Ladies and gentlemen, the time has come. It has now been 167 long and (certainly at times) hard fought days since Team Johnny Bananas and Camila killed it and beat the competition to win The Challenge: Battle of the Exes. Upon completion of this aptly named “Viking Quest” up a frigid and frightening Icelandic peak, Camila and (especially) Johnny sat on top of the Challenge mountain. This was the second straight and fourth total win for Mr. Bananas (accumulating an awe-inspiring $266,543 along the way – thank you wikipedia) and the Bunim(RIP)-Murray produced franchise needed to go in a new direction away from the JEK dynasty, CT, and Paula Walnuts this time around. The unofficial fifth major American professional sport has chosen a cast that will offer some new unproven competitors (I promise you, if you watch an episode, you will hear at least one reference to someone being a “good competitor”) and some unsuccessful veterans a chance to prove themselves.
So what does that mean in terms of numbers for The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons (2012) (debuting tonight at 10 PM EST on MTV)? Here are some quick stats:
- Of the 32 contestants, 15 are rookies, 5 have been on only 1 season, and 4 have been on only 2 seasons.
- Unlike in previous challenges, there are few established veterans. Wes (6 challenges) and Sarah (5 challenges) have the had the longest tenures.
- There are 3 entire teams where all 4 people are rookies.
- 6 of the 8 teams have at least 1 rookie.
For you Challenge newbies out there, here is what you need to know to catch up:
Originally an offset of the Real World and Road Rules, The Challenge allows past cast members to extend their fifteen minutes of fame to sometimes unprecedented heights and compete in a series of elimination competitions that all lead to a death defying (I wish I were kidding) final challenge (Have you seen the clips this year? Was that the Sahara desert?). The team or individuals who wins the final challenge win a fair amount of money. T. J. Lavin has been the stalwart and often heroic host for many years now (“He killed it!”) and he will be your guide along the way. This year, the contestants were liberally chosen from eight past Real World casts (two people from each of two Las Vegas casts were merged into one team) and one conglomeration from three of the challenges many iterations called Fresh Meat I and II and Spring Break Challenge (these people were never actually on The Real World) into eight teams of four. Beyond that, the specific rules will be revealed by T.J. during the episodes. In habitual Challenge tradition, rookies are at the bottom of the totem pole and veterans dominate like Women’s USA Basketball at the Olympics. What will make this year so interesting is that some of the best veterans are gone and the ones remaining are stuck with some of the least proven, greenest contestants. Oh, and I forgot to mention – unlike say the NFL or the NBA where you watch the games, The Challenge is about watching the games and watching all of the political and emotional debauchery that goes on surrounding the games in their posh IKEAed digs in fill-in the blank remote locale (this year will take place in Turkey – unexpected).
To further establish The Challenge as the unofficial fifth major American professional sport, I will introduce the inaugural Weekly Challenge Power Rankings – Individual and then Team. For now, my rankings will be based on an un-Hollinger/sabermetrics method known as “My experience and observations” (See: Marc Stein’s great NBA weekly power rankings column starting sometime next month). Weight will be given to how well teams and individuals do on competitions, in the social game, and whether he or she is a “good competitor.” Below are my preseason rankings. I have separated them into three categories MEN (seem to always dominate), WOMEN (seem to always follow the men with a few exceptions), and TEAM (particularly relevant this time).
WEEKLY CHALLENGE POWER RANKINGS
“Not sure why you signed up”
16. Preston (RW: New Orleans)
For the life of me, I have no idea why Preston was chosen from the New Orleans cast. Clearly Ryan (the body blowdryer) was not going to make the trip back to TV, but was Eric that established as a real person to pass up a free trip to Turkey? You may remember Preston (a Boston resident when filming in NOLA) from his suspect use of Ryan’s toothbrush. It is not that I don’t dig Preston – we got along mostly – I am just not sure that The Challenge is the right venue for him.
