Buckle your seat belts folks, because this is going to be a long one. As surprising as this may sound I don’t actually have a running list of the greatest Challenge episodes of all time, but there is no scenario where I can’t imagine that one being in the top 5. So let’s try our best to break everything down.
One of the most exciting moments in any Challenge season is the attempted Power Move. Whether its successful or not it always shakes things up, pushes us away from the rut of “just throw in the rookies every time” (which, as last week’s article pointed out, we were stuck in for this season), and always results in some excellent drama and a spectacular physical exhibition to cap off the episode. And like I said, it doesn’t even matter that the success rate of these power moves is abysmally low. Take last season for instance.
Jordan tried this exact thing last season. When he finally got an opportunity where Johnny Bananas was thrown into Elimination, he intentionally put himself into The Elimination to face off against Johnny and (he thought) knock him off the show. Jordan’s attempt ultimately failed, but what Challenge fan doesn’t remember the tension and anticipation leading up to those events? That was hands down the best episode of the entire Free Agents season. Seriously. Even the competitors thought so.
But where Jordan went wrong, was by allowing his arrogance to get the best of him, and putting himself at direct risk in Elimination. A Power Move is almost always initiated by an inferior player hoping to improve their winning chances by eliminating a superior player. But the real sign of a well executed Power Move is when a player can make someone else do their dirty work for them. Where Jordan screwed up was throwing himself into Elimination. Where Wes succeeded was waiting until Fate handed him an opportunity to initiate his Power Move before putting himself at risk.
You will recall that he and Theresa had an opportunity to throw Bananas and Nany in Week One this season. Moreover they had reason to. Wes and Bananas have always and will always hate each other. Theresa and Nany were already mired in drama. And Wes and Theresa held Power Couple status. However, the key to a Power Move is holding all your cards until you think the team you want to move against has a legitimate chance of being eliminated. Generally this means either they or one of the other top teams has slipped up. However, when you really broke things down, Adam and Brittany in their first ever Challenge and their first ever Exile had a 0% chance of eliminating Bananas and Nany Week One. So… Wes didn’t throw them in, and it wound up earning them collateral benefits as Bananas didn’t throw Wes in Week Two when he had the chance as a way to pay back the favor. Wes identified that the situation wasn’t yet right, decided to bide his time, and it paid off.
What you need to pull this thing off is for one Top Tier team to have performed so poorly in the Daily Challenge that they have automatically put themselves into the elimination. Check. Leroy is a notoriously horrible swimmer, and it cost him this week. However, he is undeniably an elite competitor and a physical force, so with him in an Elimination the first ingredient to a successful Power Move was in place.
The next thing you need is to win that Daily Challenge yourself (so you can directly choose who will be “voted” in to Elimination to compete with the Top Tier team which unluckily put themselves in) OR have the Politickal acumen to push the house or winning team to put that other Top Tier team in for you. Wes has the Politicks in spades, and it just so happened that this time around, he would be able to seal things up on the Daily Challenge as well. While Leroy may be the worst swimmer in Challenge history, Wes is undeniably the best swimmer the show has ever seen. When he was in High School at Texas’s Blue Valley North High he was a 3 time state champion swimmer in the state of Texas of all places… not exactly a small number of individuals in those competitions (with his main even being the 100yard Butterfly if you’re curious. SO with this Challenge being a swimming Challenge it was no surprise to see Wes come out victorious.
It is an incredibly complex series of events, and if you are a good player and an elite Politicker like Wes, you have to be able to recognize this cascade of events and take advantage of the fleeting window which Fate has provided you with. Once everything fell into place with Leroy forced into elimination and Wes was left staring down on opportunity to knock off his Rival Johnny Bananas, the fireworks were ready to fly. (Fun fact, Leroy and Bananas actually train together in the offseason, meaning Wes was also guaranteed to break up their alliance no matter who won the elimination. Not a bad consolation prize). That Power Move was executed with an absolutely clinical level of accuracy and perfect, and I could not possibly have been more impressed with how it played out.
But let’s be honest. The Biggest story here is not Wes. It’s not even Bananas. Its LEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEROOOOOOOOOOOY mJENNNKIIIIIIIINS!!!!!!!!!
At the end of the day Leroy is the one who did the real work this episode, and Leroy was the one who delivered. Now, I don’t mean to short change Hurricane Nia who was very good in that elimination. That competition was right up her alley because her length and she absolutely worked her ass off to win, never giving up, and really impressed me. But Leroy…. Ohhhhh leroy… My Lord… Leroy obliterated Elimination with a ferocity I never thought I could see from a former Garbage Man. I obviously would have loved it if Nia and Nany could have finished their leg of the Elimination simultaneously so we could have seen Bananas and Leroy truly go head to head, but I’m not sure Bananas could have beaten him even with a 5 second head start. It’s hard to tell from the editing but it looked like Leroy finished in under 9 seconds. NINE SECONDS!!!!! It took Nia like 45 to complete that thing!!! I’m gonna be brutally honest with you folks here… Leroy’s performance got my nipples hard… it was that good…
I’ve always had a soft spot for Big Lee. I’ve always thought he was a truly Elite Competitor just waiting to be unleashed. Sure he hadn’t been lucky enough to break through and win a finals yet, but … I mean… first off just look at the man.
