Trial By Fire: ‘Earning Your Stripes’ as a Challenge Rookie

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So… a couple things about the most recent Challenge episode. First and foremost I just want to say that it was a great episode. I thoroughly enjoyed myself all the way through. That being said, it was an extraordinarily cliched episode. Now that is certainly not a bad thing when the recurring events are things you enjoy thoroughly (which I do in this case) but there is one Challenge staple in play here that I (along with Mr. TJ Lavin by the way) generally find annoying and cowardly. I’m speaking, of course, of the”Earn Your Stripes, Rookie” elimination crucible.

It seems like every season for time immemorial the Challenge cast picks one individual or group to do their elimination dirty work for the entire first half of the season. The strategy and logic behind it is relatively sound. Noone wants to screw up their Politicks by throwing anyone into the Elimination (even a team they don’t like). SO, rather than starting any fires, everyone generally votes for whoever won the first elimination to go back into the second. And the third. And the fourth. And every other elimination until they themselves are eliminated.

It’s not fair. It’s not particularly entertaining from the viewer’s side of things (eliminates suspense, dampens Politicks, and prevents us from seeing different people compete for their Challenge Lives). But at this point its just part of the game. The Challenge is almost 20 years old at this point, the strategy has been declared sound by many veterans (first and foremost amongst them being Johnny Bananas) and it simply isn’t going to go away. This, of course, is much to the chagrin of Adam and Brittany this season, the victims de jure.

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But for all that I may hate it, there is one silver lining to this particular cliche. The teams or individuals subjected to it generally become strong returning competitors on the show. Now I’m not saying they become world beaters by any means, but when a team or individual survives The Crucible its generally a good sign for their challenge future. Brandon Nelson, Camilla, Jonna… those are just a few examples of recent competitors to be forced through The Crucible (winning 2 or more consecutive challenges) and come back a stronger competitor for it. None of them have ever won a Challenge for one reason or another, but their rookie season Crucibles were at least proof that they wanted to be here, and would not be one of these flash in the pan, one season and done kind of competitors. Now, they may be winning their Eliminations against inferior competition, but they’re still winning. And anyway it proves that they themselves are not bottom tier competitors.

To turn back to Adam and Brittany, then, their repeated tests in the Dome have made me like them a lot more than I did after Episode 1. I had excessively high hopes for these two in the preseason. They seemed to have everything needed to be a strong physical pair, and then looked like pure garbage in the first Challenge on Week 1. Now, after 3 straight Dome wins my preseason rank of #4 looks a lot less moronic. (Still bad mind you, but improving every week). They’ve still made several downright horrible decisions (taking a freaking 45 minute break in the middle of The Dome vs. Jemmye and Knight rather than just powering through) but we might be witnessing another example of The Crucible forging some iron ore into tempered steel.

But more than making them better physical competitors, the added airtime is quickly making them into one of my favorite pairs just to watch. I would love to hang out with Brittany. She seems like a complete goofball in the best possible way, and anyway who wouldn’t want to go hang out with a couple that does a mid dance floor 69 in a crowded bar?

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I admire Brittany’s spunkiness and I’m all in on them as a couple. Even with Adam trying his best to be a dick and make the pair self destruct she doesn’t seem to care which is hilarious and fun to watch. I think they’ve got a real future here. At least I hope so for the sake of my preseason ranks. No Crucible team has ever won a Challenge before on their rookie season, but who knows. Maybe Adam and Brittany dance floor chemistry will carry over on challenge days.

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So after that little intermission… without further ado… Power Rankings time

ELIMINATED:

Thomas and Hailey

Final Rank: 13

Preseason Rank:11

Dustin and Jessica

Final Rank: 12

Preseason Rank: 9

Disqualified: CT and Diem

Final Rank: 11

Preseason Rank: 5

Knight and Jemmye

And here we get another sad goodbye. Knight and Jemmye were eliminated this week by Adam and Brittany in exactly the manner you would have expected. They worked terribly as a team all season long. Never put up an impressive performance and were on or near the chopping block every single episode. And that is more or less exactly how their Challenge careers together have played out for the entire duration of their time with us. My thoughts on Knight have already been posted, but I’d just like to say one more time how sad I am to see these two go out like this. Its clear to me that both Knight and Jemmye have made great friends through these Challenges, and have a lot of people who care about them on these shows. Regardless of how they have ever finished in these competitions, something bigger was always at stake, and in that endeavor I’d call them a success. Winning Challenges and money aren’t the most important thing in life by far, and in no way do I think these two are or were a failure no matter how they finished.

Also, as an aside… Knight telling Zach he wanted to go into Elimination against Bananas so nonchalantly was an awesome moment.

Final Rank: 10

Preseason Rank: 10

EXILED:

jj and simone

Current Rank: 9

Change from Last Week: +1

Preseason Rank: 13

Well… they lucked out since Knight and Jemmye were unable to compete due to Knight’s shoulder injury… I have nothing to say here besides the fact that I hope they go home soon…

LIVE AND KICKIN’:

boston johnny and averey

They did absolutely nothing wrong to fall in the power rankings, its just that other people aroudn them did things right and passed them. There’s nothing much new to add here as it was a very quiet episode for Boston Johnny and Averey. They weren’t really fighting which was a plus. They weren’t involved in any of the bar room drama. They seem to be playing the “lay low” card to perfection, but that hasn’t earned them any style points, so here they sit.

Current Rank: 8

Change from Last Week: -2

Preseason Rank: 8

jay and jenna

Current Rank: 7

Change from Last Week: +2

Preseason Rank: 12

This ranking has nothing to do with their own skills or ability on the Challenge but everything to do with the circumstances around them. There’s still a bit of drama around them with Jonna wanting to throw Jenna in (so as to not throw in Adam and Brittany again because she doesn’t want to take part in the same Crucible strategy that was used against her as a rookie) but Zach protecting Jenna. The fact that they have Zach looking out for them (as he even pointed out during their Power Couple dinner conversation) is just going to help them plain and simple. This Jonna situation could still boil over at any time, but for now Jenna has Zach on her side, and Jay has proven to be just too likable to get in trouble at all. They may be stumbling into it but with Jenna using her feminine wiles and Jay his affable personality these two have thrown together a fairly decent Politickal angle for themselves. We’ll have to see how long they can keep it going.

leroy and nia

Current Rank: 6

Change from Last Week: -2

Preseason Rank: 7

Again, another team sliding down through no fault of their own. Leroy is still one of the best male competitors in this thing, and in single elimination I’d like my chances with him against almost anyone. Nia is… Nia… but she has looked incredibly average this year which is a big move up in the world for her! However, the next two teams made some significant power plays last week which helped them leap over Leroy and Nia. I have no doubt that Leroy and Nia will move back up in future weeks, but for now here is where they stand.

adamn and brittany

Current Rank: 5

Change from Last Week: +2

Preseason Rank: 4

My thoughts on these two have been touched on above, but this week they finally showed some of the promise and ability I saw in them in the preseason. They’re now 3-0 in Dome Eliminations and have been thrown into the Dome every single week. If they can just manage to start winning some Challenges to make themselves Power Couple things will start to turn around for them, but for now there are enough inferior teams left in this thing to make me think they can keep this Elimination run going. Plus they’re just so fun to watch. I’m 100% in on the Brittany bandwagon, and Adam is a tool, but entertainingly so. Plus until they took that moronic break in the middle of the Elimination they were absolutely dominating those cinder blocks. Very impressed. As long as Adam doesn’t blow this team up by constantly criticizing Brittany and rubbing his junk and various ladies’ faces they’ll be fine.

