Tag Archives: Johnny Bananas

THE CHALLENGE: FREE AGENTS Season Predictions

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

Best Interview

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

DEVYNDevyn

CHETChet

The Breakout

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

JESSICAJessica

PRESTONPreston

The Leap

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

JEMMYEJemmye

JORDANJordan

Rookie of the Year

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

NIANia

Some Bold Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Final Four

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

LAUREL LaurelCARA MARIACara MariaJEMMYEJemmyeJESSICAJessica

CTCTJOHNNY BANANASJohnny BananasJORDANJordanDUSTINDustin

 Most Valuable Player

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

LAURELLaurel

JORDANJordan

THE CHALLENGE: FREE AGENTS Preseason Power Rankings – Men Division – Part II

Read Part I of the MEN DIVISION here.

PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS – MEN DIVISION

RETURN TO FORM

6) LEROYLeroyWhere did we last see him? We last saw Leroy and partner Ty come up short against rookie sensations Jordan and Marlon in the Jungle elimination of episode seven of last season’s Rivals 2.
The Challenge History: Free Agents is Leroy’s fourth season on The Challenge. Previous appearances were in Rivals (season 21 and a trip to the finals with Mikey Mike), Battle of the Exes (season 22), and Rivals 2 (season 24).
Why would you sign Leroy? Leroy is straightforward and direct. He tells you what he thinks, but has the stature and respect of his fellow competitors. He is a phenomenal athlete who competes at the highest level in a number of events. He is well-regarded by both the Johnny Bananas and CT power trees of the modern Challenge era. He is a loyal friend and will always have the back of those that are close to him.
Why would you not sign Leroy? Since a breakout The Challenge rookie campaign, his performances in Battle of the Exes and Rivals 2 (partners Naomi and Ty may have had a little something to do with this) fell a little short. Sometimes you have to get a little dirty to be successful on The Challenge and this may not come naturally to Leroy.
Potential Allies: Dustin and Nany (Real World: Las Vegas Strong); Brandon (Las Vegas Strong); Johnny Bananas and CT
Potential Enemies: From strictly a competitive standpoint, the other most physically gifted competitors like Zach, Frank, and Jordan
Best-case scenario: Based upon expectations and/or track record, Leroy has never been matched with the best partner. Thankfully, when Adam Royer embarrassed himself on the first few days of Rivals, his replacement was Leroy’s best bud, Mike, from Real World: Las Vegas. Their strong relationship propelled them to exceed expectations. Both Naomi and Ty were going to limit Leroy’s ultimate staying power in his last two seasons. Now, unencumbered by a fatal partnership on Free Agents, Leroy will be able to do his solo thing, compete against the frontrunners, and have a legitimate shot to compete in the finals.
Worst-case scenario: Either he is targeted to go into an elimination because he is such a big threat or he falls victim to “The Draw” against one of the game’s elite physical competitors (CT, Zach) and loses an close battle.
The Verdict: I incorrectly predicted that Rivals 2 would be Leroy’s season (a preseason MVP prediction) to “make the leap.” It is time to go at least a few steps out on that lim again: Leroy will be around for at least the final elimination before the finals. Free Agents will be his return to form, but due to the stiffest competition he has faced, this may not be “the leap” season quite yet.

THE NEW ELITE

5) DUSTINDustinWhere did we last see him? We last saw Dustin instrumentally drive his faltering relationship with Trishelle to a second place finish in the Namibian Desert Battle of the Seasons final challenge.
The Challenge History: This is Dustin’s third season on The Challenge. Previously he was on Battle of the Exes (season 22) and Battle of the Seasons (season 23 and a finals trip).
Why would you sign Dustin? Dustin is an outstanding athlete and may have more of an issue with losing than any of the other twenty-seven competitors this season (he likes to win!). He is a loyal supporter of his fellow Las Vegas cast members (Nany and Leroy) and has proved that he will always have their back. He will excel in a number of different types of challenges. He is headstrong and fearless.
Why would you not sign Dustin? Sometimes his tireless pursuit of winning can rub less-inclined competitors the wrong way. His motivational tactics are not always supportive (more like Frank than like Leroy). If his enemies stay true from Battle of the Seasons, they are powerful players in this game.
Potential Allies: Nany and Leroy (Las Vegas Strong); Jemmye (New Orleans Strong); he and Chet worked well together on separate teams during Battle of the Seasons
Potential Enemies: Frank and Zach
Best-case scenario: Dustin has always been destined for The Challenge greatness and Free Agents, through frequent challenge domination and sound alliance building, could be the season that he wins in the finals.
Worst-case scenario: Sometimes taking a season off after a finals trip can be a momentum killer. A challenge DQ places an early elimination target on Dustin’s back that forces him to battle with one of the other elite players who is ultimately too much to overcome.
The Verdict: Free Agents is tailor-made for a competitor of Dustin’s skill set. He will excel with a solo mission (especially away from his frequent, albeit at times warranted, frustration with female teammates) format and will return to the finals with a plausible opportunity to win.

4) FRANKFrankWhere did we last see him? We last saw Frank and teammate Johnny Bananas get outlasted and outplayed in the Rivals 2 final challenge by eventual winners CT and Wes.
The Challenge History: Amazingly, this is Frank’s third season on The Challenge. He won Battle of the Seasons (season 23) as the vocal leader of Team San Diego and made it to the finals again last year as Johnny Bananas twitter sparring partner (some rivalry) on Rivals 2 (season 24).
Why would you sign Frank? His track record speaks for itself – two seasons in and Frank has proved himself as one of the elite Challenge competitors. His second season, despite an early CT mashup, was the most drama free of his Bunim-Murray tenure. He is in peak physical form, one of, if not the the best, swimmer, and may have more running endurance (until Preston can prove himself!) than any other guy. His strategic game is Johnny Bananas-level elite.
Why would you not sign Frank? Despite this mellower version of himself, there are several competitors this season who have been recipients of Frank’s nighttime extra-curricular activity blow-ups and may want to enact some degree of revenge. He may benefit from a more team-oriented game suited to his strategic advantages. After a free-flowing and potentially contract-breaking interview on Grantland’s Right Reasons podcast with Juliet Litman and Dave Jacoby last season, his positive energy toward the franchise may have wained.
Potential Allies: Johnny Bananas (they created a mutually beneficial partnership last year surprisingly well); Jordan; Are he and Zach close again?
Potential Enemies: CT; Dustin; Nany; Chet; Camila
Best-case scenario: Frank once again dominates the social/strategic game while backing up his supremacy with consistently strong performances in challenges. This leads to his third straight finals appearance in three tries and a credible shot to win it all.
Worst-case scenario: Frank’s past enemies pounce on him early. Unprotected from a team or partnership, he must face off in an early elimination against a strong competitor who ends up beating him.
The Verdict: Something feels a little strange of about Frank heading into this Challenge season. Promos have been noticeably leaving him out (he had been a fixture the last two seasons), which leads me to believe that he will not be hanging out in Uruguay for too long a time. This is just conjecture – a hunch – but something doesn’t feel right (I was surprised to even hear he participated after his Bunim-Murray fall out last season). I could be completely off-base (as has happened many times before), but I have a feeling that this is not going to be one of Frank’s best seasons. I would graciously like to be proved wrong, but for now, I predict an early exit.

3) JORDANJordanWhere did we last see him? We last saw rookies Jordan and Real World: Portland partner, Marlon, destroy their Rivals 2 competition, leading to a finals appearance (at least to day 1) and a third place finish.
The Challenge History: Free Agents will be Jordan’s sophomore season on The Challenge. Last year he made it to the finals on Rivals 2 (season 24).
Why would you sign Jordan? Jordan is an INCREDIBLE athlete who seems to excel at everything you put in front of him. He won “Rookie of the Year” in my postseason awards column and he was a legitimate MVP candidate. His competitiveness is aptly matched by his unwavering will to fight against adversity. He is unafraid and will stand up to anyone, but gets when it is time to take a backseat to the strategic in-fighting of others. Made for the Free Agents format because he has the chance to dominate all individual challenges (the only ticket to safety against the unpredictability of “The Draw”).
Why would you not sign Jordan? You would sign Jordan. His inherent pugnacity could be used against him.
Potential Allies: Jess, Johnny, and Nia (Portland Strong); I see he and Cohutta getting along really well, the women competitors in general
Potential Enemies: As previewed in the trailer, Johnny Bananas; the rest of the competition
Best-case scenario: He dominates challenges, avoids eliminations, and makes the right alliances to find himself in a return trip to the finals with a totally credible opportunity to win.
Worst-case scenario: The worst-case scenario is that his greatest foes are hip to his potential threat and keep putting him into eliminations to test his might. After several wins, Jordan’s luck runs out against another elite player selected by “The Draw.”
The Verdict: Jordan will not have a sophomore slump, will ride the momentum from an outstanding rookie campaign on Rivals 2 to several challenge wins, and will be back competing in the finals as once again, a potential season MVP candidate.

