Category Archives: “The Challenge”

THE CHALLENGE: BATTLE OF THE BLOODLINES Week 3 Power Rankings

THE CHALLENGE: BATTLE OF THE BLOODLINES Weekly Power Rankings Week 3

1. Bananas and Vince – The Legend and his “cousin” (don’t call him Vinny) look like an early season juggernaut. Bananas goes for his 6th title in 13 seasons.

2. Cara Maria and Jamie – Yes, their deliberation back-and-forth was a mess, but at this point Cara Maria knows how to compete in Challenges. Jamie is intriguing.

3. Aneesa and Rianna – Aneesa is full-on beast mode at this point and couldn’t care less about what other people think at this point. Rianna’s bloodline is think.

4. Leroy and Candice – Do we take Leroy’s excitement over Candice’s performance seriously? I have never seen him more proud since his days with Mike Mike on RIVALS.

5. Camila and Larisa – Camila’s traditional once-a-season crazy blowout is due in Week 3. Will these sisters remain at the end of women’s elimination week?

6. Cory and Mitch – Cory’s REAL WORLD season was always a stepping stone for the THE CHALLENGE. Mitch is still finding his way, but has already shown some game.

7. Nany and Nicole – Nicole’s cat-like interview eyes aside, she and Nany seem to be the most loyal pair. They also seem to be closely involved to all the drama.

8. KellyAnne and Anthony – KellyAnne returns after a long hiatus. These newbies are likely to underestimate her competitive prowess. What Anthony brings is yet unknown.

9. Tony and Shane – Their week 1 fight was and subsequent breakup was easily predictable after REAL WORLD: SKELETONS. Judgement and discipline are a major concern.

10. Dario and Raphy – It is so hard to take ARE YOU THE ONE? teams seriously. They did Jedi mind trick Cara Maria into choosing the Buells, so there is that.

11. Thomas and Stephen – Week 2’s PIT victory may be a good confidence booster for these identical twins. I am just not sure that they are ready for a greater leap.

12. Jenna and Brianna – One of the worst partnerships in CHALLENGE history, only a matter of time for these two. Watching them fight is excruciatingly entertaining.

THE CHALLENGE: BATTLE OF THE BLOODLINES Episode 2 Retro Running Diary

I probably should have marked the return of Culture Challenged with a good ‘ole Let’s Get A Few Things Off My Chest column, explain some of the (right – I hope) reasons for my absence, and preview the future of the site. This informative hibernation mea culpa is coming soon (I promise!), but there is a new season of the The Challenge already two weeks underway and there is no better way to dive back into the commentary cesspool than a proper chronicle of America’s Fifth Professional Sport. There are, however, a few The Challenge related things to get off my chest before I embark on yet another season of coverage…gulp.

  • I haven’t written on The Challenge since the tragic deaths last fall of Diem and Knight. When their final season of The Challenge: Battle of the Exes II aired last January, it just didn’t feel right to spend energy and time commenting on the discomforting awkwardness of Johnny and Averey’s relationship or on how Jay and Jenna’s third place finish is the most undeserved appearance in a finals since the 2009 Orlando Magic (I am openly still bitter about KG’s injury. That 2008-2009 Celtics team started the season 27-2 and was even better than the 2008 champions that dominated the league). Although the reality of reality television is an obvious misnomer, often lost in all of the fun, games, and drama is that we are watching real people with real lives and real challenges. Diem’s chronicled departure from the show for health complications from her long and heroic bout with cancer is the worst end of the uncomfortable voyeuristic contract signed by her participation and by our viewing. Diem – the warrior, amazing effervescent club dancer spirit that she was – used her platform for the most incredible kind of good. She propelled her fortunate famed privilege into something that mattered. Her human legacy and the organizational legacy of MedGift beautifully live on. ‘Tis the season for giving and supporting her cause is one the best ways to do so. Both Diem and Knight are greatly missed. Continue to rest in peace.
  • While we were away, long-time Culture Challenged favorite Sarah finally had a partner (in Jordan) of her competitive stature, defeated her Challenge demons and won Battle of the Exes II, started the amazing Brain Candy podcast with former Challenger Susie Meister, and got married to a nice Jewish man named Landon. Mazel Tov, indeed.
  • I admittedly watched the Battle of the Bloodlines premiere last week ready to write and couldn’t get myself to do so. It was the day of the horrific San Bernardino shootings and much was put out of focus. The violent brotherly unlove between Shane and Tony and the interview contact lens situation of Nany’s cousin Nicole just seemed a little too insignificant. Was I, after a loyal 26 seasons of careful viewing observation, finally too far removed from the immature shenanigans of Dario and Raphy? Why venture into this hot mess of drunken tomfoolery, TJ Lavin quotable gems, Are You the One? imposters (I am none too pleased with the addition of this recruitment pool – it’s like having to scout NBA players from an amateur league in Canada – I just don’t have the time, energy, or the resources), and the simple life of the Buell twins? I felt out of touch and frankly, kind of dirty while watching. The show I was watching felt so far removed from the “Hoorah!” camaraderie of Battle of the Sexes II, the glory years of the JEK dynasty, and the always entertaining battles among Wes, Wes’s ego, and the competition. Why continue to watch? I needed a compelling reason beyond an admitted loyalty to the heroic and herculean twelve year run of Johnny Bananas (primed to win his sixth title this season – even MJ took thirteen seasons to do the same). Then, this week, master pop culture barometer Bill Simmons came out of his own Challenge commentary sabbatical on the Bill Simmons Podcast.

With his pulse (and his 4.7 million Twitter followers in toe) driving the conversation, implicit permission had been passed on for me to follow suit. Like Jenna’s struggling cousin Brianna, I am not sure I am quite ready to handle this rodeo once again, but with promising late-game additions appreciatively cluttering the wonderful “this season on” it is too hard to pass up.

In lieu of a toast from Bananas (at this point the unofficial beginning of any The Challenge season), there is no better way (and an appropriate homage to the writing tomb of Monsieur Simmons) to begin this season’s coverage than with a retro running diary. From this point forward, “All is fair in love, war, and Challenges!”


