It’s a shame that this season of The Challenge is being eclipsed by an arguably more compelling season of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. I have no idea why MTV chose to broadcast this show during the same time as The Erika Jayne Trials, as if they couldn’t cancel one of their Ridiculousness reruns or move Sierra Mist or whatever that Hills knockoff is called to a different slot. I’m heedlessly relying on the observation that last week’s episode saw its poorest ratings in eight seasons while the Bravo juggernaut achieved a season high. And I don’t blame anyone for wanting to watch The Pretty Mess field questions about LLCs over a standard competition show that isn’t engulfed in an ongoing federal lawsuit. However, last night’s episode, with all of its meltdowns and cutthroat politics, affirmed that The Challenge is really working toward regaining its previous appointment viewing status, whether or not it’s actually attracting eyeballs.
With only one rookie-rookie pairing left to get out the game (Corey L. and Michele), the vets are preparing for civil war but not before they’ve reveled in the fact that they’ve managed to execute the most rudimentary strategy for, let’s see, FOUR weeks. I giggled watching the vets — except Big T, who’s perpetually a rookie — look so comfortable strutting around and huddling in corners like a bunch of popular kids before next week’s Great Humbling, particularly Josh, who, later on, gives Devin one of those “look how far we’ve made it!” speeches. I repeat, this is the fourth episode.
Speaking of Josh, he’s still trying to convince Fessy not to come for his teammate (and maybe his wife in his head), Amber. At this point, I don’t even believe that Fessy is actually scared of Amber paying him back for whatever rude thing he did to her last year that keeps evading my memory. I just think he finds her annoying and views her as the desperate, dorky kid trying to latch onto his clique. I also think Kaycee very passive-aggressively feels this way, too, even though she facilitated her induction into the Big Brother crew last season. Likewise, we see a conversation between Kaycee and Amber where Amber basically talks herself into trusting them again without any sort of assurance from Kaycee. Kaycee literally begins the conversation by downplaying their pact and bemoaning having such a visible alliance with an official name before going on to say “Big Brother alliance” 50 times in her confessional. Obviously, we only see a sliver of their conversation, and it seems like Amber and Fessy spoke privately. But I get the sense that Amber is naive to the fact that, when you return to this show after winning, you’re everyone’s enemy (unless you have the influence of a CT or a Johnny Bananas, of course).
Before we get to the challenge, there’s some flirting between Big T and Logan and another episode of my least favorite CBS sitcom, “CT Trains The Weakest Competitor,” this time with Hughie. The vibes here are very, “Isn’t it funny watching someone as gay as Hughie learn from someone as straight and masculine as CT??” But I digress. CT is an expert at flying under the radar in a Challenge house, so I get the producers’ urge to give him something to do. He also magically looks like early 2000s CT this season, so I will accept this dumb segment to look at that gorgeous face.
Now, let’s move on to this week’s challenge, which could have been shot and explained better but nevertheless was very fun. For “Undercover Comms,” one partner from each team is suspended upside down from a square rig 35 feet above the water. Spread across the rig are three codes made of dashes and dots. They have to pull themselves across the rig to memorize the codes and then to a walkie-talkie where they repeat the code to their partner on the ground. The partner on the ground then has to run to a pile of boulders with numbers on them that correspond with the code they received. They then must use the numbers to unlock a detonator that they can use to deactivate a player and send them into the water. Whoever unlocks a third detonator first deactivates all the other players and wins the heat.
Despite how confusing and poorly filmed this challenge was, I’m giving it a B+ based on the vets’ fake teamwork, which ultimately made it so intriguing. During the second heat — Josh and Amber won the first — Devin allegedly tells the group that they should let the teams that are doing well stay in the lead and use their detonators on the teams that are lagging behind so that one team from their heat can win the entire challenge. There aren’t a lot of geniuses or borderline smart people on this show, but the fact that anyone would go along with this is insane. This plan is totally unnecessary and illogical unless the point is to give Devin an opportunity to win because this challenge involves his skill set. For one, just because a team is in the lead in this heat, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll have a better time than the first winners. Also, if the vets are really High School Musical “We’re All in This Together,” today’s only goal should have been to beat Corey L. and Michele, which Amber and Josh already did. A vet-rookie pairing would have won regardless, so why not let everyone fight fair and square?
