Last season, we saw the show’s cast and producers embrace Big T in a way that felt both unearned, considering her time and lack of accomplishments on the show, and slightly dubious from a racial perspective. Historically, Black female competitors have received the short end of the stick on this franchise, from being bullied to automatically assumed incapable by their white peers. So the sudden spotlighting of her last season and the cast’s overly affectionate, infantilizing attitude toward her — and of course, everything that was going on in the world — felt odd and calculated, to say the least. But, as we saw last night, it only took a slightly larger roster of seasoned vets and promising rookies for all of that love and attention Big T previously received from her fellow veterans to go straight out the window.
But first, let’s get into this week’s rather jarring challenge that featured vomit (of course), a bloody nose, a head injury, bare butts, a bare crotch, and, surprisingly, no other mishaps. “Sea Cave Recon” reminded me of something you would see on Battle of the Exes or Cutthroat, where the producers really embraced flinging people from rocky cliffs without many safety measures in place. Likewise, this challenge requires the teams to jump from a 30-foot cliff into “violent waters” and dive underwater to retrieve a “bomb.” The teams then have to swim through a cave where the second teammate retrieves the second bomb. After they swim out of the cave, the teams have to swim to a Jet Ski that will take them to a checkpoint. From there, they have to swim to shore and place their bombs on a podium where they will be “deactivated.”
This challenge is the literal manifestation of the producers waking up and choosing violence. I could not believe the teams jumped off the cliff just inches away from each other, often at separate times, seemingly without any instruction on when to jump, and no one was accidentally slammed and killed by someone’s rapidly plummeting body! There were so many points in this challenge where I visualized a cast member’s death: the aforementioned scenario, someone being pushed by a wave and slamming their head against the wall of the cave (where were the helmets??), someone falling off the back of the Jet Ski and getting left in the middle of the ocean. Unfortunately, this is a proper litmus test for a good challenge. And a good challenge it was!
Aside from the built-in brutality and liabilities, I was surprised at how well everyone fared, as in actually finishing the challenge, aside from Tacha and Jeremiah, who panickedly just hugged the wall of the cave before quitting. Understandable! Michele has a bloody nose from the impact of her fall — which Tori tried to psych her out about because she sucks — but she finished in a timely manner. We find out later that Tommy got a concussion from his jump. But the main attraction is watching Tommy and CT simultaneously display their asses (and Tommy’s crotch) during the Jet Ski ride as their swim trunks get away from them. I don’t really derive pleasure from seeing asses as pale as these men’s, but the cast certainly got a kick out of it, so much so that I think the producers were encouraging them to laugh hysterically directly into the camera at one point.
My least favorite part of this challenge was obviously Hughie puking onto their chest like a baby spitting up their mashed carrots and then kissing Ashley on the lips in a way that I’m guessing was supposed to be sweet and comical and not completely stomach-churning. White people are wild! Anyway, if you weren’t sure whether or not this show has a regurgitation obsession, this scene somehow made it into the episode description.
Much to my annoyance, Tori, who’s one of my least favorite people to see in power, wins along with her partner Ed. This episode is a clear example of why I don’t think Tori has the makings of a champ, no matter how much she’s framed as a big bad wolf in this game. One of the most frustrating occurrences on this show is when a female competitor eagerly gives her power over to a man, usually Wes or Johnny Bananas, who’ve deemed themselves the masters of politicking. Likewise, Tori is given full decision-making power by Ed, who doesn’t want any blood on his hands as a rookie, but immediately has Devin lay out her best voting options because she apparently can’t calculate these things for herself? I get convening with your fellow allies. But with so many rookies to throw in at this stage of the game, I feel like she could’ve figured most of this out on her own.
Tori also just doesn’t play this game very thoughtfully, as we saw on Total Madness, when she decided to volunteer in an elimination game against a female competitor with one of the most impressive elimination records, or last season, when she made enemies of all the female rookies because she couldn’t keep her mouth shut. Likewise, she considers throwing in Big T this time because Big T “sent her home” last season, even though Big T is the ideal person to compete against in the finals this season. I also have a problem with Tori implying that Big T “sent her home” because it makes it seem like Tori was automatically sent home without a chance to redeem herself by, I don’t know, winning the challenge? Tori also spews this out as if Big T took a shot at her out of nowhere and wasn’t simply responding to Tori blatantly antagonizing the newer women last season.
