The Challenge: All Stars
“At the end of the day, Jemmye is always gonna have Mama’s back.”
Undoubtedly, the most shocking part of this week’s episode is that Jemmye has gained power by convincing people who have never competed with her (and watched her lose) on a Challenge that she’s an expert in politics and strategy and a prized ally. As baffled as I was watching Nehemiah, a champion, consult with someone who has only made it to one final where she placed third and has a noted fear of ketchup, I quickly understood that if you simply mimic champ behavior with this particular group of unassuming 40-year-olds, they’ll treat you like one. Likewise, Jemmye has also become Beth’s daughter despite being the love interest of her Tenderoni later on in this episode. Syrus says that Jemmye and Beth have a Madonna and Britney dynamic, which is the perfect opportunity to play “Me Against the Music.” But the music supervisor fucks it up and plays “Material Girl,” which is famously an ’80s bop and out of step with this show’s late ’90s–early 2000s theme! Anyway, much of Jemmye’s legacy in this competition has been tied to her dysfunctional relationship with her now-deceased ex from Real World: New Orleans, Knight. So I can appreciate her new role as a purported mastermind/audience surrogate even if it has no merit.
In other news, Ruthie is an outcast among the female competitors for reasons that aren’t totally articulated besides that Aneesa thinks that she plays a paranoid game. I would have to rewatch Ruthie’s seasons to truly piece this together, but I don’t recall her being as ostracized as she seems to be now. It could just be that she hasn’t maintained relationships with her fellow Challenge alums, as opposed to Aneesa, who seems like she’s been to everyone’s wedding and receives invites to all the baby showers. I will report back next week! That being said, Teck is Ruthie’s only true ally, and we can see the episode leading up to either his or her demise.
Our challenge this week wasn’t my fave. In honor of nostalgia, the producers bring back a challenge from Battles of the Sexes 2 called Melt Away that involves our competitors melting a giant block of ice by grinding, humping, and pouring water on it. This is honestly one of the grossest challenges I’ve ever seen — not the humping aspect, but the fact that people are gathering water with their mouths, hands, and hair from a shared bucket and spitting or squeezing it onto a block of ice that people are rubbing their bare body parts on. In this virus-ridden climate, I would simply have to forfeit. Of course, the producers’ intent in choosing this challenge is for us to get a kick out of watching these older, out-of-shape bodies stacked on top of one another simulating sex, which … I don’t know. I’m an adult. I’m not sitting at home sneering at other adults moving their bodies in a sexual manner, which is what the assignment requires them to do.
Anway, inside the block of ice are two shields with the names of Challenge seasons on them, which they have to put on a wall with eight other shields that also have the names of seasons on them in the correct order. This part of the challenge I found especially dull, considering that we can barely see the shields as the teams are trying to organize them on their respective walls. We get a glimpse of how irritating Big Easy can be when he’s frustrated. It’s not a good look considering that he doesn’t seem to be contributing much. It’s also ridiculous how long it takes every group to get the order of the seasons correct. It seems like an obvious piece of information to have in the front of your mind going on a self-congratulatory All Stars show!
The Copper team ends up coming in last, which means Nehemiah is automatically going into the Arena. Big Easy gives him an oddly long shoulder rub as he receives this news. And our winners are the Silver Team (Darrell, Kendal, Syrus, and Kellyanne) after the Gold Team (Mark, Beth, Jemmye, and Alton) got a ten-minute penalty for breaking two of their shields despite finishing first. Darrell, the team’s captain, is safe from elimination. And Kendal gets to walk back into the house with a little bit (or a lot) of power after being unanimously voted into the last elimination now that she’s in control of the mysterious Life Saver.
