Tag Archives: Nany


I probably should have marked the return of Culture Challenged with a good ‘ole Let’s Get A Few Things Off My Chest column, explain some of the (right – I hope) reasons for my absence, and preview the future of the site. This informative hibernation mea culpa is coming soon (I promise!), but there is a new season of the The Challenge already two weeks underway and there is no better way to dive back into the commentary cesspool than a proper chronicle of America’s Fifth Professional Sport. There are, however, a few The Challenge related things to get off my chest before I embark on yet another season of coverage…gulp.

  • I haven’t written on The Challenge since the tragic deaths last fall of Diem and Knight. When their final season of The Challenge: Battle of the Exes II aired last January, it just didn’t feel right to spend energy and time commenting on the discomforting awkwardness of Johnny and Averey’s relationship or on how Jay and Jenna’s third place finish is the most undeserved appearance in a finals since the 2009 Orlando Magic (I am openly still bitter about KG’s injury. That 2008-2009 Celtics team started the season 27-2 and was even better than the 2008 champions that dominated the league). Although the reality of reality television is an obvious misnomer, often lost in all of the fun, games, and drama is that we are watching real people with real lives and real challenges. Diem’s chronicled departure from the show for health complications from her long and heroic bout with cancer is the worst end of the uncomfortable voyeuristic contract signed by her participation and by our viewing. Diem – the warrior, amazing effervescent club dancer spirit that she was – used her platform for the most incredible kind of good. She propelled her fortunate famed privilege into something that mattered. Her human legacy and the organizational legacy of MedGift beautifully live on. ‘Tis the season for giving and supporting her cause is one the best ways to do so. Both Diem and Knight are greatly missed. Continue to rest in peace.
  • While we were away, long-time Culture Challenged favorite Sarah finally had a partner (in Jordan) of her competitive stature, defeated her Challenge demons and won Battle of the Exes II, started the amazing Brain Candy podcast with former Challenger Susie Meister, and got married to a nice Jewish man named Landon. Mazel Tov, indeed.
  • I admittedly watched the Battle of the Bloodlines premiere last week ready to write and couldn’t get myself to do so. It was the day of the horrific San Bernardino shootings and much was put out of focus. The violent brotherly unlove between Shane and Tony and the interview contact lens situation of Nany’s cousin Nicole just seemed a little too insignificant. Was I, after a loyal 26 seasons of careful viewing observation, finally too far removed from the immature shenanigans of Dario and Raphy? Why venture into this hot mess of drunken tomfoolery, TJ Lavin quotable gems, Are You the One? imposters (I am none too pleased with the addition of this recruitment pool – it’s like having to scout NBA players from an amateur league in Canada – I just don’t have the time, energy, or the resources), and the simple life of the Buell twins? I felt out of touch and frankly, kind of dirty while watching. The show I was watching felt so far removed from the “Hoorah!” camaraderie of Battle of the Sexes II, the glory years of the JEK dynasty, and the always entertaining battles among Wes, Wes’s ego, and the competition. Why continue to watch? I needed a compelling reason beyond an admitted loyalty to the heroic and herculean twelve year run of Johnny Bananas (primed to win his sixth title this season – even MJ took thirteen seasons to do the same). Then, this week, master pop culture barometer Bill Simmons came out of his own Challenge commentary sabbatical on the Bill Simmons Podcast.

With his pulse (and his 4.7 million Twitter followers in toe) driving the conversation, implicit permission had been passed on for me to follow suit. Like Jenna’s struggling cousin Brianna, I am not sure I am quite ready to handle this rodeo once again, but with promising late-game additions appreciatively cluttering the wonderful “this season on” it is too hard to pass up.

In lieu of a toast from Bananas (at this point the unofficial beginning of any The Challenge season), there is no better way (and an appropriate homage to the writing tomb of Monsieur Simmons) to begin this season’s coverage than with a retro running diary. From this point forward, “All is fair in love, war, and Challenges!”

7:00 – The scenes from last week are an unfortunate reminder of the travails of the Bloodlines conceit. Sure, family dynamics create a different and perhaps more compelling kind of drama (as Blood vs. Water seasons on Survivor highlighted), but this mostly ragtag group of Challenge newbies, with the exception of Bananas cousin, Vince, are obvious major downgrades on their OG counterparts. Was their resistance from the veterans to bring on a relative who could possibly steal some of their family holiday celebrity status thunder? Or are their not enough sane relatives (certainly plausible) who would be willing to throw themselves in to this teetering fish bowl of insanity? Either way, these Bloodlines are a weak new class of competitors. Fresh Meat ain’t what it used to be.

7:02 – In one of the season’s earliest non-surprises, Aneesa and her cousin Rianna almost kiss. After eleven seasons (the female competitor record) and a surging nostalgic relevance to this franchise, at this point Aneesa has earned the right to do whatever she damn well pleases in the house that TJ Lavin built.

7:03 – The decision to give a Bananas a GoPro for “super sneaky Bananas footage” is a stroke of genius. This type of constant innovation has carried The Challenge to 26 seasons of tomfoolery. Some early footage highlights: butts in the water and a inconspicuous new version of “rock, paper, scissors” played in the back of the bus by Thomas and Cara Maria who primed to “flirt her little butt off to get the final.” I wonder what the always measured Abram will have to say about this later in the season.

7:04 – Today’s Challenge promises to be “creepy.” Bananas, take the mic: “I’ve already seen every one of the girls in this house wake up in the morning, so I don’t know how much creepier the day can get.”

7:06 – TJ Lavin the Great sets some high expectations: “Every once in a while we have a challenge that you never forget. Well today, promises to be that day.” After ten years and seventeen years of hosting, he should know (#youkilledit). “I’d like to welcome you all to FAMILY DINNER. You guys are going to be eating live bugs.” Boom.

“I’ve already seen every one of the girls in this house wake up in the morning, so I don’t know how much creepier the day can get.” – Bananas, responding to the prospect of a “creepy” challenge

7:07 – The premise is simple: for ten minutes one partner chews live bugs and spits them through a tube into a cup while the other partner sustains composure while a snake crawls all over your face. You are either “eating” or “suffering.” Sounds like a great time!

7:09 – KellyAnne and Anthony are the current leaders for the “bloodline that most perplexes.” Case in point…this exchange:

KellyAnne: “If I know Anthony, he’s going to do great.”

Anthony: “She’s going to do fine. You should have seen the stuff she was feeding me when I went and visited her in LA.”

KellyAnne: “(Uncomfortable pause) It was vegan, but ok.”

Anthony: “Yeah, ok (shakes his head).”

What does this even mean? I am so confused.

7:09 – Nine minutes in, it seems like an appropriate time to touch base on what is going on with the Nicole (Nany’s cousin) eye/makeup situation in interviews. It’s like a cross between


7:10 – The initial “suffering” reports of the Round 1 competitors are universally Indiana Jonesian (“I hate snakes!”), except for Cara Maria’s who is admittedly right at home hanging out with a python.

7:11 – Pre-commercial reactions to “eating” are varied. Jamie goes right for chewing. Nany, Jill, and KellyAnne freak out. Candice really freaks out. Bananas just starts banging his head.

7:15 – Bananas, always The Challenge innovator, thinks with his head. “I’m gonna use this massive head of mine which also houses one of the biggest brains in the house to smash, stun, or in some way, shape, or form just render these insects disabled.”

7:16 – Cara Maria sneaks in some Boston accented words of encouragement and frankly, it’s about time. Besides some unexpected kinship with CT and Johnny Reilly over their respective area code 617 origins on past seasons, Cara tends to keep her r’s (pronounced “ahhs”) unaffected. Jamie’s bug deliveries to the dirty watah warrant a little extra something special.

7:17 – Nicole and Nany’s post-interview is a hot mess (“I did the best I could do!”) of apologies and excuses. My “way to go really far out really out on a limb” prediction of the season: Nicole and Nany will often find themselves at the center of the drama this season.

7:20 – Brianna intimates that “this is isn’t for her” and she “just kind of wants to go home.” Bon voyage! With Jenna’s at times rocky initial appearances and now with Brianna, Jay’s Bunim-Murray people contribution tree is a contender for worst of all-time. Only Sylvia’s skeleton and horrific former boss, Alicia, may be a worse additive to the franchise.

7:24 – Wait, I take back my initial desire to see Brianna go home. Watching Jenna (not exactly an intellectual or competitive stalwart) passive aggressively show her disappointment in Brianna is enduring entertainment. Let her stay TJ! I want more of this distressingly low level performance.

7:27 – Cara and Jamie win. Bananas thinks that Jamie’s experience eating prison food as a corrections officer is to account for his success with all the bugs. I still think it was Cara’s decision to go Boston with her accent.

7:28 – TJ Lavin the Great delivers the news of Brianna and Jenna’s obvious loss with a mid-season form zinger, “Some people weren’t really made for The Challenge.” Preach, TJ, killing it always.

