The Science of Winning: Team Chemistry on the Challenge and Separating Dominance from Success


There are a handful of Repeat Challenge competitors (mostly male, but a select few females as well) that I affectionately name as members of the Challenge Valhalla, or aspirants to the Hallowed Hall of Valhalla. These are just generally the most barbaric, brutish, and powerfully dominant competitors on the show and the individuals who are generally preseason favorites to make a deep run and win any given season. Historically this meant guys like Mark, Landon, Evan, Kenny, etc, and in modern terms it means guys like Wes and Bananas while guys like Zach, Leroy, Jordan. However, this kind of logic only applies in individual competitions, which have traditionally been rather rare in Challenge history. The real key to success, then, is often teamwork.

Now, while this fact seems incredibly obvious to anyone viewing the show it is apparently some kind of incomprehensible mystery to many competitors on the show. Moreover, MTV is constantly trying to think up formats where they can create potentially powerful pairings that are likely to meltdown due to lack of cooperation.

Now, this season is just starting to get down to crunch time. There are still a few weak teams floating around in the house, but in large part the proportion of Power Teams to weak ones is heavily in favor of the Power Teams. When watching last week’s episode, however, you might not even have known it. The reason being, of course, partners.

It’s one thing for me to say Zach and Leroy are Top Tier Competitors. I mean… just look at them…

zach and leroy


Its an entirely different thing to claim that either will actually win this thing, and the reason for that disparity is due to their partners. Neither Jonna nor Nia are necessarily strong competitors in their own right. In fact, both appeared on last season’s Free Agents (a season whose gimmick explicitly involved telling competitors to ‘stand on their own’ and see what everyone was worth as an individual) and neither performed very well as both finished in the bottom half of female competitors.

However, Leroy and Nia look to be one of the front-runners to make the Final this season after knocking out Bananas and Nany last week, and coming in second in this week’s Challenge. Zach and Jonna, on the other hand, continue to bicker and melt down even when factors stack up in their favor, and nearly pushed themselves into the dome this week.

At this point in the season when we’re essentially halfway through, having one strong competitor in your team just isn’t going to cut it the way it does in the early game. We’re beginning to see a divergence of top tier competitors wherein those who are attempting to build up and work together with their partner (Leroy) are rising to the top of the crop while those who continue to place blame, criticism, and frustration on their partner (Zach) begin to fall lower and lower down the standings.

Zach and Jonna will have an even tougher mountain to start climbing if they don't stop fighting and start working together

Zach and Jonna will have an even tougher mountain to start climbing if they don’t stop fighting and start working together

Zach appears to be pushing his team rapidly out of the top 3 as he berates Jonna for any missteps which would cost them a Final appearance. Leroy, on the other hand, has been constantly supportive of Nia, and her new found confidence is constantly visible. Clearly one of these two strategies is inferior…

This isn’t just a problem for Zach though. We saw the first cracks in Jordan and Sarah’s armor in this last episode. Adam and Brittany continued to fail to work together (largely Adam’s fault). Boston Johnny and Averey are actively fighting one another. And Jay and Jenna seem to simply have no communication at all. It’s no surprise then that Wes and Theresa and Leroy and Nia are leading things right now, and this is also why I won’t be surprised at all to see Nany and Bananas shred one challenge after the other like lambs to the slaughter in the Exile. These teams don’t know it yet but as their teamwork degrades in the house they’re only hurting their chances at earning a second opportunity to compete later in the show. Clearly there is a right way to approach a team Challenge, and while it couldn’t be more obvious for us as viewers, even the most dominant Challengers will likely never learn how to succeed.

So on that note! Let’s see where these folks stand!


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

Final Rank: 10

Preseason Rank: 10

JJ and Simone

Final Rank: 9

Preseason Rank: 13


bananas and nany

I HATE cliffhanger episodes! Not only was I denied the finish to an Eliminatino that literally had me jumping out of my chair, but I don’t get to see Bananas and Nany absolutely destroy someone in exile this week! Very frustrating. O’well. Bananas and Nany are still the favorites to come out of this exile thing no matter who gets thrown in there against them. Its just a matter of time until they’re back in the competition.

