Tag Archives: “The Challenge”



1. Bananas and Vince – The Legend and his “cousin” (don’t call him Vinny) look like an early season juggernaut. Bananas goes for his 6th title in 13 seasons.

2. Cara Maria and Jamie – Yes, their deliberation back-and-forth was a mess, but at this point Cara Maria knows how to compete in Challenges. Jamie is intriguing.

3. Aneesa and Rianna – Aneesa is full-on beast mode at this point and couldn’t care less about what other people think at this point. Rianna’s bloodline is think.

4. Leroy and Candice – Do we take Leroy’s excitement over Candice’s performance seriously? I have never seen him more proud since his days with Mike Mike on RIVALS.

5. Camila and Larisa – Camila’s traditional once-a-season crazy blowout is due in Week 3. Will these sisters remain at the end of women’s elimination week?

6. Cory and Mitch – Cory’s REAL WORLD season was always a stepping stone for the THE CHALLENGE. Mitch is still finding his way, but has already shown some game.

7. Nany and Nicole – Nicole’s cat-like interview eyes aside, she and Nany seem to be the most loyal pair. They also seem to be closely involved to all the drama.

8. KellyAnne and Anthony – KellyAnne returns after a long hiatus. These newbies are likely to underestimate her competitive prowess. What Anthony brings is yet unknown.

9. Tony and Shane – Their week 1 fight was and subsequent breakup was easily predictable after REAL WORLD: SKELETONS. Judgement and discipline are a major concern.

10. Dario and Raphy – It is so hard to take ARE YOU THE ONE? teams seriously. They did Jedi mind trick Cara Maria into choosing the Buells, so there is that.

11. Thomas and Stephen – Week 2’s PIT victory may be a good confidence booster for these identical twins. I am just not sure that they are ready for a greater leap.

12. Jenna and Brianna – One of the worst partnerships in CHALLENGE history, only a matter of time for these two. Watching them fight is excruciatingly entertaining.


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 5

There has been much going on outside of The Challenge over the past few weeks that has kept me off of the written word treadmill, but I hope to reconcile this beginning early next week. For now, here are my almost belated Week 5 Power Rankings…

Week 5 Power Rankings


Eliminated – CHET (week 1), DUSTIN (week 2), BRANDON (week 4), ISAAC (week 5); Medical Disqualification – FRANK (week 3)

9) SWIFT (last week: 9)

8) COHUTTA (last week: 5)

7) JOHNNY (last week: 8)

6) LEROY (last week: 7)

5) PRESTON (last week: 6)

4) JORDAN (last week: 3)

3) CT (last week: 2)

2) ZACH (last week: 4)

1) JOHNNY BANANAS (last week: 1)


Eliminated – JEMMYE (week 1), EMILEE (week 2), NIA (week 3), LaTOYA (week 4), JASMINE (week 5)

9) JONNA (last week: 10)

8) ANEESA (last week: 7)

7) DEVYN (last week: 8)

6) NANY (last week: 4)

5) CAMILA (last week: 4)

4) THERESA (last week: 6)

3) JESSICA (last week: 3)

2) LAUREL (last week: 1)

1) CARA MARIA (last week: 2)

The Challenge: Free Agents Episode 4 – A Good Old-Fashioned Recap

“This is an individual game. This is not a team game.” – Johnny Bananas

As prolific playwrights, screenwriters, and Greek literature revolutionaries have done before them, The Challenge producers are active employers of dramatic structure. Each episode begins with some simple exposition, often foreshadowing the climactic conflict later in the episode. This week’s expositional section of “Inadequate” begins at a Uruguayan pool party. Preston takes this opportunity to work on fine-tuning his swimming strokes and shirtless modeling skills. Camila sees it as an opportunity to improve upon both her cocktail creation and consumption abilities. LaToya, the little verbal engine that could not be denied in week 1’s elimination against Jemmye, gets that some of the social pleasantries mask the bigger competitive picture. “With the game being Free Agents, everybody that you call your friend are really not your friends and deep down inside they are actually gunning for you.” The first foreshadowing seed of exposition is planted!

