Tag Archives: Johnny

The Challenge: Free Agents – Penultimate Episode Retro Running Diary

My few loyal readers (much appreciation to all of you) may have noticed that it has been a while since I last expressed my feelings in prose form on this season of The Challenge: Free Agents. Sometimes life has to take over (amazingly, there are some things that are more important than the fifth major professional sport although this is debatable) and for me, life just took over (you have no idea). With this week’s episode marking the penultimate episode of the season (this does not include the reunion), I couldn’t hold back any longer. A final elimination and the beginning of the final final deserve our fullest attention, so an appropriate time for a retro running diary it is. To prevent further unnecessary displays of mea culpa, let us begin…

10:01 – Where did we leave off from last week? Oh right – the Wrecking Ball elimination (this is probably the least compelling of the possible eliminations). For the men, it is Leroy and his recently elimination-tested self versus CT and CT’s beard. For the women, Laurel will compete against rival-turned bff-turned silent treatment partner Cara Maria, whose unlucky injury becomes even unluckier when she is asked to punch through drywall in order to remain in the game. Could The Challenge higher-ups have possibly audibled this one to an elimination in which Cara actually has a prayer? Quick side-note: you know that TJ Lavin the Great did everything in his power to possibly persuade such a change. For as much as he is blatantly intolerant of any form of quitting, his reverence for fighting through adversity, as Cara has done here, could not be any higher.

10:02 – Leroy refers to both himself and CT as “power players” in this game. There is are loud shades of Antoine Walker “perennial All-Star” lack of self-awareness going on here.

10:02 – Does CT’s form of focusing always have to be based on the “scare the video camera lens” technique? This is not a man that I would want to cross in a dark alley.

10:02 – Bananas gets the stakes: “There is so much riding on this elimination round. CT has been sent in…by me. And I know, if he wins, he will probably be coming back with vengeance.” CT with a vengeance? Yippee kay yay, indeed.

10:04 – CT’s victory is decisive, but Leroy did have a valiant showing. They conclude the competition with one of those cool and effortless handshakes that you wish you could so flawlessly execute with one of your friends. Some of my questions (I could have kept going…) include: What was the conversation like when they came up with this cool handshake? Did Leroy suggest the cool handshake or was it more of a collaboration? During the early attempts, were there any mess-ups? How did the cool handshake first come up? Did CT have a cool handshake with Adam King of Real World: Paris? Does CT have a cool handshake with Bananas or do they just respectfully nod at one another?CT and Leroy

10:04 – Did CT just blink a message out to TJ Lavin the Great? It does look like this guy has plenty of gas in the tank.

10:05 – TJ Lavin the Great has something to say about Leroy. Sit down, relax, and let the wisdom of a master fill your hearts and minds: “All class. It’s easy to be gracious when you win. It’s real hard to be gracious when you lose. You’re gracious in both.” There is just so much mutual respect between these two and if Teej feels like Leroy left it all out there, then I will have to agree.

10:05 – When Cara promises that she will give “a million percent” even if she has to scale the wall with one hand, you have to take her seriously. What an amazing season she has had!Cara Maria

10:06 – Laurel’s decisive win (and she did dominate her performance) is lost in the fact that Cara’s left hand is in a cast. Again, could the producers have maybe mixed this one up? Their “let’s stick with the game plan” or “make bad and untimely decisions” approach is appalling and needs to go.

10:07 – Maybe in an act of editing room redemption, the true melancholy of Cara’s elimination gets its due. Shots of sad dejected faces from the admiring crowd, some great lasting Cara interviews, and a bittersweet semi-détente to the Laurel and Cara Maria dispute provide the makings of a worthy salute.Cara and Laurel

10:08 – “Cara – you are a beast.” CT says what we are all feeling.

10:08 – Cara’s final interview says everything she is about: “Hand or no hand – like, this is not an excuse. I’ve just got to stay positive, man. I did my best. I’ve got nothing to be upset about. I just have to train harder, be stronger, and come back better. Hopefully I will get another chance to do it again.” Cara – I have a strong feeling you will get the invite.

10:08 – Teej announces that it is time to move to another location for the final. The location this time is the Andes Mountains or as Zach likes to call it, “Where?”

10:13 – Guys! It’s Nany and Theresa’s first location change! Celebration time! We will not even address Johnny Reilly who is still riding the “second time he ever got so lucky train” to perfection. Note: The first time? When Averey initially agreed to be his girlfriend. Since when was the second location a thing, anyway?The second location celebration!

10:14 – At least Johnny has some keen insight on his incredible good luck: “I guess rookies don’t get to see this very often or come this far. So, it’s just an awesome feeling. Us eight morons are going to Chile.” Right.

10:14 – Bananas thinks Laurel handled the whole end of the Cara situation with grace and that karma will be on her side. It is hard to disagree. She is ready to ride this confidence and momentum into the final and, if I were one of the three other girls, Laurel’s continued participation would provoke nightmares.

10:16 – The cuddly beauty of the little Chilean lodge in the forest is overshadowed by a the can’t miss volcano in the background whose name in Spanish translates to “House of the Devil.” Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached the site of The Challenge: Free Agents final challenge!

10:17 – The four “lucky sons of guns” – Bananas, CT, Zach, and Johnny Reilly – enjoy a twilight hot tub on the eve of the final and discuss the endless possibilities of what they are about to do. A friendly handshake and a jump in the “ice cold pool” (CT managed to sneakily avoid this leg) set a perfect tone for the maelstrom of physical endurance to come. These are the moments that make The Challenge such a great viewing experience.

