Despite usually watching these episodes in the afternoon, I’ve had to pinch myself throughout the past three episodes to stay awake as the Emerald Cell repeatedly won challenges and let Devin tell them whom to nominate. I don’t think I could’ve survived another week of them holding their silly “green picnics” or lifting up that dumb kitchen-counter plant every time they returned to the house off a win. I’m still not sure if they made that plant their pretend trophy because it’s green (which is not automatically emerald) or as some other inside joke — they’re not the most creative bunch! Anyway, after a painfully boring month of constant victories, we finally get to witness the reign of Team Sapphire. I knew this underdog triumph was approaching; I just didn’t know it would feel this good.
This week’s A-block manages to both be pretty short and feature some crucial setup instead of meaningless watercooler talk and FaceTime calls with relatives. Mainly, Amanda doesn’t like Tori and thinks she’s an overrated competitor. This is an observation I’ve been waiting for someone to make. Last season, Tori was positioned as some big, bad player against the rookies, but she’s been unreliable in weekly challenges in her The Challenge career and doesn’t thrive in any specific area of competition, whether it be physical challenges, puzzles, or politicking. My other opinion about her might sound slightly sexist, but I also think her reputation as this fearsome athlete is partly influenced by her proximity to her ex-fiancé Jordan, who is one of the most accomplished male players in the show’s history and would constantly hype her up to the rest of the cast — as a good fiancé should, by the way. Regardless, I agree with Amanda that while Tori has very big quads — as we see when she’s wrestling Kaycee in a sundress from Target — she’s not unbeatable.
Likewise, Amanda gets Josh’s permission to take Tori’s spot on his team at the next Lair, where she knows she’ll either be voted in or called down. Josh says he wants to run a final with Kaycee and Nany. I can assume he only wants to run one with Nany because she’s one of his 50 best friends and not because she’ll increase his chances of winning. Either way, he inadvertently calls Tori the disposable female player on his team, which is all the fuel Amanda needs to launch her plan.
Meanwhile, Big T wants to move to the Sapphire Cell. But neither Logan nor CT wants to work with her. I’m mostly fascinated and curious about Logan’s body language and tone with Big T during this conversation. We still don’t have any details on the extent of their romance and what made Logan suddenly disinterested in her. I assume he’s just doing the typical man thing of leading a woman on and breaking things off as soon as the woman starts to reciprocate his interest in her. I’m hoping we get some more salacious details at the reunion. But it’s sad to see him suddenly be so cold toward her when they made such a cute pair.
Now onto this week’s very special challenge brought to us by the upcoming film Top Gun: Maverick. I’ve seen a lot of people on Twitter complain about the amount of product placement over the past two seasons, which I understand. But I’d like to remind you all that The Challenge before the 2010s featured at least three advertisements for T-Mobile Sidekicks and various electronics per episode. And who can forget that demolition challenge soundtracked to a live performance by Yellowcard? Anyway, on top of the actual challenge being Top Gun–themed, we also get T.J. arriving in Tom Cruise cosplay on a motorcycle, the film’s theme music, and a special message from three actors who are not Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, or Jennifer Connelly (one of them is Glen Powell, whom I mostly know for being hot).
Initially, I was worried that the producers would be so focused on advertising the film and creating a blockbuster-level stunt that the challenge would be trash. But it’s actually quite good. For “Submerged,” the teams are strapped inside a plane and lowered into the water. Once completely submerged, they have to get out of the plane and search for 25 cards with symbols on the inside and outside of the plane that they have to place within a square on land. The answer key is under the wing of the plane, so certain teammates have to shout the order of the symbols from the water while the teammate(s) on land arrange the cards.
The Emerald Cell is up first and does as well as any team would do trying this for the first time, but they’re slowed down when they can’t find a card that Josh unknowingly has attached to him. They also mess up the order of the cards on land a few times. The Ruby Cell struggles even more, mostly with communication, thanks to Nelson and Kyle, who can’t seem to describe the symbols effectively. Big T also can’t swim deep enough underwater to get her share of cards, so she becomes the scapegoat for the entire team flopping. Logan says something in his confessional along the lines of, “I left the Ruby Cell, and now they suck.” Now? NOW? The amount of lies these men on the Ruby team have told themselves and us over the past four weeks regarding their performance is absolutely mind-boggling.