LEGENDARY STATUS

2) JOHNNY BANANASJohnny BananasWhere did we last see him? We last saw Johnny Bananas graciously cede his The Challenge crown to long-time and deserved foe, CT, in the Rivals 2 final challenge.
The Challenge History: Free Agents is Johnny Bananas’ tenth season on The Challenge. He has previously appeared in The Duel (season 13), The Inferno 3 (season 14), The Gauntlet III (season 15), The Island (season 16), The Ruins (season 18), Cutthroat (season 20), Rivals (season 21), Battle of the Exes (season 22), and Rivals 2 (season 24). He has been to the finals six times and has won four times (The Island, The Ruins, Rivals, Battle of the Exes).
Why would you sign Johnny Bananas? Johnny Bananas is the most successful competitor in The Challenge history. His brand of excellent physical play, strategic genius, and brash competitiveness has been instrumental in solidifying The Challenge’s fifth MAPS (Major American Professional Sport) status. Still in his prime, he has been to three straight finals (with two wins). He can work with even the most unexpected competitor (as he proved last season with Frank) and will forge mutually beneficial relationships that push him further in the game. He has strong relationships with many guys and girls.
Why would you not sign Bananas? His final challenge performance last season was a little bit of a disappointment (even if last season seemed to be all about destiny’s child, CT, finally getting over the victory hump) and showed some cracks in his armor. The journey to win a solo game like Free Agents will be one of the hardest obstacles Johnny Bananas has faced in his ten seasons. Some of his consummate and loyal supporters are not participating this season (Paula is having a baby! Kenny and Evan are still not allowed to participate?)
Potential Allies: Just going down the list, depending on what is in his best strategic interest: Frank, Leroy, Jordan, CT, Laurel, Aneesa, Dustin, Jemmye, Camila, Jessica, Brandon, Preston, Cohutta
Potential Enemies: Respected foe CT; respected competitor Jordan; there is no love loss between Johnny and Cara (although their may strategic alignment benefit).
Best-case scenario: With Johnny’s track record and continued excellence, a finals appearance and a Challenge win are consistently in play.
Worst-case scenario: Free Agents could force Johnny to compete early and often in eliminations, something he frequently avoids. Father time will come to him at some point on The Challenge. Will this be the year?
The Verdict: Further inspired by a disappointing finals, Johnny (and his Bobblehead) will be back this season with a vengeance. Whilst facing his own Challenge mortality, I look for this to be a classic Johnny Bananas performance and a record seventh finals appearance.

WATCH THE BANANAS PROMO

1) CTCTWhere did we last see him? We last saw CT and his long-standing nuisance and rival Wes put their differences aside and ride a dominant performance in Rivals 2 to his first The Challenge win.
The Challenge History: Like Johnny, Free Agents will be CT’s tenth season on The Challenge. He has previously appeared on The Inferno (season 8), The Inferno II (season 10), The Duel (season 13), The Inferno 3 (season 14), The Gauntlet III (season 15), The Duel II (season 17), Rivals (season 21), Battle of the Exes (season 22), Rivals 2 (season 24). He has been to five finals. Rivals 2 was his first win.
Why would you sign CT? Like Johnny Bananas, CT is one of the handful of competitors that has spearheaded the development of The Challenge as the fifth MAPS (Major American Professional Sport). He is a physical animal who has been striking fear in the competition since season 8 (season 8!). CT’s training and strategic game have greatly improved over the last several seasons. He has never been better and is peaking at a time in his career when he should be taking a few steps backwards. CT is the ultimate “Free Agent.” Under all circumstances, you would rather have CT on your side than against you. Diem is not on this season, so CT is devoid of what could be traditionally his biggest distraction (although it didn’t seem to affect him much last season).
Why would you not sign CT? Will he lose some competitive momentum and drive after finally getting over the finals hump last year? He always going to be a target and will have even more people gunning for him this year. His bodyguard, Knight, will not be participating.
Potential Allies: Isaac (although, we are not sure if he really has his back according to one of the promos); Aneesa, Laurel, and Cara Maria (you will not find three stronger woman); women that are seduced by his charms
Potential Enemies: long-time and respected foe, Johnny Bananas; Frank
Best-case scenario: The taste of victory was sweet for CT and he wants some of the action again. No one will want to chance going up against him in an elimination, so “The Draw” may be the only way he sees an elimination. He rides this protection to another finals appearance and a chance at winning two Challenges in a row.
Worst-case scenario: The worst-case scenario is that CT loses some of his edge and just wants to have a relaxing vacation. He loses “The Draw” and then underestimates one of the new elite (Dustin, Frank, Jordan, Zach, Leroy) in an elimination.
The Verdict: The reigning champion and the reigning MVP will want a taste for more and there aren’t too many competitors out there with much of a chance to stop him. He should be returning to the finals.

WATCH THE CT PROMO

NEXT UP: Part I of the Women Division

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.

PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS – MEN DIVSION

THE ROOKIES

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).

BACK FROM SYDNEY

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.

THE LAST CHANCE?

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.

NO KNIGHT, NO PROBLEMS

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.

SOMETHING TO PROVE

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

The Challenge: Free Agents Trailer – A Zapruder Analysis

Most major professional sports have offseasons filled with blockbuster trades, upside loaded drafts where we hear constantly about things like wingspan, player signing periods, and a consistent flow of media attention (something has to fill all twenty four hours of television programming on ESPN and its numerous subsidiaries).  The Challenge, widely accepted at this point as the fifth major professional sport (at least in the United States, international football nitpickers), is uniquely kept under a contracted (designed to be Frank Sweeney proof) veil of secrecy.  Some early rumors sustain our rampant excitement, but can they be trusted?  What if a speculated participant’s strange twitter absence this fall was due to an intended social media purge and not because they were in some remote location filming?  If MTV and challengers won’t confirm the inevitable competitor picture collage that surfaces, should we consider it reliable?

All of this uncertainty surrounding the twenty fifth (Twenty five seasons! Incredible!) of The Challenge faced its celebrated demise earlier this week when official cast pictures were unwrapped for the new season.  With an enormous appetite officially whetted, today the first appetizer course was served.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I present you the first trailer for The Challenge: Free Agents:

Things just got real.  It is time for my annual “Zapruder Analysis” (frame by frame dissection) of this scintillating sixty seconds of glorious footage.  So we begin…

0:01 – This opening aerial shot of the maze-like collision star set against the foreboding underscoring is an immediate tone-setter.  “Welcome to The Challenge.  Warning: competitive danger lies ahead.”  One second in and the excitement level could not possibly higher.

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0:02 – I have watched this collision back now several dozen times, and this is the real deal, people.  Nany obliterates Cara Maria (finally here to start a season for a change!) head on and then ricochets into the modern Amazonian goddess, Laurel (Welcome back! We missed you).  The Challenge: Free Agents is a full-contact sport and will show no mercy.

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0:04 – In case you have any doubts about just how dangerous things will get, this burning demonstration should dispel these doubts.

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0:05: “This season, it’s an individual game – Free Agents,” explains TJ Lavin the Great.  The time had come for a move to a more individual game free from the alliances of old and the attempts to dethrone them of the new. One bittersweet realization is that Sarah will not be competing for the first time in seven challenges.  No one deserves a shot at individual The Challenge glory more than Sarah who had the misfortune of being teamed up with a quitting partner (Trishelle on Rivals 2), Devyn in an endurance heavy final (on Battle of the Seasons, although I am happy to see Devyn compete a second time), and a partner who assaulted another competitor (Vinny on Exes).  Can’t she be a late game arrival like Cara Maria?  Could she at least be brought on this time as “The Confessioner?”  Let us hope.  In the meantime, Cara’s reaction to TJ’s announcement is without a price.

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5.1

0:06 – TJ Lavin the Great without a hat and his “flow” haircut underneath? This season does promise to have many changes.

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0:11 – CT’s soundbite: “I’ve always been a free agent.  Now everybody’s gonna have to play my game.” The defending champion and Boston’s strongest is back!  I agree with him.  This season could have been called The Challenge: Experience what CT goes through every year.  My question is, like in the other four major professional sports, can you sign free agents to work for your team?  Great season title, Bunim-Murray.

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0:17 – Lost in the “challenges that are up high are really scary” surface level understanding of these images is the triumphant return of Jessica, last season’s surprising Real World: Portland alum.  The heroic valiance of her Princess Hulk final performances was not lost on this loyal Challenge commentator (nor was her dedicated offseason workout regimen).  My preseason power rankings are forthcoming (sometime in the next three weeks), but I have a feeling Jessica’s placement is going to surprise a lot of people.  Bold prediction: she is one of the handful of competitors to watch this season and could go deep.

