This week’s episode is pretty meaty, so let’s get right into it. We start at the house with Mark basking in his elimination win, which, of course, entails wearing that giant paper crown. I’m very curious if this crown, which looks like it has a protective layer of tape around it, was made with whatever art supplies they could find in the house or if Mark made it at home. In the latter case, he definitely could’ve just bought one at Party City or on Amazon. Kendal’s celebrating her win, too, but not in the “I just showed everyone that I’m a badass” sort of way, like Mark, because she’s proved that several times already this season. She seems more relieved that she survived another day because she knows unless she wins the next challenge, she’ll end up back in the Arena.
The next day, we get some very sexual, slow-mo shots of the men running and lifting weights outside. Jemmye makes maybe the best observation ever, which is that Mark is like a “hot stripper that you hire for your mom’s 50th birthday.” I didn’t read this as a diss, because Mark is in amazing shape. I just imagined a very specific type of suburban, middle-aged white woman losing her mind over Mark taking off his shirt and laughed. We also get some foreshadowing for that scene that we saw in the mid-season trailer of Jisela saying that she thought Aneesa was her friend at the bar. The two are lying in lawn chairs joking about something unsubstantial. We see a flashback of their close friendship on Battle of the Sexes and The Gauntlet 2, which I actually remember vividly. Either way, it’s nice to have actual footage of how these relationships came to be rather than people claiming that some random person we’ve never seen them talk to is their “best friend” or their “worst enemy” with zero context.
Next, we move on to another surprisingly difficult challenge. They’re really making these older folks work for that $500,000 in a way that the young bucks on the regular show don’t have to for much more money. But I get that everyone here has to prove their all-star status, and I love being wowed by the athleticism of this bunch.
The producers are also trying to establish some sort of storyline for Derrick before the challenge starts. In a confessional, he’s whining that he hasn’t won a challenge in over ten years and that he just wants it to be his turn again. I mean, the premise of the show is that most of you are old and decrepit and haven’t had a taste of glory since you were 23, so welcome to the club!
The conceit of the challenge is pretty simple. It’s called Rig Cage Pass. The competitors, playing as individuals, have to transport balls across the side of a speeding truck by jumping across a set of beams. They repeat this process four times until all the balls are put in the net. If you fall off one of the beams, you’re obviously disqualified. Or if you do what Jisela and Aneesa do, which is just to lay across one of the beams because you’re too short and stop midway because you’re scared to jump any further, you time out. In their defense, this does look extremely terrifying. I would piss myself trying to do this on a parked vehicle, but the moving aspect would make me faint and fall to my death. The men all do pretty well because none of them seem to have a fear of heights or jumping, except there’s this very stupid bit they do with Darrell, who’s famous for hating heights but not so much that’s it’s ever stopped him from performing well or made him quit a challenge, so I’m not sure why it’s such a big joke. But the producers make Derrick and Jisela half-heartedly pretend to be sports commentators with a fake chyron and all. I really don’t need this show thinking it’s Saturday Night Live or making Derrick, of all people, do bits!
For the most part, everyone does fairly well, and no one falls off a beam in a particularly amusing way or injures themselves. The producers really like to spotlight Big Easy simply for trying and not needing to go to a hospital. As a far as getting camera time goes, I really think he lucked out in the end when he literally almost died at The Gauntlet III final and made his entire team lose. He’ll have a compelling underdog narrative for as long as he decides to compete on this show and, presumably, keeps losing. The winners end up being Mark and Kellyanne, which isn’t a huge surprise, and the losers are Jisela and Big Easy. TJ tells Mark and Kellyanne that not only are they safe from elimination, but they made it to the final. The announcement is pretty anticlimactic. I prefer when everyone who makes it to the final is told at once and jumps up and down. I’m also just upset that this show is about to be over!
So, back at the house, Jisela tells the guys that she wants to keep playing a fair game and have the house nominate a guy who hasn’t gone in the Arena already. Somehow, this doesn’t apply to Derrick because, in her words, “If Mark didn’t get all four balls, he would’ve won.” This immediately tells me Jisela and Derrick have a secret alliance, because this is the dumbest reasoning I’ve ever heard. If you lose, you lose!
