This week’s episode is all I could’ve wanted and more. And I’m measuring this on the scale of an oddly tepid, mostly drama-less season. I think what’s made the first half of the season feel a little stagnant is that we’ve mostly been watching strong players with big alliances win challenges, use their power in predictable ways, and maintain the same hierarchy since episode one. As much as I love seeing Kam and Leroy thrive together, their hold on pretty much the entire competition has gotten a little tedious. Even when Kam is blindsided into an elimination, she inevitably triumphs! Now that the game is winding down, it’s time for the underdogs to rise to the occasion or, in some cases, just go home. This week, we have tears, farewells, an OG betrayal, a “security breach” and a lot more petty drama in between.
We start off, of course, with the competitors returning home from the Crater. Upon walking through the door, Amber B. turns to the camera and blandly utters “I won” before twirling down the hallway. You’d think she’d make a bigger entrance considering the circumstances under which she was thrown into the elimination, but homegirl is just not good television. Likewise, Kyle goes on to describe her as some big, bad villain in his confessional even though she has the disposition of a store mannequin. I’m sick of hearing about everyone’s problems with this extremely unstimulating woman! In another room, Gabby says she regrets not volunteering for elimination, and CT and Devin kindly remind her that all rookies make mistakes. Ironically, CT, a notable vet, is making the same mistake as Gabby and realizes that there’s no way he’s seeing the Crater unless he wins a challenge and throws himself in.
Meanwhile, Josh is talking to Nany about how one of the guys will inevitably try to take his skull, a surprisingly sound judgement from a routinely delusional man. This conversation takes a weird turn when Josh starts staring at Nany like they’re in a rom-com and about to share a first kiss. This makes Nany (and me!) deeply uncomfortable. The two of them have had strong cousin energy for a couple of seasons now. And as much as I appreciate Josh trying to add some horniness to this season, I would rather not watch what practically feels like incest.
In other news, Lolo has pretty much given up on the competition. She’s telling Darrell that she’s been “blocked” from getting her skull and could be at home training for the Olympics instead of waiting for an opportunity that might never come. Correspondingly, in the kitchen, everyone is having a group discussion about the prospect of Lolo quitting. There’s a noticeable look of calm on Nam’s face, but he still wants to try to win the next challenge for Lolo. We all know that’s never going to happen unless literally every other player disqualifies somehow, but it’s a nice gesture!
This week’s mission, called Air Lift, is a good one. We’ve got two components of an old-school challenge here: a helicopter and people falling into open water. The premise is simple, and the goal is to achieve the fastest time. The teams start off on the edge of a speedboat as a helicopter, which TJ is hilariously inside of, flies above them with two ropes that the competitors each have to jump and hold on to. Next, the helicopter will fly them over the water and to a zone marked by buoys where they have to drop, swim to a platform, and press a button to win. It’s a testament to how well the producers designed this challenge that, despite having the upper body strength of a newborn baby, I wanted to risk my life trying it. I honestly think The Challenge should have its own amusement park/mock training facility at this point, but that’s another conversation.
Our first few couples, Leroy and Kaycee, Darrell and Amber B., and Kam and Kyle, complete the challenge so gracefully that it looks like they’re doing it recreationally. Next we have Josh and Nany, who get disqualified after Josh tries to grab the rope clearly meant for Nany and misses his own. When they return to land, Devin, of course, has jokes. I know, last week I said I enjoyed Devin’s childish antagonizing, but, this time, he’s pouring salt on an actual wound instead of doing the bare minimum to piss someone off, and I don’t love it. Nany’s crying about her performance and taking the blame for some reason. And her and Josh have to stand yards away from everyone just so they don’t get into it with Devin. Fessy and Aneesa go next, and Aneesa immediately drops into the water. She, of course, laughs this off in her confessional and sadly compares herself to a turd. Lolo and Nam do as well as they can, which means completing the challenge but lacking grace and speed. Nam mentions his back hurting again, so we all know what that means.
