Tag Archives: Aneesa

THE CHALLENGE: How Production Loses Again and a Rivals 2 Photo Diary Recap

When I opened up my Macbook Pro last night to begin my weekly post The Challenge: Rivals 2 episode writing recap ritual, I found myself stuck in a flash Thailand hail storm of prose creation blockage.  The fourth episode of the season had just ended with an unexpected twist.  The Mighty TJ Lavin, adorned in a campy mad scientist apron, had just presented the Jungle elimination as a sadistic and creepy game of which team can sustain an electric shock longer.  The Challengers are often subjected to a degree of physical pain throughout a season while partaking in feats of athleticism (particularly the endurance fest the finale has become), but this electrified conceit was shockingly (pun so intended) inappropriate and in the poorest of tastes.  Not since the gas chamber challenge on Cutthroat had the good people at Bunim/Murray crossed the line so far.  I sat there on my “you are not making the eventual move from this apartment because you are so uncomfortable” futon wishing that little Jasmine would refrain from participating because I had genuine concerns for her life.

All of this mongering of fear had been for not.  TJ announced that this Jungle was a bit of a ruse and that there would be no elimination tonight.  Normally, I would say, “Oooooh, a twist!”, but after an immediate analysis, Trishelle’s untimely departure and the Bunim/Murray unconscionable removal of Sarah from the competition, left the women teams uneven with the guys.  Jasmine and Theresa (great episode for both) and Cooke and Cara Maria, the bottom two women teams in the competition (both according to my power rankings and in where they stand in the power structure of the game) would be safe from elimination this week because production needed to realign the numbers.  If you shared my displeasure with last week or had the pleasure (I hope!) of reading my scalding condemnation of production for unfairly saying goodbye to Sarah (now a second time), this week’s “sorry, the challenge didn’t really matter, you are all safe!” declaration just exacerbated the bitter taste already lingering in my mouth.

The decisions of the last two weeks bring the sanctity of the competition into question.  As the debacle of officiating in the NBA over the last decade plus (an applicable nadir was the erroneous and series/destiny changing suspensions of Boris Diaw and Amare Stoudemire in the Suns/Spurs series in 2007 for leaving “the immediate vicinity of the bench” after Robert Horry’s hip check of Steve Nash into the scorer’s table) has had an adverse effect on the outcome of games, series, and careers, these production decisions are negatively affecting the careers of competitors (you think it is easy for Paula and Emily to win four challenges in a row and then have the fourth deemed null and void?).  With all of this in mind, I needed to take a break from this tomfoolery last night and tabled my recap until this morning.

Although my perspective may be fresher, my unrest and displeasure remain as potent.  Subsequently, it seems like the perfect time then for this season’s first photo diary (utilizing the weekly images provided by MTV.com) to structure and focus my thoughts and keep me away from another rant.

The Challengers get there party on...
The Challengers get their party on…

Before this picture was shot, Wes (of all people) gave a little toast at the Diamond Beachclub of Phuket, Thailand: “This to the family we never had…”  I know that strong and lasting relationships are built over course of Challenge seasons, but such a proclamation fits into the unintentionally comedic gentility of this new version of Wes.  The once centerpiece of Challenge competitive angst and subsequent opponent animosity, now simply views The Challenge as a vacation with family.  Can we please fly in Kenny and Evan to inspire some competitive drive and spirit back into him?

Nany confronts Diem about her supposed rap.
Nany confronts Diem about her supposed rap.

You had me at “supposed rap.”  This begs several questions: does Diem come up with raps often?  Who are her hip-hop influences?  Did she run some of the lyrics by Jay Dillinger before publicly presenting?  Besides Jemmye, who else was her desired audience?  If her rap were a more melodic song, would Nany have cared?  What if her rap were actually good, would Nany have respected it?  If I had told you before tonight’s episode that Nany confronts Diem about a supposed rap, would you have ever believed me?  Did Nany write a rap of her own as retaliation?  If so, who were her hip-hop influences?

Paula enjoys the made up rap with other housemates.
Paula enjoys the made up rap with other housemates.

In the rap saga part II, Johnny and Leroy (a candidate for episode MVP) come up with a rap about Nany of their own.  It goes something like this (and yes, I transcribed most of it):

“Me and my partner are like Clyde and Bonnie

but if it’s one person in this house I can’t stand, it’s this whore named Nany.

You’re just a rookie so stay in your place,

You keep trying to fuck CT I will slap your face.

Johnny’s nothing but an asshole modern day Tom Sawyer.

Nany is clearly the classiest girl in this house because she fucked Adam Royer.

I know this rap song makes me sound bitter.  I can’t wait to block her ass on twitter.

I’m Diem DB Brown.  Nany don’t be mad at me because the whole house knows your always (too hard to make out)

I’ve never seen so many hoes with broke ass faces, now everybody go to sleep…#shhhhhhh.”

First, any disparaging or condescending reference to Adam Royer is much appreciated (my least favorite member of any The Challenge cast ever).  Second, I give much credit to Johnny and Leroy for their writing, Paula for her impromptu performance, and the jovial bystanders and participants for converting the silliest of extracurricular nighttime situations into a fun daytime group activity.  Poor Nany did not find it as much fun (her immediate destruction of this historical text was swift and decisive).

Cooke and Cara Maria become "stumped" during the challenge.
Cooke and Cara Maria become “stumped” during the challenge.