7:00 – The scenes from last week are an unfortunate reminder of the travails of the Bloodlines conceit. Sure, family dynamics create a different and perhaps more compelling kind of drama (as Blood vs. Water seasons on Survivor highlighted), but this mostly ragtag group of Challenge newbies, with the exception of Bananas cousin, Vince, are obvious major downgrades on their OG counterparts. Was their resistance from the veterans to bring on a relative who could possibly steal some of their family holiday celebrity status thunder? Or are their not enough sane relatives (certainly plausible) who would be willing to throw themselves in to this teetering fish bowl of insanity? Either way, these Bloodlines are a weak new class of competitors. Fresh Meat ain’t what it used to be.

7:02 – In one of the season’s earliest non-surprises, Aneesa and her cousin Rianna almost kiss. After eleven seasons (the female competitor record) and a surging nostalgic relevance to this franchise, at this point Aneesa has earned the right to do whatever she damn well pleases in the house that TJ Lavin built.

7:03 – The decision to give a Bananas a GoPro for “super sneaky Bananas footage” is a stroke of genius. This type of constant innovation has carried The Challenge to 26 seasons of tomfoolery. Some early footage highlights: butts in the water and a inconspicuous new version of “rock, paper, scissors” played in the back of the bus by Thomas and Cara Maria who primed to “flirt her little butt off to get the final.” I wonder what the always measured Abram will have to say about this later in the season.

7:04 – Today’s Challenge promises to be “creepy.” Bananas, take the mic: “I’ve already seen every one of the girls in this house wake up in the morning, so I don’t know how much creepier the day can get.”

7:06 – TJ Lavin the Great sets some high expectations: “Every once in a while we have a challenge that you never forget. Well today, promises to be that day.” After ten years and seventeen years of hosting, he should know (#youkilledit). “I’d like to welcome you all to FAMILY DINNER. You guys are going to be eating live bugs.” Boom.

“I’ve already seen every one of the girls in this house wake up in the morning, so I don’t know how much creepier the day can get.” – Bananas, responding to the prospect of a “creepy” challenge

7:07 – The premise is simple: for ten minutes one partner chews live bugs and spits them through a tube into a cup while the other partner sustains composure while a snake crawls all over your face. You are either “eating” or “suffering.” Sounds like a great time!

7:09 – KellyAnne and Anthony are the current leaders for the “bloodline that most perplexes.” Case in point…this exchange:

KellyAnne: “If I know Anthony, he’s going to do great.”

Anthony: “She’s going to do fine. You should have seen the stuff she was feeding me when I went and visited her in LA.”

KellyAnne: “(Uncomfortable pause) It was vegan, but ok.”

Anthony: “Yeah, ok (shakes his head).”

What does this even mean? I am so confused.

7:09 – Nine minutes in, it seems like an appropriate time to touch base on what is going on with the Nicole (Nany’s cousin) eye/makeup situation in interviews. It’s like a cross between

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7:10 – The initial “suffering” reports of the Round 1 competitors are universally Indiana Jonesian (“I hate snakes!”), except for Cara Maria’s who is admittedly right at home hanging out with a python.

7:11 – Pre-commercial reactions to “eating” are varied. Jamie goes right for chewing. Nany, Jill, and KellyAnne freak out. Candice really freaks out. Bananas just starts banging his head.

7:15 – Bananas, always The Challenge innovator, thinks with his head. “I’m gonna use this massive head of mine which also houses one of the biggest brains in the house to smash, stun, or in some way, shape, or form just render these insects disabled.”

7:16 – Cara Maria sneaks in some Boston accented words of encouragement and frankly, it’s about time. Besides some unexpected kinship with CT and Johnny Reilly over their respective area code 617 origins on past seasons, Cara tends to keep her r’s (pronounced “ahhs”) unaffected. Jamie’s bug deliveries to the dirty watah warrant a little extra something special.

7:17 – Nicole and Nany’s post-interview is a hot mess (“I did the best I could do!”) of apologies and excuses. My “way to go really far out really out on a limb” prediction of the season: Nicole and Nany will often find themselves at the center of the drama this season.

7:20 – Brianna intimates that “this is isn’t for her” and she “just kind of wants to go home.” Bon voyage! With Jenna’s at times rocky initial appearances and now with Brianna, Jay’s Bunim-Murray people contribution tree is a contender for worst of all-time. Only Sylvia’s skeleton and horrific former boss, Alicia, may be a worse additive to the franchise.

7:24 – Wait, I take back my initial desire to see Brianna go home. Watching Jenna (not exactly an intellectual or competitive stalwart) passive aggressively show her disappointment in Brianna is enduring entertainment. Let her stay TJ! I want more of this distressingly low level performance.

7:27 – Cara and Jamie win. Bananas thinks that Jamie’s experience eating prison food as a corrections officer is to account for his success with all the bugs. I still think it was Cara’s decision to go Boston with her accent.

7:28 – TJ Lavin the Great delivers the news of Brianna and Jenna’s obvious loss with a mid-season form zinger, “Some people weren’t really made for The Challenge.” Preach, TJ, killing it always.

7:31 – …but it’s a guys elimination day so none of it matters. Tough times, The Challenge producers. If you are going to have all teams compete in the same pool of winners and losers (all guy teams, all girl teams, and guy/girl teams) than you can’t differentiate who goes into the pit. If Brianna and Jenna lost, they have to go in and should have to face any team that the winners select. This is a wee-bit ridiculous. Why have the two women teams compete in the first place if winning and losing for them didn’t even matter? Inexcusable. Spend more time working out the game play kinks and less time making sure the alcohol cabinet is properly stocked. This is the 5th American Professional Sport! We can’t have stuff like this in season 26. Jenna: “If those are the rules than those are the rules.” No, if those are the rules change the rules.

