Remember when people used to leave The Challenge for reasons that were legitimately stupid and worth mocking for years afterward? Like when Ashley lost her luggage at the airport and just couldn’t go on? Or when Tina hit Beth with the world’s weakest punch? Or, as I mentioned last week, when Cory body-slammed Tony for tossing his leftovers out a bus window? So far this season, four — yes, four! — people have gone home early for matters that are simply unfortunate or deeply saddening, including Lio, who decided to pack his bags this episode for mental-health reasons.
The producers have apparently assigned Nany to be the house shrink this season because, in the first episode, she got Kam to share her backstory, and now she’s getting Lio to open up to her like she’s Jennifer Melfi. Basically, Lio says waking up in a house every day with strangers has been triggering for him because he spent time in a group home as a teenager. Post-traumatic stress from experiencing poverty is real and doesn’t get highlighted enough in mainstream conversations about class or mental health, so his open discussion about it is both heartbreaking and formidable. Right after Lio reveals this, we see the inevitable shot of his luggage on the floor. Gabby is legitimately upset and crying that her partner is leaving and says she feels lucky to have met him, which might have made me shed a tear. And TJ, who famously “hates quitters,” says he wholeheartedly supports Lio’s decision to take care of himself later at the weekly challenge. Okay, I definitely shed a tear during that uncharacteristically compassionate moment.
But before all of this goes down, the episode begins with the female competitors discussing their suspicions about Theresa. Apparently, Theresa knew the rookies were plotting to pit Tori and Aneesa against each other in the last elimination, but she didn’t defend or warn Aneesa, who’s supposedly her No. 1 ally. Nany relays this to Kam and Lolo, and Lolo decides to confront Theresa about it the next day in a slightly heated manner that gave me flashbacks to her infamous blowups on Celebrity Big Brother. Apparently, Theresa has seen Lolo spar with Tamar Braxton and Kandi Burruss on national television and decides she doesn’t want those problems.
Next, it’s time for our weekly mission, called Smuggle Run, which sounds like a very cute iOS game. This one’s a classic preview of a final in which the teams have to race five miles while carrying a long, heavy cylinder and pass several checkpoints that include climbing over a wall and completing a puzzle. Endurance tests like these are great because we get to see how physically mismatched couples like Big T and C.T. and Aneesa and Fessy would do in a final, and the answer is BAD. I was really hoping I wouldn’t have to agree with Fessy’s apprehensions about working with Aneesa, but maybe he was onto something! This week, on top of being safe from elimination, the winners each get an extra prize of $6,000, sponsored by P3 Portable Protein Packs. Remember back in the day when every challenge was sponsored by some kind of now-obsolete electronic equipment and the winners would get something like computer speakers?
This mission doesn’t come with a lot of surprises. We all know the teams in the lead at the beginning never stay in the lead; right now, they’re Kam and Kyle and Leroy and Kaycee. Nany is not someone I automatically think of as having stamina, but she and Josh keep up a good pace the entire time. Devin and Gabby, now new partners, do just okay. Lolo and Nam can’t find a way to hold their cylinder properly. I think part of the challenge is that there’s literally no way to hold it in a comfortable position. But Lolo starts freaking out, and Nam can’t communicate with her effectively. Meanwhile, Aneesa seems very content being in last place with Fessy. Cory and Ashley basically have the challenge in the bag until Cory leads them the wrong way, giving Jay and Theresa time to catch up and ultimately win. The fact that no other team seems to be happy for Jay and Theresa lets me know they have no real allies; therefore, everyone is on the chopping block.
Back at the house, Ashley asks Theresa where her head’s at. For the love of God, Ashley, just assume you’re going in! I don’t know how many more times this girl needs to be unanimously voted into an elimination at the start of a season for her to realize she’ll never be safe on this show, but I’m TIRED! If I were Ashley, I would be working out like crazy and preparing myself to get sent into every elimination (unless I win a challenge) and praying for the best. Theresa tells her she has nothing to worry about, which I immediately know is a lie the moment it slips from her mouth. But Ashley seems to accept her word as bond.