This was a hard challenge to watch because you could never really tell what was going on.  The competitors were in the middle of a bamboo maze that they could barely figure out, so the viewer was in an even more untenable position.  However, just listening to the challenge was quite entertaining and presented many different examples of both ineffective and effective partner communication.  Cooke and Cara Maria were leading the charge for ineffective communication.  Paula and Emily (female winners), Johnny and Frank, and Marlon and Jordan (male winners) proved that in the Rivals conceit, how well you and your partner communicate in the moment can determine your ultimate success.  Preston and Knight, it what feels like for the 100th time, couldn’t get their act to together and didn’t seem to care (TJ, can we penalize them again?).  Jemmye and Camila continued to prove why the #teamsubtitles is appropriate and most entertaining.

Diem and Aneesa get creative as they compete.
Diem and Aneesa get creative as they compete.

Power rankings don’t lie.  Do not sleep on Aneesa and Diem.  Aneesa, in incredible physical shape and keenly aware of the importance of partner loyalty and alignment, is growing stronger by the week.  Her creativity here was one of the only physical moments of the challenge that you could tell was beast and almost led to a victory over Paula and Emily.  After staving off Cooke’s attempt to send them in to the Jungle that didn’t actually matter, they seem to be reasonably protected from any assault from some of the younger challenge competitors.  For a team that I did not predict could go too far, they are proving me wrong.

The Challengers watch another team compete.
The Challengers watch another team compete.

This is not the most exciting of photos, but the only one of the batch that highlights Jasmine and Theresa, who, despite losing the challenge, had one of the best weeks of any team.  They both finally made it off of the cutting room floor to have some featured airtime (Jasmine’s fro of intimidation at the vote and Theresa’s wise opportunity taking with Leroy were particular highlights) and managed, through another production decision snafu, to avoid elimination and participation in a Jungle that seemed to be life threatening (especially to Jasmine).  Welcome to Rivals 2, ladies!

Johnny bobble-head throws Cooke and Cara Maria under the bus.
Johnny bobble-head throws Cooke and Cara Maria under the bus.

On Real World: Portland, there was Daisy, the little provocative, but lovable trouble maker of a house pet cared for by Averey and Johnny, and clandestinely beloved by the Hurricane they called Nia.  Now, as every major professional sport must, The Challenge: Rivals 2 has its own mascot in this Johnny Bananas bobble-head (available at suckyeah.com, the J.E.K. Empire’s clothing line).  Aware of the incredible possibilities that this bobble-head can provide, production wasted no time utilizing his obvious talents.  More Johnny Bananas bobble-head in the future is only the best of things.

Cooke pleads with Wes and CT for teams safety.
Cooke pleads with Wes and CT for teams safety.

Cooke gave a valiant attempt (and even inspired Leroy and Ty to have a most random vote for Nany and Jonna), but other teams were not so easily swayed.  Unless they win a challenge, Cooke and Cara Maria are at the bottom of the totem pole and will continue to have to prove themselves in eliminations.

Knight gets into an argument with Jemmye.
Knight gets into an argument with Jemmye.

Well, a Knight and Jemmye blowout was bound to happen at some point.  Jemmye was engaged in a random depantsing of Cooke and took offense to Knight’s attempt at involvement.  Knight, just tired of hearing Jemmye’s voice and probably a little jealous (or so production implies) that Jemmye had a little flirtatious thing going with Leroy, couldn’t help himself.  This led to this…

Jemmye has a meltdown after having ketchup thrown at her.
Jemmye has a meltdown after having ketchup thrown at her.

…We all have our breaking points and for Jemmye it is an acute case of Mortuusequusphobia (the title of the episode): the abnormal fear of ketchup.  Knight, ready to exploit Jemmye’s greatest weakness in both an attempt to embarrass and derail, attacked her with her personal kryptonite.  I realize that it was just ketchup, but to Jemmye (especially after witnessing her horrified reaction) it means the end of the world.  Knight’s action is just cruel.  I am really not sure what is going on with Knight this season.  He plays the “I am better than all this” attitude card, but then says things and does things that are so mean-spirited.  Why can’t he attempt to showcase his better qualities than having to devolve into a unlikable jerk?  I expected more.  The winner in all this is Leroy (furthering his episode MVP case), who, after observing the just too much drama, moved on from Jemmye to Theresa.

After gaining some confidence dances freely without her wig.
After gaining some confidence dances freely without her wig.

Finally, this was truly a beautiful moment.  Diem’s incredible and heroic battles against cancer and the consummate model and example she leads is the most important thing that has come out of this Challenge world.  Her self-consciousness in regards to her hair loss, once the centerpiece of a budding romance between she and CT so many seasons ago, remains a point of low self-esteem.  To see her lose this inhibition one more time and be able to overcome this last obstacle of this part of the journey is a privilege for us viewers.  Diem – I so wish you could always understand just a beautiful a person you are and how thankful we are for you to have shared your story with us.  This pixie cut is fantastic.

David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about MTV’s “The Challenge,” pop culture, and the NBA for Bishop and Company. His “The Challenge: Rivals 2″ power rankings will post weekly starting on July 10.

THE CHALLENGE: RIVALS 2 Weekly Power Rankings – Week 3

Still reeling over the unconscionable production decision to remove Sarah from the competition after her partner Trishelle, amidst an apparent maelstrom of catatonic verbal expression and misguided beliefs on the mutual exclusivity of religion, ethnicity, and profession, quit the show, I have had trouble reflecting on the rest of the episode.  Sarah’s role in this modern (and dare I say, golden) era of The Challenge has been intrinsic to its success.  She has been our guide and our friend, the person that grounds the nighttime extracurricular activity and unnecessary violence and fighting in a more stable and humane personage.  Her earnest and commendable attempt to play the game the right way (and don’t get me wrong, Sarah is not afraid to mix it up with strategic blindsides or with an unpopular power play, it’s just that she is doing it with some honor and integrity) makes us always want to root for her to win.  This season of Rivals 2, loose execution of rivals conceit aside, has been an already impressive showing, but going forward without Sarah, especially after the unfair terms of her removal, seems to be a most daunting task.  The heart and soul of The Challenge was taken away without provocation or justification.  Her loss will be felt.

