valuable Player

My predictions for the women and men who will win FREE AGENTS.

LAURELLaurel

JORDANJordan