As eager as I am to dive into this highly suspicious season finale, I want to hand out a few end-of-the-season awards/superlatives.
Best Confessional Delivery: Kyle
Kyle should really be auditioning for television presenter gigs back in the U.K. instead of wasting his time on this show, especially now that he’s going to be a dad. Congrats, Kyle. Go find an agent!
The Kobe Bryant #GirlDad Award: Cory
Need I say more?
The Johnny “Bananas” Pot-Stirrer Award: Devin
While Devin is no match for Bananas in the athletic or social department, he certainly tried his best to emulate the sort of charismatic villainy we’ve come to rely on him for.
Best Josh Meltdown: Josh confronting CT over a pizza incident with Kaycee and subsequently trying to fight Devin, all without wearing shoes.
I’m still thinking about Josh’s unprotected feet months later.
Best Confessional Looks: Kam
There’s no competition here, as Kam seems to have a wig collection more extensive and varied than Nicki Minaj’s.
The Promising Young Rookie Award: Gabby
Anyone who hooked up on this unusually chaste season deserves an award in my opinion. But Gabby, unlike a lot of the rookie women, stuck out as a notable personality: animated in her confessionals, even-tempered but willing to be feisty and outspoken if need be.
The “Great Gowns, Beautiful Gowns” Award: Leroy
This award goes to the person who got the most screen time but failed to be as captivating as the producers suggested they were. Leroy is just not reality TV protagonist material. And I actually don’t believe he earned the spotlight he was given his year simply because he’s never won before, especially when his reputation on the show is primarily being Bananas’ backpack.
Congrats to all our winners. Let’s get into what I think will be one of the most controversial moments in Challenge history! Unfortunately, I’m writing this before I can survey audience reactions on Twitter. So I can’t really gauge how many people are Team “Fessy Should’ve Eaten the Sheep Face in a Timely Manner” or Team “Fessy Shouldn’t Have Eaten the Sheep Face at All,” but I’m gonna go ahead and align myself with the latter position. I hinted at this in my last recap, but it’s obvious that the producers were looking to exploit as much drama as they could from Kaycee’s injury in order to cement Fessy as the show’s reigning villain and provide a satisfying moment for his haters, as opposed to implementing actual rules.
Allow me some conjecture: There was simply no way the producers were going to allow Kaycee to make it past the eating portion and run across miles of rocky, slippery terrain with a dislocated knee, because of the possibility of further injury, yes, but also because it would take too long to film. Considering the number of injuries that have disqualified players in years past and this season alone, it doesn’t make any sense that the rules would suddenly change for Kaycee because she’s begging to compete. The fishiest part of this, to me (aside from T.J. informing them they had run out of time as soon as they ate everything), was that Kaycee was able to tell the medics to wrap up her knee, and they obliged seemingly without doing any real inspection.
I honestly think the producers got excited when they saw Fessy’s reaction to Kaycee’s injury and knew he would become more petulant the longer they filmed him. So they let Kaycee move on to the next stage knowing it would result in either of these humiliating outcomes for Fessy: 1) He eats a bunch of ram testicles for nothing, and the audience gets to laugh, or 2) He refuses to eat, and the audience can call him a pussy. There’s also the point that Fessy makes, which is that Kaycee physically can’t run or at least run fast enough to secure them first or second place, which I think is a fair assessment considering she’s hopping on one leg. I also think Fessy carrying her would’ve been an even greater hazard if he slipped and fell. My point is there’s no way for these two to win!
To sum this up, does Fessy have a poor attitude? Yes. Are he and Kaycee being manipulated by the producers? Yes. Do I despise this team so much that I get a kick out of hearing “Karma Chameleon” playing over Kaycee sobbing? Not really? I honestly found this song placement kind of mean and very presumptuous of our emotional response as viewers. I also really don’t like a woman’s pain being framed as “karma” for a man’s behavior. Like, this situation very much sucks for her and her alone, and I’m not sure she’s earned this edit because she didn’t want to run the final with Leroy. Ultimately, Kaycee will go out as a hero for not quitting. Fessy knew he was going out as the villain regardless, so why eat nasty shit?
