Tag Archives: TJ Lavin

THE CHALLENGE: RIVALS 2 Preseason Power Rankings

Are you ready?

Tonight’s main event has crept up on me like an over-hyped hurricane (thankfully not of the Nia nature) that was detected by meteorologists so early on that I could not possibly believe it to be real (despite the evidence delivered by the first teaser trailer only a handful of weeks ago), but now, as 10:00 p.m. EST tonight fast approaches, I can hardly believe that this is actually happening.  Brace yourselves.  There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne!

Back in February, when the MTV blog tantalized fans with the prospect of an All-star 24th season of The Challenge (Originally an offset of the Real World and Road Rules, this American competition institution allows past cast members to extend their fifteen minutes of fame to sometimes unprecedented durations while competing in a series of elimination competitions that all lead to a death defying (I wish I were kidding) final challenge.  The team who wins the final challenge wins a fair amount of money.  T. J. Lavin has been the stalwart and often heroic host for many years now (“He killed it!”) and will be (hallelujah!) yet again for Rivals 2) and asked for a public vote on who should participate (and, as in the NBA, not all players make the all-star ballot), I presented my picks (12 men, 12 women, 1 wildcard chosen for each gender from players not on the ballot) as a pipe dream of possibility.  Five month later, MTV has delivered on this promise in the most wonderful of ways.  With a roster of 16 men and 16 women featuring essential veteran players (Johnny Bananas!  CT!  Paula!  Sarah!  Camila!  Wes!) and a crop of promising younger talent (Leroy!  Frank!  Zach!  Nany!  Marlon!), Rivals 2 was born.  Although not an All-star season in name, Rivals 2 is unequivocally an All-star season in talent and scope.  The Rivals format that places two historic enemies on the same team, demanding a cease-fire in the pursuit of a monetary windfall, is a structural win.  Great moments will arise (Who can forget Kenny literally carrying Wes on his back in the finals of Rivals I?), long lasting and redemptive friendships will be born (Laurel and Cara Maria built an incredibly supportive bond on Rivals that exemplified what it meant to be a great teammate), and you may even learn how to replicate every detail of a campsite while carrying a literal ball and chain (this is also known as “a walk through a simulation of hell”).

This season’s pairings of competitors on Rivals 2 are notable for two things: hardly any of them are in fact Rivals (Did MTV producers give the green light on the structure after having only signed up CT and Wes or after only having read the Zach and Trey’s twitter interactions?  Dunbar doesn’t even know “rival” Tyrie’s last name!) and, beyond a few teams that are clearly at the top and bottom of the totem pole, there is an argument to made that most teams have a legitimate chance to go to the finals.  This wide open competitive landscape with few clear alliances gives a win to dramatic potential and an opportunity for anything to happen.

My team previews already exhausted ten thousand words on the prospects of our competitor tandems (if you read all of them, much credit is awarded), but before I hit the preseason power rankings, here are a few additional thoughts on the season:

The Fifth American Major Professional Sport – Yes, this has been a moniker for The Challenge, expertly conceived by Bill Simmons and his Czar of Reality TV, David Jacoby, so many years ago, but for the first time, its hyperbolic essence may be waning.  Like American’s niche relationship with the NHL outside of Detroit and Denver in the mid-90s through at least the first lockout, you are either a diehard fan of The Challenge or you are not a fan at all, and for the first time, the diehards are growing and are really coming out to support.  Certainly the twitter revolution (admittedly effecting my own power rankings commentary this week) has played a critical role, creating a direct line of access and a platform for fan connection (only the David Stern Retirement Tour has been this clairvoyant in other major professional sports with the use of new media and new technology).  This has fostered growth in the brand and in the intensity of fandom.  Already of the highest level of athletic competition and with a finals that is infinitely more interesting than any component of the “too late for youngsters time of night advertisement fest destroyed by the annoyance of listening to Joe Buck” that is the MLB playoffs, The Challenge may actually be the fifth major American professional sport.

Where is Laurel? – The truth of the why concerning the exclusion of Evan and Kenny (both are Challenge royalty) from Rivals 2 (and other recent Challenges) is likely imbedded somewhere in a legal document drafted by Tonya Cooley’s lawyers, but there is no explanation why Laurel (3 seasons, 3 finals) is not a part of this seven week Thailand adventure.  Her Amazonian awesomeness will be sorely missed.

The Challenge is like the United States Men’s Basketball Team…

Rivals I and Battle of the Exes were like the 2008 Men’s Olympic Basketball Team.  They featured the best players in the world (Kobe, Johnny Bananas, Lebron, Kenny, Laurel, DWade, Evan, Ev, the 2008 Dwight Howard, CT, Melo, Paula), some aging veterans who everyone respected (Jason Kidd, Mark Long), and a few random players that everyone forgets about (Michael Redd, Tayshaun Prince, Davis, Katelynn).  If an apt comparison, Battle of the Seasons was like the 2010 World Championship Team.  Some of the best veteran players took the summer off (no Kobe, Johnny, CT, Lebron, Paula, etc.), allowing some on the verge younger talent to gain some experience out of the shadow of the big boys (Kevin Durant, Frank, Derrick Rose, Zach, Russell Westbrook, Nany, Dustin, Derrick Rose).  Rivals 2 is like the 2012 Olympic Team.  Kobe, Lebron, and Melo are back (Johnny, CT, Paula), DWade and Howard are injured (Kenny and Evan – sorry to you both, I don’t particularly care for either Dwyane or Dwight), but the young talent of Durant, Westbrook, and Love (Frank, Zach, Nany) are now ready to play with the big boys.  (Yes, I spent too much time coming up with this.  Yes, in this “filled with holes” metaphor Dustin Zito is Derrick Rose.)

As usual, alliances will rule, but it sure could be confusing. – We do not yet know the official rules (revealed to the cast on the first episode), but if it is at all similar to Rivals I, alliances will still be as important as ever.  What makes the possibilities this season so interesting is that the lines between veterans and rookies and connections and enemies are more blurred than ever.  Let’s go down just one rabbit hole: of course Johnny (and subsequently Frank) will be closely aligned with Paula (and subsequently Emily).  Here’s where it gets interesting – Emily and Paula, from past relationships, should be closely aligned with Ty (partnered with Leroy who got along with Johnny really well on Exes and Rivals I).  This all makes sense so far.  Johnny’s partner, Frank, is going to be close with Zach (partnered with Trey) from their Team San Diego days.  Zach, no longer involved romantically with Jonna, is going to have an adversarial relationship with Jonna and Nany.  Nany, dating back to her Real World: Las Vegas days, will be connected to Leroy.  This could be problematic for Leroy if he aligned with Johnny and Frank and Trey and Zach because they will have beef with Jonna and Nany.  Where is Jenn (with two “n”s) when we need her to be the consummate “playing both sides” figure in this game?  (Also, why is Jenn not on this season).  How all of these alliances fall is anybody’s guess.  Beyond some very clear unbreakable bonds, I expect some “sorry Paula, we are choosing Ev instead of you”-esque alliance destruction throughout the season.

There are many pursuits of a first The Challenge win, but Sarah’s is the one we care the most about…

There are several competitors this season who have been on at least six Challenges and have never won (CT, Aneesa, Diem, Tyrie who has yet to even be near a finals), but no pursuit of a first championship quite captivates our heart like Sarah’s (now in her seventh straight season attempt).  Sarah embodies all that is good in a The Challenge world that too frequently becomes a series of drunken, violent, and embarrassing “extracurricular nighttime activities.”  Her drive to compete is so earnest – she is a throwback to simpler time when competitors care most about the love of the game.  Any time the great T.J. Lavin announces a traditional one-time a season trivia contest (as I am sure he will again this year), Sarah’s spontaneous infectious and contagious display of joy provide the viewer just that.  She is someone we can all root for, and, with a savvy and driven partner like Trishelle, she has as good a shot as she has ever had before at finally winning.

On to the rankings…

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 going into the season.  Some postseason award and final predictions will follow…

PRESEASON RIVALS 2 INDIVIDUAL POWER RANKINGS

 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.”

THE MEN

1. Johnny Bananas (9th season, 5 finals, 4 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Exes 22)

Records held: Most Season Appearances, Men – 9 (tied), Most Seasons Won, Men – 4

Tweet comment: Legendary and undisputed Challenge king primed to make triumphant return.  Found the perfect balance between strategy and athleticism.

 

2. CT (9th season, 4 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Exes 22)

Records held: Most Season Appearances, Men – 9 (tied)

Tweet comment: Perennial #1 Challenge intimidator, recently mellowed.  Must find way to manage collective animus toward Wes, fight off lady distractions.

 

3. Frank (2nd season, 1 finals, 1 win – last appearance: Battle of the Seasons 23)

Tweet comment: Temperamental Extracurricular Nighttime Activity wild card, but strategic mastermind of BoS win.  A Johnny Bananas in training.

 

4. Zach (2nd season, 1 finals, 1 win – last appearance: Battle of the Seasons 23)

Tweet comment: “Thor” is physical beast, gave mostly (Sam may object) calming force on Team San Diego BoS win.  Must find way to get along with enemy Trey.

 

5. Wes (8th season, 3 finals, 1 win – last appearance: Battle of the Seasons 23)

Records held: Most Elimination Rounds in a Single Season, Men – 5, Most Elimination Wins in a Career, Men – 11

Tweet comment: Arrogance & self-proclaimed brilliance aside, has had amazing Challenge resiliency amidst slew of enemies.  Must find a way to work with CT.

 

6. Dunbar (6 seasons, 1 finals, 1 win – last appearance: Battle of the Exes 22)

Tweet comment: Often on wrong alliance, faces upward battle with yet to prove himself, Tyrie, as partner.  Must rely on experience and strength to succeed.

 

7. Ty (4th season, 1 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Exes 22)

Tweet comment: Coming off great performance on BoE, must continue to ride that momentum, stay out of conflict.  Leroy is ideal partner to keep Ty in check.

 

8. Leroy (3rd season, 1 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Exes 22)

Tweet comment: Most welcome return after 1 season off, has to excel in social game & manage potential Ty outbursts.  Takes care of business in challenges.

 

9. Derek (3rd season, 0 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Seasons 23)

Tweet comment: Had very successful run on Team Cancun on BoS, great team player.  Will work well in social game, but impressive in challenges too.

 

10. Robb (2nd season, 0 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Seasons 23)

Tweet comment: Bulked up in offseason, already huge dude.  Derek fight non-factor.  Could break out this season w/o Marie.  Social game prowess is unknown.

 

11. Knight (2nd season, 0 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Seasons 23)

Tweet comment: Left BoS riding a little momentum, primed to be strategy power player in future.  Can he motivate Preston and keep things positive?

 

12. Trey (2nd season, 0 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Seasons 23)

Tweet comment: Unexpected major feud (at least in social media) with Zach.  Athleticism and drive to be great will supersede bad blood.  Could go far.

 

13. Marlon (Rookie season)

Tweet comment: Great addition to The Challenge.  Ready to have a big rookie campaign.  Well-matched with Jordan athletically.  Will surprise people.

 

14. Jordan (Rookie season)

Tweet comment: Fulfilling Challenge destiny, will be perfect fit as freak athlete.  Must tweak social game.  Partnership w/ Marlon: Leroy/Mike in Rivals I?

 

15. Tyrie (6th season, 0 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Exes 22)

Tweet comment: Yet to prove much in 6 seasons, strange partnership w/ Dunbar. Although overdue for success, still likely early exit.  Weak in social game.

 

16. Preston (2nd season, 0 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Seasons 23)

Tweet comment: Not quintessential Challenge material, but apparently, he can run!  Mostly poor showing on BoS.  Gained some confidence toward the end.

 

THE WOMEN

1. Paula (10th season, 4 finals, 1 win – last appearance: Battle of the Exes 22)

Records held: Most Season Appearances, Women – 10, Most Appearances in a Final, Women – 4 (tied)

Tweet comment: Longest tenure in Challenge history, much wiser & stronger now.  Great w/ strategy, amazing partner in Emily.  Close ties to Johnny Bananas.

 

2. Sarah (7th season, 3 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Seasons 23)

Records held: Most Consecutive Seasons, Women – 7

Tweet comment: Just an amazing person. 7 straight Challenges, due for a win.  Trivia master and has great relationships. Will partner well with Trishelle.

 

3. Emily (3rd season, 2 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Exes 22)

Tweet comment: Yet to win a finals, best position yet with Paula as partner.  Most athletic women this season (no Laurel!).  Rivalry with Paula non-issue.

 

4. Nany (2nd season, 0 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Seasons 23)

Tweet comment: Resilient, strong, willing to step up for her team.  Well-matched w/ Jonna.  Left BoS too soon.  Must stay grounded, esp. while intoxicated.

 

5. Jonna (3rd season, 0 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Seasons  23)

Tweet comment: Out of Zach romance, can have more focus on Rivals 2.  Will partner well w/ Nany.  Must exhibit next level strategy.  Strong in challenges.

 

6. Camila (5th season, 1 finals, 1 win – last appearance: Battle of the Seasons 23)

Tweet comment: Ready for comeback season after Big Easy debacle on BoS. Killer instinct, drive like no other but must be corralled. Jemmye as partner? Yes!

 

7. Trishelle (4th season, 1 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Seasons 23)

Tweet comment: Made strong comeback on BoS after many years away.  Wants to win – rivalry will be non-issue with Sarah.  Must push herself a little harder.

 

8. Diem (7th season, 2 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Exes 22)

Tweet comment: Courageous and incredible in real life – fought cancer twice.  Struggled at time on Challenges.  Relationship with CT can be a distraction.

 

9. Jemmye (2nd season, 0 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Seasons 23)

Tweet comment: Predict a breakout season.  Sneakily good athlete, committed, well-liked, will get along with Camila.  #Team subtitles could be surprise.

 

10. Aneesa (9 seasons, 2 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Exes 23)

Records held: Most Elimination Wins in a Career, Women – 8

Tweet comment: Challenge veteran back for an 8th season.  Hasn’t been in finals in some time.  Endurance has always been an issue, but in best shape ever.

 

11. Jasmine (4th season, 0 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Seasons 23)

Tweet comment: Took major positive steps on BoS.  Valuable member of Team Cancun.  Still must fight against small frame.  A calmer version of former self.

 

12. Theresa (4th season, 0 finals, o wins – last appearance: Rivals 21)

Tweet comment: Took past 2 seasons off, must build up some new relationships.  She and Jasmine will be physical underdogs – good to be under the radar.

 

13. Cooke (Rookie season)

Tweet comment: Professional Filipino soccer player, how long will she be partnered w/ Naomi?  Must make good alliance decisions or face early elimination.

 

14. Jessica (Rookie season)

Tweet comment: Should be a classic rookie – happy to be there, but early elimination.  Counting on dirt biking (her forte) in one of the challenges.

 

15. Naomi (2nd season, 0 finals, 0 wins – last appearance: Battle of the Exes 22)

Tweet comment: Rumored to leave early, nothing to do with game.  Unproven.  Challenge may not be best forum for her.

 

16. Anastasia (Rookie season)

Tweet comment: Breakout star of Rivals 2 trailer w/ CT slap. Could put target on back.  Not someone you would expect to bring much to table athletically.

 

RIVALS 2 TEAM RANKINGS

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.

  1. Johnny and Frank – Team Average: 2
  2. Paula and Emily – Team Average: 2
  3. CT and Wes – Team Average: 3.5
  4. Sarah and Trishelle – Team Average: 4.5
  5. Nany and Jonna – Team Average: 4.5
  6. Ty and Leroy – Team Average: 7.5
  7. Camila and Jemmye – Team Average: 8
  8. Zach and Trey – Team Average: 8
  9. Diem and Aneesa – Team Average: 9
  10. Derek and Robb – Team Average: 9.5
  11. Dunbar and Tyrie – Team Average: 10.5
  12. Jasmine and Theresa – Team Average: 11.5
  13. Knight and Preston – Team Average: 13.5
  14. Marlon and Jordan – Team Average: 13.5
  15. Cooke and Naomi – Team Average: 14
  16. Anastasia and Jessica – Team Average: 15

Postseason Awards and Predictions

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

Most Improved Player – Men: Trey; Women: Jemmye

Rookie of the Year – Marlon

Some bold predictions:

  • Both Marlon and Jordan and Camila and Jemmye will come very close to making the finals, but fall short.
  • Dunbar and Tyrie will learn each other’s last names, but will not be able to avoid an early elimination.
  • There will be a moment in which Johnny, Frank, and Trey strategize together.
  • Jasmine will not do too well in terms of competition, but will continue to showcase a more mellow version of herself.
  • Cooke will have a moment on the show that everyone is talking about.
  • CT and Wes will be on the wrong side of the alliance and will have to prove themselves in an elimination early on.

Teams in the Finals – Men: Johnny and Frank, Ty and Leroy, Zach and Trey; Paula and Emily, Sarah and Trishelle, Nany and Jonna

Winners – Men: Johnny and Frank, Women: Sarah and Trishelle

My first episode recap and Week 1 power rankings will be out sometime later this week.  Enjoy this season!

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 Trailer – A Zapruder Analysis

A few days ago, MTV released the trailer for the 24th season of The Challenge on mtv.com.  In this second iteration of the Rivals format, eight male partner teams and eight female partner teams compete against each other in what is now commonly referred to as the fifth major American professional sport.  Mysteriously, the mtv.com trailer has been taken down and subsequent versions on other websites have been pulled as well (it is quite possible that sometime in the run of this post, the bootleg and unfortunately low-quality youtube version that I found will also be redacted).  In a race against the clock of destruction (or until mtv eventually reposts – UPDATE: MTV reposted), I wanted to provide my frame by frame analysis (a Zapruder treatment so to speak) of the two minute run-time of this historical piece of footage.

0:01 – The opening shot is eerily reminiscent of the classic helicopter shot going over Isla Nublar in Jurassic Park. Any time The Challenge makes you think about Jurassic Park, this must be a good thing. 

0:05 – TJ begins his voice0ver with “I want you guys to picture a very large sum of money…money so big, it could change your life forever.”  This is the kind of sum that warrants foreboding underscoring.

