It only took someone falling off the side of a mountain, dislocating their knee, and seeing the prospect of a million dollars vanish before their teary eyes (and their partner’s) for this show to emerge from the plateau it has been in for the past five episodes and give us a glimpse of what a characteristically dysfunctional and melodramatic season of The Challenge really looks like. The wait might have even been worth it considering what we get out of the first part of this staggering final.
The events of this episode are Greek in tragedy, biblical in moralism, Tarantino-esque in carnage, and Fessy-ian in pettiness. As one can expect at this point, the most theatrical and emotional (and emotionless) bits rely on Fessy, whose villain meter exceeded its limit on week three but somehow manages to make him even more loathsome by the end of this episode. We even end on a cliffhanger (not the stakesless ones we’ve had throughout this season, a real one!), which means there’s more loathing to be had in preparation for what will be maybe the most brutal reunion a single competitor can have.
I really wish we went straight into the final the next morning after everyone returned from the Crater instead of the boring congratulatory talk we get at the top of the episode. The producers have tried their best to convince us this entire season that the competitors are “having fun” and actually consuming alcohol inside that mini–EPCOT Center. So of course they’re making us endure one final club scene in which everyone’s anticipating the final and no one is tipsy. Now that I think about it, this is the only sober club scenario that makes sense now that the final is less than 24 hours away. So bottoms down, I guess! All eyes are on Kaycee and Fessy, who have the most to prove, as they positioned themselves as the biggest threats while accomplishing nothing previously. Kaycee gets a slightly bad edit here as she is pumping up Fessy about their assumed win. In a confessional, Kam says some of Fessy’s arrogance has rubbed off on her. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. And Kam is probably just upset that Kaycee didn’t stick it out with Leroy. And I would be, too, considering what happens at the final with his Real World roomie. In this scene, we also get the Challenge equivalent of that cringey “Look at us! We’re women!” moment from the last two Avengers movies where all the female superheroes are in one shot together. All the female competitors toast to being women and how “diverse” the show has become. Not that this isn’t something to celebrate, but it’s obvious that the inclusion of this conversation is mostly for PR purposes, taking into account the events of last year and frankly the show’s entire problematic history.
The next morning, there’s a Hummer limo waiting to take everyone to the final. I experience the slight nausea of getting dressed to go to a dentist appointment when watching everyone pack their bags to leave. They show up to one of their usual locations (I think? ) where TJ does his little spiel about how this will be the toughest thing they ever do in their lives. I’m very grateful there will be first- and second-place prizes this year, with the winning team splitting $900,000 and the runners-up splitting $100,000. The winner-takes-all thing they were doing for a bit has been excruciating to watch. TJ also tells them that the team with the slowest time for today’s events will be automatically disqualified, which adds more stakes to the first part of the final but also prevents people who know they don’t have a chance of winning from quitting early, like Rogan rightly did last season. A lot of good modifications here!
And off the competitors go for a two-mile run across rocky terrain that, as we’ll see, is very dangerous to run on. Apparently, a hurricane is about to hit wherever the hell these people are in Iceland and the wind pressure is making it hard to run and breathe, in addition to the fact that it is freezing cold. There are way too many factors going on here that interfere with people’s natural ability to perform. I miss the tropical locations where the only threat was suffering from heatstroke!
Anyway, Fessy is leading the pack for most of the run, and we can already tell he hasn’t learned his lesson from the last season’s final, which is to pace yourself. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” CT emphasizes. Fessy also has the worst confessionals during this first leg, from bragging about how easy this run is for him, a man who can take one step and literally end up in a different country, to wondering what’s wrong with Kaycee that she can’t keep up. Amber B. is doing surprisingly well, outrunning all the women and CT. Cory and Kam oscillate between second and third place. And Nany is unmistakably in last place for the entire run.
