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The Challenge: Free Agents Episode 3 Photo Diary

If a picture says 1000 words, then 17 pictures say 1936 words. Here is an annual The Challenge photo diary for episode 3 of Free Agents, “The Thumbsucker.”

Jasmine takes her “Challenge House Whore” aspirations seriously.

Two things that are true of a Challenge house: there is much sexual tension (often realized) and there is a lot of time to kill. How did these two truisms collide in this week’s “The Thumbsucker'” (Nia gets her Challenge moment) third episode of Free Agents? Cohutta and Nany decide to “get married,” so there are some faux-Bachelor and Bachelorette parties to be had! Jasmine decisively beats out fervent competition for the role of female stripper at the Bachelor party.

Johnny kissing Nia
Has there every been someone who has more inexplicable good luck (especially with opportunities to make out with beautiful women) than Johnny?

Camila is the maid of honor, so you know there is going to be a level of crazy mixed into the festivities. Case in point: she hires Johnny of Bridgewater as her male stripper. After he pulls down his underwear (a common choice for Johnny while filming Bunim/Murray properties), he makes out with Nany (isn’t she supposed to be faithful to husband-to-be Cohutta?). How I yearn for the costume party of last week!

Frank speaks to his mom about his deteriorating physical condition.

Having already defeated odds depressingly not in his favor through the first two eliminations, Frank’s body is violently attacking him from within, so he reached out to Mom for some help. Should he stay to compete? Her encouraging and sound advice: “Yes, you will get better eventually. But, will you be exhausted and able to play to your potential? Absolutely not, you won’t. Until you get better. If you think you can pull through, stay!” Frank’s mom can problem-solve effectively like her son! Frank admirably decides to stay (he’s just beasted through two possible eliminations in less than peak form, so gutting out some discomfort through the next few days is totally doable). Let’s hope the MTV producer early exit police do not randomly and deplorably intervene here as they have done in the past (an injustice twice befallen the undeserving and amazing Sarah Rice)…

Frank’s understandably emotional reaction to TJ Lavin the Great in the role of (don’t kill the!) messenger.

Guys, TJ Lavin the Great has something very serious to talk about. “First things first…Frank, I’ve talked to the Challenge doctor, and they said that you have a viral infection. He said that you’re very contagious, so I can’t have you in the house. I got to let you go man. I’m sorry. This ends your time in Uruguay.” This is simply ridiculous. You’re telling me that a man who just fought through his viral infection (and on The Challenge, who doesn’t have a viral infection?) to win an elimination is too contagious for everyone else? Was quarantining him for a few days not an option? Who objects? Who is this Challenge doctor and why should we trust him? Does he also review some of the unsafe things that go on in challenges and during especially rowdy nighttime extracurricular activities or does he just stick to the contagious infections? Does Frank get any agency on this (the man is willing to fight through it!)? After the Sarah fiasco “send home” last season (not to mention the Sarah fiasco “send home” from Battle of the Exes), this kind of troublesome and inconsistent exiling seems to be just the way they operate. Frank you were grossly mistreated, deserved better, and will be missed. (The Frank karma/”what goes around comes around” segment during the after show was in embarrassingly poor taste).

CT and Cara
CT and Cara find new ways to strengthen their #BostonStrong friendship during “The Bar Crawl.”

The “Bar Crawl” challenge requires the meticulous movement of 2x4s followed by an intimate “hurry-up-and-wait” balancing act between teammates. CT and Cara’s team (along with “Boppin” Swift and Aneesa) go first and struggle with the “hurry” part of the challenge, failing to make it across the course in the allotted amount of time.

Johnny and Devyn
Johnny continues to find himself with the inexplicable opportunity to be physically close with other “Challenge” women.

Johnny and Devyn’s team (along with Theresa and Zach) overcome a brief strategic misstep (amazingly Zach’s giant wingspan does not equal the more diminutive wingspan of Johnny) to finish the challenge. Of course Johnny has to make a comment about enjoying “going down on” Devyn’s “great ass” to move the planks.

Jordan reflects on an inadvertent 2×4 drop and his resulting team disqualification.

With Frank sent home by the Challenge doctor,” the numbers for “Bar Crawl” don’t work out so well. There would have to be one team of three in a challenge meant for four. Jasmine, Jonna, and Jordan are given the option to sit out. In doing so, they would not be eligible for “The Draw,” but would be eligible for elimination nomination by the winning team. In a surprise that shocked no one that has ever participated or witnessed Jordan engage in athletic competition, they decide to compete. You could call it a little bit of over-confidence (I would argue the confidence has justification) and maybe a little bit of hubris (more likely), but Jordan is unable to execute flawlessly this time.

Jasmine and Jonna
Jasmine and Jonna realize that they have a scheduled date for “The Draw.”

“But picking Jordan meant that we are supposed to win! How am I going to fully realize my Challenge House Whore aspirations?” – the thoughts in Jasmine’s head (just a guess)

Camila, Brandon, Jessica, and Bananas
The “Bar Crawl” winning team of Camila, Brandon, Jessica, and Johnny Bananas are sneakily great.