0:09 – In some very expected news, Tyrie (according to the back of helmet name tag) appears to be in an elimination.  The Tyrie/Dunbar pairing could be prdouction’s attempt to make this ultra-dramatic, hyper intense Challenge viewing experience just a little more comedic.  Has there ever been a combination in these past 24 seasons that has less of a chance of winning?

0:22 – TJ continues: “What if that one person is your worst enemy?” – This second rodeo of this premise (Rivals was particularly enjoyable – especially Wes and Kenny’s implosion in the finale) is a wonderful conceit on the surface, but if you look a little closer at the actual pairings, in almost every case, “rival” is a lot a bit of an overstatement.  Johnny and Frank’s entire relationship up until now has been a twitter back and forth.  I have watched every second of Marlon and Jordan on Real World Portland, and besides some extreme competitiveness from Jordan in the Dustin Real World Las Vegas mold, I would hardly call their relationship a battle between two enemies.  There may be some strained blood here and there among most of these pairing, but enemies? I am afraid not.  The one glaring exception is Team Wes and CT whose potential for greatness (in a great reality TV kind of way) more than makes up for an otherwise loose interpretation of the word “rival.”

0:28 – Zach’s voiceover: “I hate this kid…I hate the ground he walks on.”  Is he referring to partner Trey, or, more likely, is he referring to Wes?  Wes has faced quite a few “I hate this kids” in his long Challenge career.

0:37 – The “TRUST NO ONE BUT YOUR WORST ENEMY” mashup is apparently directed by the great master of frenetic cutting himself, Baz Luhrmann (see: all of his movies).  I have to hand it to production though – if you have a shaky premise, you might as well present it in this “the world is ending/impending doom” fashion.  It is admittedly effective.

0:41 – Bird tells us that “some of these people here are like absolutely pure evil.”  After this past week’s Real World in which Hurricane Nia attempts murder with a hair dryer, she should know.  On another note, I can not foresee The Challenge and Jessica being a successful pairing.  It’s just a hunch.

0:44 – Emily tells us that this game is going to get “so nasty.”  Is she referring to the kind of nasty of her blackface incident from Exes?  Too soon?

0:47 – People are “looking for love wherever they can get it” and apparently for Sarah, this is with Jordan.  With full comprehension that Challenge love teases are almost always grossly exaggerated, I strangely dig this possibility.

0:53 – “All is fair in love, war, and Challenges.”  Welcome back, Johnny Bananas!

0:55 – Diem trusts Wes more than she trusts CT.  It is like preferring to put your hand in an open flame versus in a pot of boiling water.  They are both going to leave you burned.

0:57 – CT is “being nice” but Diem’s “not playing fair.”  The Challenge legend may have a point.  This gentler version of CT has been alive and well over the past few Challenges and is a far cry from the monster that broke Diem’s heart or Johnny’s will here:

1:00 – We are one minute into the trailer and we have our first sight of Paula crying!  In fairness, in a brief size-up of the female teams, despite emotional roller coaster riding, I am not sure who beats Paula and Emily.

1:04 – There is some water poured, heads butted, arms swung, and barrels thrown.  This is par for the Challenge course, but, after the aforementioned Hurricane Nia maelstrom on The Real World this week, it all seems so tame.

1:11 – “Welcome to the scariest elimination round we have ever had.”  Not one to emphatically hyperbolize, TJ means business.  In the trailer’s second clear (only in my mind) allusion to Jurassic Park, the electric cables and caging reminds me of a raptor paddock.  Safety is not guaranteed.

1:21 – Cooke (a strong addition to this franchise – it never hurts to have a professional athlete competing) tells us that “good people in this game do not get far.”  Did you forget about Sarah making it to last year’s finals?

1:26 – This shot of Marlon working out and companion voiceover of “You wanna get me up out of here, you’re gonna have to kick my ass” speaks to some shotgun preseason analysis – Marlon and Jordan, if they can figure out the social game and align with the right power players, are going to be a formidable rookie combination.  Both are elite athletes, super competitive, and seem to compliment each others strengths.  They are a team to watch out for.

1:34 – In an even deeper confirmation of his godfather role in this game, Johnny lays it straight with Knight: “You have got yourself linked up a a sinking ship, dude.”  Is he talking about partner Preston?  Old flame Jemmye?  Sage Aunt figure Trishelle?  This is followed by a shot of Knight engaging in some extracurricular activity of the physical fighting kind.  There may not be too much to read into all of this, but I hope that Knight has been pulled under Johnny’s strategic organization.  He showed some game mastermind promise on Battle of the Seasons that was extinguished too soon in the fiery remains of a team featuring Preston and Mackenzie.  Knight deserves another go round.

1:39 – What a pleasure it is to see old enemies, Aneesa and Trishelle, still going at it, now a full decade later.  Aneesa’s nomination for best line of the trailer (“You are the Tra-shelle you were and you are always going to be trash”) is followed by a push “punch” to Trishelle’s face.  You can begin to feel the momentum of the July 10 season premiere.

1:43 – What The Challenge trailer would be complete without some time devoted to Frank yelling?  “Let him shake!”  Oh, don’t worry.  We will.

1:44 – A new rule to live by – Any time The Challenge incorporates a light saber battle into the festivities, it is a good thing.

1:48 – Does Bird just slap CT in the face?  Welcome to the big leagues Real World: Portland!

1:50 – These fleeting images of the challenges within The Challenge show shot after shot of people falling in water.  People falling in water is kind of a win.

1:53 – The trailer ends with Zach yelling, “I want who’s next!” and then cuts to the show titles (set against an unexpected purple misty swirl).  If this ending montage doesn’t encourage excitement and anticipation, you may need to reevaluate your own understanding of dramatic tension.

My season preview column will be out later this month.  The Challenge: Rivals 2 debuts on MTV on July 10, 2013 at 10:00 PM EST.

David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about pop culture and the NBA for Bishop and Company.

THE CHALLENGE: BATTLE OF THE SEASONS Weekly Power Rankings – Finals Edition

Almost four months ago, eight teams of four embarked on an incredible journey in Turkey to reach the point at which we now find ourselves.  Teams Austin (an unfortunate early exit), Fresh Meat (troubled from the start), New Orleans (Knight and Jemmye had a valiant showing), St. Thomas (an amazing rookie season), and Cancun (deserved to be in the finals) are no longer with us.  The three remaining teams, Brooklyn, San Diego, and Las Vegas (minus Nany and Alton) all deserve to be at this point and all have worked hard, played hard, and persevered amidst various obstructions, blowups, and internal combustions.  There is one obstacle left: the final challenge, an unknown and potentially dangerous sojourn in the Namib Desert.  These are the last weekly power rankings before the finals.  I hope you enjoy.

NOTE: Check out the retro-running diary of the penultimate episode here.

THE WEEKLY CHALLENGE INDIVIDUAL POWER RANKINGS – FINALS EDITION

The rankings will be based on an un-Hollinger (recently hired to work in the Memphis Grizzlies front office!)/sabermetrics method known as “My experience and observations” (See: Marc Stein’s great NBA weekly power rankings).  Weight will be given to how well teams and individuals do on competitions, in the social game, and whether he or she is a “good competitor.”

THE MEN

1 (1) Chet (Team Brooklyn)

Chet

The Journey So Far:

In my initial preseason rankings, I wrote that Chet “could be a real sleeper.”  By the first episode, he and Sarah were on the same page (apparently even liking one another, something that was inconceivable while they spent four months in Brooklyn on The Real World) and he has consistently performed in both challenges and arenas (valiantly in two with Sarah), has a great social game (despite the others claim of narcissism), is willing to help alleviate house fights, and has had the most consistent excellence in male sound bite delivery (Devyn has the female crown).  I have discussed the JEK Dynasty male power vacuum that so many competitors tapped in to this season, but I am not sure if anyone benefited more than Chet.  He was given room to blossom amidst all the chaos surrounding him, became an incredible leader and guide for his team, a wonderful balance and loyal companion to Sarah’s female dominance, and goes into the finals fearless, team and self-aware, and ready to anything that it takes to help Team Brooklyn win.  Congratulations to you, Chet.  Win or lose on Wednesday night, you will be one of the biggest winners of this season.

Chet in the Finals:

Chet has the endurance (both physical and mental), the calm and patience, and the courage to take the Namib desert head on.  He will helpful to inspire his team in more positive ways (although often successful, the anti Johnny Bananas) and could be a necessary balancing force when Sarah’s competitiveness clashes with the enigma of JD and the less travelled athleticism of Devyn.  Yes, in the finals, you are only as good as your weakest player, but in Team Brooklyn’s case, Chet could have close to a similar effect as one of the strongest players.

2 (3) Dustin (Team Las Vegas) 

Dustin

The Journey So Far: 

If Dustin and Team Vegas win the finals, it would be hard to argue against Dustin as the MVP of this season’s The Challenge.  His five week reign in the number one spot in the rankings highlights his game dominance and competitive greatness.  I remember back on his Vegas season when an indoor car race loss exposed his at the time inability to modulate in the moment competitive strife.  His recent rankings dip, although emanating from the same personality difficulty, came with more justification and further exposed just how badly Dustin wants and cares to win.  He was so much more than Alton’s Scottie Pippen.  This was Dustin’s season and he should be proud of all he has accomplished, both as a competitor and as a clearly kind, sensitive, and generous of spirit person.

Dustin in the Finals: 

If any guy is built to succeed in a crazy, TJ Lavin African final in the Namib desert, it is Dustin Zito.  He has the endurance, the strength, and the will to fight until his body does not allow him to.  His relationship (so sweet the last few weeks) with Trishelle will inevitably be central to his performance.  Can he inspire her?  Can he motivate and connect in a positive way?  I would not be surprised if we see Team Las Vegas cross the finish line first.

3 (2) Zach (Team San Diego)

Zach

The Journey So Far: 

I knew in the first power rankings that Zach was “built for the physical demands of this serious physical competition,” but I didn’t know (especially after his antisocial Ashley relationship in San Diego) that he would be so successful in the social game (a place he has thrived).  Zach has been fierce in almost every challenge, willed two victories (with a not so confident Sam) in the arena, and has managed to manage his relationship with Frank (perhaps the most significant development of this season) despite some midseason struggles into a fruitful (he just received a Christmas gift from Mr. Sweeney!), bizarre, passionate, loyal, challenging, but clearly loving friendship.  His relationship with Jonna was never a distraction, always an asset both emotionally and strategically, and at least according to the edit, never hurt his ex-girlfriend and teammate Ashley.  In a season of many new stars, Zach’s certainly burns bright.

Zach in the Finals:

Zach is going to be in beast mode in the finals, particularly in anything that is physical and may ask him to support (by weight and by motivation) one of his three teammates.  I also think he has a strong handle on the strengths (Frank’s cardio) and weaknesses (Sam’s cardio) of his teammates and of himself and will be able to balance these factors in effective ways.  If he can keep himself out of the mud pit of human interaction that was his role (and Frank’s) in the “Logged Out” challenge, Team San Diego can win the finals.

4 (4) Frank (Team San Diego)

Frank

The Journey So Far:

Of any player in the game, Frank has had the most and least control of this game and both have been because of his own brilliance or his own failings.  His early season strategy is an essential reason why Team San Diego is in the finals, but his late night tomfoolery, pugnacious and unnecessary brutal comments, and his desire to fuel house turmoil almost unraveled all the good he had done.  As just stated, his relationship with Zach (especially when they got through some midseason drama) has marked why Frank is sitting on the verge of the finals.  In San Diego, Frank struggled (as did this humble viewer) with why Zach and Ashley were so difficult to get along with and wanted nothing more than to find common ground for relationship building.  His relationships with Zach and Ashley now (it helps that they are independent of one another) are so strong and may provide the loyalty and commitment to sustain a group finals effort.  Frank is the most polarizing figure in the modern Real World/Challenge community and a victory in the finals would help justify why some of his cruel and unusual antics are not the whole picture of this passionate and competitive man.

Frank in the Finals: 

From all reports coming out of podcasts and interviews, Frank is a cardiovascular freak.  The finals will require all players to exert an energy that all may not have, and, if Frank is at a higher level of endurance, this will be a key factor.  Unfortunately, the last time endurance was in play in a challenge (“Logged Out”), Frank had an episode on his struggling teammate (there is no love loss there), Sam.  He has to be able to motivate Sam in such a way that will inspire and not deflate.  If he is unable to do so, his personal abilities will be moot.

5 (6) JD (Team Brooklyn)

JD

The Journey So Far:

It is a striking statistic that JD’s highest power ranking is this week (no. 5) when there are only five players remaining.  However, what is statistically misleading is that JD has shown some great improvement over the last few weeks (dolphin training does come in handy!) and is considered a valuable player and not a liability (according to Chet) for Team Brooklyn in the finals.  JD’s journey has been mostly under the radar, off screen, and out of the spotlight.  Producers of The Challenge love competitors who get involved with the drama (Marie will be back), who provide insightful sound bites (Devyn made her living here this season), and who have compelling stories to tell (Sarah is perhaps the best at this).  JD has not been featured, so at least one (and likely more) of these three categories is not JD’s strong suit.  Has he ridden the Team Brooklyn coattails to the finals and should be lucky to be here?  Probably, but credit him for bringing positivity, loyalty, and that JD “je ne sais quoi” dolphin training personality that remains a mystery to us all.

JD in the Finals:

JD is in good shape, will do his best to do what he is told, and will be willing to do anything with little objection.  These are all important factors in the finals.  If Team Brooklyn wins, it won’t be likely because of JD, but if Team Brooklyn loses, I do not think he will be most responsible.

POWER RANKINGS WEEK BY WEEK – MEN
WEEK 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Chet 8 5 6 4 4 3 4 2 2 1 1 1
Dustin 3 2 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 3 3 2
Zach 6 4 4 6 7 6 5 8 3 2 2 3
Frank 14 14 5 5 5 2 3 9 7 4 4 4
JD 9 11 13 9 13 9 9 7 6 6 6 5

THE WOMEN

1 (1) Sarah (Team Brooklyn)

Sarah  

The Journey So Far:

Sarah’s twelve week journey has been nothing but a joy to watch.  She locked her number 1 ranking in week 4 and has been unsurpassable since.  As noted in previous columns, Sarah has received the raw end of the stick in recent challenges (most notably the terrible decision to send her home on Exes when Vinny acted stupidly – I still don’t understand why Kenny, Mr. Beautiful himself, was not brought in), and you can tell that she has humbly taken advantage of every moment in her time in Turkey and now in Namibia.  She has led, along with Chet, Team Brooklyn threw real adversity early on, through two arena victories, and to a consummate state of positive team morale that is unbreakable and the central reason that Brooklyn is in the finals.  She is a great person in a game that sometimes rewards the opposite and she has managed to utilize her fun, energetic, passionate, and positive energy and personality to a competitive advantage.  Of all the people on this season, no one deserves a win in the finals more.  Sarah, thank you for all the joy you bring.

Sarah in the Finals:

Sarah is primed and ready for her return to a Challenge finals (and ready to overcome fears about the heatstroke incident that pulled her out the last time she was in this position).  Armed with a team of positive thinkers (a culture that she cultivated), she has a group of people that want to work together and want to see each other succeed.  I am excited to see Team Brooklyn doing their thing when faced with the Namib Desert adversity and to see Sarah cross the finish line having left all of yourself in this competition.

2 (2) Ashley (Team San Diego) 

Ashley

The Journey So Far:

I always thought that Ashley was tailor-made for The Challenge (in a way that she never was for The Real World), but often throughout this season she was in the background, playing a third or fourth fiddle to her more rowdy and expressive teammates.  However, in recent weeks, she has found her groove (especially as a Frank loyalist, confidant, and partner), will be athletically and physically prepared for the finals, and seems to have come out of her shell.  Now that Team San Diego’s internal strife has been quelled (now may not last too long), Ashley seems to be having fun and enjoying her other cast mates (and we, the viewer, enjoy her!).  I give her the ultimate credit for understanding and connecting with Frank and for not letting her ex-boyfriend Zach’s new romance with Jonna cause trouble for her game or for the early season alliance.  The finals could be a formative time for Ashley to rise even further in The Challenge world.  Even if San Diego does not succeed in the finals, a pre-finals no. 2 ranking is an amazing place to have ended this very competitive season.

Ashley in the Finals:

My prediction is that Ashley is going to be an awesome competitor in the finals, and, if Frank and Sam have another “Logged Out” fight, she will be better equipped to help solve these issues.  This is could be bad news for Teams Brooklyn and Vegas and very good news for Team San Diego.

3 (5) Trishelle (Team Las Vegas) 

Trishelle

The Journey So Far:

As I reflect on this season and Trishelle’s role in it, I realize how much I have missed watching Trishelle on television.  This “older sister” version of her (a great Chet-ism) has been engaging, strong-willed, kind and considerate, competitive and strategic, and always interesting to watch.  She could have backed down and flopped with all of these newcomers surrounding her in the Turkey house (something Alton struggled with), but instead she embraced relationships, flirtations (well-played Chet), challenges, and her new Vegas teammates (she allied with Nany effortlessly, her Dustin journey has been more of a struggle, but I think they really get each other heading in to the finals) to a deserved place in the final episode.  If this is Trishelle’s last rodeo, it has been a memorable one and will seal her lasting reputation in the most positive of ways.

Trishelle in the Finals:

Trishelle’s success in the finals is linked to her relationship with Dustin.  When troubles come their way (and based on TJ’s warning, they will), can she and Dustin help one another succeed?  Will they be supportive or, as the Nany/Alton elimination episode illuminated, butt heads?  I think that these two have figured it out and needed to go through that awful few days (is Dustin going home?) to get some of those personality clash potentialities out of their systems and equip them with understandings and tools to better manage conflict.  Trishelle wants to win the money as much as anyone and will do what it takes to put herself in the best position to do so.