“Will he ever win?”
15. Danny (RW: Austin)
Poor Danny (also a Boston resident – we miss you CT). He is recently divorced from fellow competitor Melinda (also an Austin vet) and he has been a proven disaster in his first five challenge seasons. His team seems to be ready made for dysfunction and his past appearances do not lead me to believe otherwise. He can always turn it around, but a low preseason ranking is well deserved.
“The Rookie Wall”
14. Frank (RW: San Diego)
13. Robb (RW: St. Thomas)
12. Trey (RW: St. Thomas)
11. Knight (RW: New Orleans)
Here are four untested unknowns that all have some potentially problematic relationship issues with their teammates. Last week, we just got off the Trey/Laura drama boat that was St. Thomas and after the really unexpected blowout between Robb with two “Bs” and Marie at the reunion special, I do not expect much cuddle time from these two. Frank (head-banded sometimes angry gent) from San Diego is apparently a great dude (someone I trust told me this and I completely believe it), but I can surmise that being in close quarters with Zach and Ashley again (it just did not work) and some of these other individuals (I can’t picture Frank having much to do with Danny or Wes) is a good thing. Knight and Jemmye with money on the line is like watching the Sacramento Kings try to establish an unselfish, offensive flow – complete disaster.
“Underdogs with some potential”
10. Derek (RW: San Diego)
9. JD (RW: Brooklyn)
8. Chet (RW: Brooklyn)
All have had positive (although unsuccessful) showings on their first challenges. I remember Derek especially stepping out of his caddy Real World persona. Chet (always rocking great hipster glasses) could be a real sleeper. He gets along with the right important people, seems to be a really nice dude, has a great female teammate in Sara, and will only perform better under both physical and social pressure. I look at him as being in a similar place as Tyler (RW Key West) was. After a few unsuccesful seasons, big T figured out his Challenge grand strategy through a good social game and lots of eating (He and Johnny won Rivals on account of an even distribution of both of these factors). JD I know little about beyond that he is on a team with Chet and Sarah (Reggie Jackson is only benefiting from spending days in practice with KD and Westbrook – you know what I mean?).
7. Eric (Fresh Meat)
Commonly known as “Big Easy” because of his un-challenged on The Challenge size (a bigger man, although Vinny was packing the pounds for Exes), B.E. has been a liability on final challenges because of endurance or before final challenges because teammates are worried about endurance issues. After a few seasons off, is he now in better shape? He can only benefit from a very strong team of supportive people who will not belittle and insult the man (I am looking at you Johnny Bananas and Laurel) when he is passing out. The jury is still out on Big Easy.
“Great on paper…”
6. Zach (RW: San Diego)
5. Brandon (Fresh Meat II)
4. CJ (RW: Cancun)
3. Dustin (RW: Las Vegas II)
This is an interesting group of men. Zach pretty much went on the Real World so he could compete in The Challenge. He was built (and certainly works out enough) for the physical demands of this serious physical competition. Brandon, although ultimately unsuccessful, came into his own on Rivals and showed that he is going to be tough to beat in an elimination (if they end up having them). CJ was close to making the NFL (albeit as a punter) and Dustin is uber-competitive and may just be the Scottie to teammate Alton’s MJ (more on that in a bit). All four of these guys are only going to be as good as the people around them. Look for Brandon and Dustin to be the most successful out of this group.
“The disliked, misunderstood veteran”
2. Wes (RW: Austin)
Poor Wes. Although maybe more arrogant than anyone I have ever seen on TV and so often without means to back it up, I sometimes feel that Wes got screwed over in these Challenge glory years because he was the opposition to the JEK Empire. I will give him one thing – if The Challenge was determined by who thought he should win the most, Wes would always win. Although they have watched him and should know his mind games and dirty tricks by now, Wes should feast on the vulnerability of the rookies and use them to his competitive advantage. Unfortunately, his team is already ready to completely fall apart (and thank you Lacey for probably adding close to nothing), but sometimes Wes is at his best when he is up against a ten foot wall. Similar to the common angle on my NBA viewing, I am all about the vets who have been through the rodeo before and I think I may (gulp) find myself rooting for the ginger-haired Adonis (in his mind) this time around.
