The drama of this week’s episode centers almost entirely on NamLo, a pairing we were introduced to in the beginning as a potentially dominating team and probable romance but whose time on the show has mostly been defined by a lack of wins, communication, and, quite frankly, basic human connection.
In the first ten minutes, we have Lolo airing out her Nam-related grievances again. Some of her complaints are about their dynamic as a team, while others hint at a failed or simply nonexistent romance between the two. Nam wants their relationship to be all business, but Lolo thinks they should have a deeper connection than that. It’s obvious that she wants their relationship — she keeps using that word instead of friendship or partnership — to continue outside of the show when she reminds him that they both live in Germany. Hmm. I’m more willing to believe that Lolo would move to Germany for Nam, as opposed to already residing there coincidentally. I don’t think she’s lying, but the possibility that Lolo arranged to move to Germany after spending one week with Nam is just funnier for this narrative. She also blames Nam for her not having a skull, which is wild. All Nam has to say about the situation is that he and Lolo are like “fire and ice,” which really doesn’t need reiterating at this point! It would be nice if the producers got more out of Lolo and Nam in these confessionals than “We just don’t get along.” Did they hook up? Did they kiss? Has Nam reciprocated Lolo’s crush on him at any point this season? What is the subtext for all this tension?
Meanwhile, everyone else is having similar epiphanies about where their relationships lie and where they stand in the competition as TJ’s final is getting closer and closer. With a new, experienced partner in Cory, Amber M. decides that she’s actually ready to compete, instead of just avoiding elimination. I still don’t understand this whole “needing someone else to motivate you to win a million dollars” thing, but whatever works! Gabby realizes that Fessy isn’t as arrogant as he seems and is willing to engage with him romantically. They flirt and kiss directly in front of a camera in a very awkwardly staged scene. She also realizes that getting a skull with her partner and this season’s only self-proclaimed villain, Devin, will be nearly impossible. Amber B. regrets not volunteering for elimination when she had the opportunity. And CT knows that he’ll never be sent into an elimination unless he wins another challenge, which eventually prompts a rather desperate alliance with Devin.
With all that in mind, everyone seems more anxious than usual at the next challenge. This week, we’re playing Mission Black Sands Op, which has the very basic premise of digging through black sand for puzzle pieces that create a relic and completing the puzzle. This becomes slightly more complex when teams uncover the puzzle pieces belonging to different teams and can choose to hide them back in the sand or help their allies. At this point, we have an idea of whom everyone is working with, so that aspect of the game isn’t that compelling. Things do become a lot more interesting, though, when everyone is rushing to complete the puzzle — or the Great Equalizer, as it’s historically referred to on the show.
We all know CT is the self-proclaimed master of puzzles. I feel like I’ve heard him say this about himself more times than I’ve actually seen him successfully complete a puzzle in my time watching The Challenge, including in this episode. But I do find it adorable that he thinks this is where he excels. For some reason, Josh and Nany try to create their totem before walking up to the model totem to see what it looks like, and they waste several crucial minutes. Leroy and Kaycee are as confused as you would expect. Nam and Lolo are sucking as usual, and Nam’s claiming that he has done something to his back, which I feel like we’ll hear about again. Meanwhile, Gabby and Devin are actually taking their time and communicating really well. They end up winning, and a bunch of pyrotechnics go off, because gratuitous explosions are just a part of the show now.
Finally, we have some interesting people in power again. Mostly Devin. Gabby wants to make reasonable moves that won’t backfire on her, while Devin has riskier plans and, of course, wants to ruffle some feathers for the time being. Likewise, before they walk outside to the club, he makes a sign that says “Big Brother Sucks VIP Lounge.” This is the third Devin–versus–Big Brother bit this season, and I could honestly watch ten more because it pays off every time. Even though no one seems bothered by Devin at the club — the club scene this week is rightfully brief — Josh can’t help but sit in on a conversation between Devin, Kam, and Kyle back at the house so that he can inevitably get riled up. Fessy comes in to stop whatever nonsense would happen if Devin had uttered “Big Brother sucks” one more time to Josh. The camera hilariously pans to the entire cast rushing in the room to observe Josh and Devin like zoo animals.