10:19 – And it looks like a final draw before the final! “WTF” is correct, CT. This is just silly.

10:24 – “These cards are worth $125,000. And if you pull over the wrong one, that might have just taken that money and threw it right out the window.” Bananas is right. When you get this far (the final four!), arbitrary luck should not be this much of a determinant of potential success. I am NOT pleased with the MTV producers right now. Let the record so reflect.

10:24 – Zach and Nany both have some of the most amazing feelings ever when they turn over blank cards. Now at least CT and Bananas have to go into an elimination. Is that what you were really hoping for, Justin Booth?

10:25 – And of course, Johnny “I love the draw” Reilly pulls a blank card, sealing the fate of either CT and Bananas. I may have to turn this off in protest.Johnny Reilly is so lucky

10:25 – Yes, Bananas. The CT and Johnny Bananas rivalry is “alive and well,” but it should have been played out on the final challenge, not because of some shameful and shady card flips.

10:26 – Of course Devyn is safe. Of course.Nany and Devyn

10:26 – To make matters even worse, the elimination is called “Puzzle Pyramid.” At least it could have been some kind of endurance based elimination as is often on this stage of the great game of Survivor. This is just another level of cheap. Poor Theresa is not the puzzle master and Laurel’s laser focus will be difficult to beat.

10:32 – Despite a late comeback (“Lock it down, Theresa”), Laurel’s robotic mathematic skills (or so Devyn says) triumph in the end. No knock to Theresa (After beginning on the basketball game with CT high note in the first episode, she had a consistently strong season throughout), thank goodness Laurel is in the final. At least there is some competitive justice.Laurel

10:33 – The depressing piano underscoring set against Theresa’s departure speaks to my mood. This is a terrible way to lose.

10:34 – Zach believes that “you couldn’t write a better story” than a CT and Bananas match before the final. Let’s see. Let me try. How about a CT versus Bananas final challenge!

10:36 – I have never coveted a random commercial for a movie starring Eric Bana (Deliver Us From Evil) more. This puzzle elimination is all levels of pointless.

10:39 – Bananas wins! His joy is contagious as the weight of 10,000 volcanoes is lifted off of him. The legend deserves to be in the final, it just sucks that CT couldn’t be there to compete against him.Johnny Bananas10:39 – TJ tells us that he is “sure we’ll see” CT in the future and CT promises to be back stronger and better trained on puzzles. In an episode filled with painful eliminations somewhat caused by producer tomfoolery, the news about CT’s future participation in this game is most welcome. CT, “try to bring it home for the vets, baby.”CT

10:40 – TJ promises that the final will be the hardest thing they ever do in their lives and guarantees they will need all the rest they can get. Tomorrow is going to be real.

10:41 – Bananas and Laurel have one of those wonderful conversations about veteran things. I could watch an entire show of these snippets.

10:42 – The “House of Devil” volcano seems to be rumbling for an eruption, so there’s that.

10:44 – In true and beloved Challenge tradition, Johnny Bananas sets the tone in only the unique way that he knows how: “I think we are all going to die tomorrow. I think tomorrow is a good day to die, folks.” And then: “This is the culmination of weeks of pure insanity that has all come to this moment. The stakes don’t get any higher.” Drop. The. Mic.

10:49 – It’s final challenge time! Devyn has never been less excited to see TJ (“And some of you are good at the draw.” Shots fired, TJ). Either way, you can’t fake it here. TJ’s one guarantee is that they have never done anything “this difficult in their life before.” Summiting an active volcano seems to warrant such guarantees.

10:50 – The rules for the final challenge are little messy. There are five stages. The first three stages are done as guy-girl partners that will change each time (commonly referred to as the “everyone has to be partnered with Devyn” fairness clause). Stages four and five will be solo missions. The combined times of each stage will be added up for each player. The lowest guy and girl times are the winners of $125,000. Second place is $35,000. Third place is $15,000, but you have to finish in order to get the money. Oh, and the final stage will involve that awful volcano.

10:50 – The first pairings are set: Devyn and Zach, Nany and Johnny, and Laurel and Bananas. The first stage advantage goes to Laurel and Bananas by an unfair margin.

10:51 – Stage 1 is a tandem kayak trip down the river. Good luck, Zach and let us hope that Devyn channels her inner Pocahontas.

10:57 – Update from the kayak trippers: Bananas and Laurel are killing it in first place. Nany and Johnny are chugging along steadily. Zach and Devyn seem to be having some trouble.Kayaking!

10:58 – Zach is hilarious: “Unfortunately Devyn this is not a date in Central Park. This is a competitive race for a lot of money. She is doing everything wrong and I am having a hard time staying calm.”

10:58 – Nany and Johnny’s kayak seems to have hit a few spin cycles too many before righting the ship. However, they remain entrenched in second place because…Nany and Johnny

10:59 – …Devyn and Zach capsize! The Challenge Rescue Raft (where is the Challenge Doctor in all of this?) saves Devyn, but what about Zach? Is he going to be rescued? And, fade to black for now (spoiler alert: Zach gets rescued). The rest of the final challenge will have to wait until next week and honestly, I need a break from the illogical and disappointing producer decision-making.Poor Zach

The Challenge: Free Agents Episode 3 Photo Diary

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

Jasmine takes her “Challenge House Whore” aspirations seriously.

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

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

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

Frank speaks to his mom about his deteriorating physical condition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny and Jessica
The old lion councils the young cub.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hurricane Nia fights to save her season.

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

Cara Maria
Cara Maria earns the respect of all.

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

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

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

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

So it begins…

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

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

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

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

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



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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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

Read Part II