On to the rankings…

Once again, as became tradition last year during Battle of the Seasons, the individual competitor power rankings and team power rankings will be released weekly sometime shortly after each new episode airing.  Here are the individual and team rankings after week 3…

RIVALS 2 INDIVIDUAL POWER RANKINGS

 NOTE: the rankings will again be based on my un Zach Lowe-like analysis/sabermetrics method known as “My subjective experience and observations watching all 24 seasons of the show.”  Weight will be given to how well teams and individuals do on competitions, on strategy and in the social game, and whether he or she is a “good competitor.”  Green = increased ranking.  Red = dropped ranking.

THE MEN

1. Johnny Bananas (9th season, last week: 1)

2. Frank (2nd season, last week: 3)

CHALLENGE WINS: 1

VOTES FOR: Cooke and Cara Maria

He’s still got it!  As this week’s stellar performance in the “Mind Over Splatter” challenge proved, Johnny Bananas has not lost a step and continues to prove why he is the most celebrated competitor in Challenge history.  Johnny and Frank, once hyperbolized twitter foes, have had no difficulty (Frank’s blowout with CT aside) combining their respective strengths.  Frank’s offseason workout regimen and resultant action figure body are now on par with his already flexed strategic mind.  Johnny, after a low key first few weeks, seems to be just heating up and is now rounding into his Rivals and Battle of the Exes victorious self.  Although there is more competition at the top of men’s bracket than in the women’s bracket, Johnny and Frank are definitely the men’s team to beat.

3. Zach (2nd season, last week: 2)

4. Trey (2nd season, last week: 4)

CHALLENGE WINS: 2

VOTES FOR: Cooke and Cara Maria

Thought to originally be a hotbed of dysfunction, Zach and Trey came close to taking their third straight challenge this week.  If they continue to be in the mix to win challenges (as I think they will), it is hard to see a scenario where they don’t make the finals.  One interesting tidbit (of the many) from Frank’s Grantland interview discussed how he and Zach are no longer the close friends they became (Zach’s call apparently) between Real World and Battle of the Seasons.  Under the expected voting system going into Rivals 2, a Frank and Zach severing of ties could have been most detrimental to both teams splitting natural allies into separate alliances, but now, under the gender separated voting, Zach and Trey must focus on winning female team support, and at this point, I am not sure where that support lies.  If they continue to win challenges, this is not an issue, but Johnny and Frank, Leroy and Ty, and even CT and Wes are going to have more women support than Zach and Trey.

5. CT (9th season, last week: 5)

VOTES FOR: Sarah and Trishelle

CT took the week off from being in the limelight for all the wrong reasons.  His challenge showing (and carrying of Wes) had vintage Rivals CT (I feel like he was often dragging Adam to the finish line) written all over it.

6. Leroy (3rd season, last week: 6)

VOTES AGAINST: 1 (Theresa/Jasmine)

VOTES FOR: Theresa and Jasmine

Despite a vote against from Theresa and Jasmine (just payback for Ty and Leroy’s vote last week), Leroy remains under the radar (and largely out of the edit), but still in a prime position, with few other women teams who would vote against him.

7. Jordan (Rookie season, last week: 7)

8. Marlon (Rookie season, last week: 8)

VOTES AGAINST: 4 (Cooke/Naomi/Cara Maria [2], Jasmine/Theresa, Nany/Jonna)

VOTES FOR: Cooke and Cara Maria

Real World: Portland continues to make their indelible mark on The Challenge world.  Anastasia went out in a hot mess of closet hookups, CT attacks, and poor pre-Jungle health choices.  While still considering there is so much more yet to come, her slap on CT will be one of the lasting iconic images of the season.  Jess dispelled all of her doubters with a valiant performance in her final challenge and elimination, Princess Hulking her way to competitor credibility in the minds of viewers and the Great TJ Lavin.  She is in prime position to become Sarah Rice 2.0 of The Challenge, the Southern version.  Jordan ceases to amaze us all with his athletic ownership of a presumably disability disadvantage.  He continues to convert discounters and reshape expectations to the point where any lingering doubts will only hinder the competition.  Marlon, on a week when his hip-hop alter ego, Jay Dillinger, dropped an album, was at the center of The Challenge world.  First, he admirably stood up for himself when Knight’s juvenile attempt at humor backfired.  Then, his bookend episode hookups with Derek and Nany, exemplify his admirable comfort at celebrating who he is.  Marlon, from all accounts and from any perception created by his edit on Real World and Rivals 2, is just a great guy and a role model for his openness and for proudly owning the fluidity of his gender choices of sexual partners.  The only thing holding Jordan and Marlon back from a rankings rise at this point is they remain in a most vulnerable position among the men teams.  They were almost voted into the Jungle, and, with fewer clear voting options left for some of the women teams, may have to go in during the next men elimination.

9. Wes (8th season, last week: 10)

VOTES FOR: Sarah and Trishelle

10. Ty (4th season, last week: 9)

VOTES AGAINST: 1 (Theresa/Jasmine)

VOTES FOR: Theresa and Jasmine

Edit aside, where have these two former lightning rods of Challenge tension been?  Someone has got to light their fires.

