Tag Archives: TJ Lavin


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 Episode 3 Photo Diary

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

Jasmine takes her “Challenge House Whore” aspirations seriously.

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

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

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

Frank speaks to his mom about his deteriorating physical condition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny and Jessica
The old lion councils the young cub.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hurricane Nia fights to save her season.

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

Cara Maria
Cara Maria earns the respect of all.

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

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

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

The Challenge: Free Agents – Episode 1 Retro Running Diary and Power Rankings

There is really no other way to begin a Challenge season that begins so ceremoniously than with a retro running diary. Unfortunately, ninety minutes is a longer time to diary than I initially imagined. Pace yourself, readers. This is a long one. My week 1 power rankings can be found all the way at the end (if you even get there).

Episode 1 – “Live Free or Die” Retro Running Diary

10:00 – MTV voiceover guy is back (!) with a quick sojourn into a short “This season on” vignette. After a relatively disappointing first trailer experience and with promos that mostly skirted around the issue, we are finally seeing a series of compelling competition clips. What’s that you say, MTV voiceover guy? Each week two players will be eliminated? On behalf of momentum and power ranking fodder: dig.

10:01 – Hey, MTV producer editing room – good job by you. The juxtaposition of the snowy mountain peak of victory with tension escalating highlights has delivered the mood. Ready, set, The Challenge!

10:01 – Johnny Bananas has consistently set the tone for his nine seasons on the The Challenge. It is poetic and appropriate then for Johnny to have the first word on year 10: “The last Challenge that I was on, I came in second place. It definitely was a heartbreaking defeat, but every game is a new game and I feel ready to come back here and reclaim the title.” Competition, be warned. Bananas is back to reclaim what was his. This is what greatness is all about.

10:01 – Camila adds in an interview, “Every time I get a call for The Challenge it’s like do I really want to go back in the house with those crazy people?” This is followed by clips from past seasons of Camila acting like the crazy person she describes. MTV editors for the win again!

10:02 – Emilee (welcome, back?) just broke up with her boyfriend and has been going through a rough patch. She thinks that is will be “an empowering situation.” I know Emily was on Cutthroat for a hot second, but has Emilee even seen this show before? Ems, it may not be the healthiest environment for someone going through a difficult time. Trust me on this one.

10:02 – “I am Nia aka “Hurricane” Nia…you are going to have to kill me to get me out of here.” And based upon the Real World: Portland assault footage shown in conjunction, should we really have any reason to doubt her?

10:03 – There is a lot of talk about what the format is going to look like. Johnny wonders if it is going to be “Brain versus Brawn.” “That’s us,” says this season of Survivor. Jordan (no surprise here because he is a freaky incredible athlete) wants it to be an individual challenge. Cara Maria (who has struggled a wee bit with the whole group thing in the past) unexpectedly wants it to be a group Challenge. Theresa is “very nervous.”

10:04 – TJ Lavin the Great, minus his quintissential “do you wear that to formal events too?” (I’ve always wondered) hat, makes his beloved opening season speech (my commentary is imbedded): “For those of you who don’t know (and if you don’t, you need to know who this great man is), my name is TJ Lavin and I’ll be your host for The Challenge. This Challenge marks a very special milestone (Is he referring to this season’s exclusion of Knight?). This is the 25th season of The Challenge (Yeah, it is. Yes, it is appropriate to applaud everyone). This season you all have been chosen to be here for a reason (unlike when Vinny was allowed to participate). I’ve seen you guys compete as teams, as pairs, and as individuals. And I’ve heard every excuse in the book as to why you didn’t win The Challenge (That’s right, Teej. Don’t you tolerate any lame excuses) – You had a terrible partner, you had a horrible team (Laurel makes the most incredible perplexed face at this statement. Maybe she is thinking about her fellow Fresh Meat cast team debacle on Battle of the Seasons). Some of you winners call yourselves champions when you were the worst player on the best team (Shots fired, Tonya on Inferno 3). Rookies – you guys always have a target on your back just for being new. Well, we’re changing it this season. No more excuses you guys. (Weird over dub alert) It’s time for you to prove that you’re truly the best (cut to Laurel). I’d like to welcome everybody to The Challenge: Free Agents.” Drop that mic, TJ Lavin the Great. You killed it.TJ Lavin

10:04 – Mass confusion ensues. Camila isn’t even sure what a “free agent” is (“What does that mean?”). Tell us Teej: “For the first time ever, before every challenge, you’re going to be randomly selected for either a team, a pair, or be asked to go at it alone. You will never know until you get to the challenge that day what it’s going to be.” The competitors go crazy with a partly giddy, partly psychotic, partly horrified reaction. Yes, Aneesa. This is a “mind fuck.” Zach says it best, “One day I could be working with Devyn (preseason ranking of 12 for the women). The next day I could be working with CT (preseason ranking of 1 for the men). You never know. It freaks me out.” For the first time in as long as I can remember, chance does play a significant role in potential success during The Challenge, not just in the preseason team or partner selecting (as Sarah has learned the hardest of ways).

10:05 – There’s more. TJ Lavin the Great explains that the winning team, partner, or individual chooses the guy or girl from the losing team to face an elimination. This is par for The Challenge course, but wait. TJ Lavin the Great is not done: “Get ready for another twist you guys. Everyone that lost the challenge that day are going to take part in what is known as “the draw.” “The draw” is where two players – one guy and one girl – are selected by pure chance to go against the two nominated players in the elimination round.”

10:05 – Jemmye, a consistent contributor of an intrepid mix of interview wisdom and hilarity and no pawn of President Snow, puts it perfectly: “You could literally get picked in a moment’s notice and have to go into the elimination. I did not sign up to play in the Hunger Games and I do not like this at all.” Since the comparison has been introduced, how would I cast these competitors in a Hunger Games movie? Here are my picks: Laurel as Katniss, Cara Maria as Primrose. Cohutta as Peeta, Preston as Cinna, Johnny Bananas as Haymitch, LaToya as Effie, and Dustin as Gale. Zach and Nia would play some of the enemy combatants in the games. Frank would play Seneca Crane. Bearded CT would play President Snow. So, who would like to assist me with my Kickstarter campaign video to fund this thing?Camila, Chet, Jordan, Jemmye

10:06 – TJ Lavin the Great drives the point home. This is an individual game and the first place guy and girl goes home with $125,000 dollars. Cut to Jordan celebrating (foreshadowing?).

10:07 – Jonna reminds us that she’s “always had a problem where she like relies on other people,” but now “wants to be an independent woman and be able to follow [her] dreams.” Jonna, does your Challenge participation actualize this desire?

10:07 – CT points out that “he’s always been a free agent” and that now everyone else “has to play his game.” Strangely, CT, despite his reigning champion status and first place placement in the preseason power rankings, still feels a little bit like a sleeper pick to win. The format could not be better for this most veteran veteran. If his team or partnership loses, good luck sending him into an elimination. No one is going to want to compete against him, but with the unpredictability of “the draw,” you might have to anyway. The rankings of players you most fear to face in an elimination are as follows: 1) CT 2) Laurel 3) CT 4) CT 5) CT.

10:07 – Yes! Finally there is a house tour to alleviate the competitive tension. Unlike the sauna bug den of Thailand, the Uruguay house is “sick” (credit to Cara Maria).

10:08 – So Swift’s ego apparently has changed too much since Real World: St. Thomas: “I am technically a rookie as they like to call it, but I’m extremely cocky. But I’m cocky and I’m confident for a reason ’cause when it comes to competition time, people are going to be like, oh snap, Swift gets poppin.” Hmm. Things I hope for: Swift versus CT in an elimination round in which Swift does whatever “gets poppin” means and CT does whatever “destroying Swift in an elimination” means.

10:08 – The reason this is the best The Challenge house in history: there is a basketball court. Again, there is a basketball court.

10:08 – Isaac gives it “about forty minutes” until this place is trashed. I give it about twelve minutes until Isaac says or does something incredibly bizarre.

10:08 – The Challenge officially begins with a toast of what appears to be Ecto Cooler led by Johnny Bananas. “Let the games begin!”

10:08 – Jordan, declaratively single, assesses some of the women prospects. Camila “always shows up,” Emilee is “always good looking,” and Laurel is “a physical specimen.” Jordan, keep your eyes on the prize. You were my preseason pick to win!

10:08 – Jasmine is single too and she has decided she wants to be the “whore of The Challenge” and to get “dick and balls, all day, every day.” I am not even sure how to comment on this.

10:09 – And it took only one minute! Isaac made a shot glass out of a lemon and let Zach know that, according to wikipedia, 2013 was a great year for the South American lemon. With ironic self-awareness: “The Challenge takes the weirdest of the craziest psychos and puts them in a house and says, beat each other up for money. Yeah, it’s going to get weird, but hey, I like weird.” Isaac, it is great to have you back.Zach and Isaac with the lemons

10:10 – In the least surprising news of the season, Devyn’s relationship with ship with Big Easy “fell off a cliff” and is no more.

10:11 – In more romance/relationship news: Nany thinks Cohutta is “cute,” Emilee is ready to mingle, and Johnny (of Real World: Portland) is no longer with Averey. The real question: does he have Daisy visitation rights?

10:12 – So, Dustin made a pact with old fling Heather that he would be a good boy on The Challenge. Johnny Bananas does not think this is realistic. Nany does not think one should trust Johnny’s relationship advice. This led Bananas to make the following statement: “I might be a man on the outside, but I am a woman on the inside.” Perhaps not “All’s fair in love, war, and Challenges” nor the “much respect to CT” speech made in defeat last season, this line will at least go down in this legend’s “top twenty best statements made while on The Challenge.”

10:13 – I think I just witnessed the most enjoyable minute in the history of extra-curricular nighttime activity ever on The Challenge. CT and Theresa, on the aforementioned basketball court, played a game of “strip basketball” (As LaToya says, “All’s fair in love and basketball”) to eleven. Before CT won the game by one point on a crazy, J.R. Smith launch from downtown, the following things happened: Isaac played the role of center court promoter (of course he did), Camila got on Laurel’s shoulder and they performed a cheerleading routine, Theresa gained a fair amount of competitive “street creed” (also, she is deceptively tall), and CT and Theresa both took off most of their clothes. When the game finished CT conducted his own post game interview with the cameraman in which he said, while being hugged and congratulated by Leroy (subtitles were provided), “Bottles and bottles all night tonight, baby! Bottles and bottles!” And no, you can’t make this stuff up.CT, Isaac

10:14 – Laurel: “I am back and am going to be the same dominating Laurel in the challenges, but hopefully offer a nicer side that I don’t feel everyone got to see before. But at the end of the day, it’s me vs. you and I love that.” In my best Nicholson Joker impression, “Laurel, YOU are my number 1…”

10:15 – There is some mutual flirting and Southern hospitality going on between Jessica and Dustin. Storytelling seed successfully planted.

