“Well, ladies and gentlemen, just when you thought I couldn’t get any more amazing….” —Kenny
It’s really great we have Kenny and Wes. Not only are they a consistent source of amusement and tension, but they really saved last night’s Rivals finale—and the season in general—from being an anticlimactic stream of people gushing about their partners. Up until now, with the notable exception of Evan and Nehemiah, who weren’t speaking by their final Jungle, every single pair of “rivals” has ended their trip echoing Fatboy Slim: We’ve come a long, long way together, through the hard times and the good. I have to celebrate you baby; I have to praise you like I should. Even Adam and C.T. left on good terms!
So the overriding theme of Rivals was basically that people can set aside any differences and bury any past grievances when their financial interests are aligned. But then there were Kenny and Wes. Although they made it all the way to the end and in many instances put their animosity on hold to strategize, they bickered throughout the competition and constantly argued about who was failing the most in the challenges. So while every other team was friendly heading into the final challenge, it was clear that Kenny/Wes were on the brink of fracture.
And of course the final challenge would push them to the breaking point. I’m a constant critic of MTV’s poorly designed challenges in these posts, but their final challenges are great. They reward combinations of endurance, strength, and intelligence, and force everybody to contribute. They are almost always a perfect climax to the season (unlike certain other competitive reality shows), pushing players to their breaking point and bringing different tensions to the surface. And when this one had to start an episode early last week, I knew it would be intense.
We picked the teams up as they finished kayaking, with Evelyn/Paula leading the girls. Johnny/Tyler had been leading the guys for most of the kayak race, but Kenny/Wes pulled ahead at the end. Bringing up the rear were Jenn/Mandi and Leroy/Michael, respectively. Once the teams hit land, they had to pick up a ball and chain and carry it with them for the rest of the race. Michael, ever the nerd, was the first one to realize the benefits of breaking the ball into pieces in order to evenly distribute the weight. Other teams eventually figured this out accidentally—that ball did not seem very sturdy—but only Mike thought it through.
After picking up the ball, the teams had to memorize the layout of a sample campsite, which they were told they would have to reconstruct later. Memory challenges are great, particularly in the final challenge. Not only do they level the playing field for the less steroid-addled players, but they put so much mental strain on players while they are already physically drained. It was a memory challenge in last season’s final that nearly broke Laurel’s spirit.
Before they had to reconstruct the campsite, though, they had to pass through another checkpoint that was, essentially, just manual labor. They had to load a pile of dirt into a wheelbarrow and move it to another barrel.
Throughout all this, all six teams essentially held the positions they had since getting off the kayaks. Johnny/Tyler seemed to hang about 10-50 feet behind Kenny/Wes through the whole race, while Leroy/Michael were a ways behind them. Evelyn/Paula had a slightly bigger lead over Cara Maria/Laurel, but not enough that they couldn’t feel them breathing down their necks. Jenn/Mandi, on the other hand, were gradually falling enough behind that they were little more than an afterthought.
The biggest chance to shake up the order came at the camp reconstruction site. Coming after the pile of dirt checkpoint, as well as two sizable hikes, every competitor was nervous about their memory of the site. Laurel, perhaps remembering the stress of Cutthroat, was very hesitant to commit to her and Cara Maria’s reconstruction. When Evelyn/Paula got their site wrong—and so had to return to the original site to check their work—it opened the door for Cara Maria/Laurel. Unfortunately, they too got it wrong on the first try (in fact, every team but Leroy/Michael got it wrong on the first attempt).
To Laurel’s credit, though, she wasted no time blaming Cara Maria or getting upset—she raced back to the original site and did inch-by-inch reconnaissance. Her thoroughness allowed her and Cara Maria to take a small lead, pulling ahead of Evelyn/Paula.
Far, far, far behind them were Jenn/Mandi. While other teams switched the location of pots and pans or left a compass open in their sites, Jenn/Mandi got “everything wrong” according to MTV, and had to return. Their morale was by this point so crushed that they were only begrudgingly going through the motions of completing the challenge, falling hours behind the other girls.
On the male side, Kenny and Wes realized that they had no idea how to pitch a tent, and bickered their way through the entire reconstruction process. Not helping matters was Wes, who simply cannot do long challenges. He appeared to be suffering from dehydration, and was dry-heaving through the challenge at this point. They managed to complete the site—on the second try—-slightly before Johnny/Tyler, maintaining their miniscule lead.