Meanwhile, Lolo is on the verge of tears trying to talk to Nam about their communication issues. I’m really not trying to invoke a sexist trope here, but I can’t tell how much of Lolo’s frustration has to do with the fact that she has a crush on Nam, which he doesn’t seem to be reciprocating, or if she’s genuinely upset about their performance at the challenge. I’m basing this on the number of times Lolo has volunteered information about her love life in reference to her partnership with Nam, and it feels as if she’s projecting her baggage onto him. Of course, I believe performing well is important to Lolo; she’s an Olympian, after all. But the tone of this argument is just way too serious when they’re still considered a threatening team.
Next, we move on to the club, where nothing exciting is happening. I really miss the time when club scenes actually served their purpose, which was showing challengers making out and throwing drinks at each other. But now everyone is either in their 30s or has a child at home. Nany tells Josh that Theresa will probably volunteer to go against her in the Crater because Theresa has beaten her before in an elimination. This seems kind of presumptuous on Nany’s part when there are smaller, less experienced female players in the house for Theresa to go against and earn her skull. Meanwhile, Jay tells Kyle he’s not sending him in. This is the first time I’ve seen Jay and Kyle speak this season, so this feels like a lie. When everyone gets back to the house, Fessy tries to flirt with Gabby again. I’m glad someone is trying to get into someone else’s pants on this show considering how chaste this season has been. But I also don’t want Gabby, who seems like a sweet girl, to fall for a guy who basically said she was second best to Tori a few episodes ago.
The next day, Theresa and Jay decide their best option for the house vote is Ashley, which, duh. At the deliberation, Leroy puts it on the table that everyone was told to vote for Ashley and Cory. So Ashley presents a list of reasons that she shouldn’t be the house vote, which are (a) it could be a guy’s elimination day instead of a girl’s, (b) Theresa may not volunteer herself, meaning someone else could go against Ashley and possibly lose, and (c) she has an amazing finals record. The thing is, everyone knows all this. They knew it the first time they voted her in on WEEK ONE. Just start packing your bags!
In the Chamber, Theresa and Jay find out the majority of the house voted for Ashley. I love that they’re surprised they were able to accomplish this. We do see earlier, though, that Leroy, Nany, and Kam burned their votes on Devin and Gabby, presumably because they just don’t trust Theresa. At this point, everyone knows the double agents can see who voted in the majority, so I’m not sure why they would go against her to save someone like Ashley. Likewise, in the next scene, Theresa tells Kam she would give her the opportunity to go in and earn her skull if she thinks the elimination is something she can do. It makes no sense for Theresa to be making this sort of deal with Kam, because they don’t seem to be allies, and the look on Kam’s face reads concerned.
At the Crater, Ashley and Cory inevitably get called down to the sand, and Ashley is surprised and angry, again. In a not-so-shocking turn of events, Theresa and Jay both vote for Kam, who seemingly didn’t give Theresa the okay to throw her in. Kam is almost eerily calm while Ashley is still going on about how she was lied to. The game they’re playing is Dead Ringer, which truly looks like so much fun: Each player is hung in the air from a wire with a series of tall poles surrounding them. Using their individual podiums in the middle, the players have to run and swing back and forth in order to place six rings, which are attached to their bodies, onto their posts. Ashley does a terrible job the entire game. She’s so angry and unfocused she ends up dropping two of her rings. Meanwhile, Kam looks like Mary Martin pointing her toes and gliding effortlessly through the air. She may as well break out in song.
Kam ultimately beats Ashley with a level of grace and reserve reminiscent of Beyoncé accepting an award. TJ announces that this is Ashley’s second time going home this season because he loves being shady. Cory turns around and starts yelling at Theresa and Jay for lying to him, as if it actually affected him. Ashley is telling Kam she wants her to beat Theresa’s ass. Everyone is just performing at this point! Kam decides to keep Kyle as her partner, which he seems almost teary-eyed about. So now Cory is left without a partner once again and jokingly refers to himself as a black widow, which isn’t a perfect analogy, but we get it.
The ending of the episode sets up the recurring question of whether Leroy will be able to perform as well as his main ally, previously Johnny “Bananas” and now Kam, and earn his ticket to the final. I’m praying he does because I want Kam and Leroy to thrive in this competition together. But this is also Leroy we’re talking about.