4 (4) Devyn (Team Brooklyn)

Devyn

The Journey So Far:

I struggled with Devyn (in fairness, the game did as well) in the early weeks of this season because I didn’t really know her as well as everyone else, she didn’t really know the concept of working out as well as everyone else, and her relationship with Big Easy (it was very cute) did not seem to have any competitive benefits.  As I, and the viewing audience, have come to know Devyn better, what we see is a beautiful person whose humor, dynamic personality, loyalty and team understanding, and unique and appreciated perspective on all happenings has been one of this season’s most rewarding revelations.  I always assumed that she wouldn’t make it this far (and may still hurt her team in the finals, Chet is a little concerned), but I cannot imagine this season without Devyn’s wonderful presence.  Although a Challenge may not always be the best fit, a television program that Devyn is in always will be.

Devyn in the Finals:

There are some legitimate concerns about Devyn’s physical (her mental is airtight) abilities in a high-end athletic competition.  If she can galvanize around her teammates and find the adrenaline and will to perform, Team Brooklyn has a shot to win.  Chet is planning to carry her on his back if she fails at this, so she could win via another method as well.

5 (6) Sam (Team San Diego) 

Sam

The Journey So Far:

Despite a minor dip coming out of the “Logged Out” challenge, Sam has been consistent this season, but a bit of a surprise disappointment.  Considering her time and competitive nature in San Diego (a frequent ping pong partner of Zach), I thought she would be more heady and effective in this competitive scenario.  She has often been the brunt of Frank aggression and there was that Marie push that forced her into a plant (tough moment for us all).  I think that unfortunately Sam may not have been placed on the best team for her (I can imagine seeing a different and improved version if she were with Chet and Sarah on Team Brooklyn) and had to fight back for her relevance and placement in this game far too often.  A great performance in the finals could change all that.

Sam in the Finals:

If you consider “Logged Out,” her endurance could be a real liability.  If this is so, she needs both Frank and Zach to support her and inspire her, not to belittle her and demean her.  This big “what if?” is an essential question in deciding the inevitable winner of this season’s The Challenge.

POWER RANKINGS WEEK BY WEEK – WOMEN
WEEK 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Sarah 2 1 3 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Ashley 7 10 5 4 7 11 8 8 6 3 2 2
Trishelle 10 7 9 6 5 5 6 4 3 7 5 3
Devyn 15 15 13 9 10 6 9 7 5 4 4 4
Sam 6 6 6 7 8 9 10 9 7 6 6 5

FULL TEAM RANKINGS – FINALS EDITION

Note:  Team rankings are compiled by adding up the individual rankings and dividing by number of players remaining.  Teams with the lowest total average ranking are ranked better than the highest (i.e. you want as few points as possible)

1 (1) TEAM BROOKLYN Average: 2.75, last week: 3

Sarah (1), Chet (1), JD (5), Devyn (4)

Brooklyn

How do they win?

They win by continuing their teamwork centered, positive, and supportive identity, by having a once and a lifetime athletic showing by Devyn, and by pacing their performance throughout.

2 (T-4) TEAM LAS VEGAS Average: 2.5, last week: 4

Dustin (2), Trishelle (3), Eliminated: Nany, Alton

Las Vegas

How do they win?

They win by getting along, motivating each other, and taking each checkpoint of the final one at a time.

3 (2) TEAM SAN DIEGO Average: 3.5, last week: 3.5

Zach (3), Sam (5), Ashley (2), Frank (4)

San Diego

How do they win? 

They win if Frank can stay in control, if Sam can perform at a high level, and if Zach has an amazing, Herculean showing.

MY FINAL PREDICTION:

I think that Dustin and Trishelle benefit from being a strong two (as opposed to the other teams strong threes plus one), get along, and ride their late season momentum to a first place finish.

 

It is now time to jump out of planes into the Namib Desert.  Tune in at 10 PM on MTV for the final episode of The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons.  It is going to be an epic conclusion to this wonderful season.

David Bloom can be reached on twitter at @davidbloom7.  His CHALLENGE POWER RANKINGS appear weekly on Derek Kosinski’s UltimateChallengeRadio.com. 

THE CHALLENGE: BATTLE OF THE SEASONS Penultimate Retro Running Diary

The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons remaining competitors are literally on the verge of jumping out of a plane into the Namib desert to embark on a final challenge that even TJ thinks is undoable. In order to best encapsulate the awesome and incredible season this has been, I have decided to split up the column this week. First, is the retro running diary of the penultimate and final elimination episode. Early next week, I will release my pre-final power rankings and some further analysis of the remaining teams and their chances in the Namib Desert experience. Here we go…

THE WEEK 11 Penultimate RETRO RUNNING DIARY (power rankings to follow in a separate column)

The times are EST on the night the original episode aired, so feel free to follow along while viewing for the first time or while re-watching.

10:01 – There is one more challenge left and our faithful competitors are off to Namibia, Africa (“The homeland!” as coined by Devyn) for the rest of the season. Dustin: “Well there’s no tigers. Is there tigers? I don’t know.”

10:02 – 3o hours later, we arrive in Namibia…The edit shows us Survivor-esque shots of dangerous looking (beetles, snakes) animals, less dangerous looking (ostriches, gazelles) animals, and the dune-rich sandy deserts of a Tatooine-like landscape. Will our remaining teams be roughing it out in the African wilderness? Not this time. MTV splurged for an Atlantic Ocean side beach three-story that appears to have been transplanted from a Santa Barbara villa. There is African fused urban chic decorum! There is an indoor pool! There is enough alcohol to last a Frank evening! Trishelle: “We are in Africa!” Cue the third single from Alanis Morrisette’s Jagged Little Pill album…

10:03 – Sarah sets the stage for the final challenge with an experienced command that only she has: “This is the most important challenge yet. There are only four teams left: Vegas, who everybody is thinking is going to lose this challenge, San Diego, the clearly strong team, Cancun, who is shacking up with clearly the strongest team here, and Brooklyn. There’s no way we won’t be going in if we don’t win.” There it is.

10:03 – At the challenge, Sam sees an ATV and a ramp going into the water and all she can think of is Steve-O and Jackass. This concerns me on so many levels.

10:03 – TJ: “Today’s challenge is called ‘Sling Shot’.” Team San Diego starts laughing uncontrollably upon hearing the pun heavy title. Maybe I am obtuse for not getting it, but why is this so funny?

10:04 – “Sling Shot,” according to TJ, borrows a little “technique from the rednecks.” Ignorance?

10:05 – TJ explains the challenge (some ATV driving, a human sling shot into the water, lots of swimming to a dock, ring the bell, more swimming back to shore to cross the finish line) and the enhanced stakes (“You don’t want to go home now.”) Two people participate at a time, so the average time of the Brooklyn and San Diego’s respective two heats will be the counted score. This could be a distinctive advantage (if they do well) or disadvantage (if they do poorly) to the two person teams.

10:05 – TJ: “Today’s challenge has a little bit more riding on it today.” Devyn: “Literally.” Boom!

10:05 – Brooklyn is confident pre-challenge. Sarah, to her team: “You are a swimmer (to JD) and I am a swimmer. And you guys are the drivers. (To Devyn) You don’t even have to get your hair wet.” This is followed by a high-five and reason number 731 that Team Brooklyn has been a joy and a revelation to watch this season.

10:06 – Dustin and Trishelle have some pre-game confidence acknowledging (by a proud hand raise) that they fit right in with an event that connects to the redneck experience. Dustin: “That would be me!”

10:06 – Team Vegas is first (as chosen by San Diego’s power team privilege) and the Dustin ramp launch is teased into a commercial break…

10:09 – It’s Sway, introducing some end of the year TV event. I am distracted by the following notions: the fact that Sway is still around, how Sway got to appear on TV in the first place, whether or not Sway has any colleagues left at MTV News, whether MTV News still exists, why Gideon Yago is not a bigger star, why John Norris dyed his hair blonde during the mid-90s, how MTV used to be about music, and how The Real World and The Challenge longevity is one of the most underrated and unheralded TV stories (why aren’t more people talking about this?). Back to Sway – I am probably not going to spend my New Year’s with you. Sorry, buddy.

10:10 – Dustin “I feel like a superhero right now” Zito literally flies into the water (“I feel like I am here to save the day.”) off the ramp. Dustin absolutely kills the swimming portion of the challenge (TJ: “Way to dig deep”) and Team San Diego looks nervous. Dustin’s post performance vomiting (a longer swim than anyone thought) does not quell the fears of the other teams.

Dustin

10:12 – Next up: Sarah and Chet for Brooklyn. Sarah battles with the deceptively cold water, bests a minor dock elevation misstep, and swims her heart out to the shore line as her teammates (in the truest sense of the word) cheer her on. Like Dustin before her, vomiting and artificial oxygen support are necessary (“We are in Africa!”).

Sarah

10:13 – The JD/Devyn tandem seem to have the same success. JD’s (“This is fun!”) dolphin training experience is yet again a difference maker in this game.

10:15 – Derek struggles with the swimming (“I can’t breathe”) and is forced to backstroke much of the return trip to the shore. Things do not look good form Team Cancun.

10:16 – Ashley’s ATV stalls and Frank’s ramp acceleration flops like your average play from Reggie Evans. He has to swim longer than anyone else before him and although he does maintain a steady pace throughout, was it fast enough?

Frank

10:17 – Zach (“the last time I swam competitively was never”) owns his heat and competition in general. This guy was made for The Challenge.

10:18 – Team Cancun is the losing team (no surprise there) and will be forced into the final arena and Team Vegas is the winning team (the Vegas comeback is on!). TJ puts it in historical perspective: “Very rarely is a team get picked to go first and then win.” Dustin sees this late challenge adversity as “the best preparation for the final.” He may be right.

10:23 – Dustin and Trishelle must instantaneously deliberate (an appreciated African twist) and choose Team San Diego to go into the arena.

10:24 – TJ: “So which game are they going to play?” Trishelle: “Do we have a second to talk about it, or…?” TJ: “I mean, you got a second.” TJ Lavin – this is what host greatness is all about. (BTW – Dustin chooses “strategy” as means of leveling the playing field for Cancun while making San Diego “sweat.”)

10:25 – Chet gets the poetic drama of the final arena battle: “Jonna has been boning her way to the final and now Zach’s team has to go against her. I mean could you ask for a better final elimination?” There will be a serious depreciation of life quality without the man, the myth, the legend that is Chet on my television once a week.

10:25 – Dinner is served (on three, four-person tables – an odd configuration) and Sam is publicly basking in the glow of Frank’s ramp elevation issues in the challenge (completely the ATV or Ashley’s, the ATV driver, fault). Frank vents his frustration to Ashley in the nastiest of terms (as only Frank can). Poor Jasmine’s low weight is dragged into the mess. Is this a potential team turmoil fueled harbinger for what is yet to come for Team San Diego? (The seating chart, by the way: Zach, Jonna, Sam, and Dustin are at one table. Trishelle, Devyn, Sarah, and Chet are at another table. The third table is Derek, JD, Ashley, and Frank. So much incredible interpersonal and social structure understanding can be gleaned from this configuration. I am fascinated.)

10:30 – Even though Sarah is off of arena duty and has a ticket to the finals, her strategic game is at play: “As much as I loathe (gulp, unexpected) conversation with her, I give Jonna advice on how to do the strategy one, hoping that maybe she can send San Diego home. It would mean Brooklyn would be the only four person team running in the final, and maybe we could win the whole thing.”

10:31 – Understatement of the episode alert from Ashley: “Nothing is every easy for Team San Diego.” Doubts about the arena abound. Frank feels like he is going to puke.

10:32 – The “Knot So Fast” arena strategy game is transported to Africa. It is the same rules and concept as in Turkey’s fire pit locale, but the large metallic domes have been replaced by wooden teepees. Production must have run out of resources or money after decorating the Namibian digs.

Knot So Fast

10:35 – Round 1 (the rope twisting part) is over. San Diego and Cancun both feel good about what they did. The viewer struggles (knot so great translation to television) to have any idea about just happened.

10:37 – Round 2 (the rope untwisting part) begins and it looks like (from this obstructed view vantage point) that Cancun is neck and neck with Frank and Ashley. The entirety of Brooklyn and Vegas are instructing Jonna and Derek’s every move. Yes, Chet. The Cancun v. San Diego final elimination was a perfect ending, but another arena battle (more understandable suspense) may have yielded more tangible evidence to support this claim.

10:40 – During the commercial break, a The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 television promo tries to make the connection between “holiday season” and this final installment of the popular movie franchise (a reach like Robb’s arms). I try to keep myself in the center of pop culture, but this Edward/Jacob/Bella journey is one that I am glad I have never partaken in.

10:41 – Frank and Ashley make an “oopsy” in their rope untangling, or as I like to call it, the night in San Diego that Nate and Priscilla “hooked up.” This was the most lenient possible interpretation of the word “exes” in human history.

Ashley and Frank

10:41 – Jonna struggles with all the side-coaching and instead of tuning them out, decides to engage and yell back (“just shut up!”). Derek recognizes the problem with this reaction.

10:42 – Ashley and Frank win and Jonna is still focused on the “too many voices” that affected her performance. Thankfully, Zach is their to comfort her. Jonna intimates that she was in the “worst place of her entire life” before coming on The Challenge (that poor guy she dumped on the phone from the season premiere must be struggling with this revelation) and that Zach has been the best thing that has happened to her. Underrated subplot of the season: how functional Zach and Ashley seem to be with their post-breakup existence. San Diego had to overcome much diversity to get to the final and I am not sure they could have sustained another interpersonal impasse. Credit to both Ashley and Zach on this front.

Zach and Jonna

10:43 – Frank and Ashley “love each other” and are as bonded as any two people on this season. This is yet another aspect of the Jekyll & Hyde Team San Diego experience.

Ashley and Frank

10:44 – Derek and Jonna walk off into the Namibian desert horizon. We are down to the final three teams. TJ sets the scene while addressing Teams Brooklyn, Vegas, and San Diego: “You are officially in the final. I hope you guys dig a little bit deeper. I’ve been on over a hundred challenges. I don’t think anybody can finish that final, but if you can, you are getting $250,000 for first place. See you at the finals. Congratulations.” He follows this by rocking a cool hand signal gesture. There is only one TJ Lavin.

10:46 – The cast finds a new wardrobe for the finals (including under armor full body suits and new sneakers) waiting for them at Camp Namibia. Dustin models the new gear. The “night before” excitement is real.

Dustin

10:46 – Chet and Trishelle have a heart to heart about the finals makeup of Team Brooklyn (particularly the potential liability of Devyn). Chet is in beast mode and will “carry Devyn up a hill across an ocean” if he must. This why Chet is rightfully ranked number 1 in the rankings.

10:46 – Chet’s interview analysis takes the clear plot forecasting a step further: “I have the endurance of a young virgin cult. I could win this thing by myself if I were allowed to, but Devyn thinks that taking the spoon from a peanut butter jar to her mouth constitutes a workout.” Well, there’s that.

10:47 – Trishelle has some legitimate (the episode two weeks ago warrants this feeling) concerns about her ability to work with Dustin in a stressful, competitive environment. There are now doubts percolating around each team. This is real.

10:51 – The morning of the final is here! The “butterflies are doing their thing” in Dustin’s stomach. According to Sarah, JD is “looking good.” Zach has a “pit in his stomach the size of a bowling ball.” Devyn puts on her weave. Now it is time.

10:52 – Sarah reminds us that the last time she was in a final, she “got heatstroke and ended up in the back of an ambulance.” She also lets us know that she is “not going to do that this time,” that she “came here to win,” and that she is “never giving up.” Competition, be warned. Sarah has her game face on and is ready to dominate.

10:53 – TJ, in front of three helicopters and four planes, breaks down the potential earning situation: first place is $250,000, second place is $60,000, and third place is $40,000. Everyone is at least winning $10,000 and Dustin and Trishelle could walk away with $125,000 if Team Vegas wins.

10:53 – TJ: “Welcome to the vast and empty Namib desert. You are officially entering no-man’s land. There is only one way in. So to start things off, you guys are going to be jumping out of those (pointing to the planes).” That’s what I’m talking about, The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons! You are killing it!

10:57 – Trishelle thinks Dustin give her the look of “I will rip your head off you back out of this.” I think it was more of the look of “this is the coolest thing I have ever done.” Just sayin…

10:57 – TJ’s inspirational wisdom: “This is going to be the hardest thing you have ever done in your entire lives. You will be a better person for finishing this thing. So, no matter what happens…when you are going, and you feel like you can’t go anymore, just ask yourself is that your mind speaking or your body. Ninety percent of the time, it’s your mind. So just tell it, no I am cool. Just keep on moving. Good luck. I will see you soon. Make it happen.”

10:58 – Ashley has an amazing way of making every post production interview feel super happy and cute, even when she is talking about jumping out of planes.

10:59 – The ominous music says, “there is a storm coming.” Well-played, sound designer. Well-played.

Chet and Devyn

10:59 – Dustin’s jump (the one originally teased in the pre-season trailer) leads into a “to be continued” fade to black screen…next week is The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons final challenge and I could not be more ready…

Dustin

Stay tuned for my pre-final power rankings and my analysis and predictions of how well Teams Brooklyn, San Diego, and Las Vegas will fare in the finals (out sometime on Monday). Then, tune in Wednesday at 10 PM on MTV for the final episode of The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons.

David Bloom can be reached on twitter at @davidbloom7. His CHALLENGE POWER RANKINGS come out weekly on Derek Kosinski’s UltimateChallengeRadio.com. The Week 12 power rankings will be available sometime before the final.

THE CHALLENGE: BATTLE OF THE SEASONS WEEKLY POWER RANKINGS – WEEK 11

Can you feel it?  The momentum of The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons has picked up like the volatility in Frank’s personality while drinking.  Each moment of each episode now feels like an essential window into the potentiality of the final challenge.  This past week, the Challenge cast journeyed from near and far to New York to film the reunion special, a sign that the end is near.  With only one episode left before the final, I have decided to keep on the retro running diary train to make sure that every important moment (and as you will soon find out if you actually read through all of this prose before hitting the rankings) gets mentioned.  On to our last night spent in the confines of Turkey before a major location change in preparation for the final…

THE WEEK 10 RETRO-RUNNING DIARY (power rankings to follow)

The times are EST on the night the original episode aired, so feel free to follow along while viewing for the first time or while re-watching.

