“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.
*This would have been an epigram quote if it didn’t sound like a disgusting Entourage reference.
One problem with individual or paired challenges is that they often separate the guys and girls, meaning that there are essentially two challenges taking place simultaneously, which dampens the competition. BotE eliminates that problem by pairing guys with girls (with one notable exception, which I’ll get to).
Finally, the elimination structure is intriguing: The winner of each challenge is named the Power Couple, and gets to chose who the loser will face in the Dome. This creates some odd incentives, and at least prioritizes not finishing in last, which should benefit rookies.
But, of course, the best thing about the format is the drama that comes from pairing players with their exes. Part of the fun, though, is the variety of relationships that Exes encompasses. Whereas Rivals had a similarly diverse group of rivalries, the essence of all of them was essentially the same: These two people don’t like each other. But with Exes, some of them currently hate each other, some haven’t talked in years, and in some one still seems to harbor feelings for the other… and it’s not entirely clear to me what type of relationship is most conducive to the challenge. Whereas Rivals rewarded rivals who weren’t really rivals (Johnny/Tyler, Leroy/Michael, Cara Maria/Laurel), it’s not clear if Exes will have a similar theme.
Before we start discussing last night’s episode, then, let’s break down the details of the relationships in question:
Abram/Cara Maria: This relationship bloomed during Cutthroat, and as recently as Rivals the two were still together. The attraction here was that both Abe and Cara Maria are borderline crazy, yet surprisingly they had one of the healthiest, supportive relationships in Challenge history. They seem to have broken up after Rivals (Wikipedia says that Abram getting arrested had something to do with it, but I know nothing of this). It’s clear, though, that Cara Maria did the dumping and Abram still has feelings for her—the break up seems to have motivated Abram to find a stylist and say, “Give me the Kid Rock!”
Aneesa/Rachel: The token homosexual relationship of the bunch, these two dated back in 2003, after Battle of the Sexes. Enough time has passed that both seem wistful about the whole situation, though Rachel did mention that Aneesa didn’t treat her well. The bigger obstacle for these two is that…you know, they’re both girls. While I appreciate MTV’s efforts to include a gay couple, it does seem like the absence of a male on the team will hurt their ability to perform in challenges.
C.T./Diem: Once again, the most complicated relationship of the season involves C.T. While many/most of these “relationships” are no more than glorified flings, the kind of relationship a normal person might have during a semester abroad or something, Diem and C.T. were actually profoundly important in each other’s lives. They had, as another contestant so aptly put it last night “that Notebook kind of love.” The relationship began after Diem was recovering from chemotherapy, at a time when she says she felt like a “broken woman.” C.T. helped her realize that she was still desirable, and she admits that she thought they would end up getting married. C.T., on the other hand, still feels betrayed that, when his brother died, she wasn’t there for him. Their break up infamously helped fuel the Adam/C.T. fight on The Duel 2. Despite all this, they haven’t spoken in years, and they both clearly still have complicated feelings about each other. As they should…even I got choked up hearing them talk about each other.
Dunbar/Paula: Ugh, these two have the most boringly complicated relationship. They used to have a flirtatious, love-hate relationship, but it always seemed like Paula wanted more from the relationship than Dunbar. Apparently they had sex at some point, but I have no idea when. It must have been prior to Cutthroat because by then Paula seemed to see everything Dunbar did as a betrayal, and now they don’t speak anymore.
Dustin/Heather: I have no idea who these people are. Apparently Dustin did porn?
Johnny/Camila: These two are only “exes” in the loosest sense of the term. During Cutthroat, Camila harbored a crush on Johnny, but it was never acted on. If they ever hooked up, either then or on Rivals, it was off-camera. This is probably the best case scenario for a team, since Johnny and Camila still like each other, and haven’t had time to develop strong feelings of resentment or regret. Combing that with the fact that both Johnny and Camila are strong in challenges might make them the favorites in Exes.
Leroy/Naomi: I like Leroy. He was a great player in Rivals, and he was extremely patient with his partner’s shortcomings. But Naomi seems nuts. If Leroy hooks up with another girl in the house, she threatened to kill him and the girl. This does not seem advantageous for Leroy…
Mark/Robin: These two are the vetest of the vets. How old is Mark? His original Road Rules season aired in 1995. Someone born on the day it premiered would be old enough to drive in most states. His relationship with Robin began on Battle of the Sexes 2, and they did date for some time after the season ended, and there seemed to be some questions about Mark’s fidelity. Robin admitted last night that “Mark is hot,” but she has a kid now and he’s almost 40… Will they end up hooking up? Probably.