Nehemiah decides that he wants to go against Teck, who was talking shit during the challenge despite his team performing abysmally. I’m not sure if Teck is bored and wants to spice things up by getting a taste of the Arena or if he just wasn’t thinking. But agitating the challenge loser who, at this point in the game, can seemingly ask the entire house to vote in whoever they want seems like an obvious death wish. Likewise, by the time they deliberate, Teck knows that Nehemiah has rallied the entire house against him and does the “brave” move of volunteering himself for the Arena, “like a real man,” as Derrick asserts. This is where Jemmye is a useful voice of reason in her confessionals. Nothing is brave about volunteering for an elimination when you know everyone was planning to vote for you anyway. You’re just saving yourself the embarrassment of hearing your name said by a bunch of people who’ve been nice to you this entire time and who you thought were your friends. I personally wouldn’t want to experience that either, but why is everyone high-fiving this man??
Next, everyone heads out to a club-lodge-cabin thingy that genuinely looks like a good time. A lot more fun than the sterile, sober Epcot Center the youngsters are partying at on the regular Challenge. Kendal is on a power trip after receiving the Life Saver, despite having no idea how much power it actually entails. But everyone’s assuming that you can toss whoever you want into the Arena after you save someone. She’s considering saving Nehemiah to throw in Big Easy, which is stupid because Big Easy is three Tecks put together. And if the elimination is a headbanger, Big Easy would obviously win. Big Easy also points out that Nehemiah didn’t save her when she was in the Arena, so why should she do him any favors? I don’t think Big Easy has accepted that his near-death experience at the Gauntlet III will follow him and the rest of his cast members as long as he continues to compete on this show.
Back at the house, Ruthie walks in on Aneesa talking shit about her. Ruthie claims that Aneesa has been cold to her, which is an accusation that’s been thrown at Aneesa before by other female competitors in years past and also this current year. Ruthie’s had enough and starts calling Aneesa a bitch, which I think is fair. In recent years, Aneesa has uncharacteristically walked away from fights, which makes sense in certain contexts, like when Lolo Jones is screaming at you, but not when you’re caught red-handed talking behind someone’s back! Instead of repeating what she said about Ruthie to her face, Aneesa claims that Ruthie is just “projecting” — um, no, you’re literally on a mic saying that she’s paranoid — and walks inside the house. I was hoping this environment would bring back a glimmer of the old Aneesa, but I guess not. In the other quarters of the house, Jemmye and Nehemiah are having sex. Looking at the roster before the show premiered, I knew that, at some point, Nehemiah would hook up with one of these white women, as he’s wont to do. (I promise those are all my thoughts about that.) I just didn’t imagine it would be Jemmye, but good for her, I guess.
At the Arena, everything plays out in the most predictable fashion. Kendal doesn’t use her Life Saver because she truly has no reason to slight anyone this early in the game. Teck and Nehemiah play a game with the abysmal title Going Out of Tile. And it has a setup that I would honestly put in my backyard and sit a couple chairs under if I had a yard and not pavement. The two have to race to an open, fortlike structure with copper and silver diagonal tiles on the roof and sides that they have to smash with their hands (Teck smashed copper, Nehemiah smashes silver). After they’re done, they have to race back to the circle of rope they started in. Before they start, though, TJ pulls out a bag of Carolina reaper peppers and tells them they each have to eat two. It’s random and an odd start to an elimination that’s entirely physical and goes by incredibly fast. Maybe if they were solving a puzzle, and we could actually see the looks on their faces as their mouths are burning, this twist would be more amusing. But we just see them puke a little bit before they start, and, for the love of God, watching people puke is not as fun or exhilarating as these producers have found it recently! Someone working at The Challenge clearly has vomit fetish, and I need them to keep it in the confines of their personal life and not let it spill into their work and onto my television screen!
Anyway, this elimination goes by so fast, and there’s hardly any contact between Nehemiah and Teck in that cage, which I think is what the producers were hoping for. Nehemiah makes it back to the starting line a couple of seconds before Teck. It’s close enough that TJ says that Teck is “still a badass” when he sends him off. Overall, we had another well-rounded, solid episode despite a weekly challenge that was just meh. There seems to be enough drama and story among this group of competitors. I can only imagine this season getting better and better.