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Especially cuz Brittany seems to handle the criticism surprisingly well. I have faith in the rookies!

zach and jonna

Current Rank: 4

Change from Last Week: +1

Preseason Rank: 6

A Challenge Day victory pushed Zach and Jonna into the Top 4 for the first time this season! They had a pretty impressive performance on Challenge Day, and in the early hours of their Power Couple status they actually looked like a fairly well functioning team. They even had matching team glasses.

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Zach apologized to Jonna, made some great friends in the house (gave Knight and Jemmye a chance to pick who they wanted to go into elimination with, while also protecting Jay and Jenna). Everything looked peachy. And then Jonna tried to bring up her own opinion and the whole facade came collapsing down, ending with Zach talking shit about Jonna while she was in the room and he didn’t know. Soooo I foresee a meltdown in the future… but for now Zach finally started looking like a Top Tier contender this season.

wes and theresa

Current Rank: 3

Change from Last Week: 0

Preseason Rank: 2

Honestly I probably should have moved them down this week after they finished second to last in that Challenge Day Competition, but a couple things saved them. First and foremost is just reputation. Everyone has an off day, and Wes and Theresa are the kind of team that can shake that off and move on. Moreover, Wes proved that at least one rookie team is still alive as part of his ‘human shield’ strategy in the form of Adam and Brittany. They need to step up their game and get back to winning Challenges or they’ll start slipping down the power rankings but for now they’re hanging on to the #3 slot.

jordan and sarah

Current Rank: 2

Change from Last Week: 0

Preseason Rank: 3

A Second place finish on Challenge day after coming off their first Challenge Day win isn’t too shabby. I don’t feel like Jordan and Sarah did enough to bump themselves up another slot just yet, but if they can manage to win next week’s Challenge day I’ll have to move them up. For now, however, your #1 seed remains…

bananas and nany

Current Rank: 1

Change from Last Week: 0

Preseason Rank: 1

This ranking looks shakier and lazier than ever this week. I simply can’t bring myself to remove Bananas and Nany from the top slot when they really haven’t done anything wrong strategically all season long. The only issue is that Nany is apparently really in love with Bananas (NUMBER ONE RULE OF THE CHALLENGE IS NEVER FALL IN LOVE ON THE CHALLENGE!!!!) and she’s really melting down after being forced to be on a team with him. Maybe that comes back to bite them soon, but I can’t help thinking that at least part of that drama is made up by Nany to get camera time, cuz when it comes to Challenge Days she competes just fine. So there may be a storm brewing on the horizon for them, but as of right now they’ve still got the inside track to win this thing.

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A Complicated Goodbye to a Complicated Individual: Goodbye Ryan Knight

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Diem Brown wasn’t the only Challenge star lost this year. In fact, Ryan Knight was found dead on November 27th just 10 days after Diem’s funeral. Thanksgiving morning. But whereas the reaction to Diem’s death came with relatively less surprise (she had struggled with cancer for years in a relatively public way) Knights was much more of a surprise. Everyone knew Knight struggled with addiction and had several personal problems, but he always seemed to be carefree about life for good or for bad. While that sometimes meant he came across as a dick, it was just how he lived his life. No excuses and no filters. What was really sad to me, however, was the goodbye for Knight.

Knight and Jemmye were eliminated this week by Adam and Brittany in exactly the manner you would have expected. They worked terribly as a team all season long. Never put up an impressive performance and were on or near the chopping block every single episode. And that is more or less exactly how their Challenge careers together have played out for the entire duration of their time with us.

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Neither of them ever seemed like happy people on the Challenges. Knight was often portrayed as a carefree guy with a biting sense of humor but he really just came off like a dick. Especially where Jemmye was involved. The only time I can remember seeing the two of them happy was on their time together on Real World: New Orleans which makes it all the more sad to see Knight go out this way yet again.

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No Fairy Tale ending. No character redemption. Nothing. Knight and Jemmye were knocked out in the most predictable fashion imaginable, they fought the entire season (as they always do), and got knocked off the show fighting with each other. Moreover, they weren’t even given a chance for redemption in Exile as every other team has been given this year due to Knight’s recurring shoulder problems which he aggravated in The Dome.

And that, I think, is what makes me the most sad to see Knight go. I hate that the last thing I have to see of him is a 5 year old problem relationship, a decade’s old injury, and a lifetime’s worth of unhappiness. That’s all I’ve ever known of Knight in my limited experience with him. (Very limited because again all I’ve seen of him is the image MTV wanted to portray). However, he always seemed like a guy who needed help that either was never there, or that he wouldn’t accept even if it were offered. There were obviously many good sides to Knight. However, they were so often drowned out by his ‘carefree attitude’ that he really put himself in a bad light. But the only reaction I ever saw to any of this was “that’s just how Knight is.” He even embraced it himself, as you can clean from his self description on his twitter profile.

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In the end, MTV seemed to have the same opinion. They didn’t take the same steps to remember Knight as they did with Diem to slant any editing in his favor or make his sendoff more emotional. Now, a big part of this is probably that Knight himself didn’t give them a lot to choose from, but I still can’t help feeling that Knight was always in need of more help than he would ever allow anyone to give him.

Knight and Diem died just weeks apart from one another, but their stories couldn’t feel more different. Diem seemed to garner support and fans wherever she went. Thousands of people followed her story and drew inspiration from it. People seemed to flock to her. With Knight? He always seemed to be pushing people away.

knight tweet

Much has been made of the tweet Knight left 3 days before he died. I have no idea if he actually wanted it to mean something or if it was just a throwaway statement as he was dealing with his friend Diem’s death. In the end, however, it seems to encapsulate his story in some way. Knight lived his life hard, fast, and loose, seemingly without regard for how he would be remembered. What mattered to him were moments as they passed, not the idea of moments yet to come. I think that helps explain at least some of the attitude we always saw from him on MTV. A rude comment one day never meant much to Knight. He just always wanted himself to be understood as much as possible in any given moment regardless of how his actions may have interacted with the sensibilities of others. If he offended someone, but got his point across he considered that interaction a success. That’s all he wanted. I really don’t think Knight was a bad person at all. I think he was just someone who always wanted to be understood, but was often frustrated in his efforts. But I’m sad to say I still don’t think I understand anything about Knight. I just hope he was really as happy in life as he looked when he was having fun, and not as frustrated as he seemed to be when he wasn’t.

When Wanting it isn’t Good Enough: The Sarah Rice Story

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Another episode in the books and yet another new power couple. This time around we have our Preseason #3 team Jordan and Sara. Now, Jordan and Sara are an interesting group. Both are seen as top tier competitors, but neither have achieved much in the game. Jordan’s case, however, is a little stronger as far as Up-and-comer/top tier. He came to us via 2013’s Real World: Portland meaning he is an incredibly ‘young’ Challenge competitor.

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That being said, in his 2 years of Challenge eligibility he hasn’t missed a show yet. He’s three for three, having appeared on Rivals II, Free Agents, and now Battle of the Exes II. Moreover, he even made a Final in his first ever appearance on Rivals II which explains all the hype surrounding him season by season (admittedly propagated primarily by Jordan himself…). However, he appears to be regressing at this early stage in his career after knocking himself out of Free Agents by moronically throwing himself into elimination against Johnny Bananas.

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Jordan’s decision to flip every Kill Card in Free Agents was an iconic Challenge moment that will immortalize him, and go down in Challenge lore, but it was undeniably stupid.