In other expositional intel, Aneesa is not feeling the “overachieving, showboating, I’m better than you” romantic alliance between Jordan and Laurel. She shares with Theresa and Zach that she would prefer that Jordan and Laurel take their apparently hilarious sexual activity (there was laughter!) out of her bedroom. Aneesa just dropped the second seed of expositional foreshadowing and this tree of drama could grow personal.Jordan and Laurel

This week’s challenge is called “Bounce Out,” a game in the vein of soccer or hockey in which the goal is to score goals (the first team to score three wins), except each player will be wearing a giant plastic bubble of his or her face that according Zach makes him look like a “fat girl.” What is going on right now indeedJonna. There will be two lines for each team (cleverly titled Group A and Group B) and within each line one player will be the ball and the other players will then be strategically on offense, defense, or a little bit of both. “So basically we just have to get inside these gigantic gerbil balls and bounce each other all around.” Pretty much, Laurel. Johnny in a bubble

Poetically and finally deserving of the responsibility of the position, Johnny Bananas and Cara Maria are chosen as team captains. Let us see how these two veteran veterans do with their selections!


1) Team Bananas – LAUREL

2) Team Cara – ZACH

3) Team Bananas – CT

4) Team Cara – CAMILA

5) Team Bananas – THERESA

6) Team Cara – ISAAC

7) Team Bananas – JORDAN

8) Team Cara – ANEESA

9) Team Bananas – NANY

10) Team Cara – LEROY

11) Team Bananas – JOHNNY

12) Team Cara – DEVYN

13) Team Bananas – JESSICA

14) Team Cara – BRANDON

15) Team Bananas – SWIFT

16) Team Cara – LATOYA

17) Team Bananas – JONNA

18) Team Cara – COHUTTA

19) Team Bananas – PRESTON (by default)

20) Team Cara – JASMINE (by default)Jasmine

Final Team Bananas: Men – Bananas, CT, Jordan, Swift, Preston; Women  – Laurel, Theresa, Nany, Jessica, Jonna

Final Team Cara: Men – Zach, Isaac, Leroy, Brandon, Cohutta; Women – Cara Maria, Camila, Aneesa, Devyn, LaToya, Jasmine

Although Cara makes strong picks for her first guy and girl (in a physical challenge like this, you want to have Zach’s Thor-like frame on your side), Bananas team has the clear advantage on paper. If we use last week’s power rankings as the only barometer, Bananas’ guys are ranked 1, 3, 4, 8, 10 and girls are ranked 1, 3, 5, 8, 11. Cara’s guys are ranked 2, 5, 6, 7, 11 and girls are ranked 2, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10. Some additional things to note about these numbers: although Cara’s last guy chosen was Cohutta (ranked no. 2 going into episode 4), his size is a distinctive disadvantage in this challenge (Jasmine, ranked no.7, was not chosen for the same reasons). If you add up all of the number rankings of each team with the lower number having the better team, Johnny’s guys sum to a 26 and girls to a 28 (total of 54). Cara’s guys add up to a 31 and girls add up to a 38 (total of 69). If the numbers indicate a clear advantage, then the eye test does even more so. How can a team of Bananas, Laurel, CT, Jordan, Nany, and Jessica possibly lose?

Back to the “Bounce Out” event, Bananas creates his groups. Group A will feature Swift, Jonna, Jessica, Theresa, and CT with Bananas himself as the ball. Group B will include Preston, Laurel, Nany, and Johnny with Jordan as the ball. Theresa correctly notes that the two balls, Bananas and Jordan, are “both really agile, both really quick, and smart players.” Cara’s Group A will be Camila, Aneesa, Cara Maria, Cohutta, and Jasmine with Zach as the ball. Her Group B will be LaToya, Brandon, Leroy, and Devyn with Isaac as the ball. Again, advantage all around to Team Bananas. Zach hopes that because Isaac is a “crazy white boy” he will be “good at running and hitting people” because, employing the theory of the Artist Formally Known as Ron Artest, “sometimes being crazy is better than being prepared.” Jessica’s strategy is just to “not die.” Cohutta is concerned about Johnny and CT, but feels good that on his side they have “Zach, and Zach, and pretty much Zach.”