10:00 – The episode begins with an artistic opening shot of the moon cross-faded into the Turkey compound pool followed by some wind swept drapes billowing in the ominous post-arena evening.  Ladies and gentlemen – The Challenge means business tonight!

10:01 – First off, where in the house is this Team Brooklyn communication den?  Second, I love how Brooklyn serves as the home to Vegas therapy sessions.  In this sequence, they seem to be good listeners.  Third, the Dustin and Trishelle impasse seems impenetrable.  Trishelle can’t get Dustin to see the big picture!  Dustin is so distraught he may be forced to go home!  What is going to happen?  At least in-episode cliffhangers last all of one minute because the next day…

10:01 – The next morning Jedi Master Chet (vintage Ray-Ban sunglasses and all) is doing some crazy force work on Padawan Dustin: “These are the cards you have (mock card dealing motion).  It’s a team of Dustin and Trishelle.  That’s all you can play right now.  So you either do it, or you quit, and I know you are not a quitter.”  Listen, when you are number one in the rankings, you are number one in the rankings.  The force is strong in Chet as he gives Dustin “a second wind” with Trishelle.  The Team Vegas crisis is officially averted, so Dustin can now go about his business of jumping out of a plane (as teased in the original trailer and photos for the season) in a future episode.

10:02 – Back in a different Team Brooklyn communication den, Sarah and Chet discuss the strategy for Brooklyn going forward (aptly recognizing that both Cancun and San Diego are the obstacle in front of them).  JD’s input: “Well, let’s move forward and prosper.”  Dolphin trainers are apparently good at speaking in generalized mixed clichés (among so many other things).

10:02 – Today’s challenge is called “Force Field” or (to kick it old school) “what everyone needed when around Beth S. of Real World: Los Angeles.”

10:03 – The challenge is based on a simplistic, but hard to explain, point system of which team can stay on the platform longest and out of the surrounding mud pit while battling each other in inner tubes (one team per tube).  The longer you stay on the platform, the higher your point value.  The scores from the girl’s and guy’s heat will be added together to determine the winner.  TJ seems particularly excited about watching this one.

10:04 – The girl’s heat is first “and, out of nowhere, [Jonna] sees four inner-tubes heading towards [her].  What the hell is going on?”  Perhaps there is some homelessness envy going on.  Jonna is in the mud.  Cancun has 0 points.  Zach is none too pleased.

10:05 – Trishelle lazily makes her attack and Team San Diego’s Sam and Ashley duo bounce her into the muddy waters.  Dustin is “glad to see Trishelle try.”  Maybe Dustin did not have access to the replay of the viewing audience because from my perch at home, Trishelle’s “try” left something to be desired.  I am just saying (20 points to Vegas).

10:05 – Devyn: “You do know who you are going up against, right?  Sarah and Devyn – two of the baddest girls here.”  Surrounding mud pit, meet Team San Diego (40 points).  Sarah likens the challenge to “human Mario Kart” and the episode’s sound editors provide a “wink and a nod” musical homage.  To answer your question, yes we are having fun, yet.

10:05 – Sam is still stuck on Marie’s plant pot push from last episode and does not appreciate the continued Marie assault (this time in “Force Field”).  According to Sam, Marie is an “all-around [indistinguishable expletive].”  Zach is pissed about the San Diego girl loss and is going to take it out on Chet and JD because he “doesn’t care.”

My writing of this column just took a bit of a delay.  My newly acquired Christmas tree decided to randomly fall over in the middle of my living room (luckily just missing my laptop and television by a few inches).  Unfortunately, Rapunzel and Pinochio were casualties of the event.  Not good times…

10:06 – Sarah and Devyn (“It feels sooooo good”) knock Marie off and win the girl’s heat.      It is the boys turn.  Zach pre-game strategizes with Frank: “Now we have to be able to move together.  It is just like true becoming one.  Honestly.”  The edit playfully plays on the homo-eroticism between Zach and Frank.  JD and Chet’s pre-game strategizing lacks the same charisma.

10:10 – The first boy’s heat begins and an initial battle between Cancun and Brooklyn (trying to eliminate Cancun) yields the first penalty for both.  You are not allowed to fall in “Force Field” (three times and you dq).  Sarah (“Oh my God you guys, stop!”) and Jonna (“Go for Brooklyn.  That is fucked up.”) side coach from the sidelines.

10:10 – The Brooklyn boys fall again and Devyn and Sarah are none too pleased that their first place finish in the girl’s heat is in jeopardy.  Clearly, they presume it is JD’s fault.  Sarah: “JD, don’t fuck around!”  Devyn (in her post interview): “JD is spazzing around like a headless fish.  What is wrong with you?”  Poor, JD.  Even his indiscriminate action is a cause for team concern.

10:11 – Brooklyn falls for a third time and is disqualified.  The JD directed tirade continues.  Sarah: “JD, what’s your problem with listening to directions?”  JD is “pissed off” that “his team is attacking him…Of course, JD gets all the blame.”  Again, poor JD.  Even when his team wins, he can’t win, and, when his team loses, he is the scapegoat.  There has got to be something to this, though.  Maybe he is conditioned to listen to dolphin sounds instead of human directions?  For the first time in weeks, there is some tension in Team Brooklyn’s team corner.

10:12 – Dustin tries to survive as long as he can, but San Diego’s attack is too strong.  Tough times for Team Vegas in this challenge.  Frank thinks he and Zach are “giggling” inside the inner tube like “two sisters on a beach vacation.”  Touché.

10:13 – In succession, San Diego knocks out Robb and Derek to win the “Force Field” challenge.  Zach: “San Diego is definitely the best team in the game at this point.”  With the Team Brooklyn fall out boy heat, he can reasonably make this argument.

10:13 – The Team Brooklyn post challenge interview is particularly dysfunctional and the blame is still JD centered.  Chet, on one hand, defends JD, but acknowledges to the incredulous Sarah and Devyn that he was “in the damn tire with him” and gets what they are saying, but because he is their teammate, they all have to stick with him.  JD gives a sincere apology and looks shell-shocked and broken.  Again, poor JD.

10:14 – Vegas comes in last place and will be heading back to the arena.  Dustin remembers his fallen comrades of Nany and Alton and wants to “make them proud.”  He  is again is composed and clear.  After an episode off of the emotional deep end, Mr. Zito seems back in the zone.  This is going to be bad news for whomever he faces in the arena (and very good news for his recently reconnected partner, Trishelle).

10:15 – The San Diego deliberation on who to send in reaches a bit of an impasse.  Zach wants to send in St. Thomas because Marie “assaulted Sam” and Frank wants to keep St. Thomas and send in Brooklyn because Robb and Marie are his best friends here (“Thanks a lot, Frank,” says his entire team).  This should be interesting.

10:16 – Chet and Sarah have one of those conversations that harkens back to the premiere episode and makes this avid and close (yes, I know…definitely too close) viewer of The Challenge giddy.  Sarah and Chet know that Devyn and JD are supposed to go in, so if Brooklyn is the San Diego pick, Sarah and Chet are at least safe for another week.  Chet is worried about an arena cold feet incident like Trishelle last week (JD remains the season’s biggest enigma) and cannot be complacent.

10:16 – San Diego pulls Brooklyn in for a meeting (the background music tells you it is an important, high stakes meeting).  San Diego wants Vegas out and asks Brooklyn what arena event they think they have the best shot against Vegas in.  Devyn’s answer is the “mental” memory/inverted water dive arena, but indicates that in order to knock Vegas off, St. Thomas would be a better choice.  The plot thickens.

10:17 – The Marie/Robb meeting with San Diego does not go so well.  Marie is not talking, leaves it to Robb to give his preferred arena events, and promptly walks out.  The pride this girl has is close to incredible.

10:18 – Zach is not having any of Marie’s “you owe us” attitude.  After all, no one else is “throwing one of [his] teammates into a flower bush.”  C’mon Frank, she is “Staten Island trash.”  Zach is rocking the effective metaphors tonight!

10:20 – Marie (she is a self-titled “crazy bitch”) comes back to further discuss with Frank and Ashley and the tears begin to stream down Frank’s face.  Central to their team conflict is the “flower plant push” incident and Zach and Sam cannot get past this (Listen, who pushes another person into a flower pot anyway?)  Cue melancholic emotional song and fade to pre-commercial black.  MTV is on point this evening.

10:24 – Team San Diego chooses St. Thomas to go back to the arena and seems to have completely disregarded Robb’s arena game request (I think this was a just an oops moment, but understandably tough for Robb and Marie to swallow).

 

10:26 – On the bus to Turkish nightlife, Marie is now on crying duty.  Frank’s lack of “friend protection” has quite the effect on her.  Turkish nightlife may not be the best elixir at this time.

10:26 – Devyn, on the dance floor, to Chet and Sarah: “Go Team Brooklyn!  We are still alive!”  Two things: this is wonderful and where is JD?

10:27 – Marie and Frank have a talk that does not go well.  Robb’s step-in to support Marie makes things even worse.  Names are called, insults are slung, and friendships are tested.  The night is too young for this to end well…

10:28 – The bus becomes the site of the next rumble (taking the form of a battle of stand-ups).  Marie calls everyone “corny” (urban dictionary: “trying to be cool, but ultimately very uncool indeed, and often even extremely embarrassing”), proving that it takes one to know one.  The lead-in to the commercial took a turn for the unintentionally comedic and surreal.  Marie: “Sam, i would kill you by the way.”  Zach: “Yeah, but I would kill your man, so shut up!”  Marie, in response: “And I would fucking kill your girl, how about that.”  As Sarah hides in the seat next to all of this, my mind goes to the bus driver.  What must he think of a scene like this?  Does he have a sense of who these people are?  Does he comprehend their celebrity status?  Does he think Robb is an NBA player?  Did he recognize Trishelle from The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning TV movie?  Does he make small-talk with JD?  We need a commercial to suss this all out.

10:33 – The action starts back at the house and Marie is still its center.  Chet tries to intervene: “Marie.  Chill.  Go to bed.”  Marie decides to direct her response at JD (inexplicably): “Don’t even talk to me.  You don’t even count, so.” (Marie follows this with a mocking dolphin impression – he just can’t win!).

10:34 – Fear not!  The dolphin trainer fights back!  JD: “Marie, have fun looking outside that airplane window.”  Marie then starts to go at JD for being a weirdo and “dol-phin trai-ner.”  This is all so overwhelming.

10:34 – Marie asks, who’s next?  Answer?  Derek, and he is not gonna take it anymore!

10:35 – Robb tries to support Marie (the broken record persists, at least they have each other’s back) and then gets mixed up with Derek (who, for the second straight house drinking event, is in it to win it).  It goes there to the point where Robb must take off his shirt in a show of strength while Chet and Frank (Now a peacemaker!  What is going on?) try to maintain order.  Commercial break, please.

10:37 – MTV contends that everyone is talking about Catfish.  So far, I have met only one person who is talking about Catfish.  Where are these people?

10:37 – Chet (number 1 in the rankings for a reason) summates the return to action as only Chet can: “This night is pathetic to watch.  It is further evidence that Robb and Marie are unstable as both competitors and, more importantly, as human beings.”  Of all the people on The Challenge who I would most like to sit and watch The Challenge with (or watch life with, for that matter), three are on Team Brooklyn and this does not even include JD (whose head would be fascinating to be inside for a day).  Chet’s successful peacemaking is just beautiful to watch.  A star he is.

10:39 – It gets even better back in bunkhouse Vegas.  Chet: “Trishelle is kind of like that recently divorced mom that is trying to party with her daughters.  She’s been flirting with me quite a bit.  I wouldn’t mind having my way with her.”  Chet, yes you can!  Trishelle is flirting right back.  Trishelle: “Chet’s adorable.  He is funny, cool.  There is nothing wrong with flirting.  It is just innocent fun.”  In the scheme of social subplots, this is a great one.

10:42 – It’s arena time and the event is “Water Torture.”  The vibe coming from Team Las Vegas is refreshingly endearing.  Dustin and Trishelle are positive, joking with one another, and both seem relaxed for the circumstance they are in.  After an off-week for these two, win or lose tonight, they were able to rediscover some of their Challenge mojo.

10:43 – As “Water Torture” begins, the early drama is figuring out the breathing system.  Both Robb and Dustin are doing so with a sense of humor, an unusual response to torture.  Props, gentlemen.

10:44 – The weekly Challenge clip during the commercial break shows a Team San Diego hoedown at some daytime party.  Devyn seems to accurately portray this group dance as a “hot-ass mess.”

10:45 – I have no idea what to make of Jack Reacher.  It could be a sneaky good action movie or it could be a disaster.  I literally have no idea.

10:48 – Torture time, and according to Devyn, “Dustin is making it look easy.”  She is also enjoying looking at his “six pack abs” because “that is easy too.”  Devyn, when considering your participation on this year’s The Challenge, the pleasure has been ours.

10:49 – There is yet another commercial midway through the arena.  I can imagine the drama live in the arena, but alas, the “Water torture” is a bit mundane while watching at home.  Memory following does not translate well on TV and I struggle to follow the happenings (except when Camila and Easy imploded many many weeks ago).

10:55 – I guess there was some drama (Trishelle may have messed up a few squares), but Team Las Vegas, led my Dustin’s amphibious (Zach, again, nice work with the metaphors) skills prove to be too much for Robb and Marie.  Trishelle has a great moment of exultation: “Dustin, I love you even though we fought for the last three days!”  It feels like three years ago.

10:56 – Dustin and Trishelle’s post-game interview involves more smiling, more laughing together, and more cuteness.  Whatever they had in their system, it is long gone.  Team Las Vegas is back.

10:56 – Marie and Robb go out with some pride and sense of humor.  Robb: “I think the rest of the house is gonna feel probably relieved.  They don’t have two drunken assholes T-Rexing around anymore, so.”  Marie: “They don’t have to deal with my mouth anymore.”  Marie hopes that no one hugs her on her way out because she will “body slam them like…” until Robb stops her from finishing.  Robb and Marie have been a consistent fixture on our Wednesday nights for some time and the viewer could not have asked for a better send off.  As TJ says, hopefully we will see you in the future.

10:57 – TJ resets the game.  There are four teams left, one challenge, and one elimination.  If you get power team status, all of you have to do is “make it through [TJ’s] final, and you get money.”  All you have to do.  TJ, we know better that what you have to do is going to be a wee bit difficult.

10:58 – After a text from TJ, the remaining competitors learn that the next challenge will be in Namibia!  There is universal excitement, but Zach sums up the other prevalent sentiment: “Where is Namibia?”

10:58 – Trishelle: “Is it an animal?  Is it a state of mind?”

10:58 – Dustin is super-excited to be heading to Africa, but, at the same time, scared about what Africa is going to bring.  Cue a preview of some scary Africa clips (including the Dustin jump out of a plane clip from the original season trailer).  This is going to be a bit cray.

 

WEEKLY CHALLENGE INDIVIDUAL POWER RANKINGS

The rankings will be based on an un-Hollinger/sabermetrics method known as “My experience and observations” (See: Marc Stein’s great NBA weekly power rankings).  Weight will be given to how well teams and individuals do on competitions, in the social game, and whether he or she is a “good competitor.”

THE MEN

1 (1) Chet (Team Brooklyn) – Chet had one of those episodes where he was given adequate airtime to display his array of gifted interpersonal ability, savvy gameplay, peacekeeper essentiality, teammate loyalty, witty banter, and in a somewhat surprising showing, his flirtation skills.  He is the total Challenge: Battle of the Seasons package and has been flexing this muscle for weeks now.

2 (2) Zach (Team San Diego) – Not only a master of interview metaphor and pink scarves, Zach dominated the “Force Field” challenge and was the definitive leader of Team San Diego in their St. Thomas arena-send-in decision.  His free spirit and lack of self-effacing humility and humor have been one this season’s great revelations.

3 (3) Dustin (Team Las Vegas) – Last week I wrote, “I have a feeling Mr. Zito will be able to recover next week.”  I didn’t how right I would be.  His southern charm, competitive spirit, and encouraging teammate self were back and maybe even better than before.  He was in “nothing to lose” mode which translated to “will not lose” in the arena.

4 (4) Frank (Team San Diego) – Frank was again dominant in the challenge, but again the provoker (Marie was mainly to blame on this one, though) of the house drama.  I do credit him for being able to help the situation as best he could (his attempts were genuine) and I felt for how the Marie arena decision devastated him.

5 (7) Derek (Team Cancun) – Derek held his own (for as long as possible) in “Force Field” and, although he could not avoid drama this episode, he seemed to be completely in control and mostly justified.  Derek has every chance to be a key player in the two remaining episodes.

6 (6) JD (Team Brooklyn) – JD got the most airtime this week of any previous week, although I thought most of it was at his expense.  There has to be some truth in Team Brooklyn blaming him for their “Force Field” dq and in Marie’s dolphin-themed attack.  If anyone can better explain JD to me, please do!

ELIMINATED: Robb (Team St. Thomas) – Robb grew on this show week to week and ended his long St. Thomas run with a respectable showing.  Robb with two Bs, we will miss your presence on Wednesday nights.  You are welcome to come back soon.

 

THE WOMEN

1 (1) Sarah (Team Brooklyn) – Despite some JD inspired teammate disparagement, Sarah’s game face is always on.  Her “Force Field” complete domination (and teamwork with Devyn) and strategy session with Chet display this focus.  Sarah will be in the final and will be ready.

2 (3) Ashley (Team San Diego) – Ashley continues to rise in the rankings with a delicate (but effective) handling of some of her more temperamental teammates and consistent (although not too successful this week) showings in challenges.  She has yet to step into an arena (amazing) and unless San Diego is sent there next week, may not have to.

3 (5) Jonna (Team Cancun) – Jonna was fiesty as ever and has one more week to survive to the final.  I continue to appreciate her push for the win and uber-competitive spirit.  She has managed to keep her Zach relationship drama-less and has reaped the benefits of the personal connection and team alignment.  She has played an overall outstanding game.