At the first checkpoint, we have the first-ever mission of this season with the mound and the capsule and the wires. TJ has to scream the instructions because the hurricane is happening now, apparently. CT wins the guys’ heat, but not before wrestling with Fessy for a minute over the capsule, which is supposed to be an event, I guess. I literally forgot these two have a show rivalry because the implication that Fessy and CT are equal in any capacity, aside from shoe size, maybe, is so utterly stupid. Amber B. wins for the women and gets the fastest time overall, which means she gets the option to infiltrate one of the other teams. She ends up having enough common sense to keep CT, who unequivocally has the most final experience out of everyone. (The last ten minutes of this ep are basically a PSA for the importance of having experience.) Fessy seems to think he was about to get swooped up and lets out a sigh of relief. Okay, sir … relax. No one with functioning brain cells would pick someone with your finals record over a seasoned champion who is currently competing better than you. Also, not everyone has Aneesa levels of self-esteem and is willing to be treated like trash again! Sorry, Aneesa.
Of course, all of this hubris catches up to Fessy sooner than later. I can picture the producers having a collective orgasm in whatever van they’re watching this from. The next run features a lot more hills, which Fessy has no trouble with because, as I said, he’s literally the Jolly Green Giant. Kaycee, on the other hand, is tiring herself just trying to keep up with him. She asks him to slow down several times, which he completely ignores and continues to tell her to “Come on.” It’s clear that Fessy thinks whipping his head around every five minutes to yell “Hurry up!” is the same thing as being a helpful, encouraging teammate. He also lacks the basic knowledge that pushing someone to run as fast as they can for several miles, instead of allowing them to pace themselves, will make them tire out faster. The most delicious part of this scene, though, is that you can see Kaycee finally starting to internalize what the other women have said about this man all season. I’ve only been able to describe Kaycee as the basic smiley-face emoji since I’ve known her, so the fact that I can visibly see her contemplating is amazing.
All the dysfunction of their team comes to a head when Kaycee slips coming down a hill (while being rushed by Fessy) and apparently dislocates her knee. It’s obviously not funny that she is in pain, but the way she’s crying and screaming reminds me of that little girl Rachel Crow from The X Factor when Nicole Scherzinger single-handedly eliminated her and she fell to the ground and started wailing. (The video went viral again a few months ago. I urge you to check it out.) Anyway, what’s so devastating about watching Kaycee cry is that you know she is more upset at herself for ruining the final for Fessy than she is about experiencing physical pain. It’s a fucked-up dynamic, and I really hate the hold Fessy has over some of these women! Fessy lacks the humanity to respond to her in an equally emotional way, so he just hovers awkwardly pretending to inspect her injury. I must also note that Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” is playing over all of this. The music this season has been very first-thought and hyperliteral. But I do love Ms. Bush and the drama of this scene, so I was ascending off my bed once I heard that intro.
At the next checkpoint, the other teams have to drink (animal?) blood and eat a plate of disgusting animal parts that, of course, include testicles. The testicles have really lost their shock value at this point. Also, why is it never female genitalia? Hmmmm. Anyway, we get a montage of people puking, and I don’t understand why we’re watching this. Also, what are the rules with these eating challenges? No one seems to be digesting anything. I would honestly be more entertained watching Cory try to eat an entire sheet cake or drink a two-liter bottle of Slurpee than spit up blood 50 times.
Out of nowhere — and this is where it gets really tough — Kaycee comes down the hill with her knee wrapped up. Fessy should honestly be carrying this woman somehow, but he’s barely helping her hop on one leg. The producers obviously let Kaycee continue to the next checkpoint because it’s good TV, even though there’s no way she can get through the rest of the final. This is another moment when experience (and watching previous seasons!) matters, because Kaycee honestly believes she won’t get disqualified and starts pounding down the liter of blood. You can tell there’s a highlight reel of Fessy’s cockiest moments from the season playing in his head, as there’s truly nothing behind this dude’s eyes. He is decidedly not going to eat anything because he knows their team is screwed. But Kaycee, with blood all over her mouth, is crying and begging him to eat, and this has to be the biggest moment of pathos this show has had since Bananas stole Sarah’s money.
CT and Amber B. end up winning and get to sabotage another team with an additional plate of “dessert,” which I’m guessing is more balls. It takes them way too long to decide which team, considering that Leroy and Nany are in last place, Kaycee and Fessy are basically done, and Cory and Kam are the biggest threat to them. Nevertheless, we end on a cliffhanger, and I couldn’t think of a better place to end. Obviously, we, as an audience, care more about seeing Fessy’s reaction to being told he is DQ’d than about whomever Amber B. and CT decide to give this plate to. But I’m crossing my fingers they don’t fuck it up. See you next week for the last time!