In fact, on Free Agents he may have been eclipsed by his Portland castmate Boston Johnny (Reilly). Boston Johnny wasn’t invited on to Rivals II, but did appear on Free Agents, made it to a final, and even finished 2nd (Jordan finished 3rd in his Final appearance) meaning Johnny has accomplished more than Jordan in less time, and took home a hefty chunk of change for his troubles ($35,000 to Jordan’s $8,000). However, I’m not willing to call Jordan a bust yet. His Politicks are garbage, he makes too many enemies too quickly, and he thinks he’s better at this game than he is, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t good. And say what you want about his lucky Finals appearance but he did still make a Final which is more than a lot of people can say. Sarah’s story, on the other hand, is slightly different.

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Sarah came to us from Real World: Brooklyn and won me over from the very start of her Challenge career on The Ruins when she informed us that she only tried out for The Real World because she wanted to be on The Challenge. A woman after my own heart I tell ya.

I hate Jordan, but I’ll be rooting for Sarah the whole way this time. She’s not a part of my beloved Old Guard, but she looked up to them the same way I always did, and ingratiated herself to some of my favorites when she finally got the opportunity to come on the show and meet them. She’s like a bridge back to the Challenge glory days that I love. Hell, when she first showed up on the Challenge she even struck up a short-lived romance with Mr. Beautiful himself, Kenny Santucci.

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So beautiful... so beautiful (Image via Kenny's twitter https://twitter.com/kennysantucci )

So beautiful… so beautiful (Image via Kenny’s twitter https://twitter.com/kennysantucci )

I like to think she’s the kind of competitor I would be if I were on the show and weren’t as vulnerable as a snowflake in a furnace. And let me tell you, unlike me she is a strong competitor especially on the female side of things. Right now we’re in a bit of a boon for female competitors [with Laurel and Emily Schromm being two of the best female contestants this show has ever seen], but Sarah is still one of the best. She’s physically strong and big, meaning she can push a lot of these chain smoking twigs that come on the show around. Her Politicks are always solid (she learned from the best in Kenny and Evan). So she has all the makings of a dominant compeitor. And yet? Zero Challenge wins in her 7 [SEVEN!!!] season career (Exes 2 makes her 8th season).

Sarah has been on The Ruins, Fresh Meat II, Cutthroat, Rivals, Battle of the Exes, Battle of the Seasons, Rivals II, and now Battle of the Exes II. Since her Challenge Debut in 2009 she has missed a grand total of ONE Challenge (Free Agents). Other than that she has competed on every single one of them. So clearly she’s backing up that talk about wanting to be on the Challenge. And if you watch her compete you can tell that she clearly wants to win. It just hasn’t happened yet. So why? Partners. That’s why.

After talking with Bananas and Wes at their Power Couple dinner, Jordan and Sarah seemed to be on top of the world. And Sarah commented multiple times to Jordan that “this game is so much better when you have a good partner.” Because really, she hasn’t yet. Of her seven previous Challenges all of them were either pair or team Challenges and none were individual Challenges. (She missed her one shot at an individual Challenge with Free Agents). Three were Team Challenges and four were Partner Challenges.

Her 3 Team Challenges went like this. There was The Ruins where she was part of the “Challengers” team. The other team? The “Champions” team. This thing was stacked. Evan, Kenny, and Bananas on one team? Versus a bunch of Challenge Rookies, and career long losers? No thanks. No wonder she didn’t win one there, but she was still one of only 2 members of the “Challenger” team still alive when the Final rolled around so we knew she was good.

When you've got these two conniving lovebirds on a team against you, you know it won't end well

When you’ve got these two conniving lovebirds on a team against you, you know it won’t end well

The next one was Cutthroat which turned out to be Sarah’s best shot at a title yet. She was on the Grey team lead by Challenge Valhalla member Abram who nearly led his team to victory, but they were upset in end by the Veteran laden team of Brad, Tori, Tyler and Dunbar.

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In Battle of the Seasons RW: Brooklyn got third place and Sarah was again left short of victory. So if her team competitions weren’t totally unsuccessful, but left her short of gold, how were her Partner Challenges? Well… those were a disaster…

It all started with Fresh Meat II where Landon and Carly absolutely steamrolled the whole competition. Sarah [along with everyone else] never stood a chance, but even if the wrecking ball that is Landon hadn’t been there Sarah’s partner wouldn’t have carried her far anyway. Vinny showed up to The Challenge with world’s of promise but proved to be as soft as the Stay Puff Marshmellow man… and eventually became as fat as him too…

On Rivals she was paired with her Brooklyn castmate Katelyn who was honestly one of the worst Challenge competitors I have ever seen. Just abysmal. No shot for the two of them from jumpstreet.

Then, on Battle of the Exes she got to run back her performance with Vinny… or rather with some individual who apparently ate Vinny… so that didn’t end well…

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Good lord MTV why did you put him in that Speedo?

Next came Rivals II where she got stuck with Trishelle who quit in Episode 3 meaning that Sarah (with no partner to compete with) had to go home as well.

But now… finally… after a career of disappointment and inferior teammates… here Sarah is with Jordan. A Finals competitor and truly a top tier caliber partner. He’s the not best she could hope for because he comes with an enormous target on his arrogant chest, but hey, they won a Daily Challenge and became the Power Couple on last week’s episode, so something is clearly clicking. This will be Sarah’s best chance to win one of these things. Sarah the Superfan. Sarah the girl who went on the Real World just so she could be a part of the Real World // Road Rules Challenges. Sarah has always wanted this more than her opponents, but that has never mattered before. Bad luck and bad teammates have dragged her down. Now here’s to hoping that Jordan doesn’t do the same one last time, but can keep himself together long enough to help her into the promised land.

It won’t be easy for the two of them to dance their way between the dueling Titans of Bananas and Wes. And the political tightrope they started walking with those dinner conversations last week could easily come back to bite them, but it will be exciting to see if the #3 seeded dark horse can pull it off, and if Sarah can accomplish the one goal she hasn’t been able to accomplish yet on The Challenge.

So on that note, on to the power rankings.

ELIMINATED

Thomas and Hailey

Final Rank: 13

Preseason Rank:11

dustin and jessica

Welp… so much for their Royal Rumble style run to the top. Did not expect them to lose this week considering their competition, but so be it.

Final Rank: 12

Change from Last Week: 0

Preseason Rank: 9

DISQUALIFIED

ct and diem

I’ve already addressed my larger thoughts on this issue elsewhere, but it was certainly sad to see CT and Diem go. Especially considering how well they were both competing. I think they really had a chance to win it all, but I guess the Fairy Tale ending was too much to ask for.

Final Rank: 11

Change from Last Week: -8

Preseason Rank: 5

EXILED

jj and simone

I was incredibly pleased to see them finally knocked out. I wanted it week 1 but I guess I’ll take it Week 3 if I have to. But then they went and won an exile!!! I still think they’re a horrendous team. They hate each other and have 0 outstanding physical gifts or anything that I would imagine them pulling through. Maybe they’ll force another upset next week in Exile, but I don’t expect them to be in the running much longer.

Current Rank: 10

Change from Last Week: +1

Preseason Rank: 13

LIVE AND KICKIN’

jay and jenna

Nothing new to report here. Jay and Jenna are not a strong team, but they still technically have Zach “looking out for them” in some way I guess, and up until now there have been too many weak teams floating around for them to get themselves thrown in. I do, however, expect them and the next couple teams to be on the chopping block moving forward.