11. Knight (2nd season, last week: 11)

VOTES AGAINST: 1 (Nany/Jonna)

VOTES FOR: Cooke and Cara Maria

CHALLENGE LOSS: Week 3 (DQ)

JUNGLE: Beat Derek and Robb Week 3

Knight continues to find ways to embarrass himself outside of his CT bodyguard role and the effective, yet unintentionally comedic “Nola” verbal strategy in the Jungle.  His mimed fellatio to describe Marlon was desperate and pitiful.  I honestly don’t even get what his point was or why he thought his action was at all humorous.  I continue to want to give Knight a benefit of the doubt, but sadly, his actions do not warrant further accommodation.  At this point, the ball is in Knight’s court to show that there are some redeeming qualities there.  I am less and less hopeful by the week.

12. Preston (2nd season, last week: 14)

VOTES AGAINST: 1 (Nany/Jonna)

VOTES FOR: Sarah and Trishelle

CHALLENGE LOSS: Week 3 (DQ)

JUNGLE: Beat Derek and Robb Week 3

Preston’s effective communication to the blindfolded Knight in their Jungle win (“Nola!  Nola!”) was the highest point of Preston’s young Challenge career.  Was this wig the low point?

ELIMINATED

13. Derek (3rd season, last week: 12)

14. Robb (2nd season, last week: 13)

VOTES AGAINST: 8 (Emily/Paula [2], Ana/Jess, Camila/Jemmye [2], Sarah/Trishelle, Diem/Aneesa [2])

VOTES FOR: Sarah and Trishelle

JUNGLE: Beat Tyrie and Dunbar Week 1, Lost to Knight and Preston Week 3

Derek and Robb just didn’t have enough allies in their favor.  They should both be proud of how well they worked together and the fight that they showed.  Their time was not now.

15. Dunbar (6 season, last week: 15)

CHALLENGE LOSS: Week 1

JUNGLE: Lost to Derek and Robb Week 1

16. Tyrie (6th season, last week: 16)

CHALLENGE LOSS: Week 1

JUNGLE: Lost to Derek and Robb Week 1

 

THE WOMEN

1. Paula (10th season, last week: 1)

2. Emily (3rd season, last week: 2)

VOTED FOR: Derek and Robb, Derek and Robb

CHALLENGE WINS: 3

I am just not sure who or how they are stopped from making the finals.  Three straight challenge wins is a substantial statistical trend and I am not sure what other women team can rise to their level of athletic ability and partner synergy.

3. Aneesa (9 seasons, last week: 8, largest rise)

VOTED FOR: Derek and Robb, Derek and Robb

Welcome back, 2007 Aneesa!  We have missed you.  Aneesa literally took out the trash (Trash/Trishelle was sadly unable to communicate an intelligible verbal response when Aneesa confronted her about erroneous comments) with a barrage of words and an able defense of Trishelle’s “I guess, this is all I got” physical attack.  Aneesa looked good and made Trishelle look really bad.  Not stopping there, she was not swayed by Derek’s emotional plea to save him from Jungle selection, recognizing that voting him in was the best strategy for her team.  She and Diem appear to be aligned with Paula and Emily’s vote and one of the key power brokers on the women’s side.

4. Nany (2nd season, last week: 4)

VOTED FOR: Knight and Preston, Marlon and Jordan

5. Jemmye (2nd season, last week: 6)

VOTED FOR: Derek and Robb, Derek and Robb

Largely still victims of the “there are so many people there, so unless you are involved in an extracurricular nighttime activity of the fighting kind, we don’t have too much airtime for you at this point,” both Nany and Jemmye will surely have their moment in forthcoming episodes.  For now, each had a brief highlight this week.  Nany’s highlight was her end of episode hookup with Marlon that put a perfect ribbon on his episode arc.  Jemmye, in a subtle gesture of support, gave Aneesa the intel about Trishelle spouting off about her struggle to understand that you can be both black and Jewish at the same time.

6. Diem (7th season, last week: 9)

VOTED FOR: Derek and Robb, Derek and Robb

As Diem’s partner rises, so does she.  Also, any week she can stay out of CT drama has to be considered a win.

7. Camila (5th season, last week: 7)

VOTED FOR: Derek and Robb, Derek and Robb

A candidate for “most forgotten member of the cast” this season, I will be happy if she loses this election.  Camila is a great competitor and has the potential to be great television.  Three weeks in, we have not been blessed with much evidence of either of these things.  I trust that her time will come.

8. Jonna (3rd season, last week: 5)

VOTED FOR: Knight and Preston, Marlon and Jordan

With Derek and Robb sent home, I am not sure what support Jonna brings to her team with Nany.  Partnerships are only as good as the weaker player, and I am not sure which men teams have any invested interest in Jonna’s success.

9. Jasmine (4th season, last week: 11)

10. Theresa (4th season, last week: 12)

VOTES AGAINST: 1 (Leroy/Ty)

VOTED FOR: Marlon and Jordan, Leroy and Ty

11. Cooke (Rookie season, last week: 13)

12. Cara Maria (6th season, last week: 14)

VOTES AGAINST: 4 (Zach/Trey, Johnny/Frank, Knight/Preston, Jordan/Marlon)

VOTED FOR: Marlon and Jordan, Marlon and Jordan

JUNGLE: Beat Jessica and Anastasia Week 2

The numbers 9-12 are largely interchangeable.  More conclusive, these four women are at the bottom of the women power rankings and at least one pair will likely be sent in to the Jungle this week (facing whomever loses the challenge).