4 (4) Devyn (Team Brooklyn) – Devyn has been a joy to get to know and furthered her successful run in this game with some “bad-ass” inner tube work with Sarah.  Always quotable, her interview skills would be ranked first among women.

5 (7) Trishelle (Team Las Vegas) – Trishelle may have still had difficulty bringing the edge to the challenge, but her subsequent performance in the arena, newly formed resolution with Dustin (and sense of humor that came with it), and smile inducing Chet flirtation seemed so carefree.  After the team turmoil of last week, she and Dustin are more unified than before and potentially very dangerous for other teams.

6 (6) Sam (Team San Diego) – Poor Sam came back from last week’s plant pot incident as the continual receiver of Marie’s wrath.  Marie really got to her (as Frank did earlier in the season), but fortunately, for Sam, she is no longer in Marie’s cross hairs.

ELIMINATED: Marie (Team St. Thomas) – Marie went out with a bang (the definitive star of the episode) and defined herself as one of the great new female characters, competitors, and drama centers that The Challenge has had in years.  She was in the game from the beginning, aligned with right people, and stood up for herself when it was time.  For she and Robb to last so long should be a point of pride.  We look forward to seeing her again.

 

FULL TEAM RANKINGS

Note:  Team rankings are compiled by adding up the individual rankings and dividing by number of players remaining.  Teams with the lowest total average ranking are ranked better than the highest (i.e. you want as few points as possible)

1 (1) TEAM BROOKLYN Average: 3, last week: 3

Sarah (1), Chet (1), JD (6), Devyn (4)

Can they win as foursome? Although Team Brooklyn buckled under pressure a bit after the JD/Chet disqualification, Chet was able to simmer the tide and show that when faced with adversity, there is an internal mechanism to combat it.  More and more, I think JD (over Devyn) may be the team liability (the other’s lack of belief in him rests the primary reason), but if appropriately supported and encouraged, he may be fine.  If Sarah and Chet’s conversation is a harbinger of things to come, we may not see this foursome reach the finals.

What pairings can win?  Sarah and Chet can win The Challenge.  JD and Devyn cannot.  There is little to no scenario that Sarah and Chet are going into the arena (if Brooklyn is forced to, Devyn and JD are up), so the JD/Devyn combo will not ever be alone.

2 (3) TEAM SAN DIEGO Average: 3.5, last week: 4

Zach (2), Sam (6), Ashley (2), Frank (4)

Can they win as foursome? Yes.  This is a strong team, and Sam, their weakest link, is now completely supported by Zach.  I think they are stronger as four than as two.  The personality clashes under pressure are still their major Achilles heel (and a big one at that).

What pairings can win?  I have a feeling that this question is a moot point.  I think we can expect their foursome to be in the finals.

T-4 (4) TEAM LAS VEGAS Average: 4, last week: 5

Dustin (3), Trishelle (5), Eliminated: Nany, Alton

Can they win as a pair? Yes!  They got their stuff together this week (at least in time for the arena) and showed what a dynamic pairing they can be.  As long as Dustin stays in supportive southern gentlemen mode, they have a very real shot at winning this thing.

T-4 (5) TEAM CANCUN Average: 4, last week: 6

Jonna (3), Derek (5), Eliminated: CJ, Jasmine

Can they win as a pair? At this point, I would consider them the biggest underdog to win this game.  They have to get through three more (the next challenge, a possible arena, the final final challenge) to win, and I am just not sure if they are strong enough to get past all three.  Derek and Jonna remain combative and passionate, so it would be foolish to in any way count them out.

And finally, during the “NEXT ON THE CHALLENGE” preview, this is what I saw:

  • Devyn (along with everyone else left) is going to Africa, “the homeland.”
  • Zach has never seen so many people go to the medic in his life.
  • There are three helicopters (what what?) in the final challenge and (SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!) Sarah and Trishelle react (score one for DVR and Teams Las Vegas and Brooklyn).

We are heading to Namibia for the final challenge, arena, and final final challenge!  There are only two episodes remaining (sadly), so brace yourself for an amazing finish.  Tune in at 10 PM on MTV for the next episode of The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons.

David Bloom can be reached on twitter at @davidbloom7.  His weekly CHALLENGE POWER RANKINGS come out weekly on Derek Kosinski’s UltimateChallengeRadio.com.  The Week 12 power rankings will be available sometime after December 13.

THE CHALLENGE: BATTLE OF THE SEASONS WEEKLY POWER RANKINGS – WEEK 10

In my last The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons weekly rankings column, I went all retro-running diary because the action of the episode was just too much to effectively account for any other way.  This week’s episode may have even pushed the scale of awesomeness a few steps higher (the weekly challenge and especially the night time drama raised these stakes), so until something changes (and with the final challenge coming up later this month), I am going to keep rocking the retro-running diary until it loses its potency.  As established last week, the times are EST on the night the original episode aired, so feel free to follow along while viewing for the first time or while re-watching.

THE WEEK 10 RETRO-RUNNING DIARY (power rankings to follow)

10:00 – In the scenes from last week, the creepy chill MTV announcer voice reminds us of “one of the biggest arenas in Challenge” history.  Don’t worry creepy chill MTV announcer voice, we won’t forget the epic duel between CJ and Zach anytime soon.

10:01 – The episode begins with the image of a cat licking itself.  No, for real.

10:01 – Team San Diego does a group workout session and then plays a little game of “say something positive, say something negative” (still in the R & D phase at Milton Bradley).  Sam’s negative comment to Ashley is that she is “way too positive.”  Zach doesn’t like how he and Frank have old animosity toward one another.  In a solution just shy of miracle status, harmony has returned to the San Diego shores (cue creepy chill MTV announcer voice: “For now…”)

10:02 – It’s time for the challenge clue delivery from some new product placed c-list company’s mobile device!  This time, the Battle of the Seasons contestants pretend to be sleeping at a slumber party when Frank brings the electronic correspondence delivered news.  The clue is always some low quality pun about having to wear bathing suits while “getting to know” your teammates, but the clue delivery scene appears to be contrived by production (I will have to check with Derrick about this) and has become more silly as the years go by.  Can someone give me some Intel on this?

10:02 – TJ, rocking the hatless look two weeks in a row (his wife must have been involved somehow), tells us that today’s challenge is called “Abandon Ship,” named after what KellyAnne and Johanna did pre-filming when they found out ex-boyfriend Wes was going to be on Battle of the Seasons. (Did you every wonder why Lacey represented Team Austin?  Or why was Fresh Meat such a strange late addition to the premiere?  Wes is apparently kryptonite to his past lovers.  It’s too bad because Real World: Sydney’s Isaac would have been an interesting addition to a house with Frank already in it.)

10:04 – Team Las Vegas is represented by “water people” and Alton thinks it is therefore going to be a “fun, lean challenge” for them.  How ironic this is.

10:04 – Sarah, thankfully, reminds us that JD trains dolphins, so the required 25 foot dive for a player from each team to retrieve buoys (less horrifying 15, 10, and 5 foot dives as well) is a point of confidence for Brooklyn.  Sarah, you had me at “JD trains dolphins.”

10:04 – Let’s just say that TJ’s hair (thank you Turkish wind gusts) is pretty close to awesome.

10:05 – Twenty-five foot dives begin!  In succession, Derek, Dustin, JD, and Sam rock this (Honestly, I am quite impressed).  Poor Robb struggles and struggles and struggles.  He’s “actually kind of panicking.”

10:06 – Fear not Robb!  You have a panic partner!  Enter, Trishelle!

10:06 – Teams San Diego, Cancun (Jonna and Derek by their lonesome), and Brooklyn (way to dominate the five foot dive, Devyn!) finish the four dives and are onto the boat race phase of the Challenge.  Robb and Trishelle are still panicking and their teammates are none too pleased.  In Robb and Trishelle’s defense, under water pressure can be hard.  It is time to go to commercial.

10:07 – Jersey Shore is down to its final four episodes ever.  Even though I hopped out of the tanning bed several seasons ago, but with this realization and some Hurricane Sandy relief initiatives, is it wrong to admit that I am feeling a bit nostalgic?

10:11 – Back in the water, Trishelle’s outright panic leads Alton to take matters into his own hands and he dives for the ten foot buoy, accruing a five minute time penalty in the process.  Dustin is not pleased with Trishelle.

10:12 – Meanwhile, in St. Thomas land, Marie impressively beasts the 25 and 10 foot buoys.  Marie may talk a big game, but she is seriously walking the walk.

10:13 – The juxtaposition of San Diego’s sea of tranquility in a commanding lead and Las Vegas’ already penalty ridden team implosion directed at resident delinquent Trishelle is further proof of just how quick of a sea change can occur in The Challenge.  If team unity and consistent togetherness amount to anything, Team Brooklyn and the remaining Team Cancun deserve to ultimately win.

10:14 – San Diego wins the race and celebrates their first place finish with a cuddle fest in the raft.  Simultaneously, Marie and Robb have difficult relationship talks while learning their paddling technique.  Rough.

10:15 – Team Vegas finishes the race in fourth place, but Alton and Dustin are not through with Trishelle and have a discussion about her womanhood.  Alton tells Dustin to “get enlightened.”  The team interview and contentious back and forth between Dustin and Trishelle is an exercise in disharmony and futility.  Things are not going to end well for these two.

10:16 – A demoralized Robb and Marie reach shore, arena bound.  In the interview, Robb declares that he “can’t dive down 25 feet” because “he smokes too many cigarettes.”  (Yes, Robb!  An opportunity to quit!)  Marie’s silent, icey frown says it all.

10:18 – Alton tries to act as team mediator and facilitates apologies between Dustin and Trishelle.  The conversation goes nowhere as they continue to butt heads.  As Dustin says, “Not everything is rainbows and butterflies.”  There is a dispute about whether Trishelle is going in.  One thing that the Bunim/Murray brain trust always excel at is foreshadowing within an episode.  Let’s hope I am mistaken.

10:23 – TJ lets San Diego know that they “killed it” in the challenge.  Right back at you, Sir Lavin.

10:23 – Zach represents San Diego’s arena participation decision and says an under the radar, crafty, and humorous comment.  He preambles the inevitable Team Las Vegas choice with the information that San Diego really wanted to go in, but that “Frank needed a rest” from the arena.  Well played, Zach.  Well played.

10:24 – It’s a night of alcohol consumption and the excrement is about to hit the motorized, circular cooling machine.

10:24 – Derek (particularly and uncharacteristically rowdy tonight) and Nany have a dispute about how close they are as friends.  Oh boy.  This is not going to go well.

10:25 – Frank somehow takes offense at nothing (we have seen some of this before, Monsieur Sweeney) and goes off at Nany.  Nany, not one for restraint while intoxicated, matches Frank’s ante raise.

10:25 – Marie invites herself to the party because she doesn’t care about Derek, but she cares about Nany (one thing Marie will have is the back of one of her girlfriends, Swifty learned this quite often when he messed with LaToya in St. Thomas).  Robb tries to keep her back, but “two people are getting in [Nany’s] face right now!”  In the cleaned up (and she did it nicely) interview, Marie: “Right now, in the way that everyone’s ganging up on Nany, I don’t really care about our alliance.  I care about defending my friend who needs my help right now.”  You go, girl.  Zach is entertained, full well knowing that “step in to keep Frank from attacking multiple people time” will be soon be his responsibility.

10:26 – Derek and Nany continue their battle royale about the quality of their friendship (does it really matter?).  Credit to the peacekeeping team of Chet, Robb, Sam, Marie, and Trishelle.  Interesting side note: Where are Devyn, Alton, and Sarah during all of this?  If the answer is asleep, I want some of that REM cycle in my nightly routine.

10:26 – Somehow, the camera man misses Derek pushing Robb (as he attempts to restrain Derek) over some patio furniture.  This is a clutch miss, camera man, and our loss.

10:26 – Marie does not miss this incident and is “not going to sit here and let [Derek} push [her] man” so she decides to body slam Derek who dominos into Sam who falls into a pile of plant pots.  Chet goes to check on Sam and determines that Frank should “get your girl” out of the pots (a classic and underrated moment of Chet brilliance).  Thank goodness for the commercial to sort this all out.

10:31 – We’re back.  Chet does a play-by-play of the individual battles. (I give him credit for keeping up with all the iterations.  Also, is he, as a member of Team Brooklyn, on babysitting duty shift and is this an official job?  What happens on the night’s when JD is on call?  Do they have paramedics on hand?)  He appropriately ends his recap with the wise question of “where the hell am I?”

10:31 – Sam is actually hurt and wants to share her thoughts with Marie whose Derek body slam inadvertently knocked Sam over into a patch of plant pots.  Marie is as pugnacious as ever.  It takes the full force of the seven foot tall Robb and Frank (now calm) to hold her back from “killing” Sam.  Frank’s take (it takes one to know one): “I absolutely love Marie.  I see a lot of myself in Marie, but Marie is an idiot sometimes.”  Frank lets Marie know that poor Sam “has nothing to do” with any of this.

10:32 – There is an amazing JD sighting as Frank and Nany decide to meet down at the cabana for a chat.  JD, beer in hand, unassumingly walks by like nothing is going on.  Oh, how I yearn for the carefree existence of a dolphin trainer.

10:32 – The cabana chat lasts for a hot three-seconds before blowing up.  Mediator Trishelle is helplessly left alone.  Frank decides to berate low and makes some comment about Nany’s sister injecting heroin too much.  Nany, holding four beer cans (check, I am not making this up), will not stand for a family member’s inclusion in Frank’s verbal tomfoolery.  Fight escalation, GO!

10:33 – Dustin comes to Nany’s defense and Frank hits back with some gay porn past insults.  Trishelle, wisdom fueled: “Oh my god, yes, Dustin did gay porn.  Like get over it.”  The fight continues.  Cut to Devyn (she apparently woke up) who is understandably unsure about exactly what is going on.

10:34 – Frank, like a Roman gladiator from the a balcony above the pool (Dustin and Nany are down below): “I.  Will.  Bury.  You.  Both.”  Dustin and Nany egg him on.  All Frank “sees right now is red and it’s blood” and comes down to attack.  Alton (his Spidey sense for soulmate Dustin being in trouble is a working power) tries to peace make.  Dustin snaps, (“Hey Catholic school boy, you want to get straight, bitch?  Come and get some.”), whacks Alton in the face (not on purpose and slightly comedic, watching back) and then push/shoves Frank’s head (the memorable moment from last week’s preview).  Stuff is going down and we still have 36 minutes left.

10:35 – A commercial promotion for next week’s Teen Mom 2 about Janelle forgiving her mom for not bailing her out of jail while her baby son cries in the background somehow calms me down.

10:37 – I have never desired a longer commercial break.  Back in the action, there is an actual fight and the cooler heads of Robb, Zach, Alton, Trishelle, Chet, and even Nany prevail.  Zach pleads with Frank to step back using first the tactic of repeating the phrase “the team” and then forces Frank to “go through” him.  Zach, this one scene may be a serious rankings boost and Frank and Zach, I am beginning to believe in the possibilities of your friendship.  Frank decides to “wash his hands clean” of the “dirty scum that got under his fingernails” that is the “entire fucking Vegas team.”

10:37 – Meanwhile, in another fantastic male friendship manifestation, Alton lets Dustin know that he took it too far.  Alton about Frank: “He’s a little pig and you chose to get in to the dirt with him…and clean him up, in the mud?”  Well, done Alton 2.0.  Alton and Dustin then have a conversation about which of a peacock and a flamingo is a more apt description for Nany.  Yes, this happened.

10:38 – Alton admits in his interview that “after babysitting these kids” he has had “one of the worst times in paradise, ever.”  Are you a paradise frequenter, Alton?  If so, how do I get on that train?

10:39 – Back to the game game (and a sunny, morning after the storm at that), Trishelle wants Dustin to go in with her because she fears that Alton is still on his “I want to go home” kick.  The conversation does not go well and creates a line between Trishelle and the boys.  Not for nothing, but I feel like Nany is often the victim in the these circumstances.

10:41 – Albeit less than accurate, Trishelle has this line of the night about Alton and Dustin: “The only thing consistent about those two is that they are consistently crazy.”  Nany knows that Trishelle is sometimes not a team player and looks at her, wondering if she is going to step up or not.

10:42 – Arena time!  Marie steps down to the stage for Team St. Thomas.  TJ says she is “looking as mean as ever.”  Marie, loses her game face, and cracks a killer smile.  These TJ moments of greatness are what sets him apart from all the other competition show hosts.  TJ Lavin, I salute you.

10:42 – The commercial cliffhanger surrounds Trishelle’s “will she or won’t she” decision to volunteer herself to go in.  In her interview, she says she is going to leave it up to San Diego because she fears having to compete with Alton and the potential that he will throw the challenge.  Things are not looking good for Team Vegas.

10:43 – The only thing I love more than Ricky Rubio on the basketball court (please get well soon, senôr) is this Ricky Rubio commercial.  Foot Locker’s ad agency deserves some kind of award.

10:45 – And, Nany volunteers herself to go in!  Nooooooooooo (the reaction that Dustin and I share)!  Dustin is justifiably furious because Trishelle deserved to go in and he doesn’t want to see his little Vegas sister Nany potentially go home (let alone have to toil alone with Trishelle back at the base camp).  All he can do now is stare at Trishelle in disgust.

10:45 – Robb is feeling “really, really confident” because “truth be told” the last time he lost something was his “virginity.”  You have to love Robb.

10:46 – Such props to Nany on this one.  She volunteered herself in because she was not going to stand idle and let San Diego make a decision on the fate of her team.  Poor Dustin (I would be the same way, brother on this one) cannot get over the fact that what was supposed to happen (Trishelle going in) did not.  He and Trishelle have a little verbal fight (she says she will never speak to him again).  My take: I think Trishelle feels bad about this, but is unwilling to admit it.  I think Dustin does not provide the safest forum for this to happen, so the cycle of iffy communication continues.

10:48 – Round 1 (2 out of 3) of the Balls Out Endurance game goes 14-11 in favor of Robb and Marie.  They came to play!  Nany questions Alton’s full investment in winning (not an unreasonable thought about the former Challenge legend’s motivation in Turkey).  Dustin, too, is not “seeing that hustle spirit” and he does not “want to be left here with Trishelle.”