Current Rank: 9

Change from Last Week: +1

Preseason Rank: 12

Knight and JemmyeWell… they were… kindof OK in that Challenge I guess… I mean… it was certainly distressing to see Knight not help Jemmye at all… Ya… I mean there’s no positive way to spin this, they’re going to self destruct eventually.

Current Rank: 8

Change from Last Week: +1

Preseason Rank: 10

adamn and brittany

So normally if you win an Elimination Round I’ll bump you up in the rankings for your effort. HOWEVER, when you look as bad as Adam and Brittany did when doing such an easy Elimination you’re just lucky to not drop in the rankings. Not to mention the fact that the Veterans have clearly found their first “Rookie Scapegoat” team of the season… There is always one team that gets thrown in repeatedly  in order to protect Politicks elsewhere in the house, and Adam and Brittany, thanks to their miserable Week One performance are this year’s first Lamb to the Slaughter. They’ll likely have to face an Elimination every single week from here until they go home. Unless they somehow become the power couple. Which I doubt will happen considering the drama they’re about to create for themselves after that foreboding bar makeout at the end of last week’s episode.

Current Rank: 7

Change from Last Week: +1

Preseason Rank: 4

boston johnny and averey

Johnny and Averey really didn’t do anything impressive this week to go with their solid Dome performance last week. They don’t seem to work well together, and honestly I would have liked to drop them a spot, but I just couldn’t justify putting them behind Adam and Brittany now that they’re the designated Scapegoat. Hopefully things improve for them, but I’m skeptical.

Current Rank: 6

Change from Last Week: +1

Preseason Rank: 8

zach and jonna

Nothing much new to add here, but I still don’t like the idea of Zach and Jenna. Smells like drama and a thunderous downfall for Challenge Thor is forthcoming. Number one rule of the Challenge, Zach: Don’t fall in love on the Challenge.

Current Rank: 5

Change from Last Week: +1

Preseason Rank: 6

leroy and nia

Welcome to the Big Four Leroy and Nia. Admittedly they’re only here because of CT and Diem’s unfortunate early departure, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t deserving of being near the top. They’ve caused no drama this far so their Politicks (or lackthereof) are going strong. Leroy is a top competitor, and Nia… is… uhhh… Nia… So anyway they could easily get bumped out of the Top Four in the coming weeks, but for now here’s where they stand.

Current Rank: 4

Change from Last Week: +1

Preseason Rank: 7

wes and theresa

Another week without a Power Couple win, and I had to drop Wes and Theresa. I honestly don’t think they’ll stay here long (not that being 3rd is anything to scoff at) but they need to keep up the effort or things could turn on them a lot quicker than they expect. Already 2 of Wes’s Rookie Fodder teams are out of the house, and Theresa isn’t making any friends for the pair of them. Not to mention the fact that whatever Double Agent Trickery Sarah is trying to pull, we know when push comes to shove she’ll pick Bananas over Wes. Probably nothing to worry about here, but I don’t think Wes and Theresa are as safe this week as they were last.

Current Rank: 3

Change from Last Week: -1

Preseason Rank: 2

jordan and sarah

The new kids on the block making a power move! A Power Couple win, a chance to do some Politickal manuevering with the Two Titans of this season, and Jordan seems to be keeping his big mouth shut for the time being. Moreover, after hearing their dinner conversation, Sarah might have even been able to beat some sense into his thick skull to keep his Banana hatred locked down for the time being. All in all things are looking spectacular for these two at the moment. However, I can’t seem to shake the eerie feeling that Sarah is sitting on top of a powder-keg primed to blow any second. There is no way they can play this dual game of Bananas vs. Wes for too long, and I have my doubts that Jordan can keep his mouth shut for an entire season. Things are going to blow up for them eventually, I just hope they’re strong enough to weather the storm when it happens.

Current Rank: 2

Change from Last Week: +2

Preseason Rank: 3

bananas and nany

But your once and future King and Queen remains the Banana man and his leading lady. Nany is already showing some signs of cracking (going back to last week) and is clearly a weaker link that I thought she was coming into the season. I had a lot of faith in her after her Finals appearance on Free Agents, but Bananas might have more work ahead of him than I thought. I highly doubt they’re on pace for an Elimination anytime soon, but a fall in the rankings could come if they don’t shore up the cracks. For now though they’re still on top.

Current Rank: 1

Change from Last Week: 0

Preseason Rank: 1

Goodbye Diem Brown

ct and diem

So that was it. CT and Diem were disqualified from Battle of the Exes II for a medical emergency as Diem was rushed back to America. It kindof makes me wonder why Diem even competed in this Challenge at all if she was so close to the edge. Not that I wish she hadn’t. In fact it was really good to see her again. And it felt even better to see her and CT doing so well in the competition. I have no idea what would have happened if they stuck around, but after seeing them finish in 2nd and 3rd in their two Challenge Days I can’t believe they wouldn’t have been sniffing around a title.

In the end, however, its not to be. CT and Diem went home, and Diem, for one, is never coming back.

CT and Diem were absolutely great together this season. There was none of the past drama that has plagued them, and CT could not have looked like a more supporting partner. That hasn’t always been the case. Their MTV stories are so tightly intertwined that, for better or worse, they have always been more or less inseparable. CT cracked a joke to Bananas as he was packing up to leave that “normally the only reason I go home this early is because I socked somebody” references his Duel II fight with Adam which, surprise surprise, was a Diem related incident if you recall. The two really did define one another, and every memorable Challenge moment for either one of them invariably had the other tied in there somewhere.

CT and Diem are Challenge royalty. There will never be another pair like them. It feels like they’ve been around seen the start of the show. CT was on Real World Paris in 2003 and made his Challenge debut on The Inferno in 2004. Diem entered the fold on the original Fresh Meat back in 2006. As fans we only got to see inside their relationship in glimpses. From season to season. If one of them missed a season, no dice, no update. When they were good, we were good and got to enjoy every moment of them together. When they were fighting we had to watch it play out and suffer with them. But we only got to view their relationship through the admittedly tainted and distorted lens that is MTV’s The Challenge.

But what was really the best thing about CT and Diem. What made it really special. Was that in this world of MTV faux celebrities, hyperbole, and imitation life. Where everything is constructed to gain extra airtime and push your own agenda. Where editing is key and can turn any one night stand into an apparently life long romance, or any disagreement into World War Three. What was really special about CT and Diem was just how real they were.

mgid-uma-image-mtv (1)

For me personally, it doesn’t really feel like Diem is gone. I can still see her on TV or on online reruns which is as far as our relationship went anyway, but for CT it’s all too real. 

 

Goodbye Diem. You will be missed. And good luck CT. You have thousands of fans who only wish you the best.

The Best Laid Schemes o’ Bananas and Gingers, Often Go Awry

Johnny and Wes

In spite of the preponderance of top male competitors remaining in the field, Wes and Johnny are clearly running the show early on this season. This is no surprise. We all know their politicking was a notch above the rest, and as a result they are one another’s primary targets and primary threats at this early stage in the game. They have now both won a Challenge, and both postured with threats of throwing the other one into an elimination round. However, reason and sense won out in the end and neither power pairing has been thrown into an elimination by the other yet. 