Seriously! Here take another look!
You can’t tell me that isn’t the body of a Challenge Champion. Moreover, I felt like his early career was following an incredibly similar arc to another one of my all time favorites, CT. You see, both CT and Leroy were always dominant physically. Where they struggle was Politicks. Now, CT had the added problem of making everyone hate him and being hyper aggressive, picking too many fights, but both of them generally refused to play any Politicks at all during their early careers. Now, this is exactly what I like to see from my Competitors. I want pure physical dominance, and hate to see an undeserving team or individual Politick their way into the finals. However, it is undeniably a poor strategy. Both Leroy and CT would too often find themselves isolated, cut off, and eventually eliminated before the finals due to their lack of alliances and failure to play Politicks.
However, even though it took CT until his 10th Challenge to finally win one it doesn’t mean he wasn’t elite all along. I think the same thing is true of Leroy, and after watching that Elimination how could anyone disagree? He knocked off the defending champ. An all time great. And one of the greatest Challenge competitors of all time in Johnny Bananas. The guy is an undeniable beast, and I am certain that this will be just one of many accolades in his soon to be revered Challenge career. Also, as an aside, how spectacular was it to see Leroy take over the official role of Challenge Toast-Master now that Bananas is out of the house. Leroy’s star is undeniably on the rise, and I for one cannot wait to watch the devastation. So here’s to you Leroy.
But the day wasn’t all positives. Leroy is a Top Tier competitor who is constantly flirting with Elite status, but who hasn’t managed to get over the hump yet. He’s not the only guy in that pool. There’s Jordan who has looked very impressive thus far this season, and there is also, Zach Nichols. We can, and should, thank Zach for initiating that waterfall of drama that we just witnessed, but while his ‘move’ may have been great for TV I’m not sure it was great for him in the house.
You see, both Zach and Leroy and fringe elites. Neither has won a title, but noone would be shocked if either of them did. Their physical capabilities are undeniable (although Zach’s performance in the Free Agents finals brought in a few clouds), but, again, that isn’t the whole picture. Winning a Challenge means properly balancing Politicks and Physicality. Leroy’s biggest weakness is generally that he completely ignores the Politickal game. Zach’s is that his Politicks are too often inept.
It is clear that there are generally two camps in the house at this moment. Those competitors who had thrown their lot in with Mr. Bananas, and those who had allied themselves to Wes. While you could argue that there was a third pole / independent faction in the form of Jordan and Sarah, they were in large part more closely aligned with Bananas. So there it is. Now. The Bananas alliance was undeniably the stronger of the two. Bananas, Boston Johnny, Leroy, Zach, Jordan and Sarah… these are more or less all the competitors who have a chance at winning this thing with the exception of Wes and Theresa. Wes’s alliance, by comparison, is more or less entirely filled with rookies and bottom feeder teams (as it always is, as he has generally alienated all the Top Tier competitors throughout his career).
So, going into that daily Challenge, it would have made perfect sense for Zach to follow Bananas’ orders, stick with his powerhouse alliance, and put Wes and Theresa first in the daily Challenge. Moreover, it’s entirely possible that if they had been put first, Wes and Theresa never would have collected enough information to know that the right strategy was simply to ride the sled as far as possible before jumping into the water. Zach, however, attempted to play both sides of the field. He put Wes 4th which may have helped Wes win the Challenge, get Bananas eliminated, and absolutely obliterate his alliance. Moreover, before Johnny left he made sure that everyone in his former alliance knew that Zach was the cause of this, was not to be trusted, and should be taken out if possible. Zach, it would appear then, has put himself in a very bad position as a result of his attempt to strengthen his position.
Zach made it very clear that he didn’t want to simply fall in line with Bananas. He sees himself as a truly elite competitor who should be able to act unilaterally. He think he has outgrown the days where he needed to ally himself to a stronger player and feels he should be the guy making power plays. However, his clumsy execution shows that his Politicks definitely still needs more work, and elucidates why, although he is certainly a Top Tier competitor, he is not yet Elite.
Phew. What an episode. I think we all need a hug after that one.
We have two Titans clashing, and the lesser of the two coming out victorious (Wes vs. Bananas). We had two rising giants attempting to make a name for themselves in the game (Leroy and Zach) where one suceeded emphatically (Leroy) and one may have cost himself everything (Zach). And you throw it all together and you end up with one of the best episodes of The Challenge of all time. They seriously killed it, right Theresa?
But the best part? IT DIDN’T EVEN STOP THERE!!! This season MTV has thrown us the “Exile” curve ball where every eliminated team enters a side tournament for the right to reenter the competition, unbeknownst to everyone in the house. This could not have worked out better for MTV.