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17.1
0:19 – Seriously though, please be careful when you are up that high or you might fall off.  Oops.
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0:21 – “This is an individual game.  This is not a team game.” – Johnny Bananas.  The Challenge does not really begin until the legendary Johnny Bananas has a say.  Although maybe not of the poetic permanence of Johnny’s “All’s fair in love, war, and Challenges” from last season, the profound simplicity of his two sentences stands out.  The subtext: “It is every man and woman for his or herself and I plan to win.  This time I am playing only for Johnny.”  Welcome back, Johnny.  The Challenge is what it is today because of you and will not be the same when you finally hang up your oversized bandana.  (One additional note: congrats to reigning champ and recent Challenge retiree Paula who is recently engaged and having a baby).
0:22 – Camila shows the new elimination format twist (TJ Lavin the Great loves a good twist!) confirmed in today’s BuzzFeed article: one person in the elimination round will be chosen by the winner of the challenge, but the other person will be chosen by a random drawing.  If you want to be safe, you have to win.
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0:24-0:28 – Aneesa, Devyn, and Jonna cannot believe their eyes.  Chet lets us know that he is “going to fight for every inch.”  The elimination arena does not seem like the happiest of places.
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26.1
0:30 – “Romance” is in the air (after this disastrous season of The Bachelor, I couldn’t be more ready)!  Last season, Jordan had a momentous hookup with Sarah in a closet.  This season, it appears he is smitten with Laurel.  Beyond impeccable taste in women, Jordan is a legitimate threat to win this Challenge.  In other Real World: Portland news, Johnny (as in Daisy Dog, Bridgewater, MA Johnny) continues to inexplicably kiss beautiful women (First Averey, now Nany).
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0:32 – “I believe that hooking up in the game may have its advantages.” Jemmye knows what’s up.  I would also argue that a Challenge without Knight has its advantages for the audience, for other’s pining to guard CT’s body, for those wishing to be treated with respect, and especially for Preston and Jemmye who can finally be out from under Knight’s disrespectful behavior for the first time.

0:33 – Wait, who is Dustin kissing?

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0:35 – So, Nany likes to kiss…
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35.1
0:37 – …and may be crying because of it.  Poor thing.  I am just glad Dustin is back as her “big brother” emotional support rock.
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0:38 – “The only way to stay safe in this game is to win.”  TJ Lavin the Great should know.
0:38 – Isaac has returned after a seven season hiatus.  Always a little bit of a wildcard (as erratic behavior on his original Real World: Sydney season showcased), Mr. Stout and his fashion pioneering haircut will be an interesting addition to this group of mostly established Challenge competitors.
38.1
0:39 – This is some nice camera focus work highlighting this potential showdown between likely women’s favorite Laurel and Theresa (another breakout performer, especially in extracurricular nighttime activity, early on last season).  In case you haven’t already realized, this cast is kind of stacked.
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0:42 – Listen, Swifty is not the tallest of men, so he needs to elevate himself sometimes to get through a scrum.  Also noteworthy in these images is the most substantive footage of Frank in the entire trailer.  Is this an intentional slight?  Is MTV that burned by his open, honest, and apparently contract-breaching Grantland interview that they have gone out of their way to edit him out here?  Or, does the lack of footage indicate an early elimination? You can say many things about Frank, but   one thing you must admit is that he has been GREAT for the last two seasons of The Challenge.  Let us hope that this is all “much ado about nothing” conjecture.
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42.1
0:43 – Um, who is this woman?
42.2
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43.1
0:43 – I feel like Zach is often in a lot of pain.
43.3
0:44 – “It’s me vs. you and I love that.”  And this Challenge commentator loves that you are back, Laurel.  After three finals losses (the last of which was on the first Rivals too many seasons ago), Laurel deserves another shot to be the first person of a season to reach the proverbial Challenge mountain top.  A few years removed, a few years wiser, but still the same exceptional athlete and beautiful presence, Laurel is the woman to beat.
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0:47 – I think that canoes are meant to stay upright, but I could be wrong.
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0:48 – Perhaps the most telling moment of the trailer comes around the forty eight second mark.  Although a brief conversation, there is potentially so much here.  Jordan: “I will send you home.” The Legendary Johnny Bananas: “I will end you, bro.”  These two had some competitive clashes in Thailand last season on Rivals 2, but now that each individual has a degree of free agency, it could get even more interesting this season.  Their battle for supremacy could be one of the central story lines of Free Agents.
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0:51 – Yes!  There will be snow on the final!  There will be a midseason climate change!  That’s what I’m talking about!
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0:54 – Boom.
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0:57 – …And on Thursday nights?  Very interesting.  The countdown to April 10 has officially begun.
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Note: Culture Challenged will be covering The Challenge: Free Agents all season (I moved all my work from Bishop and Company).  Stay tuned for preseason power rankings columns in the coming weeks.
The Challenge: Free Agents premieres April 10 at 10 p.m. on MTV.

THE CHALLENGE: RIVALS 2 Postseason Awards

Earlier this week, our (most of the time) good friends at MTV and Bunim-Murray announced that there will be (as if there was any doubt) a season 25 of The Challenge, America’s fifth major professional sport.  Before we can rejoice in potential future happenings (Duel 3?), wants (Laurel to return, justice for Sarah), and predictions (Jordan is an early favorite to win) for the next season, we must reflect on the at times masterful and compelling, at times frustrating and degrading, but always reliable and entertaining just completed season of The Challenge: Rivals 2.  Here is a thorough breakdown of superlatives and awards for the season that was:

Most successful use of little screen time: Anastasia, who was at the center of drama for her two episodes on the show that may have won her an improbable call to return

Least successful use of little screen time: Tyrie, whose one notable moment this season involved a very public bathroom experience

Person that hung around way too long for such a little contribution: Knight

Person whose stay in Thailand was way too short: Sarah

Most successful attempt to be silent: Ty

Worst attempt to be silent: Knight

People who had less screen time than Johnny’s Bobble Head: Tyrie, Dunbar, Robb, Naomi

Most welcome returns from at least a season of hiatus: Paula, Johnny, CT

Most unconventional workout: Aneesa, who ran on the deck through a burgeoning fight

A meltdown that I already forgot: Zach’s not so sportsmanlike exit

A meltdown that will be hard to forget: Camila’s out of nowhere (is there any other kind for her?) once a season blowout

The “It’s Time to Officially Retire” award: (tie) Trishelle and Tyrie

Low points of the season: Sarah’s unnecessary departure, Knight’s immaturity at the reunion

High points of the season: The “Bananas still has it” episode, Jordan’s hookup with Sarah, Diem’s courageous everything, CT and Johnny’s old vet conversation on the eve of the final

Most unexpected altercations: CT and Anastasia, Diem and Jemmye

Most expected altercations: Frank and CT, Frank and Jordan, Knight and Jemmye

The “My 2008 Self Could Never Have Seen This Coming” award: How well Wes and CT gelled, how Paula is in the conversation for all-time pantheon of Challenge competitors

The “My 2008 Self Saw This Coming” award: The Bananas and CT/Wes fight after Johnny’s challenge vomiting

The “Maybe The Outcome Will Be Different With Another Partner” award: Preston, who is so ready to distance himself from his New Orleans housemate

Best hidden camera moment: Jordan and Sarah’s closet hookup

Most competitive major award: Rookie of the Year, Jordan, Marlon, and Cooke all had incredible first campaigns (more on this in a bit)

The “Could You At Once Be On Time to the Party” award: Cara Maria, I just think it would give her better stability in those first few weeks

The “I Forgot You Were On This Season When Writing This Column” award: Dunbar

The Rivals 2 Media Guide Cover Would Feature: CT, Bananas, Paula, Emily, and Jordan

Best interview: Paula, consistently hysterical, self-effacing, and honest; Honorable Mention: Jemmye, CT, Jasmine

The “Sophomore Slump is a Real Thing” award: (tie) Zach and Nany

The “Sophomore Slump Doesn’t Exist” award: Frank

Best impression of a Marvel Super Hero: Jessica’s Princess Hulk

Worst impression of a Marvel Super Hero: Trishelle’s the Invisible Woman this season, Knight’s nondescript villain character that he always seems to play

Most in need of swimming lessons during the offseason: (tie) Marlon and Cara Maria

Best use of words:  Johnny Bananas for the epic summation/credo “All’s fair in love, war, and challenges.” Honorable Mention: Aneesa for coining “Trashelle,” all of the #teamsubtitles communication between Camila and Jemmye

Worst use of words: Diem’s rap

The “I am Glad I can Rewind Because That Was Incredible” Award: Jordan, an uber-amazing athlete who kept finding more ways to show us why

Real World season that had the best showing: (tie) Key West (Paula and Johnny) and Portland (Jordan, Marlon, Jess, and Ana)

Worst impression of Kevin Costner: Knight’s fanboy bodyguard routine during CT’s early fights

Best impression of Kevin Costner: Frank ‘s incredible swimming was straight the Mariner from Waterworld

Best conflict resolution reflexes: Emily, at the reunion and when Camila’s drunkenness exploded

Best TJ Lavin moment: His delivery of the Zach elimination disqualification news

Worst TJ Lavin moment: When he told Sarah she had to go home.  TJ, could you have at least tried to call an audible on production?