7:31 – …but it’s a guys elimination day so none of it matters. Tough times, The Challenge producers. If you are going to have all teams compete in the same pool of winners and losers (all guy teams, all girl teams, and guy/girl teams) than you can’t differentiate who goes into the pit. If Brianna and Jenna lost, they have to go in and should have to face any team that the winners select. This is a wee-bit ridiculous. Why have the two women teams compete in the first place if winning and losing for them didn’t even matter? Inexcusable. Spend more time working out the game play kinks and less time making sure the alcohol cabinet is properly stocked. This is the 5th American Professional Sport! We can’t have stuff like this in season 26. Jenna: “If those are the rules than those are the rules.” No, if those are the rules change the rules.

7:39 – To make matters worse, Cohutta and Jill are the worst team with a guy on it and are headed for the pit. Jill: “I know it’s kind of silly to get upset over something that’s just a game, I can’t help but get a little emotional.” I don’t blame you. For this same “just a game,” you postponed your wedding to take a trip to transient celebrity status with some big cousin Cohutta bonding along the way only to face elimination because of ill-conceived game rules. Meanwhile, Jenna and Brianna are left behind for some bickering and Long Island white trashy talk.

7:41 – Which set of twins is it going to be? Strong Boston courtesy from Cara and Jamie gives Cohutta the call on who to face in the elimination. After a brief deliberation, he settles on the Dario and Raphy meat sandwich, a largely competitive unknown.

7:43 – Cara delivers the news to Dario and Raphy and they threaten to make war when they come back into the house after defeating “toddler” Cohutta. Frozen-footed and fearful Cara goes back to Cohutta, and Cohutta shares her tarsus temperature. Thomas and Stephen (“Buell. Buell.”) seem like an easier out. Cara admits that being in a power position may not be her sweet spot of comfort. Where is Bananas in all this for at least a brief, veteran consultation?

7:46 – Facing the perspective of Dario and Raphy wrath, Cara sends in Thomas (her hookup on the “low-low”) and Stephen. After a brief resentment period, Thomas makes quick peace in time enough for a night out!

7:47 – All the talk at the club is about Jenna’s less than partner who is openly planning her trip home. Aneesa, never one to hold back truth, delivers a “she’s not even cute” provocation to Jenna. It’s one thing to be a lousy partner, but for Jenna to be linked to someone not attractive enough…it’s about to go down…

7:50 – Back at the house, Brianna’s misery blows up in a tearful slop of blame and lame. Jenna, newly backboned, goes after her cousin with low blows about her cheating Spanish boyfriend. With Nicole and Nany handling the intervention, conflict resolution is just around the corner! Oh, wait.

7:52 – Brianna, according to Jenna’s (who is deceptively tall) account, thinks that all of the other housemates are degenerates and losers and that she is better than everyone else because she has a job at the bakery. Jenna unloads about dads in jail, ice cream, and someone’s boyfriend and short hair.  It’s really as unintentionally comedic as it sounds. Nany wax-poetics on the sanctity of family. Bananas chews metaphoric popcorn from his front row seat. Cohutta chimes in perfectly: “I swear on my life. These people are insanely crazy.”

7:53 – Jenna and Brianna’s insincere apologies the next morning miraculously make it all better for now. Again, these are the women that should have been in the pit two weeks in a row and one of their members has outwardly declared her desire to go home! How could producers have screwed this one up so royally.

“I swear on my life. These people are insanely crazy.” – Cohutta, on the eve of elimination

7:55 – TJ, sans hat, announces SQUARING OFF. Thomas volunteers to go against Cohutta in this physical best of three rounds event. Cohutta aptly calls it a “damn David and Goliath thing.” Things are not looking good for Georgia’s own Challenge vet and his wedding postponement specialist cousin, Jill’s chances.

7:59 – Based on both my DVR and MTV app viewing, Cohutta and Jill are eliminated, but just not onscreen. Oops. Next week’s clip foreshadows a Camila throwback event and some medical issues for Tony. At this point, I am all in.

Stay tuned…This season’s first weekly power rankings to come on Wednesday.

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: Weekly Power Rankings – Week 3

The weekly power rankings are finally creeping toward a whiff of objectivity. Three weeks in, we have actual statistics to compare competitor performance. I have always reserved my subjective rights, but as this season continues to be thematically about chance (what were the odds that it would be Frank to have the alien viral infection?), facts must be used more. Without further ado, here are the Week 3 Power Rankings with some statistics included…

Week 3 Power Rankings


Eliminated – CHET (week 1), DUSTIN (week 2); Medical Disqualification – FRANK (week 3)

11) SWIFT (last week: 11)

Season stats: 1 win (team of 14), 2 safe draws, lots of “boppin”

10) JOHNNY (last week: 12)

Season stats: 1 win (team of 14), 1 safe draw, 1 elimination round that did not happen, 4 votes against him, low male stripper score

9) ISAAC (last week: 9)

Season stats: 0 wins, 3 safe draws, 1 vote against him, leading the group in the delivery of random Uruguayan facts found on wikipedia

8) PRESTON (last week: 8)

Season stats: 1 win (team of 14), running statistics are incomplete, 0 eliminations! he, Cohutta, and Bananas are the only three men who have not been potentially up for an elimination either through “The Draw” or a vote

7) BRANDON (last week: 10)

Season stats: 1 win (team of 4), 1 safe draw, 1 vote against him, highest “team captain selection” rating

6) ZACH (last week: 7)

Season stats: 0 wins, 1 safe draw, deceptively high “comedic interview” score

5) LEROY (last week: 6)

Season stats: 0 wins (strong second place finish week 2), 1 safe draw, 1 vote against him, women distraction level high

4) JORDAN (last week: 3)

Season stats: 1 win (team of 14), 1 safe draw (from a DQ), 1 instance of competition hubris that did not have positive results

3) CT (last week: 2)

Season stats: 1 team win (team of 14), 2 safe draws (1 from a poor team performance), current leader in “strongest beard” and “most money put on bar tab” rankings

2) COHUTTA (last week: 4)

Season stats: 2 wins (1 on team of 14 and 1 on team of 2!), 0 draws or eliminations, he, Bananas, and Preston are the only three men who have not been potentially up for an elimination either through “The Draw” or a vote, only male competitor to have a faux wedding planned for him, current leader for best metaphor (comparing Nany’s smell to “wild honeysuckle blossoms”

1) JOHNNY BANANAS (last week: 1)

Season stats: 2 wins (1 on a team of 14 and 1 on a team of 4), 0 draws or eliminations, he, Cohutta, and Preston are the only three men who have not been potentially up for an elimination either through “The Draw” or a vote, strongest score in “this is an individual game” awareness


Eliminated – JEMMYE (week 1), EMILEE (week 2), NIA (week 3)

11) JONNA (last week: 12)

Season stats: 0 wins, 2 safe draws, 1 elimination vote (a win against Emilee), 2 votes against her, frontrunner for most unexpected interview hairstyle

10) LaTOYA (last week: 9)

Season stats: 0 wins, 1 elimination (a win against Jemmye), 11 votes against her, many opportunities of showing what she is all about, highest position in the “a vote for me may come back to haunt you” rankings

9) DEVYN (last week: 10)

Season stats: 1 win (team of 14), 0 draws (1 of 4 women who have not been potentially up for an elimination either through “The Draw” or a vote), 1 vote against her, high score in “most welcome return” competitor rankings

8) THERESA (last week: 8)

Season stats: 0 wins, 2 safe draws, 1 vote against her, already the winner of the “most unexpected sneakily good baller” award and a contender for the “wow, she’s taller than I thought” award

7) JASMINE (last week: 6)

Season stats: 1 win (team of 14), 1 safe draw, running away with “Greatest Challenge house whore aspirations” rankings (Johnny is currently in a distant second place), one of three current competitors who has survived a Nia fight and lived to tell us about it (also Jordan and Johnny)

6) ANEESA (last week: 2)

Season stats: 1 win (team of 14), 1 safe draw, a substantive combination of veteran cred and angst

5) NANY (last week: 7)

Season stats: 1 win (team of 14), 0 draws (1 of 4 women who have not been potentially up for an elimination either through “The Draw” or a vote), tied with Camila for the lead in the “out of control nighttime extra-curricular activity” rankings, only female competitor to have a faux wedding planned for her

4) CAMILA (last week: 5)

Season stats: 1 win (team of 4), 1 safe draw, tied with Nany for the lead in the “out of control nighttime extra-curricular activity” rankings, tied with Laurel for “female competitor who is most highly regarded by the men in challenges” rankings, only competitor to organize a bachelorette party on this season

3) JESSICA (last week: 4)

Season stats: 2 wins (1 on a team of 14 and 1 on a team of 4 and a second place finish week 2), 0 draws (1 of 4 women who have not been potentially up for an elimination either through “The Draw” or a vote), competitor this season who has seen the greatest “Q score” rise (EW? Yeah, she did), currently in the top 3 in the “could be a Marvel superhero” rankings (along with Jordan and Laurel)

2) CARA MARIA (last week: 3)

Season stats: 0 wins, 2 safe draws, 1 unsafe draw and elimination win (against Nia), ranked first in the “TJ Lavin the Great said incredible things about me” rankings and the “other competitors are finally showing me respect” rankings (Preston has his sights on this category, but can’t seem to crack into the top group)

1) LAUREL (last week: 1)

Season stats: 2 wins (1 on a team of 14 and 1 on a team of 2), 0 draws (1 of 4 women who have not been potentially up for an elimination either through “The Draw” or a vote), ranked 1st in all four power rankings this season, tied with Camila for “female competitor who is most highly regarded by the men in challenges” rankings, best “I don’t want to ever face her in an elimination” score of any of the women, ranked first as well in the “most loyal and supportive friend” rankings

The Challenge: Free Agents – The Game of Chance

I watched this week’s second episode of this season of The Challenge: Free Agents (titled “Love in the Fast Lane”) next to the beautiful and perspicacious host of AfterBuzz TV’s The Challenge after show, Roxy Striar. On loan from her Los Angeles digs for an in-person showing of what it means to be Boston Strong, Roxy’s presence and insight were my distinctive privilege. In a season that continues to be more of a Space Mountain kind of ride (much of its up and down journey through almost complete darkness throws you for a loop) than an It’s a Small World (repetitive, kitschy, and very predictable), we ruminated on the role that unfortunate, unpredictable, and at times frustrating chance will play in the relative success or failure of our beloved competitors.

