Tag Archives: Brandon

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!


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 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 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 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’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 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.

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.

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 Preseason Power Rankings – Men Division – Part I

So it begins…

At long last, the season premiere of the new The Challenge season, Free Agents, is a mere days away (the season premiere is Thursday, April 10, at 10:00 PM EST). The Challenge, the fifth MAPS (Major American Professional Sport), is entering its 25th season as a cultural institution of competition, entertainment, and nighttime extra-curricular activities. A consummate star (capital “S”) maker and cultivator (Johnny Bananas, TJ Lavin the Great, CT, the Miz, Ruthie, Paula Walnuts), Twitter chatter centerpiece, and the only entity to be on both the professional sports and reality television Mount Rushmore, The Challenge is a modern pioneer and trendsetter for what greatness is all about. Like in “love” and in “war,” all “is fair” in The Challenge (thank you for this, Sir Bananas), and Free Agents proves to be an entirely new and innovative chapter to add to this proven commodity’s prolific history.

Culture Challenged will be following The Challenge: Free Agents every step of the way this season with commentary, interviews, recaps, Zapruder film analysis, and weekly power rankings. Before we delve deep into the first part of the preseason power rankings (the men will be first up), let us peruse the MTV.com season description (a luxury not often released until after the season begins) to discover more. The MTV description is in bold and my commentary is below.

Twenty-eight money-hungry competitors arrive in Punta del Este, Uruguay,
Yes! A return to South America! Clearly a professional sport that sets the international trends, this summer’s World Cup and the 2016 Olympics and Rio are following The Challenge‘s lead. The only previous season to begin in a South American country was The Duel (season 13) and the last time our favorite competitors set foot this far below the equator in the Western Hemisphere was on Rivals (season 21) when Johnny Bananas did some winning and Laurel did some Cara Maria defending.
expecting to be teamed up with an ex, an enemy, or even a weak rookie.
Is “weak rookie” referring to LaToya? Johnny from Bridgewater? Swifty? You can call rookie Nia many things, but weak would not be one of them. Honestly, when the competitors size up the competition, which rookie is the one nobody wants to work with? The rankings may provide some answers…
Little do they know, this is an individual game, and they’ll be answering to no one but themselves in the most unpredictable Challenge ever.
This is a lofty statement. One could argue that the Shauvon implant experience represents the ceiling of unpredictability, but that’s just me. Either way, an unpredictable game format is only a good thing.

The 25th season, Free Agents, forces players to compete on their own in a battle of perseverance and luck.
“Perseverance” sounds promising. “Luck” does not. For savvy veterans like the Legendary Johnny Bananas, CT, and Laurel, they have earned a certain status to not have to worry about an elimination based upon chance. Evening the playing field is one thing. Respecting the sanctity of earned greatness of the elite competitors is quite another.
The players will have no idea if they’ll be competing in teams, pairs or as individuals until moments before each challenge begins.
Now we are talking, Bunim-Murray. One of the great opportunities for The Challenge are the challenges (Yes, it can get confusing when the name of the professional sport is the same name as the events that take place within the professional sport). I love the potential application of this conceit. Forcing competitors to pick a partner or to pick teams will immediately identify the totem pole of respect, the value placed on winning over alliance loyalty, and we will finally see what happens when petty schoolyard hurt feelings come to The Challenge arena (wait, we have already seen this many times).
Winners are not only safe from elimination, but also have the power to choose one guy and one girl to send in.
Yes, this is a stock The Challenge formula, but since it works, there is no need to fix it.
The losers from that day’s challenge must take part in the game’s biggest elimination twist yet, “The Draw”, where one guy and one girl are selected by pure chance to face the two nominated players in the elimination round.
“Luck” immediately sounds better with a name like “The Draw” surrounding it. I really hope the edit shows a healthy dose of “The Draw” talk. Also, who will be the first competitor to whip out the clever, albeit cliché “Win, Lose, or Draw” allusion? My money is either on The Legendary Johnny Bananas or Leroy.
With competitors’ fates being determined by a flip of a card, no amount of strategy can protect them.
Or, in other words, the only way to ensure safety is to win challenges. Never mind, I have changed my mind on the whole “perseverance and luck” duo. This will be legit.

A grand total of $350,000 is up for grabs, and with so much money on the line, these already blood-thirsty competitors turn vicious.
Listen, “blood-thirsty” may be stretching this a little too far…
Heated rivalries will take shape, bitter enemies will clash, and heart-tugging relationships will form.
This could be the composition of any The Challenge season description. I, for one, am most interested in what “heart-tugging” relationships will form. It all sounds so perfectly dramatic.
Only the lucky few will face the epic final challenge that starts in dangerous rapids and ends at the top of an active volcano.
End of season SPOILER ALERT!
In the end, this season will find the most worthy challenger yet, the ultimate FREE AGENT.
And then it begins…on to part 1 of the The Challenge: Free Agents Preseason Power Rankings – Men Division.