The phrase “Team Brandon wins” is not often heard in TJ Lavin the Great’s announcement of winning challenge teams, but “obviously Brandon knows how to pick some partners.” Camila is thriving in this open Free Agents format and is an asset to all daytime challenge activities (nighttime extra-curricular activities remain another thing entirely). Jessica continues her assault on the competition and continues her consummate ceiling raising of fellow competitor expectations. At some point her schoolyard picking position (too low) will match her performance (after three weeks, the rise of Princess Hulk is no fluke). And then there is Johnny Bananas who lest we ever forget has had his historic The Challenge success because of his strategic mastery and his superior and dominant performances in challenges. Bananas and Cohutta are the only two guys who have not yet packed their bags (they have yet to see “The Draw” or have been chosen for an elimination. The women list? Laurel, Nany, Jessica, and Devyn).

Brandon, Camila, Jessica, and Bananas
The Challenge: Free Agents – where winning team deliberations take place overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

The functionality of this group deliberation is refreshing. There is immediate rationality to a guy vote for Johnny (of Bridgewater). Camila wants to interview some of the potential women before making her decision and all are comfortable with this. Johnny Bananas, bobble-head in hand, presides over the team like a sagacious king lion.

Johnny and Jessica
The old lion councils the young cub.

There are some great photos from this week’s episode, but this one (along with the cover photo described later in the column) seems to carry a little more weight. Jessica tells Brandon and Camila that she too has some women to talk with to help her make her decision, but first she goes to Johnny Bananas for guidance. This is a classic conversation for the ages between the wisest of the wise veterans and the most earnest and dynamic of the new crop of competitors who seems to have a whole lot of “it” and may just be on the cusp of realizing her full potential in The Challenge. What’s notable about the content of their conversation is that Jessica knows what to do going in (This is Free Agents. Vote with your gut and don’t be swayed by pressure from others), but gains some confidence and benefits from Johnny’s encouragement and validation. This kind of mentorship and experiential torch passing, in the mold of David Robinson to a young Tim Duncan or Kareem to a young Magic, is one of the most rewarding aspects of a long committed fandom to a professional sport. I am hopeful and optimistic that there will be more iterations of this compelling relationship deep into The Challenge: Free Agents.

Like the Blazers of Game 4 against the Rockets, Portland avoids a loss.

The “Challenge” doctor continues to haunt the proceedings of this episode, this time in “The Draw.” Johnny of Bridgewater will be saved from facing an elimination if the kill card is not selected. By the time Jordan steps up to pick (CT and Swift already picked safe cards), he has a 50% chance of picking the kill card. Reacquiring a little bit of that special sauce that he seems to always have when he competes, Jordan avoids the kill and saves his Portland buddy in the process. After a disappointing week of competition, Jordan is grateful to be coming back next week largely unscathed.

Cara Maria
Cara Maria is not too be pleased to be going into an elimination.

After two weeks of elimination avoidance, “The Draw” finally catches up to her. Her face says everything.

Nia and Cara
Preparation begins for the epic Nia and Cara Maria elimination showdown.

The elimination game, “Looper,” may not have Joseph Gord0n-Leavitt or Bruce Willis starring in it, but it is as every bit a strain on your mind. A tug of war from hell, Nia and Cara attached by ropes are literally fighting against one another’s fortitude, strength, and endurance to reach a distant bell on other end of the sand pit.

Hurricane Nia fights to save her season.

As the MTV after show revealed (hosted expectedly poorly by Jonny Moseley who should never again be put in a situation in which a physical altercation may occur), Nia faced serious injury coming out of this elimination. The dramatized epic footage was the real deal. I give her a lot of credit for her fight in the elimination, but after a storming through the Bunim/Murray world on The Real World: Portland, the hurricane in Uruguay was grossly underwhelming.

Cara Maria
Cara Maria earns the respect of all.

After six seasons, two finals appearances, and a fair amount of success throughout her career, Cara Maria still seems to be fighting to be respected (let alone liked). This time, after seventy-five minutes of a grueling stalemate with the artist formally known as Hurricane Nia, Cara Maria, inspired by present tense Johnny Bananas digs and years of put-downs, decides she has had enough. Fighting through the agonizing pain, Cara wills herself and her thirty pound lighter frame to ring that bell (and so endearingly again and again after she has already finished). The support of the crowd, loyally led by Laurel, is not lost on Cara, “This is the first challenge that I’ve ever had so much love behind me…it means so much to me.” There is praise, and then there is praise from TJ Lavin the Great who does not often share his personal power rankings so candidly, “Cara Maria – If I had to pick anyone to go against, you would be the last person I would choose, for sure. That was one hell of a performance.” Amen, TJ Lavin the Great. Amen.

Cara and Johnny
Cara Maria thanks her great motivator, Johnny Bananas.

Although they have always had their differences, Johnny Bananas knows when to take the foot out of his mouth and commendably congratulates Cara Maria on her incredible win. Cara thanks him for giving her the somewhat vitriolic fuel to motivate her. This is just so many levels of awesome.

THE CHALLENGE: 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





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.




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.




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.



  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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Me and my partner are like Clyde and Bonnie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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