Later on, Devin tries to have a conversation with Gabby, who tells him to fuck off. She says that his behavior keeps putting her in a bad position and that he only thinks about himself. I definitely feel Gabby’s pain here. But what she might not know is that Devin is historically disliked on this show, and being attached to him is bad news whether or not he’s going out of his way to annoy people.
The next day, we have another Shakespearean NamLo moment. This argument definitely confirmed whatever suspicions I had about an offscreen hookup. And I don’t mean sex necessarily, since Lolo is adamant on social media about saving herself for marriage, and I wouldn’t dare cross her. Whether these two played footsie once during breakfast or have had sex every night since the show started, Lolo is going to give us ScarJo in Marriage Story–level dramatics anyway. Kaycee, Nam, and Lolo are outside discussing whom to nominate as the house vote when Nam tells Kaycee to vote for him and Lolo. This is what Lolo keeps saying she wants, but she’s insulted at the idea that Nam just wants a new partner. Girl. Girl. Are you here to compete, or are you here to seek the approval of a guy with whom you have absolutely no chemistry?? She immediately snaps at Nam that they don’t have the house vote, which doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t petition to get it if it’s what you really want! At this point, Lolo is just making whatever argument is convenient with her emotions. She says that she doesn’t want a man who doesn’t accept her for who she is and tells her that she’s too intense. Okay, Lolo, but you are too intense. Also, I don’t think Nam is trying to be your “man.” I just think he wants to get a million dollars with a partner who isn’t mad at him 90 percent of the time! Kaycee looks just as uncomfortable witnessing this conversation as I am watching it on a laptop.
At the deliberation, Lolo finds a way to make me cringe even more, which I didn’t think was possible. This is the first time she’s petitioned herself to go into the Crater, not because she necessarily wants a skull but because she wants to “put a separation between” her and Nam. What the hell is this phrasing? Anyway, Nam very diplomatically says he doesn’t think Lolo can reach her best potential with him as a partner. He’s smart to take partial blame. Cory and Amber are rolling their eyes because they’re ready to go in and they’ve pretty much secured the house vote already. And Josh and Nany are pleading not to get any house votes, which is what Devin wants. It’s no surprise at the chamber when we find out that most of the house voted for Cory and Amber M., because a vote for Amber M. and even Cory at this point is a vote for no one. Devin and Gabby still can’t agree on whom they want to throw in. Devin wants to get rid of the people that didn’t vote for Josh and Nany, like Kaycee and Kam, and Gabby is pretty much only okay with throwing in Big T if she doesn’t think she can do the elimination herself.
At the Crater, we see that it’s a Hall Brawl. Cory and Amber M. get called down to the sand, and Gabby very anxiously votes for Darrell and Amber B., which makes sense to me since Amber B. has proven she’s not really an ally to the female rookies. Devin votes for them as well, simply because they didn’t vote the way he wanted them to. For Devin, this is clearly all about his ego and maintaining a semblance of power. And for Gabby, this is possibly her head on a platter. We find out that it’s women’s elimination day, and I couldn’t be less excited to see the smallest women in the game compete in this classic head-banger. What makes this Hall Brawl even more frustrating is the added twist that the players must retrieve and transfer three balls at the end of the hallway in addition to pushing past each other to win.
The elimination is edited to make it seem like it’s the Ambers’ fault that this Hall Brawl is a flop. But it’s really the stupid ball element. Amber B. pretty much knocks the wind out of Amber M. the first time they clash, and from then on, the Ambers are pretty much following each other in and out of the hallway without meeting in the middle like the producers intended. CT is deeply offended by how polite this famously violent elimination is, and so am I! Amber B. ends up winning because Amber M. just can’t recuperate from that first hit. At one point, she drops one of her balls before entering the hallway and doesn’t pick it back up. It’s maybe the most farcical Hall Brawl in Challenge history, and everyone is laughing appropriately.
Now that Gabby and Devin’s decision backfired, we can expect some sort of revenge from Amber B. and Darrell in the next few episodes. Amber B. is maybe the most boring person you can anger in this cast, but I’m looking forward to Darrell finally getting his hands dirty. Cory has lost his fifth partner this season, and I’m really starting to feel bad for the guy. He hasn’t had a strong teammate to anchor him, and his closest friend in the house is Fessy, which is like not having a friend at all. Stay strong, Cory!