Round 1 begins with Zach, “aka Conan, aka Thor, aka Goliath,” bouncing through much of the Team Bananas defensive unit. Meanwhile, Bananas, a “sneaky little guy,” darts around, plows through Aneesa, and then, like a “Mack truck,” crushes Cara Maria’s “little deer” en route to his team’s first goal. Team Bananas – 1. Team Cara – 0. In the least surprising moment of the episode, Camila and Zach have a adrenaline-laden, shouting blame-off after the initial defeat.Bounce ItRound 2 is the stalest of mates for a while. Jordan’s ball is up against three able defenders at the visiting team net. Laurel and Nany’s intended “let’s f—in annihilate him” strategy toward Isaac seems to be working wonders, although Zach contends that Isaac seems to be “jogging on a run” and calls his performance “pathetic.” All of this changes when Johnny (of Bridgewater) instructs Preston to “go help Jordan.” Preston, oft picked last and oft overlooked (did anyone see his swimming prowess at the pool party?), comes to the rescue (cue triumphant sports music!) and wills Jordan into the net for a Team Bananas second goal. Preston’s post game interview says it all: “I just got there and put all my gusto into it and got Jordan into that net. I’m always picked last, but people should realize at this point whichever team I’m picked last for is usually the team that wins.” My preseason “Break Out” predictions for Preston and Jessica continue to gain momentum (I like to forget how I chose fondly departed Jemmye for this season’s “The Leap.” Maybe I was referring to a leap back to the United States? Nope, no I wasn’t.). Team Bananas – 2. Team Cara Maria – 0.

With some defensive improvement from the back line of Team Cara (Jordan misogynistic contention about the performance of Bananas is hereby ignored), Zach is able to force his dynamic physical presence to a goal in Round 3 against the Team Bananas defense. Team Bananas – 2. Team Cara Maria – 1. After receiving some strategic advice from Camila (“get up, step backwards”), Isaac puts the round 4 stakes in perspective: “They only need one more point to win. We need two. It’s all up to me, and our game plan is do exactly what we did last time. (sarcastic pause of doubt) We’ll see.”

Team Bananas continues to pound Preston against the defensive wall in Round 4. Isaac decides to mix it up strategically by using both The Challenge wall and TJ Lavin the Great as “picks” (this, expectedly, works horrifically). Jordan scores, Preston wins the group’s unofficial MVP vote (Swift, while talking about it so passionately in his interview, starts “boppin” until his chair falls over! This is high unintentional comedy.), and Zach will do whatever it takes to avoid Isaac as a future teammate in Uruguay (we are a long time away from random wikipedia lemon facts). Team Bananas – 3. Team Cara Maria – 1. For the fourth time this season, Bananas, Preston, Laurel, Nany, and Jessica have avoided a potential vote or draw situation. For the fourth time this season, Cara Maria has not.

On the post challenge night, there is immediate strategic talk. CT, Swift, and Preston are riding on Leroy for his lackluster defensive showing. Leroy graciously takes the joke, but is concerned that it may be his time. A pillow talk between Real World: Portland cast members and Laurel reveals her intention to vote for Aneesa (the seeds of exposition are flowering!). Laurel pleads with her whisper party not to share intel. The next morning, Jessica, attempting a “I won’t vote for you if you don’t vote for me” move with Aneesa, reveals that there is talk about Aneesa as an elimination candidate. Aneesa takes this to Jordan who denies his “friend’s” involvement, but learns from Aneesa that this all came from a conversation with Jess (no matter how naively benign it might have been). The possibility of a winning team deliberation confrontation is at an all-time high.

At the deliberation, talk about potential men remains inconclusive and Johnny Bananas and Nany remind everyone that this is part of the game. When Jonna tries to take the “someone else can talk first” route about the girls, Jordan calls her out (“you gotta have a voice at some point”) by comparing her to “Jessica.” It’s on. Jessica: “Jordan may be able to bully other people, but honey, you’ve got the wrong girl.” After Jordan yells and confront her with his belief that Jessica has been carried up until this point, she promptly calls him out (Princess Hulk angry!) for his lackluster performance in the log challenge (totally fair) and for being afraid of feeling “inadequate” (this episode title alert knows where to hit him!). Personal buttons have been pushed (Real World: Portland baggage continues to be in play) and Jessica walks out of the room.

