Read Part I of the MEN DIVISION here.
PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS – MEN DIVISION
RETURN TO FORM
6) LEROYWhere 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) DUSTINWhere 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) FRANKWhere 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) JORDANWhere 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.
2) JOHNNY 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) CTWhere 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