7:39 – To make matters worse, Cohutta and Jill are the worst team with a guy on it and are headed for the pit. Jill: “I know it’s kind of silly to get upset over something that’s just a game, I can’t help but get a little emotional.” I don’t blame you. For this same “just a game,” you postponed your wedding to take a trip to transient celebrity status with some big cousin Cohutta bonding along the way only to face elimination because of ill-conceived game rules. Meanwhile, Jenna and Brianna are left behind for some bickering and Long Island white trashy talk.

7:41 – Which set of twins is it going to be? Strong Boston courtesy from Cara and Jamie gives Cohutta the call on who to face in the elimination. After a brief deliberation, he settles on the Dario and Raphy meat sandwich, a largely competitive unknown.

7:43 – Cara delivers the news to Dario and Raphy and they threaten to make war when they come back into the house after defeating “toddler” Cohutta. Frozen-footed and fearful Cara goes back to Cohutta, and Cohutta shares her tarsus temperature. Thomas and Stephen (“Buell. Buell.”) seem like an easier out. Cara admits that being in a power position may not be her sweet spot of comfort. Where is Bananas in all this for at least a brief, veteran consultation?

7:46 – Facing the perspective of Dario and Raphy wrath, Cara sends in Thomas (her hookup on the “low-low”) and Stephen. After a brief resentment period, Thomas makes quick peace in time enough for a night out!

7:47 – All the talk at the club is about Jenna’s less than partner who is openly planning her trip home. Aneesa, never one to hold back truth, delivers a “she’s not even cute” provocation to Jenna. It’s one thing to be a lousy partner, but for Jenna to be linked to someone not attractive enough…it’s about to go down…

7:50 – Back at the house, Brianna’s misery blows up in a tearful slop of blame and lame. Jenna, newly backboned, goes after her cousin with low blows about her cheating Spanish boyfriend. With Nicole and Nany handling the intervention, conflict resolution is just around the corner! Oh, wait.

7:52 – Brianna, according to Jenna’s (who is deceptively tall) account, thinks that all of the other housemates are degenerates and losers and that she is better than everyone else because she has a job at the bakery. Jenna unloads about dads in jail, ice cream, and someone’s boyfriend and short hair.  It’s really as unintentionally comedic as it sounds. Nany wax-poetics on the sanctity of family. Bananas chews metaphoric popcorn from his front row seat. Cohutta chimes in perfectly: “I swear on my life. These people are insanely crazy.”

7:53 – Jenna and Brianna’s insincere apologies the next morning miraculously make it all better for now. Again, these are the women that should have been in the pit two weeks in a row and one of their members has outwardly declared her desire to go home! How could producers have screwed this one up so royally.

“I swear on my life. These people are insanely crazy.” – Cohutta, on the eve of elimination

7:55 – TJ, sans hat, announces SQUARING OFF. Thomas volunteers to go against Cohutta in this physical best of three rounds event. Cohutta aptly calls it a “damn David and Goliath thing.” Things are not looking good for Georgia’s own Challenge vet and his wedding postponement specialist cousin, Jill’s chances.

7:59 – Based on both my DVR and MTV app viewing, Cohutta and Jill are eliminated, but just not onscreen. Oops. Next week’s clip foreshadows a Camila throwback event and some medical issues for Tony. At this point, I am all in.

Stay tuned…This season’s first weekly power rankings to come on Wednesday.

The Challenge: Free Agents – Penultimate Episode Retro Running Diary

My few loyal readers (much appreciation to all of you) may have noticed that it has been a while since I last expressed my feelings in prose form on this season of The Challenge: Free Agents. Sometimes life has to take over (amazingly, there are some things that are more important than the fifth major professional sport although this is debatable) and for me, life just took over (you have no idea). With this week’s episode marking the penultimate episode of the season (this does not include the reunion), I couldn’t hold back any longer. A final elimination and the beginning of the final final deserve our fullest attention, so an appropriate time for a retro running diary it is. To prevent further unnecessary displays of mea culpa, let us begin…

10:01 – Where did we leave off from last week? Oh right – the Wrecking Ball elimination (this is probably the least compelling of the possible eliminations). For the men, it is Leroy and his recently elimination-tested self versus CT and CT’s beard. For the women, Laurel will compete against rival-turned bff-turned silent treatment partner Cara Maria, whose unlucky injury becomes even unluckier when she is asked to punch through drywall in order to remain in the game. Could The Challenge higher-ups have possibly audibled this one to an elimination in which Cara actually has a prayer? Quick side-note: you know that TJ Lavin the Great did everything in his power to possibly persuade such a change. For as much as he is blatantly intolerant of any form of quitting, his reverence for fighting through adversity, as Cara has done here, could not be any higher.

10:02 – Leroy refers to both himself and CT as “power players” in this game. There is are loud shades of Antoine Walker “perennial All-Star” lack of self-awareness going on here.

10:02 – Does CT’s form of focusing always have to be based on the “scare the video camera lens” technique? This is not a man that I would want to cross in a dark alley.

10:02 – Bananas gets the stakes: “There is so much riding on this elimination round. CT has been sent in…by me. And I know, if he wins, he will probably be coming back with vengeance.” CT with a vengeance? Yippee kay yay, indeed.

10:04 – CT’s victory is decisive, but Leroy did have a valiant showing. They conclude the competition with one of those cool and effortless handshakes that you wish you could so flawlessly execute with one of your friends. Some of my questions (I could have kept going…) include: What was the conversation like when they came up with this cool handshake? Did Leroy suggest the cool handshake or was it more of a collaboration? During the early attempts, were there any mess-ups? How did the cool handshake first come up? Did CT have a cool handshake with Adam King of Real World: Paris? Does CT have a cool handshake with Bananas or do they just respectfully nod at one another?CT and Leroy

10:04 – Did CT just blink a message out to TJ Lavin the Great? It does look like this guy has plenty of gas in the tank.

10:05 – TJ Lavin the Great has something to say about Leroy. Sit down, relax, and let the wisdom of a master fill your hearts and minds: “All class. It’s easy to be gracious when you win. It’s real hard to be gracious when you lose. You’re gracious in both.” There is just so much mutual respect between these two and if Teej feels like Leroy left it all out there, then I will have to agree.