10:49 – Round 2 goes 13-12 to Alton and Nany.  This has turned out to be a second straight, down to the wire arena.  Advantage this season of The Challenge.  Marie and Robb are not shaken at all and unified anew.

10:50 – Marie: “If I can take out two of the strongest competitors that means that I am one of the strongest competitors.”  No argument, there.

10:55 – Zach lets Robb and Marie know that they “freakin’ did it!” by beating Alton and Nany 13-12 in the final round.  Credit to Marie and Robb for their perseverance in this arena and throughout this game (especially in their ability to reunify so quickly after the shipwreck that was the “Abandon Ship” challenge).

10:55 – Alton: “I am a little shocked.  For me, losing is a new experience.”  Yes, it is, old friend.  Although your total reputation may have taken a hit, I hope that in a few years the glory that was Alton 1.0 will be your enduring legacy.

10:56 – Dustin is visibly and understandably shaken.  He is losing Alton, a brother and very close friend, and Nany, his little sister, support, and best chance he had at winning the whole thing.  They are both concerned about how Dustin will manage being alone with Trishelle.  Nany: “Don’t kill her.  You guys gotta make it to the finals.”  Alton: “Forgive her bro.”  Dustin: “Never.”

10:57 – Nany: “If I have proved anything to anyone, I proved to myself that I am a good competitor, and I deserved to be here this entire time.”  Speak the truth, Nany.  If anyone has risen up in the actual and metaphoric Challenge power rankings, it is Nany.  She overcame beaucoup de drama (internal and external) and managed to go out with the utmost dignity and as an honorable fighter.  When (not if) she returns in the future, I would want her on my team.

10:57 – Alton: “I met a brother.  Dustin, we are going to be friends forever dude.”  I applaud this seemingly, beautiful friendship.

10:57 – Frank, in a bout of uncontrollable irony, is “so so so so” excited that Nany and Alton are going home so that he can finally “live in peace now” in a drama free house.

10:58 – Dustin will not let this Trishelle thing go, asking her to “live,” “remember this forever,” and “have nightmares.”  TJ: “I thought I’ve seen some uncomfortable teams in my life, but Dustin and Trishelle, that’s a pretty uncomfortable team.”  Preach, TJ.  Preach.

10:58 – Dustin is in a cloud of despair and wants to go home.  Chet and Sarah try to step in and help the situation, facilitating a conversation between Dustin and Trishelle.  JD does nothing.

10:59 – Fade to black on the potential of Dustin quitting…after last week’s arena battle between Zach and CJ, I expected this week to have a fair degree of momentum lowering, but instead, the stakes have been raised yet again.  The Challenge is bringing it this fall and I cannot wait for next Wednesday night.

Five teams are left (three now have two players) and one (Las Vegas) is in complete shambles.  At this point, especially with a resurgent St. Thomas in the arena, it is anyone’s game…let’s shakeout a particularly movement heavy rankings…

 

WEEKLY CHALLENGE INDIVIDUAL POWER RANKINGS

NOTE: the rankings will be based on an un-Hollinger/sabermetrics method known as “My experience and observations” (See: Marc Stein’s great NBA weekly power rankings).  Weight will be given to how well teams and individuals do on competitions, in the social game, and whether he or she is a “good competitor.”

THE MEN

1 (2) Chet (Team Brooklyn) – After a long wait, Chet has stuck around long enough near the top to finally have earned his first place ranking (his consistency has to be applauded).  A stalwart rowing performance and humor laden peacekeeping showing provided the final push.  Congrats.

2 (3) Zach (Team San Diego) – Zach had a great episode, excelling as Frank’s bodyguard, as a player in  “still in need of development” games, as the arena selection decision master, and as Team St. Thomas’ biggest fan.

3 (1) Dustin (Team Las Vegas) – Dustin spent much of the episode (much of it justified), falling apart.  The loss of Nany, Alton, and a trust in Trishelle were individually crushing, but all put together, devastating.  I have a feeling Mr. Zito will be able to recover next week.

4 (7) Frank (Team San Diego) – Frank did erroneously provoke several altercations, but he also walked away when Zach stepped in.  His Team San Diego “Abandon Ship” domination also amounts for a strong rise this week.

5 (5) Robb (Team St. Thomas) – I was torn on Robb this week.  On one hand, his challenge performance was a challenge in itself, but his arena win was (over Alton and Nany!) very impressive.  Ultimately, no movement in the rankings was justified.

6 (6) JD (Team Brooklyn) – JD’s 25 foot dive was the beginning move in a very respectable second place finish in “Abandon Ship” for Team Brooklyn.  His uninvolved, metaphorical wallpapering at house fights did not allow any ranking rise this time.

7 (8) Derek (Team Cancun) – Yes, Derek and Jonna were commendable in the challenge, but his role in the night’s extracurricular festivities was unnecessary.  He should know better.

ELIMINATED: Alton (Team Las Vegas) – Alton, admittedly, had a difficult time on this challenge (most likely his last).  Like twilight comebacks of other legendary athletes (Jordan on the Wizards, as mentioned in this space before), I hope we forget these ending impressions and remember all the previous good times.  Alton, thank you for going out like a pro.  Your final image on this challenge was one of the warrior you have always been.  May your next paradise trip be a better one.

THE WOMEN

1 (1) Sarah (Team Brooklyn) – An under the radar week for this close to dethrone-proof leader of women is only a good thing at this stage.  Her ability to stay out of the nighttime house rumble (Sarah – Please tell me how you were able to do it) may be her most incredible feat yet (Really, were you sleeping and if so, how do you do it?  Amazing).

2 (4) Marie (Team St. Thomas) – If someone had told me this summer that I was going to write a weekly The Challenge power rankings column and that in week 10 I would have no trouble placing Marie second on the women’s rankings, the struggle to believe them would have been real.  Marie – you have earned this placement (awesome work all around this week, unintentional Sam/plant meet-up notwithstanding) and have had to overcome so much to get here.  Seriously fantastic work.

3 (6) Ashley (Team San Diego) – Ashley again excels at being a genuine and kind person (and is even criticized for being too nice) and is a beast at challenges.  Her always patient presence with her teammates (and especially with pseudo cuddle buddy CJ gone) is an asset to San Diego’s success.

4 (5) Devyn (Team Brooklyn) – A low key week for Devyn (it was inevitable after last week’s real hair reveal), but her athletic showings seem to be getting better and better.  Bare in mind, Devyn came in to The Challenge a clothing shopper aficionado out of the mall when it came to being a worthy competitor.  She has come a long way.

5 (8) Jonna (Team Cancun) – Jonna is back in the mix (her “Abandon Ship” twosome appearance killed it), but now she needs to find a way to keep Derek away from late night drama (a tall order if the preview for next week is any indication).

6 (7) Sam (Team San Diego) – Poor Sam.  Marie pushed Derek into her and she fell on some plant pots.  Often the recipient of the wrath of teammates, this was an unexpected low.

7 (3) Trishelle (Team Las Vegas) – Trishelle had a very difficult week (tough diving experience in the challenge, didn’t step up in the arena, the disintegration of her team) and it is largely because of her decisions.  It is in her best interest to come clean, take some responsibility (Dustin may be more stubborn than than she is) and recognize that her partner is one of the best male competitors in the game and the road to winning $250,000.

ELIMINATED: Nany (Team Las Vegas) – Nany is really the victim in the Team Vegas implosion and could not have come out on the other side looking better than she does.  With so many rookies on this challenge, it was a question as to who was going to separate themselves from the masses and Nany may have one of the most successful at doing so. (On an unrelated note, do you remember when Preston was in this game, because I momentarily forgot?)

FULL TEAM RANKINGS

Note:  Team rankings are compiled by adding up the individual rankings and dividing by number of players remaining.  Teams with the lowest total average ranking are ranked better than the highest (i.e. you want as few points as possible)

1 (2) TEAM BROOKLYN Average: 3, last week: 3.5

Sarah (1), Chet (1), JD (6), Devyn (4)

Can they win as foursome? They keep humming along as a foursome (even utilizing the talents of JD – this week deep sea diving and last week eating random things).  While other teams have faced internal turmoil, Brooklyn has remained unified and strong.  At this point in the game, it makes sense that they are ranked first.

What pairings can win?  The same is true as last week: Sarah and Chet can still win The Challenge.  Sarah could probably get JD to the finish line as well.  I am not sure Devyn would be able to finish with either Chet or Sarah and will be better within a foursome.  Additionally, Sarah and Chet have many ways of working together (this week rowing the boat and facilitating a conversation between Dustin and Trishelle to name a few) and this is only to their advantage if they make the finals.

2 (3) TEAM ST. THOMAS Average: 3.5, last week: 4.5

Robb (5), Marie (2), Eliminated: Laura, Trey

Can they win as a pair?  Yes.  Their arena showing (especially following such a demoralizing challenge) is very impressive.  Marie and Robb are fighters and I think it helps that in this twosome, Marie’s stronger personality is given room to lead, whereas Robb’s reliable and protective tendencies will help keep Marie out of trouble.  The previewed fight with Derek will be a barometer of just how resilient these two really are.

3 (4) TEAM SAN DIEGO Average: 4, last week: 6.75

Zach (2), Sam (7), Ashley (3), Frank (4)

Can they win as foursome? I think we can move last week’s “who knows” answer to this question to “sometimes” or “it depends on the week.”  If San Diego can continue to have good weeks (at this point we know bad weeks will happen, but they may be able to hang on long enough to avoid them), they are going to be tough to beat in a final (Frank and Zach are just so uber-competitive and Ashley is a very strong women).

What pairings can win?  Last week I wrote: Both guys could compete with Ashley against the other strong teams (Vegas, Sarah/Chet), but the Zach/Sam pairing seems to have a dynamic, winning quality (at least in arenas).  This all remains true, but if San Diego can keep their foursome intact, this won’t even be an issue.

4 (1) TEAM LAS VEGAS Average: 5, last week: 2.5

Dustin (3), Trishelle (7), Eliminated: Nany, Alton

Can they win as a pair? Yes, I think so (despite the real relationship sever that occurred between these two this week).  Both are super competitive (different manifestations), stubborn, prideful, and want to win the money.  I think they can put their Humpty Dumpty of a team back together again in time to be a player in the finals.

5 (5) TEAM CANCUN Average: 6, last week: 8

Jonna (5), Derek (7), Eliminated: CJ, Jasmine

Can they win as a pair? Athletically, yes.  Mentally, I am not sure.  I have not liked what I have seen from Derek these past few weeks.  He seems to be falling apart at the seems.  I am not sure if they have a captain or have the right balance to steer this ship, although I wouldn’t count out Jonna just yet…

And finally, during the “NEXT ON THE CHALLENGE” preview, this is what I saw:

  • Dustin and Trishelle are still around (I got you MTV editors, you tried to conceal them in the shot, but they are there.)
  • Zach and Marie find the bus to be a great time to erupt at one another
  • and Robb finally seems to want to confront Derek about this week’s pushing incident by tearing off his shirt and screaming at him.

We are approaching the home stretch!  There are only a few episodes remaining (sadly), so do not miss a moment.  Tune in at 10 PM on MTV for the next episode of The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons.

David Bloom can be reached on twitter at @davidbloom7.  His weekly CHALLENGE POWER RANKINGS come out weekly on Derek Kosinski’s UltimateChallengeRadio.com.  The Week 11 power rankings will be available sometime after December 6.

 

THE CHALLENGE: BATTLE OF THE SEASONS WEEKLY POWER RANKINGS – WEEK 9

I was going to save my first The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons running diary for a season finale recap (epic, groundbreaking, and one of a kind athletic competitions demand such attention), but this week’s episode arena battle between Team Cancun’s CJ and Team San Diego’s Zach (both one-time NFL aspiring uber-athletes) was so phenomenal (and according Sarah on twitter: “that elimination between @ZachMTV & @CJKoegelMTV was a MILLION times more intense in real life vs how it looked on TV”) that a running retro diary is the only way to appropriately depict the glory in prose.  If you re-watch or have not watched yet, I am indicating the time on the EST telecast that each moment went down if you want to follow along.

Let the games begin!

10:00 – The opening recap reminds us of Jonna’s season premiere phone dumping of her GBH (Guy Back Home).  GBH – in case you wanted to be reminded of this humiliation on national television again, MTV has got you covered.

10:00 – Reminders of last week’s Frank and Zach team implosion feel even more uncomfortable in retrospect.

10:01 – What is Lacey doing in the opening credits?  I think she was asked to raise her hand and make a “come and get it gesture.”  It looks more like she is giving the finger with four fingers.  Poor Lacey may not have been right for the Challenge.

10:02 – Zach informs us that his “only goal here is to make Frank’s life miserable.”  Trishelle “swears to God” that she thinks Frank and Zach need therapy.  I swear to God, this is a great idea.

10:02 – Jonna: “With Zach I think it is like a weird situation.  It’s fantasyland.  It’s Challengeland.  This is The Challenge world.  This isn’t real life.”  Can this quotation be reinforced daily for Challenge competitors who take the interpersonal interplay on a Challenge a little too seriously.  Who can we get on this?

10:03 – It seems like Jonna needs to be on the Challenge more than anyone else because she was blackmailed by an ex-boyfriend two years ago (who even stole her dog!).  She does not want to be homeless ever again.  This is a reasonable desire.

10:04 – Welcome to the “Hunger Games,” a “70s game show gone bad” according to Dustin.  Things are not looking good (puke buckets?) until TJ enters in a vintage suit, sans cap, with slicked back hair and a Bob Barker micropohone.  Killing it just found a entirely new level of excellence.

10:05 – TJ: “You guys are going to be having a good, old-fashioned eating contest!”  Chet’s expression says, “I would rather stab myself in the eye with a machete.”

10:05 – The rules are a wee-bit complicated and teams seem as perplexed and bewildered as viewers when Shauvon popped an implant on The Ruins.

10:06 – Team San Diego cannot even help themselves.  We are about to eat disgusting food, so let’s have another embarrassing talk about how much we don’t get along.  Trishelle: “I love to sit back and watch San Diego sometimes.  They just never ever stop fighting, these people.  It is sort of like a television show, it’s great.”  Preach, Trishelle.  Zach does a spot-on impression of Frank.

10:06 – TJ’s assistant “Bunny” brings out the first item.  In a comical turn from either TJ or some hysterical producer, “Bunny” will be called the following names over the course of the “Hunger Games” (I kid you not): Bambi, Diamond, Candy, Daisy, Chastity, Passion, Sapphire, Mercedes, Diamond, Cinnamon, Raquel

10:07 – TJ lets everyone know that when making a prediction of how many items a team can eat, we only round up.  Thank you, he appreciates it, though.

10:08 – Team Cancun is challenged to eat fifty-one baklava (a palette cleanser according to Alton) in four minutes.  MTV plays the song “Moderation” to underscore the moment.

10:09 – The horn sounds (literally freaking out Sarah and Chet) and Diamond determines that Team Cancun ate…Let’s go to a commercial.

10:11 – I am not going to lie.  When a dude from Halo tells me to drink the Dew, I am going to drink the Dew.

10:13 – Back to the show, Team Cancun misses out on the fifty-one baklava threshold by two and has a one-way ticket to the loser’s round.  Jonna is concerned that Jasmine didn’t “eat her share” and that it is a good thing that CJ and Derek are seated between them.  Jonna – have you seen Jasmine?  Her share may be a little smaller than yours.

10:13 – Marie crosses her fingers in hope of cheeseburgers.  Girl, you are in the wrong reality inspiration (i.e. this is not Surivivor and very much Fear Factor) eating contest, although I love your innocent earnestness.

10:14  – Team Brooklyn must eat thirty-five grape leaves.  Sarah (“I love grape leaves” and “don’t get scared about the amount that is on the plate”) is in “pump up her team” mode as always.

10:14 – Zach is turned on by the way Devyn is eating the strangely phallic grape leaves.  He can’t even describe and we can’t even understand it.

10:14 – According to Sarah, Chet looks like he is “being polite at his grandmother’s kitchen table.”  Sarah is in the zone.  Nany gives her props, even if watching Sarah makes Nany want to vomit.

10:15 – Chet winks at Daisy and tells her she looks beautiful.  JD almost loses his leaves, but holds strong.  A Chastity announcement later, Brooklyn’s total grape leave consumption is at forty-seven.  Sorry, Team San Diego – Loser’s round destination chosen.

10:16 – Team Las Vegas rocks some strategy and bets low on the hot chili plate, forcing Team St. Thomas to eat eighteen.  TJ appreciates Sapphire’s plate delivery.  Dustin appreciates Mr. Lavin (seriously killing it like no time before).

10:18 – Marie eats hot peppers in her sleep and pulls her Robb twosome to the winner’s round, eliminating Team Las Vegas (they are thrilled to have missed out on the Turkish cuisine) from the winner’s round.

10:18 – Diamond, without further ado, what do Brooklyn and St. Thomas have to eat as much of as they can in two minutes?  Cow liver!  TJ: “Just think of it as steak.”

10:19 – Marie, after her pepper eating clinic, cannot hold down the cow liver (really though, who can?) and for the first time in TV history, is “disqualified for vomiting.”  Listen, in the scheme of disqualification reasons, vomiting is far superior to Big Easy’s way of “can’t climb the ladder.”  Poor Marie does not get along with cow liver (JD seems to dig it).

10:20 – For the loser’s round, San Diego and Cancun must compete in a cow intestine/testicle eating battle.  Ashley and Frank have a sexual innuendoed inside joke about going for the testicles.  Stay classy, San Diego.

10:21 – During the commercial break, I like how Trojan Charged: Orgasmic Pleasure sponsors The Challenge: “charged moment of the week.”  The selected moment was from last week’s episode in which Frank and Zach orally obliterate Sam as she struggles up the log jam hill.  This bit of linkage to “orgasmic pleasure” is a bit of a stretch.