Bananas continues his role as sagacious lion to Jessica’s young cub and advises her to “let it go,” but privately is concerned about Jordan’s treatment of a woman. Back in Jordan’s camp of sympathy, there is negativity toward Bananas for his lack of viable allies on this season and for Jessica for “doing nothing.” Some battle lines for later in the season (if the season preview is any indication) have been formally drawn.

Laurel and JonnaThe voting process is all kinds of messy. Even before TJ Lavin the Great (still recovering from being inadvertently – or was it? –  “smoked” by Isaac in the challenge), Laurel’s tribal council whispers to her most spineless teammates (Jonna and Swift) rub Aneesa the wrongest of ways. (The flowers of exposition have reached a full bloom!). Aneesa calls BS on the first three votes against her (Nany, Swift, and Laurel) and TJ Lavin the Great asks her why (regrettably). After Aneesa spews jargon about whispering and bullying (Opinion – She is totally overreacting in her desire to have justified reasons for voting for her. Laurel wants her gone and convinced others to do the same. Period.). TJ Lavin the Great is forced to cut this Aneesa and Laurel fight off (“All right girls! That’s it. Enough is enough.”) before greater escalation or before Aneesa embarrasses herself any more out of entitled veteran fear. The eventual vote is a tie between Aneesa and LaToya (They each got four votes. Jasmine received the other three and is understandably upset that both of her rival partners, Jonna and Theresa, voted for her. This really is an individual game, Jaz.). TJ Lavin the Great calls for a re-vote with only Aneesa and LaToya eligible. After five votes for Aneesa (she flips some literal and figurative birds to Laurel and Jessica along the way) and five votes for LaToya, it all comes down to CT’s final voteWithout flinching, The Challenge greybeard votes for LaToya and Aneesa relieved, talks about the dilapidated karma of Laurel.

The men vote begins with little fanfare until Jordan indicates why his vote is for Leroy: “Man, this dudes a good competitor. It sucks that these are the guys we had to choose from.” LaToya, from her perch next to TJ Lavin the Great as the chosen girl for elimination, takes open offense and begins the following exchange:

LaToya: “Guess we ain’t votin’ based on performance no more.”

Jordan: “Yours was.”

LaToya: “Shut the f— up and keep your ass on the other end of the couch. You are a fake motherf—–. You walk in and out of my room smiling and saying s—. When you grow up, grow some balls, and keep it real, then you can say something. Right now, don’t say s— to me. Zip it up, motherf—–. I could whip your ass and not give two s—- about it…we can proceed TJ. I do apologize for the interruption.”

LaToya and JordanShots officially and hilariously fired. (Brandon is voted in for the guys, receiving four votes. The only drama here is that his buddy Swift went with what he perceived to be popular sentiment instead of having the back of his buddy. Brandon, you know Swift isn’t really sure how to play this game, right? Swift is regretful.) LaToya is still hot back at the house and goes at Jordan one more time. Laurel, coming to his defense, tries to reason with LaToya and Jessica and indicates that there are many sides to the story. LaToya respects Laurel’s position as “his woman,” but wants her to see how Jordan is not always as kind as he could be. Let us all water this second expositional seed!