Vomiting that got the most play: (tie) Johnny’s in the final men elimination challenge before the final and the awful eating stage in the final

Best manipulation of “rivals” conceit: Johnny and Frank (A twitter war? Really?), Paula and Emily (they were thrilled to be together from the start and their performance showed this throughout)

Best player stock to buy (for future season success): Jordan

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER

MEN: FRANK

WOMEN: JEMMYE

FrankJemmye

Honorable Mention: Preston, Wes, Aneesa

Preseason Prediction – Men: Trey; Women: Jemmye

Midseason Award – Men: Frank; Women: Aneesa

In a very similar fashion to last season (speaking of fashion – Preston is setting trends – whether he has any followers or not is yet to be seen), Preston had a great last day, further showing himself as ready to be as far away from Knight’s shadow in future seasons as possible.  Although some of his early season success may have been on the circumstantial end of the scale, he did make it within one elimination of the final.  Wes, who had to go into an early elimination with Lacey last fall on Battle of the Seasons (an almost guaranteed subsequent loss), managed the social game as well as he ever has and has the hardware (or money in this case) to show for it.  Frank is the ultimate winner of this award because, although he had some moments of his most volatile and uncontrollable self rearing its most ugly (but good for TV!) self, his leap as a loyal and dedicated teammate and friend was substantial.  He and Johnny were an understandable hot (Thailand temperatures were an issue all season) mess (eating durian will cause this) during parts of the final, but Frank managed to keep any cruelty and low-blowing (poor Sam had to endure quite the barrage in Turkey and Namibia) out of the mix.  His admirable passivity when faced with Knight’s premeditated violence at the live reunion is at the heart of what “most improved” is all about.  On the women side, Jemmye narrowly beats out Aneesa for the award because not only did she have to compete in challenges and in the social game, but she had to learn to communicate with a partner who spoke an entirely different language.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

JORDAN

Jordan

Honorable Mention: Marlon, Cooke

Preseason Prediction – Marlon

Midseason Award – Jordan

All three of them – Marlon, Cooke, and Jordan – had incredible rookie campaigns.  Marlon was a fighter from the first night (I am still not sure why he and CT were fighting in the pool), successfully hooked up with both guys and girls and continues to walk the walk of being himself, and had the best attempt at bringing down the tomfoolery of Knight of anyone on the cast.  His Challenge career has only yet begun.  Cooke began in the no-woman’s land of a partnership with the endearing, but less than athletic Naomi (who had to go home for honorable familial reasons), but managed to take full advantage of her second partner’s improved competitorness.  She fought through many an elimination, used her down time effectively (peeing or allowing others to pants her), and was a consummate cheerleader, motivator, and warrior in challenges.  She too is primed for a successful future career, but her first season second place finish will always stand as a major achievement.  Jordan ultimately wins the award (and was a legitimate MVP candidate) for not only dominating every challenge put before him, but for fully understanding his own strengths and weaknesses as a competitor both athletically and socially and then taking this information to adapt and evolve throughout the season as if he was the savviest of veterans.  He found a perfect balance of being a rookie, respectful and aware that he would have to pay his dues to get to the finals, while also demonstrating a willingness to stand strong against attempts (poor Theresa felt so betrayed!) to persuade him against what was in his best interest.  He was not afraid of the big guns (and at times told Bananas and CT thus), but he knew not to take too much effort to fight every battle (as the edit may have conveyed about him while in Portland).  Jordan was in control of his game and dealt with each machination of adversity head on and without fear.  Perhaps his greatest feat of the season: despite her brief stay in the Thailand house, Jordan managed to build a romantic rapport with Sarah that led to a little hot and heavy rendezvous in front of the hidden closet cameras.  As he said at the time, “Physically Sarah is beautiful, and then add her personality in there and she is an amazing catch for anyone…Sarah is the kind of girl that you marry.”  This now Rookie of the Year winner just gets it.

MVP

MEN: CT

WOMEN: PAULA & EMILY

CT working alone

Paula and Emily

Honorable Mention: Johnny Bananas, Jordan, Wes, Cooke

Preseason Prediction – Men: Johnny Bananas (runner up: Leroy); Women: Emily (runner up: Sarah)

Midseason Award – Men: Johnny Bananas (runner up: CT); Women: Emily and Paula (tie)

Johnny Bananas summarized the men side of this award best in the final episode: “You win some and you lose some, but I hate to say it, but I think that the team that deserved to win won today.  Rivalry between me and CT aside, the guy’s put in his time.  We’ve spilled the same blood in the same mud.  It’s only appropriate for him to at some point get a win.”  CT is the rightful MVP.  As for the women, how can you choose between Paula and Emily?  Only a co-win does justice to their season of dominance, teamwork, determination, drive, and commitment.  They aligned from TJ’s initial partnership announcement and never strayed from their dedication and support of each other.  They are so much of what is so good about this fifth professional sport.

FINAL RIVALS 2 POWER RANKINGS

MEN

  1. CT

  2. Wes

  3. Bananas

  4. Frank

  5. Jordan

  6. Marlon

  7. Leroy

  8. Trey

  9. Ty

  10. Zach

  11. Preston

  12. Dunbar

  13. Robb

  14. Derek

  15. Tyrie

  16. Knight

WOMEN

  1. (tie) Paula/Emily

  2. Cooke

  3. Cara Maria

  4. Sarah

  5. Aneesa

  6. Jemmye

  7. Camila

  8. Diem

  9. Jonna

  10. Nany

  11. Jasmine

  12. Jessica

  13. Theresa

  14. Anastasia

  15. Trishelle

  16. Naomi

One final note: It has been quite a ride this season for yours truly.  Thank you for all of your feedback and the time and energy you gave to reading my usually longer than necessary pieces.  Thank you to the cast for making this journey so enjoyable and for your consistent and humbling spreading of the word.  See you all next season (and undoubtedly for some interim Challenge columns in between…)!

 

THE CHALLENGE: RIVALS 2 Finale Recap

Hold on.  Let me just catch my breath.  My heart is still pounding.

Final episode nights of competition based reality television programs (and I realize that The Challenge is so much more than that, but for purposes of my argument, let us buy in) are often a bit anticlimactic.  First, the trials, tribulations, and extracurricular nighttime activities that stretch the heart of the season frequently seem to have more pickles in the fish soup jar than the season’s culminating act.  The journey to get there is more engaging than the there.  Once the winner is no longer in doubt (I cannot remember a final challenge that was a real nail-biter), the momentum is drained from the proceedings faster than a Tyrie elimination.  Second, if there is a “reunion special,” it is usually a perfect excuse to practice DVR fast-forwarding skills.  Either the host is out his league (more on this in a bit, think Donald Trump on The Apprentice whose live finales are an exercise in why) or the over abundance of segments and network micromanaging (I am looking at you every Survivor reunion – can we please just let the great Jeff Probst do his thing?) yields a clunky, poorly constructed, commercial interruption-fest.

Last night was the final night of this season of The Challenge: Rivals 2, the universally accepted fifth American professional sport.  The Final itself, an at times cruel and unusual punishment of a checkpoint completion based Thailand run around “Nightmare Island” (it had to have been named for the third idol station that Wes deemed “the worst restaurant” ever) had its memorable moments (a play by play to come), but the real mouth burning came in the live reunion special, hosted unintentionally comedically by Jonny Moseley who did his best impression of a human train wreck throughout the epic proceedings.  Also, as a point of clarification, the reunion special was LIVE (from New York!), often a clichéd forum for “anything to happen” that most commonly means dull and boring (risk aversion persists when the edit is only on a five-second delay), but this live reunion special was different.  Shocking interactions, disturbing acts of violence, beautiful shows of emotional support, and the Moseley factor made this live reunion the story of the night and one that could have lasting implications for this series.

Before we delve into the lessons learned from the reunion special, we have a Final to deconstruct (SPOILER ALERTS TO COME) in which our final four teams, CT and Wes, Johnny and Frank (Jordan and Marlon were in fact the capsizing culprits and did not make it to the super yacht in time – your Rivals 2 brilliant rookie season will be better encapsulated in my forthcoming postseason awards column), Paula and Emily, and Cooke and Cara Maria, after a brief swim from the super yacht, battle through five idol acquisition stations on “Nightmare Island.”  The first men team and the first women team to collect all idols and then complete a final canoe trip to the super yacht would win the first place prize (the second place teams are comically forced to wait on “Nightmare Island” and watch as the winners sail off into the sunset).