Kyle claims to have misheard these instructions and uses his detonator on Devin and Emy, who are allegedly in the lead even though there’s no way for us to tell. Honestly, good on Kyle for recognizing how fishy that plan was. It takes a lot to stand up to your “best friend.” Oh, yeah — Kyle and Devin are now best friends who refer to themselves as “Dyle” instead of the obvious portmanteau “Kevin.” Anyway, Esther and Fessy win, which gave me a bunch of endorphins because I really like their dynamic. Devin gives Kyle a bunch of shit post-challenge, which transitions into a segment of everyone taking Kyle’s actions personally and calling him a snake. Cory is clearly disgusted by Kyle’s appearance because he emphasizes that he looks like a snake.
At the club, we get some stylized entering the club/dancing montages to ’N Sync’s “Want You Back.” I get the producers want to make the most out of the song budget, but I really don’t need a cheesy music video every time the cast goes out. The slow-mo and motion-blur effects are extremely tired. Anyway, people dance. People kiss. Blah blah blah. Corey L. tells Fessy that he wants to be the agency vote so he and Michele can win and switch partners. He wants to go against Hughie because he knows he can beat him and maybe for some problematic reasons, which is why we should probably transition into deliberation, which gave us a lot to chew on this week.
Corey L. and Michele are rightfully pissed about their predicament. But I couldn’t totally swallow this “we’ve proved ourselves” line they kept throwing out. Yes, they’ve consistently had a target on their backs, but they’ve each competed in only ONE elimination, which sucks. But we’ve definitely seen rookies suffer harsher punishments than that. Corey ends up turning the attention on Hughie, who he claims has been “skating by.” Again, we’re on episode FOUR. Just on a mathematical level, there are only so many rookies who can see an elimination at this point! Hughie feels betrayed by Corey, whom he expected some kinship from as the only other gay man in the house (as far as we know). Hughie ends up revealing in his defense that he burned his vote last week on his own team so he wouldn’t have to vote for Corey and Michele, which is a new level of solidarity.
I spent most of this week’s elimination repeating a phrase spoken by NeNe Leakes about Kenya Moore’s living situation on season six of The Real Housewives of Atlanta. Fessy and Esther vote for Hughie and, most significantly, Amber, which anyone with a half-functioning brain could’ve predicted as soon as they won. In this moment, I honestly think Josh and Amber come off dumber than Fessy comes off as shady. Amber should have been prepared to go on the basis that she’s last year’s champ in addition to barely having an alliance with the BBC. And Josh has been betrayed by Fessy several times. This doesn’t stop either of them from launching a verbal attack on Fessy, which they have the right to do — but also, know who you’re working with! Josh, of course, takes it to another level, screaming at the top of his lungs and standing as close as he can to Fessy, whose feet are firmly planted on the ground.
The elimination is a simple but nail-biting race in which the partners are handcuffed to a pole that they have to slide along through an obstacle course to retrieve a key and then back to the other side to unlock themselves and pull a lever. After some shit-talking from Hughie, a misplaced key, and an impressive backflip, Amber and Hughie take the W. But there’s more fighting to be had when Hughie and Corey briefly cuss at each other and bump chests before neatly making up.
Corey states sorrowfully in his confessional that he did “what gay men do to each other” by coming after Hughie. As someone who has witnessed the erasure and mistreatment of queer people on this franchise, the depiction of this rivalry annoyed me. I’m glad that Corey owned up to his harshness toward Hughie, which seemed partially influenced by that “there can only be one” mentality that marginalized people sometimes adopt in competitive environments. Although, I don’t necessarily think Corey owes Hughie anything. And I think Hughie is wrong to assume they’re in the exact same position when Black male players are labeled as “threatening” more often on this show. I mainly just don’t trust the producers, who only started expressing interest in the cast’s identities last season, to depict this very nuanced narrative that often blames minorities for their own oppression and makes them solely responsible for uplifting each other, ignoring the greater structures at large like this show!
Anyway, Amber ends up leaving Josh (LOL) for Devin. Ashley tells Hughie not to return to her after his voting flub, and he picks Nany, who is so flattered by this. This puts Emy with Gabo and Ashley with Josh. Presumably, we’ll get more Josh-versus-Fessy action when we return to the house next week and, according to the preview, Kaycee making someone cry, who can only be Josh. See you next week!