Can someone please explain why we’re doing the skull thing again? I thought the producers might’ve workshopped this part of the game after last season, but I guess not. What’s the point of reminding us every week how many skulls are left if everyone ultimately has a chance to get one? How exactly is this heightening the stakes of the competition? Yes, forcing everyone to compete in an elimination makes the game riskier for each individual player, but it doesn’t make the show more compelling to watch. The ability to steal skulls means certain players will be sent down to the Crater more than once, but this happens every season when there are no skulls involved? The math just isn’t right with this one. I need the producers to either workshop this thing until it makes sense or spare us the skulls next season.
Anyway, aside from the skull twist’s once again proving to be a flop, this episode was a refreshing change of pace. We have fewer politics, fewer boring conversations between competitors, more physical competition, and a long-awaited meltdown from the ticking time bomb that is Lolo Jones. From the first five minutes, we know that Lolo is about to break. She’s trying her best to explain to Nam that his alliance with Kam and Leroy isn’t good for her because they “don’t fuck with [her].” Nam can’t wrap his brain around making decisions with another person. He also doesn’t think he can be used by the veterans. When Lolo reminds him of his built-in disposability as a rookie, he earnestly asks, “So … what does it mean to be a rookie?” I take back my previous accusation that Lolo was exaggerating when she said this man was a nightmare to work with. Then, we have a pointless scene where the guys are discussing how time is running out for them because there’s only one skull left. I’m assuming the producers aren’t filling them in on everything just yet. But nevertheless, their anxiety about the skulls turns out to be a waste of story.
On a brighter note, the daily missions are finally starting to resemble something you’d see in an old episode of The Challenge and not a stunt from a mid-budget action movie. This week, we’re playing the poorly named All Brawl, which has multiple phases. Oh, how I’ve missed multi-phase challenges! For the first phase, the competitors, divided by gender into heats, have to jump in a pit of muddy water, search for an iconic challenge relic (the X-shaped pole from the pole-wrestle elimination), and take it to the finish line outside of the pit. I knew this challenge would inevitably turn into a wrestling match, but I didn’t automatically think it would be a recipe for drama. Lolo is so upset about her performance this season that she almost fights Aneesa for allegedly “choking” her and making her lose. (Kam won the first heat.) Did Aneesa touch Lolo’s neck as she was pulling her out of the way to get to the relic? Yes. Was she holding her long enough or with enough force that she was impeding her ability to breathe? No. I wish I could laugh off Lolo’s histrionics, but I cringed so hard watching this almost-40-year-old athlete threaten someone for putting her in an uncomfortable position in a basically no-holds-barred game. The camera even shows the onlooking contestants turning away because Lolo is just that awkward to watch in an angry state. It’s even more awkward watching Aneesa, who would step up to anyone back in the day, have no response other than to look away and very calmly say, “Lolo, relax.”
Nam introduces some strategy to this challenge by holding the relic underwater until he finds an opening to run to the finish line. He wins for him and Lolo, but Lolo still looks like someone just murdered her family. Theresa tries to do the same thing in the next women’s heat. But she has this crazy Cheshire Cat smile on her face that gives her away. Aneesa says that she should never play poker. Gabby ends up grabbing the relic and wins. For the last guys’ heat, CT comes out victorious. But now, the winners of the first round have to go against each other in the same challenge. For a moment, it feels like Nam and CT could be wrestling all night, but CT still manages to beat Nam and all his protruding muscles and advance to the final round. And Kam steals the relic from Gabby in what feels like five seconds.
The third and final phase gets a lot more interesting because now CT and Kam’s partners are involved. Big T has to go against Kam and Kyle has to go against CT until one of the teams wins both matches. CT knows that Big T doesn’t stand a chance against Kam (he’s right) and alludes in his confessional to letting Kyle win so he wouldn’t have to go round after round with him hoping that Big T would somehow win. I was excited to see CT finally get some power in this game, but Killa Kam and Killa Kyle become the double agents. And who can really be upset about that?