Paula and Emily

CHECKPOINT #1: It’s a Skull Puzzle.  There are fourteen spikes on a board and one open peg.  You have to jump one skull over another, eliminating spikes as you go.  The point is to end up with one spike left.

QUOTE: “This puzzle is the same puzzle I play when I am hungover at a country breakfast restaurant that I like to go to.” – CT

DIFFICULTY LEVEL: Although it may depend on how much time you spend at a country breakfast restaurant (what does this even mean?) hungover, I think it is relatively straightforward.

BEST PERFORMANCE: CT (“The Puzzle Master”) and Wes dominate and build a substantial lead over Johnny and Frank.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Paula and Emily lose their lead on Cooke and Cara after the initial swim and seem to be doing what Paula declares they do best: “freak out.”

KEY MOMENT: Cara’s “sees something in her head” and figures out a successful puzzle strategy.

ORDER OF FINISH: 1. CT/Wes  2. Cooke/Cara Maria  3. Johnny/Frank  4. Paula/Emily

Cara Maria

CHECKPOINT #2: “What’s Mine is Yours” features a math problem using the Pythagorean theorem that asks you to solve for the hypotenuse and then cut the corresponding rope that has the correct value attached to it.  If you read the fine print, only one player is allowed to do the math.  If you cut the wrong rope, you have to cut all five ropes.

QUOTE: “We have to solve a pythagoree theorem which is…I don’t know because I haven’t been to school since the ‘80s.” – Paula

DIFFICULTY LEVEL: Math is really hard for the competitors.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Tie. CT and Wes (apologies to his sixth grade geometry teacher) bypass the math and successfully gamble on the correct rope cut.  Cooke and Cara bypass the math and realize that the color of the rope is important and mirror the CT and Wes cut.  Astute work, ladies.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Frank’s ninth grade calculator over dependence comes back to haunt him.

KEY MOMENT: CT realizes that his “fat fingers” make for lousy pens.

ORDER OF FINISH: 1. CT/Wes  2. Cooke/Cara Maria  3. Johnny/Frank  4. Paula/Emily

Cara Maria

CHECKPOINT #3: “Food Test” features the consumption of, in order, a plate full of chili peppers, pickled fish soup (as disgusting as it sounds), a plate of worms, crickets and maggots, this fruit called durian that is known for smelling awful, and fried squid.  “Food Test” features vomiting (and lots of it!).

QUOTE: “Eating disgusting shit is my kryptonite.  Walking into this mad scientist laboratory, I literally felt like I just walked into my absolute worst nightmare.” – Bananas

“It’s a chorus of people puking their guts out.” – Bananas

“Goodbye…worst restaurant…ever.” – Wes

DIFFICULTY LEVEL: It is a nightmare – the most impossible of missions and should have been worth so much more money than the final prize.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Paula (“What do you eat on a regular basis Paula?” asks Emily), fueled by Cooke and Cara’s desperation, eats (and vomits) at a record pace, overtaking the women team lead.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Team Cooke and Cara Maria admirably struggled to eat what appeared to be the worst meal ever conceived.

KEY MOMENT: When Wes and CT decide to swallow the chili peppers like pills.  When Paula decides to dominate.

ORDER OF FINISH: 1. CT/Wes  2. Paula/Emily  3. Cooke/Cara Maria  4. Johnny/Frank

Emily and Paula

CHECKPOINT #4: “Body Issues” involves carrying twenty heavy body bags across a rice field on a stretcher with hot handles.

QUOTE: “Paula – focus, get your shit together, and help me.” – Emily

“I see Cooke and Cara struggling.  I see them stopping all the time.  I see them yelling, and this is just bringing me back to life!” – Paula

DIFFICULTY LEVEL: Frustratingly annoying.  The bags were heavy, the food ingestion was fresh, and the repetition was killer.  Wes was almost a casualty.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Johnny and Frank who did a very nice job (“second wind”) closing the gap on Wes and CT.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Cooke and Cara, who were forced to work on teaching each other the “1-2-3 lift” process a few too many times.

KEY MOMENT: When Paula got her shit together (in this checkpoint and, in truth, for Challenge historical reasons, in general).

ORDER OF FINISH: 1. CT/Wes  2. Johnny/Frank  3. Paula/Emily   4. Cooke/Cara Maria

Paula and Emily

CHECKPOINT #5: “Tunnel Vision” asked competitors to dig a whole to a trap door tunnel that leads to the idol.  Compared to the previous checkpoints, this was a cakewalk.

QUOTE: “This is it, brother.  Everything we have worked for.  This is it.” – CT

“This is happening.  This is happening.” – Emily

DIFFICULTY LEVEL: Too easy.  Way to not finish with a bang, Bunim/Murray production.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Wes and CT remained a consummate team to the end.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Production for a lame final checkpoint.

KEY MOMENT: CT and Wes and Emily and Paula finished first and won Rivals 2.

ORDER OF FINISH: 1. CT/Wes  2. Paula/Emily  3. Johnny/Frank  4. Cooke/Cara Maria

CT after nine previous attempts and almost a decade of Challenge appearances, wins his first Challenge.

Wes, who hasn’t won in a “solid six years,” wins for a second time.

TJ gives over the check

Paula wins her second Challenge and her second straight Rivals.

Emily, after several previous attempts and third place finishes, wins her first Challenge.

Shout out to all of you.

A few lingering thoughts and quotations from the final episode:

  • Johnny and Frank both acknowledged that they walked away as good friends.  Cooke and Cara are “grateful” for even making it to the finals and know how unlikely they were to have made it this far (do we even remember Naomi’s brief appearance on the show?).  Both second place teams walked away with tremendous dignity and were so gracious in defeat.
  • When I reflect on the season next week in my forthcoming postseason awards column, I will put CT’s win this season in some kind of historical context.  For now, the great Johnny Bananas, in such an eloquent and generous manner, gives respect to his longtime rival (set to a wonderfully produced montage of CT’s career highlights):  “You win some and you lose some, but I hate to say it, but I think that the team that deserved to win won today.  Rivalry between me and CT aside, the guy’s put in his time.  We’ve spilled the same blood in the same mud.  It’s only appropriate for him to at some point get a win.”
  • I gained so much respect for Wes this season for many reasons, but above all else, he was a phenomenal partner to CT.  He created a perfect balance, performed when it mattered, and never strayed from the task at hand of winning money at the end.  Congratulation to you.  Count me as one of the impressed.
  • You have to appreciate the simplicity of CT’s take: “I did it.  I finally won The Challenge.  It took me ten years, but me and Wes, we made it.  It is fair to say that me and Wes are no longer rivals.”
  • A tearful Paula: “I am always at, as I don’t know, not that good at shit.  I’m not good at Challenges.  I’m not good at elimination rounds, but I never wanted to let Emily down, so I did the best that I could, and I just hope that I made her proud to have me as a partner.”  Hey Paula, mission accomplished.  You rock.
  • Emily, third place will not be your destiny.
  • As TJ stated, these were the “two best teams all season” and they deserved to win.  Sometimes it is comforting to have the resolution make so much sense.  It was their time.

The Cast

The Challenge: Rivals 2 Live Reunion Special was live TV at it’s absolute best (and I am not even referring to Preston’s Amish hat) and absolute worst (violence is really scary and the choice of Jonny Moseley as the host is almost equally scary).  There were some clear lessons learned throughout.  Here are the most important takeaways in chronological order:

The hot seat was a fail.  Throughout the show, Jonny would have more intimate conversations on the “hot seat,” a faux-leather coach off to the side with a few competitors.  The groupings rarely made sense (CT/Wes and Jemmye/Camila, Frank, Knight, Emily, and Cara), the topics almost immediately went back to the big group (so why even be there in the first place), and there was violence (more on this shortly).

When Knight refers to Preston as “Mr. Rodgers” in what appears to be a state of some kind of “under the influence,” he probably is and has no idea what he is saying.

When you appear on live TV, you want your makeup to be more subtle, Marlon.

Knight is unsafe, belligerent, dangerous, and an embarrassment.  While discussing some steamy twitter conversations (another hot seat fail), Frank and Knight trade barbs.  Frank is calm, cool, and articulate, but still backs some verbal bite.  Knight returns the favor (not as articulately) a few times.  He then stands up, mentions some unrest about some of the things that Frank said about Jemmye, and then, out of what felt like complete nowhere, punches Frank in the face.  Here is the video:

Knight punches Frank

It was a shocking and disturbing display of unprovoked violence.  The air was completely taken out of the room.  Thankfully, Wes and Emily, aided by the studio security staff, restrain Knight and remove him from the stage and the proceedings.  All Jonny can say (and this really happened) is, “Anyone else have anything to say to Frank?”  Tough moment, Jonny, but really, tough moment Knight.  Admittedly, from the edit these past two seasons, I have not been Knight’s biggest supporter.  I find his humor tasteless and his attitude leaves something to be desired, but I often enjoyed his presence on Real World: New Orleans and have been open to the possibility of a tough edit.  This violent incident was on unedited live TV and, despite how you might feel about Frank, showed the act of a person who is really struggling with decision quality.  I hope he finds help and fast.  This was an embarrassment.