10:05 – When Cara promises that she will give “a million percent” even if she has to scale the wall with one hand, you have to take her seriously. What an amazing season she has had!Cara Maria

10:06 – Laurel’s decisive win (and she did dominate her performance) is lost in the fact that Cara’s left hand is in a cast. Again, could the producers have maybe mixed this one up? Their “let’s stick with the game plan” or “make bad and untimely decisions” approach is appalling and needs to go.

10:07 – Maybe in an act of editing room redemption, the true melancholy of Cara’s elimination gets its due. Shots of sad dejected faces from the admiring crowd, some great lasting Cara interviews, and a bittersweet semi-détente to the Laurel and Cara Maria dispute provide the makings of a worthy salute.Cara and Laurel

10:08 – “Cara – you are a beast.” CT says what we are all feeling.

10:08 – Cara’s final interview says everything she is about: “Hand or no hand – like, this is not an excuse. I’ve just got to stay positive, man. I did my best. I’ve got nothing to be upset about. I just have to train harder, be stronger, and come back better. Hopefully I will get another chance to do it again.” Cara – I have a strong feeling you will get the invite.

10:08 – Teej announces that it is time to move to another location for the final. The location this time is the Andes Mountains or as Zach likes to call it, “Where?”

10:13 – Guys! It’s Nany and Theresa’s first location change! Celebration time! We will not even address Johnny Reilly who is still riding the “second time he ever got so lucky train” to perfection. Note: The first time? When Averey initially agreed to be his girlfriend. Since when was the second location a thing, anyway?The second location celebration!

10:14 – At least Johnny has some keen insight on his incredible good luck: “I guess rookies don’t get to see this very often or come this far. So, it’s just an awesome feeling. Us eight morons are going to Chile.” Right.

10:14 – Bananas thinks Laurel handled the whole end of the Cara situation with grace and that karma will be on her side. It is hard to disagree. She is ready to ride this confidence and momentum into the final and, if I were one of the three other girls, Laurel’s continued participation would provoke nightmares.

10:16 – The cuddly beauty of the little Chilean lodge in the forest is overshadowed by a the can’t miss volcano in the background whose name in Spanish translates to “House of the Devil.” Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached the site of The Challenge: Free Agents final challenge!

10:17 – The four “lucky sons of guns” – Bananas, CT, Zach, and Johnny Reilly – enjoy a twilight hot tub on the eve of the final and discuss the endless possibilities of what they are about to do. A friendly handshake and a jump in the “ice cold pool” (CT managed to sneakily avoid this leg) set a perfect tone for the maelstrom of physical endurance to come. These are the moments that make The Challenge such a great viewing experience.

10:19 – And it looks like a final draw before the final! “WTF” is correct, CT. This is just silly.

10:24 – “These cards are worth $125,000. And if you pull over the wrong one, that might have just taken that money and threw it right out the window.” Bananas is right. When you get this far (the final four!), arbitrary luck should not be this much of a determinant of potential success. I am NOT pleased with the MTV producers right now. Let the record so reflect.

10:24 – Zach and Nany both have some of the most amazing feelings ever when they turn over blank cards. Now at least CT and Bananas have to go into an elimination. Is that what you were really hoping for, Justin Booth?

10:25 – And of course, Johnny “I love the draw” Reilly pulls a blank card, sealing the fate of either CT and Bananas. I may have to turn this off in protest.Johnny Reilly is so lucky

10:25 – Yes, Bananas. The CT and Johnny Bananas rivalry is “alive and well,” but it should have been played out on the final challenge, not because of some shameful and shady card flips.

10:26 – Of course Devyn is safe. Of course.Nany and Devyn

10:26 – To make matters even worse, the elimination is called “Puzzle Pyramid.” At least it could have been some kind of endurance based elimination as is often on this stage of the great game of Survivor. This is just another level of cheap. Poor Theresa is not the puzzle master and Laurel’s laser focus will be difficult to beat.

10:32 – Despite a late comeback (“Lock it down, Theresa”), Laurel’s robotic mathematic skills (or so Devyn says) triumph in the end. No knock to Theresa (After beginning on the basketball game with CT high note in the first episode, she had a consistently strong season throughout), thank goodness Laurel is in the final. At least there is some competitive justice.Laurel

10:33 – The depressing piano underscoring set against Theresa’s departure speaks to my mood. This is a terrible way to lose.

10:34 – Zach believes that “you couldn’t write a better story” than a CT and Bananas match before the final. Let’s see. Let me try. How about a CT versus Bananas final challenge!

10:36 – I have never coveted a random commercial for a movie starring Eric Bana (Deliver Us From Evil) more. This puzzle elimination is all levels of pointless.

10:39 – Bananas wins! His joy is contagious as the weight of 10,000 volcanoes is lifted off of him. The legend deserves to be in the final, it just sucks that CT couldn’t be there to compete against him.Johnny Bananas10:39 – TJ tells us that he is “sure we’ll see” CT in the future and CT promises to be back stronger and better trained on puzzles. In an episode filled with painful eliminations somewhat caused by producer tomfoolery, the news about CT’s future participation in this game is most welcome. CT, “try to bring it home for the vets, baby.”CT

10:40 – TJ promises that the final will be the hardest thing they ever do in their lives and guarantees they will need all the rest they can get. Tomorrow is going to be real.

10:41 – Bananas and Laurel have one of those wonderful conversations about veteran things. I could watch an entire show of these snippets.

10:42 – The “House of Devil” volcano seems to be rumbling for an eruption, so there’s that.

10:44 – In true and beloved Challenge tradition, Johnny Bananas sets the tone in only the unique way that he knows how: “I think we are all going to die tomorrow. I think tomorrow is a good day to die, folks.” And then: “This is the culmination of weeks of pure insanity that has all come to this moment. The stakes don’t get any higher.” Drop. The. Mic.