10:16 – It’s finally time for the first challenge of the season and it is going to take place at Uruguay’s World Trade Center, the highest building in the country (42 stories!). Bananas thinks that “it is going to be really high and really scary.” Yep, pretty much. We could use a commercial.

10:21 – TJ Lavin the Great describes the “Out on a Ledge” challenge and, as Nany, says, it is “crazy!” There will be two teams of fourteen and three stages. The first stage is six people from each team running the 42 flights of stairs while chained to each other (sounds like fun!). The second stage is four people from each team completing a puzzle (oh how Survivor of you). The third stage involves four people walking across a rolling log over open air (completely horrifying). The look on the competitors faces: a combination of confusion (there were a lot of directions!) and all-consuming fear.Chet and Nia

10:21 – The Captains of the two teams were randomly drawn to be Chet and Nia. They then pick their teams, alternating gender with each pick. Here is the draft that these playground social ostracizing tactics yielded (my comments follow in italics):

Nia’s picks – 1) Jordan (a strong first pick) 3) Laurel (the only choice for first girl) 5) CT (Nia’s GM skills are apparently excellent) 7) Aneesa (picking a competent and savvy vet is a sound move) 9) Cohutta (Her first misstep over Dustin, Leroy, and Bananas. Will Chet capitalize?) 11) Nany (I am thinking more and more that I may have had her too low in my initial power rankings) 13) Bananas (Bananas was picked 13? 13??!!! On one level, credit to Nia for nabbing him at 13, but did she and Chet really pick six guys before him?)  15) Devyn (You could tell that Nia really wanted Theresa here) 17) Johnny (Let Portland troubles stay in the past) 19) Jessica (She is SO ready to dispel her doubters) 21) Swift (Brandon gets no respect) 23) Jasmine (Openly gunning for “whore of the Challenge” and no friend to Nia according to Twitter interactions) 25) Preston by default (Poor Preston gets NO love. My Break Out pick for the men is going to surprise a lot of people this season. Preston, you won’t feel like you are seven on the kickball team too much longer.)

Chet’s picks – 2) Camila (She is the only women who has won, but it is really hard not to go with Laurel here) 4) Frank (A strong pick, but with CT, Laurel, and Jordan already on the other side, you have to go Bananas at no.4, Chet) 6) Cara Maria (Yep, she is ready to dominate this season) 8) Zach (He deserves high draft status in any playground style pick. You want him competing with you and you don’t want him competing against you) 10) Jonna (Living the dream and riding an inflated competitive rep) 12) Dustin (Dustin is a sound pick, but still no Bananas? Really, Chet?) 14) Theresa (You would think that she would get a greater basketball game bounce, but this area is about right) 16) Isaac (The master of random lemon facts is in the right area of the draft, but with Leroy still on the board, this is the wrong pick) 18) Jemmye (I had Jemmye ranked third in my preseason power rankings. Maybe Chet missed Rivals 2?) 20) Leroy (This man gets no Challenge respect. I can feel his redemption coming) 22) Emilee (A complete wildcard at this point.) 24) Brandon (Poor Brandon) 26) LaToya by default (As clear as Laurel first. The rookie has to pay some dues.)

Nia’s team is significantly better on paper. Let’s see how it plays out. As a comparison, here are the picks I would have chosen in Chet and Nia’s position:

Nia – 1) Jordan 3) Cara Maria 5) CT 7) Aneesa 9) Zach 11) Jemmye 13) Leroy 15) Theresa 17) Brandon 19) Jasmine 21) Isaac 23) Emilee 25) Swift

Chet – 2) Laurel 4) Bananas 6) Camila 8) Frank 10) Nany 12) Dustin 14) Jessica 16) Cohutta 18) Jonna 20) Preston 22) Devyn 24) Johnny 26) LaToya

Emilee, Jemmye10:23 – Nia’s the Black Team (to Chet’s the Red Team) has an open discussion about who is partaking in the heights gut check that is the third stage. Jasmine is out. Nia is doing running (the first stage). Jessica, bringing out her Princess Hulk right off the gate, volunteers herself for the heights stage because she is not “deathly terrified” and because “nobody else is stepping up to do it, so if it has to be done, [she’ll] do it.” Jordan objects to her offer (maybe Jordan has prescient powers and could sense the Jessica and heights collision foreshadowed in preseason promotional material). Jessica does not back down: “Jordan is being a little bitch. If I volunteered to do it, then let me do it.” The Real World: Portland interpersonal machinations run deep, but this time, Jessica is all the stronger and wiser. We will see how this plays out in a bit.

10:25 – So the stairwell climb is awful (Zach: “There are no genders. This is all-out war). Take me to some sponsors, please.

10:29 – Back to the action, Johnny Bananas goes to phase 2: prevent Cara Maria from getting past him. Poor, Cara. She can’t win. Laurel is having none of it: “That’s just stupid. You don’t have to put a girl in a chokehold, Johnny.”

10:30 – Frank is first to the top for the Red Team and hands his key off to the puzzlers: Emilee, Isaac, Chet, and Jonna. Frank and Leroy then work to prevent the Black Team from making it out of the stairwell. Swift promptly decides to jump on top of a group of people to obtain the Black Team key, smashing LaToya’s head into the door in the process. Swift thinking, Swift.Red holding back black

10:31 – It is a tale of two puzzles. CT and Aneesa lead Black to finish first whereas Red gets a little stuck. Camila is not sure Chet “knows what the hell he is doing.”

10:32 – So, Swift’s little crowd surf has some ramifications. LaToya’s eyes are rolling to the back of her head and it seems like she is about to pass out. Paramedics are rushed in and they rush her out to a hospital, concerned that she may have injured her head. The tumultuous back-and-forth built in St. Thomas between LaToya and Swift just opened up another chapter.

10:36 – The Red “puzzle people” finally finish the puzzle, but lost a significant time lead in the process. Chet, Isaac, Jonna, and Emilee lack a certain amount of collaborative chemistry. Who could have ever predicted?

10:38 – Devyn is first up for the Black Team on the rolling log of doom. Devyn is unafraid of heights, but does feel like God’s wind is trying to throw her into the ocean or something. Cohutta compares Devyn’s balance to that of a “male bull elephant.” God’s wind gets the best of her. Rolling log of doom – 1. Humans trying to cross the rolling log of doom – 0.

10:38 – First up for the Red Team is Brandon. The dude goes for it, grabs the flag, and lunges for the platform of safety, but just misses the ringing of the bell before falling off the log. Rolling log of doom – 2. Humans trying to cross the rolling log of doom – 0.

10:40 – It is time for the cliffhanger (or “buildinghanger” in this case) that has been heavily promoted and teased in the preseason. Jessica is up for the Black Team and is not too comfortable with heights: “I can just feel the pure fear from my soul just bubbling out of my pores. Like, how the hell am I going to do this?” Jordan and his ultra-competitive self poses a similar question. She is frozen with fear, 42 stories above Uruguayan ground, and the clock is ticking. How the hell is she going to do this? Time for a break.JessicaEveryone watches Jessica's run

10:44 – Upon return, Jessica’s inner motivators get angry, unleashing her Princess Hulk from last season. She attacks the rolling log, grabs the flag, and saunters across to ring that bell. Afterwards, emotion takes over: “I don’t know if I want to cry or scream or what, but I’m overwhelmed.” Just a moment before, her loudest detractor, Jordan is now her biggest support: “I have never been more happy to eat my words. Thank you, Jessica.” Rolling log of doom – 2. Jessica killing it and representing the Black Team – 1. As predicted, Jessica’s season break out is ON.

10:45 – The rolling log of doom victimizes two expected challenge dominators: Dustin for Red and Jordan for Black. Rolling log of doom – 4. Jessica representing Black – 1.

10:46 – Earning first women pick status, Camila successfully travails the rolling log for the Red Team. Frank puts it best: “Camila, the Brazilian Brouha whips across that thing. I mean, she was literally on her broom.” The Red Team celebrates as if they had just won a Brazilian football match.Camila

10:47 – Cohutta, a nuanced and descriptive balance expert, beast the rolling log of doom for the Black Team. It all comes down to Jemmye’s run for the Red Team.

10:53 – Back from the broadcasting revenue source, balancing on the rolling log of doom is too much for Jemmye and she falls off. The Black Team wins. The Red Team loses. This should get most interesting.

10:55 – LaToya makes her return to the house. It turns out that Swift’s full body attack did not cause her medical incident. Apparently dehydration from brawling up 42 flights of stairs did. Go figure.

10:57 – The Black Team deliberation gets heated. The loudest voices are coming from Johnny Bananas, Laurel, and Jordan. There is some disagreement surrounding not only who should get voted in, but how the game is supposed to be played. Johnny keeps reinforcing the “individual game” construct: “If it’s this ugly this early on, it’s only going to get worse.” Free Agents strategy development has only just begun.

11:01 – We are past the one hour mark and it is voting time. Jasmine starts things off with a vote for LaToya. Swift begins his “I am just going to go with the majority” speech, and TJ Lavin the Great cuts him off: “Hang on one second. Before you do that, I just want you guys to know,  this is an individual game. So it’s an individual vote.” Two things: this TJ interruption clarification is downright Probstian and Bananas was right all along.

11:01 – The vote for LaToya is “trending.” The final women vote: LaToya – 11. Emilee – 2 (voted by Swift and Devyn). Theresa – 1 (voted by Preston).

11:03 – The men’s vote is all over the place. Devyn votes for Leroy because she doesn’t know him that well and will be able to shake some cleavage in his face to make him forget about it later. The final men vote: Chet – 7 (Voted by Jasmine, Jessica, Johnny Bananas, Laurel, Cohutta, Nia, and Swift). Dustin – 3 (voted by Jordan, CT, and Johnny). Isaac – 1 (voted by Nany). Frank – 1 (voted by Preston). Leroy – 1 (voted by Devyn). Brandon – 1 (voted by Aneesa).

11:03 – Avoiding the vote is one obstacle, but “the draw” still remains. Cara Maria explains it well: “My name did not come up once in this entire voting process, but the rest of the lucky ones get to participate in  “the draw.” So, there’s really no safe position to be in right now.”

11:11 – “The Draw” takes Jemmye and Frank victim. As a viewer, I am not sure I have ever been so nervous. I can only imagine what they were going through.Jemmye11:12 – TJ Lavin the Great explains the elimination round titled “Balls In.” There is a barrel in the middle of a large circle. There are five rounds. Each round each player will get the opportunity to play both offense and defense. The goal on offense is to put the ball in the barrel. The goal on defense is to talk the ball out the circle or knock the offensive player out of the circle. Five rounds? This is going to be an epic elimination.

