We have a lot to get through this week, from love triangles to name mispronunciations to Josh’s uncontrollable mouth. So let’s skip the observational intro and jump right into it, shall we?
We start this ep with a party scene at the mansion. This dance montage was both awkwardly and pointedly long, as the show has been accused of losing its frivolousness. But I appreciate the effort! Nothing too extraordinary happens aside from Tori doing an impressive flip on Kelz’s lap and putting her ass in his face. There’s some setup for a love-triangle drama involving Nelson, Ashley, and Berna later on. I still don’t buy the flirtation between Nelson and Ashley and think they both made a deal in Austin to get extra camera time. But these two are the rare veterans who didn’t arrive on this show either fairly mature and reasonable, like Kaycee and Fessy (boring!), or having displayed a ton of growth over their tenures, like Cory and CT. So, of course, their coupling, albeit suspicious, ends up giving me exactly what I’ve been demanding, which is more drunken meltdowns. More on that later!
Before we get to this week’s challenge, we get some morning-after shots of Tori and Kelz lying in bed that may have been staged as well as a scene of them working out. The story producers are really trying to underscore this relationship that feels very dry and mostly platonic, primarily because Kelz becomes a main character this week. We also get a clearly staged scene between Fessy and Esther in which she expresses her nerves, as all rookies do. Can I just say what a waste of time these moments are? You signed up for a show that has adversity in the title. We get that you’re scared! When she asks Fessy if he wants any breakfast, he answers while side-eyeing the camera as if reading one of those SNL cue cards that he can’t eat because he’s observing Ramadan. I definitely preferred the more natural disclosing of this in the “Declassified” episode, as an observant reality-TV viewer, but I’m glad it’s included here to give Fessy some background.
Now onto our daily, which involved three of my least favorite props: a helicopter, SUVs, and pyrotechnics. As an OG Challenge fan, I don’t watch this show for the budget (unless it’s going toward alcohol). I don’t care about specially designed helicopters or shiny new Range Rovers. I like watching people’s bodies slam into one another and plummet from cranes into large bodies of water. I also don’t get excited or experience any level of stimulation watching a mild explosion go off almost 20 times! Despite all the unnecessary frills of this challenge, I gave it a B- because it was easy to follow, fairly compelling, and allowed us to see the natural chemistry between partners.
Basically, for the poorly named “Heli Heist,” one teammate leans out the side of a helicopter throwing stolen gems (bean bags) to the other teammate, who’s sticking out of the sunroof of a Range Rover as it moves down a highway; the teammate in the car has to catch as many as they can before they reach the stopping point. Then they have to get out of the car and race with their duffle bag of gems to the finish line.
Before the challenge starts, TJ announces that Josh’s partner, Lauren, has left the game for reasons he doesn’t care to share and called in a replacement. I tried to picture this elusive woman in my head for about ten seconds and just gave up. After a shot of an approaching sports car that goes on for way too long, we find out Josh’s new teammate is reigning champ Amber B., who’s just Amber now, so congrats to her. Meaner, funnier editors would’ve added crickets sound effects, like when Cara Maria joined the cast of Rivals II back when everyone hated her. This woman’s presence is so underwhelming that her “surprise” return to the show was literally featured in the trailer. But Amber’s showing up, and specifically her getting paired with Josh, creates an interesting dynamic because of her past beef with Fessy, who’s Josh’s theoretical No. 1.
But back to “Heli Heist.” Surprisingly, no one does remarkably terribly in this challenge despite the fact that it’s basically, as Tori puts it, a “crapshoot.” I assumed there would be competitors who couldn’t catch a single bag of gems, but even the lowest-performing teams got in the double-digits. This is why, on top of just not being able to take Emy at all, I couldn’t stomach Emy’s complete meltdown over her and Ed’s decent performance. I have a feeling this very petulant woman is going to do this every time she doesn’t win, so I better strap in! Unsurprisingly, the two competitors with a football background, Fessy and Kaycee, did exceptionally well. Esther also has Herculean arm strength and impeccable aim. I was slightly confused by the running portion because I thought the competitors in the car would race simultaneously. But in most cases, we just see one person jump out of the car and run all the way to the finish line, followed by the next person. Maybe it took some competitors an oddly long time to put the gems in their duffle bag. Either way, the latter half was a bit anticlimactic despite all the explosions.