10:49 – It’s final challenge time! Devyn has never been less excited to see TJ (“And some of you are good at the draw.” Shots fired, TJ). Either way, you can’t fake it here. TJ’s one guarantee is that they have never done anything “this difficult in their life before.” Summiting an active volcano seems to warrant such guarantees.

10:50 – The rules for the final challenge are little messy. There are five stages. The first three stages are done as guy-girl partners that will change each time (commonly referred to as the “everyone has to be partnered with Devyn” fairness clause). Stages four and five will be solo missions. The combined times of each stage will be added up for each player. The lowest guy and girl times are the winners of $125,000. Second place is $35,000. Third place is $15,000, but you have to finish in order to get the money. Oh, and the final stage will involve that awful volcano.

10:50 – The first pairings are set: Devyn and Zach, Nany and Johnny, and Laurel and Bananas. The first stage advantage goes to Laurel and Bananas by an unfair margin.

10:51 – Stage 1 is a tandem kayak trip down the river. Good luck, Zach and let us hope that Devyn channels her inner Pocahontas.

10:57 – Update from the kayak trippers: Bananas and Laurel are killing it in first place. Nany and Johnny are chugging along steadily. Zach and Devyn seem to be having some trouble.Kayaking!

10:58 – Zach is hilarious: “Unfortunately Devyn this is not a date in Central Park. This is a competitive race for a lot of money. She is doing everything wrong and I am having a hard time staying calm.”

10:58 – Nany and Johnny’s kayak seems to have hit a few spin cycles too many before righting the ship. However, they remain entrenched in second place because…Nany and Johnny

10:59 – …Devyn and Zach capsize! The Challenge Rescue Raft (where is the Challenge Doctor in all of this?) saves Devyn, but what about Zach? Is he going to be rescued? And, fade to black for now (spoiler alert: Zach gets rescued). The rest of the final challenge will have to wait until next week and honestly, I need a break from the illogical and disappointing producer decision-making.Poor Zach

The Challenge: Free Agents Weekly Power Rankings – Week 5

There has been much going on outside of The Challenge over the past few weeks that has kept me off of the written word treadmill, but I hope to reconcile this beginning early next week. For now, here are my almost belated Week 5 Power Rankings…

Week 5 Power Rankings

MEN

Eliminated – CHET (week 1), DUSTIN (week 2), BRANDON (week 4), ISAAC (week 5); Medical Disqualification – FRANK (week 3)

9) SWIFT (last week: 9)

8) COHUTTA (last week: 5)

7) JOHNNY (last week: 8)

6) LEROY (last week: 7)

5) PRESTON (last week: 6)

4) JORDAN (last week: 3)

3) CT (last week: 2)

2) ZACH (last week: 4)

1) JOHNNY BANANAS (last week: 1)

WOMEN

Eliminated – JEMMYE (week 1), EMILEE (week 2), NIA (week 3), LaTOYA (week 4), JASMINE (week 5)

9) JONNA (last week: 10)

8) ANEESA (last week: 7)

7) DEVYN (last week: 8)

6) NANY (last week: 4)

5) CAMILA (last week: 4)

4) THERESA (last week: 6)

3) JESSICA (last week: 3)

2) LAUREL (last week: 1)

1) CARA MARIA (last week: 2)

The Challenge: Free Agents Episode 4 – A Good Old-Fashioned Recap

“This is an individual game. This is not a team game.” – Johnny Bananas

As prolific playwrights, screenwriters, and Greek literature revolutionaries have done before them, The Challenge producers are active employers of dramatic structure. Each episode begins with some simple exposition, often foreshadowing the climactic conflict later in the episode. This week’s expositional section of “Inadequate” begins at a Uruguayan pool party. Preston takes this opportunity to work on fine-tuning his swimming strokes and shirtless modeling skills. Camila sees it as an opportunity to improve upon both her cocktail creation and consumption abilities. LaToya, the little verbal engine that could not be denied in week 1’s elimination against Jemmye, gets that some of the social pleasantries mask the bigger competitive picture. “With the game being Free Agents, everybody that you call your friend are really not your friends and deep down inside they are actually gunning for you.” The first foreshadowing seed of exposition is planted!

In other expositional intel, Aneesa is not feeling the “overachieving, showboating, I’m better than you” romantic alliance between Jordan and Laurel. She shares with Theresa and Zach that she would prefer that Jordan and Laurel take their apparently hilarious sexual activity (there was laughter!) out of her bedroom. Aneesa just dropped the second seed of expositional foreshadowing and this tree of drama could grow personal.Jordan and Laurel

This week’s challenge is called “Bounce Out,” a game in the vein of soccer or hockey in which the goal is to score goals (the first team to score three wins), except each player will be wearing a giant plastic bubble of his or her face that according Zach makes him look like a “fat girl.” What is going on right now indeedJonna. There will be two lines for each team (cleverly titled Group A and Group B) and within each line one player will be the ball and the other players will then be strategically on offense, defense, or a little bit of both. “So basically we just have to get inside these gigantic gerbil balls and bounce each other all around.” Pretty much, Laurel. Johnny in a bubble

Poetically and finally deserving of the responsibility of the position, Johnny Bananas and Cara Maria are chosen as team captains. Let us see how these two veteran veterans do with their selections!