11:13 – Chet and Frank begin their battle and as Daniel Day-Lewis once brilliantly headlined, there will be blood. After the scoreless first round, Chet accrues a nasty nasty cut on his chin. His choice: get stitches now and forfeit or bandage up his cut and get stitches later – a win win scenario, really.Chet and Frank11:13 – The cut is really bad as you can tell from the reaction of the spectators…time for advertisements to take our attention away.The spectators11:16 – We’re back and MTV decides to show some footage all in black and white, but for Chet’s bloody chin which pops in a disturbing red. Hey MTV, perhaps editing trickery like this is meant for poignant storytelling in Schindler’s List, but perhaps you could restrain yourselves next time. This is excessive.

11:17 – Despite TJ Lavin the Great’s condescending disapproval of anything he deems in the ballpark of quitting, Chet decides to forfeit and go take care of his face. Frank “wins” the first men elimination round and Chet is the first Free Agents participant heading home.

11:20 – Two rounds into the Jemmye and LaToya elimination battle and the score is tied 1-1. LaToya is showing an amazing amount of fight and this is not going to be any cakewalk for the more experienced Jemmye. LaToya objects to Jemmye kicking her head. Jemmye chocks it up to “just a part of the game.” As Cara Maria points out, these are some NFL moves these ladies are putting on. I am not sure I have seen a women’s elimination quite like this before.LaToya

11:20 – Both Jemmye and LaToya score in round 3, evening up the score at 2-2.Jemmye and LaToya

11:21 – Leroy points out that this is “hands down the most impressive battle” he has seen “between two girls.” LaToya scores in round 4 on offense and on defense, gets angry (Swift provides the Real World: St. Thomas perspective), pushing Jemmye out of the circle. The score is LaToya 3 – Jemmye 2 – heading into the final round.

11:27 – Despite rampant support from the crowd, Jemmye cannot break through the LaToya’s defensive scheme to tie the score. LaToya wins the elimination and Jemmye is going home. In a showing of graciousness, Jemmye congratulates LaToya and says, “You proved yourself this game.”
The crowd is in it

11:27 – TJ Lavin the Great, for the first time this season, take it away: “LaToya, you absolutely killed it.” And she really did.LaToya

11:28 – Jemmye is ALL class in defeat, even giving LaToya some encouragement going forward: “They’re not coming for you anymore. I promise you that.” It is unfortunate that Jemmye had to go home so early in this game (this completely throws off some of my season predictions for the women), but it wasn’t for lack of effort or heart. Jemmye continues to build on to her Challenge resumé and this valiant defeat, although a disappointment, will only be a temporary setback.

11:28 – Thoughtful contemplation is all the rage back at the house. Frank has some insight: “This Challenge is everything on the line and it’s all on you. So that feeling of responsibility is overwhelming, it’s awesome, and this is going to be the most intense Challenge that has ever played out.” After the first ninety minutes, it is hard to disagree.

FINALLY, we were exposed to the first major “This season on…” of Free Agents. Here is a collection of what I saw:

– Theresa doesn’t “trust a single person here.”

– Johnny Bannas is wrapped in sandy saran wrap.

– Jordan will “send Johnny Bananas home.”

– LaToya is going at Laurel who apparently “looked her in the eye and didn’t say what she felt.”

– Jordan and Jessica have one of those Real World: Portland blowout fights.

– According to CT, Isaac should have had his back.

– Cara Maria and CT are apparently voted into an elimination together. Theresa thinks Cara Maria is “full of shit.” Cara Maria asks Theresa not to “talk to [her]” like that. TJ Lavin the Great asks that they not do this while he is here, please.

– There will be lots of kissing and one marriage proposal (Nany drops Cohutta the question)!

– Preston has to hold Nany back.

– Cara Maria: “Trust yourself. You only have you.”

Week 1 Power Rankings


Eliminated – CHET

13) BRANDON (last week: 10)

12) JOHNNY (last week: 14)

11) ISAAC (last week: 12)

10) SWIFT (last week: 13)

9) PRESTON (last week: 9)

8) LEROY (last week: 6)

7) DUSTIN (last week: 5)

6) ZACH (last week: 8)

5) COHUTTA (last week: 11)

4) JORDAN (last week: 3)

3) FRANK (last week: 4)

2) JOHNNY BANANAS (last week: 2)

1) CT (last week: 1)


Eliminated – JEMMYE

13) EMILEE (last week: 13)

12) JONNA (last week: 8)

11) DEVYN (last week: 12)

10) LaTOYA (last week: 14)

9) NIA (last week: 11)

8) JASMINE (last week: 9)

7) THERESA (last week: 10)

6) NANY (last week: 6)

5) JESSICA (last week: 7)

4) ANEESA (last week: 4)

3) CARA MARIA (last week: 2)

2) CAMILA (last week: 5)

1) LAUREL (last week: 1)

Stay tuned for some very exciting CHALLENGE content later in the week!

THE CHALLENGE: RIVALS 2 Postseason Awards

Earlier this week, our (most of the time) good friends at MTV and Bunim-Murray announced that there will be (as if there was any doubt) a season 25 of The Challenge, America’s fifth major professional sport.  Before we can rejoice in potential future happenings (Duel 3?), wants (Laurel to return, justice for Sarah), and predictions (Jordan is an early favorite to win) for the next season, we must reflect on the at times masterful and compelling, at times frustrating and degrading, but always reliable and entertaining just completed season of The Challenge: Rivals 2.  Here is a thorough breakdown of superlatives and awards for the season that was:

Most successful use of little screen time: Anastasia, who was at the center of drama for her two episodes on the show that may have won her an improbable call to return

Least successful use of little screen time: Tyrie, whose one notable moment this season involved a very public bathroom experience

Person that hung around way too long for such a little contribution: Knight

Person whose stay in Thailand was way too short: Sarah

Most successful attempt to be silent: Ty

Worst attempt to be silent: Knight

People who had less screen time than Johnny’s Bobble Head: Tyrie, Dunbar, Robb, Naomi

Most welcome returns from at least a season of hiatus: Paula, Johnny, CT

Most unconventional workout: Aneesa, who ran on the deck through a burgeoning fight

A meltdown that I already forgot: Zach’s not so sportsmanlike exit

A meltdown that will be hard to forget: Camila’s out of nowhere (is there any other kind for her?) once a season blowout

The “It’s Time to Officially Retire” award: (tie) Trishelle and Tyrie

Low points of the season: Sarah’s unnecessary departure, Knight’s immaturity at the reunion

High points of the season: The “Bananas still has it” episode, Jordan’s hookup with Sarah, Diem’s courageous everything, CT and Johnny’s old vet conversation on the eve of the final

Most unexpected altercations: CT and Anastasia, Diem and Jemmye

Most expected altercations: Frank and CT, Frank and Jordan, Knight and Jemmye

The “My 2008 Self Could Never Have Seen This Coming” award: How well Wes and CT gelled, how Paula is in the conversation for all-time pantheon of Challenge competitors

The “My 2008 Self Saw This Coming” award: The Bananas and CT/Wes fight after Johnny’s challenge vomiting

The “Maybe The Outcome Will Be Different With Another Partner” award: Preston, who is so ready to distance himself from his New Orleans housemate

Best hidden camera moment: Jordan and Sarah’s closet hookup

Most competitive major award: Rookie of the Year, Jordan, Marlon, and Cooke all had incredible first campaigns (more on this in a bit)

The “Could You At Once Be On Time to the Party” award: Cara Maria, I just think it would give her better stability in those first few weeks

The “I Forgot You Were On This Season When Writing This Column” award: Dunbar

The Rivals 2 Media Guide Cover Would Feature: CT, Bananas, Paula, Emily, and Jordan

Best interview: Paula, consistently hysterical, self-effacing, and honest; Honorable Mention: Jemmye, CT, Jasmine

The “Sophomore Slump is a Real Thing” award: (tie) Zach and Nany

The “Sophomore Slump Doesn’t Exist” award: Frank

Best impression of a Marvel Super Hero: Jessica’s Princess Hulk

Worst impression of a Marvel Super Hero: Trishelle’s the Invisible Woman this season, Knight’s nondescript villain character that he always seems to play

Most in need of swimming lessons during the offseason: (tie) Marlon and Cara Maria

Best use of words:  Johnny Bananas for the epic summation/credo “All’s fair in love, war, and challenges.” Honorable Mention: Aneesa for coining “Trashelle,” all of the #teamsubtitles communication between Camila and Jemmye

Worst use of words: Diem’s rap

The “I am Glad I can Rewind Because That Was Incredible” Award: Jordan, an uber-amazing athlete who kept finding more ways to show us why

Real World season that had the best showing: (tie) Key West (Paula and Johnny) and Portland (Jordan, Marlon, Jess, and Ana)

Worst impression of Kevin Costner: Knight’s fanboy bodyguard routine during CT’s early fights

Best impression of Kevin Costner: Frank ‘s incredible swimming was straight the Mariner from Waterworld

Best conflict resolution reflexes: Emily, at the reunion and when Camila’s drunkenness exploded

Best TJ Lavin moment: His delivery of the Zach elimination disqualification news

Worst TJ Lavin moment: When he told Sarah she had to go home.  TJ, could you have at least tried to call an audible on production?

Vomiting that got the most play: (tie) Johnny’s in the final men elimination challenge before the final and the awful eating stage in the final

Best manipulation of “rivals” conceit: Johnny and Frank (A twitter war? Really?), Paula and Emily (they were thrilled to be together from the start and their performance showed this throughout)

Best player stock to buy (for future season success): Jordan





Honorable Mention: Preston, Wes, Aneesa

Preseason Prediction – Men: Trey; Women: Jemmye

Midseason Award – Men: Frank; Women: Aneesa

In a very similar fashion to last season (speaking of fashion – Preston is setting trends – whether he has any followers or not is yet to be seen), Preston had a great last day, further showing himself as ready to be as far away from Knight’s shadow in future seasons as possible.  Although some of his early season success may have been on the circumstantial end of the scale, he did make it within one elimination of the final.  Wes, who had to go into an early elimination with Lacey last fall on Battle of the Seasons (an almost guaranteed subsequent loss), managed the social game as well as he ever has and has the hardware (or money in this case) to show for it.  Frank is the ultimate winner of this award because, although he had some moments of his most volatile and uncontrollable self rearing its most ugly (but good for TV!) self, his leap as a loyal and dedicated teammate and friend was substantial.  He and Johnny were an understandable hot (Thailand temperatures were an issue all season) mess (eating durian will cause this) during parts of the final, but Frank managed to keep any cruelty and low-blowing (poor Sam had to endure quite the barrage in Turkey and Namibia) out of the mix.  His admirable passivity when faced with Knight’s premeditated violence at the live reunion is at the heart of what “most improved” is all about.  On the women side, Jemmye narrowly beats out Aneesa for the award because not only did she have to compete in challenges and in the social game, but she had to learn to communicate with a partner who spoke an entirely different language.