The next checkpoint was Final Feast. It was pretty funny how every player’s reaction to seeing the Final Feast was the about the same—“Oh, this is good! I’m hungry and now I get to eat”—before rapidly turning into something else—“Oh God! I can’t eat anymore. [Vomiting noises]” I mean, you’d think these people would realize that this was not going to be a pleasant meal. Instead, we got gratuitous images of the contestants vomiting as they tried to get through this decadent meal.
A few players, like Kenny, Johnny, and Tyler, actually did not seem to mind eating all the food. Kenny credited it to his Italian heritage, and not being a “fucking pussy.” Wes, on the other hand, was completely sick by the time he and Kenny arrived at the feast, and could barely eat at all, preventing them from putting any distance between them and Johnny/Tyler.
After the meal, the players had to hike up a very narrow peak, without any time to digest. Watching these engorged players slowly trudge up the hill as like watching scenes from Night of the Living Dead.
It briefly looked like Johnny/Tyler, perpetually on the heels of the leaders, would pass Kenny/Wes when Wes collapsed on the trail. Kenny, whose patience had gradually worn thin with Wes through the campsite construction and the Final Feast, was now openly berating Wes to stand up. He showed no sympathy for Wes’ injuries and eventually just offered to carry Wes up the mountain. Wes paused for a second before asking, “You really think you can?”
It was a very telling moment. Wes’ question was both a challenge and a request. He didn’t want to give Kenny the satisfaction of carrying him, but he also knew he couldn’t get up himself. Shockingly, Kenny picked Wes up and carried up the mountain.
This should have been the decisive moment. Johnny/Tyler, who had seemed poised to pass Kenny/Wes, should have been demoralized to see Kenny literally carrying Wes towards the finish line. And perhaps it would have been decisive, but the race was not nearly over.
Meanwhile, on the female side, Evelyn/Paula had retaken the lead after Final Feast, and were the first team to arrive at what appeared to be the final checkpoint. In fact, it was just the checkpoint where they’d get some rest, but the race was not over. The contestants had to take turns sleeping, but they could only sleep while their partners stood on a rock by a fire. Jenn/Mandi, however, had never even made it to the Final Feast. By the time they completed their campsite, it was too dark for them to climb the mountain, and a producer stopped them and told them they had DQed.
While all three male teams made it to the sleeping checkpoint, Michael was starting to show signs of fading. He couldn’t stand on the rock for very long at a time, and he barely slept. Wes, still suffering from dehydration and cramps, also couldn’t sleep, and overheard Kenny badmouthing his performance to the other players. Wes confronted Kenny and accused him of being a bad teammate, even though Kenny had literally carried Wes for part of the race.
By the time the morning came, Michael was wiped and unable to go on. Though Leroy tried to motivate him, he put his teammate health and safety ahead of any disappointment he had at not finishing. Leroy’s a stand-up guy, and even T.J. couldn’t fault them for quitting. And T.J. HATES quitters!
That left it as a two-way race for both genders. The teams had to race up to the peak of the mountain, where they’d find a beacon with a GPS signal that led them to a key, which could be used to open the trophy at the finish line. Evelyn/Paula and Kenny/Wes, the leading teams from the night before, got head starts, but it was close the whole way through. By the time the teams grabbed the beacons everyone was pretty much even. The first team to find the key was Johnny/Tyler. Kenny saw his soon after, but Wes slowed him down retrieving it, and Johnny/Tyler took a small lead in what became a footrace to the finish line. Wes continued to drag Kenny down, and Johnny/Tyler pulled ahead.
At the finish line Johnny handed the key to Tyler and said, “You open it.” It might have just been because Johnny was too tired, but it was also kind of a moment of solidarity for the team that had been the closest throughout the competition. Johnny/Tyler, the best team throughout the challenge and the team that truly buried any animosity, fittingly won the male side.
And Kenny was not magnanimous defeat. He laid the blame entirely at Wes’ feat (not inaccurately). He yelled at him, telling him, “you suck” and blaming him for blowing the lead. It was the complete opposite of C.T.’s reaction last week, and the perfect example of why a failure to truly get along can damn a partnership.*
*For his part, Wes blamed Kenny for being a lousy leader, a bad teammate, and a bad friend. But Wes really can’t play those cards…
On the female side, it probably would have been more fitting for Cara Maria/Laurel to win. They truly came a long way in their friendship, and Laurel finally got through a challenge without complaining about a teammate weighing her down or having to split prize money. Alas, they could never quite catch up to Evelyn/Paula, who deserved their own win. And Paula finally—FINALLY—got a win, after eight tries.
So what was the lasting lesson of Rivals? It probably still was that money pretty much heals everything. Or, more accurately, that when two people have a common goal, it becomes a lot easier to forgive the faults in one another… unless you’re Kenny and Wes. Those two will never get along