In spite of how sensible that decision is, however, it was surprisingly difficult. We already knew Wes and Johnny hated each other, but they’re both too savvy and experienced to make a power play this early in the game. Their partners, however, don’t seem to see things that way. Our loving latina “Gonzalez sisters” Theresa and Nany have already decided they hate each other (eased along by Theresa’s past actions on Free Agents especially) and have decided they want to go at each other’s throats. While this is all well and good for the drama of the show, it isn’t exactly making Wes or Johnny’s jobs easier. It is absolutely spectacular to me to see those two forced to switch from posturing and empty threats to immediate damage control to keep things from spilling over and causing an early exit for one or both teams.

Approximate reenactment of events.

Approximate reenactment of events.

Wes’s downfall is always and has always been the decision of the other competitors to pick off his rookie minions one by one, depleting his armor until he finally stands alone. And because he never truly cares about protecting his rookies he always let’s this happen, and sometimes willingly offers up his rookies in secret deliberations in order to save himself. Not exactly the most savory technique, but it works for a while. However, it won’t work forever and never does. I’m not too worried for Wes’s survival yet. Especially when he and Theresa were so close to winning that ludicrous challenge (and honestly should have won), but Bananas has taken the first of many steps toward chopping Wes down to size.

This time around, however, he may have another problem is his own partner doesn’t quit starting fires around the house. I’ve seen Johnny control crazy partners before, but can’t recall Wes being put to the same test. In fact, in Rivals II it often seemed like CT who was keeping Wes in check, rather than the other way around. Theresa is undeniably a strong partner to have when it comes to physical competition. Her politicks, however, remind me of old Johnny Bananas the bumbling villain rather than his new form as a modern day MTV Otto von Bismarck. She just tries the “nice to your face, lie behind your back” stuff which never works. It is too purely motivated by greed and selfishness, and always backfires as it currently is with Nany.

Now, normally this wouldn’t be a problem for Theresa as there are only a handful of female competitors on this show superior to her physically, but this time around her picking on Nany is going to bring Bananas into the fight, and could spell ruin for her team. She has a great opportunity to learn from one of the best schemers in Challenge history with Wes on her team. Last episode she did not seem to want to learn from him as he pleaded with her to apologize to Nany, and she sat silent like a petulant child. She’ll have to fix this attitude problem and start learning a thing or two from Wes if they want to succeed. Its so obvious she wants to win one of these things, and works really hard to put herself in successful positions, but she hasn’t achieved anything yet. She needs to shut up, humble herself, and learn from Wes for the time being. If she does she might turn into one of the most dominant female characters we have. Otherwise her Challenge might be shorter than she would like.

So with that said, let’s take a look at some updated Power Rankings shall we?

ELIMINATED:

thomas and hailey

No surprises here. I never expected much of them to start the season, and was shocked that Dustin and Jessica ended up going down week one instead of someone like them or JJ and Simone. It all worked out in the end though as Thomas and Hailey were double eliminated this week, losing in both The Dome and in Exile. The only sad part about them leaving in my opinion is that Wes is now short of 2 more minions. O’well though. Better luck next time folks.

Final Rank: 13

Change from Last Week: -3

Preseason Rank: 11

EXILED:

dustin and jessica

This is much more like what I expected from Dustin and Jessica. I think they’re better than almost every single rookie pair with the exception of Adam and Brittany who they had to face in exile (and honestly should have beaten… they were several rungs ahead of them on that ladder challenge until Jessica toppled them). So anyway I’m happy to see them win in Exile. Also, I absolutely love the Royal Rumble setup for these exile eliminations where Dustin and Jessica will have to run a full gauntlet of 9 teams if they hope to make it back to a Final Challenge. I highly doubt they’ll succeed, but I’m excited to see how long their run lasts.

Current Rank: 12

Change from Last Week: +1

Preseason Rank: 9

LIVE AND KICKIN’:

jj and simone

I have no idea how these two continue to sneak under everyone’s radar, but I am convinced that they are legitimately terrible. They’ll shatter worse than a recent college graduate’s hopes and dreams after they enter the job market as soon as someone decides to test them. It’s just a matter of time.

Current Rank: 11

Change from Last Week: +1

Preseason Rank: 13

jay and jenna

I’ve said the whole time that I think Jay could actually put on a respectable showing physically on this show, but that I doubted Jenna’s abilities. Now, with Jenna starting a romance with Thor’s nephew Zach you’d think they improved their chances and gained a powerful ally. However, only half of the team-members involved in that love quadrilateral are happy about it. Both Jay and Jonna seem to be out of sorts, and I can only believe Jenna’s actions are going to create enough drama to drag her team down, and maybe even take Zach with them.

Current Rank: 10

Change from Last Week: +1

Preseason Rank: 12

Knight and Jemmye

They didn’t do anything to hurt themselves this week, but I still don’t have much faith in the ever-feuding twosome. Their veteran status will carry them a ways, but their hatred is gonna send this house of cards crashing down eventually. Although I did love their comments during the Challenge that “they wouldn’t have to talk to each other so that would help.”

Current Rank: 9

Change from Last Week: 0

Preseason Rank: 10

adamn and brittany

This ranking isn’t about them falling, as it was last week, but rather the next team in our list passing them. Adam and Brittany have done nothing to make me think they’re worthy of the inflated preseason rank I gave them, and Brittany is even starting to get on my nerves. I still have faith they’ll put it together and make a small run eventually, but they’re not final Challenge material. At least not at this point in their young careers.

Current Rank: 8

Change from Last Week: -1

Preseason Rank: 4

boston johnny and averey

Johnny and Averey had an impressive Dome win over hapless Thomas and Hailey. I’ve got all the faith in the world in Boston Johnny after his surprise Finals appearance last season, but Averey I still question. She took FOREVER to complete her half of the elimination challenge, and only succeeded because Hailey completely failed to move on. However, I do give her props for accomplishing a difficult task, as countless girls on this show can’t even do that, so there’s hope here. I’m just not sure there’s enough hope for them to upset any of the teams ahead of them.

Current Rank: 7

Change from Last Week: +1

Preseason Rank: 8

zach and jonna

Thor and his partner dropped thanks to the time honored tradition on the Challenge of ‘trouble in the bedroom.’ Zach is breaking the #1 rule of The Challenge (given to us by Johnny Bananas himself): NEVER FALL IN LOVE ON THE CHALLENGE. There is no way this Jenna fling can end well for him, and it only makes things worse that his jealous partner is now making out with Jay just to make herself feel better about it. Troubling seas ahead for The Great Viking.

Current Rank: 6

Change from Last Week: -1

Preseason Rank: 6

leroy and nia

Zach’s loss is Leroy’s gain. I think the two are about equal in terms of physical strength so the only way to differentiate them (normally) is through their political standing in the house. Normally the edge here goes to Zach because Leroy flatly refuses to politick (something I’ve always admired in him as it reminds me of the old CT), but this time around since Zach is actively hurting his political standing, Leroy’s neutral stance wins out. I still can’t put them in the Hallowed Top Four because I don’t trust Nia in a Dome Elimination, but they’re in pole position to capitalize if any of the Top Four should stumble.

Current Rank: 5

Change from Last Week: +1

Preseason Rank: 7

jordan and sarah

Jordan and Sarah dropped a spot this week, but I don’t think it’s really anything to be concerned about. They’re still one of the strongest teams out there in terms of both male and female rankings. They got hit with some tough luck with that ball spinning Challenge considering the fact that Jordan only has one hand, and that type of thing could easily come back to haunt them in crunch time, but I doubt it. So even with a one spot drop I don’t think they have any less of a chance to win the whole thing. They’re still Top Four and have a great chance to make the Finals.