Honorable Mention: Marlon, Cooke

Preseason Prediction – Marlon

Midseason Award – Jordan

All three of them – Marlon, Cooke, and Jordan – had incredible rookie campaigns.  Marlon was a fighter from the first night (I am still not sure why he and CT were fighting in the pool), successfully hooked up with both guys and girls and continues to walk the walk of being himself, and had the best attempt at bringing down the tomfoolery of Knight of anyone on the cast.  His Challenge career has only yet begun.  Cooke began in the no-woman’s land of a partnership with the endearing, but less than athletic Naomi (who had to go home for honorable familial reasons), but managed to take full advantage of her second partner’s improved competitorness.  She fought through many an elimination, used her down time effectively (peeing or allowing others to pants her), and was a consummate cheerleader, motivator, and warrior in challenges.  She too is primed for a successful future career, but her first season second place finish will always stand as a major achievement.  Jordan ultimately wins the award (and was a legitimate MVP candidate) for not only dominating every challenge put before him, but for fully understanding his own strengths and weaknesses as a competitor both athletically and socially and then taking this information to adapt and evolve throughout the season as if he was the savviest of veterans.  He found a perfect balance of being a rookie, respectful and aware that he would have to pay his dues to get to the finals, while also demonstrating a willingness to stand strong against attempts (poor Theresa felt so betrayed!) to persuade him against what was in his best interest.  He was not afraid of the big guns (and at times told Bananas and CT thus), but he knew not to take too much effort to fight every battle (as the edit may have conveyed about him while in Portland).  Jordan was in control of his game and dealt with each machination of adversity head on and without fear.  Perhaps his greatest feat of the season: despite her brief stay in the Thailand house, Jordan managed to build a romantic rapport with Sarah that led to a little hot and heavy rendezvous in front of the hidden closet cameras.  As he said at the time, “Physically Sarah is beautiful, and then add her personality in there and she is an amazing catch for anyone…Sarah is the kind of girl that you marry.”  This now Rookie of the Year winner just gets it.




CT working alone

Paula and Emily

Honorable Mention: Johnny Bananas, Jordan, Wes, Cooke

Preseason Prediction – Men: Johnny Bananas (runner up: Leroy); Women: Emily (runner up: Sarah)

Midseason Award – Men: Johnny Bananas (runner up: CT); Women: Emily and Paula (tie)

Johnny Bananas summarized the men side of this award best in the final episode: “You win some and you lose some, but I hate to say it, but I think that the team that deserved to win won today.  Rivalry between me and CT aside, the guy’s put in his time.  We’ve spilled the same blood in the same mud.  It’s only appropriate for him to at some point get a win.”  CT is the rightful MVP.  As for the women, how can you choose between Paula and Emily?  Only a co-win does justice to their season of dominance, teamwork, determination, drive, and commitment.  They aligned from TJ’s initial partnership announcement and never strayed from their dedication and support of each other.  They are so much of what is so good about this fifth professional sport.



  1. CT

  2. Wes

  3. Bananas

  4. Frank

  5. Jordan

  6. Marlon

  7. Leroy

  8. Trey

  9. Ty

  10. Zach

  11. Preston

  12. Dunbar

  13. Robb

  14. Derek

  15. Tyrie

  16. Knight


  1. (tie) Paula/Emily

  2. Cooke

  3. Cara Maria

  4. Sarah

  5. Aneesa

  6. Jemmye

  7. Camila

  8. Diem

  9. Jonna

  10. Nany

  11. Jasmine

  12. Jessica

  13. Theresa

  14. Anastasia

  15. Trishelle

  16. Naomi

One final note: It has been quite a ride this season for yours truly.  Thank you for all of your feedback and the time and energy you gave to reading my usually longer than necessary pieces.  Thank you to the cast for making this journey so enjoyable and for your consistent and humbling spreading of the word.  See you all next season (and undoubtedly for some interim Challenge columns in between…)!


An In-Season RIVALS 2 Retro Running Diary

A vintage Johnny Bananas performance, an excruciatingly enjoyable challenge, stellar sound bytes, a fair share of extracurricular nighttime activity, a hall of fame outing for the great TJ Lavin, and the most dramatic Jungle elimination of the year all mixed together make for the best episode of this season of The Challenge: Rivals 2. The best episode calls for only one thing: an in-season retro running diary. Usually saved for premieres and finales, this episode was just that good. Without further adieu, let’s go back to 10:00 PM EST this evening where it all began…

10:01 – This season’s opening credits are kind of lame. Albeit, nothing will ever compare to the unintentional comedy fest that were the opening credits to the Duel II. Highlights include:

  • Davis struggling to find the right facial expression during his intro. First he smiles, then realizes that is not the direction they are going for (this is serious business), and then tries to save it with his best intimidating scowl face. You can imagine that by the thirtieth take this was the best they were going to get from Davis.
  • The spelling of Brittini’s name and how easily she is to forget.
  • The moment Evan starts to yell the war chants. His commitment is a work of Canadian art.
  • Isaac’s chanting section brings another level of joy because unlike everyone else on this cast, you could actually picture him expressing himself through such nonsensical gibberish in real life. “C’mon, guys. Let me show you how it is done.”
  • Big Easy’s “Night at the Roxbury” head bobbing during his lead chant turn. This could be Big Easy’s best moment he has ever had on The Challenge.
  • Kim is just so over it.
  • Adam unleashes the tongue as an act of intimidation. CT was not swayed.
  • TJ Lavin in the foreground overlooking this unnatural performance like an artiste taking in his masterpiece.

10:02 – Diem calls Aneesa the “Queen of Excuses.” Does this make Knight the “Jester of Bodyguards?”

10:02 – Aneesa: “If I could change 1 to 5 things about Diem, it would kind of be that you would get off my back.” Diem wants to put Aneesa through some insanity partner workouts in preparation for the Finals. Frank tells Aneesa to embrace the cards that she has been dealt and “deal with it.” Aneesa looks at Frank like he is the silliest of lads. This is kind of awesome.

10:04 – Paula says that “Aneesa and Diem are partners whether they like it or not and they do not.” This all reminds me of the Shakespearean comedy, Much Ado About Nothing.

10:04 – TJ describes the premise of the “Blind Leading the Blind” challenge, but unfortunately no one is listening because we are all distracted by Phukie (as in Phuket), the little furry white dog that TJ has brought to The Challenge. Phukie ranks somewhere below the Johnny Bobble-head, but above Daisy and Irene’s Teddy Bear from Real World: Seattle in the rankings of the best non-human participants in Bunim/Murray history.

TJ Lavin

10:05 – You just couldn’t stay away from shocking the competitors, could you production?

10:06 – Ty speaks alert! “So we already know who is going first…” Six minutes in and we have already heard Ty speak more than in the first three episodes!

10:07 – The first heat in the challenge is CT and Wes for the men and Aneesa and Diem for the women. In the challenge, competitors, blind-folded and attached on one side via arm and leg, must navigate a maze in thirty minutes. This would not seem as daunting a task, but for the fact that each person must wear a dog shocker on one wrist and one ankle that increases voltage and frequency the more you go in the right direction. This is both incredibly sadistic and potentially a lot of fun to watch.

CT, Wes, Diem, Aneesa

10:07 – Diem: “It feels like someone is caddle prodding you and you are getting electrocuted through your entire body.” What’s the over/under on how many times Cara Maria and Abram have actually attempted this on their ranch in Montana this summer? Eight? Ten?

10:07 – Apparently the VMAs are live in Brooklyn this Sunday. Like my post Challenge viewing nights (4:03 AM as I edit), there is apparently no sleep (‘til Brooklyn).

10:09 – Brooklyn Nine-Nine (premiering on Fox on September 17) looks increasingly promising with each promo. Andy Samberg, although at times a little juvenile in a Adam Sandler circa 1995 kind of way, and the great Andre Braugher butting heads in a squad room? Yes, please.

10:10 – “Wow, I really was pining for a continuation of the Riddick series on film!” – says nobody

10:11 – Meanwhile, back at the challenge, let the uncomfortable squeamish laughter commence! Every time a competitor is shocked and omits a cry of pain, you chuckle a little on the inside, catch yourself, and then chuckle a little on the outside, before catching yourself and realizing that you are taking too much joy at the expense of another’s pain (but it really is kind of funny to watch…)

10:12 – Wes takes over full control of the challenge from CT and has a healthy dose of humility about it: “As soon as I take over, everything starts going extremely smoothly. He might have more brawn than me. He might be bigger. He might be scarier, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s my dog on a leash. I am the greatest human being that has ever lived.” Ok, I made up the last part.

10:12 – The Wes and CT bromance continues after they finish. There are some pats on the back, some faux-hugs, and some declarations of mutual pride. Somewhere at home, Kenny is yelling at the TV, “You can have him!”

10:13 – Cara Maria: “Blind folds and electric shocks – it’s nothing really new to me, so I should be ok.” Neighbors of Abram and Cara Maria watching at home in Montana nod approvingly.

10:14 – So, this is not the kind of pain that Cara Maria enjoys. Cooke tries to take a moment to listen to the ocean. Cara Maria, as if overtaken with a mild (if clichéd) bout of Tourette Syndrome, unleashes a “fuck” for every shock.

10:15 – Jordan is, according to Johnny, doing some “geometry in there” and saying things like “wait a minute – this is a forty-five degree angle.” Jordan uses Johnny’s voice to determine where the finish is not located. It’s all just a little hilarious to watch.

10:16 – Cooke has a post-mortem “don’t do that ever again talk” with Cara Maria that sounds like vintage Laurel/Cara Maria circa early in the first Rivals season. Comparing Cooke to Laurel is the highest of praise.

10:17 – Ty speaks alert! This time he leads Leroy to the beginning of the maze (Aneesa: “Talk about the blind leading the blind”). Meanwhile, Paula and Emily are killing it as usual. Paula takes the reigns on this one as Emily squeaks her way through the pain.

Leroy and Ty

10:20 – Katy Perry is performing live in 4 days at the VMA awards in Brooklyn. Meanwhile, Lady Gaga is taking her clothes off in the strangest of ways every day in off-putting Kickstarter campaigns and V Magazine photo shoots. So there’s that.