Frank IS the bigger man and from all accounts in real life, a great person.  Frank is great at being a divisive, yet essential polarizing figure on The Challenge, but especially now having seen his reaction to Knight’s attack, he is a man of integrity.  To answer your question Mr. Moseley, “Frank – Your handling of the situation was so impressive.  I applaud you for your courage and fortitude.”  His sincerity and general remorse in his apology to Jemmye was equally heartwarming.

In case it was at all fuzzy before, Emily’s reaction to Knight (“Get the fuck off the stage!”) says everything about her.  She is a gem.

Johnny Bananas and CT are both really kind and sensitive human beings.  After coming back from a commercial break following Knight’s violence, production carried on with their segment order (a big mistake) and decided to grill Diem about her recent episode “craziness.”  Even though we know that Diem was on many post-chemo hormones and medications during the filming of Rivals 2, Diem was disrespectfully asked to defend her unevenness in Thailand.  She understandably broke down talking about it.  First, Bananas stepped to the plate to set the record straight: “What people don’t see when they watch this show and what the audience doesn’t understand is that we are subjected to an incredible amount of mental and emotional distress.  So coming on and being at the top of your game – it’s difficult enough.  Coming on in the position that she was in – I mean she just went through chemotherapy before she came on the show – she was being injected with all this stuff.  I mean, I’m a guy, and my emotions are all over the place, and I can’t imagine what it was like, so, if anyone needs to be given a get out of jail free card or a free pass, it is Diem in this situation.”  CT was next: “It is easy to take a highlight reel of someone’s worst moments and turn them into something they are not, and she didn’t deserve that.”  Thank you, gentlemen.

On a similar note, Aneesa and Paula are wonderful friends and wonderful people.  But we kind of already knew that.

Jonny Moseley should not be hosting a live event.  Yes, Knight’s violent stage eruption is a worst-case scenario and would rattle even a seasoned interviewer veteran, but his inability to audible away from exhausted topics or to understand that what was on his cue card didn’t have to come next doomed Moseley’s performance (where was Maria Menunous?).  When CT and Diem had a go on the hot seat to discuss their “relationship” things got very uncomfortable.  CT kept telling Jonny to “mind ya business,” but Jonny kept probing further.  At a certain point, CT had had enough and turned it back on Moseley:

CT: “I was playing a game.  This ain’t real life.  Make up your mind.  Are we trying to play the game or are we trying to be real life.  Are you trying to make me be a bad person?

Moseley: “No.”

CT: “No, then where are you going with it, bro?  Who’s in the hot seat now?  What’s up?

Then Moseley, instead of moving away from the topic, continued to harp on it.  CT was not done, referring to Jonny Moseley as “son.”

CT: “Nah, that’s why we don’t let you know anything about us.  You twist and turn it into something that it’s not.  What’s up now?  We’re live.  There’s nothing you can do about it…no, I know what you are trying to do, bro and I don’t even care.  Read and let us talk.”

It was excruciating to watch CT trample over Jonny Moseley’s inexperience.  Was TJ Lavin available?

The live reunion is a win.  Although some of the worst-case live reunion tropes clouded this event (violence, unintentionally comedic discomfort), it felt much more informative than the strangely edited reunion shows of yesteryear that always gave too little of what you wanted and too much of what you didn’t.

After all that happened last night, let us all catch our breath.  Stay tuned for my final column of the season next week featuring post-season awards and the final power rankings.  Until…

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. 

THE CHALLENGE: RIVALS 2 Weekly Power Rankings – Week 9

If this switch hadn’t already happened before last week’s metaphorical comparative team weigh-in (especially on the men side), the individual slant of these power rankings has become less important.  The final women Jungle elimination is this week and the beginning of The Challenge: Rivals 2 finals are a little over a week away.  It is a team game in which you are only as strong as your ability to successfully minimize your most vulnerable player’s failings.  In the finals you can’t hide Cara Maria’s inability to swim, Johnny’s vomiting after three minutes of heavy cardio (lest Wes let us ever forget), #teamsubtitles communicative shortcomings, or the potential destructive power of Wes’s monster truck (well, actually the last one is entirely irrelevant).  When the final three women teams are set after this week’s Jungle (and the Zapruder Analysis concludes that it may be a disappointing week for a team with player names that rhyme with time after noon and Da Vinci’s most famous painting), the power rankings will explore a more detailed team-by-team analysis.

Despite a depleting individual emphasis, the rankings shakeup on the men side this week does tell a story.  With two straight challenge wins (including the all important choose your own fate ticket in this week’s most difficult challenge that they unabashedly dominated) and a “don’t mess with my partner” burgeoning loyalty among the former foes, CT and Wes are the frontrunners with some distance between the other two teams.  Paula and Emily, locked into the first and second slots in the rankings since Emily moved up to second in week 2, won their sixth (!) challenge this week and are decisively the team to beat on the women side.  They will either win again this week (I predict that it will be Cooke and Cara) or avoid the men vote.

Some additional thoughts on last week…

PRESTON MAGIC! – Although Preston’s New Orleans dysfunctional partnership with Knight came in last in the challenge and the Jungle (forcing their inevitable elimination this week), Preston could not have been more of a star.  Often second guessed by his teammate, his peers, and, admittedly, yours truly, his final performances earned him major “you killed it!” credibility (did you see his initial hit of CT?).  For the second straight season, Preston ends his time in a Challenge on the highest of notes, but this season, with Knight floundering (maybe he was distraught and felt useless now that CT no longer needed a bodyguard, having undertaken full-time Wes protection duty?), Preston may have been given the wrong side of the edit and our subsequent interpretation of it.  Knight, perhaps flippantly, spoke of Preston’s running abilities in his preseason interview, and in this challenge that gassed out Bananas, Marlon, and Knight, Preston strutted his cardio endurance stuff.  In subsequent seasons, I will welcome back Preston with open arms and hope that he can be finally separated from his toxic housemate, Knight.

KNIGHT – His season was a major disappointment on all fronts.  Like Dane Cook’s film career, Dexter, or Donald’s Sterling’s tenure owning the Clippers, his is an act that has gone on far too long.

ROOKIE SUCCESS STORY – I will touch more on this in next week’s finals preview, but the Jordan and Marlon’s road to the finals could not be more impressive.  With two clutch wins in the final two men eliminations, early Jungle avoidance through strong political work, courageous and unpopular decision-making (who can forget Theresa’s charge of betrayal), and some incredible feats of athleticism, Jordan and Marlon are already the most successful rookie team in Challenge history (sorry last year’s Team San Diego who just had easier competition) and they have a legitimate shot to win the finals.  Congratulations to you both.

JENGA discussion – In a desire for objectivity and fairness, I argued that Wes and CT had the overall advantage in their epic battle with Johnny Bananas this week.  However, Frank’s point, while playing Jenga with Paula, was that such a defeat may have provided some much needed motivation for Johnny’s pursuit of a fifth title.  It will be interesting to see how, in challenge this week that has little to no consequence unless TJ throws us for another gameplay bit of sorcery, Johnny bounces back.

Without further hesitation…Here are the individual and team rankings after week 9 heading into the final women elimination…

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.” 

THE MEN

1. CT (9th season, last week: 2)

CHALLENGE WINS: 2 (although one was handed to them)

VOTES FOR: Sarah and Trishelle, Cooke and Cara Maria, Theresa and Jasmine

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

CHALLENGE WINS: 2

VOTES AGAINST: 2 (Cooke/Cara Maria)

VOTES FOR: Cooke and Cara Maria, Cooke and Cara Maria, Cooke and Cara Maria

3. Wes (8th season, last week: 5)

CHALLENGE WINS: 2 (although one was handed to them)

VOTES FOR: Sarah and Trishelle, Cooke and Cara Maria, Theresa and Jasmine

4. Frank (2nd season, last week: 4)

CHALLENGE WINS: 2

VOTES AGAINST: 2 (Cooke/Cara Maria)

VOTES FOR: Cooke and Cara Maria, Cooke and Cara Maria, Cooke and Cara Maria

5. Jordan (Rookie season, last week: 3)

CHALLENGE WINS: 1

VOTES AGAINST: 2 (Cooke/Naomi/Cara Maria), 1 (Jasmine/Theresa), 1 (Nany/Jonna), 3 (Jemmye/Camila), 2 (Paula/Emily), 2 (Diem/Aneesa)

VOTES FOR: Cooke and Cara Maria, Cooke and Cara Maria, Theresa and Jasmine

JUNGLE: Beat Leroy and Ty in Week 7, Beat Preston and Knight in Week 9

6. Marlon (Rookie season, last week: 6)

CHALLENGE WINS: 1

VOTES AGAINST: 2 (Cooke/Naomi/Cara Maria), 1 (Jasmine/Theresa), 2 (Nany/Jonna), 3 (Jemmye/Camila), 2 (Diem/Aneesa), 2 (Paula/Emily)