Current Rank: 4

Change from Last Week: -1

Preseason Rank: 3

ct and diem

They leapt over Jordan and Sarah this week to continue their upward trajectory in the rankings largely due to their fantastic performances in Challenges. They finished 2nd (barely missing out on 1st) in Week One, and now they made it to the top three in the Week Two challenge as well. I’ve had my doubts about Diem’s abilities for years, and her sickness only further shook my faith, but if her and CT keep putting up these amazing finishes (narrowly missing out of victory each team) I’ll have no choice but to reconsider. Already I think Diem is one of the top female competitors after her performances thus far, and we all know CT is a monster in these things so if they can keep it up I foresee nothing but success for these two.

Current Rank: 3

Change from Last Week: +1

Preseason Rank: 5

wes and theresa

They BARELY lost the Challenge this week so they’re obviously still near top dog status, but unfortunately the team they lost to was the only team outranking them last week, so I can’t move them up. Moreover, if Theresa doesn’t get her act together and start playing safer Politicks these two will be in trouble. For now though I still consider them one of the frontrunners to bring down the whole thing. The only problem is theres one team still ahead of them…

Current Rank: 2

Change from Last Week: 0

Preseason Rank: 2

bananas and nany

… the King still sits atop his Banana Throne. They narrowly won a Challenge this week, putting them into Power Couple status which is always a plus. However, Nany has apparently turned nearly the whole female side of the house against her which if left unaddressed will become a major issue. I have faith that Johnny will straighten everything out though, so for now I guess it reamins “All Hail the Banana King.” Until next time folks.

New Blood and New Hope: The Signing of Carles Gil

(Image via AVFC.com and Getty Images)

(Image via AVFC.com and Getty Images)

Amid heavy pressure from Villa fans, and threats of a Holte End protest Paul Lambert has done what he does best and bring new, cheap talent into the club by purchasing former Valencia and Elche man Carles Gil for a price somewhere around £3.2 million. But before we get into this let’s start with why the move was necessary.

First and foremost, Villa can’t score goals. They are on pace to be a historically low scoring team. They have only scored 11 goals all season and are on pace for 20 goals all season if this keeps up. That would tie the Premier League record for fewest goals in a season, and to make matters worse, no club in BPL history has ever scored fewer than 28 goals and avoided relegation. So that’s cheery. And this whole “lack of goals” things sure makes it hard to win. Villa are win-less in their last 6 matches, and in that stretch lost games to midlands rival West Bromich Albion (a team flirting with relegation all year) and Leicester City (when they were bottom of the table no less). So clearly, as things currently stand Villa are flirting with disaster and relegation. Time for change then, yes? Yes.

Yup, definitely time for change.

Yup, definitely time for change.

But what kind of change? Well, Villa’s defense is clearly not the problem, and is in fact and massive, Herculean strength. The fact that they have only scored 11 goals all year, and are somehow in 13th place is absolutely astounding. The two teams with the next lowest scoring totals are Sunderland and Burnley with 18 and 19 respectively, so it isn’t even close. Aston Villa is the worst offensive team in the League by far, and yet Burnley is in 17th place and Sunderland is in 16th place (just outside of the relegation zone) while Villa sit (relatively) safe from relegation (for now) in 13th place. This shouldn’t even be possible, but thanks to Villa’s spectacular defense, it is. In fact, their 23 goals allowed number is 5th best in the League, and the only four teams who have allowed fewer goals than them this season? Are the 4 teams on top of the League. So clearly a defense this good belongs at the top of the table, not down in the basement flirting with relegation. Again, the offense is the problem.

Time to sign a flashy new striker then? That’s what struggling offensive teams do right? Wrong. In this case anyone. Christian Benteke has all the talent to be one of the ten best goal scorers in the Premier League. The guy is amazing. Seriously. Just check him out.

He basically just embarrassed the entire Crystal Palace team by himself there. And if you noticed there wasn’t a single other Villa shirt nearby helping him there. And then of course there’s the fact that he’s capable of this…

So clearly, the issue isn’t our Striker. The problem is that no one can ever find him with the ball. We have apparently 0 setup men on this team. Its the midfield where our offense stalls. Enter: Carles Gil. A natural central attacking midfielder, the hope is that Gil will be able to get the ball up to our freak of nature finisher and generate some goals. We’ll find out if that’s how this game-plan plays out tomorrow when Villa take on Liverpool, but from what I understand of the guy that shouldn’t be an issue. Gil’s main issues in Spain were playing time related, not talent related, so as long as Lambert gives him consistent time on the pitch (something he hasn’t been kind enough to do for other players in the past) things should work themselves out.

So… that’s how we ended up in this predicament of fan rage and potential protests, and Lambert’s plan to fix the problem. Honestly I have a fair amount of confidence that Gil will be a success. This is due to the fact that Lambert’s best attribute, as far as I can tell, appears to be finding quality talent at bargain prices.

(Photo Credit: Chris Brunskill, Getty Images Europe)

(Photo Credit: Chris Brunskill, Getty Images Europe)

Aly Cissokho (another signing from Valencia) has been great for Villa all season, and Lambert dug him up for only £2 million. Philippe Senderos was a great plug in for the injured Ron Vlaar early in the season until he himself went down, and Lambert brought him in off a free transfer. He also brought in Jores Okore (along with Ciaran Clark one of the two young players Villa fans hope will be the core of their defensive back line for a decade) last year for only £4 million. And let’s not forget that during his first year with the club Lambert brought in Benteke, Westwood, and Vlaar… three of the core components to this club. And Lambert has done all this without the budget of an Arsenal or a Chelsea. The man is clearly good at scouting talent and paying the right price for them, and under his reign Villa’s roster may be more talented than its been for years. So why aren’t they winning?

(Photo Credit: Laurence Griffiths and The Mirror)

(Photo Credit: Laurence Griffiths and The Mirror)

Villa fans, in my opinion, have every right to be angry. Villa is a big club. A huge club. They have more rich history than nearly any club in England, and are even the oldest club in the country. They’re a founding member of the Premier League, and they don’t deserve this. They are not a 13th place club. They are not a club that should score the fewest goals in Premier League history. And they are certainly not a club that should be worried about relegation.

I, however, still have mixed feelings. To put things in American terms, I have to assume that Lambert simply isn’t a good coach. He can’t make his players perform on the pitch no matter what his talent pool looks like. He has never succeeded at Villa (unless you consider avoiding relegation success… which at this point I almost do…) no matter how much talent he brings in. However, whatever his shortcomings may be in terms of on field tactics, his marketplace tactics are absolutely superb. He finds players who are undervalued by other clubs and swoops in for bargain deals on Premier League caliber plaeyrs. He has done this so consistently that it is obvious to me that, again in American terms, he is the best General Manager in the BPL. And for that reason I would be incredibly unhappy to see him go.

Image via Getty Images

Image via Getty Images

I feel like I’ve seen the reverse of this situation many times in American sports. A guy will be a great coach and succeed so wildly that ownership let’s him be his own GM and pick his own players. Almost invariably, however, the guy ends up shooting himself in the foot and making terrible personnel decisions, signing guys to horrible contracts and wasting money left and right, drastically crippling the club. In fact a little bit of that is going on right now with my hometown Detroit Pistons where new Coach and President Stan Van Gundy made the horrendous decision to keep Josh Smith on the roster resulting in a 5-23 record to start the season. So in any event, it seems easy to me to strip a Coach of GM duties and let him keep coaching. It seems impossible (especially looking at the way the BPL and world football function) to remove coaching duties from a manager, but let him continue making personnel choices.

