Last week’s preview teased another Emy meltdown followed by an apathetic CT reaction shot, which unfortunately turned out to be some crafty editing. The producers are clearly aware of the whole “CT manipulates women” trope that occurs almost every season and disrupts my rugged Prince Charming fantasy of him. Despite not getting this explosive moment, it feels like we’re building up to some kind of rift in their alliance/mentorship/weird daddy-daughter bond.
CT wants Emy to join the Sapphire Cell, which, according to him, needs more “strong girls.” He’s not totally wrong and acknowledges Ashley’s strength — which is somehow still an afterthought to people even though she’s a two-time champ! However, I immediately cringe whenever the men on the show evaluate the women’s athletic performances because they’re almost always incorrect and inconsistent, and they usually base their opinions on who’s least likely to emasculate them. For instance, Tori, who mostly just looks the part of a super-athletic girl, is constantly talked up by the guys, even though her record is lacking. And we still have yet to see a specified area that she excels in. But she comes off as a “girl who can hang” and doesn’t argue with the men. Kaycee, as well, with the exception of Josh. Whereas women like Ashley and Amanda, who are outspoken and aren’t afraid to call out their male counterparts on their bullshit, are rarely given any props for their respective abilities or considered coveted allies. Likewise, I’m going to deduce that Emy’s gained CT’s favor primarily by worshipping the ground he walks on instead of proving herself as a “strong” competitor to him. I’m a real Sherlock!
Anyway, aside from CT dropping unsubtle hints to Emy that she should throw herself into the next elimination for him — even though he would never do the same for her on a guys’ week — this episode has the misfortune of being focused on Bettina, whose name I keep reading as Bettenon without my glasses. The scenes with Bettina are rough because she has as much character as the kitchen island that everyone slouches over eating their frozen pizzas after a night of drinking. We get this kind of episode every season when the competitors realize there’s a rookie who’s somehow flown under the radar, and they have to get them out of the game immediately. The producers usually haven’t given them that much attention either, which means that we viewers have to spend an hour and a half trying to care about someone with no history on the show and whose backstory was maybe or maybe not briefly explained at one point. So many of the rookie backstories this season boil down to, “I’m from so-and-so country, and I have parents,” so who can even remember?
Now, let’s get into this week’s challenge. This episode marks The Challenge’s 500th episode, which doesn’t personally mean much to me even as a longtime fan. But I think if you have an excuse to go all out, spend more money, and make a challenge feel more special, you should take advantage of it. That being said, it’s strange that this segment kicks off with T.J. announcing this major milestone and then introducing a challenge that’s an abridged version of football and doesn’t incorporate any Challenge history. The subtext here, of course, is that The Challenge currently is so far removed from its original form — the All-Stars “spinoff” is ironically just an early version of the show — that you literally wouldn’t be able to do any show-based trivia or rehash iconic moments with the current cast because a lot of them didn’t witness the glory years of the show, in person or on television.
Likewise, we get a fairly entertaining game called “Brush Contact” involving the cells transferring “money bags” across a field, alternating defense and offense. This challenge wasn’t as much of a violent headbanger as the producers might have wanted it to be, which is why I think they added smoke bombs and rain to make the game seem more intense. I honestly think this would’ve been more compelling if played early on in the season with more competitors. In certain scenarios, particularly with the men, you only had one person attempting to block another, so there wasn’t a lot of scuffling.
A special highlight, though, was watching Josh knock Kyle to the ground with one hand. Kyle, as we saw in his brief, forgettable fight earlier with Nelson, has gotten a little too comfortable in regard to calling people “bitches” and “pussies,” so it was nice to see some physical repercussions for those fighting words, even if they weren’t aimed at Josh. I also enjoyed the women bursting into laughter every time they had to tackle each other. I’m sure some people would argue that the women should’ve taken the game as seriously as the men, but I argue that tackling an adult is inherently silly. There’s also a hilarious moment when Big T is fighting for her life on the ground as Nany, Kaycee, and Tori try to steal the money bags from her. For a second, they all look like hungry kittens fighting for their mom’s milk.
The Emerald Cell pulls off another win, and a sleep-inducing set of conversations follow. The politics for the past few episodes have not been super-compelling, at least with the Emerald Cell in power, because their only concern, for now, is staying together for the final. I miss watching competitors nominate people out of spite or because they allegedly said something about someone else. In addition to Emerald Cell using their power in predictable ways, we’re once again in that cursed era of The Challenge, following the skull twist, where the producers have created an incentive for people to go into elimination, and the rookies think volunteering is a virtue. The rookies aren’t conditioned like the older folks to understand that volunteering for elimination is rarely worth whatever ideal outcome they think they’ll have when they walk back into the house. Likewise, Bettina requests to be the agency’s vote so she can pick who she wants to compete against, but it goes to Emy.
There’s not really an element of shock to this scenario, but the producers still try to squeeze out some drama because they know Emy is easy to rile up. Allegedly, there’s been some tension between Emy and Bettina in recent weeks. Maybe they’ve exchanged words on-camera. Maybe they haven’t. Who can remember anything involving Bettina? Either way, there’s no way that anyone watching this really cares whether these women have it out for each other, especially when one of them is probably about to go home. A castmate (who isn’t CT) tries to calm Emy down after she starts screaming at Bettina, who walks away from their conversation and seemingly just leaves the club. The editors realize that Emy’s outburst is so boring that they cut away to the next morning in the middle of her screaming, “WHY IS SHE TREATING ME DIFF—”
After some more repetitive talks around the house, we finally go to the Lair, where Emy announces in a surprisingly calm tone that she wants to compete against Bettina, which makes me more inclined to believe that an extra $50 was added to her paycheck for last night’s tantrum. The women play a game that we’ve seen before involving a pointy object attached to a pendulum that hits a set of targets. In the light of this show’s recent obsession with imperialism, the pointy objects are missiles that have to hit small circular targets on a high beam.
This elimination basically boils down to who stayed awake during physics. While everyone assumed that Bettina would be a lot weaker than Emy in a physical challenge, the only thing that seems to be in her way is that she doesn’t understand how momentum works. I, for one, would be deeply embarrassed if Cory, out of all people, had more knowledge of a scientific concept than me and had to explain it in a confessional. But Bettina’s technique is so obviously wrong that it has to be pointed out by someone. Instead of allowing the missile to swing back and forth and gain distance that way, she keeps grabbing the rope too early and trying to hit the missile solely on the strength of her arms. It’s also interesting but not totally surprising that Cory is not giving Bettina any advice from the sidelines despite his encouragement to her all this season.
Emy ends up knocking all six targets down while Bettina hits none. In her awkward Emy fashion, she starts rolling around in the sand, screaming, “This is for Romania!”—reminding us again that this show went from alcoholics trying to earn some extra cash to a Walmart-brand Olympics. After saying good-bye to Bettina and her microbladed eyebrows, T.J. lays out Emy’s three options. For a millisecond, I think she’s going to boss up and go to the winning team. But she’s still under Uncle CT’s spell and runs to Team Sapphire, moving Amanda to the Ruby Cell. You can just tell by the concerted grin on CT’s face that, while he enjoys having this much influence over someone, he’s slightly uncomfortable that Emy has added this familial layer to their relationship. I have yet to see this man refer to Emy as his niece!
Hopefully, next week, the stakes will feel higher, and there will be some delicious backstabbing. I really regret the more interesting, devious rookies leaving earlier in the game, because now we’re mostly stuck with the lackluster set of vets that made Double Agents so painful to watch. If these dismal ratings aren’t enough of a wake-up call for the show to start recruiting from a wider range of vets, I don’t know what is!