An admitted better commentator than predictor, my preseason predictions are already a little embarrassing (I think that the eliminations of Jemmye last week and Dustin this week, two of my predicted final eight, rightfully constitutes such shame). “The Draw” is more than just an obnoxious device that forces competitors to be in an habitual state of packing. It has reshaped the way we must all think about strategy on The Challenge, made winning challenges that much more important, and created a state of uncontrollable anxiety that is much worse than the normal elimination anticipation (Frank spoke to this idea at the end of the episode). If you don’t want to leave it up to chance, win. If you don’t win, then you are susceptible to an elimination and no social game maneuverings that Challenge greats have relied upon in the past will work this time around. This is an individual game that you have a limited amount of control over.

Roxy and I sat there watching the agonizing draw card reveal for the men with a fair amount of dread. Could Frank, a Challenge champion and recent season centerpiece of both gameplay and nighttime extra-curricular activity, possibly draw the kill card two weeks in a row? Frank in an elimination meant that either he or Dustin (another man at the top of the pack that we all want to see compete) would have to go home on week 2. This is like losing either Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook for the playoffs because of a coin flip (at least the aforementioned NBA players lost time because of injuries that came from actual competition). It is cruel, unusual, and bad luck (in both kind and fortune). With the third safe card drawn, Frank fate was sealed.

The Challenge has yet to develop a commitment to advanced metrics and analytics (it can’t be a pioneer on all aspects of professional sports!), but I thought Frank’s worst possible outcome (two weeks, two times a victim to “the Draw”) was a reason to start. I pored over the mathematics of this equation for some time (admittedly both longer than anticipated and longer than I really should have) to figure out what the probability of this event occurring was. Here is what I found (beyond that writing up math equations is not a muscle I oft flex):

In week 1, there were 14 guys. Frank had a 7/14 (or 1/2) chance of being on the winning team. His Red Team lost, thereby placing Frank in “The Draw” picking contention.

Once in the pool of potential “The Draw” participants, Frank had a 6/7 chance of avoiding the winning team vote. When Chet received the most votes to go into the elimination (normally a moment of relief for the remaining competitors), Frank became officially “The Draw” eligible.

Now, in a pool of six eligible guys, Frank had a 1/6 chance of pulling the kill card.

Therefore, the probability of pulling the kill card in week 1 was:

1/2 (the chance of losing) x [6/7 (the chance of going into the draw) + 1/6 (the chance of picking the kill card)] = 1/14 or 7.1 %

The probability of pulling the kill card in “The Draw” week 1 = 1/14 or 7.1% (odds of 13:1 that this would not happen)

This all makes sense. One of the fourteen players was going to draw the unlucky kill card week 1. With that in mind, what are the odds of pulling it two weeks in a row?

In week 2, there are 13 teams of 2. 12/13 of those teams are going to lose, but only the bottom 4/13 (another gameplay wrinkle this week) teams are “The Draw” eligible.

Frank and Nia were in the bottom four, so his “The Draw” nightmare continued. There was then a 1/4 chance that he would pull the kill card.

4/13 (the chance of being of the four losing teams) x 1/4 (the chance of picking the kill card) = 4/52 or 7.7%

The probability of pulling the kill card in “The Draw” week 2 = 1/13 or 7.7% (odds of 12:1 that this would not happen)

Now we have to combine the two events using probability equations.

1/14 (the probability of pulling the kill card in “The Draw” week 1) x 1/13 (the probability of pulling the kill card in “The Draw” week 2) = 1/182 or 0.55% (odds of 181:1 that this would not happen)

So it is INCREDIBLY unlikely that Frank’s unlucky fate in “The Draw” in the first two weeks of Free Agents would happen (Was this a karmic punishment for his less than kind treatment of Sam on Battle of the Seasons or for his potentially contract-breaching appearance on Grantland last summer?). I wondered – were some of the other happenings and events of episode 2 on The Challenge as unexpected? Let’s review some (oftentimes totally subjective!) odds and percentages from “Love in the Fast Lane.”

Two women both wear Catwoman costumes to the costume party: 1:2 or 33%
Admittedly pure conjecture (I will have to ask around about this one), but it couldn’t just be coincidence that 26 people remembered to pack a costume on the Uruguayan adventure. There must have been an email/facebook/text chain about this (I predict that either Bananas or Cara Maria was behind it) and active discussion about what everyone else was going to wear. I can see Nany and Camila discussing what a cool idea it would be to dress the same way (a sexy costume-off per say) and that Nany was the one to suggest the feline comic book character.

Johnny Bananas wears a banana costume: 100%
Was there every any doubt?

The first woman chosen in the schoolyard pick-fest at the challenge is Theresa: 1:8 or 11%
Theresa certainly can ball (especially with a basket), but with some stellar woman picks on the table, one should question Swift’s strategy,

Swift would do something that warrants open questioning of his intuition: 4:1 or 80%
Swifty should feel very grateful that he is still around heading into week 3…

Jordan would target Laurel as a potential romantic possibility: 8:5 or 62%
The uber-competitive (with the freaky athleticism to support him) Jordan wants to compete against the best. It is no surprise that he would also attempt to make out with the best (and really, Laurel’s no.1 ranking in the weekly power rankings is a strong no. 1). It will be most interesting to see how this plays out throughout the season, especially if they try to combine forces in challenges.

Jessica would continue to destroy the competition in week 2: 9:2 or 81%
If you haven’t read my profile of Jessica yet, do. Princess Hulk is making waves this season, readers. Princess Hulk is making waves.

Jessica’s storyline would be the “A” story of the episode (not including the challenge and the elimination): 1:40 or 2.4%Dustin and JessicaJessica’s southern flirtation story with Dustin (a short-lived Challenge romance and nothing more since) was the central arc (Bunim-Murray folks love them some dramatic structure) of the episode. Let’s say you are completely new to The Challenge world and these first two episodes of Free Agents are all you have known. The following thoughts and questions would be completely plausible:

This TJ Lavin host guy is pretty awesome.
I am not sure why they call him Johnny Bananas, but he seems to be the dude running the show.
Zach reminds me of a Norse God and he is hilarious.
I am concerned about Jasmine’s season intentions.
What is going on with Jonna’s hair?
Wow, that Swift guy doesn’t make any sense when he talks.
Um, I have a celebrity crush on Laurel. She is gorgeous.
Did Cara Maria have trouble winning in the past because she seems to be really surprised at how well she is doing?
How long has Jessica been the star of the show?

Jessica is currently, if you were forced to pick (as TJ Lavin the Great keeps telling us, this is an individual game), the star of this season. Consider my mind blown.

Dustin and Jordan would take competing in a racing challenge really seriously: somewhere over 113%Nany and DustinPreston would finally get the opportunity to show us that he was a sneakily good runner: 1:17 or 6%

Preston sometimes struggles to quell the perception that picking him last is always warranted, but I hope the others were watching this week because this Massachusetts native can fly! #TeamPreston.

CT would be the one to pick up the nightclub drinks tab: Pre Rivals 2 – 1:11 or 8%. Post Rivals 2 and after a payout reward – 1:2 or 33%
CT is one of four people on this season who would ever think to own such a large bill. The other two: Leroy (the man has such a generous heart) and Swift (because he was too busy “boppin” to care). There is no way that Johnny Bananas picks up this check alone (although he would go in with Aneesa and CT).

Either Nany or Camila would be involved in the first real instance of nighttime extracurricular activity: 5:1 or 83%
Both Nany and Camila would be involved in the first real instance of nighttime extracurricular activity:
3:2 or 60%Camila and Nany
And what a bizarre fight it was! As far as I can discern, Camila was all upset with CT and his check-owning (I am not sure why exactly, but the “why” is usually hard to answer when considering Camila’s behavior) and Nany came to her defense. Camila was so wrapped up in her drunken mayhem that she misinterpreted everything that Nany was trying to do, so they decided to fight. Thank goodness for Dustin’s big brother relationship with Nany (a relationship that was again severed prematurely when Dustin was eliminated) or not all of Camila may have remained in one place after Nany the destroyer got to her. One final, equally bizarre moment: Nany and Camila had a sit-down the next morning in which they apologized and renewed their vows of friendship. The events of the night before? Over. The Catwoman costumed pair was back. I just hope that they also reached out to every other house mate and apologized for their questionable behavior.

