“No matter what, people will not be friends after this.” —Paula
Diem: “I’m really confused.”
Wes: “That’s an emotional thing.”
Diem: “I’m an emotional person!”
I have been watching the Challenge for many, many years—not quite since the beginning, but close. And I’ve watched half a dozen Real World seasons as well. Still, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the entire cast turn to the cameraman, point, and yell, “Go!” the way they did in Wednesday’s episode of Rivals II, after Diem followed C.T. away from the pool.
The confrontation itself was a bit of a letdown—they both just stuck to their guns—but it shows how invested everyone involved in the show—cast, crew, and audience—is in C.T. and Diem. The conflict between the two former lovers was pretty small—C.T. didn’t vote the way Diem would have liked—but it became a kind of Rorschach test for how everyone perceives C.T. Continue reading
“She was about to tell me she loves me. Now she’s snoring.” —C.T.
“We ran circles around everyone that even attempted to do it… There is not a single person who’s not shaking in their boot.” —Wes
There’s a common fallacy in life that is always brilliantly illustrated on the Challenge—namely, the belief that if someone’s personal interests don’t align with your own, he is morally at fault. We saw this two weeks ago, when Frank took great umbrage with Jordan’s resistance to being voted in even though that’s what Frank wanted. It was as if Frank could not recognize that Jordan’s priorities might differ from his own.
On Wednesday, that same thing was on display, though this time it was two teams that were safe from the Jungle going at it. After Marlon/Jordan got voted in against Knight/Preston, thereby guaranteeing spots in the Final for C.T./Wes and Johnny/Frank, the two surviving teams went at it. Initially, it was all innocent trash talk, with Wes pointing out that Johnny nearly fainted after this week’s challenge, and therefore wasn’t much of a threat in the Final. Johnny responded by invoking Wes’ abysmal Final performance in the original Rivals season. Continue reading
“It’s C.T. and Diem. That’s like saying Romeo never loved Juliet.” —Theresa
“Cara Maria tweeted at me once and it wasn’t very nice.” —Cooke
Let’s talk about C.T. Last week I said C.T. was the only reason I was back for another season, and while that’s certainly an exaggeration, there’s some truth behind it. But why do I like C.T. so much? Why is he the most interesting person on The Challenge?
C.T. is like the Achilles of MTV. He’s mercurial and short-tempered, but completely unstoppable. He’s hard to get along with and he disappears for long stretches at a time, but when he actually tries he does things like this.* Most importantly, though he seems selfish and cruel, he’s earnest and emotionally raw. Just like Achilles.
*I know I’ve linked to this like 100 times, but come on, how cool is that?
“I hate Emily, but why would you not want Emily as your partner?” —Paula
“…You guys have had some serious beef on Twitter.” —TJ
Look, I was on the fence about even doing another season of these power rankings. After slogging through the dismal Battle of the Seasons, I thought perhaps it was time I finally quit The Challenge, after a decade of loyal viewership. Of course, once I found out C.T. was coming back, I knew I’d be back for at least one more.*
*And if this is my swan song, it’s fitting that it comes in a season set in Thailand, which also hosted the first season I wrote about. Not that you asked…
And the new season reboots a format that has been successful before. The first Rivals season was generally successful, boding well for Rivals II.
I say only “generally” successful, though, because there are some problems, which were evident in Wednesday’s premiere of Rivals. First, since the format separates the sexes, as opposed to mixing them, it’s basically like there are two different games going on simultaneously, one for the girls and one for the guys. This season’s “solution” to that problem is to have the girls send male teams into the Jungle*, and the guys send female teams in. This is stupid. It makes absolutely no sense. The men aren’t competing against the women, so the only reason to throw any team into the Jungle is if you don’t like those players. But what makes the Challenge exciting is when personal relationships clash with competitive goals. By eliminating those competitive goals from the voting process, MTV has drained it of any real intrigue. Continue reading
“I know I don’t have a rocket scientist as a partner, so this is basically going to be the blind leading the blind.” —Johnny
“I just want to say: Johnny, you’re the worst person to motivate someone.” —Camila
Spreading the final challenge over two episodes has some obvious logic to it: It allows MTV to continue making them more and more difficult every season, and it led to a nice cliffhanger ending last week, with the shot of the three team’s sleeping on the mountain. The problem, though, is that it meant that last night’s episode was all one challenge. There was no foreshadowing or exposition or storylines being set up.
While I appreciate the leanness of an episode like that—as opposed to the filler included last week—it can diminish some of the payoff of the ending. So when Diem was trying to get C.T. motivated, or when Ty/Emily briefly took the lead, there wasn’t as much resonance as there should have been because the episode lacked any real personal moments in the house (like Abram declaring that he has “always been good at” final challenges before crapping out in Cutthroat, or Landon vowing to do whatever it takes before pushing his partner up a mountain in Fresh Meat II).