14) JOHNNYJohnnyWhere did we last see him? The last time we saw Johnny and his long-lasting buzz cut, he was curled up next to his two favorite lady friends, Daisy and Averey, on The Real World: Portland, surviving an infamous hairdryer and a few Hurricane Nias.
The Challenge History: This is his first Challenge.
Why would you sign Johnny? The intrinsic kinship of recent past season formats were beneficial to rookie success stories (Jordan and Marlon on Rivals 2, Frank and Zach on Battle of the Seasons), but Free Agents is not likely to afford such possibility. You would sign Johnny because he will be eager and earnest in his pursuit of victory, an easily persuadable alliance member (he fits the definition of “happy to be here”), and he is no longer distracted on a daily basis by Averey’s all-consuming beauty (Sources say that a Bridgewater breakup has occurred). He flirted with a pro hockey career, so he has some serious athletic chops.
Why would you not sign Johnny? He is a classic rookie patsy for conspiratorial veterans to pounce on. Unlike the other two men from his Real World: Portland season who were ready-made The Challenge competitors, no one was chomping at the bit to see Johnny spread his athletic prowess on The Challenge game field, despite his hockey skills (there are not likely to be too many hockey rinks in Uruguay). Also, are we sure Johnny can handle this much time apart from Daisy?
Potential Allies: Portland mate Jordan, CT and Zach (Greater Boston ties could run deep), Swift (on his own rookie island as well)
Potential Enemies: Nia (the hairdryer indentations on his head prove it)
Best-case scenario: Johnny gets lucky early when the group targets Swifty first, allowing Johnny to stick around a little longer than expected.
Worst-case scenario: Johnny is the first guy thrown into an elimination and loses to a tough competitor picked by “The Draw.”
The Verdict: The Challenge has only room for one Johnny. This will be a short, forgettable first season for Bridgewater’s own.

13) SWIFTSwift Where did we last see him? We last took frequent naps (a bit of a yawn of a season) while watching Swifty pull live chicken pranks on Real World: St. Thomas, or as I like to call it, “The Real World: when we find out what happens when people stop being polite and are isolated from the rest of society by a body of water: i.e. boredom.”
The Challenge History: This is his first Challenge.
Why would you sign Swift? Swift is a little bit of an irrational confidence guy in the Vernon Maxwell/Jamal Crawford mold. How good he is may be a question for others to pose, but in Swift’s mind, he is the best, and this could be useful against this season’s veteran guy murderer’s row.
Why would you not sign Swift? Like Johnny, in a cast of veterans, rookies tend to stand out. His height and size could be an issue in any challenges that require brute force.
Potential Allies: St. Thomas bickering partner LaToya (there just aren’t a lot of other options here)
Potential Enemies: I cannot see Swift getting along too well with Jordan, Frank, or Nia; his irrational confidence ego
Best-case scenario: Swift gets lucky early when the group targets Johnny first, allowing Swift to stick around a little longer than expected.
Worst case scenario: Swift is the first guy thrown into an elimination and loses to a tough competitor picked by “The Draw.”
The Verdict: Like his Real World season, Swift’s first season on The Challenge will be soon forgotten, but this time not because of boredom, but because of shortness (and I may also be referring to the length of his stay).


12) ISAACIsaacWhere did we last see him? We last saw Isaac, probably still reeling from the CT and Adam violent brawl on night one, lose to all-time great Landon in an elimination on season 17 of The Duel II.
The Challenge History: The Duel II was Isaac’s one and only Challenge and he last five episodes.
Why would you would sign Isaac? Isaac has always been a little bit of a wild card, and in an individual game, this can be an asset. His long Challenge absence could be used to his advantage as an up for grabs alliance member (CT, Aneesa, and Cohutta are the only people who have been on a season with him before).
Why would you not sign Isaac? He may be the closest thing The Challenge has to Tyson Zone membership. As Real World: Sydney viewers may remember, Isaac was an actual juvenile delinquent, and, after years of heavy LSD use, would occasionally hallucinate about prophetic birds (and no, I am not making this up). He is older now and undoubtedly more grounded, but I am not sure a Challenge house is the best environment for someone with some unstable tendencies.
Potential Allies: Cohutta (Sydney Strong), CT (Animalistic Connectedness Strong)
Potential Enemies: I am not sure that Isaac and Camila will have much in common, hallucinations
Best-case scenario: Since we last saw him, Isaac has become an athletic beast that everyone fears, destroying competition in eliminations and in the social game. This could get him as far as the middle episodes.
Worst-case scenario: A black bird hallucination means something most awful and he takes himself out of the game to protect fellow competitors from impending doom.
The Verdict: Honestly, I have no idea what to expect. It has been so long and it is hard to know both how the others will take to him and how he will take to the others. My best guess is that he will be a mellower version of his former self, but without clear bonds with some of the new elite, he will find himself fending off competition in early eliminations.