THE DRAFT

1) Team Bananas – LAUREL

2) Team Cara – ZACH

3) Team Bananas – CT

4) Team Cara – CAMILA

5) Team Bananas – THERESA

6) Team Cara – ISAAC

7) Team Bananas – JORDAN

8) Team Cara – ANEESA

9) Team Bananas – NANY

10) Team Cara – LEROY

11) Team Bananas – JOHNNY

12) Team Cara – DEVYN

13) Team Bananas – JESSICA

14) Team Cara – BRANDON

15) Team Bananas – SWIFT

16) Team Cara – LATOYA

17) Team Bananas – JONNA

18) Team Cara – COHUTTA

19) Team Bananas – PRESTON (by default)

20) Team Cara – JASMINE (by default)Jasmine

Final Team Bananas: Men – Bananas, CT, Jordan, Swift, Preston; Women  – Laurel, Theresa, Nany, Jessica, Jonna

Final Team Cara: Men – Zach, Isaac, Leroy, Brandon, Cohutta; Women – Cara Maria, Camila, Aneesa, Devyn, LaToya, Jasmine

Although Cara makes strong picks for her first guy and girl (in a physical challenge like this, you want to have Zach’s Thor-like frame on your side), Bananas team has the clear advantage on paper. If we use last week’s power rankings as the only barometer, Bananas’ guys are ranked 1, 3, 4, 8, 10 and girls are ranked 1, 3, 5, 8, 11. Cara’s guys are ranked 2, 5, 6, 7, 11 and girls are ranked 2, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10. Some additional things to note about these numbers: although Cara’s last guy chosen was Cohutta (ranked no. 2 going into episode 4), his size is a distinctive disadvantage in this challenge (Jasmine, ranked no.7, was not chosen for the same reasons). If you add up all of the number rankings of each team with the lower number having the better team, Johnny’s guys sum to a 26 and girls to a 28 (total of 54). Cara’s guys add up to a 31 and girls add up to a 38 (total of 69). If the numbers indicate a clear advantage, then the eye test does even more so. How can a team of Bananas, Laurel, CT, Jordan, Nany, and Jessica possibly lose?

Back to the “Bounce Out” event, Bananas creates his groups. Group A will feature Swift, Jonna, Jessica, Theresa, and CT with Bananas himself as the ball. Group B will include Preston, Laurel, Nany, and Johnny with Jordan as the ball. Theresa correctly notes that the two balls, Bananas and Jordan, are “both really agile, both really quick, and smart players.” Cara’s Group A will be Camila, Aneesa, Cara Maria, Cohutta, and Jasmine with Zach as the ball. Her Group B will be LaToya, Brandon, Leroy, and Devyn with Isaac as the ball. Again, advantage all around to Team Bananas. Zach hopes that because Isaac is a “crazy white boy” he will be “good at running and hitting people” because, employing the theory of the Artist Formally Known as Ron Artest, “sometimes being crazy is better than being prepared.” Jessica’s strategy is just to “not die.” Cohutta is concerned about Johnny and CT, but feels good that on his side they have “Zach, and Zach, and pretty much Zach.”

Round 1 begins with Zach, “aka Conan, aka Thor, aka Goliath,” bouncing through much of the Team Bananas defensive unit. Meanwhile, Bananas, a “sneaky little guy,” darts around, plows through Aneesa, and then, like a “Mack truck,” crushes Cara Maria’s “little deer” en route to his team’s first goal. Team Bananas – 1. Team Cara – 0. In the least surprising moment of the episode, Camila and Zach have a adrenaline-laden, shouting blame-off after the initial defeat.Bounce ItRound 2 is the stalest of mates for a while. Jordan’s ball is up against three able defenders at the visiting team net. Laurel and Nany’s intended “let’s f—in annihilate him” strategy toward Isaac seems to be working wonders, although Zach contends that Isaac seems to be “jogging on a run” and calls his performance “pathetic.” All of this changes when Johnny (of Bridgewater) instructs Preston to “go help Jordan.” Preston, oft picked last and oft overlooked (did anyone see his swimming prowess at the pool party?), comes to the rescue (cue triumphant sports music!) and wills Jordan into the net for a Team Bananas second goal. Preston’s post game interview says it all: “I just got there and put all my gusto into it and got Jordan into that net. I’m always picked last, but people should realize at this point whichever team I’m picked last for is usually the team that wins.” My preseason “Break Out” predictions for Preston and Jessica continue to gain momentum (I like to forget how I chose fondly departed Jemmye for this season’s “The Leap.” Maybe I was referring to a leap back to the United States? Nope, no I wasn’t.). Team Bananas – 2. Team Cara Maria – 0.

With some defensive improvement from the back line of Team Cara (Jordan misogynistic contention about the performance of Bananas is hereby ignored), Zach is able to force his dynamic physical presence to a goal in Round 3 against the Team Bananas defense. Team Bananas – 2. Team Cara Maria – 1. After receiving some strategic advice from Camila (“get up, step backwards”), Isaac puts the round 4 stakes in perspective: “They only need one more point to win. We need two. It’s all up to me, and our game plan is do exactly what we did last time. (sarcastic pause of doubt) We’ll see.”

Team Bananas continues to pound Preston against the defensive wall in Round 4. Isaac decides to mix it up strategically by using both The Challenge wall and TJ Lavin the Great as “picks” (this, expectedly, works horrifically). Jordan scores, Preston wins the group’s unofficial MVP vote (Swift, while talking about it so passionately in his interview, starts “boppin” until his chair falls over! This is high unintentional comedy.), and Zach will do whatever it takes to avoid Isaac as a future teammate in Uruguay (we are a long time away from random wikipedia lemon facts). Team Bananas – 3. Team Cara Maria – 1. For the fourth time this season, Bananas, Preston, Laurel, Nany, and Jessica have avoided a potential vote or draw situation. For the fourth time this season, Cara Maria has not.

On the post challenge night, there is immediate strategic talk. CT, Swift, and Preston are riding on Leroy for his lackluster defensive showing. Leroy graciously takes the joke, but is concerned that it may be his time. A pillow talk between Real World: Portland cast members and Laurel reveals her intention to vote for Aneesa (the seeds of exposition are flowering!). Laurel pleads with her whisper party not to share intel. The next morning, Jessica, attempting a “I won’t vote for you if you don’t vote for me” move with Aneesa, reveals that there is talk about Aneesa as an elimination candidate. Aneesa takes this to Jordan who denies his “friend’s” involvement, but learns from Aneesa that this all came from a conversation with Jess (no matter how naively benign it might have been). The possibility of a winning team deliberation confrontation is at an all-time high.