Emilee beats to Jonna in the elimination: 1:300, 0.3%Emilee and JonnaJonna and her wild current hairstyle are a strong competitors, but this one is mostly about Em.

A Frank versus Dustin elimination: EVENDustin and FrankI had no idea who was going home and I didn’t know who to root for. The Challenge: Free Agents has two weeks in a row (last week was Jemmye and maybe even a little bit, Chet) sent home someone who makes the show better and could have been a viable performer in a final. I am finally fully learning that The Challenge: Free Agents is going to be a master class in expecting the unexpected. May the odds ever be in your favor favorite competitors. This is going be one wild ride in the innovative “Tomorrow Land” of season 25.

Stay tuned for the Weekly Power Rankings later in the week.

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

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.

The Men rankings can be found here: Part I  Part II

Read Part I of the Women Rankings here.



6) NANYNany

Where did we last see her? After a tough disqualification in “The Blind Leading the Blind” challenge shocker on Rivals 2, Nany and Jonna lost a little bit of their sanity and edge (can you blame them?) and were eliminated a week later.

CHALLENGE History: Free Agents is Nany’s third straight season on The Challenge. She was previously on Battle of the Seasons (season 23) and Rivals 2 (season 24).

From her MTV bio: Every time Nany arrives on The Challenge, she gives it her all. Unfortunately on Rivals II, and Battle of the Seasons, her all wasn’t quite enough. Nany declares, “I have this thing called the “Challenge Curse,” where I get eliminated right before finals. And I’m so sick of it. I just really, really, really want to get there this time and win.” With nothing holding her back this time, Nany is more determined than ever to prove she is a top competitor. However, this fun-loving lady quickly finds love in the house, giving her an unexpected ally and confidant. Is Nany still doomed by her Challenge Curse? Or will being a Free Agent finally take her to the end?

Why would you sign Nany? Nany’s loyalty runs thick and she certainly benefited from Dustin’s “big brother” presence on Battle of the Seasons. His return on Free Agents will be most welcome. Nany has been a particularly unfortunate victim of circumstances (weirdness from Trishelle and Alton on Battle of the Seasons and inhumane shock therapy on Rivals 2), and the Free Agents format should level the playing field. Although relatively successful, she may have taken a few steps backwards on Rivals 2. Her hunger to compete and win are unquestionable. Nany only benefits from having an “unexpected ally and confidant.”

Why would you not sign Nany? I may not agree with this “Challenge Curse” notion, but if she does and it is in her head, this could pose a problem. Nany is a feeler and sometimes she lets her emotions (and the effects of alcohol) get the best of her. She has had strong partners or teams in her first two seasons and she was an important member of them, but how she will fair as a solo artist remains to be seen.

Potential Allies: This aforementioned “unexpected ally and confidant”; Dustin and Leroy (Las Vegas Strong is the Strongest); Jonna

Potential Enemies: Frank and Nany have some difficult history; Memories of Adam Royer

Best-case scenario: Nany, set up for success in Challenges for years to come, has a flawless third season, wins some challenges, takes out worthy competition in eliminations, and rides this momentum into the finals.

Worst-case scenario: Nany’s “Challenge Curse” premonitions are real. She is a “The Draw” victim early, faces a strong competitor targeted by that episode’s challenge winner, and goes home prematurely.

The Verdict: Supported by more established relationships, this new mystery man, and Dustin’s consummate loyalty, Nany will have a bounce back season on Free Agents and will be in the mix to make the finals at the end.



CamilaWhere did we last see her? We last saw Camila and #teamsubtitles partner, Jemmye, struggle in the first day of the finals of Rivals 2. To the end, communication was never their collective strong suit.

CHALLENGE History: Free Agents is Camila’s sixth straight challenge (the second longest current streak). She has previously been on Cutthroat (season 20), Rivals (season 21), Battle of the Exes (season 22), Battle of the Seasons (season 23), Rivals 2 (season 24 and her second finals trip). She and partner Johnny Bananas won Battle of the Exes. She is the only women on Free Agents who has won before.

From her MTV bio: While several of her fellow competitors have made it to a final, Camila is the only girl on Free Agents who knows the thrill of Challenge victory. After winning Battle of the Exes, Camila advanced to the finals of Rivals II, but finished a disappointing third. She’s ready to redeem that performance, stating, “I’m at that point in my Challenge history that I want that big money no matter what. I don’t care who I have to cross. I will do what I have to do.” Fearless and feisty, this Brazilian bombshell doesn’t flinch when it comes to daring physical feats or dishing out a verbal assault. Can Camila keep her temper in check long enough to make another final? Or will an emotional meltdown send her packing?

Why would you sign Camila? She is “fearless and feisty” and one of the most experienced women competing. Camila’s win on Battle of the Exes was most impressive. When Camila is checked into the game and not into extracurricular nighttime activity drama, she is unstoppable. After recent disappointments over the last two seasons (especially on Battle of the Seasons), Free Agents could prove to have a redemptive quality. Freed from the partnership challenges she has had the last two seasons (Rivals 2 was all about communication difficulty. Battle of the Seasons was all about being on a dysfunctional team with Big Easy), Free Agents can all be about Camila competing against the limits and with the strengths of herself and herself alone.

Why would you not sign Camila? At least one emotional meltdown is to be expected during the season, and, without a partner to hold her back, how will she fair? The target on her back always seems to be large and her strongest competition will immediately see her as a threat.

Potential Allies: Will she get along with Johnny again this season? She and Jemmye had a tough ending, but were largely compatible most of Rivals 2.

Potential Enemies: Alcohol at night; Expressing herself so that others understand her; Frank and Camila have often kept it close to upheaval

Best-case scenario: Camila maintains a laser competitive focus all season and fearlessly fights off the competition to another finals appearance and shot at finals victory.

Worst-case scenario: Camila’s worst-case scenario is always the extent and forum of her emotional meltdown. In an elimination (as it was with Big Easy on Battle of the Seasons) is different than the night before a men’s elimination.

The Verdict: I have a feeling that Camila is going to thrive under the Free Agents format. As her MTV bio conveys, she is thinking about things like this point “in her Challenge history.” She gets that she has an opportunity to move into the next tier of Challenge greats (any women two-time winner is in elite company – Paula, Tori, Susie, Rachel) and will keep this in mind throughout this season. I expect at least a trip to the finals and she will be one of the short handful of contenders who could win it all.


4) ANEESAAneesa

Where did we last see her? We last saw Aneesa valiantly fighting toward a fourth place finish in the women’s bracket (her pairing with Diem was the final women team eliminated before the finals) in Rivals 2 and occasionally running through altercations while working out on the Thailand house deck.

CHALLENGE History: With Free Agents, Aneesa ties The Challenge record for most seasons with 10 (Paula and now Johnny and CT share the distinction). Previous seasons include: Battle of the Sexes (season 6! In 2003!), Battle of the Sexes 2 (season 9), The Gauntlet 2 (season 11), The Duel (season 13), The Inferno 3 (season 14), The Duel 2 (season 17), Rivals (season 21), Battle of the Exes (season 22), and Rivals 2 (season 24).

From her MTV bio: Talk about an unstoppable force, “Elimination Queen” Aneesa arrives on Free Agents after a devastating exit one spot short of the Rivals II final. Aneesa is brimming with confidence going into Free Agents, “Doubt me all you want. I’m more about being humble and letting my actions speak for themselves. I have the heart and fight. I don’t, I never quit. Ever.” Aneesa may be a threat on the field, but this opinionated vet can rub some of her housemates the wrong way. Will Aneesa be able to fight her way to the top? Or will she face another crushing elimination?

Why would you sign Aneesa? You don’t get the nickname (as coined by MTV.com “writers”) “Elimination Queen” without being a force when facing adversity. Over ten seasons, Aneesa has shown great competitive improvement throughout the years, and, after an awesome run on Rivals 2, deserves to be “brimming with confidence.” Although not always able to have a bite as loud as her bark (don’t tell that to Trashelle Trishelle), Aneesa is now as wise as she is tough. If there was ever a season on The Challenge where she was due for her long sought after win, it is with the solo artist format of Free Agents. You don’t get to come back on The Challenge a record (tied with the Bananas/CT/Paula tri-force) nine times without doing something right.

Why would you not sign Aneesa? After CT got over the hump last season, Aneesa’s 0-9 record heading into Free Agents must mean something. Aneesa has been fighting Challenge mother time for many seasons, and, although she seems as strong as ever before, something will have to give at some point. Could Free Agents be that season?

Potential Allies: Always seemingly on a small island on the wrong side of the alliance, at this point whomever can improve her chances of winning

Potential Enemies: Much of the history among Johnny, CT, and Aneesa is not all warm and cuddly

Best-case scenario: Aneesa thrives in the every woman for herself format of Free Agents, builds off some of her Rivals 2 momentum and confidence, and comes out of the gate taking no prisoners. She fears no one, other women fear her, and she destroys the competition on a journey to her third finals appearance and a legitimate shot to win.

Worst-case scenario: A worst-case scenario for Aneesa is a season where she is eliminated somewhere in the middle of the pack and retires from competition without one final close chance at winning her first Challenge.