10:26 – Beyond Ashley, who seems primed to eat cow testicles all day, both San Diego and Cancun are STRUGGLING.  Poetic justice for alliance bullying earlier in the game?  The ravishing Raquel reveals that San Diego is the big loser (beyond the cow innards consumption) and has an arena date.

10:28 – A San Diego team pow-wow does not go so well.  Zach walks off in disgust and Frank blows low with the “I fucking hate all three of you” routine.  To their credit, Ashley and Sam are calm, seem sane, and, like the rest of us, don’t really know what to do with San Diego’s men.

10:28 – Back in the bedroom, Frank releases his frustration to Marie and Robb (credit to Team St. Thomas survivors for riding the Frank superstorm).  In a fit that contradicts his words, Frank is “not going to be made to look like a fucking crazy person.”

10:29 – Devyn made a bet with her team that if they won two challenges in a row, she would take off her wig(s) and “rock an afro.”  As TJ says, “Looking good.”

10:33 – Team Brooklyn sends Team Cancun in to the arena so they can experience “the love of” it.  Devyn is brilliant.

10:34 – CJ holds a Team San Diego meeting and is ready to go in to the arena, but wants to go with Jonna, the strongest female player.  Jonna reminds everyone that she may be homeless and storms out of the room.  CJ’s endearing reaction: “Character is first and money should be second in this game.”

10:35 – Zach and Jonna have an emotional moment together about the realization that one of them could be going home.  The song underscoring this moment? “Glorious” by Stephanie Mabey.  Download it to have a good cry.

10:36 – On to the main arena event (earlier in the episode than ever before)!  This is what we have been waiting for.

10:37 – Sam goes into the arena because Ashley may not be mean enough from this.  If Sam comes back, she will get a rankings bump for winning her second straight arena, but Ashley may as well for characterizing “not being mean enough” as an asset in this competition.

10:40 – Jasmine steps up for Cancun, acknowledging her protective role as Jonna’s sister.  No one has grown more than Jasmine on this challenge.  Her days of wine glass toss with Tyrie and Johnny Bananas seem like decades ago.

10:40 – Frank, Professor of Hypocrisy 101: “Sam and Zach going in is the best thing for San Diego and I am just so happy that Zach knows how to man up when he has to.”

10:40 – In the understatement of the season, when learning of CJ’s arena involvement, TJ says, “Oh, this is going to be a good match.”  You have no idea.

10:41 – For the first time since the season premiere when the Big Easy Stampede ran over Wes, the arena event is “Hall Brawl.”

10:41 – The audience chatter is all about Jonna.  Sarah: “If Jonna sneaks by without ever having to see one of these Arenas…”  Trishelle: “She’s the trashiest person I’ve ever met.”  Devyn: “She’s homeless because she’s hoetic.” (whatever that means)  Trishelle: “Jonna is a greedy bitch.  She wanted to manipulate Jasmine into going in so that she can stay and get a piece of the pie.”  The verdict is that Jonna should have stepped up and that poor, little Jasmine doesn’t have a chance.

10:42 – Girl’s heat 2 of Sam v. Jasmine begins with a Sam tackle in the tunnel and an easy stroll to the ring the bell.  San Diego 1.  Cancun 0.  Girls’s Heat 2 is more of the same.  Jasmine manages to stay standing this time, but Sam’s strength is too much for the petite Jasmine.  San Diego 2.  Cancun 0.  Frank, in an unexpected move, is supportive on the sidelines.  It is now all up to CJ to keep Cancun in this thing.  Meanwhile, poor Jasmine can’t breath and feels like she has completely let her team down.  Jasmine, if you heard the girl chatter before the arena, you may realize how far this is from the truth.

10:43 – Sarah’s pre-game analysis is not about whether Zach will win, but rather how many CJ bones he will break.  This should be interesting.

10:44 – Boy’s Heat 1 of Zach v. CJ: After a mid-tunnel stalemate that lasts for an eternity, Zach starts to walk his way to the end of the tunnel.  Suddenly, in a moment of athletic and adrenaline perseverance, CJ doubles back and drags Zach’s legs toward CJ’s side just long enough to trip Zach up for an instance, allowing CJ’s sprint to the bell to barely beat Zach’s diving jump.  Team Cancun 1.  Team San Diego 0.  A stunned, but exuberant audience shot must mean a momentum building commercial break.

10:48 – Back to the action, Zach is not too pressed about his initial loss.  CJ is an MMA fighter, four years older, and smart, by the way.

10:49 – Boy’s Heat 2 of Zach vs. CJ: This time the two competitors approach each other at full speed, largely avoid each other, and sprint/dive to the bell.  CJ’s quickness outpaces Zach’s bigger frame to their respective bells.  Team Cancun 2.  Team San Diego 0.  CJ wins the boys heat and the mighty Zach has fallen, for now.

10:49 – The tiebreaker coin toss selects the boys to compete to break the tie.  Considering the results of the Boy’s Heat, advantage Team Cancun.  Jasmine can be seen taking a major sigh.  The best of three now wins.  The loser of three goes home.

10:50 – Boy’s Heat 1: CJ goes low again and literally flips Zach over.  Zach recovers and grabs ahold of CJ’s crawling feet.  The audience goes wild.  CJ drags Zach to the edge of the tunnel (closest to his bell), manages to free himself, and has an easy trot to the bell.  CJ 1 (and three in a row!).  Zach 0.  Meanwhile, Jonna is torn because she wants to root for her team, but Zach is her man.  Devyn amazing take: “Zach’s got to be pretty embarrassed.  I mean, you are seven foot thirteen and you just got your ass beat by the same dude chasing your ex-girlfriend?  You cannot be happy.”

10:51 – Boy’s Heat 2: In a move reminiscent of the leap/trot from Madden video games,  Zach, in full stride, steps over CJ and easily reaches the bell before his opponent, evening the score.  CJ 1.  Zach 1.  The crowd has a eerie silence.  Sam, simply: “Do it again.”  It’s time for another commercial break…

10:55 -TJ sets the scene as only he can: “Alright guys.  The score is 1-1.  This is the final round – the final heat.  Whoever wins this round, stays in the game.  Whoever loses goes home.  You guys ready?  Go!”

10:55 Boy’s Heat 3:Like the first heat in the initial round, there is a collision mid-tunnel, but this time, Zach just keeps moving forward, pushing CJ out the other side of the tunnel.  CJ tries to find a way to wrestle his opponent back, but Zach’s (“seven foot thirteen” according to Devyn) frame is just too big and strong.  Zach wins (and has an unintentionally comedic celebration burst) one of the best Challenge battles of all-time and the most entertaining since surprise guest CT’s demolition of Johnny Bananas in the Gulag on CutthroatSan Diego remains intact.  CJ and Jasmine, two of the finest competitors this season, are going home.  On that note, CJ carved out some Landon/Derrick territory on this challenge.  He is a great competitor, a superior athlete, and good dude.  He could definitely win one of these in the future.

10:58 – CJ and Jasmine leave like winners, praising the team success of Cancun.  The irony of the episode is that it is Jonna’s self-centered move (and I am not qualifying this as a negative thing – her situation back home seems to be universally accepted as not too good) may have been the downfall of her team.

10:59 – Zach and Frank bond again over the win and slightly at the expense of Sam (they may not have ever expected her to do so well).  Frank: “Let’s move on.  It’s over now.”  We will see, Mr. Sweeney.  Retro-diary out.

After this epic battle, we are down to 3 teams of 4, two teams of 2, and 16 people left in this game.  The rankings are getting even tighter as the power balance has officially shifted…here we go…

WEEKLY CHALLENGE INDIVIDUAL POWER RANKINGS

NOTE: the rankings will be based on an un-Hollinger/sabermetrics method known as “My experience and observations” (See: Marc Stein’s great NBA weekly power rankings).  Weight will be given to how well teams and individuals do on competitions, in the social game, and whether he or she is a “good competitor.”

THE MEN

1 (1) Dustin (Team Las Vegas) – Dustin’s team strategy in The Hunger Games was flawless and another week out of the spotlight maintains his positioning.

2 (2) Chet (Team Brooklyn) – Despite his meal at grandma’s house, Chet’s team keeps winning and the viewer keeps benefiting from his verbal wit.

3 (8) Zach (Team San Diego) – He gains major points by overcoming CJ’s incredible arena assault and by differentiating himself from Frank’s “I’m not a crazy person” rant.  Don’t mess with Zach athletically or he will crush you.

4 (5) Alton (Team Las Vegas) – Alton seemed to play a key role in Vegas’ great challenge strategy and what is more important, he seemed to have a good time doing it.

5 (6) Robb (Team St. Thomas) – Robb cracks the top 5 for the first time with some quality eating during The Hunger Games and a deserved acknowledgment for his longevity as the rookiest of rookies.

6 (7) JD (Team Brooklyn) – JD’s team keeps winning and this week, his eating skills played a key role (“Hold it down, JD!”).

7 (9) Frank (Team San Diego) – The end of the episode reconciliation with Zach avoided the bottom spot in the rankings, but going forward, Frank has got to keep his stuff to together.

8 (4) Derek (Team Cancun) – Although CJ and Jasmine went out as unified pair, Derek is right to worry about how he and Jasmine will fair alone.

ELIMINATED: CJ (Team Cancun) – CJ gave everything he had and then some this Challenge.  I give him complete respect.

Biggest Rise: Zach (Team San Diego)

Biggest Fall: Derek (Team Cancun)

THE WOMEN

1 (1) Sarah (Team Brooklyn) – Once again, Sarah was instrumental in the Team Brooklyn win, going at those grape leaves and cow liver with an incredible confidence.

2 (2) Nany (Team Las Vegas) – Team Vegas played the Hunger Games just right and Nany is building her strength each week.

3 (4) Trishelle (Team Las Vegas) – Trishelle’s analysis of the both challenge and arena events was spot on.

4 (5) Marie (Team St. Thomas) – Marie may have been disqualified for vomiting, but her pepper domination, Frank listening performance, and St. Thomas survival skills move her to a fourth place ranking (her highest yet!).

5 (7) Devyn (Team Brooklyn) – Devyn justly deserves a spot in the top 5 for going along with the wig removal bet and for her continued sound bite excellence.

6 (8) Ashley (Team San Diego) – Ashley seemed to be the only eater performing in the challenge and has managed to stay out of much of the Team San Diego drama.

7 (9) Sam (Team San Diego) – Sam won her second straight arena and this time dominated her opponent.  Frank and Zach have begun to believe in her.

8 (3) Jonna (Team Cancun) – Now vulnerable as a twosome, at this point in the game losing quality teammates is going to cause a rankings dip, but with as bad as Jonna needs to win the money, I would not be surprised if she can rise again.

ELIMINATED: Jasmine (Team Cancun) – Jasmine 2.0 is a mellow, loyal, and enjoyable individual who will be missed.

Biggest Rise: Sam (Team San Diego), Ashley (Team San Diego), Devyn (Team Brooklyn)

Biggest Fall: Jonna (Team Cancun)

FULL TEAM RANKINGS

Note:  Team rankings are compiled by adding up the individual rankings and dividing by number of players remaining.  Teams with the lowest total average ranking are ranked better than the highest (i.e. you want as few points as possible)

1 (1) TEAM LAS VEGAS Average: 2.5, last week: 3

Alton (4), Dustin (1), Trishelle (3), Nany (2)

Can they win as foursome? Yes, this remains the strongest, top to bottom 4 in The Challenge.  Another week of no drama is only a good thing for this group.  As previewed for next week, it will be interesting to see if Alton and Trishelle can support Nany and Dustin through the house drama.

What pairings can win?  At this point, any pairing combination has a chance, though both ladies are likely to work better with Dustin.

2 (3) TEAM BROOKLYN Average: 3.5, last week: 5.25

Sarah (1), Chet (2), JD (6), Devyn (5)

Can they win as foursome? Devyn’s endurance is still going to be a question mark, but I am starting to believe in Team Brooklyn as a foursome.  Their team camaraderie is unmatched and if their ability to work together plays a part in the final challenge, they may have a shot.

What pairings can win?  Sarah and Chet can still win The Challenge.  Sarah could probably get JD to the finish line as well.  I am not sure Devyn would be able to finish with either Chet or Sarah and will be better within a foursome.

3 (4) TEAM ST. THOMAS Average: 4.5, last week: 5.5

Robb (5), Marie (4), Eliminated: Laura, Trey

Can they win as a pair?  Wow.  To even be here at this point in the game is a major accomplishment.  They are enough below the radar (and have been all game) where I could foresee a series of events in a final challenge leading them to have a chance.  We are at a place where it has to be considered.

4 (5) TEAM SAN DIEGO Average: 6.75, last week: 8.5

Zach (3), Sam (7), Ashley (6), Frank (7)

Can they win as foursome? Who knows.  Sam’s endurance liability remains an issue and despite the brief détente at the end of the episode, they are a Frank breath away from a team implosion.  I still think that Frank is better without Zach and Zach is better when he has something to prove to Frank.

What pairings can win?  Both guys could compete with Ashley against the other strong teams (Vegas, Sarah/Chet), but the Zach/Sam pairing seems to have a dynamic, winning quality (at least in arenas).

5 (2) TEAM CANCUN Average: 8, last week: 4

Jonna (8), Derek (8), Eliminated: CJ, Jasmine

Can they win as a pair? Jonna is tough and Derek has proven himself to be a strong competitor, but without CJ, a heady and instrumental leader, I am not sure that this pairing has alone to be successful.  Jonna’s drive to have a place to live must not be underestimated.

And finally, during the “NEXT ON THE CHALLENGE” preview, this is what I saw:

  • Robb struggles to “make it” in a water challenge.
  • Chet: “There is a fight in every corner of the house.”  We see at least Nany, Marie, Frank, Dustin, Derek, Zach, and Robb involved (pretty much everyone).
  • Marie pushes Derek over into Sam and into some plant pots.  Frank checks on Sam.  This just appears to be the toughest of moments.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  There is no episode this week, so tune in on Wednesday, November 28 at 10 PM on MTV for the next episode of The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons.

David Bloom can be reached on twitter at @davidbloom7.  His weekly CHALLENGE POWER RANKINGS come out weekly on Derek Kosinski’s UltimateChallengeRadio.com (listen to the incredible podcast featuring CJ and Zach this week).  The Week 10 power rankings will be available sometime after November 29.

THE CHALLENGE: BATTLE OF THE SEASONS WEEKLY POWER RANKINGS – WEEK 6

ImageWe are now five episodes, two full team eliminations, countless Camila meltdowns and T.J. “we killed its,” three Big Easy induced disqualifications, one GBH (guy back home) breakup over the phone, one messy drunk Frank night, one troublesome instance of Knight helping Nany with her laundry, several episodes in which JD and Robb did not make the edit, and a few sketchy rumors about why certain teams (Real World: Sydney) and players (Johanna from Real World: Austin) did not participate (it may have had something to do with not wanting to be around a certain ginger-haired ex-boyfriend) into this “living up to the hype” season of The Challenge.  So far, the “Battle of the Seasons” format has provided a worthy framework for some unexpected power grabs, either seemingly unbreakable team unity or habitual team dysfunction, and a likely fabricated but relevant influx of Real World season pride.  To the credit of Bunim-Murray/MTV producers, this season’s The Challenge feels both fresh (game format innovation, some worthy new blood) and familiar (some “ready to the take the leap” competitors, reliably dramatic and entertaining).

Before we take stock of this week’s episode (featuring the outcome of two arena eliminations and the continuation of a major power shift), it is important to take a moment for a brief big picture assessment.  Now that Team Fresh Meat (just a brutal showing all around) and Team Austin (targeted and executed early by the ruling alliance) are no more, we are down to six teams and twenty-two competitors (Knight and Jemmye are all that is left of Team New Orleans after perennial power rankings bottom feeders, Preston and McKenzie, made an admirable, but inevitable exit this week).

The ruling alliance that had prescribed the first four arena eliminations is finally showing some cracks.  Not only did they face their first communal elimination this week (albeit Preston and McKenzie), Imageonce loyal Team Las Vegas has clearly moved on (although I am not sure how well they have aligned with Team Brooklyn or Team St. Thomas).  This much is clear: there is a clean line between San Diego, Cancun, and New Orleans and the other three teams.  If Brooklyn and Las Vegas can start to dominate together, bring in Trey’s St. Thomas faction as an additional ally, and begin to route out some of the Cancun/San Diego power players, they have a real shot at changing the course of this game.

A few other observations:

  • After three consecutive arena wins, Team Brooklyn is not afraid and is growing stronger by the week (even JD and Devyn are making real contributions).
  • Team Las Vegas has to reunify after their dissension a few weeks back.  How well they work together from this point forward will determine their ultimate success.
  • I am baffled by the good fortune of Team St. Thomas.  We are five eliminations in to the game, and they have yet to come close to participating in an arena.  On every previous season of The Challenge, they would have been gone by now (or at least would have had to prove themselves in some way).  If Frank, CJ, and Jonna are controlling their alliance (as it continues to appear they are), this St. Thomas situation may be the greatest manifestation of how well the Cancun/San Diegoers have controlled the game up to this point.  The rookiest of Challenge rookies are still alive and well and this is a completely underrated and under the radar fact.

Before we hit the rankings, let’s digest the key moments and machinations of this week’s episode:

CAMILA VERSUS BIG EASY

ImageIn the dysfunctional unreality that is Team Fresh Meat, it was inevitable that their final farewell would go down with somewhat of a bang.  I did not expect that this bang would make those watching at home (I can only imagine what it was like to be there in person, some shots of facial expressions capture this idea) feel so uncomfortable.

In the understatement of the decade, Camila deduced that “communication isn’t our biggest strength as a team.”  This was before the “Water Torture” arena battle that required a human pulley system coordination between she and Eric.  Easy had to spend some time holding his breath upside down under water while she played a cruel game of hanging monkey concentration.  To Camila’s credit, she had the right intentions: “All I am going to do up there is keep calm and if he needs to tell me anything, he just needs to voice it.”  Sadly, Big (never) Easy was struggling and decided to voice it by quitting (TJ Lavin is pissed off alert!).