So in the end, I really hope this Gil signing works out. I hope Aston Villa’s offense shows stupendous promise, they avoid relegation, and everything begins to improve as we set the table for a more successful season next year. I’d love to keep Lambert on the team, and I would hope he could surround himself with enough quality assistant coaches to improve the on field product if his coaching ability is truly lacking. In the end though all I really want is for Villa to win, and I don’t really care if that is with or without Lambert. I just want the frustration to end, and to get some hope back. So Carles Gil, welcome to Birmingham. I hope you’re ready to create some goals.

Image via Valenciacf.com

Image via Valenciacf.com

A Banana and a Ginger: Sowing the Seeds of Discord

Well folks we have officially entered the Exes 2 Season, and I think MTV started things off fairly well.

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First off… I freaking love the [Thunder] Dome hahaha. So glad to have it back. One of the most ridiculously named, and down bad-ass elimination arena’s every. Mad Max references are always welcome with me.

But with all show inspirations aside, the beginning to the show and the character intros were fairly funny. Leroy promising us (as he has done before) that he finally learned how to swim. Jordan informing us all that he is now a model in his non-MTV life. CT claiming he shaved his beard to get back with Diem. Johnny Bananas giving a soliloquy to his fans, promising them he will prove that he’s still the best and deliver another title to them, before delivering his traditional Challenge Toast.

But it wasn’t all smiles. Those CT and Diem scenes were absolutely heart wrenching. The Knight scenes were depressing as well, but hearing Diem say she wanted to win this money so she could pay for a surrogate since cancer had robbed her of the ability to have her own children? Good night… That is depressing… Especially after hearing everyone else say ridiculous things like “I want to use the money to start my own hair extension line” [Jonna] or “I want to open up a cross fit gym” [Zach]. Not trying to offend either of those two, but the juxtaposition was jarring. And just seeing CT and Diem together again smiling is an emotional sight. CT and Diem are Challenge royalty. They are The Challenge’s version of Robert and Jackie Kennedy. Diem is The Challenge’s Princess Di. And so while I’m happy to see them getting one final run on air, it certainly doesn’t make me feel good. But on to the show.

I’ll have some updated rankings and new overall thoughts on the competition on whole at the end of the article, but first I’d like to talk a little bit about Mr. Wes Bergmann.

ct-yelling-at-wes

Wes, like Johnny Bananas, was always one of my least favorite characters on the show during it’s Golden Era (which we are currently in the process of transitioning away from). Moreover, I disliked Wes for all the same reasons I disliked Bananas. In my mind they were the conniving, politicking, back room dealing scumbags who dragged down the truly deserving and dominant competitors (like CT and Evan). It always pissed me off that the guys who I thought were top tier competitors would lose out to second tier athletes like Johnny and Wes simply because they didn’t politick as well, and I always felt especially vindicated when Wes and Bananas would get thrown into an elimination and have their physical inferiority thrown on display as they were quickly ushered off the show. However, I was always aware of the fact that they made the show better, and as more and more members of the Golden Generation of Challenge competitors fall by the wayside, I find myself falling into their camp if only for the sake of nostalgia, and reverence for a fleeting, departing Era.

So, just like I finally got over my Johnny Bananas hatred and finally began rooting for him during his absolutely spectacular run through Free Agents, I have a feeling [after watching the first episode] that I am about to follow the same steps of acceptance as I welcome Wes into my depleted and shrinking club of beloved veterans.

wes

Wes may have let some of his Physical game go. He is no longer the cut and chiseled competitor he once was (see picture for reference). However, his political game still has me giddy with joy when the wheels start turning. He knows all the Vets hate him (as does everyone on this show once they get to know him) so he always seems to make an early alliance with all the Rookies and newer payers on the show to surround himself with fodder which can be used to shield his own body from any fatal strikes. It really is a genius strategy when you consider the fact that none of the rookies realize just how well he’s playing them. I mean seriously… did you see the look on Thomas’s face when Wes had him and Jay alone in a room as he told them he wasn’t going to vote them in? And those quotes he threw out afterwards? “This kid is smart. I mean.. I could just really tell this kid was smart cuz like… this kid is just really smart… ya man… he’s just smart”… I can’t wait to see the look on Thomas’s face when Wes finally pulls the trigger and back-stabs him. I assure you it will be priceless.

In a similar vein I don’t think that it matters that he pissed off Bananas. One would assume that was a tactical mistake, but Bananas was going to take his first chance to get rid of Wes anyway, so in that sense nothing changed. The two just now have their beef out in the open (as if it weren’t already). Furthermore, with multiple members of The Challenge Valhalla retired (either entering into retirement voluntarily [Landon, Mark, Brad, Derrick] or being forced into retirement  [Evan, Kenny]) Wes finds himself without his traditional antagonists. Wes’s true rival has always and will always be Kenny “Mr. Beautiful” Santucci.

I Miss you Mr. Beautiful.... Just look at that Shit Eating Grin... its spectacular

I Miss you Mr. Beautiful….Just look at that Shit Eating Grin… its spectacular

Wes and Kenny have an extremely long backstory which reached it’s climax during their Runner-Up finish during Rivals [1]. Even when they were the strongest team in the entire competition, they still dragged each other into the dirt, finishing second behind Fat Tyler, and Johnny Bananas.

But here, then, we have the seeds of MTV’s new story line for Wes. He has obviously had problems with EVERYONE on this show, but it was always Kenny who was his primary opponent and Kenny [often alongside Evan and/or Bananas] who kept him in check. He and CT had problems (but who DIDNT have problems with the Boston Brute in his younger years), but now MTV has informed us that it is his dusty past with Bananas that will provide his latest rival.  Wes will be the next challenger MTV lines up to do battle the Mighty Banana where so many before him have fallen. I have my doubts as to whether he will unseat the Banana, but we shall see.

To start with, anyway, Wes has made quick progress. He has organized the house, very quickly mind you, into a veritable stack of Jenga blocks which falls or stands depending how he pushes or pulls each block. Obviously that will change radically when other players (and there are MANY formidable players in this show… Bananas being simply the most obvious example) begin to add blocks of their own or remove blocks belonging to Wes, but for the time being it appears as if he has set himself up for early returns. I don’t know that I believe Wes can win the entire Challenge, but a spot in the top 5 is virtually assured, and a trip to the finals appears to be within his grasp already.

Wes and Bananas have always been the show’s best aggravators. Always. There have been others who have been very very good (Evan and Kenny amongst them) and there have been others who have been far superior to Wes and Bananas in terms of physical ability. However, there have NEVER been two better politickers and backroom assassins than these two. They create drama both in the house and in the arena. They are strong (but, importantly, never the strongest) competitors. They are #1 and #2 on the Challenge’s all time Prize Money Earned list. And are two of the shows remaining pillars in this era where the Old Guard is partially phasing out (numerically if not competitively).

12-ev-wes-johnny

In Episode One MTV has already laid this season out as a test between these two giants of the game. Everything else is ancillary (albeit hilarious and enjoyable). THIS is what really matters this season. Most of the Old Guard have been cast away by MTV, but these two remain. Two surprising picks in my opinion since they were never the top competitors physically, but then again I’ve always had a soft spot for the Lumbering Ogres who play no politics (CT in his youth or Leroy now). These two represent what the Challenge is really about, and this season is setting up to be a true Clash of Titans. There is a huge opportunity for a competitor like CT to play this battle to his advantage, playing these two against each other (which they will be all in favor of) but no matter what happens I can’t wait to see how this season plays out.