UNFAIRLY SENT HOME

13. Sarah (7th season, last week: 3)

VOTES AGAINST: 2 (Derek/Robb, CT/Wes)

VOTED FOR: Derek and Robb

ELIMINATED

14. Jessica (Rookie season, last week: 14)

VOTED FOR: Derek and Robb

CHALLENGE LOSS: Week 2

JUNGLE: Lost to Cooke and Cara Maria Week 2

LEFT THE SHOW

15. Naomi (2nd season, last week: 15)

ELIMINATED

16. Anastasia (Rookie season, last week: 16)

VOTED FOR: Derek and Robb

CHALLENGE LOSS: Week 2

JUNGLE: Lost to Cooke and Cara Maria Week 2

QUIT

17. Trishelle (4th season, last week: 10)

VOTES AGAINST: 2 (Derek/Robb, CT/Wes)

VOTED FOR: Derek and Robb

 

RIVALS 2 TEAM RANKINGS

Note: Team rankings are compiled by averaging the two individual rankings.  Teams with the lowest total average rankings are ranked better than the highest (i.e. you want as few points as possible).  First tiebreaker goes to number of total past wins.  Second tiebreaker goes to years of experience. Green = increased ranking.  Red = dropped ranking.

  1. Paula and Emily – Team Average: 1.5, last week: 1.5
  2. Johnny and Frank – Team Average: 1.5, last week: 2
  3. Zach and Trey – Team Average: 3.5, last week: 3
  4. Diem and Aneesa – Team Average: 4.5, last week: 8.5
  5. Camila and Jemmye – Team Average: 6, last week: 6.5
  6. Nany and Jonna – Team Average: 6, last week: 4.5
  7. CT and Wes – Team Average: 7, last week: 7.5
  8. Marlon and Jordan – Team Average: 7.5, last week: 7.5
  9. Ty and Leroy – Team Average: 8, last week: 7.5
  10. Jasmine and Theresa – Team Average: 9.5, last week: 11.5
  11. Cooke and Cara Maria – Team Average: 11.5, last week: 13.5
  12. Knight and Preston – Team Average: 11.5, last week: 12.5
  13. ELIMINATED: Sarah and Trishelle – Team Average: 15, last week: 6.5
  14. ELIMINATED: Derek and Robb – Team Average: 13.5, last week: 12.5
  15. ELIMINATED: Anastasia and Jessica – Team Average: 15, last week: 14.5
  16. ELIMINATED: Dunbar and Tyrie – Team Average: 15.5

LEFT THE SHOW: Naomi

Next week is a women’s elimination week with, according to TJ, “the scariest elimination round we have ever had.”  Also, stay tuned in upcoming weeks for some Challenge Profiles, behind scenes and eye-opening access to some of your favorite Challenge competitors from this and past seasons.  More information will be available soon.

David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about MTV’s “The Challenge,” pop culture, and the NBA for Bishop and Company. His “The Challenge: Rivals 2″ power rankings will post weekly starting on July 10.

Seriously though MTV, why did Sarah have to go?

“It’s a bitter pill I swallow here…” – The Edge, from U2’s Van Diemen’s Land, a summation of how I feel after having watched this week’s episode of The Challenge: Rivals 2

As most The Challenge episodes go, this week’s poorly titled The Dark Knight Rises (at this point, any loose comparison made by the crack episode title creation staff over at MTV between Batman and Knight, even if only through a pun, shall be considered offensive) had a familiar dramatically structured rhythm: it begins with the rising action of a fight or a romantic fling (Knight and Marlon, Trishelle and Aneesa, Derek and Marlon), then it moves to the climax of the challenge (an enjoyable timed event involving unstable rope) and the Jungle vote (Aneesa broke her word!), before hitting the falling action of the Jungle elimination (blindfolded dizzy sword play is always appreciated), and then ends with the denouement of a budding romance or two (this week: Marlon and Nany).  These plotted points give The Challenge a flow and a pace that is surprisingly comforting – the who and the what in each phase may differ from week to week, but we ostensibly know what we are going to get.

Although imbedded within this characteristic dramatic rhythm, all the key plot points this week were almost (almost, I will touch on those important moments in the power rankings column later in the week) irrelevant juxtaposed with the most unjust (and all too familiar) of decisions made by the powers of Bunim/Murray.  This week’s episode and the structure we have come to understand were blindsided by an unexpected, terribly unfair, and exceedingly unreasonable production reaction to a player’s decision to quit.  For the second time and for absolutely no fault of her own (I will especially ignore Johnny Moseley’s embarrassing question on the After Show), Sarah was sent home.

The context of this horrific decision made it all the worse: On a night of seemingly many fights, Trishelle was concerned that Aneesa had a monopoly over oppressed minorities as a Jew and as a lover of women (Jemmye was a helpful relayer of this intel).  Aneesa’s rebuttal was both physical and witty (“You are the same Trashelle you were!).  Trishelle reacted with some words that, when put together, seemed to make less than sense (Rivals 2 was a tough go for the professional poker player).  The next morning, Trishelle packed her bags faster than the duration of her film career and had suddenly quit the show (Some After Show clips provided further fodder for the quandary: why did she agree to participate this season to begin with?).  Sarah, who faced a similar destructive partnership on Exes (the worst hookup ever) when Vinny decided it was a good idea to be an awful human being (as Mandi and her top found out at the club), was now faced with the possibility that no more partner meant no more The Challenge.  But wait, just last week Naomi departed because of some home priorities and Cara Maria (thirty hours of travel later) was brought on as her replacement, so Sarah must get a replacement partner as well.  It is still early enough in the game (only one female elimination has taken place) and a male elimination is next, so it is reasonable to bring in another replacement player, right?