Lastly, it’s time for the Sapphire Cell to show us how it’s done. They seem to have the best communication and understanding of everyone’s roles. Everything goes according to plan until they can’t find one card at the bottom of one of the plane’s wings. Emy ends up finding it and emerges from the water like she discovered Kim’s missing diamond earring from that episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Thanks to CT and Ashley’s excellent communication, they get the order of the symbols right on the first try.
By the time T.J. announces Sapphire as this week’s winner, it’s not much of a surprise. But it’s deeply comforting not seeing Nany’s giant veneers emerge from behind her lips — at least in this scene. However, she and the rest of the Emerald girls still sit pretty throughout most of this episode. CT is Team Sapphire’s de facto decision maker, and he doesn’t want to come for Team Emerald when they haven’t shot at him. He also believes that he can beat everyone on Team Emerald in a final, which is a refreshing reminder that no one on that team is that intimidating individually, aside from maybe Kaycee.
Amanda knows she’s on the chopping block but is still annoyed that the Emerald girls get to spend their night out completely unbothered. So she goes over to them to start some low-level drama that doesn’t really pay off for us viewers. The funniest moment in this argument is when Nany asks Amanda why she’s talking “all funny-style.” I couldn’t tell if this was a drunken flub or an expression Nany uses earnestly. Either way, I rewound it several times.
Now, let’s move on to deliberation. This week was more heated than usual and mind-numbingly stupid to watch as Devin tries to guilt Amanda out of infiltrating Emerald if she wins at the Lair. Devin is basically upset at her for being an intelligent, autonomous human being for wanting to join a successful team. I can’t take any accusations of selfishness on this program seriously, especially from a man who spends all his confessionals reiterating that he doesn’t give a fuck about anyone else. It’s all political theater and is never representative of how anyone actually views the game.
This meeting takes a more compelling turn when Josh unnecessarily inserts himself, leading Amanda to bring up what he said earlier about Tori. Tori looks like her heart has sunk to her feet when it’s revealed that Josh doesn’t care to run a final with her. I personally couldn’t stand to hear someone who hasn’t even made it to a final talk about me like that. But Tori just sits there with her mouth open, reminding us that she’s no longer the tough, fiery person she was when she was dating Jordan.
So Sapphire votes for Amanda. Amanda and Josh have some words that I don’t really care about because Josh has words with everyone eventually. At that Lair, she picks Big T, and they compete in an extremely boring game where they have to unlock a set of giant locks in a giant vault. This elimination becomes slightly riveting when you think Big T is going to catch up to Amanda. But we can’t see the entire process of them turning the locks, so we’re mostly just watching them yank at cylinders.
Amanda can move faster than Big T and wins. But it’s revealed that Big T can stay because Ashley got sent home for “breaking a rule,” and there’s an extra slot for a woman. Two things: I’m glad the producers were smart enough to allow Amanda to compete even though it wasn’t a “real” elimination, so she could still shake things up with the Emerald Cell. In previous seasons with this exact scenario, T.J. will call the players down to psych them out before saying the elimination is canceled. I’m also not here for these producers not disclosing why Ashley left (which, according to Reddit sleuths, had to do with an altercation with Josh). You guys made a meal out of Fessy and Josh’s quasi-fight and Fessy’s exit, but we can’t hear about Ashley maybe slapping Josh across the face??
Anyway, Amanda does exactly what she promised and takes Tori’s spot. It’s frustrating that it took us four weeks to take down Team Emerald. I ultimately don’t think the producers should’ve let the competitors pick their own teams. But I’m thrilled that we’ve made it to this point where Devin has to sleep with one eye open.
That is all. Go see Top Gun 2, I guess!