The Verdict: I am torn on Aneesa this year and keep going back and forth over what type of season she will have. A bit of a refreshing surprise on Rivals 2, it is going to be difficult for her to replicate her success on Free Agents. At the same time, she was made for a season on The Challenge that may ask each competitor to prove her or himself more frequently in elimination situations (something that Aneesa has proven to be very successful at). The jury remains in deliberation on this one.


3) JEMMYEJemmye

Where did we last see her? Jemmye, despite her #teamsubtitles trials and tribulations with partner Camila, made it all the way to the finals (a day one elimination) in Rivals 2.

CHALLENGE History: Free Agents will be Jemmye’s third straight season on The Challenge. She made it to the finals on Rivals 2 (season 24) and earned Challenge cred for competing on the same team as Knight on Battle of the Seasons (season 23).

From her MTV bio: Jemmye proved to be a true competitor on Rivals II, reaching the finals in only her second Challenge. The epitome of “work hard, play hard,” this former Division I athlete is ready to top last season’s performance. She explains, “At this point, the only thing that’s acceptable is first or second. If I don’t get first or second, then I didn’t do what I came here to do.” Brimming with confidence, Jemmye will take on the most daredevil tasks in challenges and has no fear when it comes to elimination rounds, “I’ve been to enough eliminations at this point where I’ll go in against whoever, but I’m not gonna count any of these females out.”

Why would you sign Jemmye? Jemmye is a perfect combination of athletic ability and physical toughness. Like fellow New Orleans cast mate, Preston, she will have an automatic bump in performance without Knight’s troubling shadow hanging over the festivities and CT bodyguard detail. After tasting the finals on Rivals 2, she can say things like this, “At this point, the only thing that’s acceptable is first or second. If I don’t get first or second, then I didn’t do what I came here to do.” Jemmye is here for a reason. She combines a healthy balance of fearlessness and respect for the competition. She can negotiate challenging communication situations (the #teamsubtitles experience).

Why would you not sign Jemmye? With only two previous seasons under her belt, she is still a relative newcomer against some of the more established veterans. She has never had to face Laurel in a Challenge before.

Potential Allies: She definitely had her girl group on Rivals 2 and didn’t rile too many feathers

Potential Enemies: Ketchup bottles; Lingering Knight-mares

Best-case scenario: Jemmye’s best-case scenario involves a return trip to the finals and at least a second place finish (because if not, she “didn’t do what she came here to do”).

Worst-case scenario: Jemmye’s luck of “The Draw” results put her in a competitive elimination round against someone like Aneesa, Nany, or Laurel and she loses a close battle.

The Verdict: Jemmye is one of the few women competitors who seems be a lock to be in the mix for the finals. She has improved exponentially in her first two seasons and may just be ready to take it to an elite level. I would not be surprised to see her successfully competing at the end.

2) CARA MARIACara Maria

Where did we last see her? We last saw Cara, a too frequent fellow cast mate punching bag and producer go-to replacement, embrace underdog status with partner Cooke all the way to a finals appearance and an eventual second place finish on Rivals 2.

CHALLENGE History: Free Agents will be Cara Maria’s (and this is incredible) seventh straight season on The Challenge, but her first of the last three in which she was not a late-game replacement (for whatever happened to Real World: Sydney on Battle of the Seasons and for Naomi on Rivals 2). Her previous seasons are: Fresh Meat II (season 19), Cutthroat (season 20), Rivals (season 21), Battle of the Exes (season 22), Battle of the Seasons (season 23), and Rivals 2 (season 24). She has made three appearances in the finals (CutthroatRivals with Laurel, and Rivals 2 with Cooke), but has never won.

From her MTV bio: After three runner-up finishes, Cara Maria is ready to stop being an underdog and take her rightful place as a legitimate threat to win. Cara Maria arrives in Uruguay in the best shape of her life, but believes her mental outlook is keeping her from taking first place. She elaborates, “I know physically I can do anything, but mentally I second-guess myself. It’s almost like I’m afraid to win.” Pegged as an oddball, Cara Maria yearns to break free of the social awkwardness that has plagued her in the past. Is Free Agents finally Cara Maria’s time to shine? Or will her unlucky streak continue?

Why would you sign Cara Maria? You would sign Cara because if she can get the mental game straight (even the acknowledgement of it is a major step forward), she is going to be a physical beast (and she came this close on Rivals 2 to beating the incredible Paula and Emily domination force). Cara Maria “arrives in Uruguay in the best shape of her life.” She also arrives in Uruguay when everyone else arrives – something that hasn’t happened to this replacement player since Battle of the Exes. Having her bestie Laurel to support her and push her to achieve will be a major boost to an already burgeoning confidence. She is one of the few women who CT will always support (not a bad male ally to have – especially defending champion CT).

Why would you not sign Cara Maria? Until she wins, the mental second guessing remains in play. Challenge houses are difficult places to live, and, based on the edit, Cara struggles with the conditions more than most.

Potential Allies: Laurel (Fresh Meat II and Rivals Strong); CT

Potential Enemies: Johnny Bananas and his continent have never been Cara’s biggest supporters

Best-case scenario: The wide-open Free Agents plays to all of Cara’s strengths. Freed from the ups and downs of symbiotic partnerships, her self-reliance and personal drive are catalysts for excellent performance in challenges and in potential eliminations. She makes a return trip to the finals and positions herself for a win.

Worst-case scenario: Cara’s worst-case scenario is some type of confidence destroying experience that takes the wind and drive out of her sails and forces her into an early elimination unprepared mentally and physically, eventually losing to an inferior competitor who took advantage of her heightened emotional state.

The Verdict: Cara Maria is going to kill it (TJ would be proud) on Free Agents. She is on my short short list to win it all.


1) LAURELLaurel

Where did we last see her? Laurel has been off-duty (for three long seasons – her return is most welcome) since building a lasting friendship and eventual finals run with Cara Maria on Rivals (season 22)

CHALLENGE History: Free Agents will be Laurel’s fourth season on The Challenge, although it seems like she has been on many more. In each of her three previous seasons – Fresh Meat II (season 19 and partnered with Kenny), Cutthroat, and Rivals (partnered with Cara Maria) – she made the finals, but has yet to win.

From her MTV bio: Last seen making a runner-up finish on Rivals, Laurel returns to The Challenge after a three-season layoff. She may have made the final in every Challenge she’s competed in, but a win still eludes this fierce competitor. Laurel hopes Free Agents will allow her to break the streak, “I’ve had three second-place finishes which is somewhat impressive, yet disappointing at the same time. I’ve been waiting to be on my own and this is a chance for every person to show what they’ve got individually.” Unlike many of her peers, Laurel can separate her emotions from the competition, but her road to victory takes an unexpected turn when she falls for one of her fellow competitors. Can Laurel maintain her laser focus and keep her eye on the prize? Or will romantic entanglements derail her plans?

Why would you sign Laurel? Laurel, despite an 0-3 finals record, is at her best, one of the most dominant women in The Challenge modern era (right up there with Ev, Emily, and late career (happy wedding!) Paula). She, of all competitors in both the Men and Women division, was made for the solo artist format of Free Agents. After three seasons off, she is going to be in the best mental and physical shape of any previous challenge she has been on. Laurel steps into Free Agents a so much happier and healthier version of herself. Of all twenty-eight people ranked in these power rankings, the only givens were that Johnny and CT would be either no. 1 and/or no. 2 for the Men and Laurel would be no. 1 for the Women (By the way, if Emily were competing in Free Agents, I would still choose Laurel over her in the preseason rankings – her competitor status is just that prolific).

Why would you not sign Laurel? There may be a little rust to clean off after a three season hiatus. She is definitively “the one to beat” among the women and will have to fight against the target on her back the entire season. She has no experience competing against some of the new elite (Jordan, Dustin, Frank, Nany, Jemmye) and it is unclear how their relationships will play out.

Potential Allies: Cara Maria (Fresh Meat II and Rivals Strong); CT

Potential Enemies: The field (because it is really a game of Laurel vs. the field)

Best-case scenario: Laurel, hungry, wiser, and more determined from her prolonged break, absolutely crushes it, winning challenges, gut-testing eliminations, and the admiration and respect of all of her fellow competitors. This reign of excellence culminates in her first win on The Challenge.

Worst-case scenario: She spends the entire season fighting off the obvious target on her chest, and, after winning many close calls, succumbs to an up-and-coming competitor in a late game elimination.

The Verdict: I think the three year break and Free Agents format will galvanize and inspire this already fierce competition destroyer to reach another finals and once again be there at the end, fighting for the win.

Next Up: A quick post of season predictions and preseason awards leading up to the 90 minutes season premiere of The Challenge: Free Agents at 10:00 PM on Thursday, April 10 on MTV.

THE CHALLENGE: RIVALS 2 – A Good Old-Fashioned Week 8 Recap

A letdown was inevitable.  Last week’s scintillating episode of The Challenge: Rivals 2 packed as much of what makes this Fifth Major Professional American Sport professional into its one hour runtime, capped off by a Jungle battle for the ages between two teams of superior athletes.  This week’s women elimination week episode begins with a similar “edge of your seat” momentum, but fizzles its way to a women elimination that was less than compelling.