10:21 – When Paula and Emily finish the maze, Paula declares that she is going to “make a phone call to PETA as soon as [she] gets back in America and ban those.” I will gladly sign your petition, Paula.

10:22 – When they finally finish, Leroy tells Ty that he “killed it,” but production always seems to depict Ty doing the opposite. Who am I to trust?

10:23 – Frank and Johnny actually kill it. Johnny’s post maze take, as Challenge eloquent as ever: “They say the key to every successful relationship is communication and me and my main man, Franklin over here (patting his partner’s chest), I think we communicated well. Pain is your key to victory, and hopefully our time is going to hold up.” This is just vintage, 1998 MJ mode for Bananas. There will be more of this to come later in the episode.

10:24 – Frank compares Nany and Jonna’s performance to “like watching two five-year-olds trying to go through a haunted house.” My addendum on this is that the five-year-olds in Frank’s metaphor actually walked through the haunted house. Nany and Jonna sort of took two steps into the maze before creating a ball of fear and frustration for the next thirty minutes.

Jonna and Nany

10:24 – Classic TJ: “You don’t know what to do – just move towards the shock.” Can we get this man some kind of lifetime achievement award at this point?

10:27 – Camila (Preston: “Camila was the savior today”) literally dragged Team New Orleans through the maze. This begs the question, does Camila have strange powers over the Real World: New Orleans cast? Should Sahar be calling her up for musical advice? Would she be able to magically make Ryan into a more tolerable person? Also, how was Camila able to sustain the shock without the appearance of pain? What Brazilian super powers does she possess?

10:28 – Aneesa and Diem are the women winners (thank you Wes!). Diem does a very cool dance to celebrate. TJ asks her, despite the heat, to do the dance again because it was just that good. It is in these little moments where The Challenge greatness can be found. TJ Lavin – the myth and legend is a man among men.

Diem's dance

10:28 – TJ announces Johnny and Frank as the winners (and safe from elimination) and either Ty and Leroy or Jordan and Marlon as the losers, but not before getting another dig at Jonna and Nany’s embarrassing performance. I have to give credit to Jonna and Nany who seem to have a good sense of humor about it all.

10:29 – I RSVPed to The Great Gatsby Blue-Ray event of the year that I could not attend because I have better things to spend two hours of my time on (although it was at times visually stunning).

10:31 – Ty and Leroy are crowned the losers and Jungle elimination bait. Ty is uncharacteristically silent.

10:32 – There is a Johnny and Frank strategic session with some of the women teams about who should be sent in the Jungle. Johnny and Frank are pulling for Jordan and Marlon “whose time has come,” but really Johnny is hoping that the layup of Knight and Preston sneaks around long enough to be in the Finals and become an immediate team that Johnny and Frank will beat. Jordan listens intently from the other room. Not to overstate my Confessioner gimmick, but wouldn’t the Confessioner have told the strategy party to wait to have this conversation when Jordan is in the shower, on a run, or at least out of earshot?

Johnny strategizes

10:33 – “So how’s the campaign coming?” With these four words and a conjunction, Jordan begins his Frank provocation, and it was just that easy.

10:34 – Frank’s outburst begins (Emily and Diem are the primary listeners at this point) while Aneesa comically sprints by. See Diem! Aneesa is exercising, but just on her own time!

10:34 – Emily gets the ultimate credit in the world for putting Jordan in his place and guiding him away from behaviors that will wake the Frank sleeping bear that has been dreaming happy thoughts while in hibernation since the CT blow-out earlier in the season. Her attempts, although valiant, only do so much good when Frank…

Jordan and Frank

10:35 – …absolutely loses it.

10:37 – Following a much needed commercial break, all is calm again at the voting proceedings. Johnny provides an impromptu (but so appreciated) speech in which he can’t stop gushing about his excellent, but volatile partner: “I gotta give all the credit to my partner, Frank here. Without him, I could not have done today’s challenge. He’s got a higher threshold for pain apparently, so thank you sir.”

10:38 – Knight is not optimistic about his chances of avoiding a Jungle trip: “My team is an easy target for the Jungle because everybody knows that Preston can’t do anything.”

10:39 – TJ thanks Marlon for his lipstick to face vote tallies. He then calls Camila, “Mila.” Can this man be any more exceptional?

10:39 – The vote is overwhelming. Four teams vote for Jordan and Marlon (Nany and Jonna hold out and vote for Preston and Knight). Paula’s rationalization: “I need Johnny to make my game as easy as possible, so I have to vote the way he wants me to.” We are now 399 minutes into this season and this is really the first time we have heard Paula or Johnny speak about their unwavering alliance. The time had come.

10:39 – Leroy brings some levity to the moment: “I would like to wish the rookies the best of luck in the Jungle, but I really hope that you LOSE!” Ty remains silent.

10:40 – Some conversations are just this good…

Camila, fighting through intoxication and speaking with her unbreakable loyalty to Johnny in mind: “You’re a rookie. You’re going in. You have to prove yourself!”

Jordan, shirtless: “Then riddle me why…”

Camila, interrupting him: “–Listen to me.”

Jordan, incredibly rational: “…Johnny and Frank win, and they had to go campaign.”

Camila: “They weren’t necessarily campaigning. They’re our friends.”

Jordan: “But until Johnny and Frank went in there and said, ‘Look – this needs to happen. They’re rookies. They need to go in.’ And that’s what you just said, you’re rookies, you need to go in, so the vote was changed because someone wanted it to be changed that was not a girl.”

Wait, did Jordan just say, “riddle me why?”

10:41 – Frank overhears all and volunteers to be a fact checker (again, where is the Confessioner?). This lasts for all of three seconds before Frank settles into full-fledged nighttime extracurricular activity mode and unleashes his verbal spite on the Real World: Portland veteran (and a resident fact checker, according to Marlon in the challenge last week, of his own).

10:41 – Johnny Bananas, can you please bring some calm and clarity to this situation? Johnny Bananas, in classic form, has a little something to say to Jordan to deescalate the situation while still supporting Frank. Pay close attention – this is the stuff that legends are made of: “You don’t understand. The way that the guys are looking at this is that there is a team that obviously everybody wants here for a final.”

Right. Go on…

“So the way this game’s played – you leave the easiest team here. That way, if you have to go in, you’re hedging your bets, ok? You guys are a great team, ok? You’ve proved it time and time again, but your time’s up, dude. It’s your time to go in and it’s your time to fucking earn your stripes, dude. I don’t blame you. This is a fucking dirty game, bro, but I’ve always said is that all is fair in love, war, and challenges.”

There are so many important takeaways here: Jordan shows incredible restraint during Frank’s outburst. Frank, although unleashed, manages to find an inner peace much faster than imaginable. Paula and Emily are keeping Camila’s point of no return somewhat checked in the background of the shot. But this moment is really about Johnny Bananas, the Michael Jordan of The Challenge. This is the same Johnny Bananas who was the first person eliminated on his first The Challenge season of The Duel (like when Jordan was cut from his Varsity basketball team) so many years ago. This is the same Johnny Bananas who couldn’t get over the hump on Inferno 3 or The Gauntlet 3 (Jordan’s repeated attempts to pass the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals). This is the Johnny Bananas who put it all together when he was able to learn how to rely on his teammates on The Island (the 1991 Championship) and again on Ruins (the 1992-1993 Championships). Then came the trials of Cuthroat, the nadir being CT’s elimination demolition (the baseball career, the 1995 playoffs). A Rivals win brought some redemption with long-time competitor, Tyler (the 1996 Championship). Battle of the Exes was not as easy as the one before, but that much sweeter when Johnny and Camila reached the top of that Icelandic mountain peak (the 1997 Championship). If Rivals II is the 1998 season, then you know where Jordan’s career goes next. Let us hope the Jazz series is stretched out for as long as possible, but if Rivals II is meant to be his last stand on The Challenge, what a ride it will have been. Tonight The Challenge legend of Johnny Bananas is just doing his thing.

10:47 – Let’s get to the Jungle (Take it away. Johnny: “We’ve got ourselves a good, old-fashioned head banger!”) and skip over the weird commercial break segment about Ty and Aneesa hooking up. We will just pretend this didn’t happen.

10:48 – “Leroy, do you think Ty has got this?” Even TJ acknowledges Ty’s silence. By the way, why has Ty been silent this season? Was he coached?

10:48 – The event is “Last Chance,” a retread of the first Jungle elimination from Week 1 between Tyrie and Dunbar and Robb and Derek. The memories of this first elimination faded that night, so fresh does this feel!

10:49 – Jordan and Marlon are talking about the “Oklahoma drill” that they worked in football practice every day. Maybe Ty is silent out of fear for these two athletic beasts?

10:49 – Leroy is going to “play defense and nobody is getting by without getting touched.” Ty is, as is custom, silent.

10:49 – Round 1 features an initial collision followed by what looks to be a tie for both teams to the bell ringing on either side of the course. The crowd, like Ty, is silent waiting for the instant replay.

The Jungle

10:50 – The replay shows that Marlon and Jordan won the first round by the smallest fraction of a second. Ty remains silent.

10:50 – Round 2 goes to Leroy and Ty after Ty shoots out of the gate like a train. This elimination is as physical and evenly matched as I have ever seen. I am not sure there has ever been a Challenge elimination as much cumulative talent participation.

10:51 – Round 3, the deciding round, appears to be leaning in Ty and Leroy’s favor, but a Seacrestian commercial break (and the habitual longest one of an episode) prolongs the suspense. Was my Zapruder Analysis wrong and could Marlon and Jordan lose this thing?

10:56 – There was no way. Jordan’s dive for the bell (as teased in the “Still to come this season on Rivals 2” trailer from last week) was in fact the moment of victory. The most impressive rookie campaign in Challenge history just got even more prolific.

10:57 – Ty speaks alert! – “I wouldn’t rather have any other game and to have lost to them in something I think we should have beat them in, I just don’t even really know what to say right now.” No really, was Ty advised not to speak all season? He is a really articulate guy who has gone a little overboard at times emotionally, but all kidding aside, something has seemed a little off this season for Ty in his mostly limited screen time.

10:58 – Awwwwwwwww. Ty and Leroy’s exit interviews were both really sweet. Despite the sounds of silence this season for Ty, these are two genuinely good dudes who will be missed.

10:59 – Jordan: “I am really over all the politicking, so we’re just going to win it.” This is why Jordan is a legitimate season MVP candidate.

10:59 – Frank’s ready to let his “beast out of his cage” and Johnny is concerned that if Frank starts “punching holes in their ship” that Johnny will “be sinking right along with you.” If there were any doubts before, The Challenge is on.

