If you couldn’t already tell by this week’s shocking episode title plucked from a forgettable conversation between Kyle and Amanda about childbirth, The Challenge is in a very delicate place.
The ratings have been consistently dismal despite a mostly entertaining season. Social media is hungrier than ever for the show’s greats and fan favorites to return, something the producers seem firmly against as of late. The greats are brazenly talking shit about the show on podcasts and in their Instagram Stories, including the franchise’s currently MIA mascot, Johnny “Bananas,” on his Ringer podcast. Some alumni, like the famously messy lovers Cara Maria and Paulie, have even claimed that producers have blackballed them despite their notable contributions to the show. Meanwhile, The Challenge: All Stars on Paramount+ seems to be where all the hype and fan love is, with season two just around the corner and some big names floating around Reddit for season three.
That being said, this show really can’t afford to lose any more eyeballs. Unfortunately, this week’s episode is a nearly drama-less, sleep-inducing hour and a half of television. And that’s a lot of minutes to be bored, especially when CBS or Bravo are just a few remote clicks away. You could also feel the editors trying their best to create funny and emotional moments out of the most unamusing scenes. For instance, the A-block features what I consider two cardinal sins of competitive reality programming that are almost always used as filler when nothing exciting is happening: a workout segment and a FaceTime segment.
Let’s start with this tired Mighty Ducks narrative the producers have forced upon the Ruby Cell, even though they’ve only worked as a team once and are tied in losses with Team Sapphire. We get a montage of Cory leading his decided pack of underdogs in a workout like the hot PE teacher you never had. I guess we’re supposed to get a kick out of seeing Cory in positive-dad mode, but this is pretty much who he’s been since he hit rock bottom after the infamous pasta fight on Final Reckoning. I like watching growth, but I need some other narrative aside from Cory and the new and improved #GirlDad stuff. I’m also sick of watching people make Big T work out. This bit, formerly done with CT, was never funny and obviously produced. I also don’t believe this woman who looks pretty fit and has been stuck in a house for several months has never picked up a dumbbell or ran around the pool!
Next, we watch Ed, Big T, Kyle, and Nelson FaceTime their families back-to-back. Phone calls and FaceTimes home have occasionally been a useful device in previous seasons, either adding important context to story lines, delivering upsetting personal news, or interfering with a competitor’s game — a recent example being when Zach was threatening to break up with Jenna if she didn’t quit on national television over a DM that no one believes existed on Total Madness. But the scenes in this episode mainly convey the boring message of “this person has a mom!” We see Kyle’s pregnant baby mama, which leads to the aforementioned conversation between him and Amanda, where she explains a bunch of gross stuff that happens when going into labor. This banter is reminiscent of a very ’90s sitcom trope where the dad passes out after accidentally seeing his wife’s expanded vagina. All this to say, this passé brand of humor doesn’t tickle me.
Speaking of passé brands of humor, we also get another flirty moment between Emmanuel and Tori where Emmanuel dons a wig and booty shorts and does a basic girl impression, much to Tori’s excitement. It’s that sort of “applaud me for being brave enough to dress up like a woman” thing that ultra-straight men do that’s very different from drag and usually offensive. However, to his credit, Emmanuel doesn’t emit oppressive hetero-male energy. Still, it’s 2021, and I could do without!
Now, let’s get into this week’s challenge, which I found deeply frustrating to watch. If you’ve been steadily reading my recaps, you know I’m a sucker for an over-water challenge. However, I know these game producers could’ve designed something slightly more compelling than having the competitors jump from platform to platform as the teams on the ground hose them with water. Additionally, this challenge is an individual sport, so we didn’t get to watch the teams display their chemistry, which I thought the whole workout segment led us to. I immediately thought of a much better version of this challenge on Cutthroat, one of my favorite seasons, where the teammates have to travel across the platforms together while also creating less room for each person to jump, increasing the difficulty.
Aside from being annoyed at how lazy this construction was, I was also distracted by all the comedic effects the editors were trying to layer onto the segment, the James Bond surf-rock music, and the endless cutaways to the players operating the ground hose and laughing maniacally. I felt the editors were trying to make this challenge as ridiculous as possible, which only emphasized how dull it was. The challenge also failed on account of difficulty because most of the players couldn’t complete it. It was exciting, of course, watching CT casually take a step from each platform like the Jolly Green Giant he is, and Kaycee successfully complete it for the women. But other than that, “Satellite Sabotage” should’ve stayed on the drawing board.
After Kyle fumbles the instructions on the last jump, TJ announces that the Emerald Cell won yet again. This team has done an impressive job so far, but I’m still not buying that they’re that hard to beat, so long you follow TJ’s instructions. They do have Josh and Nany, after all. Back at the house, they have a very uneventful meeting about who to vote into elimination. At this time, I’ll point out that I made a mistake in my last recap when I said the only power the agency had was immunity. I didn’t notice that, in deliberation, the agency were the only competitors with tablets to vote. I can get a little too excited to call these producers out on their inconsistencies and nonsensical decision-making. My bad! Anyway, the only thing at stake in this episode seems to be the possibility of the winner infiltrating their team (snores).
Kyle apologizes for letting his team down at deliberation, and Cory gives another one of his coach speeches. Yawn! If Cory is going to give us any sort of fictional coach energy, give us Coach Taylor! Ed, who’s clearly very bored in this house, offers to go down to the Lair in place of Logan, who was an obvious choice because of his injured hamstring. Ed presents more of a threat physically and politically, so the agency gives him what he wants.
Finally, we go to the Lair, and I’ve never been more excited to get an episode over with. This elimination isn’t bad or even boring, per se. It just feels like it really doesn’t matter who returns between Ed and Kyle, from a game perspective or for the sake of our entertainment. We also know who’s coming back into the house based on a clip in the mid-season trailer. Anyway, Kyle and Ed do an iconic pole wrestle. In the first round, Ed is throwing Kyle around like a rag doll. But as Kyle has said many times on this program, he doesn’t give up and knows how to weather the storm. And he does, despite Ed basically giving him a concussion, and wins two rounds in a row.
Kyle decides to infiltrate the Sapphire Cell and take Nelson’s place, making him a member of a Ruby Cell. This isn’t really the earth-shattering move the competitors’ faces portray. My only note is that I would shoot my brains out if I had to listen to Cory and Nelson give their long-winded, “Noah Centineo’s speech at the E! People’s Choice Awards”–like pep talks with their humongous veneers in my face if I was on their team.
Welp. That’s all. Next week, it seems like CT pisses off another woman, so that will be fun to break down. See you then!