Let’s begin from the top where our remaining competitors are living the Thailand nightlife dream to let off some endorphins after witnessing (or in Jordan and Marlon’s case, participating in) a most epic Jungle.  Frank must have had an off-camera dance floor run-in with Jemmye because he is venting his verbal attack to Jonna, his real life friend and LA roommate, in a well-lit sitting area.  Jemmye is on to Frank’s ways and wishes that Knight would lose his CT bodyguard post just for a minute to protect his old flame.  Jemmye addresses this desire to Knight back at the house.  Intoxication levels are high, which means that Knight is primed to take Jemmye’s request as an opportunity to do what he seems to do best, attempt to destroy her where it hurts the most (the pursuit of a new Challenge house hobby has eluded him thus far).  Camila, a #teamsubtitles loyalist and at present a blood alcohol level risk taker, comes to the defense of her Rival partner.  Knight, to the surprise of no one, sits in his “I didn’t do the deed” state of innocence, as Camila inches closer to the brink of her (as we saw one night on Battle of the Seasons) state of intoxicated insanity.

We all have our people who can really get to us.  For Jemmye it is Knight, and for Camila, it will always be Johnny Bananas.  Amidst a huddle of bro standing, Johnny says something to the effect of “she’s crazy, dude” as only Johnny can do.  Camila’s volcano of uncontrollable rage and violence literally erupts, but unlike Frank’s similar quick trigger from last week, Camila’s lava flow is just a bit messier.  Paula, Jemmye, and especially Emily, become team “help Camila simmer down.”  Camila kicks, screams, flails, and RAGES a monstrosity of animus toward Johnny.  If not for Emily’s Herculean efforts of restraint, Camila would have attempted to make Johnny a human bobble-head.  Jemmye’s moral of the story to Camila when active raging has ceased, “we can only trust ourselves.”  #Teamsubtitles is learning to understand one another.

All is well again on challenge day (alcohol’s role in extracurricular nighttime activities must not go unnoticed) and TJ is ready to present this week’s fun scenario involving competitors falling from great heights into water, production’s weekly go to (Hmm, would it be possible to try something different more often?  Last week’s Blind Leading the Blind shock-a-thon was awesome!).  This week it is Swingers, a challenge that begins with an impossible trapeze artist attempt followed by an endless swim through a nasty current (of the water kind, unlike the electrical kind from last week).  Cooke and Cara Maria are inevitably chosen to go first (Diem and Aneesa do not let them catch a break in the order – has their every been a team who was more consistently lower in the totem pole over the course of a Challenge season who has stayed this long as Cooke and Cara?  I think not.).  Despite Cooke’s incredible trapeze artistry, this challenge is really about the swim, and, apparently, Cara can’t.  Current or no current, Cooke spends the near twenty minutes of participation motivating her partner to breath and fight through the panic.  It is admittedly hard to watch Cara, self-effacing to a fault, struggle through an activity that is not in her stable of tricks.  They do finish (the journey to the final buoy seemed to take up an entire segment of the show between commercials), but without another women team disqualification, a trip back to the Jungle for Cooke and Cara seems to be near certain.

Two men teams, ignoring the $1000 reward, logic, or the potential repercussions next week, voluntarily tap out.  Although Knight already had finished, Preston is unfortunately swimming in the wrong direction (at least he is a great runner, right Knight?).  In a more surprising turn, rookie sensation Marlon gives in to the current (much to Jordan’s competitive juiced chagrin) and DQs as well.

Frontrunner teams have similar successes – Frank and Paula are beasts in the open ocean.  Both Johnny and Emily have more difficulty than their superstar partners, but compared to Preston and Cara, they look more like Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin than Little John from Robinhood: Prince of Thieves.  CT and Wes, sneakily under the radar as a serious contender this season, swim to the best male team time.  Nany and Jonna compete, but both Aneesa and Diem and Jemmye and Camila excel (Who knew the #teamsubtitles catastrophe duo from the night before were trained lifeguards?).  In a mere five-seconds better than Aneesa and Diem, Jemmye and Camila win (my preseason prognosticating is proving to be accurate) and are safe from this second to last women Jungle.  No surprise, Cara Maria and Cooke were the last place women team and now must make their claim to stay in the Jungle.

This week’s voting deliberation focus is squarely on Frank and Jonna’s relationship.  We learn that they are LA roommates and that Frank was an instrumental support when Jonna broke up with Zach.  Unfortunately, as the alliances are currently constituted, the two teams Frank would have voted for are either safe (Jemmye and Camila) or already in the Jungle (Cara and Cooke).  He couldn’t possibly vote for Paula and Emily (expected from the Johnny bond) or Diem and Aneesa (unexpected, did CT and Johnny’s teams join forces after week 1 in a strategic game changer that the audience was not aware of?).  Jonna’s potential hurt is not enough to dissuade Frank from what he feels is in his team’s best strategic interest.  According to Diem, Jonna and Nany’s strategy has been too “wishy-washy” anyway (whatever this means).

The 3-1 vote (Jordan and Marlon, trying to stick it to Johnny and Frank, vote for Paula and Emily) settles the Jonna and Nany versus Cooke and Cara Maria Jungle battle.  This week’s game is Snapper, the one where Knight and Preston’s swordplay and verbal strategy (who can forget “Nola! Nola!”) eliminated Derek and Robb so many weeks ago.  Like most Jungle games, Snapper is determined by winning 2 out of 3 (could we at least go 3 out of 5 next season, please?).  Cooke beats Nany in the first heat because Cara’s directional code words are louder than anything Jonna says (maybe she is perplexed by Frank’s decision to wear her shorts with her name on it on his head in a show of solidarity.  Where was his solidarity in the vote?).  The second heat is as undramatic as the first.  Cara beats Jonna (cameras don’t capture these thin wooden swords too well in HD) and Jonna and Nany are eliminated, just like that (strangely unremarkable second season for Nany after such a promising rookie campaign in Battle of the Seasons.).

After last week’s Jungle elimination for the ages, the letdown this week is real.  Moving on…

There are now four men teams and four women teams left and one more elimination for each gender.  Next week proves to be the much anticipated physical altercation between Johnny and his actual rivals, CT and Wes and the much anticipated goodbye to Preston and Knight (or so I predict).  Stay tuned for a new power rankings before the episode next week…

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.

THE CHALLENGE: Rivals 2 – Women’s Suffering

Over the past two weeks, The Challenge: Rivals 2 has been mired in questionable production decisions (and I am not even referring to the decision to provide limited AC to the competitors in the most hot and humid of environments.  What the Phuket, indeed.)  First there was Sarah’s irrational and erroneous all-too-familiar and all-too-soon of a forced goodbye.  Then last week, after a creepily over the top fear fest of a Jungle elimination, TJ announced a stay on unnecessary shock therapy and the “nobody is going home this week” twist which just demeans hard fought competition and all the competitors immersed in it.  This week’s episode was certainly not devoid of questionable decisions (challenge winners CT and Wes and Theresa and Jasmine didn’t exactly earn their honors after they were given a free walk across the balance beam, pretty much everything that Knight does at this point) and costly mistakes (Zach and Trey lost their Jungle victory when video replay showed a clear rule violation), but at least these blunders were par for the game and not some byproduct of overreaching and failing producers.

Among a substantial handful of lapses in judgement, gameplay gaffes, and strategic miscalculations (I am telling you, the Confessioner was most needed this week), this week’s collective women’s vote really took the aptly named “What the Phuket?” episode title to a whole new and unimaginable level.  A full breakdown of the voting proceedings is the only way to do this clinic in logic avoidance and rational thought depravation justice:

Preliminary note: This all started with Knight’s announcement of “The man, the myth, the legend.  Often imitated, but never duplicated…TJ Lavin.”  Why can’t he have more moments like this and fewer moments like this?

Vote #1: Theresa and Jasmine, the challenge “winners” 

Voted for: “Uh, Leroy and Ty.” – Theresa

Percentage illogical: 86%

Pre-Vote Interview Quotation: “I don’t want to tick anyone off, so the best thing for me and Jaz to do, is just throw our vote away.” – Theresa

Post-Vote Interview Quotation: “She says, ‘Leroy and Ty.’  I’m like, ‘What?’ If you throw away a vote on someone, you normally come and tell them before you just say their name out loud.” – Leroy

My take: Let the voting silliness begin!  Yes, there have been some random throw away votes in the past (last week, Leroy and Ty voted randomly for Nany and Jonna for example), but Theresa, you never vote for the dude you are currently sharing a bed with if you want to continue (as she does) to share that bed.  I know she did not expect what followed to follow, but there is no reason for Theresa to even place herself in the realm of the worst case scenario possibility.  This was the most bizarre of first votes and unquestionably set the tone for what was to come.  There is a reason you earn the right to vote first by winning the challenge, and the karma effect on the Jasmine and Theresa challenge free pass is at play.

Vote #2: Cooke and Cara Maria

Voted for: “We’re going to give Zach who he wants, uh Johnny and Frank. “ – Cooke

Percentage illogical: 42%

My take: This would have been completely logical (Johnny and Frank have voted against Cooke and Cara Maria in both men votes and are the frontrunners who you want to try to take down), but for Cooke’s assertion that she is going to “give Zach who he wants.”  If anything became blatantly apparent this episode, Rivals 2 Zach (yelling at Sam Battle of the Seasons Zach for that matter) does not deserve to get what he wants (as Bunim/Murray camera operators and broken objects in his room can attest).