Until we meet again for the power rankings later in the week and prepare for Camila’s teased extracurricular nighttime activity…

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 Weekly Power Rankings – Week 3

Still reeling over the unconscionable production decision to remove Sarah from the competition after her partner Trishelle, amidst an apparent maelstrom of catatonic verbal expression and misguided beliefs on the mutual exclusivity of religion, ethnicity, and profession, quit the show, I have had trouble reflecting on the rest of the episode.  Sarah’s role in this modern (and dare I say, golden) era of The Challenge has been intrinsic to its success.  She has been our guide and our friend, the person that grounds the nighttime extracurricular activity and unnecessary violence and fighting in a more stable and humane personage.  Her earnest and commendable attempt to play the game the right way (and don’t get me wrong, Sarah is not afraid to mix it up with strategic blindsides or with an unpopular power play, it’s just that she is doing it with some honor and integrity) makes us always want to root for her to win.  This season of Rivals 2, loose execution of rivals conceit aside, has been an already impressive showing, but going forward without Sarah, especially after the unfair terms of her removal, seems to be a most daunting task.  The heart and soul of The Challenge was taken away without provocation or justification.  Her loss will be felt.

On to the rankings…

Once again, as became tradition last year during Battle of the Seasons, the individual competitor power rankings and team power rankings will be released weekly sometime shortly after each new episode airing.  Here are the individual and team rankings after week 3…


 NOTE: the rankings will again be based on my un Zach Lowe-like analysis/sabermetrics method known as “My subjective experience and observations watching all 24 seasons of the show.”  Weight will be given to how well teams and individuals do on competitions, on strategy and in the social game, and whether he or she is a “good competitor.”  Green = increased ranking.  Red = dropped ranking.


1. Johnny Bananas (9th season, last week: 1)

2. Frank (2nd season, last week: 3)


VOTES FOR: Cooke and Cara Maria

He’s still got it!  As this week’s stellar performance in the “Mind Over Splatter” challenge proved, Johnny Bananas has not lost a step and continues to prove why he is the most celebrated competitor in Challenge history.  Johnny and Frank, once hyperbolized twitter foes, have had no difficulty (Frank’s blowout with CT aside) combining their respective strengths.  Frank’s offseason workout regimen and resultant action figure body are now on par with his already flexed strategic mind.  Johnny, after a low key first few weeks, seems to be just heating up and is now rounding into his Rivals and Battle of the Exes victorious self.  Although there is more competition at the top of men’s bracket than in the women’s bracket, Johnny and Frank are definitely the men’s team to beat.

3. Zach (2nd season, last week: 2)

4. Trey (2nd season, last week: 4)


VOTES FOR: Cooke and Cara Maria

Thought to originally be a hotbed of dysfunction, Zach and Trey came close to taking their third straight challenge this week.  If they continue to be in the mix to win challenges (as I think they will), it is hard to see a scenario where they don’t make the finals.  One interesting tidbit (of the many) from Frank’s Grantland interview discussed how he and Zach are no longer the close friends they became (Zach’s call apparently) between Real World and Battle of the Seasons.  Under the expected voting system going into Rivals 2, a Frank and Zach severing of ties could have been most detrimental to both teams splitting natural allies into separate alliances, but now, under the gender separated voting, Zach and Trey must focus on winning female team support, and at this point, I am not sure where that support lies.  If they continue to win challenges, this is not an issue, but Johnny and Frank, Leroy and Ty, and even CT and Wes are going to have more women support than Zach and Trey.

5. CT (9th season, last week: 5)

VOTES FOR: Sarah and Trishelle

CT took the week off from being in the limelight for all the wrong reasons.  His challenge showing (and carrying of Wes) had vintage Rivals CT (I feel like he was often dragging Adam to the finish line) written all over it.

6. Leroy (3rd season, last week: 6)

VOTES AGAINST: 1 (Theresa/Jasmine)

VOTES FOR: Theresa and Jasmine

Despite a vote against from Theresa and Jasmine (just payback for Ty and Leroy’s vote last week), Leroy remains under the radar (and largely out of the edit), but still in a prime position, with few other women teams who would vote against him.

7. Jordan (Rookie season, last week: 7)

8. Marlon (Rookie season, last week: 8)

VOTES AGAINST: 4 (Cooke/Naomi/Cara Maria [2], Jasmine/Theresa, Nany/Jonna)

VOTES FOR: Cooke and Cara Maria

Real World: Portland continues to make their indelible mark on The Challenge world.  Anastasia went out in a hot mess of closet hookups, CT attacks, and poor pre-Jungle health choices.  While still considering there is so much more yet to come, her slap on CT will be one of the lasting iconic images of the season.  Jess dispelled all of her doubters with a valiant performance in her final challenge and elimination, Princess Hulking her way to competitor credibility in the minds of viewers and the Great TJ Lavin.  She is in prime position to become Sarah Rice 2.0 of The Challenge, the Southern version.  Jordan ceases to amaze us all with his athletic ownership of a presumably disability disadvantage.  He continues to convert discounters and reshape expectations to the point where any lingering doubts will only hinder the competition.  Marlon, on a week when his hip-hop alter ego, Jay Dillinger, dropped an album, was at the center of The Challenge world.  First, he admirably stood up for himself when Knight’s juvenile attempt at humor backfired.  Then, his bookend episode hookups with Derek and Nany, exemplify his admirable comfort at celebrating who he is.  Marlon, from all accounts and from any perception created by his edit on Real World and Rivals 2, is just a great guy and a role model for his openness and for proudly owning the fluidity of his gender choices of sexual partners.  The only thing holding Jordan and Marlon back from a rankings rise at this point is they remain in a most vulnerable position among the men teams.  They were almost voted into the Jungle, and, with fewer clear voting options left for some of the women teams, may have to go in during the next men elimination.

9. Wes (8th season, last week: 10)

VOTES FOR: Sarah and Trishelle

10. Ty (4th season, last week: 9)

VOTES AGAINST: 1 (Theresa/Jasmine)

VOTES FOR: Theresa and Jasmine

Edit aside, where have these two former lightning rods of Challenge tension been?  Someone has got to light their fires.

11. Knight (2nd season, last week: 11)

VOTES AGAINST: 1 (Nany/Jonna)

VOTES FOR: Cooke and Cara Maria


JUNGLE: Beat Derek and Robb Week 3

Knight continues to find ways to embarrass himself outside of his CT bodyguard role and the effective, yet unintentionally comedic “Nola” verbal strategy in the Jungle.  His mimed fellatio to describe Marlon was desperate and pitiful.  I honestly don’t even get what his point was or why he thought his action was at all humorous.  I continue to want to give Knight a benefit of the doubt, but sadly, his actions do not warrant further accommodation.  At this point, the ball is in Knight’s court to show that there are some redeeming qualities there.  I am less and less hopeful by the week.

12. Preston (2nd season, last week: 14)

VOTES AGAINST: 1 (Nany/Jonna)

VOTES FOR: Sarah and Trishelle


JUNGLE: Beat Derek and Robb Week 3

Preston’s effective communication to the blindfolded Knight in their Jungle win (“Nola!  Nola!”) was the highest point of Preston’s young Challenge career.  Was this wig the low point?


13. Derek (3rd season, last week: 12)

14. Robb (2nd season, last week: 13)

VOTES AGAINST: 8 (Emily/Paula [2], Ana/Jess, Camila/Jemmye [2], Sarah/Trishelle, Diem/Aneesa [2])

VOTES FOR: Sarah and Trishelle

JUNGLE: Beat Tyrie and Dunbar Week 1, Lost to Knight and Preston Week 3

Derek and Robb just didn’t have enough allies in their favor.  They should both be proud of how well they worked together and the fight that they showed.  Their time was not now.

15. Dunbar (6 season, last week: 15)


JUNGLE: Lost to Derek and Robb Week 1

16. Tyrie (6th season, last week: 16)


JUNGLE: Lost to Derek and Robb Week 1



1. Paula (10th season, last week: 1)

2. Emily (3rd season, last week: 2)

VOTED FOR: Derek and Robb, Derek and Robb


I am just not sure who or how they are stopped from making the finals.  Three straight challenge wins is a substantial statistical trend and I am not sure what other women team can rise to their level of athletic ability and partner synergy.

3. Aneesa (9 seasons, last week: 8, largest rise)

VOTED FOR: Derek and Robb, Derek and Robb

Welcome back, 2007 Aneesa!  We have missed you.  Aneesa literally took out the trash (Trash/Trishelle was sadly unable to communicate an intelligible verbal response when Aneesa confronted her about erroneous comments) with a barrage of words and an able defense of Trishelle’s “I guess, this is all I got” physical attack.  Aneesa looked good and made Trishelle look really bad.  Not stopping there, she was not swayed by Derek’s emotional plea to save him from Jungle selection, recognizing that voting him in was the best strategy for her team.  She and Diem appear to be aligned with Paula and Emily’s vote and one of the key power brokers on the women’s side.

4. Nany (2nd season, last week: 4)

VOTED FOR: Knight and Preston, Marlon and Jordan

5. Jemmye (2nd season, last week: 6)

VOTED FOR: Derek and Robb, Derek and Robb

Largely still victims of the “there are so many people there, so unless you are involved in an extracurricular nighttime activity of the fighting kind, we don’t have too much airtime for you at this point,” both Nany and Jemmye will surely have their moment in forthcoming episodes.  For now, each had a brief highlight this week.  Nany’s highlight was her end of episode hookup with Marlon that put a perfect ribbon on his episode arc.  Jemmye, in a subtle gesture of support, gave Aneesa the intel about Trishelle spouting off about her struggle to understand that you can be both black and Jewish at the same time.

6. Diem (7th season, last week: 9)

VOTED FOR: Derek and Robb, Derek and Robb

As Diem’s partner rises, so does she.  Also, any week she can stay out of CT drama has to be considered a win.

7. Camila (5th season, last week: 7)

VOTED FOR: Derek and Robb, Derek and Robb

A candidate for “most forgotten member of the cast” this season, I will be happy if she loses this election.  Camila is a great competitor and has the potential to be great television.  Three weeks in, we have not been blessed with much evidence of either of these things.  I trust that her time will come.

8. Jonna (3rd season, last week: 5)

VOTED FOR: Knight and Preston, Marlon and Jordan

With Derek and Robb sent home, I am not sure what support Jonna brings to her team with Nany.  Partnerships are only as good as the weaker player, and I am not sure which men teams have any invested interest in Jonna’s success.

