The moment is finally almost here. The veterans have been teasing their fate once all the rookie-rookie teams are out of the game, and they’ve been aggressively patting themselves on the back for executing the most common vet procedure on this show — making rookies the automatic elimination vote — every second leading up to this moment, which still hasn’t arrived just yet.
Likewise, this episode starts with Devin explaining the “math” that goes into their process of voting for a nominee. It doesn’t really need to be explained that if four rookies go into the Lair and the returning rookies pick vets from two rookie-vet teams, their former partners will create a new rookie-rookie team to target next, but, like I said, the vets are eager to discuss this plan at any moment and make themselves appear like geniuses. In confessionals, though, it’s mainly Devin relaying the tactic to the audience as if he came up with it, which makes me curious about whether he’s the main orchestrator or if it was a team effort. Regardless, I was more interested in Devin when he was just a clever, goofy underdog instead of the very self-serious adjudicator of each deliberation.
In the A block, we also get some fun in the sun when Tori and Big T decide to skinny-dip. Emanuel, who I keep having to remind myself is Romanian and not French, is also there being European, which is the only way I can describe his demeanor. He and Tori have a mutual crush, which was bound to happen considering he has the industrial, hipster-barista look her ex-fiancé Jordan has now. One thing about Tori is that she’s committed to being predictable in the love department. We also get footage of Berna returning from the Lair and crying to her circle of female rookies.
Meanwhile, Emy’s in another room, shrugging off Nelson’s attempt to make her feel guilty for stealing CT. This is an amazing karmic setup for Berna, considering how annoyed she was that Amber couldn’t stop talking about her issues with Fessy. Yes, Amber rehashing their beef was grating, mostly because the conflict itself was extremely dull and hardly a highlight of last season. But when you’re hurt, you’re hurt. And you don’t know how it feels until you’re in it. So get ready to feel the burn-a, Berna! (Sorry).
Let’s move on to our super-fun challenge that involves technology I had no idea existed but am now desperate to spend thousands of dollars I don’t have to try. For “Dive Bomb,” the teams have to use water jets, which look like mechanical substitutes for riding the backs of dolphins, to retrieve puzzle pieces underwater, and one on the side of a yacht, to bring back to shore and complete a puzzle with. Of course, TJ’s spy-lingo explanation of this is much longer and makes the challenge seem a lot more complicated. If I have to hear the phrase “detonation station” one more time, I’m going to scream!
So the game is played in the three rounds because I guess the show could only afford so many water jets. You can’t even find the retail price of these things on the most popular manufacturer’s site, which describes them as “luxury sea toys.” So I’m guessing this is some sort of new, cutting-edge technology that the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world use. Although I’m sure someone in the comments will tell me that you can actually find $100 water jets at Dick’s Sporting Goods.
Anyway, this challenge is mostly riveting to me because it encompasses two points of anxiety from my childhood: having to operate a vehicle for the first time in front of people and having to successfully dive underwater in front of people. Notwithstanding, everyone, aside from Nany, looks pretty professional riding these water skis, which I guess means they aren’t that hard to use. Most notably, Jeremiah, who has spent 99 percent of this season mumbling about wanting to prove himself without actually proving himself, does poorly in water once again when he repeatedly fails to locate a puzzle piece that’s right under a giant bayou. Big T has been outperforming him since they were paired, including in this challenge. But that doesn’t stop him from blaming his losses on her and insisting he needs a better partner for the final, as if a final for him even seems likely at this point.
The puzzle portion made me laugh the most because, apparently, there are ten different self-proclaimed puzzle kings and queens within The Challenge universe. I need these people to understand how monarchies work. Right now, the title solely belongs to CT because we’ve seen him speed through tons of puzzles at crucial, memorable moments over the years. I had no idea Ashley was even good at puzzles. And Devin has pretty much just conned everyone into thinking he’s excellent at every cerebral activity in lieu of being a Challenge champ. Cory also implies that Bettina is adept at puzzles seconds before she combines the pieces in the sloppiest, most blatantly incorrect way. That being said, Devin and Ashley actually do complete the puzzles first in their respective heats, which still does not earn them the GOAT title yet! And CT, of course, beats everyone else’s times.