At the deliberation, talk about potential men remains inconclusive and Johnny Bananas and Nany remind everyone that this is part of the game. When Jonna tries to take the “someone else can talk first” route about the girls, Jordan calls her out (“you gotta have a voice at some point”) by comparing her to “Jessica.” It’s on. Jessica: “Jordan may be able to bully other people, but honey, you’ve got the wrong girl.” After Jordan yells and confront her with his belief that Jessica has been carried up until this point, she promptly calls him out (Princess Hulk angry!) for his lackluster performance in the log challenge (totally fair) and for being afraid of feeling “inadequate” (this episode title alert knows where to hit him!). Personal buttons have been pushed (Real World: Portland baggage continues to be in play) and Jessica walks out of the room.

Bananas continues his role as sagacious lion to Jessica’s young cub and advises her to “let it go,” but privately is concerned about Jordan’s treatment of a woman. Back in Jordan’s camp of sympathy, there is negativity toward Bananas for his lack of viable allies on this season and for Jessica for “doing nothing.” Some battle lines for later in the season (if the season preview is any indication) have been formally drawn.

Laurel and JonnaThe voting process is all kinds of messy. Even before TJ Lavin the Great (still recovering from being inadvertently – or was it? –  “smoked” by Isaac in the challenge), Laurel’s tribal council whispers to her most spineless teammates (Jonna and Swift) rub Aneesa the wrongest of ways. (The flowers of exposition have reached a full bloom!). Aneesa calls BS on the first three votes against her (Nany, Swift, and Laurel) and TJ Lavin the Great asks her why (regrettably). After Aneesa spews jargon about whispering and bullying (Opinion – She is totally overreacting in her desire to have justified reasons for voting for her. Laurel wants her gone and convinced others to do the same. Period.). TJ Lavin the Great is forced to cut this Aneesa and Laurel fight off (“All right girls! That’s it. Enough is enough.”) before greater escalation or before Aneesa embarrasses herself any more out of entitled veteran fear. The eventual vote is a tie between Aneesa and LaToya (They each got four votes. Jasmine received the other three and is understandably upset that both of her rival partners, Jonna and Theresa, voted for her. This really is an individual game, Jaz.). TJ Lavin the Great calls for a re-vote with only Aneesa and LaToya eligible. After five votes for Aneesa (she flips some literal and figurative birds to Laurel and Jessica along the way) and five votes for LaToya, it all comes down to CT’s final voteWithout flinching, The Challenge greybeard votes for LaToya and Aneesa relieved, talks about the dilapidated karma of Laurel.

The men vote begins with little fanfare until Jordan indicates why his vote is for Leroy: “Man, this dudes a good competitor. It sucks that these are the guys we had to choose from.” LaToya, from her perch next to TJ Lavin the Great as the chosen girl for elimination, takes open offense and begins the following exchange:

LaToya: “Guess we ain’t votin’ based on performance no more.”

Jordan: “Yours was.”

LaToya: “Shut the f— up and keep your ass on the other end of the couch. You are a fake motherf—–. You walk in and out of my room smiling and saying s—. When you grow up, grow some balls, and keep it real, then you can say something. Right now, don’t say s— to me. Zip it up, motherf—–. I could whip your ass and not give two s—- about it…we can proceed TJ. I do apologize for the interruption.”

LaToya and JordanShots officially and hilariously fired. (Brandon is voted in for the guys, receiving four votes. The only drama here is that his buddy Swift went with what he perceived to be popular sentiment instead of having the back of his buddy. Brandon, you know Swift isn’t really sure how to play this game, right? Swift is regretful.) LaToya is still hot back at the house and goes at Jordan one more time. Laurel, coming to his defense, tries to reason with LaToya and Jessica and indicates that there are many sides to the story. LaToya respects Laurel’s position as “his woman,” but wants her to see how Jordan is not always as kind as he could be. Let us all water this second expositional seed!

It’s draw time, or is Cara Maria and Frank like to call it, hell. This time Zach is the unlucky recipient of bad luck and Brandon is the unlucky recipient of Zach’s bad luck because he has to face Zach in an elimination. ZachAs these things tend to go, Cara Maria is back for another elimination (“Of course, why not? Me. Again).Cara Maria

Tonight’s elimination is called “Oppenheimer” (as in Manhattan Project leader J. Robert? Let us hope there is no catastrophic nuclear radiation as a byproduct) in which our competitors run by each other in opposite directions in a circular cage to see who will be the first person to ring a bell. If it sounds that simple, it is that simple. The first to two bell rings wins. Production probably thought there would be more potential for a mid cage collision, but instead there is just a lot of sprinting. Just like that, Cara Maria wins the first two heats and eliminates LaToya from the competition. LaToya and CaraAfter last week’s time-consuming and endurance-testing elimination, Cara deserves this far more forgiving battle round. A stats wiz on her own right, Cara has now been in twelve eliminations in seven seasons and acknowledges that distance from eliminations does not make the prospect of winning grow stronger. Instead, it just increases anticipation and fear. TJ Lavin the Great astutely tells Cara Maria that she is “amazing.” LaToya makes quite the first impression of her The Challenge career and sums it up perfectly: “I met a lot of nice people. I met a lot of bad people. But overall, a lot of people I’ll never forget and hopefully I will get a chance to see everybody again in the future.” We hope so too.

On to the men, despite Brandon’s football experience, Bananas predicts that this elimination is going to be Brandon’s “swan song.” In the first heat, Zach repeatedly tramples over Brandon before ringing his bell. Brandon recognizes the fallacy in his strategy. The second time around is just a footrace and Zach is stronger and faster. TJ Lavin the Great: “Brandon – this ends your time on Free Agents. I’ll see you in the future for sure. Take care, man.” Brandon is well-liked to the end and Swift knows he messed up.Brandon

To fulfill its dramatic structural obligation, the final scene of this week’s episode takes us back to the Laurel and Aneesa battle. Aneesa has a poolside chat with CT about Laurel and Jordan. Aneesa: “I promise you – every time I have the power to vote her in, I will do it. Over and over again.”