9. Jasmine (4th season, last week: 11)

10. Theresa (4th season, last week: 12)


VOTED FOR: Marlon and Jordan, Leroy and Ty

11. Cooke (Rookie season, last week: 13)

12. Cara Maria (6th season, last week: 14)

VOTES AGAINST: 4 (Zach/Trey, Johnny/Frank, Knight/Preston, Jordan/Marlon)

VOTED FOR: Marlon and Jordan, Marlon and Jordan

JUNGLE: Beat Jessica and Anastasia Week 2

The numbers 9-12 are largely interchangeable.  More conclusive, these four women are at the bottom of the women power rankings and at least one pair will likely be sent in to the Jungle this week (facing whomever loses the challenge).


13. Sarah (7th season, last week: 3)

VOTES AGAINST: 2 (Derek/Robb, CT/Wes)

VOTED FOR: Derek and Robb


14. Jessica (Rookie season, last week: 14)

VOTED FOR: Derek and Robb


JUNGLE: Lost to Cooke and Cara Maria Week 2


15. Naomi (2nd season, last week: 15)


16. Anastasia (Rookie season, last week: 16)

VOTED FOR: Derek and Robb


JUNGLE: Lost to Cooke and Cara Maria Week 2


17. Trishelle (4th season, last week: 10)

VOTES AGAINST: 2 (Derek/Robb, CT/Wes)

VOTED FOR: Derek and Robb



Note: Team rankings are compiled by averaging the two individual rankings.  Teams with the lowest total average rankings are ranked better than the highest (i.e. you want as few points as possible).  First tiebreaker goes to number of total past wins.  Second tiebreaker goes to years of experience. Green = increased ranking.  Red = dropped ranking.

  1. Paula and Emily – Team Average: 1.5, last week: 1.5
  2. Johnny and Frank – Team Average: 1.5, last week: 2
  3. Zach and Trey – Team Average: 3.5, last week: 3
  4. Diem and Aneesa – Team Average: 4.5, last week: 8.5
  5. Camila and Jemmye – Team Average: 6, last week: 6.5
  6. Nany and Jonna – Team Average: 6, last week: 4.5
  7. CT and Wes – Team Average: 7, last week: 7.5
  8. Marlon and Jordan – Team Average: 7.5, last week: 7.5
  9. Ty and Leroy – Team Average: 8, last week: 7.5
  10. Jasmine and Theresa – Team Average: 9.5, last week: 11.5
  11. Cooke and Cara Maria – Team Average: 11.5, last week: 13.5
  12. Knight and Preston – Team Average: 11.5, last week: 12.5
  13. ELIMINATED: Sarah and Trishelle – Team Average: 15, last week: 6.5
  14. ELIMINATED: Derek and Robb – Team Average: 13.5, last week: 12.5
  15. ELIMINATED: Anastasia and Jessica – Team Average: 15, last week: 14.5
  16. ELIMINATED: Dunbar and Tyrie – Team Average: 15.5


Next week is a women’s elimination week with, according to TJ, “the scariest elimination round we have ever had.”  Also, stay tuned in upcoming weeks for some Challenge Profiles, behind scenes and eye-opening access to some of your favorite Challenge competitors from this and past seasons.  More information will be available soon.

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.

Seriously though MTV, why did Sarah have to go?

“It’s a bitter pill I swallow here…” – The Edge, from U2’s Van Diemen’s Land, a summation of how I feel after having watched this week’s episode of The Challenge: Rivals 2

As most The Challenge episodes go, this week’s poorly titled The Dark Knight Rises (at this point, any loose comparison made by the crack episode title creation staff over at MTV between Batman and Knight, even if only through a pun, shall be considered offensive) had a familiar dramatically structured rhythm: it begins with the rising action of a fight or a romantic fling (Knight and Marlon, Trishelle and Aneesa, Derek and Marlon), then it moves to the climax of the challenge (an enjoyable timed event involving unstable rope) and the Jungle vote (Aneesa broke her word!), before hitting the falling action of the Jungle elimination (blindfolded dizzy sword play is always appreciated), and then ends with the denouement of a budding romance or two (this week: Marlon and Nany).  These plotted points give The Challenge a flow and a pace that is surprisingly comforting – the who and the what in each phase may differ from week to week, but we ostensibly know what we are going to get.

Although imbedded within this characteristic dramatic rhythm, all the key plot points this week were almost (almost, I will touch on those important moments in the power rankings column later in the week) irrelevant juxtaposed with the most unjust (and all too familiar) of decisions made by the powers of Bunim/Murray.  This week’s episode and the structure we have come to understand were blindsided by an unexpected, terribly unfair, and exceedingly unreasonable production reaction to a player’s decision to quit.  For the second time and for absolutely no fault of her own (I will especially ignore Johnny Moseley’s embarrassing question on the After Show), Sarah was sent home.

The context of this horrific decision made it all the worse: On a night of seemingly many fights, Trishelle was concerned that Aneesa had a monopoly over oppressed minorities as a Jew and as a lover of women (Jemmye was a helpful relayer of this intel).  Aneesa’s rebuttal was both physical and witty (“You are the same Trashelle you were!).  Trishelle reacted with some words that, when put together, seemed to make less than sense (Rivals 2 was a tough go for the professional poker player).  The next morning, Trishelle packed her bags faster than the duration of her film career and had suddenly quit the show (Some After Show clips provided further fodder for the quandary: why did she agree to participate this season to begin with?).  Sarah, who faced a similar destructive partnership on Exes (the worst hookup ever) when Vinny decided it was a good idea to be an awful human being (as Mandi and her top found out at the club), was now faced with the possibility that no more partner meant no more The Challenge.  But wait, just last week Naomi departed because of some home priorities and Cara Maria (thirty hours of travel later) was brought on as her replacement, so Sarah must get a replacement partner as well.  It is still early enough in the game (only one female elimination has taken place) and a male elimination is next, so it is reasonable to bring in another replacement player, right?

When TJ gathered the troops to share the production decision, I actually thought that after clearly making the WRONG call on Exes (you are telling me Mr. Beautiful wouldn’t have flown in last minute?), they would make the right call this time around.  Unfortunately, for Sarah, for the people that would have been able to spend time with her in Thailand (especially Jordan who let his best qualities out when around her), for the weekly viewer, for the sanctity of gameplay, for any semblance of justice in this fifth major professional sport, the MTV powers that be (not) DROPPED THE BALL and eliminated her from the competition.  Sarah’s reaction, the last time (it is inconceivable that this has now happened to her twice) this quaked an outpouring of emotion, was almost hauntingly (and nobly) stoic and proud.  Even in this moment of objective irrational tomfoolery, Sarah remained the bigger (and biggest of them all) person.

I have spent the few hours since this catastrophic reveal trying to rationalize a decision that on face value appears just so irrational.  I still can’t make any sense of it.  Sure, it is not easy to get someone to pick up their stuff and travel to Thailand for six weeks on a moment’s notice, but how does this explain the Cara Maria add-on just last week?  I am sure MTV in their (free falling in credibility) minds had a reason.  Without knowing it, I just don’t buy it.  The focus should have been committed to finding a way to keep Sarah in the game.  Here are the top 5 solutions that would have kept Sarah in Thailand that should have been at least tried before sending such an important and vital force of the past seven seasons of this beloved more than-a-television show home at no fault or responsibility of her own:

1. Bring back Jess – If Jess was still in Thailand, this seems like a no-brainer and the easiest solution.  The “rivals” construct is already a serious reach, so the budding friendship between Sarah and Jess is of little consequence to the premise of the game (Mike Mike was Leroy’s partner in Rivals, so there is already a precedent for blowing up the season format).  Ana’s body (and likely healthy decision-making) let Jess down, so why not give her another shot with a more seasoned partner.  Princess Hulk was just beginning to pave her destructive path of the competition and as Jess tweeted, “We’d be a ball of sunshine and badassness!”  That’s what I’m talking about!

2. Fly in another vet – Laurel?  Ev?  Jenn with two Ns?  KellyAnne?  Ashley?  Someone with a little Challenge credibility had to have been available.  Cara Maria is a random ringer.  There is no reason not to bring in another one for Sarah at this still incredibly early stage of the game.

3. Add her to another women team – Of course this may require a little challenge reworking, but so what?  The chance to have Sarah remain in the game is well worth any behind the scenes audibles (Survivor lays out a model for in-game rule flexibility every season, so it can definitely be done).

4. Sarah becomes the inaugural Confessioner – Yes!  Sarah would have an easy transition to house therapist, strategic advisor, and creative consultant.  Production, having made a sound decision by keeping Sarah involved with the competition, would handle the conflict resolution, but Sarah could do everything else.

5. Sarah becomes TJ’s co-host – At first she would still be disappointed to not be able to compete, but you’re telling me that Sarah wouldn’t be incredibly excited to work with TJ behind the scenes of the show?

That’s just it.  For some competitors, The Challenge is a paid vacation, a chance to win money, or a way to stay on television for a period of time beyond what was originally thought possible.  There is nothing wrong with these reasons and I don’t fault anyone who has them, but Sarah is refreshingly different.  You can tell that she has looked at every moment of these past seven seasons as a most incredible opportunity.  She strives to live each of these moments with a competing passion and compassion, a fervent commitment, and an unabashed joy.  House fights that devolve into the lowest common denominator affect her (as her last night in Phuket displayed) in a way that others may not feel.  Sarah is genuinely kind and considerate, someone who puts the needs of others before those of her own.  She wants everyone to get along and to treat each other with respect because she understands that this is a better way.

The After Show this week showed a clip of Sarah’s final speech to the group after TJ’s (I will refrain from killing the messenger, Master Lavin) decree of elimination.  She left her fellow competitors, fighting through tears, with the following words: “First and foremost, we are people.  Everyone knows exactly the behavior that they’ve done that has been despicable.  Just think – is what I’m doing right now going to help someone or is it going to hurt them?  Everybody has the ability to change and change starts as soon as you say it’s going to happen.”  The edit showed faces in the background (the disrespectful Knight, to use Sarah’s words, first and foremost) smirking, laughing, and cynically condescending to this earnest and real attempt to make this at too many times insane asylum of a Challenge world a better place.

Johnny takes a realistic (and bitingly clever, Mr. Bananas) take in his interview: “Sarah, do you have any idea the group of animals that you are talking to?  It’s like telling prison inmates to be more considerate of each other.  It’s just not gonna happen.”  It might not, but Sarah’s conviction and determination, commendably and admirably, will not be assuaged because she thinks better and believes more of others.  After this clip is shown, Sarah is visibly upset, and Aneesa (a great episode for this savvy vet) reassures her that she is “a good person among some bad people,” acknowledging how hard it can be.

Sarah reacts, “And really, is it that fucking terrible for me to expect human beings to be nice to each other or for me to want to deliver that message.  Maybe they can just, I don’t know, for a second choose to be nice in a moment where they could be mean, and, if really that makes me a big fucking joke, then I am joke.  I don’t care.  I really, I don’t.”  Sarah, know that we care and don’t let anything stop you from being you.  This is unfair and you, of all people, deserve so much better.  Keep up your fight and don’t lose your spark.  You are a beacon of positivity and goodness and the heart and soul of this Challenge world, and we are all the better for it.  You will be missed.