Of course, Tori’s targeting of Big T isn’t occurring in a vacuum, though. Throughout this episode, the other vets voice their suspicion of Big T’s
friendships with the rookie women, a lot of whom are Black, making it very understandable that Big T would gravitate in their direction. The truth is, as much as these players have previously gassed up and encouraged Big T, no one actually values her as a player. Big T recognizes that she’s the lowest on the totem pole amongst the vets, which has to be a confusing experience when you’re so beloved socially. But I wish she could muster up the strength to draw a line in the sand, which is what makes her amenable attitude as frustrating as others’ treatment of her.
Before we go into deliberation, Tommy returns to the house from the hospital and reveals that he’s been medically disqualified because of a concussion. I don’t know much about Tommy or his Survivor antics, but his immediate throwing of Michaela under the bus at the first deliberation made me think that we had a savage competitor on our hands. Overall, I’m sure he did enough in these first couple of episodes to receive a call from production next season, baring his crotch being the most compelling reason to bring him back.
Next, it’s time for deliberation, which I’ve found wholly intriguing so far despite the anonymous voting, which has proven rather fruitless. The competitors haven’t displayed that much curiosity about who’s voting for who, so it just feels like a useless add-on to underscore the undercover spy theme. I also miss when TJ was the main presider over the deliberation and not the challenge winners, who don’t really need to say much in regard to the house vote. Likewise, Devin has made himself the leader of these interrogations, and everyone just goes along with it. It’s amazing how much power you’re given when you’re a fairly eloquent white man!
Tacha, Jeremiah, Corey L., and Michele are mainly on trial, as they’re the only rookie-rookie pairings, and the prior two bombed the challenge. Devin then draws attention to Big T, noting that the elimination could solely be for the women since Tommy’s exit left an uneven number of competitors. Big T, like always, is unprepared and can’t defend herself beyond pointing out that she’s not the only one with close friendships. Tori does the little spiel she does anytime she’s on the spot, which is to passive-aggressively announce that “people know when people are having conversations” and reiterate that the people who have played this game before aren’t stupid. This raises the question: Has Tori ever watched herself compete on this show?
Ultimately, Tacha and Jeremiah are the house vote. Tori does the unnecessary favor of asking them who they want to go against (Michele and Corey L.). She shakes their hands on it, even though she says she can’t promise anything. (This is not how handshakes work.) At the Lair, Tori predictably breaks her quasi-promise and nominates Berna instead of Michele because her acrobatic background poses more of a threat. Like Devin suggests, TJ announces that it’s a women’s elimination, which made me happy for Corey L., who, in my opinion, should never be nominated for elimination again simply based on charm and attractiveness.
This elimination, called “Slipping Up,” filled me with a stress akin to my first Uncut Gems viewing. We’ve seen the “build your own ladder” game plenty of times on this show, but I’ve never seen it look this difficult. I also didn’t think of this game as being particularly dangerous, but we get our second bloody nose of the hour from Berna when what must be at least 15 pounds falls on her face. After this ep, I’ve decided that competing as blood drips from your face like Carrie White is the most badass thing a person can do on this show. After an anxiety-ridden few minutes of steady climbing and poles abruptly falling, Berna’s circus experience finally comes into play when she’s able to balance for long enough to set up the final pole.
I was saddened by how close Tacha, who doesn’t appear super athletic, came to beating this career carny, but getting to see her call Tori a “fake-ass bitch” at the end of this might have been worth the loss. Tori, who’s used to being passive-aggressive, has no idea how to deal with this face-to-face confrontation and can’t even get a word in because Tacha won’t allow it. Can we just fast-forward to Tacha’s inevitable vendetta against her next season? I very much support this.
Lastly, we end with our revised pairings. In a season first, Berna decides to keep CT because who would give up CT? Also, did anyone else clock the way CT was cheering for and affectionately looking at Berna while she was competing? I know that Nelson is, unfortunately, Berna’s toxic man of choice in this house, but I definitely see some sparks there. Jeremiah is paired with Big T. This man always has a face that says, “I want to go home,” but now he definitely looks like he wants to go home after this change.
Overall, this week noticeably lacked horniness and drunkenness, but it turns out that 90 minutes of gore and messy politics can be just as entertaining.