And there it is for this week. Next week’s episode promises more of the foreshadowed Jordan and Bananas collision. Ready we will be…

Stay tuned for the week 4 power rankings later in the week.

The Challenge Free Agents: Weekly Power Rankings – Week 3

The weekly power rankings are finally creeping toward a whiff of objectivity. Three weeks in, we have actual statistics to compare competitor performance. I have always reserved my subjective rights, but as this season continues to be thematically about chance (what were the odds that it would be Frank to have the alien viral infection?), facts must be used more. Without further ado, here are the Week 3 Power Rankings with some statistics included…

Week 3 Power Rankings

MEN

Eliminated – CHET (week 1), DUSTIN (week 2); Medical Disqualification – FRANK (week 3)

11) SWIFT (last week: 11)

Season stats: 1 win (team of 14), 2 safe draws, lots of “boppin”

10) JOHNNY (last week: 12)

Season stats: 1 win (team of 14), 1 safe draw, 1 elimination round that did not happen, 4 votes against him, low male stripper score

9) ISAAC (last week: 9)

Season stats: 0 wins, 3 safe draws, 1 vote against him, leading the group in the delivery of random Uruguayan facts found on wikipedia

8) PRESTON (last week: 8)

Season stats: 1 win (team of 14), running statistics are incomplete, 0 eliminations! he, Cohutta, and Bananas are the only three men who have not been potentially up for an elimination either through “The Draw” or a vote

7) BRANDON (last week: 10)

Season stats: 1 win (team of 4), 1 safe draw, 1 vote against him, highest “team captain selection” rating

6) ZACH (last week: 7)

Season stats: 0 wins, 1 safe draw, deceptively high “comedic interview” score

5) LEROY (last week: 6)

Season stats: 0 wins (strong second place finish week 2), 1 safe draw, 1 vote against him, women distraction level high

4) JORDAN (last week: 3)

Season stats: 1 win (team of 14), 1 safe draw (from a DQ), 1 instance of competition hubris that did not have positive results

3) CT (last week: 2)

Season stats: 1 team win (team of 14), 2 safe draws (1 from a poor team performance), current leader in “strongest beard” and “most money put on bar tab” rankings

2) COHUTTA (last week: 4)

Season stats: 2 wins (1 on team of 14 and 1 on team of 2!), 0 draws or eliminations, he, Bananas, and Preston are the only three men who have not been potentially up for an elimination either through “The Draw” or a vote, only male competitor to have a faux wedding planned for him, current leader for best metaphor (comparing Nany’s smell to “wild honeysuckle blossoms”

1) JOHNNY BANANAS (last week: 1)

Season stats: 2 wins (1 on a team of 14 and 1 on a team of 4), 0 draws or eliminations, he, Cohutta, and Preston are the only three men who have not been potentially up for an elimination either through “The Draw” or a vote, strongest score in “this is an individual game” awareness

WOMEN

Eliminated – JEMMYE (week 1), EMILEE (week 2), NIA (week 3)

11) JONNA (last week: 12)

Season stats: 0 wins, 2 safe draws, 1 elimination vote (a win against Emilee), 2 votes against her, frontrunner for most unexpected interview hairstyle

10) LaTOYA (last week: 9)

Season stats: 0 wins, 1 elimination (a win against Jemmye), 11 votes against her, many opportunities of showing what she is all about, highest position in the “a vote for me may come back to haunt you” rankings

9) DEVYN (last week: 10)

Season stats: 1 win (team of 14), 0 draws (1 of 4 women who have not been potentially up for an elimination either through “The Draw” or a vote), 1 vote against her, high score in “most welcome return” competitor rankings

8) THERESA (last week: 8)

Season stats: 0 wins, 2 safe draws, 1 vote against her, already the winner of the “most unexpected sneakily good baller” award and a contender for the “wow, she’s taller than I thought” award

7) JASMINE (last week: 6)

Season stats: 1 win (team of 14), 1 safe draw, running away with “Greatest Challenge house whore aspirations” rankings (Johnny is currently in a distant second place), one of three current competitors who has survived a Nia fight and lived to tell us about it (also Jordan and Johnny)

6) ANEESA (last week: 2)

Season stats: 1 win (team of 14), 1 safe draw, a substantive combination of veteran cred and angst

5) NANY (last week: 7)

Season stats: 1 win (team of 14), 0 draws (1 of 4 women who have not been potentially up for an elimination either through “The Draw” or a vote), tied with Camila for the lead in the “out of control nighttime extra-curricular activity” rankings, only female competitor to have a faux wedding planned for her

4) CAMILA (last week: 5)

Season stats: 1 win (team of 4), 1 safe draw, tied with Nany for the lead in the “out of control nighttime extra-curricular activity” rankings, tied with Laurel for “female competitor who is most highly regarded by the men in challenges” rankings, only competitor to organize a bachelorette party on this season

3) JESSICA (last week: 4)

Season stats: 2 wins (1 on a team of 14 and 1 on a team of 4 and a second place finish week 2), 0 draws (1 of 4 women who have not been potentially up for an elimination either through “The Draw” or a vote), competitor this season who has seen the greatest “Q score” rise (EW? Yeah, she did), currently in the top 3 in the “could be a Marvel superhero” rankings (along with Jordan and Laurel)

2) CARA MARIA (last week: 3)

Season stats: 0 wins, 2 safe draws, 1 unsafe draw and elimination win (against Nia), ranked first in the “TJ Lavin the Great said incredible things about me” rankings and the “other competitors are finally showing me respect” rankings (Preston has his sights on this category, but can’t seem to crack into the top group)

1) LAUREL (last week: 1)

Season stats: 2 wins (1 on a team of 14 and 1 on a team of 2), 0 draws (1 of 4 women who have not been potentially up for an elimination either through “The Draw” or a vote), ranked 1st in all four power rankings this season, tied with Camila for “female competitor who is most highly regarded by the men in challenges” rankings, best “I don’t want to ever face her in an elimination” score of any of the women, ranked first as well in the “most loyal and supportive friend” rankings

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)