Current Rank: 8

Change from Last Week: 0

Preseason Rank: 1

jay and jenna

That cliffhanger is also gonna screw with these Power Rankings a little bit, but I’m going to treat this as if everyone were coming back next week. As such even though either Adam and Brittany or Boston Johnny and Averey should be below Jay and Jenna (Since Jay and Jenna aren’t at risk for elimination) I’m still putting them at the bottom. They performed poorly in that Challenge. They don’t talk to one another. All things considered they’re kindof boring (although I do kindof like both of them and can’t figure out why). In the end, however, they’ve done nothing to make me think they can win this thing on their own merits. They’ll make it to a final only if Wes drags them along as his personal body armor.

Current Rank: 7

Change from Last Week: 0

Preseason Rank: 12

boston johnny and averey

Even if they come back, which it very much looks like they will in that Elimination, these two are absolutely horrible together. Boston Johnny is right when he tells Averey that Wes isn’t really loyal to her or he wouldn’t have thrown her in, but that doesn’t change the fact that Reilly is extraordinarily vulnerable without Bananas in the house. I just can’t see these two making a Final without another miracle run of luck like Johnny had on his inaugural season last year.

Current Rank: 6

Change from Last Week: 0

Preseason Rank: 8

adamn and brittany

I should honestly probably have these two ranked below Johnny and Averey since it seems certain that Boston Johnny will win that elimination and since these two performed so miserably in the Challenge together, but I was honestly wowed with how fast the recovered on their second attempt to build that tower. That was absolutely amazing and incredibly impressive. For that alone I’m gonna keep them relatively high in the rankings even though they’re probably going home this week.

Current Rank: 5

Change from Last Week: -1

Preseason Rank: 4

zach and jonna

In spite of the impending meltdown that is Zach Nichols they climbed a spot this week. I can’t believe they managed to beat Adam and Brittany in that Challenge, but they did so they have to leapfrog them. However, this couple is a disaster just waiting to happen. And if they somehow get to a Final, they’re easily my last pick.

Current Rank: 4

Change from Last Week: +1

Preseason Rank: 6

jordan and sarah

They were in 3rd last week as well, but it was a close race. This time around? Not so close. They’re definitely losing ground on the leading two couples in my opinion. I hated seeing how Sarah melted down on that Challenge. She’s supposed to want this more than anyone else, and that’s how she’s gonna perform? And it didn’t help that Jordan was melting down yelling at her. There are some real cracks becoming exposed here that another powerful team (cough cough Wes and Theresa) could definitely play to their advantage. I don’t feel nearly as good about Jordan and Sarah this week as I did last week.

Current Rank: 3

Change from Last Week: 0

Preseason Rank: 3

leroy and nia

I’ve already mostly spoken my piece on Leroy and Nia but I’ll give it one more quick summary here. Leroy is a monster. I would give Leroy a 50/50 shot at beating any one of the Top Male Competitors in any non aquatic sport. Bananas, Wes, Zach, Jordan, hell… even bring Mark and Landon out of retirement and I still think Leroy could beat them. He’s a monster. And he is doing a spectacular job building up Nia’s confidence and making her a reasonably average competitor. I see nothing but good things happening for these two moving forward… as long as there is no more swimming… please no more swimming…

Current Rank: 2

Change from Last Week: 0

Preseason Rank: 7

wes and theresa

They work together well as a team. They’re winning Challenges. Wes’s Politicks are coming off without a hitch. Bananas is out of the house. Everything is going off without a hitch for them right now. Hell, they even threw Averey into an elimination and got her to blame it on Johnny rather than them. Its just spectacular. Now, Adam is Wes’s #1 Pawn *cough* ermmm… I mean… Lieutenant so if he loses to Boston Johnny in this Elimination things become A LOT less stable for these two, but at the moment they’re were the smart money is to make it to a final in this thing. Still don’t know if they can take down the big dogs when the going gets tough in that Final as Wes has been abysmal in his last two Finals appearances and was carried by his partners (literally in the case of Rivals One) so we’ll see, but as far as the game as currently constituted they’er at the top of the mountain right now.

Current Rank: 1

Change from Last Week: 0

Preseason Rank: 2


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