When TJ gathered the troops to share the production decision, I actually thought that after clearly making the WRONG call on Exes (you are telling me Mr. Beautiful wouldn’t have flown in last minute?), they would make the right call this time around.  Unfortunately, for Sarah, for the people that would have been able to spend time with her in Thailand (especially Jordan who let his best qualities out when around her), for the weekly viewer, for the sanctity of gameplay, for any semblance of justice in this fifth major professional sport, the MTV powers that be (not) DROPPED THE BALL and eliminated her from the competition.  Sarah’s reaction, the last time (it is inconceivable that this has now happened to her twice) this quaked an outpouring of emotion, was almost hauntingly (and nobly) stoic and proud.  Even in this moment of objective irrational tomfoolery, Sarah remained the bigger (and biggest of them all) person.

I have spent the few hours since this catastrophic reveal trying to rationalize a decision that on face value appears just so irrational.  I still can’t make any sense of it.  Sure, it is not easy to get someone to pick up their stuff and travel to Thailand for six weeks on a moment’s notice, but how does this explain the Cara Maria add-on just last week?  I am sure MTV in their (free falling in credibility) minds had a reason.  Without knowing it, I just don’t buy it.  The focus should have been committed to finding a way to keep Sarah in the game.  Here are the top 5 solutions that would have kept Sarah in Thailand that should have been at least tried before sending such an important and vital force of the past seven seasons of this beloved more than-a-television show home at no fault or responsibility of her own:

1. Bring back Jess – If Jess was still in Thailand, this seems like a no-brainer and the easiest solution.  The “rivals” construct is already a serious reach, so the budding friendship between Sarah and Jess is of little consequence to the premise of the game (Mike Mike was Leroy’s partner in Rivals, so there is already a precedent for blowing up the season format).  Ana’s body (and likely healthy decision-making) let Jess down, so why not give her another shot with a more seasoned partner.  Princess Hulk was just beginning to pave her destructive path of the competition and as Jess tweeted, “We’d be a ball of sunshine and badassness!”  That’s what I’m talking about!

2. Fly in another vet – Laurel?  Ev?  Jenn with two Ns?  KellyAnne?  Ashley?  Someone with a little Challenge credibility had to have been available.  Cara Maria is a random ringer.  There is no reason not to bring in another one for Sarah at this still incredibly early stage of the game.

3. Add her to another women team – Of course this may require a little challenge reworking, but so what?  The chance to have Sarah remain in the game is well worth any behind the scenes audibles (Survivor lays out a model for in-game rule flexibility every season, so it can definitely be done).

4. Sarah becomes the inaugural Confessioner – Yes!  Sarah would have an easy transition to house therapist, strategic advisor, and creative consultant.  Production, having made a sound decision by keeping Sarah involved with the competition, would handle the conflict resolution, but Sarah could do everything else.

5. Sarah becomes TJ’s co-host – At first she would still be disappointed to not be able to compete, but you’re telling me that Sarah wouldn’t be incredibly excited to work with TJ behind the scenes of the show?

That’s just it.  For some competitors, The Challenge is a paid vacation, a chance to win money, or a way to stay on television for a period of time beyond what was originally thought possible.  There is nothing wrong with these reasons and I don’t fault anyone who has them, but Sarah is refreshingly different.  You can tell that she has looked at every moment of these past seven seasons as a most incredible opportunity.  She strives to live each of these moments with a competing passion and compassion, a fervent commitment, and an unabashed joy.  House fights that devolve into the lowest common denominator affect her (as her last night in Phuket displayed) in a way that others may not feel.  Sarah is genuinely kind and considerate, someone who puts the needs of others before those of her own.  She wants everyone to get along and to treat each other with respect because she understands that this is a better way.

The After Show this week showed a clip of Sarah’s final speech to the group after TJ’s (I will refrain from killing the messenger, Master Lavin) decree of elimination.  She left her fellow competitors, fighting through tears, with the following words: “First and foremost, we are people.  Everyone knows exactly the behavior that they’ve done that has been despicable.  Just think – is what I’m doing right now going to help someone or is it going to hurt them?  Everybody has the ability to change and change starts as soon as you say it’s going to happen.”  The edit showed faces in the background (the disrespectful Knight, to use Sarah’s words, first and foremost) smirking, laughing, and cynically condescending to this earnest and real attempt to make this at too many times insane asylum of a Challenge world a better place.

Johnny takes a realistic (and bitingly clever, Mr. Bananas) take in his interview: “Sarah, do you have any idea the group of animals that you are talking to?  It’s like telling prison inmates to be more considerate of each other.  It’s just not gonna happen.”  It might not, but Sarah’s conviction and determination, commendably and admirably, will not be assuaged because she thinks better and believes more of others.  After this clip is shown, Sarah is visibly upset, and Aneesa (a great episode for this savvy vet) reassures her that she is “a good person among some bad people,” acknowledging how hard it can be.

Sarah reacts, “And really, is it that fucking terrible for me to expect human beings to be nice to each other or for me to want to deliver that message.  Maybe they can just, I don’t know, for a second choose to be nice in a moment where they could be mean, and, if really that makes me a big fucking joke, then I am joke.  I don’t care.  I really, I don’t.”  Sarah, know that we care and don’t let anything stop you from being you.  This is unfair and you, of all people, deserve so much better.  Keep up your fight and don’t lose your spark.  You are a beacon of positivity and goodness and the heart and soul of this Challenge world, and we are all the better for it.  You will be missed.

MTV, you dropped the ball.

David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about MTV’s “The Challenge,” pop culture, and the NBA for Bishop and Company. His “The Challenge: Rivals 2″ power rankings will post weekly starting on July 10.