MTV, you dropped the ball.

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 – Episode 2 – The Confessioner’s Rules

In last week’s weekly power rankings, I introduced the decidedly half-baked (some of my friends questioned the name, but I stand by it!) idea of “The Confessioner.”  Explored more in depth in my week 1 power rankings opus, “The Confessioner” would be a neutral figure that competitors could meet with (both through appointment and through an office hours like system) to seek out strategy tips, relationship advice, workout regimens, group activity ideas to fight against boredom, and conflict resolution for alcohol infused and infested extracurricular nighttime activities.  The Challenge house is one step closer to Arkham Asylum than to the Fortress of Solitude (cross DC Comics metaphors are allowed), so the addition of a such an invaluable resource could be of great sustenance to many a participant.

Coming off of tonight’s wildly entertaining (although devoid of a Johnny Bananas twitter teased and probable father disowned unnamed act) second episode of The Challenge: Rivals 2 season, here are 16 rules (with no discernible method to the order) from the hypothetical Confessioner:

Rule #1 – Before an elimination round in the Jungle, eat more than watermelon and cigarettes.

We all know it can be terribly hot and humid in Thailand and a healthy dose of rookie nerves in your first elimination (or for Tyrie, it appears to be in all six of his) is to be expected, but Anastasia’s nausea delay pre-elimination and full-blown nausea attack post-elimination (Jessica’s solo mission on the “you’ve been eliminated, so TJ is going to make a final speech” podium was a significant moment in her “we’ve only just begun” The Challenge career.  Much respect was gained.) may have had a little too much to do with her final meal (or rather lack there of).  In an episode of more than a few “not a good look” moments for this real Portland Bird, the Jungle debacle may have been the worst look of all.  The Anastasia flight’s crash landing was oddly reminiscent of another one-time CT side project (up on the roof?) from The Challenge “hot mess moment of infamy” Mount Rushmore: Shauvon, whose bubble burst (literally) several seasons ago.  Tough.

Rule #2 – Don’t quit a challenge or you may face severe repercussions.

Wes and Preston, for reasons that the edit did not explore to the depth that this viewer would have liked, decided that they would quit the challenge, thinking that they had nothing to lose (Wes was under no circumstances going to thrust his saw with CT.  Preston sawed his way to the second round with Knight, but wasn’t about to have some mutual face to crotch time on the ridiculous inverted relay race with his Real World: New Orleans “everything but” mate.).  TJ’s verdict: “Since you guys quit, you will be assessed a penalty at the next challenge.”  It may be unfair CT, but you know TJ hates a quitter.  CT and Wes can likely stomach such a blow, but the Team New Orleans men may not be so fortunate.

CT working alone

Rule #3 – If you want to have better chance of living, don’t pick a fight with CT.

Yeah, so this is kind of important because the possibility (Adam King can attest) is in the conversation.  As Frank tearily admits in his downright Confessioner-esque post battle session with Johnny Bananas, he knows better.  Be careful, Frank.  Be careful, Marlon.  Be very careful.

Frank and CT

Rule #4 – Do not underestimate Jordan

“That’s my partner if you all didn’t know.”  Thanks, Marlon.  If we didn’t know, we know now.  First, his pull up counter to the mighty Thor was near incredible.  Sarah says it best, “I gotta give mad props to Jordan.  He embraces every single challenge that comes his way, and that to me is soooo sexy!”  Second, he and Marlon came very close to winning the challenge and will continue to be near the top if there is any degree of athleticism and drive involved.  Third, his peacemaking skills, maybe not always as effective when in the middle of a Hurricane Nia squal in Portland, are already a factor two episodes in to Rivals 2.  He defended Marlon against the CT (CT!) in the “glass in the pool motive head scratcher” throw down last week and managed to keep Anastasia’s suddenly pugnacious and out of control self off of CT (a twist of fight roles) and indoors (the door close was the underrated DVR rewind moment of the week).  Finally, he translated cuddling with Sarah (a more common Challenge scenario) to a steamy closet makeout session (a less common Challenge occurrence).  In a week when a Challenge rookie took most of the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, Jordan was illuminated for all the right reasons (if only her were on the Bachelorette with Des).


Rule #5 – If you need to pee while waiting for a Jungle opponent to work through a nausea attack set off by poor preparation choices, feel free to do so right where you are as long as you understand that you may have your head dunked in the same water you are peeing in.

One of my predictions for this season: “Cooke will have a moment on this show that everyone is talking about.”  Ding ding ding!  We have a winner!

Cara and Cooke

Rule #6 – If you want to piss off TJ, don’t quit, don’t give a lackluster effort, and don’t smoke before an elimination.

The Great TJ Lavin about Anastasia after her elimination: “I mean, I guess she shouldn’t smoke cigarettes and not eat, so…”  When TJ kills it, TJ kills it.

Rule #7 – If CT gets attacked, Knight will protect him.

Knight is officially the Kevin Costner to CT’s Whitney Houston.  If you mess with CT (and if you thoroughly read rule no. 3, you would know not to), Knight will be there to protect him.  How and when this was decided remains a mystery, but if I am Knight and CT asks me to be his bodyguard, I am going to be his bodyguard, no questions asked.

Knight protects CT

Rule #8 – A cheer of “Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go” is always a fantastic early 90s allusion to make.

Thank you to Theresa for your stellar lead narration of this playful entry into this week’s episode in which a band of five (Theresa, Trey, Anastasia, CT, and master strategist Johnny) decide to water balloon bomb a barracks full of unassuming sleeping competitors huddled together in the living room to be closer to the AC.  Their incognito choice of themed attire (an idea that the Confessioner would surely have come up with) is “ninja.” Somewhere the nine remaining Vanilla Ice fans are smiling.

Rule #9 – Don’t sleep on #teamsubtitles – Jemmye and Camila.

In my preseason power rankings column, I predicted Jemmye and Camila were going to come very close to making the finals and I stand by this prediction, but I may have underestimated how much fun their journey would be to watch.  Jemmye is fast becoming this season’s go to sound byte (“Literally, it’s ten seconds in and Camila is already being a crazy person.  My biggest fear is can Camila and I get through this without killing each other because my first instinct is to kill her,” “I am thinking about just staying there with Camila’s face stuffed in a tire until she passes out”) and we all know Camila has a most entertaining extracurricular nighttime activity or two in her before the season is through, but I think they will be an unexpected factor in future challenges.  Perhaps as much as any team. if they do well this season, their potential to rise into the upper tier of The Challenge female competitors is very much in play.  So far, we are just enjoying the ride.

Rule #10 – As the first two challenges have proven (and $1000 richer!), you may want to start considering Zach and Trey as one of the favorites.

Two straight challenge wins to start this season is at worst a statement of arrival and at best a harbinger of future success.  They have the best combination of complimentary physical skills and builds of any male team and seem to have found a common goal (winning) and a common enemy (the competition) that has allowed their personal differences to be tabled.  Be prepared for a rise in the power rankings this week.

The challenge

Rule #11 – If your welcome and reception after a 30 hour journey to Thailand is less than warm, tune it out and focus on winning.

And Cara Maria, a late addition for the second straight season, did just that.  She knows how to play the rivals construct (it is really only about the partnership of two people as she and Laurel embodied on their road to a finals appearance in Rivals), and, despite some unfortunate, but clear social difficulties with the rest of this group, Cara will try to ignore all the background noise (or in this case, Thai crickets).  Maybe not a friend for life, Cara Maria will be the best of partners for Cooke on Rivals 2.

Cara Maria and TJ

Rule #12 – Pay attention: Sarah is wonderful and may be a part of the team you are voting for.

Sarah, please go ahead and sing this from the mountaintops so all of those men teams can hear you!  Poor Sarah may again be stuck with lesser than partner (C’mon Trishelle!  Where’s the fire?)  Thankfully, Jordan seems to have already figured out what has been so very clear over these past seven seasons of The Challenge to all those of us watching, “Physically Sarah is beautiful, and then add her personality in there and she is an amazing catch for anyone…Sarah is the kind of girl that you marry.”  Amen.

Trishelle and Sarah

Rule #13 – Practicing your use of a saw is a good way to train for The Challenge.


Rule #14 – Listen to Jessica’s words of wisdom and you will learn something important.

“Yah, you got a fight.  Yah, you had a hookup, big frickin’ deal.  You think anyone else hasn’t ever had sex with somebody?  You think anyone else hasn’t ever fought anybody?  You’re damn wrong if you think they didn’t.  So frickin’ what!  At the end of the day, and I’m realizing this too, so you’re not standing alone, it’s me and you baby, and guess what?  We’re rookies.  So we gotta kick ass.”  This was Jessica to Anastasia after Bird attempted to assault CT.  One of the most welcome, but unexpected aspects of Rivals 2 thus far has been the incredible rookie campaign of Jessica.  Yes, she has been eliminated, but she went out with such a valiant fight (especially in contrast to Anastasia).  Her Hulk-like move during the challenge was an episode highlight and she earned some serious competitor cred with TJ for never quitting in the Jungle.  Jessica’s return to The Challenge on future seasons would be most welcome, thirsty, and junk.

Rule #15 – There are cameras in the closet.

Although, I am not sure any of the competitors living in the house in Phuket knew this at the time.

Rule #16 – The Big Easy Rule: You’re only as good as how strong you are compared to how much of a liability your partner is (my silly power rankings scoring system does matter!).

In other words, during team or partner additions of The Challenge, it doesn’t matter how good a competitor you are if you are on a team with Big Easy.  You will inevitably lose.  Balance is rewarded (especially, as has already been made wildly clear, in Paula and Emily’s case) if both members of the team have little to no weaknesses.  Conversely, for all the bodyguard strategy mind games that Knight can bring to the table, if his partner is Preston (and running is not the challenge event), it is going to be awfully hard to succeed.  Sarah is facing this struggle right now with a seemingly detached Trishelle.  Johnny must weather every potential Frank alcohol influenced meltdown (I think we are not going to see too many more the rest of the season).  Both CT and Wes must deal with each other’s too often a season detrimental moves and can only be as good as their ability to keep it together.  What made Laurel and Cara Maria’s run in Rivals so impressive was that Laurel was able to elevate Cara to her level over the course of the season as opposed to having their ultimate fate linked to Cara’s unrealized potential.  Going forward, these pairings who have such a disparity of competitor skill must find a way to mind and decrease the gap, or early elimination is inevitable.

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 and recaps will post weekly starting on July 10.