It’s draw time, or is Cara Maria and Frank like to call it, hell. This time Zach is the unlucky recipient of bad luck and Brandon is the unlucky recipient of Zach’s bad luck because he has to face Zach in an elimination. ZachAs these things tend to go, Cara Maria is back for another elimination (“Of course, why not? Me. Again).Cara Maria

Tonight’s elimination is called “Oppenheimer” (as in Manhattan Project leader J. Robert? Let us hope there is no catastrophic nuclear radiation as a byproduct) in which our competitors run by each other in opposite directions in a circular cage to see who will be the first person to ring a bell. If it sounds that simple, it is that simple. The first to two bell rings wins. Production probably thought there would be more potential for a mid cage collision, but instead there is just a lot of sprinting. Just like that, Cara Maria wins the first two heats and eliminates LaToya from the competition. LaToya and CaraAfter last week’s time-consuming and endurance-testing elimination, Cara deserves this far more forgiving battle round. A stats wiz on her own right, Cara has now been in twelve eliminations in seven seasons and acknowledges that distance from eliminations does not make the prospect of winning grow stronger. Instead, it just increases anticipation and fear. TJ Lavin the Great astutely tells Cara Maria that she is “amazing.” LaToya makes quite the first impression of her The Challenge career and sums it up perfectly: “I met a lot of nice people. I met a lot of bad people. But overall, a lot of people I’ll never forget and hopefully I will get a chance to see everybody again in the future.” We hope so too.

On to the men, despite Brandon’s football experience, Bananas predicts that this elimination is going to be Brandon’s “swan song.” In the first heat, Zach repeatedly tramples over Brandon before ringing his bell. Brandon recognizes the fallacy in his strategy. The second time around is just a footrace and Zach is stronger and faster. TJ Lavin the Great: “Brandon – this ends your time on Free Agents. I’ll see you in the future for sure. Take care, man.” Brandon is well-liked to the end and Swift knows he messed up.Brandon

To fulfill its dramatic structural obligation, the final scene of this week’s episode takes us back to the Laurel and Aneesa battle. Aneesa has a poolside chat with CT about Laurel and Jordan. Aneesa: “I promise you – every time I have the power to vote her in, I will do it. Over and over again.”

And there it is for this week. Next week’s episode promises more of the foreshadowed Jordan and Bananas collision. Ready we will be…

Stay tuned for the week 4 power rankings later in the week.

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.


“You look at the Johnnys and the CTs and you wonder – Of these rookies, who’s going to replace them?” Jessica McCain’s tone is smooth and collected. Her North Carolinian accent is effortlessly sweet, popping more acutely when her voice sparks and sizzles while discussing a passion (of which there are many). She speaks without irony and with a self-confidence and a nuanced self-awareness. I wonder if she realizes that the answer to her question may be closer to her than she realizes.

Every season of The Challenge has its own distinctive characteristics. The gameplay format is a transient tool that allows for heightened stakes in a particular dynamic (often social) range. The location, climate, and living conditions affect the type of challenges that can take place and can influence the relative happiness of the competitors (the air conditioned-challenged Thai house on Rivals 2 was a test for all). Despite many veteran constants and consecutive season streaks, player participation is an independent variable that makes the road to victory easier for some (Team San Diego benefitted from the rookie heavy cast on Battle of the Seasons) and harder for others (partner seasons seem to have a higher level of difficulty).

There are also a set of Challenge tropes and constants that have become near sacrosanct as we embark on this silver anniversary season. Since season eleven, TJ Lavin the Great has been the indelible and trusted host, guide, and spiritual leader, doubting internal fortitude of quitters and offering up “You Killed Its” to the lucky deserving few. The Final Challenge has become a kind of right of passage into insanity, asking competitors to push the human body to an unimaginable extreme often involving some wacky, weird, and wild stuff and lots and lots of running. And, each season, there are a handful of new (or newish) competitors who come out of the Real World farm system to break out, to reach unthinkable and unimaginable heights, and to establish themselves as deserving competitors to compete with the big boys (CT, Johnny Bananas) and the big girls (Paula, Ev) of the modern Challenge era (Frank did it on Battle of the Seasons. Jordan did it on Rivals 2). This cycle of greatness, present in all forums of professional athletic competition, does not allude this Fifth Major American Professional Sport, and in many ways, is even more pronounced in an environment constantly infused with new and promising talent.