VOTES FOR: Cooke and Cara Maria, Cooke and Cara Maria, Theresa and Jasmine

JUNGLE: Beat Leroy and Ty in Week 7, Beat Preston and Knight in Week 9

ELIMINATED

7. Leroy (3rd season, last week: 7)

VOTES AGAINST: 2 (Theresa/Jasmine), 1 (Nany/Jonna), 1 (Diem/Aneesa)

VOTES FOR: Theresa and Jasmine, Nany and Jonna, Aneesa and Diem

CHALLENGE LOSS: Week 7

JUNGLE: Beat Zach and Trey (DQ) in Week 5, Lost to Jordan and Marlon in Week 7

8. Preston (2nd season, last week: 8)

VOTES AGAINST: 1 (Nany/Jonna), 1 (Paula/Emily), 1 (Cooke/Cara Maria)

VOTES FOR: Sarah and Trishelle, Cooke and Cara Maria, Jonna and Nany

CHALLENGE LOSS: Week 3 (DQ), Week 9

JUNGLE: Beat Derek and Robb Week 3, Lost to Jordan and Marlon Week 9

9. Ty (4th season, last week: 8)

VOTES AGAINST: 2 (Theresa/Jasmine), 1 (Nany/Jonna), 1 (Diem/Aneesa)

VOTES FOR: Theresa and Jasmine, Nany and Jonna, Aneesa and Diem

CHALLENGE LOSS: Week 7

JUNGLE: Beat Zach and Trey (DQ) in Week 5, Lost to Jordan and Marlon in Week 7

10. Knight (2nd season, last week: 7)

VOTES AGAINST: 1 (Nany/Jonna), 1 (Paula/Emily), 1 (Cooke/Cara Maria)

VOTES FOR: Sarah and Trishelle, Cooke and Cara Maria, Jonna and Nany

CHALLENGE LOSS: Week 3 (DQ), Week 9

JUNGLE: Beat Derek and Robb Week 3, Loss to Jordan and Marlon Week 9

11. Trey (2nd season, last week: 11)

12. Zach (2nd season, last week: 12)

CHALLENGE WINS: 2

CHALLENGE LOSS: Week 5

VOTES FOR: Cooke and Cara Maria, Cooke and Cara Maria

JUNGLE: DQ against Leroy and Ty

13. Derek (3rd season, last week: 13)

14. Robb (2nd season, last week: 14)

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

15. Dunbar (6 season, last week: 15)

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)

VOTED FOR: Derek and Robb, Derek and Robb, Knight and Preston, Jordan and Marlon, Jordan and Marlon

CHALLENGE WINS: 6

2. Emily (3rd season, last week: 2)

VOTED FOR: Derek and Robb, Derek and Robb, Knight and Preston, Jordan and Marlon, Jordan and Marlon

CHALLENGE WINS: 6

3. Diem (7th season, last week: 3)

VOTED FOR: Derek and Robb, Derek and Robb, Leroy and Ty, Jordan and Marlon, Jordan and Marlon

VOTES AGAINST: 1 (Leroy/Ty)

CHALLENGE WINS: 1

4. Cooke (Rookie season, last week: 4)

VOTES AGAINST: 2 (Zach/Trey), 3 (Johnny/Frank), 2 (Knight/Preston), 2 (Jordan/Marlon), 1 (CT/Wes)

VOTED FOR: Marlon and Jordan, Marlon and Jordan, Johnny and Frank, Knight and Preston, Johnny and Frank

JUNGLE: Beat Jessica and Anastasia Week 2, Beat Nany and Jonna in Week 8

5. Jemmye (2nd season, last week: 5)

VOTED FOR: Derek and Robb, Derek and Robb, Jordan and Marlon, Jordan and Marlon, Jordan and Marlon

CHALLENGE WINS: 1

JUNGLE: Beat Theresa and Jasmine in Week 6

6. Aneesa (9th season, last week: 6)

VOTED FOR: Derek and Robb, Derek and Robb, Leroy and Ty, Jordan and Marlon, Jordan and Marlon

VOTES AGAINST: 1 (Leroy/Ty)

CHALLENGE WINS: 1

7. Camila (5th season, last week: 7)

VOTED FOR: Derek and Robb, Derek and Robb, Jordan and Marlon, Jordan and Marlon, Jordan and Marlon

CHALLENGE WINS: 1

JUNGLE: Beat Theresa and Jasmine in Week 6

8. Cara Maria (6th season, last week: 8)

VOTES AGAINST: 2 (Zach/Trey), 3 (Johnny/Frank), 2 (Knight/Preston), 2 (Jordan/Marlon), 1 (CT/Wes)

VOTED FOR: Marlon and Jordan, Marlon and Jordan, Johnny and Frank, Knight and Preston, Johnny and Frank

JUNGLE: Beat Jessica and Anastasia Week 2, Beat Nany and Jonna in Week 8

UNFAIRLY SENT HOME

9. Sarah (7th season, last week: 13)

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

VOTED FOR: Derek and Robb

FACT: Sarah continues to climb in the power rankings and has not been on the show in over a month.

ELIMINATED

10. Nany (2nd season, last week: 7)

VOTED FOR: Knight and Preston, Marlon and Jordan, Leroy and Ty, Jordan and Marlon

VOTES AGAINST: 1 (Leroy/Ty), 1 Knight/Preston)

11. Jonna (3rd season, last week: 8)

VOTED FOR: Knight and Preston, Marlon and Jordan, Leroy and Ty, Jordan and Marlon

VOTES AGAINST: 1 (Leroy/Ty), 1 Knight/Preston)

12. Jasmine (4th season, last week: 7)

13. Theresa (4th season, last week: 8)

CHALLENGE WINS: 1 (although it was handed to them)

VOTES AGAINST: 1 (Leroy/Ty), 1 (Jordan/Marlon), 1 (CT/Wes)

VOTED FOR: Marlon and Jordan, Leroy and Ty, Leroy and Ty

CHALLENGE LOSS: Week 4 DQ

JUNGLE: Lost to Jemmye and Camila in Week 6

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: 17)

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.

1. Paula and Emily – Team Average: 1.5, last week: 1.5

2. CT and Wes – Team Average: 2, last week: 3.5

3. Johnny and Frank – Team Average: 3, last week: 2.5

4. Diem and Aneesa – Team Average: 4.5, last week: 4.5

5. Marlon and Jordan – Team Average: 5.5, last week: 4.5

6. Camila and Jemmye – Team Average: 6, last week: 6

7. Cooke and Cara Maria – Team Average: 6, last week: 6

NO LONGER WITH US…

8. ELIMINATED: Ty and Leroy – Team Average: 8, last week: 7.5

9. ELIMINATED: Knight and Preston – Team Average: 9, last week: 7.5

10. ELIMINATED: Nany and Jonna – Team Average: 10.5, last week: 9.5

11. ELIMINATED: Zach and Trey – Team Average: 11.5, last week: 7.5

12. ELIMINATED: Sarah and Trishelle – Team Average: 13, last week: 15

13. ELIMINATED: Jasmine and Theresa – Team Average: 12.5, last week: 7.5

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

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.

A Battle Among Challenge Titans: Johnny Bananas vs. Wes and CT

For much of this season of The Challenge: Rivals 2 and besides some first episode scrambling and a second episode Frank altercation, Johnny and Frank and CT and Wes have lived together in the Phuket, Thailand converted pool house in an unexpected amount of harmonious civility.  They have not been preoccupied with scheming against each other, have shared laughter and nightclub toasts, protected one another from Camila crazy storms, and have solidified their own fates without worrying too much about each other.  We knew that with the finals fast approaching (next week is the final women elimination Jungle) and the monetary stakes feeling all that much more real, there would be a shift from the tranquil waters of the middle of the season.  Last night’s classic battle among some of the Challenge’s most prolific warring titans hit a ceiling that had seemed unimaginable a week ago and raised the stakes of this season to an entirely new level.  The antagonism between Johnny and Wes (with CT as his loyal converted partner) has never sunk too far below the surface, but as competitors get older, they must be more selective with which battles to engage in.  Last night, engagement occurred, and, although it would be hard to argue against a CT and Wes victory in this battle, the stage has been set for a finals for the ages that may be the ultimate culmination to this longstanding war.

Here are some facts about Johnny, Wes, and CT’s Challenge history before I break down the key moments from last night:

  • CT has never won a Challenge eight previous tries.
  • Wes won one Challenge, but it was over seven years ago.
  • Before Rivals 2, Johnny has won four of his eight Challenges, including his last two.
  • Johnny has won $266,543 dollars in his Challenge history, more than anyone else.
  • Both CT and Wes lost in the last finals they reached (Battle of the Exes and Rivals respectively).

