There are only so many top tier competitors on MTV’s Challenge. It takes a lot of commitment. A lot of determination. A lot of steroid use. You have to be willing to sacrifice friendships. To sacrifice your body. To sacrifice your dignity. Guys like Mark “40 going on 23” Long. Kenny “Mr. Beautiful” Santucci. Evan “The Moose” Starkman. Chris “I Will Eat Your Face” Tamburello. Johnny “Bananas” Devenanzio. These are the Challenge Immortals. The Legends of the sport. Its not easy to enter their ethereal ranks. Many will try, but the gates of Valhalla slam shut on their faces.
There is a level just below the Deities of legitimate contenders who could win any competition. They have the physical tools to do so. But they’re just not the full package.
Guys like Leroy are more than loveable and have all the physical tools to dominate, but he has too much Landon in him to be one of the gods. Theres no drama to him. He takes life too easy. Thats not a bad thing… Landon was one of my favorite competitors ever and his Duel season was spectacular, but I don’t think I can let him through the Gates to Challenge Valhalla.
I’ve been waiting for YEARS for the return of Isaac, but if there’s anything last weeks spectacular hamster-ball challenge taught us he might not have the physical adaptability to cope with the absurdity of the tasks put before him in this most illustrious of competitions. He’s crazy definitely crazy, but its not steroid induced, as I would prefer, and appears to be more marijuana induced which is just the wrong dynamic for one of the Chosen Few.
Zach is an absolute physical specimen and even has the look of a Nordic god, but much like CT early in his career, he hasn’t learned how to contain and channel his rage into Challenge success. I would say this needs to be make a break season for him, but it took CT 9 appearances before he grabbed his first title last season, so there’s still time for him to burst through the gates in all his steroid fueled glory.
However, last week’s episode, and Zach in particular, may have slammed shut the gates on one of my favorite underdogs striving for entry into Valhalla: Brandon Drake Nelson.
Brandon has a lot of physical tools and he is a great competitor. He won me over during his Cutthroat run where he was unfairly thrown into 4 elimination gulags (typical “prove yourself rookie” bullshit then “OK you proved yourself now do it again 3 more times”) and won 3 of them before finally succumbing to the perennial overrated Derrick in episode 6. During that spectacular run Brandon proved that in spite of his size (he is incredibly short) and seemingly lackadaisical attitude he could be a legitimate, lifelong contender on the challenge. However, in the seasons following Cutthroat he was never given the respect by “veterans” that he deserved. He was continuously thrown, unfairly, into eliminations and it wore on him mentally. He now strikes me as a rookie quarterback, thrown into the fray too early and too young. He initially had great success (a la Robert Griffin III in DC) which made people forget that he was young, inexperienced, and still had a lot to learn. People (myself included) put too much pressure on his shoulders and he eventually broke mentally. Brandon now goes into challenges expecting to be thrown into an elimination and knocked out early. He seems to have lost the will to win and just waits for his fate… waits for that crushing sack which will once again tear his ACL and end his season.
I may have misjudged Brandon. He may be more of a competitor like Darrell was back in the day. Darrell dominated the challenge in its early days when it was still the “Real World Road Rules Challenge.” This was a bygone era before the steroid revolution when normal physical fitness could propel one to victory. Darrell, a physical fitness trainer, stormed out to a 4-0 record in his first four appearances on the show.
He then went into retirement, only to return for Fresh Meat II and find himself eliminated in the very first episode. This was a new era. This is the Steroids and Intrigue Era. Johnny Bananas is now the archetypical competitor. Someone who cannot play the politics and does not go the extra mile with his body (abusing it with steroids) is at an immediate disadvantage. This is where Darrell, formerly dominant, found himself and this is where I believe Brandon is now.
However, Darrell tucked his tail between his legs and ran after that Fresh Meat II disaster, never to be heard from again. Brandon however? Brandon appears to have his fight back. Even though the debacle with Swift ended disastrously for him, it seems to me that that is evidence of him making “off the show alliances” a Challenge must, patented by the Greats Evan, Kenny, and Bananas. Moreover, while he was dejected after getting thrown into the Challenge he collected himself once he came to grips with his fate. He even claimed (foreshadowing tragically) that he didn’t even care if he went up against the steroid fueled force that was Zach in the Challenge. Ultimately he got Zach, and was knocked out, but even in the Elimination he went right at him! Trying to lower his shoulder and knock Zach (8″ taller and 80lbs heavier than Brandon) on his ass in the first heat of their Oklahoma drill esque competition! Moreover, even THEN he didn’t give up, switching tactics to try to use his speed to get around Zach.
This ultimately failed as well, but none of this is Brandon’s fault. Zach is one of the favorites to win this season, and going up against him in an elimination drill this early would have sent almost anyone home. More importantly, he never gave up once. He seems to have shaken the shell shocked nature that plagued the middle of his career and recollected his Heisman winning, BCS Champion, #1 overall draft pick stature from his early years on the show and Cutthroat in particular.
Brandon is doing everything right. He’s show he has all the tools before. He needs to work on his political game so that he isn’t matched up against competitors like Zach in the future because of bad politics. However, he is in the top 20% of all male competitors physically normally, so a little politics could be all he needs to propel him to a final. Maybe he’s just like CT, waiting for that one lucky break. Now, he’s not the physical and psychological force that CT is, but the guy can win. I’m not ready to give up on him yet. Even in an elimination this season he showed me all the flashes that once motivated me and made him an underdog favorite of mine during his early years. I can’t wait to see him back next season to make another run at the Halls of Challenge Valhalla. It is a doomed road for many, but the only ones who ever have a chance are those who keep throwing themselves at the mountain, regardless of what logic may tell them.