THE CHALLENGE: RIVALS 2 Team Previews – Aneesa and Diem

This is the second in a series of “The Challenge: Rivals 2″ team previews that will lead into the first power rankings of the season.  Next up: Camila and Jemmye

ANEESA and DIEM

Where did we last see them? Aneesa and Diem were both last seen battling old flings on Battle of the Exes.

The Rivalry: Back in 2006 (2006!) on The Duel, Aneesa unexpectedly (“I thought we were friends!”) sent Diem into an elimination.  Diem was sent home, and, when Aneesa attempted a hug goodbye, Diem gave her “the silent treatment.”  Apparently a “rivalry” was born.

Rivalry Meter on a scale of 1-10 (where 1 is a Leroy and Mike from Rivals I “Rivalry? They’re actually really good friends” rivalry and 10 is a Kenny and Wes from Rivals I “they have hated each other for years” RIVALRY) – 2, best Rivals I comparison: Katelynn and Sarah

Highlights and Commentary from MTV bio:

“Diem recalls, ‘It’s been a long time, but once someone makes you not trust them, it’s hard to regain that.’”

Yes, Diem, it has been a long time.  As you go through the Rivals 2 pairs, producers took great liberty stretching the definition of what it means to be a rival.  Both Diem (concerning her CT relationship saga) and Aneesa (always up for a some in your face controversy) are Challenge regulars (Aneesa’s ninth, Diem’s seventh) for a reason, but their “rivalry” is farcical.  Nonetheless, welcome back ladies. 

Since we last saw Diem in the finals of Battle of the Exes, she successfully beat ovarian cancer a second time and is now in remission. But despite her fighting spirit, Diem still struggles with confidence and reverts to old patterns when she hooks up with former flame CT!

Friends on MTV Cast Bio writing department, Diem’s incredible and courageous fights against ovarian cancer should never be linked in such a way to her struggles with CT.  This is distasteful.

Diem may seem angelic, but this veteran has a tilted halo…and perhaps a devil on her shoulder.” 

What does this even mean?  Is Aneesa that devil?  Is her somewhat irrational behavior every time CT is in her sights the devil?  Am I giving the MTV Cast Bio writing department (yes, I am) too much credit for creating an effective metaphor?

Best-Case Scenario: Diem and Aneesa ride some veteran relationships and elimination fearlessness to a trip to the finals.  With some past distance endurance issues (Aneesa’s smoking habit has always been a bit of a problem), a finals win seems a little far-fetched, but I could see them at least getting there.

Worst-Case Scenario: As Battle of the Seasons taught us, vet status may not be what it used to be and Aneesa and Diem are early and easy targets of the new ruling class.

The Verdict: Aneesa and Diem have always been reliable The Challenge role players, but have never been star competitors of the show (one could argue that the Diem and CT relationship has been central to the narrative at times, but it is more due to CT’s dynamic and invigorating presence and less about Diem’s television charisma).  I don’t expect a marked change here, but it will be interesting to see how Aneesa (looking incredibly fit) and Diem deal with a cast filled with many relative newcomers, some of whom have already seen more The Challenge success.  The strength of their relationships with Key Westers Johnny and Paula and whatever faction they are inevitably going to lead could determine just how far Aneesa and Diem go.  With a few very strong female pairings, I expect an elimination in the middle of the competition.

Watch the Aneesa and Diem pre-interviews here.

Other team previews:

Anastasia and Jessica

Camila and Jemmye

Cooke and Naomi

Jasmine and Theresa

David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about MTV’s “The Challenge,” pop culture, and the NBA for Bishop and Company. His weekly “The Challenge: Rivals 2” power rankings will begin the week of July 10.

CHALLENGEMANIA: The Road to Rivals II – Winners, Losers, and Questions

To continue to tease our already overwhelming appetite for all things The Challenge in preparation for the July 10 season premiere of Rivals II (and to shamelessly cross-promote some shows called Girl Code and Guy Code that I admittedly had never heard of), MTV aired a one hour The Challenge part retrospective and part new season preview.  Hosted by the modern MTV and Jersey royalty tandem of Challenge stalwart Kenny “Mr. Beautiful” Santucci and Nicole “Snooki? Now that I am half my original size, I go my Nicole now, bitches!” Polizzi, the hour was mostly an exercise in historically bad cue card reading (more on this in a bit), unnecessary opinions from Girl and Guy Code cast members that nobody asked for, and clips from MTV’s pre-HD past.  Despite mostly  “I wish I had fast forwarded over this” filler, there were some important takeaways, some charming former Challenge cast member commentary, and a second season preview scored to the fiery furor of Nico Vega’s “Fury Oh Fury.”  Before we delve into brief analysis of matters of consequence, here are some quick take winners, losers, and questions posed by ChallengeMania: the Road to Rivals II.

Question: What happened to Snooki?  Beyond her incredibly gaunt and emaciated appearance (she’s been working out apparently), the author and mother of one didn’t seem her usual “hot mess” of a self.  Her affect felt flat, disengaged, and enigmatic.  I never thought of Snooki as talented in any way beyond being a unique individual in a reality TV world of mostly personality repetition and replication, but now I know that acting or in any way improvising should not be a her next career move…ever.  Poor Kenny struggled to get through her feeble attempts at banter and seemed so relieved when Paula Walnuts came on stage toward the end of the taping.  I thought Snooki always had a degree (I am stretching a little bit here) of charisma and perhaps maybe a little charm on camera, but this Snooki .5 is a depressing figure.

Loser – Snooki, the cue card reader – Snooki should not be reading cue cards.  Period.

Other lingering Snooki questions:  Why does she seem so obsessed with Johanna?  Does she really watch The Challenge?  Where is her baby during the taping of this show?  Is she serious when she says she is working out to be on a future Challenge?  At this point, is Snooki a human?