Moving on finally, CT decides to give the “dessert” to Kam and Cory. The fact that Amber B. wanted CT to decide for them because God forbid this woman have an opinion is another reason I don’t want her back on this show. Leroy and Nany finish the stage next and think they can catch up to CT and Amber B. Aside from the natural “A for Effort” energy Leroy and Nany have as competitors, Leroy seems extremely tense and unfocused. The same for Kam, who is just not bringing the “Killa” to this final because she’s seemingly concerned about her own fate and her boyfriend’s. See how men ruin things? Likewise, in the kayak-rowing portion, Leroy and Nany end up flipping over their boat, which feels so emblematic of their Challenge careers. CT, of course, has to complain about the way Amber B. is rowing because she’s been smoking him in the runs. And he can’t let the audience think this freshman woman is without fault.
From the kayaking to the totem puzzle on land to the math problem inside the ice cave, the teams maintain the same order (CT/Amber B., Leroy/Nany, Cory/Kam). This is where things could’ve taken an interesting turn but didn’t because CT is smart. As the winner of the math portion, he’s given the option to swap partners. I immediately started doing a bunch of what-ifs in my brain because the division of this team would make a huge difference for two other players. But after a long, unnecessary speech, CT says that he’s sticking with Amber B., and Kam looks like she’s ready to give up.
The all-night portion of the final involves the teammates taking turns sleeping on blow-up mattresses — with different blankets based on when they arrived at the cave — and standing up holding heavy capsules. They also have to dip their face in an ice bucket, which is such a stupid add-on. If anyone’s quitting at this stage of the final, it’s not because they have to put their face in cold water. It seems that no one can actually sleep in this freezing cave that drips water from the ceiling, so they all stay up and talk. Leroy tells everyone that it’s his last season, which Cory doesn’t believe. (Neither do I.) Of course, they have to talk about Fessy, and it’s like, we get it! He sucks! The next morning, for the final leg, everyone basically just has to do more running with more checkpoints in between, including a block of ice they have to break, a code, and a puzzle.
It becomes pretty clear early on that no one is catching up to CT and Amber B. Amber B. has the endurance of the dude from Temple Run, apparently, which we might have known had she been able to compete in the skydiving mission that included running or not gotten stuck on the math problem at the last mission. Regardless, it was a nice little surprise. Meanwhile, watching Cory and Kam and Leroy and Nany compete for second place when Kam and Leroy for sure thought they were going to be in a better position than this is maybe the most riveting part of this entire final. Granted, it isn’t a “Karma Chameleon” needle-drop moment, but one of the most pleasurable aspects of this show is that competitors are ultimately never in control of their fate during a final, no matter how good of a game they play for the majority of the season. Also, Leroy is so wide-eyed with panic throughout this last race while Nany has the disposition of someone picking out groceries, and it’s so funny.
Overall, I found the results of this final and the post-interviews pretty satisfying considering how unexpected they were and the significance of each placement to each competitor. CT winning first place at his big age is some nice fan service for more old-school Challenge viewers like myself. And yes, I squealed when he made it to the finish line. Also, the producers couldn’t have dreamt of a better end to this season after shoving that CT/Fessy faux rivalry down our throats. So good for them. As much as I don’t think Amber B. is a good television personality, watching her perform as well as she did in the first final was genuinely exhilarating and made me want to get on a treadmill for the first time since the panny started.
I appreciated Leroy being a good sport about coming in third, not that he doesn’t have a right to be emotional considering that he walked away with nothing. I just was never that invested in his winning, and nothing about his tenure on The Challenge makes me think he deserves to win over anyone else. He sort of acknowledges this by saying that the competition just isn’t for him, which is something more people should admit, maybe sooner than after ten years! Nany is just happy that she’s made it to a final because apparently she’s only made it to ONE other final, which I’m just now discovering and am deeply embarrassed by.
Even though she came in second, Kam is the most visibly upset, for Leroy mostly. She says in her confessional that they were hoping to dominate for people that looked like them and “everything that’s going on socially,” which … I’m sure that’s what motivated them partially. It has to be said that winning a million dollars on a reality show to go into your personal bank account is not particularly meaningful to the lives of other Black people. I’ll celebrate for a couple hours before I get back to the struggles of my life, but that’s all! Also, Amber B. is Black? Thanks for giving light-skinned, biracial people more oppression fuel, Kam.
Cory has my favorite reaction, which is that he’s just happy he didn’t waste another two months away from his kids to come home empty-handed. I don’t have children, but I’m gonna assume that $50,000 is like one year of diapers, so good luck making that stretch, Cor!
Overall, I think the melodrama of this finale was worth a pretty lukewarm season. And this is not me giving the show permission to be boring in future seasons. In fact, please do better. Anyway, go off in the comments with your Fessy opinions, as I’m genuinely interested to see everyone’s takes. Until Double Agents II (allegedly), stay safe and vaccinated!