“The superstar coming out of retirement”
1. Alton (RW: Las Vegas I)
Many of you new Challenge viewers will not remember Alton (he was last on The Inferno 3 in 2007). All I can say is, watch out competition. Alton is the MJ of Challenge lore. It would be like if MJ retired in 1993, but instead of coming back in 1995 against largely the same competition, he came back in 2002 to show upstarts like Mr. Bryant and Mr. Iverson just whose league it really was (ironically, this is what he ended up doing with the Wizards). Alton is a physical specimen (pre Challenge steroid era), super competitive, and a really nice guy. He is in Turkey for one reason only – to win. The question is will he be able to bring his teammates along (a la 1991 Jordan) for the ride? Also, is Nany then his Kwame Brown? If so, does that make Trishelle his Jud Buechler?
“Not sure why you signed up”
16. Lacey (RW: Austin)
15. Devyn (RW: Brooklyn)
14. McKenzie (RW: New Orleans)
I am really not sure why any of these three Challenge rookies are here – Lacey because she was miserable on the Real World, Devyn because I mistakenly missed the Brooklyn season so I admittedly know nothing about her, and McKenzie because I am not sure she was made for athletic competition. Good luck, ladies. Devyn does have Sarah (so hungry after the Vinny technicality last season) on her team so I wouldn’t be surprised if she eventually rises in the rankings.
“The Rookie Wall”
13. Marie (RW: St. Thomas)
12. Nany (RW: Las Vegas II)
11. Jemmye (RW: New Orleans)
I can honestly picture all three of these Challenge rookies being pretty good athletes, but like TNT’s mid oughts marketing campaign, they know DRAMA. Their success will be determined by how well they handle the drama, how much drama they create for others, and how well their male counterparts handle their drama. Both Jemmye (pronounced Jiiiiiimmy in your best souther drawl) and Marie can put an undo burden on their men (Knight and Robb with two “Bs” respectively). Look for Nany (carried by the Alton and Dustin juggernaut) to make it the longest of this group.
10. Trishelle (RW: Las Vegas I)
9. Melinda (RW: Austin)
It has been a tough post Real World public journey for these two Challenge veterans. After finishing her hot mess of a first (she came Back to Vegas for a second time years later) season in Las Vegas’ transformational Real World when production’s focus went from “let’s show them go to a cool job” to “let’s show them live in a casino and go to a cool nightclub in the Palms,” Trishelle extended her fifteen and D list stardom by dabbling in taking her clothes off in bad films and taking her clothes off in other reality TV shows (try a “Trishelle Surreal Life” google search and see what pops up) , but it has been a while since we have seen her in MTV land. Melinda married and divorced Danny – enough said. One can guess that both are here on The Challenge this season to not only win money but to win back some dignity. Sadly, they didn’t get the memo that The Challenge may not be the best place for such a goal.
“Underdogs with some potential”
8. Laura (RW: St. Thomas)
7. Ashley (RW: San Diego)
6. Sam (RW: San Diego)
These three rookies seem like they were meant for The Challenge and that may be why watching them on The Real World was so difficult sometimes. You may remember Ashley as Zach’s boring gym buddy who seemed to be training for Turkey while in San Diego. She and Zach made a great team on the elliptical machine of their lives, so why not on The Challenge? Sam is an interesting case because she did butt heads with both Zach and Ashley on their season, but I have a feeling that she will be a beast in challenges and has a such a great bond with Frank which could offset Team San Diego dysfunction. Laura would have been ranked much lower, but her feisty showing at the RW: St. Thomas reunion last week and her seemingly renewed sexual relationship with Trey may have started in Turkey. She may do well because she is a guy’s girl and will be able to stay out of girl drama.
