I know I stalled out towards the end of the previous season of Real World, but that had zero effect on my enthusiasm for the latest season of The Challenge (which, since Mark is back, should go back to the old name: Real World/Road Rules Challenge). If anything, I was even more excited, as you might have seen when I talked about the trailer for this season a few weeks back. As I mentioned in that previous post, the deal is pretty simple this time around: the couples this time around were romantically linked in previous seasons both on and off camera. What we didn’t know back then and learned very early in the episode from returning host TJ Lavin is that the loser of every basic challenge will automatically be going into The Dome. Who will go against them? Glad you asked. The couple that wins the challenge is dubbed the Power Couple and they get to choose who goes in against the losers. Interesting. I’ll get to why I like this set up at the very end. Let’s get into the episode itself. Hit the jump if you’re interested. They don’t waste any time getting into the episode, though the episode does start with a montage over Iceland with all these voiceovers of the cast members complaining about each other, though I’m not sure if those were from the original seasons or this one. Doesn’t really matter, I guess. Anyway, after that there’s a “30 Days Earlier” thing and we’re with all the peeps and TJ Lavin under The Dome (I wonder if they’re paying Stephen King for that one). TJ lays it down and pairs everyone up.
Here they are with a few choice quotes and notes. Emily & Ty (“I know she’s a great competitor, but I hate her,” – Ty), Tyree & Jasmine (not on good terms; he says they’re business associates. “Why didn’t I think to make out with CT, Dunbar, somebody else,” – Jasmine), Naomi & Leroy (he doesn’t care if she hooks up with someone, she says she’ll kill him and whoever else he hooks up with, woof), Abe & Cara Maria (sounds like he still digs her), Aneesa & Rachel (Rachel seems more bitter than Aneesa), Camila & Johnny (he doesn’t have a girl right now), CT & Diem (they haven’t talked in over a year), Dunbar & Paula (she hates him, he knows this), Dustin & Heather (doesn’t seem to be any bad blood), Wes & Mandi (not much bad blood either), Mark & Robin (dated for a while years ago, she thinks it was a bad choice to break up with him), Sarah and Vinny (she voted him into the Gulag/Gauntlet whatever on their last season together, ouch) and Priscilla and Nate (who never hooked up and are clearly substitutes for Zach and…whatever the blonde girl’s name is, see, I already forgot her). The winner of the finale gets $150K, second gets $100K and third gets $40K which is interesting because the last one or two seasons have given exactly nothing to the third place people. So, after all this set up, they head to the house which is a shack. I kid! It’s an awesome place, of course. They’re in the Dominican Republic, by the way. Everyone grabs beds and starts drinking. There’s a hilarious scene where Paula is literally standing up on a balcony looking down on younger, fitter women talking and having fun while her voiceover tells us she envies them because they haven’t been betrayed yet. It’s like something out of an intense drama, but it’s funny because it’s Paula, you know?
The house is littered with pictures of the couples back when they were together. As Mandi points out, some of them–like the one of Diem revealing her post-chemo hair to CT–are really sweet, while others not so much (she thinks one of the ones she’s in with Wes is actually of them having sex, aww puppy love). Jasmine being the incredibly stable person we’ve all come to know and love destroys the picture of her and Tyree and trashes it. They’ll last forever! The pictures kicked off a storyline that I believe will make up the emotional spine of this season. That sounds silly and usually the deepest emotions felt on these shows are betrayal, lust and greed, but I really do think that this experience might offer Diem and CT the opportunity to patch things up. On the last season of Rivals, he showed that he had changed and tried to convince Adam of such. He’s a different dude, but there’s still a lot of hurt there. She’s mad because he hooked up with someone on The Duel II and told her about it directly to her face, but he’s mad because she wasn’t there for him when he needed her and he claims she’s the one that broke up with him. I know it’s corny, but I really did say “Aw” when they showed the picture of her and him from back in the day. I hope they can work things out, get back together and destroy the competition. That’d be fantastic.I’m verklempt, gimme a minute. Okay, I’m back. The night before the first challenge, the contestants are told to show up in their Speedos and that they’re gonna get sticky. Before taking off, Dustin, Naomi, Heather, Nate and Priscilla are talking about starting their own alliance and throwing in Paula or Johnny if one of them wins. It’s a great plan, actually, though the problem with this system–at least in the beginning–is that, for a while, unless one of the good teams really screws up, you’re going to have a pretty crappy team losing the challenge that won’t seem like they can take out a real competitor team. So, if one of them did win and tossed in Paula, but they went up against some chumps, you’re just going to paint a target on your back, right? Right. So, the