On the The Challenge: Free Agents season premiere episode last week, there were a few competitors who placed their names on the ballot as candidates to join this aforementioned cycle of greatness as early as this season. Jessica’s fear and adversity conquering on the rolling log of doom, set over a forty-two story urban Uruguayan drop, was instrumental in setting up her team for the win and in dispelling a chattering chorus of doubters. It was also one of those symbolic, “against all odds” moments on The Challenge that matter more in an attempted ascension up the competitor latter. I had the pleasure of speaking to Jessica last week on the precipice of this new season. Our wide-ranging interview touched on topics far and wide, from her spotlighted, public MTV career to the values, the people, and the hopes and dreams that fill her heart and consume her dedicated daily efforts.

Jessica’s speaks so confidently, eloquently, and passionately while discussing her professional aspirations that it at first takes you aback. Many of us continue to live with the unknown (I know this is certainly a struggle for me) on the question of “what are we going to do with our lives?” Jessica’s understanding of her journey has a commendable focus. “My all-around goal is to become a well rounded and dynamic personal trainer to meet the needs of various types of people, specializing with athletes.” Her answer strikes with a polish as if its repetition was part of her daily workout. Then Jess delivers the end game as she were talking to a prospective client about training goals, “I would like to open up my own gym someday.” Her two season experience on The Challenge (“…and if I am lucky enough for them to pick me again in the future”) is just another arena for her to train and continue to learn how to train.

Despite editing on The Real World that may have pushed a different narrative, fitness training and athletic activity are not new passions. “Fitness has been a part of my life for a long time even though on the shows it doesn’t really…it’s not really apparent.” In the offseason, Jess describes functional fitness like “cross fit, hiking, and biking as part of [her] daily life.” Although both The Real World and The Challenge afford time for maintaining her fitness regimen, Jess encountered an unexpected result. “I gain a lot of weight when filming due to stress.” Undesirable weight gain is one thing. Undesirable weight gain while filming on television is quite another and Jess has received some unfortunate feedback. “On my show when I gained some weight, I had some problems with an ex-boyfriend telling me that I needed to work out more. It gave me a kind of a body complex.” She recounts this tale deliberately and with a refreshing openness. This happened. It was difficult, but here is what I have learned. She continues, without missing a beat, “It made me realize that if I’m feeling that way about my body than other girls and other guys are going to feel the same way and I can help them.” It is hard to doubt her commitment, partly because of how clear it is how much Jessica trusts herself and partly because of the weight of her uninhibited openness. The consideration and thoughtfulness of her ideas and beliefs are most apparent, with a spirituality and generosity deeply rooted in her faith in God.

Jessica before and after
The results of Jessica’s training regimen

Jessica has at times struggled to manage the ramifications of her edited television persona in which “only part of you is going to be shown and only part of the story is going to be told.” Much of her narrative, cultivated on a sometimes tumultuous experience filming The Real World, has focused on how she goes about romantic relationships. “I know on TV they make me look like this hopeless romantic and that I fall in love with everyone, but I usually get really excited about dating someone new for about two or three weeks – maybe four weeks – but after that, I find something wrong with them and a reason not to date them anymore. So, my parents call me either the ‘black widow’ or a serial dater.” (She makes a point of differentiating between “dating” and a relationship. “I wouldn’t call it a relationship because relationships are when you’re serious.”) When I press her on this issue, she quickly identifies the root cause. “I have a fear of commitment.”

This “hopeless romantic” misconception about Jess has been filtered through her Real World fling (I am not sure she would call it a “relationship”) with Tyler, one of her last serious dating experiences that also happened to take place in front of a national audience. “I was terrified to be with Tyler. I wasn’t sure. And they don’t show any of that. They just show the dumb part.” She is comfortable and open talking about the ups and downs of her past and is ready to take responsibility for what role she may have played in things not working out. She also knows some of the reasons why she can be challenging to be with. “I’m a mess. I leave wet towels on the bed or on the floor.” She may not be hopeless, but I am not convinced she isn’t inherently romantic. The vivaciousness and joy retelling stories from her past and the heightened interpersonal savvy describing the kind of man she wants to be with showcase a person who sees the promise of love, but is realistic and at times subsequently risk averse about its potential downfalls. I believe she is increasingly open to finding the right person and will be able to fully embrace him and all that comes with it when that time arises. For now, don’t even think about talking to her about marriage. “I don’t think I’ll be ready for that anywhere in the next seven years.”

