“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. They raced through the snow to their first checkpoint of the day (third overall): an eating challenge. I’ve already spoken of my fondness for eating challenge this season, but this one was particularly disgusting: They had to eat the head of animal (I think it was a boar, but I can’t be sure), something that looked like cheese but was actually shark meat, and drink sheep’s blood. It looked gross for everyone—and there was plenty of vomiting—but particularly for Diem, who claimed to have not eaten meat since she was six.
Luckily for Diem, her partner is C.T. who tore through the “meal” like it’s his normal Sunday brunch. C.T. and Diem began the day where they ended the day before: in first place. The order was the same behind them, with Johnny/Camila in second, and Ty/Emily in last heading to the fourth checkpoint. At this checkpoint, the teams had to break open a locked box to retrieve a key, which they then used to unlike snowshoes and poles.
The hardest part of this checkpoint actually seemed to be putting on the gear. C.T. and Johnny both had problems with their shoes falling off, while Ty and Emily end up going much faster with the equipment. As a result, the order was inverted, with Ty/Emily surprisingly taking the lead and C.T./Diem falling to last place.
The shock of Ty and Emily in first place was short-lived though—eventually, Johnny figured out the shoes and retook the lead. Still, C.T. and Diem lagged in last place going into the fifth checkpoint.
This checkpoint was a puzzle—the great equalizer of final challenges. The puzzle included six boulders in individual compartments, separated by 13 rods. Players had to remove one rod and refashion the compartments so that you could still have six ones of equal size, but with only twelve rods.
In other words, the final challenge largely came down to the players’ knowledge of Euclidean geometry.* As usual. Diem was the only one who seemed to solve it intuitively, and she and C.T. retook the lead—wisely destroying their puzzle after finishing it. Johnny and Camila figured it out, though it seemed to be mostly the result of guess and check.
*The trick was to use half the rods to make a hexagon, and the other half to connect each vertex to the center.
Ty and Emily, on the other hand, had some problems. Neither of them seemed particularly puzzle-savvy, and they got into some fights over who should take the lead on trying to solve it. Ultimately, they never did, and after half an hour, they were allowed to move on.* By then, though, they were way behind.
*It always bothers me when teams are allowed to continue without finishing a puzzle. I understand that the producers want the teams to move on, but there should be some kind of penalty for it. Ty and Emily should have had to carry an extra rod or something.
At the sixth checkpoint the teams had to dig through an ice hole into a tunnel, crawl through a tunnel under the snow, and dig their way out of the other end. While the digging looked difficult, the crawling-through-a-dark-tunnel-of-snow part looked terrifying. Once again, C.T. dominated the physical aspect of the challenge. He dug through the hole in (seemingly) ten seconds, with barely any help from Diem. Johnny and Camila worked together, but still couldn’t take the lead.
It was between the sixth and seventh checkpoints that C.T. began to hit a wall. The pace he had set and the dominance he had showed throughout the challenge started to take its toll, with overwhelming fatigue setting in. It started slow, with Diem pulling ahead of him as they were walking. Eventually, she would have to stop and wait for him. Then, he had trouble pulling himself through the snow—unlike Diem, who was light enough to walk on top of the snow, C.T. had to wade through it for miles.
Slowed down, Johnny/Camila caught up with them, though they couldn’t pull ahead. Camila was having her own problems going through the snow, and Johnny wasn’t super supportive about it. By the time they got to the last checkpoint, the two teams were almost even.
The last checkpoint was another puzzle, basically a vertical Rubik’s cube where the contestants had to turn tiles to match a pattern. At this point, C.T. was so wiped that he was of very little use to Diem, who was doing most of the puzzle herself. She finished first, only to be told that she had done it incorrectly. She almost flipped out, but C.T. calmed her down, and she corrected her (minor) error to keep first place. Johnny/Camila finished right after, but they also had a mistake, and fixing it took longer, so they fell behind again.
Even though they had completed all the checkpoints, there was still a lot to go: First, the teams had to use the artifacts collected at each checkpoint to finish another puzzle, and then they had to climb the peak of the mountain to reach the finish line. The constant uncertainty over how far away the finish line actually was seemed dispiriting to C.T., who was on his last legs.
It didn’t help that the final puzzle had the deceptive name of “Finish It,” which Diem initially misread as “Finish Line,” thinking she and C.T. had won. When C.T. got there, only to realize there was more to go, he collapsed and laid down in the snow. Once again Johnny and Camila caught up to C.T. and Diem at the puzzle, and once again Diem finished first, and once again C.T. couldn’t keep up with her.
Diem—admittedly in the unusual position of being held back by C.T.—was not particularly helpful as a pacesetter. Though she was more encouraging than Johnny with Camila, mostly she just yelled, “Come on, Chris,” with very little concern for how he was holding up. It’s not clear that she could have done anything, but for the final leg of the race, C.T. was running on empty and crawling through the snow. Johnny and Camila both passed him, while Diem stayed ahead of them both.
Once Camila did pass C.T., though, the boost to her morale seemed to energize her up the rest of the mountain. She and Johnny finally took the lead and raced to the finish line for the win. Though I briefly wondered if C.T. would be able to finish at all, he eventually did crawl to the top for second place. Even Ty and Emily, who actually did a great job making up time after falling so far behind, eventually finished.
And while I was definitely rooting for C.T. and Diem, it’s hard to deny that Johnny/Camila deserved to win Battle of the Exes. They were the most powerful couple, winning the most challenges, surviving the Dome, and sticking out a final challenge despite not leading for most of it. That kind of come from behind victory is rare.
Ultimately, though, there was something anticlimactic about the final episode, if only because pretty much all the tension had been set aside before it. All the couples were getting along—there wasn’t even any animosity between teams—and each team could legitimately claim to “deserve” the win. If Ty and Emily hadn’t fallen behind, perhaps there would have been some excitement, due to their status as underdog…
Combining this season with Rivals, I think the lessons are clear: People can overcome anything for money. Or, to be less cynical about it, people can overcome anything when they are on the same team (except Kenny and Wes, those guys legit hate each other). This might be encouraging for the sake of humanity and friendship, but I’m not sure it makes for great tension. Bring back the hatred, MTV!