The finale began in the middle of a challenge, with TJ Lavin rousing our contestants at 5 AM to begin the second day of the final. Continue reading
“That’s one of the dumbest moves I’ve seen in Challenge history…” —TJ Lavin
“Robin is actually doing exceptionally well: She hasn’t totally freaked out and she’s not crying yet!” —Mark
One of the biggest factors determining whether or not a reality show contestant is well-liked has to be how entitled he or she seems. Players who come into the game acting as if they are somehow owed a pass to the finals come off as spoiled, whereas audiences will root for anyone if they feel he’s earned his keep.
Compare, for example, Camila and Paula in last night’s episode of Battle of the Exes. When C.T./Diem announced their decision to send Dunbar/Paula into the Dome—a puzzling decision that even TJ criticized—Paula took it in stride and didn’t complain, even though it pitted her against her new beau Ty. Dunbar was a little confused, but only because he didn’t understand the logic behind the move. Continue reading
“You should be, like, a psychologist.” —Diem, to Ty
“Are you sure this isn’t racist?”—Emily, about to perform in blackface
Well, that was a really good episode of Battle of the Exes. At least, until MTV decided to cut it off before Ty and Emily’s Dome opponent was revealed—a classic move by Challenge producers in their most exciting episodes. Leading up to that, though, the episode had a nice duality, with the heartwarming story of C.T. and Diem, the challenge’s winners, contrasted with the depressing tale of Ty and Emily, its losers.
With shades of Breaking Bad, the episode began in medias res, showing scenes from the fallout Ty and Emily’s fight before flashing back to Two Days Earlier, when it was C.T. and Diem who were dealing with the fallout of a recent fight. Diem explained that, in the three days since the blowout featured in last week’s episode, she and C.T. have not spoken or even so much as looked at each other: When one of them enters a room, the other leaves. Continue reading
“Let’s make things interesting: The Power Couple will get $2500… and I will personally give you a pat on the back.” —TJ Lavin
Diem: “Wow, I’m excited for this one. The money’s cool..”
C.T.: “The pat on the back is cool!”
Like Rivals, the most compelling relationship of this season involves C.T., but unlike Rivals—when C.T. and Adam seemed to follow a slow but steady path toward reconciliation—Battle of the Exes has not renewed or repaired C.T. and Diem’s relationship. Throughout the season, they’ve been perhaps the most distant couple. They’ve rarely shared any scenes together, and when they have it’s usually been to talk about how they haven’t been talking.
It doesn’t take a degree in psychology to figure out that why: Unlike most of the other couples, they hadn’t seen or spoken in years, and unlike the other relationships in the house, this one was really important to both of them. Since they’ve been mostly polite to each other, and they haven’t lost or won a challenge yet, they haven’t had a lot of screen time; but based on their confessionals and brief interactions (and, of course, knowing C.T.’s history of dealing with anger), they’d always seemed one wrong word from being at each other’s throats. Continue reading
“I just want to be on the same page as her, and I don’t know what page she’s on… or what chapter. I don’t know what book she’s reading.” —C.T.
“What is a second? It’s like… a second!” —Jasmine
As reality television has grown and evolved, a lot of attention has been paid to producers’ Orwellian attempts to spy on every aspect of the participants’ lives: The Real World producers alone have infamously put microphones in headboards to capture the cast’s pillow-talk, filmed a cast member receiving the news that his mother died, and captured a girl getting slapped in the face. Lost in all of this, though, is the fact that the secret to reality TV’s success is what the cameras don’t show.
Last night’s episode of Battle of the Exes was a perfect example. With Johnny/Camila once again in the position of Power Couple, they have to choose which team to send into the Dome against Tyrie and Jasmine. Johnny is leaning toward sending in Rachel, who voted against him on The Island (Dude, can hold a grudge—that Challenge was almost four years ago), and her partner, Aneesa, but Mark, Rachel’s friend, tries to intervene on her behalf. Continue reading
“I know she’s a great competitor, but then there’s also the fact that I hate her.” —Ty
“We do not talk. We are not Facebook friends. Nothing.” —Diem
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand we’re back!
MTV is back with another installment of The Challenge and this time, fresh off the success of the Rivals format, it’s embracing a similar concept: Battle of the Exes will pair players with partners who they hooked up with/dated/sloppily-made-out-with-while-drunk on previous challenges.
Of course, it should go without saying that I love this season’s format, but I feel the need to stress something: I love this season’s format. There’s the obvious drama factor—always-quotable Paula called this season “drama’s wet dream”*—but this season also addresses a lot of concerns I have about challenge format. First of all, I almost always prefer individual or paired competitions (like The Duel, Fresh Meat, Rivals) to team challenges (The Gauntlet, The Inferno, Cutthroat). They prevent players from skating by and force everyone to strategize. Continue reading