Ty/Emily: Oh man, do these two seem to hate each other. When TJ announced them as a pair, Emily wouldn’t even walk over to him. I like Emily, but this her second challenge where she’s been teamed with Ty, and his emotional instability and general worthlessness at challenges have a tendency to hold her down. It’s a shame, because Emily could be great with a decent partner.
Tyrie/Jasmine: The less said about these two, the better. Jasmine is possibly my least favorite player in challenge history (including Wes!)—though she did amusingly lament the fact that she hooked up with Tyrie as opposed to C.T. or Wes or Johnny. Tyrie is notoriously terrible at these challenges, and it’s hard to see how pairing him with Jasmine will help at all.
Vinny/Sarah: Another relationship that seems to have lasted about five minutes. Sarah clearly regrets her “one-night stand” with Vinny, and the fact that he appears to have prepared for the show by doing nothing but eat can’t help. On the other hand, these two have been partners once before (Fresh Meat II), so it’ll be interesting to see if that helps.
Wes/Mandi: When C.T. rejected her last season, Mandi sought refuge in the arms—and bed—of none other than Wes. It was very hard to get a read on how either of them feels about the relationship now. Wes calls Mandi “the closest thing I’ve had to girlfriend the last few years,” but they don’t seem particularly close or distant. Mandi does seem upset that she’s partnered with the house hothead… which didn’t work out for her so well on Fresh Meat II.
Is that everyone? That seems like everyone. Anyway, those are the teams who headed into last night’s first challenge. Now, if you read my Rivals recaps, you may recall that my chief complaint that season was that the challenges almost never required the rivals to actually cooperate—why team up players who hate each other if you’re not going to exploit that hate?
Last night’s challenge—“Give Me Some Honey”—indicated that the producers learned their lesson. The challenge consisted of each player in a Speedo, walking from one end of a beam to another, where she douses herself in honey, and returns to her partner, who wipes as much of the honey of her body and into a jar. In other words, the challenge is designed to have the exes rubbing and touching each other’s almost naked bodies—to be intimate with what Dunbar called their “no-no special places.” It was ideally suited to maximize awkwardness and awaken any old feelings that might exist.
The competitive aspects of the challenge, though, are not as compelling. The best strategy is “get a lot of honey on your body.” Nate (Who?) boasted to the camera that he was going to blow away the competition, and then promptly proceeded to spend his time falling off the beam about a dozen times. It was an embarrassing performance that put him and his partner into the Dome (this season’s name for the site of the elimination challenge).
On the other end of the spectrum, Johnny/Camila and Mark/Robin had a bonus duel to see who would reign as Power Couple. Though Johnny/Camila won, Johnny mentions that it’s a double-edged sword, since you have to potentially make an enemy by nominating someone for elimination.
That might be true down the road, but everyone knows that the first elimination is for rookies, right? WRONG. After Wes performs his go-to move of trying to alienate and belittle the most powerful person in the house, this time by picking on Camila, Johnny decides to throw in a veteran.
The only problem with his plan is that Nate/Priscilla seem really bad, and pretty much incapable of besting Wes/Mandi. The elimination challenge, which involves jumping over and ducking under a spinning beam, at first seems like a test of coordination, but it’s really just a matter of endurance, which Nate and Priscilla do not have. Both of them fall before either Wes or Mandi, sending home our first rookie pair.
But you know me; I’m just a merry rankster:
We hardly knew ye…
12) Dustin/Heather: These two rookies lucked out to not get thrown in last night, but that luck probably won’t last.
11) Tyrie/Jasmine: These two are so bad at challenges that it wouldn’t surprise me if they went home before the rookies.
10) Aneesa/Rachel: I’ll need to see a few weeks of performance before I buy this whole “two girls competing with guys” thing. Call me sexist…
9) Vinny/Sarah: Vinny has never been a particularly strong player, and he appears to have put on the weight of Buick.
8) Wes/Mandi: The fact that Wes is already getting sent into the Dome is not a good sign.
7) Dunbar/Paula: Paula is coming off her first win, but I’ve never been totally sold on Dunbar as a performer.
6) Ty/Emily: This is possibly too high to rank Ty, but I really like Emily. I want her to stick around longer.
5) Leroy/Naomi: As I said above, I was very impressed by Leroy by Leroy on Rivals. But, man, Naomi seems nuts…
4) C.T./Diem: Look, C.T. is amazing at these challenges. But his capacity to blow up is only magnified by Diem’s presence. Still, I hope these two crazy kids make up…
3) Abram/Cara Maria: Like C.T./Diem Lite, I think Abram’s craziness may be amplified by Cara Maria, but they have a greater shot at peaceful coexistence.
2) Mark/Robin: Always bet on experience….
1) Johnny/Camila: …Unless you can bet on Johnny Bananas. Johnny is coming off a big win in Rivals, and Camila finally has a teammate who won’t hold her back.