 The 25 Most Important Incidents from last night’s Johnny vs. CT and Wes battle (in chronological order)

Incident no. 1 – CT, talks to Diem about Wes: “I never thought I’d say it, but I like having him as a teammate.”

Why does it matter? Of all the rivals on Rivals 2, CT and Wes have had the most significant historical feud.  This confirmation that CT and Wes are thriving as teammates strengthens their potential in the final and in opposition to Johnny.

Advantage: CT and Wes, but without any sexual tension

Incident no. 2 – CT and Wes choose the order at the “Rampage” challenge

Why does it matter?  The value of order choosing varies from challenge to challenge (in this one, with fewer physical altercations than perhaps production intended or desired, it ended up being less important), but CT and Wes, coming off the win last week and heading into the final men elimination, are peaking just at the right time.  Mind games (as we will see later) and confidence boosts are not unimportant.

Advantage: CT and Wes, carrying momentum for the last two weeks

Incident no. 3 – Johnny begins to slow down a minute and ten seconds into his heat (Paula: “Frank and Johnny are doing great and then you just can see Johnny start to slow and slow and, you know, Pappa’s getting old.”)

Why does it matter? This was a challenge that takes incredible physical endurance and most teams (including rookie sensations Marlon and Jordan) gassed out to a certain extent, but Johnny’s early huffing and puffing is a sign of this all-time great’s physical wear and tear.

Advantage: Coupled with Johnny’s trouble in the water last week, CT and Wes

Incident no. 4 – With forty-seconds remaining, Johnny knocks whatever wind he has left out of him, crashing into the base of the wooden ramp

Why does this matter? Johnny is incapacitated for the remainder of the challenge.  In this brief moment, a proud warrior has fallen.

Big Advantage: CT and Wes

Incident no. 5 – In the aftermath of the challenge, all eyes and opinions are on Johnny and his physical state

Why does it matter?  Wes begins his trash-talking (he describes Johnny as if “falling on the ramp like some beached whale”) and CT intimates to Wes, “he’s just so out of shape, dude.”  Frank expresses concern about Johnny in an undoubtedly endurance heavy final.  Johnny even says himself that he “basically died up there.”  Whether an isolated incident or not, Johnny’s reputation as the highest level of competitor is openly questioned.

Advantage: CT and Wes

Incident no. 6 – Johnny vomits

Why does it matter? Although vomiting after an event of battle tested physical endurance is healthy for the body, in the Challenge world it is always viewed as show of defeat or weakness.

Advantage: CT and Wes, especially since the “vomiting after three minutes” theme becomes Wes’s consummate retort for the rest of the episode

Incident no. 7 – With thirty-seconds remaining, Wes and CT complete the challenge, placing all twenty balls in the net basket

Why does it matter?  In the most physically taxing challenge of the season, Wes and CT completely dominated and had plenty of gas left in the tank.

Advantage: CT and Wes, obnoxious swagger and all

Incident no. 8 – Wes playfully confronts Johnny after the challenge: “Why don’t you take a time out and throw up real quick?”  Johnny has little defense.

Why does it matter?  Good sportsmanship aside, CT and Wes are basking in the glow of the walk behind their trashy-talk.

Advantage: CT and Wes

Incident no. 9 – Wes and CT win the challenge and automatically make the Rivals 2 finals.  Johnny and Frank must wait for the final vote to know if they too make the finals, even if they know there is no way they will get voted in.

Why does it matter?  Controlling your own destiny is far more “satisfying” (Johnny’s word) than relying on the voting loyalty of the other women teams.

Big Advantage: CT and Wes

Incident no. 10 – Frank and Paula discuss what motivates CT and Wes

Why does it matter? Frank’s concerned that Johnny is lacking real motivation while CT and Wes are motivated to beat Johnny (after so many years of Johnny beating them).

Advantage: Even.  Johnny if CT and Wes become preoccupied and CT and Wes if Frank is correct in thinking that Johnny is struggling to find motivation.

Incident no. 11 – After the women vote Jordan and Marlon into the final Jungle to face Preston and Knight, Johnny, Frank, and the Johnny bobble-head celebrate.

Why does it matter?  Johnny just made his third straight finals.  Frank made his second straight.

Advantage: Johnny, although a physical beast, his political game has always been his strongest asset before a finals

Incident no. 12 – In response to TJ’s question whether it is nice for CT and Wes to know they have company in the finals, Wes responds, “Yeah, if he’s throwing up after three minutes, I am totally cool with it.”

Why does it matter? Wes has a point.

Advantage: CT and Wes

Incident no. 13 – Johnny responds, reminding Wes that he “got carried up half of the last Challenge (Rivals) by Kenny.”

Wes and Kenny in Rivals

Why does it matter?  This happened and is still a major piece of Wes’s Challenge legacy.

Advantage: Johnny

Incident no. 14 – CT playfully defends his partner, “It was a long time ago.  You aren’t in nearly the shape you were in the past.”

Why does it matter?  CT may be right.

Advantage: CT and Wes

Incident no. 15 – Paula: “Everyone took off their sheep’s clothing and the wolves are coming out.”

Why does it matter?  Equating CT to a wolf is appropriately horrifying.

Advantage: CT and Wes out of fear and intimidation

Incident no. 16 – The talk escalates.  Wes thinks that Johnny always has to use his past in the argument.  Johnny asks Wes: “What else do you have to go on?”  CT steps in to defend his partner and former rival.

Why does it matter?  Johnny may have a point about the past and the plethora of evidence that exists in his favor, but the real takeaway is how CT steps in to help Wes.  This idea would have been unheard of at the beginning of the season and is why Wes and CT’s burgeoning strength in this game must be taken seriously.

Advantage: CT and Wes

Incident no. 17 – Escalation continues.  CT says, “You ain’t the same as you used to be, Johnny.”  This is followed by a Wes “You suck” head pump and a Johnny push back (where is Frank in all this?)

Why does it matter? Where is Frank in all this?  He was not part of the history.  This is not his fight.

Advantage: The partnership of CT and Wes

Incident no. 18 – Frank steps in.  CT remains steadfast in Johnny’s face while Wes stomps around in the background.

Why does it matter? Frank will defend his partner.

Advantage: Even

Incident no. 19 – Diem asks, “Why is this going on right now?  You are both in the finals.”  CT responds, “I defend my teammate.”

Why does this matter?  Listen, CT and Johnny get along these days in their Challenge career twilights.  This is really about a longstanding antagonism between Wes and Johnny.  What is different here is that the other players in this battle, E. (as in Evan) and K. (as in Kenny), are far far away from Thailand.  Johnny must maintain his ground relatively alone (Frank was helpful to the fight breakup and will be loyal, but this feud was brought to bare well before his MTV experience).  CT, a partner’s partner, present and involved for much of the feud, will go to great lengths to be there for Wes.  This is bad news for Johnny.

Advantage: CT and Wes

Incident no. 20 – Johnny asks Wes, “What do you have?” Wes responds, “I have a BMW, a Porsche, a monster truck, a house of thirty companies!”  CT cackles.

CT cackles

Why does it matter?  Wes has been a successful venture capitalist in Kansas City and at this stage of one’s Challenge career, what you do outside of competition holds increasing credibility.

Advantage: Wes

Incident no. 21 – Johnny responds, “Are these matchbox cars?”

Why does it matter?  Verbal banter has been one of Johnny’s successful calling cards in his Challenge career.  The dude has still got it.

Advantage: Johnny Bananas

Incident no. 22 – Wes’s interview declaration set to ominous music: “I want him to know that I am here to make his life living hell.  And when he goes home, he won’t have a paycheck because I am going to take it and he might actually have to get a job or have his mom keeping paying his rent.”

Why does it matter?  Again, Wes is motivated to beat Johnny.  This should not be underestimated.

Advantage: Wes

Incident no. 23 – Johnny: “All I know is you both have died in a fucking finals.  I have never died in a finals.”

Why does it matter?  This has happened.

Advantage:  Johnny, as his track record supports

Incident no. 24 – CT does an unintelligible, but brilliant Johnny Bananas impression.

Why does it matter?  CT can be hilarious sometimes.

Advantage: CT

Incident no. 25 – Following a clip from CT’s Battle of the Exes Iceland gas out, Johnny is smart to remind him that he “died in Iceland, bro.”  CT continues his team mantra of “that was the past” and calls Johnny a “fat kid” with a “big-ass head.”

CT on EXES

Why does it matter?  CT’s nicotine addiction may have cost him a Battle of the Exes win.

Advantage: Johnny

Yes, CT and Wes have an edge after this episode’s battle analysis, but Frank’s point at the end did not go unnoticed.  Johnny is motivated again and this only means good things for the viewing public.  The finals are less than two weeks away.  We’re finally ready.

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.