Vote #3: Camila and Jemmye

Voted for: “We’re going to go with the rookies this time, Jordan and Marlon.” – Camila

Percentage illogical: 37%

My take: After last week’s mortuusequusphobia outbreak, you would think that Jemmye would be ready to cut ties with her former New Orleans cast mate lesser half.  The rookie vote is certainly a safe one here (at some point Jordan and Marlon may have to prove themselves in a Jungle) and can be easily rationalized, but after seeing an early split vote, why not get the Knight and Preston goodbye tour on the road?

Vote #4: Nany and Jonna

Voted for: “We’re gonna do Ty and Leroy.” – Nany

Percentage illogical: 98%

Interview rationalization: “We vote for Ty and Leroy because there are two teams after us that are most likely voting for Jordan and Marlon.” – Nany

Leroy’s take: “Nany throws my name out and I am in such shock, like, someone who I have a close bond with, you know, another dagger.”

My take: What were Nany and Jonna thinking?  Let’s just presume that Nany is confident, as she stated, that the other two remaining teams will be voting for Jordan and Marlon, why give your vote here to Leroy, a loyal friend from Las Vegas, when you can vote for the first time for Knight and Preston with seemingly no harm done?  This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Vote #5: Aneesa and Diem

Voted for: “Um, we are also going to vote for Leroy and Ty.” – Diem, as Aneesa bows and shakes her head in her hands in protest, effectively throwing Leroy and Ty into the Jungle

Percentage illogical: 64%

Wes’ telling take: “You’re fucking awesome.”

Diem’s take: “How would I know the girl that’s sleeping with Leroy would throw in his name first?  How would I know that Nany, someone who is like family to Leroy, would be the second team that throws Leroy and Ty’s name in?  Why should I correct your mistake?”

CT’s take: “Leroy and his gang of girls are so caught up with burning votes, that they burn themselves.  I mean, that’s classic.”

My take: Sure, Diem and Aneesa could have deliberated before the vote and determined that with Leroy and Ty relatively close to several other women teams, it made sense to vote for these guys out of self protection.  However, after watching Aneesa’s plea to go a different route at the actual moment of vote, clearly an audible could have been called.  No offense, but Diem’s desire to not correct the mistake of other teams makes little to no sense here.  You are not responsible for the mistakes of other teams, but just for the mistake of your own.  If you did not want Leroy and Ty to go in, vote for someone else and hope that Paula and Emily will go different route too.  There was just not a fair amount of strategic thoughtfulness at play.

Vote #6: Paula and Emily

Voted for: “Knight and Preston!” – Paula

Percentage illogical: 0%

My take: As at least Paula and Emily have figured out, Knight and Preston deserved to go into the Jungle.  Why one of the other six teams did not go this direction will be one of this season’s lingering mysteries.

Let’s recap: Theresa and Jasmine voted for Leroy and Ty as a complete throw away vote.  Cooke and Cara Maria voted for Johnny and Frank to please Zach.  Camila and Jemmye voted for Jordan and Marlon because they are rookies.  Nany and Jonna voted for Leroy and Ty because there were two other teams left.  Diem and Aneesa voted for Leroy and Ty because they should not be reactive to other team’s mistakes.  Paula and Emily voted for Knight and Preston because it actually made sense.  One vote makes sense, one vote can be rationalized, one vote may have had poor motivation but could be argued for, and three votes bring to question logic and strategic gameplay acumen.  After Zach and Trey’s rule violation in the Jungle, Leroy and Ty thankfully dodged this undeserved chad hanging, so all is well.  May the lesson be learned that unlike my Presidential vote from the state of MA, every vote on The Challenge does count.

Tough moment, ladies.  At least we can’t blame production this time.

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.

RIVALS 2 Season Premiere Retro Running Diary

Opening night of the fifth American major professional sport (a “Challengoliday” as coined by the Czar himself, Dave Jacoby), dictates some special treatment, so a retro running diary of the festivities was the best possible way to encapsulate the greatness that was.  I have decided to split up the retro diary from the new week 1 power rankings (to be released later in the week) in order to have more time to consider the game implications of what I just witnessed.  Without further ado, on to the episode and welcome to the new season!

10:00 – And so we begin…This season The Challenge drops with a dramatic montage of clips from the past, teasers for future episodes, and some beautiful aerial shots of the green jungles of Phuket, Thailand.  Not included in the clips montage: past clips from Ruins, the last time The Challenge ventured to Phuket, and the backdrop for this unfortunate chapter in Challenge history.  It is like setting the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Dealey Plaza in Dallas.  Something just doesn’t feel right.  Random additional note: I did not expect to be making mediocre allusions to the JFK assassination in the first point of this running diary.  As Bananas says, “All is fair in love and war and Challenges.”

10:01 – Welcome to the Jungle!  When Naomi says it looks like “Nightmare on Elm Street” it begs the question, does Naomi know what “Nightmare on Elm Street” is?

10:01 – “Welcome everybody to Phuket, Thailand.  My name is TJ Lavin.  I am a pro BMX dirt jumper, and I am your host for The Challenge.”  They must have edited out the part where he tells them that he is a “hero among men” and he essentially spends his life “killing it.”

10:02 – TJ describes the rivals conceit.  According to TJ, the reasons for rivalry are: fighting, backstabbing, beating someone in a challenge, or…”dogg[ing] each other out in social media.”  Yikes.  I guess this is a thing now.

Reaction to TJ's news

10:03 – TJ reveals the rivals and the only pair that seems to have any real hatred toward one another are Zach and Trey, or as Zach calls him, “Mighty Mouse.”  Zach “despises this kid” and thinks Trey is “truly a disgusting human being.”  Did I just miss this on Battle of the Seasons?

10:04 – Jess calls her pairing with Anastasia “like Team Barbie…stop…lipstick break.”  I call their pairing “early elimination.”

10:04 – Derek, upon the reveal of Robb as his partner, thanks God that “his fight (on Battle of the Seasons) was with one of the biggest guys in the competition.”  The Challenge: a place where it may be advisable in the long run to fight with someone twice your size.

10:05 – Paula crosses her fingers in hopes that Emily will be her partner.  It doesn’t hurt to have a “lost X-Man” on your team.  Leroy calls Ty “crazy” because “he is crazy.”

10:06 – Cooke brings “a lot of strengths to The Challenge being a division I athlete.”  Would she have as many strengths coming from a D3 NESCAC school?

10:06 – Next up: Preston, who has the combination of a look of a man who would like to be anywhere but Phuket and a French painter.  He acknowledges that having to depend on Knight “to get through these challenges is the worst thing possible.”  Knight describes Preston’s biggest strength as his “toenail polish.”  Team New Orleans 2.0!

10:07 – There is a depressed look on Dunbar’s face when he realizes Tyrie will be his partner.  “He’s one of the worst players in the game,” Dunbar says.  It reminds me of the look on Mike Dunleavy’s face when he was told that he would be partnered with Billy “The Whopper” Paultz in the 1981 Houston Rockets best looking teammate competition (The last bit I just made up…my hypothetical scenarios are a little bit of a struggle this early in the season.)

10:08 – Frank and Johnny are partnered because they had a “serious beef on twitter.”  Frank acknowledges “that was an expensive fucking tweet.”

10:09 – TJ describes the game format (it could not be any simpler) like he is addressing a group of seven year-olds.  Their eyes light up when TJ floats intel on a total potential winnings pot of $350,000 ($125,000 for each winning gender team, $35,000 for second place, $15,000 for third).

10:10 – TJ tells us that “there might be a couple of surprises, so be prepared.”  Message received, TJ.  Message received.

10:11 – We venture into a house that makes Marlon think he is on a show like “lifestyles of the rich and famous.” (“I’m Robin Leach, I’m yelling, and I don’t know why!”)  CT, fighting off his own sweat in the Thai nighttime heat, promptly gives rookies Jess and Anastasia the following ground rules: Rule 1. No pooping. Rule 2. No open door policy.  Rule 3. No food, no bugs, no problems.  CT – it is a pleasure to have you back.

Jessica reacts to CT's rules

10:12 – As the “nighttime extracurricular activities” begin, Trey and Zach have a heart to heart in the pool where they both talk about how wonderful they are as athletes (no dispute from me).  Early strategy talks like this are good sign for this team of mutual hatred.  My wildcard pick for them to make the finals is so far so good.

10:13 – Marlon trips and accidentally breaks a glass that falls in the pool.  CT immediately responds by creating Rule 4. If glass gets in the pool, we can’t go in the pool no more.  Glass in the pool make CT very angry…

The CT and Marlon fight

10:14 – …enough to begin a water fight to the throat with Marlon.  Please cut to commercial!

10:16 – And we’re back!  Jordan realizes that he better go prevent his partner from getting into any more trouble and CT dismisses his head in the water.  After sixteen minutes, CT is earning his paycheck.