Jessica came upon the Real World in an unusual way. Living in the confines of Fayetteville, North Carolina, she had minimal knowledge of the pioneering reality television institution before applying. “I was sitting in my kitchen looking at casting calls because I was into modeling at the time. I saw it and said, ‘Do you want to go live in a house and are you adventurous?’ It just listed all these things and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m that. I’m that too.’ It found me in a way.” Compelled by the desire to discover a world outside of Fayetteville, Jess went into the process with an open heart and mind, but the adventure did not always live up to its promise. “It turned out to be the best and worst experiences of my life.”

Having your lived taped twenty four hours a day is one level of intrusion, but having to watch it back and face the public criticism and scrutiny is an entirely different level. I ask Jess to describe the night of the premiere. “I think I was at home on my couch with my family. That’s where I usually watch everything. You’re excited. I mean, I was scared. I didn’t know what…I mean I knew what they were going to air because they sent me the DVD [screener], but I was just so nervous and excited. When you watch that first video, you’re just like, ‘Man it’s all over with now.’ That was filmed long ago.” Much of the initial positive excitement dissipated deeper into the season. “The first episode wasn’t so bad, but once you get midway into the season you start to cringe…It’s just a lot of self-reflection and self-torment.”

Jessica describes dealing with some of her detractors. “You start to tear yourself down and if anyone says they didn’t do that [when on] television, it is a bold-face lie. Sometimes when we show up on TV, someone has something negative to say and you just have to struggle and fight past all of the negativity to find your reason to continue to do it.” Sometimes Jessica wishes that her Real World edit had painted other sides of her personality more accurately. “I am lot more intelligent than they portray and I am a lot more feisty and quirky. I am such a dork, but they didn’t show that. They almost show me as a prude, and that is the furthest thing from what I am.” Jess has been able to find ways to cope better (“Usually I have a glass of wine on hand…sometimes a bottle…most of the time.”) as her time on television has continued and is finding re-watching The Challenge significantly easier than watching back The Real World: Portland.

Jessica’s first season on The Challenge aired last summer immediately after her Real World season finished airing. She only lasted two episodes on Rivals 2 before she and partner Anastasia were defeated in a jungle elimination round. Unlike her partner Anastasia, a bird that did her share of feather ruffling in the short amount time she was in Thailand, Jessica had a positive social experience (she describes Diem as being particularly supportive) and turned some heads with a gutsy performance in both her final challenge (marking the creation of her Princess Hulk moniker) and in her elimination. Despite this promising, but short rookie campaign, Jess is surprised to see herself heavily featured in one of the most memorable Free Agents promotional clips (the aforementioned rolling log of doom challenge atop Uruguay’s tallest building). “When I saw it, I was so excited. I mean people hardly know that I was even on Rivals 2 because of my performance and if they did know that I was on Rivals 2, either they are like, ‘Yeah, you picked that girl up’ or ‘Yeah, you’re the chick that got kicked off first.’ It’s kind of thrilling to see that I made an impact on producers and on the staff enough to give me my own promo as a second season rookie.”

Jessica focuses her approach to the “rolling log of doom”

The exhilarating clip depicting Jessica’s battle against a fear of heights compels a reaction. One of the strongest comes from Jessica’s grandmother. Jessica recalls, amping up her souther drawl, “My grandmother saw the preview and she goes, ‘Oh my god, Jessica. You better get down from there.’ ‘Grandma, we filmed it a year ago.’ And she goes, ‘Oh, ok.’ I said, ‘But to be honest with you, when I was standing up there, I’ve never been closer to Jesus in my life.’” Upon viewing the episode, Jess digs deep to conquer this fear, completing the challenge and setting her team up to win. For a competitor with a short Challenge track record, this was a bit of an “I have arrived” moment.