11) COHUTTACohuttaWhere did we last see him? We last saw Cohutta on the classic JEK Empire victory season, The Ruins, season 19, but it feels even longer than that.
The Challenge History: Cohutta has performed in two The Challenge seasons – The Island (season 16) and The Ruins (season 19). His best finish was Top 8.
Why would you sign Cohutta? Cohutta is a really sweet guy who gets along with almost everybody. More often than not, he manages to stay above the nighttime extracurricular activities fray. His southern twang is easy to root for.
Why would you not sign Cohutta? In the past, relationship entanglements have not exactly helped his game. He is not one of the most physically intimidating guys this season. Cohutta has been out of the mix for a long time and when he was in the mix, he willed his way to relatively strong finishes by being so likable. The quality of competition this season may not be so lenient. His lack of connection to the new elite could be a problem.
Potential Allies: Isaac (Sydney Strong), I have a strong feeling that he will get along really well with fellow Southerners Dustin, Jess, and Jemmye
Potential Enemies: Brute strength in the form of Zach or CT, female entanglements
Best-case scenario: With a little bit of good fortune and some key partnering, Cohutta could slip into contention and have an outside shot at the final challenge.
Worst-case scenario: He is the unlucky recipient of the first “The Draw” iteration and gets out-muscled by a bigger guy.
The Verdict: I have a hunch that Cohutta is going to be a key player this season (A similar trajectory to Chet in Battle of the Seasons, perhaps?). In his two Challenges, he has excelled at staying a little unassuming and a little under the radar, so look for a similar strategy this time around. Although not likely, I would not be surprised to see Cohutta competing at the end.


10) BRANDONBrandonWhere did we last see him? We last saw Brandon as an ill-fated member of the dysfunction that was Team Fresh Meat on Battle of the Seasons (season 23). Thankfully, he and Cara Maria got off the sunk ship in episode three before having to witness the embarrassing elimination competition between their teammates, Camila and Big Easy, who were apparently attempting to show the worst version of themselves.
The Challenge History: Free Agents will be Brandon’s fifth season. Previous seasons include Fresh Meat II (season 19), Cutthroat (season 20), Rivals (season 21), and Battle of Seasons (23). His best previous finish was Top 10 (among guys) on Cutthroat.
Why would you sign Brandon? After much frustration and futility, this could be a make or break season for Brandon on The Challenge, so it may be a worthy risk. In the past, his teams and teammates have not been easy sells, so as a solo artist on Free Agents, he might have a greater chance at success. He well-liked and gets along with most people.
Why would you not sign Brandon? His The Challenge track record looks more like Tyrie’s than like Derrick or Kenny’s. Although well-liked, his bonds may not be the strongest. His athletic chops (despite some worthy elimination fight) remain largely in question.
Potential Allies: Cara Maria and Laurel (Fresh Meat Strong); He and Leroy are Las Vegas buddies
Potential Enemies: Isaac does not seem to be someone he will find points of connection with; If he watched any of Real World: Portland, Brandon will be having none of Hurricane Nia; things did not end well with Camila on Battle of the Seasons
Best-case scenario: Brandon makes the right alliances, stays out of the ire of challenge winners, and has some luck with “The Draw” to make it to the middle of this game (Top 6 or 7).
Worst-case scenario: An early elimination drawing against one of the frontrunners sends Brandon packing prematurely.
The Verdict: Brandon, due to many past disappointments, is one of several people this season who has the most to prove, but consequently, may have the most to lose. If he doesn’t take the leap on Free Agents this season, five seasons of mediocrity may be the death knell on his The Challenge career. I think that there is a realistic shot that he could go far, but it is hard to see him beating any of the frontrunners one on one.


9) PRESTONPrestonWhere did we last see him? Although during his eventual Rivals 2 (season 24) elimination episode, we last saw Preston saving face and more than showing up his disgraceful partner and until Free Agents, Bunim-Murray cellmate, Knight.
The Challenge History: This is Preston’s third season on The Challenge, but first season away from the haunting shadow of Knight as a teammate on both Battle of the Seasons (season 23) and Rivals 2 (season 24).
Why would you sign Preston? Preston’s potential can now be finally unleashed outside of Knight’s demeaning and derogatory wrath. This freedom could propel one of the best long distant runners on the show into the top group of men. He has a great social game and seems to bond with everyone not named Knight. He is really tall and will be difficult for smaller players (Swift, Cohutta) to beat in more physical eliminations.
Why would you not sign Preston? His will to compete has been a growing work in progress. He still may have some athleticism and risk aversion opportunities. Does he live to compete in Challenges?
Potential Allies: Jemmye and the other woman of the house; Frank, reasonable people, and any anti-Knight faction that is thrilled to see him freed from Knight’s darkness
Potential Enemies: His will to compete
Best-case scenario: The best-case scenario for Preston involves a whole lot of elimination luck and some solidified alliances, but there is a slight chance that he could be on the verge of a final if he gets the dealt the right cards and uses them effectively.
Worst-case scenario: The worst-case scenario is that his opposition to Knight was a galvanizing force at the end of last season and that the momentum built from his promising finish lacks the same motivation this time around.
The Verdict: This is a talented group of male competitors, but there are enough clear advantages for Preston to make it out of the first several eliminations. If he manages to stay out of the drama and under the radar of the game’s heavyweights, there is potential for a breakout season.