Back at that house, Lolo’s going on and on about how Aneesa “choked” her to everyone. Of course, no one cares about this incident as much as Lolo does, so everyone she talks to is just nodding politely. Kyle tells Lolo that he doesn’t think Aneesa grabbing her was some wild conspiracy against her. Aneesa says she’ll talk to Lolo once she has cooled down. I personally wouldn’t talk to anyone who cussed me out in front of the whole house, but all right, Aneesa. Let’s see how far playing nice gets you this season. Meanwhile, Kyle is trying to convince Kam to throw Fessy and Aneesa into the Crater to get back at them for the time they blindsided him. But Kam doesn’t want the Big Brother faction of the house to retaliate against her if they come back. We all know that Kam is conducting this train, so whatever she thinks is the smartest thing to do will probably be the final decision. Right now, Amber M. and Mechie and Nany and Josh are seemingly the best options.
Next, we have yet another sober club scene. Nothing notable takes place except that Big T apologizes to CT for being an awful partner. It’s obvious that CT is going to switch partners whenever he gets his skull, so he’s pretending like everything’s cool. Josh and Nany talk about how they’re ready to go into the Crater. Meanwhile, Amber B. knows she’ll eventually have to screw over Amber M. She honestly doesn’t have to screw over her friend, considering most of the house is eager to get rid of them because they’re the smallest team, but okay. Amber M. can feel that she’s about to be backstabbed, and I’m excited for some good drama between the female rookies. At the Deliberation, Mechie makes his plea for why he shouldn’t be thrown into the elimination, which is that he simply doesn’t want to go in. Amber M. says the exact same thing with a serious face. CT cannot believe these young people. I’m guessing the male competitors were told that they would have the option to steal skulls after this elimination because, technically, as we’re told in the beginning of the episode, they should all be volunteering themselves to go in if there’s only one skull left. See how this skull component is completely falling apart?
The producers finally shake things up at the Chamber by not revealing who Kyle and Kam see on the screen as the house vote. We just see both of them squealing with excitement once it’s revealed. Side note: Kam and Kyle have such good chemistry. I’m glad the producers re-edited this because the Chamber has been removing an element of surprise this entire season. And it’s honestly not that exciting to watch in the first place. We do find out from Kyle, though, that Amber B. asked him not to tell Amber M. that she voted for her, which we all know they’ll use later on in the game. Lolo and Aneesa finally hash out their (Lolo’s) issues, and Aneesa apologizes way too much for something that wasn’t malicious. I wanted to reach through my television and feel her back for evidence of a spine.
Finally, we’re on to the Crater where we can only imagine Amber M. and Mechie will be called down to the sand by TJ. They are. And Josh and Nany get voted in by Kyle and Kam, which they’re both happy about. TJ confirms that it’s a guys’ elimination, which means that Amber M. is safe after being the house vote for the second time this season. They’re playing Asset Destruction again, but, this time, it begins with a puzzle that will reveal which windows are breakable in the last step of the game. I don’t necessarily think of Josh as someone who can complete a puzzle under pressure because he has the temperament of a 5-year-old, but he’s so Zen’d out sliding the pieces across the board that he finishes in what feels like ten seconds. He goes on to pull the cart filled with weighted balls with an equal amount of speed. Mechie is still struggling to finish this skull puzzle that has maybe ten pieces at the most. When Josh reaches the last stage, where he has to throw the balls through the windows, the Josh we all know and mock finally jumps out. I don’t know whether he forgot to memorize where the breakable windows are on the puzzle or just has atrocious aim. But he’s throwing these balls one after the other, and nothing is breaking. I was expecting one to bounce off the window and hit him in the head. Mechie takes so long to finish this puzzle that Josh still wins despite spending an eternity trying to break one window.
Everyone cheers for Josh like a baby who just took its first steps. This is a clear sign that no one actually sees Josh as a threat in the house, but Josh will take any form of affirmation he can get. Mechie leaving also has no real effect on the game, and I can’t say I felt anything watching him go. Predictably, Josh chooses to stay with Nany because they’re best friends, and Amber M. becomes the rogue agent once again.
I honestly left this episode most interested in how the rest of the season will shake out for Lolo. She hasn’t had any power yet, nor been on the chopping block, and she’s already doing The Most. After this episode, I’m not sure she has the emotional threshold to lose one more mission. And I’m ready for someone who isn’t Josh to go completely bananas on the house.