Johnny Bananas and CT have became heroes in the new Challenge narrative where they used to be villains. As a result, MTV has dusted off the old Bogeyman Wes to see if he still has some of his old abilities. I can’t wait to see him prove that he does.

challenge_8_g_mp_576

Updated Power Rankings:

This week’s power rankings have changed a surprising amount for me considering we’ve only seen one episode, but then again with so many rookies on this season that seemed bound to happened. We learn exponentially more about each rookie episode by episode than we do about Vet’s who have been around for 5+ seasons. So without further ado here we have it. Competitors will be listed in reverse order of rank, starting with those already eliminated.

EXILED

dustin and jessica

Current Rank: 13

Change from Last Week: -4

Preseason Rank: 9

We all knew this one was coming, I just didn’t think it would be this soon. Although it’s always good for a laugh when Dustin’s “Gay Porn Past” comes up, and I got a good chuckle out of Dustin making an effort to “Bunk with the guys this year” to make friends and alliances it was still sad to see them go home so soon. I don’t really dislike either of these two at all, but they’re just a middle of the pack team that can always go home Week 1 or Week 6, but will likely never see a Final. We’ll see what they can do in this new exile bracket though.

LIVE AND KICKIN’

jj and simone

Current Rank: 12

Change from Last Week: +1

Preseason Rank: 13

JJ might not be as hate-able as I thought he would be when the show started, but Simone sure is. They moved up a spot due to Dustin and Jessica’s elimination, but have no fear… these two will soon be on the chopping block.

jay and jenna

Current Rank: 11

Change from Last Week: +1

Preseason Rank: 12

Moved up a spot because Dustin and Jessica went home. Nothing really to see here. I like this couple being in the house for storyline purposes, but athletically I don’t expect much. But those storylines! Jenna’s Slootiness apparently knows no bounds. So she convinced Haley to do tandem cartwheels with her, while ensuring that their butts faced four panting Vet guys in the pool. At what point does she just start stripping on the kitchen counter? Also, I don’t understand how, but I do enjoy the fact that Jay was apparently involved in every single off camera romance that happened before this season. I don’t know how far these two will make it but for the sake of drama I hope they stick around.

thomas and hailey

Current Rank: 10

Change from Last Week: +1

Preseason Rank: 11

Moved up a spot because of Dustin and Jessica’s elimination, but these two, especially Thomas, are no good. I mean, you can even look at him in that picture. Look at his eyes and his hands. He looks so nervous and unsure of himself. No wonder Wes lured him in and Thomas bit hook line and sinker. “Golly Jee Wilikers Wes, I sure hope you can help me stick around here…” They’re a great patsy pair for Wes to have under his thumb, but I don’t expect much else from them.

Knight and Jemmye

Current Rank: 9

Change from Last Week: +1

Preseason Rank: 10

Knight and Jemmye moved up a spot in the rankings since Dustin and Jessica (previously ranked ahead of them) went home. They’re as much of a disaster working together as I remember. That Challenge performance was… not great… And it doesn’t help that both of them have traded athleticism for fat since their Challenge debuts.

boston johnny and averey

Current Rank: 8

Change from Last Week: 0

Preseason Rank: 8

I probably should have moved these two ahead of the next couple in the rankings, but right now I just have no faith in Averey. Boston Johnny surprised me big time with his performance in the Free Agents Final, but considering how little faith he seems to have in his partner and their partnership, I have a hard time moving him up in the rankings while he’s shackled to her.

adamn and brittany

Current Rank: 7

Change from Last Week: -3

Preseason Rank: 4

Still firmly locked in “Wildcard” status, but nevertheless I feel this collapse in rankings is firmly justified. Adam and Brittany looked horrendous this week. Their Challenge performance was abysmal and even their Dome performance felt lackluster. They were losing the entire time by about 2 ladder rungs until Dustin and Jessica fell off. That does not exactly make me feel confident in my preseason Dark Horse team. I feel bad for jumping off my sleeper pick so quickly, but it was probably ill-advised all along. Admittedly I judged their physical characteristics and athletic ability from a picture so… serves me right. Rookies should never be picked that highly, even when the veterans you were leaping them over have awful partners. Lesson learned.

Brittany gave me some hope early on for my initial over-ranking with her comment that she wanted to “Power Bomb people in the face” but it was certainly not a good sign that her victim in question was Adam… I’m convinced that these two could probably be something eventually, but right now they’re a hot mess begging for a quick exit. I fear that unless they start winning Challenges they’re in store for the old Challenge standby of “throw the same group in every single week until they lose so we don’t have to piss off anyone else.” Either way, I don’t have much faith in them making it as far as I thought they could go preseason.

leroy and nia

Current Rank: 6

Change from Last Week: +1

Preseason Rank: 7

The first beneficiaries of Adam and Brittany’s fall. Leroy is a monster. His partner has the strength of an ant. Not the whole “carrying ten times their body weight” thing… but the “she could probably lift up a leaf without getting too exhausted” part… I have faith that Leroy could carry this team quite a ways single-handedly because… I mean… thems is some strong hands he’s got there… But I just don’t feel confident moving them out of the Wildcard category and into Contender status just yet. Especially with Leroy’s politics being what they are. Leroy is a modern take on CT in his youth. CT was always the most physically gifted and dominant athlete on the show, but always refused to play (or bungled up) politics. Leroy has stated multiple times on the show that he refuses to play politics, which I really like, but I don’t think it improves his chances of winning. And Nia isn’t the one to make up for this shortcoming…

zach and jonna

Current Rank: 5

Change from Last Week: +1

Preseason Rank: 6

More or less the same storyline here as for Leroy and Nia, but because I think Jonna is capable of bench pressing two pillows whereas Nia is only capable of benching 1 Teddy Bear and an empty red solo cup (the contents of which have likely found their way into her liver) I’m giving the nod to Zach and Jonna for the top Wildcard spot, and prime position on a move into the 4 Contender slots. Zach and Leroy are equally physically dominant, so the girls need to be tiebreakers for now.

ct and diem

Current Rank: 4

Change from Last Week: +1

Preseason Rank: 5

CT and Diem moved up one slot in our power rankings to make up for the cataclysmic fall of Adam and Brittany. However, it’s pretty clear to me that I should have had them in the Top Four all along. They’ve moved out of the top slot in the Wildcard category, and into the bottom slot in the Contenders category. However, they could easily upset any of the three teams ahead of them, so it’s just a matter of time until they make a real move.

jordan and sarah

Current Rank: 3

Change from Last Week: 0

Preseason Rank: 3

Nothing new to add from last week. No signs of drama in the relationship yet which is a good sign. We’ll see if any of the top tier Wildcards make a run at them anytime soon, but for now they’ve held serve.

wes and theresa

Current Rank: 2

Change from Last Week: 0

Preseason Rank: 2

Wes’s politicks are in place and the gears are already turning in his dastardly machinations. Add to that the fact that this is one of the few pairs with both an athletic male and female competitor and it’s no surprise to see them defending the #2 stop. In fact the only surprising thing about this ranking might be that they’re not higher, but as we all know that is impossible since the #1 spot belongs to…

bananas and nany

Current Rank: 1

Change from Last Week: 0

Preseason Rank: 1

Nothing to say here. The King stays atop his throne until someone violently removes him. Long live the Banana King.

Johnny Bananas