Losers – The writers of all dialogue between Kenny and Snooki – Tough moment for MTV writers.  If their aim was to make Kenny and Snooki sound as unnatural and fake as possible, mission accomplished.  This was a disaster.

Winners – The viewer while watching classic clips – It brought great joy to loyal The Challenge fans to reminisce and recall classic moments and people from a wonderful, twenty three season history.

Question: With Evan, Kenny, and Tonya featured prominently in retrospective clips, did MTV have to run this by legal before airing?  Since the settlement, Kenny and Evan have not been back on The Challenge.  Was this a never made public part of this agreement?  Why else would two all-time greats be kept off recent seasons?

Winners – Promos for the new season – Bananas is back!  CT is back!  Camila is unstable!  If these teasers don’t get you pumped, nothing will.

Winners – The great fights retrospective  – I vividly remember the genuinely scary CT and Adam melee (Isaac as an initial peacemaker may not have been the best call), but I had forgotten about the Wes and Evelyn room assault and the Katie battle with topless Veronica.  Watching Evelyn stomp around and destroy plants while Wes tells Johnny he is the “worst person in the world” is priceless television.

Loser – The making out segment and the terrible elevator music that accompanies it – This was a few too many levels of awkward.

Loser – Brad’s wedgie meltdown – Poor Brad.  Although he will be inducted into The Challenge hall of fame (although not on the first ballot), his wedgie reaction is not the best of looks.

WinnerThe Miz Only a WWE superstar can get away with a wedgie attack.

Winner – Sarah for her reaction to the Katie plunger meltdown – And otherwise for just being great.  Her commentary interviews are spot on.

Loser/Winner – Katie and the plunger meltdown – She is a loser for having a meltdown over a plunger.  She is a winner for finding a reason for a meltdown that seems to best match the great eccentricity of her persona on The Challenge.

Question: Why wasn’t a Katie/Veronica rival pairing included this season?  Veronica may have Challenge retired, but who wouldn’t want to see these two classic enemies play again?

Winner – Entertainment for the viewer…seeing Camila walk into a pool again on her night of crazy.  What is most remarkable to me is that Johnny and Camila won after this happens.  Of all the things Johnny Bananas has accomplished on this show, recovering from Camila’s night at Arkham Asylum may be his greatest achievement.

Winner – Jessimae Peluso – I mostly tuned out the random members of the cast of Girl Code and Guy Code who were randomly asked to become Challenge experts, but Jessimae kept bringing it with her witty insight and playful crushing on CT.  Some bio investigation garnered additional intel about her comedic beginnings in Boston (check), infatuation with John Stamos (check), and appearance on “The Tyra Banks Show” (check plus).

WinnerPaula walking us through a web of “Challenge Family Tree” connections – This was one of the more relevant (albeit unintentionally comedic) portions of the preview show.  Finding threads (even loose ones) to piece through the participants was a win for production.  Paula, unlike the little Snooki creature, can read a mean cue card and narrated this segment like a pro.

Winner – Whoever decided to call Wes a “self-proclaimed, political mastermind” – I like how with Wes, adding “self-proclaimed” to any description of him adds more authenticity.  Wes – a self-proclaimed redhead.  Wes – a self-proclaimed entrepreneur.  Wes – a self-proclaimed intellectual.

Losers – Connections that don’t actually exist – Paula connected Aneesa and Robb in her “family tree” because they both live near Philadelphia.

Losers – Rivals that have never met – I am a proponent of twitter and all, but to partner Johnny and Frank as rivals because of a twitter feud?  It may be a partnership that is great for gameplay, but it seems to take away from the sanctity of the construction of the season.

Winner – Kenny – He does professional work throughout, fending off the train wreck that is Snooki .5, maintaing great focus, managing several digs at Wes, and flooding the camera with his quintessential charisma and charm.  Could Kenny be a viable replacement for the legend of TJ Lavin if he ever decides to retire the hosting throne?

Although Paula’s connecting of the dots (“And don’t forget the four members from the cast of Portland who are connected by being new!”) flimsily weaved a rival backstory, the real fresh meat is in the showing of the original Rivals II trailer (already Zaprudered here) and the final “this season on” teaser (the real “this season on” will undoubtedly be unveiled at the end of the season premiere).  Here are a few key takeaways:

  • Anastasia seems to slap CT (not once, but twice – the second time in the back of the head) and then kick CT in the back of his legs.  Bird never struck me as such a dangerous predator while in Portland, but I guess a certain amount of time in the eye of the Nia storm will ruffle anyone’s feathers.  This is not the first time CT has been the object of someone’s uncontrollable aggression and it will certainly not be the last.
  • Speaking of fighting CT, it appears that Frank has a little run-in with him.  No one is in the least bit surprised.
  • I eagerly anticipate the interplay and strategic game manipulation of the Johnny and Frank tandem.  Maybe not the most real of rivalries, seeing them work together could be a treat of “Kenny carrying Wes on his back” proportions.
  • I can’t help myself but to kiss and tell.  Jordan and Sarah?  CT and almost Cooke?  Leroy and Emily?  Jonna and almost Jordan?  CT and Diem!

We are now less than two weeks away from The Challenge: Rivals II premiere (Wednesday, July 10 at 10/9c.  You won’t believe your eyes!).  I will be dropping a preview column and preseason power rankings before then, so stay tuned.  Until then, let me leave you with the final cue card reading improvisation catastrophe of Snooki: “Holy crap, the rivalries just keep getting more and more intense.  I’m obsessed.  Bye, we love you.”  Yep, thank you Nicole.

David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about The Challenge, pop culture, and the NBA for Bishop and Company.