Next, all eyes are on Gabby and Devin after Devin pretty much did a five-minute standup set on Josh missing the rope. I could’ve predicted that Devin would get his comeuppance, but it felt a tad bit staged watching him fail the exact same way as Josh. I would’ve appreciated him awkwardly falling like Aneesa or nearly drowning a lot more. Finally, we have Big T and CT, who do really well. Of course, when Big T does anything, the rest of the cast reacts like a crowd of village people watching Jesus perform a miracle. But Big T actually deserves all the oohs and ahs she’s getting because her team ends up having the fastest time and wins.
Back at the house, Lolo is having a panic attack about her performance, and that’s all you need to know. I can’t waste any more words on her mental anguish! Meanwhile, CT tells Leroy, Kam, Kyle, and Aneesa that he plans to go into The Crater and wants to take out “the goof” a.k.a. Josh, like a side character on The Sopranos. Leroy informs his former Real World housemate Nany that CT wants her partner but that he plans to vote for Devin. Meanwhile, Devin is making empty small talk with Amber B. to get some numbers on his side, and Gabby is seething in the corner. I’m actually starting to like Gabby. She didn’t really make an impression on me until Lio left. But there’s a certain toughness and ferocity to her that makes her a lot more interesting to watch than the other female rookies, and I can see her becoming a staple.
Back at the house, the votes have been split between Josh and Devin, with Darrell as the determining vote. You just know that whoever Darrell votes for, the repercussions won’t be that severe because who can stay mad at Darrell? At the deliberation, which is a weird debate club at this point, Devin gives a pretty solid argument for why he shouldn’t get voted in. He reminds everyone that his current standing in the competition is kind of a fluke and that he’s still very much a layup who can be easily beat in a final and should be kept around. Josh responds that Devin is still a strong social player with numbers on his side and will eventually come for everyone as long as he’s still in the game. Aneesa decides to put Darrell on the spot and asks him what he’s going to do, and he gives the most roundabout answer.
At the Chamber, we find out that Devin and Gabby received the most votes. CT is shocked that Darrell didn’t vote his way out of OG solidarity. We haven’t seen him and CT work together this entire season and CT even said he wanted to get rid of Darrell, so I’m not sure why Darrell owes him favors all of a sudden. He’s claiming that he doesn’t know who Darrell is this season because he’s working with Big Brother. I don’t know, CT. He’s a married man with children to feed, so I’m going to assume he’s just doing what’ll get him money and isn’t concerned with starting some kind of 40-plus fraternity with you! Back at the house, Josh is crying tears of joy that the house vote went his way. I know everyone is anti-Josh-being-a-cryer, but the fact that slightly over 50 percent of the house doesn’t want him gone, for whatever reason, has him this emotional.
Finally, we get to what we’ve all been waiting for. Lolo has officially decided to quit and literally has an SUV waiting for her outside at the same time she’s announcing this to the house. She finally acknowledges that it’s not everyone else’s fault that she doesn’t have a gold skull and admits that she hasn’t done well competing. This display of introspection is a little too late for me, but it’s something. This is honestly the most calm and composed I’ve seen Lolo this entire season, and her makeup and hair look great. I don’t think I ever need to see her on a Challenge again, and I doubt she’ll come back. But I wish her all the best on her bobsledding career. I also hope she finds the husband she so desperately wants and doesn’t try to hit up Nam on Instagram.
At the Crater, which hasn’t had that many surprises thus far, the producers decide to shake things up. In the middle of TJ asking CT and Big T who they plan to vote for, a message pops up on that weirdly fuzzy, outdated screen they says “SECURITY BREACH.” TJ does a great job of acting like he’s genuinely shocked by this alert, affirming my belief that he’s one of the greatest reality TV hosts. (Give him Chris Harrison’s crown!) Last time we had a security breach, it was after Natalie got sent home, and they brought back Ashley. I really don’t think the producers want to alter the cast anymore, considering how many people have come and gone. Plus, the last contestant to leave was Amber M., and I don’t think the producers like her enough to bring her back. A fun scenario would’ve been if Lolo voted for Devin, and her vote got taken away after she left, sending Josh and Nany into the elimination. But from what we see in the episode, it looks like she already voted for them. Anyway, we have to wait until next week to see the conclusion, which, in the preview for the next episode, includes the competitors being locked in cages. I’m starting to think this CIA theme is getting a little too dark and real, but I’m ready for the theatrics!