If Jessica had barely heard of The Real World before applying, she may have known even less about The Challenge. I try to question whether she was at all starstruck by appearing on a show with Johnny Bananas and CT, but she sincerely answers that these are “just people I compete against.” Unaware of most of the Challenge social world and its dynamics, she is relieved to have seen a familiar face again. “I was really glad that Nia was going to be there because I didn’t really know that many people this time. The fact that Nia was going to be there gave me great comfort because at least I was going to have a friend. I think we are two of the most misunderstood people [of] my season [on the Real World]. They just see the villain for her and then the innocent, no nothing [for me]. Having her there to reconnect with was really awesome.”

She describes the lack of social game knowledge as one of her potential weaknesses in this game. “As far as my weaknesses: my social game and definitely alliances…I still don’t get it. I just want to be friends with everybody. I just want everybody to get along and be honest and not everyone’s honest.” Although she may “suck at” the social game, it allows her to have greater focus on her performance in challenges and converts this potential weakness to a core strength. “I might be short, and smaller than most of the other girls, but I’m strong. I take every single bit of anger from what I’ve been through in my life – every little heartbreak and tragic moment that I’ve experienced – and I put it into my Challenge competition.” One episode into Free Agents, so far so good.

The more I speak to Jessica, the more she continues to impress me and surprise me with her intuition and her diversified set of interests and passions. Her all-time favorite movie is Forrest Gump because she appreciates the unconventional romantic story and she feels a certain kinship with Forrest’s love interest (“I kind of feel like my alter-ego is Jenny.”). Her favorite television show of the moment is Burn Notice (“…any kind of crime TV”) because she “needs a conclusion.” After an enriching European trip this past winter (Venice was the highlight), she would love to do more traveling (Australia is her most desired destination). I am fascinated when I ask her to come up with artists for her “Mount Rushmore” of musical interests. She answers Frank Sinatra and “Motown” without flinching, and then takes more time (and was more uncertain) throwing in “Good ‘ole Redneck” Miranda Lambert, and Hillbilly Casino. She describes her ideal birthday meal as a plate of steak (“medium rare”), twice baked mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese made with truffles and is quick to mention the restaurant Elliotts on Linden (in Pinehurst, North Carolina) as a place where you can get it.Jessica shoot

I ask Jess how many people in this world she trusts completely. Throughout our conversation, Jessica has an infectious warmth and vibrancy, but I am not sure I hear more potent passion than in her answers to this question. “Two – I can tell you who they are. My mother and my best friend Shelby.” Hearing Jess speak of her mother is like hearing an awestruck fan speak of her idol. “I think the most special thing about my mother is her giving heart. She is so loving and she is so caring and so selfless. Her heart is more concerned about other people than her own well-being. It’s beautiful. She amazes me every single day.” Jessica tells me a story whose details I will refrain from sharing (“my mom would kill me”), but let me tell you that Jessica’s mom walks the walk of selfless giving and generosity. “I just hope that someday when I have children that I’ll be able to provide for them financially, but especially spiritually and emotionally the way that she has nurtured me.”

Jessica’s friendship with Shelby dates back to the fourth grade. “My absolute favorite thing about Shelby is just her personality. Her personality is so dynamic. One minute she is so giving and loving. The next minute she is doing something crazy and we’re laughing until our stomachs hurt. I think God accidentally put my soulmate in a female body sometimes.” When I ask Jess what Shelby likes the least about Jess, her answer is totally unfiltered, “She would probably tell you that I am selfish. She would probably say that I am a selfish brat.” Conversely, when I pressed Jess on what Shelby loves about her, it is just as easy, “She loves that I am who I am and that I’m honest about it.”

This is hard to dispute. Jessica is just “honest about it” and everything we spoke of. It’s been an enriching experience removing the filter from the television narrative lens that frames our collective experience of these real people we watch on television. The real Jessica that I spoke to has an electric and dynamic energy, is a thoughtful and insightful open and honest book, and bleeds her passions through her loving heart. As the “Johnnys and the CTs” reach their final chapters on The Challenge, somebody has to replace them. Why not Jess?

For my final question, I ask Jess to consider how she wants to be remembered – ostensibly what does she want the first line of her life’s byline to read. “Jessica was a light to the world.” And Free Agents may just be the perfect chance to turn that switch on, although I am confident she has already been glowing for some time.