ImageWhat came next was a level eight (of ten) on the “squirm in your seat” uncomfortable scale.  The transcript of Camila’s monologue of uncontrollable despair went something like this:

“You are not done.  You are not done.  You are not done.  No, you are not done, Easy.  You are not done.  You are not done.  This is not fair.  He’s quitting, not me.  I am climbing this motherfucker if I have to, you son of a bitch.  I am not giving up because of him.  I am not losing because of him.  It’s not fair.  He’s done.  I’m not, so what do we do now?  Cause I’ll go in the fucking water.  You want me to go in the water?  I’ll go in the water.”

There was one point where Camila actually started to climb her wooden concentration board tower.  She was not going to give up (commendable) under on anyone else‘s terms.

Then she took it a little too far (you could see this one coming).  Eric’s raised his middle fingers while passing the distraught Camila, inciting this almost unspeakable reaction in his Brazilian anti-partner:

Image“You ruined our team.  You are a disgrace to the human kind.  You are a loser.  You are selfish little fuck.  You are a selfish motherfucker piece of shit.  Fuck you, dude.  Go to fucking hell.”

Wise big sister, Trishelle put it best: “Camila says the most horrible degrading things to Big Easy.  I don’t think that anyone deserves that, no matter what happens.  No one deserves to be spoken to that way.”  No one deserves to be spoken to that way, and unfortunately for Easy, this is not the first time he has had to endure such verbal bashing on The Challenge.

What can we make of all this?  I feel for both Camila and Big Easy.  Camila is a winner who will fight to win no matter what the personal cost or personal attack (she may have spent a little too much time last season learning the Johnny Bananas ways).  Easy did quit on her (and was central to her team’s troubles in the first place), so I get it when she says, “I have no desire to ever talk to him again.”  It was her tough luck (and maybe the reason the savvier Laurels and Evs stayed away from the doomed Fresh Meat team) to be with a player that was just unable to compete at the necessary level.  As for Easy, I think he gave every thing he had, and it just may be that what he has does not amount to all that much in the uber-competitive athletic/social gladiator pit known as the Challenge.  Thankfully, it does seem like he found love in a hopeless place with Devyn and can look back on his Turkey experience with a worthy consolation prize.

Finally, I think there is some real truth to when Eric says, “we didn’t have that Real World season to get to know each other.”  Easy may be an overall weak competitor, but he is (by all accounts) a good dude, and a hypothetical Real World roommate would know Easy (beyond his athletic failings on the competition geared Challenges) well enough to more graciously forgive him for his failings.  He and Camila have only done Challenges together and may not have had the opportunity in a more controlled social environment to make those vital connections.

TJ HATES QUITTERS

Exchanges like this both confirm the greatness of TJ Lavin and explain why he is essential to creating and maintaining the competitive environment of the Challenges:

TJ: “That’s one thing I hate worse than anything else in the world – and that’s quitters.  Big Easy, man, why did you quit?”

Big Easy: “We were fighting an upward battle, man, it wasn’t going our way, and it didn’t look like anything was going to change.”

TJ: “Yeah, but when the chips are down bro, don’t you just think you should give it to them?”

Big Easy: “I’ve been giving it to ‘em since I got here, I am over it.”

TJ: “You want to let your teammate down like that?”

Big Easy: “She’s not my teammate, we’ve been playing a single person’s game since our team walked into the house.  It is what it is.  Words are words.”

TJ: “Alright…(slow pause, obviously not agreeing), Camila, what do you think about that?”

Camila: “Exactly, we are not teammates because I am not a quitter and I don’t align myself with quitters like you.  JD did it.  He never let Devyn down, so you know what, once a quitter, always a quitter my friend, there is no excuse for that.”

Above all else, TJ hates quitters.  You can be un-athletic, awkward, boring, or largely disliked, but if you give it your all in front of TJ, you are killing it on The Challenge.

If you quit or give up, well, there is no excuse for that.  If TJ has any say (and if he doesn’t he should), I think we have seen the last of Big Easy on The Challenge.

THE “CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD” CHALLENGE

Before this week’s “Chairman of the Board” trivia contest, TJ declared it his “favorite” challenge.  Similar to past spelling/trivia competitions in recent challenges, competitors were asked questions in various categories and of varied obscurity.  If you get a question wrong, you are not only out, but TJ gets to pull a lever that connects to your chair, propelling you uncontrollably too many feet into the raging Mediterranean waters below.  The last team standing (or sitting in this case) wins and the first team to have all team members miss a question lose and must fight for life in the arena.  The intentional comedy of watching our favorite competitors struggle mightily on easy answers only to be sent flying at the hands of TJ into the sea is complete joy (and understandably TJ’s favorite challenge).

ImagePower team Cancun set the strategic order (Brooklyn, St. Thomas, Las Vegas, New Orleans, San Diego, Cancun – also revealing their own status rankings), but not before Team Las Vegas suffered a one person deduction when Trishelle’s dehydration forced her to sit this one out (to the chagrin of Alton and Dustin).  Here is the order of elimination, including some wrong answer high(low)lights:

Marie, Dustin, McKenzie (In what country was the very first Fresh Meat filmed? Europe.), Jasmine (What is the capitol of England? Liverpool.), Sarah, Laura, Alton (Who was Kim Kardashian married to before filing for divorce after 72 days? Kris Duncan.), Knight (Who did Prince William marry in 2011? No clue. Jemmye: We watched it!), Preston (In basketball, what city are the Suns from? Utah), JD, Robb, Jemmye (making Team New Orleans the first team eliminated), Frank, Jonna, Devyn, Trey, Nany (she was clutch on two answers, saving Team Las Vegas), Ashley (The Challenge has been produced on how many continents? 21), Derek, and finally Chet who incorrectly spelled “narcissistic” (Chet: “I wish he had given me “whiny bitch” because that is an easy one to spell.  F-R-A-N-K.” Brilliant.)

Thanks to Frank’s correct answer domination (he stayed on so long that Zach and Sam never had to answer a single question) and no thanks to Ashley’s answer of “21” to a question about the number of continents (tough moment), Team San Diego won and reclaimed power team status.

TEAM BROOKLYN FLEXES SOME MUSCLE

ImageI have said it before and I will say it again, there is something about this group and although it does seem to originate with Sarah and Chet, both Devyn and JD made key contributions this week.  Team Brooklyn has now won three straight arena eliminations and if anything, they seem to be only getting stronger.  As the anti-Fresh Meat, the following are several instances and statements that help explain why Team Brooklyn is all over what it means to be the good guys in this game and how they could carve a very real pathway to victory:

Warm

  • Before the first arena elimination, TJ: “I sense some team unity.  I like that.” Yep.
  • After the Camila/Easy meltdown, Sarah and Chet cheer on Devyn and JD to finish.  It is such a contrast.
  • When Camila uses Brooklyn’s example to show Eric his deficiencies, Devyn does not accept Camila’s comparison: “But we talk to our teammates with respect, always.”

Warmer…

  • Sarah: “Brooklyn ain’t going anywhere.  We are like the cockroaches you can’t kill.  No problem.”
  • In the second arena elimination, Sarah and Chet are so ready to compete for their team.  It leads to this classic exchange: Sarah: “It always comes down to who wants to be here more, and I want to be here, real bad.”  Chet: “Yeah it comes down to who wants to be here more, but it also comes down to Preston is a terrible competitor, and he ain’t sending me home.” There is no way, Chet.
  • Sarah: “The best thing about this Brooklyn Team is our team unity…I am ready to go in and I can’t wait.”

HOT!!!!!

  • Devyn: “We are like that toe fungus that you had.  You are just going to have to wait it out.  You are not going to get rid of us this fast.”

Beware Cancun and San Diego higherups.  The lovable “toe fungus” is growing and it may not be extinguishable.

WEEKLY CHALLENGE POWER RANKINGS

NOTE: the rankings will be based on an un-Hollinger/sabermetrics method known as “My experience and observations” (See: Marc Stein’s great NBA weekly power rankings).  Weight will be given to how well teams and individuals do on competitions, in the social game, and whether he or she is a “good competitor.”

THE MEN

THE TOP TIER

1. Dustin (Team Las Vegas) – Last week: 1 of 13

2. Frank (Team San Diego) – Last week: 5 of 13

3. Chet (Team Brooklyn) – Last week: 4 of 13

4. CJ (Team Cancun) – Last week: 2 of 13

5. Alton (Team Las Vegas) – Last week: 3 of 13

ImageAlthough there was some major movement this week in this group (both CJ and Alton dropped, Chet and Frank moved up), it is clear who the top five male competitors are in this game.  I must continue to give Frank credit.  He singlehandedly secured victory for his team and is the champion of maintaining alliance supremacy.  It will be very interesting to see (as teased in the “Next Week on”) how the male San Diego versus male Las Vegas off court battle plays out.  In many ways, this could be the pivotal moment for the power structure of this game.

Chet continues to man up in the arena with athletic execution and inescapable wit.  He has now orally bested CJ (live) and Frank (during his must watch interviews) in successive weeks.

THE NEXT LEVEL

6. Zach (Team San Diego) – Last week: 7 of 13

Zach and Frank both pointed out their perceived irony of Chet struggling to spell the word “narcissistic.”  After Chet’s anti-Frank quip, the battle lines have been drawn.

7. Derek (Team Cancun) – Last week: 6 of 13

THE RISING CONTENDERS

8. Knight (Team New Orleans) – Last week 10 of 13

Last week’s power rankings may have gone after Knight a little too harshly (although I did not go as far to call him a sociopath, Jacoby).  To his credit, he is playing this game to win and for a first timer, is admittedly doing really well (good initial alignment, controls the machinations of his own team, has a good sense of humor, getting along with Jemmye).  Additionally, he was responsible for my favorite moment of this week’s episode.  As the recipient of the t-mobile text message pre-challenge, he opened the message report with his own hilarious faux-intro, “Thank god the wicked witch from Brazil is gone.”  Well played, Knight, Ryan Knight.

9. JD (Team Brooklyn) – Last week: 13 of 13

In a pleasant surprise, we finally heard something from JD this week before he faced elimination in the arena:  “I am ready for this.  This is what I was born to do.  I am a water person.  I have trained whales and dolphins in the past.  I am a competitive swimmer.  You can’t win something you have already won, so let’s just get this over with.”  Yes you can, JD.

LOWEST ON THE TOTEM POLE

10. Trey (Team St. Thomas) – Last week: 8 of 13

11. Robb (Team St. Thomas) – Last week: 11 of 13

I continue to struggle placing Team St. Thomas in this game.  Do I think they have power?  Most of the time, no.  However, if I put my Survivor hat on, one could argue that they have much power because if they ever settle their inconclusive alignment, they could serve as the majority determinant.  Although team votes are not a part of the deliberation process, it would be a moral victory for Vegas and Brooklyn if they developed some real bond with this rookie rookie team.

ELIMINATED: Eric (Team Fresh Meat), Preston (Team New Orleans)

Biggest Rise: JD (Team Brooklyn)

Biggest Fall: 3 tied

THE WOMEN

THE TOP TIER

1. Sarah (Team Brooklyn) – Last week: 1 of 13

Sarah had another one of those weeks where she flexed her personal and competitive greatness.

Sarah, how do you feel about a trivia challenge? “I love trivia.  It is even on my business card.  It says speaker, artist, trivia master, right under my name.  I can’t wait to do this Challenge.”

Sarah, how do you feel about getting a question wrong? “No worries.  Instead of painfully flopping, I will just have to do an awe-inspiring flip dive.  I love this game!” (I made this quotation up, but the dive was really cool)

From her self-described “nervous pees” before her arena battle, to her checking out a working out Alton, to her “see you next time” comment to TJ after winning, she is incredible and infectious to watch.  Fearless, but never overconfident, and having so much fun in the process, she is in a very good place to continue her game domination.

2. Jonna (Team Cancun) – Last week: 2 of 13

There was a telling moment this week when Jonna and Frank had a disagreement (Frank: “I saw you rolling your eyes”) at the alliance gathering.  Although Frank’s choice to send Brooklyn in won out, Jonna’s awareness that Las Vegas is a formidable opponent that must be addressed at some point did not go unnoticed.  She is playing this game and continues to be a force.

3. Nany (Team Las Vegas) – Last week: 4 of 13

Nany ended up being super clutch for Team Vegas in the challenge (thank goodness she knew what city the Red Sox are from and what person is on the quarter), saving her team from their first arena appearance.  Although her questions were handed to her, she did execute when her team needed her to and represented for Vegas woman (in light of Trishelle’s dehydration issues).  Dustin “couldn’t be more proud of Nany if [he] was her father.”

4. Jasmine (Team Cancun) – Last week: 3 of 13

Poor Jasmine.  She may be a hero to Liverpool FC and Beatles fans everywhere, but your mom is a geography teacher!  C’mon.

THE NEXT LEVEL

5. Trishelle (Team Las Vegas) – Last week: 5 of 13

Fact: Trishelle almost cost her team the challenge due to an awful bout of dehydration (Alton: “What is up with her?”).  Notwithstanding, her place in the fifth spot in the rankings is quite secure (low competition behind her) this week, but will be tested when the Vegas and San Diego men come to blows next week.

THE RISING CONTENDERS

6. Devyn (Team Brooklyn) – Last week: 10 of 13

Devyn is a rising commodity on this list.  Her interview sound bites are go-to and she is a big proponent and provider of the Brooklyn Team Unity.  With her heart torn asunder after Big Easy’s departure, she will have extra motivation to fight for her man and her game will only benefit with the removal of a potential tense relationship distraction.

7. Marie (Team St. Thomas) – Last week: 6 of 13

Marie is a struggle in challenges, although her answer of “TJ Lavin” was a reasonable one.  If she were smart, she would sit down with Sarah, Chet, and Team Vegas and make the St. Thomas connection.  I have a feeling her relationship with Frank could be her game demise.

8. Jemmye (Team New Orleans) – Last week: 12 of 13

Jemmye had some great moments this episode (When discussing the “identify the man on currency” category: “Everyone uses debit cards, let’s be real, this category sucks” and when asked why Team New Orleans is in the bottom this week, her response, “We lost.”) and feels like a burden has been lifted now that Preston and McKenzie were forced to say their inevitable goodbyes.  I think she and Knight always do better when it is just them and I would not be surprised if we see a more feisty and subsequently successful Jemmye/Knight tandem in future challenges and arenas.

LOWEST ON THE TOTEM POLE

9. Sam (Team San Diego) – Last week: 8 of 13

10. Laura (Team St. Thomas) – Last week: 11 of 13

11. Ashley (Team San Diego) – Last week: 7 of 13

Sorry, Ashley.  You share the award this week for “worst answer to an easy question” with McKenzie (Europe is not a country).  In what pressured universe is any answer to “how many continents?” ever “21”?  This was an automatic demotion to the bottom of the rankings.

ELIMINATED: McKenzie (Team New Orleans), Camila (Team Fresh Meat) 

Biggest Rise: Devyn (Team Brooklyn)

Biggest Fall: Ashley (Team San Diego)

FULL TEAM RANKINGS

Note:  Team rankings are compiled by adding up the individual rankings and dividing by number of players remaining.  Teams with the lowest total average ranking are ranked better than the highest (i.e. you want as few points as possible)

1. TEAM LAS VEGAS Average: 3.5, last week: 3.25 (T-1)

Alton (5), Dustin (1), Trishelle (5), Nany (3)

Vegas is back on top after many weeks away.  Next week they will face their truest test yet when Alton and Dustin face the wrath of Frank and Zach.

2. TEAM CANCUN Average: 4.25, last week: 3.25 (T-1)

CJ (4), Jonna (2), Jasmine (4), Derek (7)

A brief slip pushes them from the top for the first time in a while.

3. TEAM BROOKLYN Average: 4.75, last week: 7 (4)

Sarah (1), Chet (3), JD (9), Devyn (6)

Here comes Brooklyn!  JD and Devyn are starting to show some fire and Chet and Sarah seem to be unbeatable in the arena.

4. TEAM SAN DIEGO Average: 7, last week: 6.75 (3)

Zach (6), Sam (9), Ashley (11), Frank (2)

Frank is doing incredible work, but increasingly, seems to be carrying this group.  Will his early season impenetrable pairing with Zach become relevant again?

5. TEAM NEW ORLEANS Average: 8, last week: 12 (7)

Knight (8), Jemmye (8), Eliminated: McKenzie, Preston

With Preston and McKenzie gone, Team New Orleans jumps to fifth place in the team rankings.  I credit them for making the right initial alliance.

6. TEAM ST. THOMAS Average: 9.5, last week: 9 (5)

Laura (10), Trey (10), Robb (11), Marie (7)

Although still in the dark about what to do with them, I have a feeling that we are going to learn more in the coming weeks.

TOP 10 PAIR RANKINGS:

Based on this fail-safe system that I created, these are the best top ten pair combinations for this week.  At this point, all are hypothetical (the only actually current pair were not close to the top), but you can definitely get a sense of what intra-team strategy may need to be employed.

T-1. Sarah and Chet (Team Brooklyn) Average: 2, Dustin and Nany (Team Las Vegas) Average: 2

T-3. CJ and Jonna (Team Cancun) Average: 3, Dustin and Trishelle (Team Las Vegas) Average: 3

T-5. CJ and Jasmine (Team Cancun) Average: 4, Alton and Nany (Team Las Vegas) Average: 4,

T-7. Chet and Devyn (Team Brooklyn) Average 4.5Derek and Jonna (Team Cancun) Average: 4.5

9. Alton and Trishelle (Team Las Vegas) Average: 5

10. Jasmine and Derek (Team Cancun) Average: 5.5

And finally, during the “NEXT WEEK ON” preview, this is what I saw:

  • At the challenge, somebody smells disgusting and CJ vomits
  • Frank and Alton scuffle, Zach and Alton scuffle
  • Frank tells Dustin that he dying to get his hands on a man again…

Until we all meet again, watch the next episode of The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons at 10 PM on Wednesday night on MTV.

David Bloom can be reached on twitter at @davidbloom7.  His weekly CHALLENGE POWER RANKINGS come out every Monday on Derek Kosinski’s UltimateChallengeRadio.com.  The Week 7 power rankings will be available on October 29.