Not only did they get to air all that spectacular content and the Fall of the King in the regular episode, BUT NOW THEY (and we the fans) GET TO WATCH JOHNNY BANANAS FIGHT HIS WAY TOOTH AND NAIL THROUGH A ROYAL RUMBLE STYLE TOURNAMENT TO REENTER THE COMPETITION AND RECLAIM HIS BIRTHRIGHT!!!!! From a television perspective this couldn’t have worked out better for MTV. Things just went absolutely insane with this season, and I couldn’t be more excited to see how things will turn out. I’m definitely gonna need another hug before this is all through…
So while nothing could live up to all that excitement, let’s see how the episode shook up the Power Rankings, shall we?
Thomas and Hailey
Final Rank: 13
Dustin and Jessica
Final Rank: 12
Preseason Rank: 9
Disqualified: CT and Diem
Final Rank: 11
Preseason Rank: 5
Knight and Jemmye
Final Rank: 10
Preseason Rank: 10
Final Rank: 9
Preseason Rank: 13
FIIIIIINALLY!!! I have nothing to say here. They put on an absoultely pitiful show against Bananas and Nany, which wasn’t even their fault. Noone was going to beat Bananas in that moment. Not after he was given a second chance. I’m shocked the got as far as they did. Congrats to them. But good riddance.
The Giant has fallen from Mount Olympus. The King is down but not out. Bananas is about to put on an absolute clinic, decapitating everyone who comes to challenge him in the exile house and I’m giddy as a school girl. Noone will be expecting to see him, and if the mental shock of seeing him as their opponent doesn’t turn them into a puddle of mush, Bananas’ biceps certainly will. This season is going to be spectacular.
Current Rank: 8
Change from Last Week: -7
Preseason Rank: 1
LIVE AND KICKIN’:
They’ve primarily been in a good position because Zach has been Jenna’s protector. If his poor Politicking begins to destabilize his position, it will mean far more severe repercussions for Jay and Jenna down the road. However, Jay has been pretty good about sticking with Wes from day one which has to help for something. The only problem is that Wes has a tendency to throw his allies under the bus if it means saving his own skin… so no matter what I’m not sure we’re gonna see Jay and Jenna much longer.
Current Rank: 7
Change from Last Week: 0
Preseason Rank: 12
Boston Johnny and Johnny Bananas are close. Their alliance was helping out Boston Johnny significantly. With Bananas gone, I worry that Johnny and Averey now make tasty targets for Wes and his minions to pick off as the begin dismantling Bananas’ former alliance.
Current Rank: 6
Change from Last Week: +2
Preseason Rank: 8
Here comes the slide that we all knew could happen to Zach. His Politickal tomfoolery certainly hasn’t helped him. Moreover, with his entanglement with Jay and Jenna, plus the fact that his own team is falling apart as he continues to yell at and criticize Jonna he cannot possible be on stable ground. I have a feeling he will bounce back strong next episode (especially because Wes will gladly welcome the wounded grizzly bear into his alliance) but Zach needs to start pulling things together fast. Everyone on Bananas’ former alliance could be gunning for him now.
Current Rank: 5
Change from Last Week: -1
Preseason Rank: 6
Adam has been Wes’s puppet from day one. It’s hilarious. The guy is like Wes’s own big, dumb, meathead puppy. Absolutely fantastic to watch. However, his unquestioning loyalty to Wes is paying off. As Wes’s ship rises, it brings Adam and Brittany right along with. This was the first week they didn’t have to face elimination, and its no surprise that this is because Wes won the Challenge and made his Power Move. As long as they stick together and stick with Wes, we could see a big Dark Horse run from them. And hey! Look! They finally climbed their way back up to my preseason rank for them!!!
Current Rank: 4
Change from Last Week: +1
Preseason Rank: 4
Jordan hates Bananas and thats no secret. However, Sarah and him were tight. Losing Bananas can only hurt them and their attempts to play both sides of the Wes vs. Bananas rivalry. I’m not saying they’re in any danger right now, because they aren’t, but their position certainly isn’t as strong this week as it was last. That being said, they still got second in that Challenge and lost by a mere 2 seconds so obviously they’ve still got some fight in them and are still favorites to make the Final.
Current Rank: 3
Change from Last Week: -1
Preseason Rank: 3
A massive move up for my main man Leroy!!!! I can’t say enough about these two. Hurricane Nia included. She may be weak, but she played to her strenghts in that Elimination, never gave up, and really gave me a lot more faith that she won’t be dead weight for Leroy in this thing. And Lee… I mean… he’s just a beast… a Leviathon… He can’t be stopped if its a matter of 1v1 competition. They would have made a good case for #1 this week if it weren’t for a certain someone…
Current Rank: 2
Change from Last Week: +4
Preseason Rank: 7
The ginger and his Harpy reign supreme at long last! A Challenge win. A Power Move. And a shiny new #1 ranking. If anyone “Killed It” this week, I think TJ and I would both agree it has to have been Wes and Theresa.
I’m not sure they’ll win the whole thing, but they’re about to enter a 2 week stretch where everything will go right for them. They still have most of the powerful teams against them in this house, but if Theresa’s spicy Latina anger doesn’t derail Wes’s Politicks they have as good a chance to win the whole thing as anyone.
Things just got really spicy on this bad boy, and I can’t wait for the next episode.