“The Melting Pot”
5. Jasmine (RW: Cancun)
4. Jonna (RW: Cancun)
Seeing Jasmine ranked no. 5 may be the most surprising thing about these preseason power rankings. Jasmine in the past two challenges has won the competition for both “most wine glasses thrown on the floor” and “most wine glasses thrown at other people.” So why is she here? She is here for three reasons: 1) because she and Jonna (pronounced Jon-ay, yep weird) were a relatively functional team on Rivals (think a poor man’s Cara Maria and Laurel); 2) at this point she is one of five or six most veteran girls and this does mean something; and 3) Tyrie (the recipient of many a wine glass toss) is nowhere to be found. If Jasmine can keep it together and if Jonna can keep Jasmine together, her real craziness may be kept in check. On the other hand, Jasmine still ranks no. 2 for “the person who is most likely to go home for a reason other than losing a challenge” behind McKenzie who could leave unexpectedly because she got “too overwhelmed” (Jasmine would leave because she would Challenge illegally hit Jemmye or Frank).
“The unlucky, misunderstood veterans”
3. Cara Maria (Fresh Meat II)
2. Sarah (RW: Brooklyn)
Sarah has been unlucky (as mentioned, see the Vinny debacle on Battle of the Exes) and Cara Maria has been at times misunderstood (she did not get along with the JEK dynasty or Wes), but they both have been through some serious adversity on these shows and are ready to take the Camila leap (on Exes). It is possible that format and teammates will hold them back, but both of them are going to be supportive and positive members of their respective teams and will unquestionably treat others better than they have been treated. It will be a pleasure to see them both (and Camila for that matter) out from under the JEK shadow and for Cara Maria, free from the trials of and tribulations of her relationship (I really think they are adorable) with spontaneous body-tattooing beau, Abram.
“The Returning Champion”
1. Camila (Spring Break Challenge)
Camila pulled a LeBron in the spring of 2012 and with Johnny Bananas (I will miss you, JB) climbed the Iceland tundra to the Exes money pot. Will she be able to repeat? Unlike partner Johnny who is game for anything physical, she is going to have to motivate and push Brandon, Eric, and Cara Maria to reach their fullest potential. As long as she leaves her crazy drunk and mascara messy self at the door, this could really happen for Team Challenge Only.
Note: Team rankings are compiled by adding up the individual rankings. Teams with the lowest total score are ranked better than the highest (i.e. you want as few points as possible).
8. TEAM NEW ORLEANS – 62 pts
Knight (11), Jemmye (11), McKenzie (14), Preston (16)
7. TEAM ST. THOMAS – 46 pts
Laura (8), Trey (12), Robb (13), Marie (13)
6. TEAM AUSTIN – 42 pts
Wes (2), Melinda (9), Danny (15), Lacey (16)
5. TEAM BROOKLYN – 34 pts
Sarah (2), Chet (8), JD (9), Devyn (15)
4. TEAM SAN DIEGO – 33 pts
Zach (6), Sam (6), Ashley (7), Frank (14)
3. TEAM LAS VEGAS – 26 pts
Alton (1), Dustin (3), Trishelle (10), Nany (12)
2. TEAM CANCUN – 23 pts
CJ (4), Jonna (4), Jasmine (5), Derek (10)
1. TEAM FRESH MEAT – 16 pts
Camila (1), Cara Maria (3), Brandon (5), Eric (7) – NOTE: This team has not been officially announced on the MTV press, but can be seen on the preview clips. It is possible that their inclusion may not commence immediately or will be imbedded in some kind of surprise. Stay tuned for a full explanation after tonight’s episode.
My preseason predictions:
Final four: FRESH MEAT, LAS VEGAS, BROOKLYN, ST. THOMAS
Winner: LAS VEGAS
Let the games begin!