10:17 – Leroy (no surprise here from this classy dude) helps cool CT down. “What do you like more – money or some bullshit, bro?”  CT responds to Leroy with, “When it comes down to it, I love you man.”  The Challenge is back!  Some major takeaways from the fight: Marlon is a tougher guy than I ever knew.  CT is huge person and gets off on relentless intimidation, but Marlon is fearless and would not back down in the pool scrum.  Both Jordan (go to defend) and Wes (let this CT iteration be alone) knew how to handle their respective partner situation.  Will Wes’s laissez-faire attitude toward CT wildfires come back to haunt him?

10:17 – In other news, to the amusement of many a passerby (and clearly to the fancy of the MTV editing room), Tyrie is passed out and naked on the toilet with the door open.  Way to buck your own personal trend of disappointing Challenges, Tyrie.  There are reasons why some competitors are successful and some competitors are not.  This is just not a good look from Tyrie.

10:18 – It only took eighteen minutes into the episode to have our first revisit of the Diem and CT classic love story.  It is possible I have now read this book too many times now.  On a more sincere note, Diem’s fight against ovarian cancer is simply incredible.  Her courage and fortitude are an inspiration to us all.

CT and Diem

10:19 – CT uses the old “take off that weave” trick, playing into Diem’s confidence (or lack thereof) without her wig.  He has the majority of the audience of this show officially swooning.

10:21 – The Chet/Devyn soundbyte king and queen vacuum is real.  Knight has announced his candidacy for the job: “I hope that this first challenge is nothing physical for Preston’s sake, while I also hope it’s nothing with sharks because I don’t fuck with sharks.”

10:21 – Preston give a self-assessment: “I’m smaller than all the other guys, I’m less athletic than all the other guys, but I can run like a gazelle, I can accessorize, and I have lavender hair.”  The ability to accessorize will be of particular relevance.  Poor, Knight.

10:22 – The challenge is called “Game of Inches.”  One team member has to tangle from a rig over the water and the other team member jumps off a plank onto the teammate who must catch and hold them for fifteen-seconds.  Whoever makes it, moves on to the next round.  Each round, the plank moves further and further from the dangling teammate.  Eliminations will alternate with each challenge and “Game of Inches” will be a guy’s elimination.  If you are the winning team, you are safe from elimination.  If you are the losing team, you go straight into the jungle.

Game of Inches

10:34 – Emily and Paula beat Jonna and Nany to win the women’s heat of the first challenge.  The frontrunners have made a statement indeed.

10:37 – The guys rounds appear to be a perfect way to have rivals hug out some of their differences, or in CT’s case, to inflict further pain on Wes.

10:38 – Dunbar and Tyrie (no surprise here) are the first men’s team eliminated and will find themselves in the first jungle elimination.  Dunbar continues to look like he is about to cry; he is so disappointed to be partnered with Tyrie.

10:44 – Trey and Zach hold on to an impressive win.  Johnny’s take speaks for itself: “Trey, the little elf, managed to jump into the arms of the jolly green giant and now we are going to have listen to these two idiots talk more about themselves.”

10:50 – CT begins to talk some voting strategy with Leroy on the bus back to the house.  His target: Johnny Bananas because CT “hopes to win one of these one of these days” and Johnny’s mob tactics in the past (as he used according to CT on Rivals) will be an obstruction to this said aspiration.  The idea of Johnny Bananas running this local syndicate feels oddly appropriate.  I could see him fitting into the world of Boardwalk Empire with relative ease.

Johnny Bananas

10:50 – Tyrie, in a brief fit of obvious wisdom, “Johnny Bananas has become almost synonymous with the word The Challenge.”  Go on, Tyrie.  “I don’t have anything to lose if I lose to Johnny and Frank, but if I win, the whole scope of the game changes, so we might as well call out the king.”  You might as well, Tyrie, go against the strongest team in this game.  I guess when your reputation and track record are that bad, why not give yourself a lesser chance to survive?

10:51 – The most underrated part of the strategy scrambling pre-public villa vote is the role Wes takes: quiet bystander.  After a very early exit on Battle of the Seasons and some strong lingering anti-Wes sentiment still pervasive in many of the competitors, his conscious choice to keep a lower profile is a sound strategy.  For Wes, it is unfortunate that CT took the opposite approach by attempting to be at the center of every battle or conversation.  For now, Wes is doing exactly what he needs to do.

10:54 – It’s public vote time and the women are up first.  Here is how it goes down:

Emily and Paula vote Derek and Robb because “they haven’t really had any conversations with this team at all.”  Anastasia (“I like you guys, but…”) and Jess vote Derek and Robb as well.  Jonna and Nany (“…are not voting for Derek and Robb”) vote for Preston and Knight.  Camila (“I like you guys, but right now, there is really no loyalty between us…”) and Jemmye vote for Robb and Derek.  Cooke and Naomi vote Jordan and Marlon “just because.”  Sarah (“Although we love them…”) and Trishelle vote Derek and Robb.  Jasmine (“It’s nothing personal, but the rookies as well…”) and Theresa vote Marlon and Jordan.  Diem and Aneesa vote Derek and Robb because they have also not “had any real conversations yet.”  The final vote tally is 5 for Derek and Robb, 2 for Jordan and Marlon, and 1 for Knight and Preston.

10:55 – TJ delivers one of those aforementioned surprises.  Be prepared: “Derek and Robb, if it was up to the girls, you would be going to the Jungle, and well, guess what you guys, it is up to the girls.”  As Sarah sound bytes, “This changes everything.”  The girls will be deciding for the guys and the guys will be deciding for the girls.

The big voting surprise

11:00 – Tyrie speaks some indiscernible words to Marlon about beating Robb and Derek in the Jungle.  The. Writing. Is. On. The. Wall.

11:01 – Johnny and CT have a little public dispute that centers mostly on past Challenges and the sanctity of tactics used.  Johnny calls CT “Chris” which is like an angry mom using a child’s full name when sending him to his room without supper.  Frank thinks that now that CT has fired shots, he and Johnny should not really worry too much about another coup attempt.  Frank thinks that we should “let him shake…LET HIM SHAKE!”

11:01 – Go Wes!  He comes up with the idea to turn the living room and kitchen into a fake nightclub and group buy-in seems to be all in with this idea.  So far, Wes has stayed out of CT troubles and contributed in a big way to the social world of a Challenge house.  I am digging this Wes version 2.0.

Paula and Jordan at the club

11:03 – After a night of constant flirting, Ana and CT end up being caught much more than making out by a surveillance cam.  Jessica just goes for it: “Anastasia trying to sleep with CT isn’t going to end well.  Anastasia is emotional and I just don’t want her to get attached because if she does, it’s gonna be a bad day in a Challenge for her and I.”

11:09 – Poor Naomi must go home because her estranged dad is having some serious heart problems.  This harrowing chapter for her (can you imagine just how long that plane fight must feel from Phuket to NYC?) may ultimately create a bond between Naomi and Cooke, so there’s that silver lining.  Other weird irony: one cast member from Real World: Las Vegas has now gone home after one week of competition on each Rivals.  Mikey replaced Adam the first time.  Will we see Heather replace Naomi this time?

Naomi has to go home

11:10 – “Welcome to the Jungle…”  The challenge between Robb and Derek and Tyrie and Dunbar is called “Last Chance” and it involves running through each other to ring a bell first.  The first team to ring the bell twice stays another week.

11:17 – In the first round, Derek manages to run by the larger frames of Dunbar and Tyrie with Robb setting a nasty screen.

Last Chance

11:23 – The second round is a photo finish and by a tenth of a second, Robb and Derek ring the bell first (poor Dunbar missed it on the first swing.  Luck was not his friend this season).

11:23 – Robb and Derek are very happy to be coming back and might celebrate, according to Robb, by cuddling together tonight.

11:23 – Tyrie doesn’t really have a thing to say and Dunbar is just really pissed off.  I am not sure I have seen a more depressing losing team ever on The Challenge and this is likely to be, after six very unsuccessful seasons, Tyrie’s last.

11:25 – Everyone celebrates and loves life in a Thai nightclub that seems more like a sweat lodge.

A night out

11:26 – Johnny pokes at Anastasia about her pursuit of CT.  Ana’s response, “I am single and I’m having fun.”  According to the slap heard round the modern The Challenge world in the trailer, this will not last too long.

FINALLY, on the full “THIS SEASON ON” (identical to the Zapruder Analyzed Trailer) this is what I saw:

  • CT maniacally laughing
  • Jonna not having Leroy’s back
  • Sarah knows that “at the heart of all of us are good people” (go her!)
  • Trey knows that “they are way more nervous and way more scared than we could ever possibly be”
  • Romantic connections between Jemmye and Marlon, Jordan and Sarah, Nany and CT, Leroy and Theresa
  • Aneesa thinks that Trishelle is “always going to be trash”
  • A camera gets in Zach’s face
  • Camila’s finger gets in Theresa’s face
  • Jonna and Jordan approach a romantic kiss
  • Johnny declares, “All is fair in love, war, and challenges”
  • Paula “doesn’t care who we piss off.”
  • and finally, TJ welcomes everyone to the “scariest elimination round we have ever had” that seems to feature an electric chair

Stay tuned for the week 1 individual and team power rankings to be released later this week.  Until then, spread the good word.

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 throughout the season.