Meanwhile, Big Easy is thinking strategically, which is what you do when you could possibly be going home, and he wants to go against the smallest guy in the house: Nehemiah. Aneesa’s also on edge because it’s the nominated guy’s turn to select a woman to compete with and she feels like she’ll get picked again. I’m not really sure that this is true. Yes, she has the most elimination experience. But it also matters what kind of elimination it is. No one is going to pick Aneesa for an elimination that involves agility when Kellyanne and Kendal are both available. But Aneesa is still paranoid because she always goes home right before the final. I’m kind of sick of her singing this song every season. But then we get a brutal montage of all her elimination losses, including the most humiliating one, on Double Agents, and it does pull at your heartstrings a bit. She also doesn’t want to throw in the people that have kept her sane in this game, primarily Yes.
We get a surprisingly compelling deliberation, mainly because no one volunteers, and we actually get to see people express opinions for once. The producers do the thing where they make the person who’s most nervous to vote, which is Aneesa, vote last. She’s the tiebreaker between Yes and Nehemiah, which makes it all the more intense. Yes somehow ends up convincing Aneesa that the breakfasts they’ve shared on this show are more important than her friendship with Jisela, which started a million years ago. Aneesa literally has to hold on to her knees because she’s so gripped by this dude reminding her that they had a nice conversation over huevos rancheros once. It’s very dramatic, and Jonna has a cynical smirk that speaks for all of us. Aneesa ends up voting for Nehemiah, which shouldn’t be that big of a deal. But for Jisela, this is grounds for terminating her friendship with Aneesa.
At the club, Jisela is furious because Aneesa got her involved in her “dirty game.” Um, no. Unless you’re working on a team, Aneesa’s choices are completely her own. And as long as Nehemiah knows you weren’t trying to get him nominated, it shouldn’t be a problem?? I also just can’t respect a request that isn’t based on any sort of strategy. If you care more about sticking to this narrow definition of fairness you came up with four hours ago than increasing your likelihood of making it to the final, I’m not taking anything you say seriously. Anyway, Aneesa is befuddled by Jisela’s refusal to be her friend because women “don’t do this.” Well, women don’t do this in real life. When you’re stuck in a house for over a month and see the same faces every day, the slightest infraction gets you sent to the Hague. But I do feel for Aneesa, because she and Jisela are apparently close outside of the house, so the rules should technically be different. Aneesa also says she’s tired of being portrayed as a bad person on the show, which I kind of get. I’ve always been suspicious of early accusations of Aneesa being awful when she was one of the few Black women on the show and all the white women would just decide to hate her. In more recent years, women of all races have called Aneesa an asshole, including other Black women, so I don’t really know!
Finally, we go to the Arena, where Nehemiah makes the decision we all saw coming: He picks Kendal. Aneesa immediately starts to cry because everyone, but mostly Jisela, was speculating that he would pick her as revenge. It never made sense to me that he would choose the person he’s currently vibing with the least with, but I think Jisela just wanted to mentally torture Aneesa. Tonight, they’re playing Ring Clean, and the producers weren’t confident enough in that name to give it its own title card. First, the teams have to work together to get ten rings on a chain over a 9-foot pole. Then, they have to take them to a giant wall, where they must create a ladder by hooking the rings onto the prods sticking out of it. The first person to climb the ladder and ring the bell wins for their team.
At first, I thought Nehemiah and Kendal had one in the bag. This elimination seems like it favors people who are lighter, and Kendal is a yogi, so she presumably has the balancing stuff covered. But Big Easy’s height and strength turns out to be an advantage when he can hold Jisela on his shoulders (and then his head, which terrified me) longer than Nehemiah can at the pole. However, I don’t think Big Easy is tall enough that Jisela hopping off his shoulders should result in her injuring her knees, but it does. We don’t know how bad the injury is, but she’s screaming and cussing, and I’m not sure we’ll see her again after she snags this victory. I don’t feel bad, considering how mean she was to Aneesa over a decision that didn’t affect her. Jisela is still able to power through. And by power through, I mean scoot her butt over to the wall and watch Big Easy do all of the work. Nehemiah ends up falling off the ladder, allowing Big Easy to hit the bell first.
I don’t care to relish in another Big Easy moment. So let’s just skip to the part where TJ sort of tells the rest of the group that they made it to the final, but not really. I’m sensing a purge before the actual final because there are still too many people. Regardless, everyone is proud of themselves for making it this far, and they should be.