8) ZACHZachWhere did we last see him? Zach was last seen sophomore slumping on Rivals 2, eventually disqualifying himself (there was a bit of a directions folly) in the Jungle elimination week 5.
The Challenge History: Free Agents will be Zach’s third straight Challenge season. His Team San Diego (where verbal abusing teammates happens) won it all on Battle of the Seasons (season 23) and the aforementioned Rivals 2 (season 24) was a bit of a letdown.
Why would you sign Zach? Zach is an athletic and physical power. He feeds off of competition and gives all of his physical and emotional self in an attempt to win. Freed from the entanglements of partnering with others (he and Trey did manage to find some common ground before imploding at the end), the Free Agents format will benefit Zach as much as anyone else. He will be hungry to bounce back from a disappointing second season.
Why would you not sign Zach? Rivals 2 exposed some of his weaknesses. Will they be quelled this time around? Although this is billed as an individual game, relationships will still matter and the ones that were most important to his success on Battle of the Seasons (Frank and then, cuddle buddy, Jonna) have either ended (Jonna) or have inexplicably gone off the rails (Frank). There is much competitive pressure in a Challenge house and Zach has yet to prove how well he can handle it.
Potential Allies: CT and Johnny (Boston Strong); it is possible that he and Frank have reconciled again
Potential Enemies: Dustin; There was some healthy antagonistic banter between Zach and Chet during Battle of the Seasons; Does Jonna have lingering animus?
Best-case scenario: Zach has the physical ability to go the end in a “every man for himself” competition and through a series of elimination gut checks and momentum gains, wills himself to a final challenge appearance (at which point it is anybody’s game).
Worst-case scenario: Zach lets other competitors get in his head and it paralyzes him in an elimination round against an inferior opponent, sending him packing earlier than expected.
The Verdict: Zach as a partner or teammate is very different than Zach as an individual. Free Agents will absolutely play to his strengths. He desperately wants to win and, on paper, is completely ready to do so. I have a feeling that his Rivals 2 sophomore slump will be an aberration in his Challenge career.

7) CHETChetWhere did we last see him? We last saw one of the sport’s most reliable interviewees anchoring Team Brooklyn (along with his amazing female teammate, Sarah) to a third place finish on the sand dunes of the Namibian Desert on Battle of the Seasons.
The Challenge History: This is Chet’s fourth Challenge season. Previous seasons were The Ruins (season 18), Cutthroat (season 20), and Battle of the Seasons (season 23) when his Team Brooklyn made it to the finals.
Why would you sign Chet? As Battle of the Seasons proved, Chet is more than just a bow tie promoter. Of all the men participating, he will not let the nighttime extra-curricular activities affect his game. Although totally competent athletically, others will underestimate him (as they did on Battle of the Seasons), keeping him from being targeted early and often. He has proved he can handle endurance challenges.
Why would you not sign Chet? There are several guys participating who are physically much stronger. This will be his first challenge without Sarah, and, although able to more than stand on his own, Team Brooklyn loyalty runs deep. It is unclear who he will align with this time around. He is one of the competitors who likely benefits from being part of a team.
Potential Allies: Cohutta; Johnny Bananas; Jemmye; Devyn (Brooklyn Strong, if he can forget her Namibian Desert hair choices); pretty much everyone
Potential Enemies: Zach; CT; unnecessary drama; Camila
Best-case scenario: Chet makes the right alliances early and stays out of “The Draw” against formidable competition, paving the way for another final challenge appearance.
Worst-case scenario: The Free Agents format does not align well with Chet’s strengths and forces him to have to prove himself in an early elimination against a dominating physical force.
The Verdict: Not that Battle of the Seasons was any bit of an easy go, but I think the Free Agents conceit will be a harder sell for Chet’s game. If he finds the right people to align with and competes well in challenges, he has a legitimate shot at a finals return, but the competition will be that much better this season. I expect a strong showing, but that Chet will not be as successful as he was on Battle of the Seasons.

Read Part II