In our club scene, we get fewer slow-motion dance and walking montages, which I appreciated. Jeremiah talks to Priscilla, whose British accent I desperately want to steal like Ursula, about his plans to volunteer for the Lair. Priscila seems to have something up her sleeve too that we don’t know about yet.
Meanwhile, Amber, in the funniest moment I think she’s ever had, is drunk on love and alcohol and talking about throwing herself into the Lair alongside Jeremiah so that they can triumphantly return to the house “together,” which is the point she keeps emphasizing. She obviously wants to take out Berna, too, who is certainly going in and has become her enemy. But Amber keeps framing her decision to volunteer as some sort of bonding ritual for her and Jeremiah. We’ve seen them kiss and dance at the club in a couple of eps, but the level of intensity that Amber is projecting onto their relationship with this potential move has never really been depicted on-screen or even in the Challenge mansion. Also in this scene, we see that Kaycee is buddy-buddy with Amber again because her overlord Fessy is gone. Maybe Kaycee is actually taking their alliance seriously because she warns Amber to rethink her decision soberly, which I would not say to someone who won last season.
Next we have deliberation, where Berna wastes everyone’s time crying about Emy stealing CT the way Amber previously wasted everyone’s time confronting Fessy. Isn’t that interesting? It’s a jumbled and unnecessarily teary-eyed speech that manages to include an attack on Amber. CT was right when he clocked Berna for being messy. Amber’s long-winded response is as bland as you could imagine. I feel like it’s very easy to read the hell out of a rookie when you have a record like Amber’s, but she still is not giving me the badass-bitch energy I need. Likewise, it turns out Amber actually doesn’t want to go into the Lair and looks irritated when Priscilla brings it up at deliberation like she didn’t tell everyone, including the security guards, last night. Finally, the vets instruct/threaten whomever wins the Lair to pick a new partner from any team but Josh and Ashley so they can automatically create a new rookie-rookie pair to target the next time, which Priscilla doesn’t take well.
Likewise, Priscilla makes the unexpected but star-making decision of throwing herself into the Lair, which I don’t completely understand beyond her wanting to shake things up, as we’ll see in a moment. But I’m all for competitors making bold choices for our entertainment. Jeremiah is the male vote. And Hughie and Berna were, of course, the house vote.
This is one of my favorite eliminations so far because we’re finally addressing something that’s struck me for the past eight weeks, which is the size of Hughie’s butt. I knew that Hughie had some kind of butt augmentation the first time I saw him running from behind. And I’m firmly asserting that it’s not his natural butt because of the way it looks and also because he’s a white man with lip fillers.
Anyway, this elimination is called “Race to Escape,” which is so generic and uninspired. It requires the teams to scale a pole with their hands tied to a rope and their backs turned toward each other by stepping onto dents in the pole with their heels. At the top, they have to cut their rope with a giant blade, which will allow them to zipline to the bottom. While Jeremiah and Priscilla find a rhythm immediately, Hughie’s butt is actively pushing him away from the pole and making him slip. I need a GIF of Amber unemotionally shouting “It’s his ass!” from the sidelines. Both teams eventually meet at the top, but Jeremiah and Priscilla cut their rope first.
After her win, Priscilla makes the earth-shattering decision that I still don’t really get aside from dramatic purposes because it seems like the target on her back will only become bigger. But go big or go home, I guess. She picks Josh, ending the rookie-rookie pairings presumably for the rest of the game. The vets actually look more titillated and excited for the game to really begin than upset. This is what eventually happens at some point every season, after all. Jeremiah chooses Tori over Kaycee, which blows my mind. I also have to mention that Nelson gives Berna a long hug to remind us that he had a storyline this season.