Fessy and Esther take the W. I loved watching Esther scream like she has just been ambushed by Publishers Clearing House. Give me more of Esther’s enthusiastic screaming and less of Emy’s whining! By now, you all should know that I love when Fessy is in power. He’s sly, ruthless, and unpredictable in the most understated manner. This power dynamic is also fun to watch because Josh immediately becomes empowered by his proximity to Fessy, to the point where he becomes a voluntary mouthpiece for him and all his decision-making because he’s Josh and can’t deny an opportunity to display dominance in a competition he routinely sucks at.
Likewise, he tells Fessy that he thinks Kelz is the ringleader among the rookies. We haven’t seen Kelz interact with his peers enough to determine this. But he’s a very large man, which is reason enough to try to get him out of the game early on. Fessy also wants to get rid of Amber simply because he doesn’t like her, which is perfectly fine with me. But Josh obviously wants to be paired with a champion for as long as possible.
At the club, which looks like it is situated under a tent at a wedding reception but is surprisingly a real establishment, Amanda and Fessy do some light flirting, but Amanda clarifies in her confessional that she’s not here to get distracted by guys. This is what everyone preemptively says on this show before they end up sleeping in someone’s bunk bed every night. Ashley is going on about how shocked she is that she’s “falling for” Nelson, as if they didn’t text each other the night before their flights to Croatia to set this storyline up. But then we see Nelson talking to Berna, whom I can’t yet get a read on except that she reminds me of Alexa Chung. I don’t see any real fireworks between them either. And thank God, because Nelson is a raging misogynist behind that dentured smile. Back at the house, Ashley drunkenly snaps at Berna, whom she refers to as “Bertha.” As much as I enjoyed this slurred tirade, I don’t think this name blunder is so funny or even emphasized so much in this scene that it should have earned title-of-the-ep status. But I’m all for doing things in the spirit of comedy!
Next, it’s time for deliberation, which is already proving to be more exciting than last season’s book-club meetings. However, I don’t understand the value of the secret votes. This only benefits the players, not us viewers who presumably would like to see some fighting erupt by having everyone, say their vote. But this is where Josh’s foolishness comes in handy because there’s truly no reason for him to announce that he’s going to vote for Kelz, seeing that most of the house is on the same page. But he does it anyway, accusing Kelz of making deals with everyone, which leads to Kelz calling Josh too dumb to recognize any of his moves. It’s a scathing read that Josh can’t even slightly defend himself against. Meanwhile, Fessy’s face is in a permanent smirk because the blood is off his hands. Esther simply just wants to get this over with. So it’s revealed that the house vote is Kelz and Tracy.
At the Lair, Fessy and Esther reveal that their votes are for Emy and Ed. This was to be expected, as Emy turned her back on her Survivor fam as soon as she walked in the house, as Esther points out. And Ed just hopped off the plane a second ago. Emy goes into a very loud, melodramatic spiel about how betrayed she feels. None of Emy’s histrionics are compelling to me because she mostly just reminds me of a literal toddler and not, like, an adult who happens to behave immaturely. She’s also just extremely awkward, to the point where I have to suddenly avert my eyes from the screen!
The game they’re playing is called “Flipping Agents.” One teammate (the women, inevitably, because they’re lighter) is strapped to a panel on a platform that the other teammate has to flip over. The teammate attached to the panel has to retrieve cubes that make up a puzzle using a rope with a magnet on the end. Once all the cubes are collected, the team has to complete the puzzle. At first, this elimination felt a little awkward. The flipping-over component felt extraneous to me, as if the producers of this game just needed something for the other person to do. But once the teams found their rhythms, it became increasingly enthralling watching them compete side by side. Tracy’s lack of focus and Kelz’s lack of support ultimately lose the elimination for them, which made me deeply upset that I would have to watch Emy for at least one more episode.
Ed, who exudes the same exhaustion I feel toward Emy, decides to switch her out for Tori. Something tells me all the men will want to grab Tori as soon as they have the opportunity. And Emy selects “DEVVIIIIIIIIIINNNNN!!” Corey L. and Michele become partners, which I think will make for a savvy combo. Anyway, next week’s episode looks promising, as the preview shows everyone fighting for their lives in a turbulent river. So let’s look forward to that!