challenge is called Give Me Some Honey and like (I assume) most of the future ones, it was set up above water. This particular one involved one person from each team running across a beam, hopping into a bathtub filled with honey, running back across the beam and having their partner scrape as much honey as they could of their body. The top two teams would compete against each other to see who the Power Couple is while the losers would go straight into The Dome. If you fall off, you’re still in the game, but you’ve got to climb up a rope ladder and do it again. Two teams went at the same time, but since it wasn’t a race, it was more of a psychological thing than anything else. By the way, it tickles my fancy that the game-makers took so much time to make things as awkward as possible between these former couples. I can only assume that the others will make this even more apparent. Personally, I think that going back and forth as many times as possible is a better strategy than wasting time scraping every inch of your partner. Anyway Dustin & Heather and Dunbar & Paula are up first. Man, Dunbar looks chunky, but he won’t be the most unathletic dude up there. Dunbar & Paula get their asses handed to them. As my lovely wife so beautifully put it after Paula complained about doing so poorly “Um, Paula, you’re used to it, you’re Paula.” My wife is awesome. Robin & Mark and Rachel & Aneesa were up next with the former crushing it. Then Tyrie & Jasminea and Wes & Mandi both did pretty well. Abe and Cara Maria did better than Leroy and Naomi (who might be a legitimate sex addict, where’s Dr. Drew?). Johnny and Camila do a good job nest, but Emily almost falls a few times as she gets honey scraped off her body by Ty (who, remember, was borderline abusive, just want everyone to keep that in mind). Nate and Priscilla then go up at the same time as Diem and CT and it’s just embarrassing. Nate falls like four times, I think. It doesn’t look like he made it across and got scraped once. Seriously, bro, you’re literally a genius. Bad showing. The worst part about this is that it saves Paula and Dunbar from the Dome. Damn you Nate! Vinny and Sarah go last. Vinny looks HUGE. Sorry dude, I know that’s mean, but it’s true. Of course, Priscilla and Nate came in last, but the final two teams trying to get the Power Couple spot come down to Mark & Robin and Johnny & Camila. The race is close, but Johnny and Camila come out with the win. Blech. As any fan of the show could have guessed or written themselves, we then cut back to the house where Johnny is talking to Dustin and Heather. They’re on to him and don’t want to owe anyone. I’m so glad they didn’t grovel in front of him. It’s smart because it shows they’re tough, but also going up against Pri and Nate isn’t much of a risk, you know? So why not show some balls. But then, Wes tries getting into Camila’s head, which CT alerts Johnny about. This leads to several conversations that don’t do much but put Wes and Mandi up on the possible list of Domers with Heather and Dustin. WHO WILL THEY CHOOSE?!
They choose Wes and Mandi. The Dome challenge is called X Knocks The Spot (not the best name they’ve ever done, but probably not the worst). Basically, all four Domers stand on these platforms and have to dodge this spinning X by either jumping over the low arms or ducking under the high ones. It’s kind of like a Wipeout challenge, but the arms aren’t moving that fast. This one’s more of an endurance game. Whichever team has the last person standing, wins. They start off and as Heather notices, Priscilla is standing kind of sideways, which seems like a good idea, but she’s actually doing a lot more work. Of course, she’s the first to go at around the 20 minute mark. So, now it’s up to Nate to keep them in the game. But, come on, it’s Nate. He lasts another 10 minutes, but soon falls meaning that Wes and Mandi are heading back and they’re heading home. This of course is followed by Wes and Mandi talking themselves up, saying they just showed how good they are while Johnny said he was glad they were back so he could mess with Wes some more. Yeah, good call there, man. So, while tonight’s episode wasn’t very surprising (rookies getting sent home pretty easily), I do think this season has the potential to be interesting. As I said when talking about the trailer, this is a group of people that don’t easily fall into many of the old alliances. Sure Paula and Johnny are there, but they don’t have a ton of people to back them up. The rookies have a good chance of staying strong, especially because Dustin & Heather and Leroy & Naomi have some skill (though I’m not sure about Naomi’s athletic abilities, we’ll see on that one). At one point, Mark talks about allying himself with some of the other vets, but I think it would be a good idea for him to get in with the rooks, at least on the sly. I mean, for most of these people, he’s new. By the way, Mark looks amazing (my wife confirmed this) and could probably win this whole thing on his own if Robin keeps her head (unlikely). So, I guess we’ll see how this one goes. You’ve got game players like Johnny and Wes who will probably just keep throwing each other in whenever they win and then wildcards like CT. Others will play sheep roles, but I think the rookies do have a pretty good shot this time around. Let’s hope that this will finally be the season that breaks the cycle of alliance awfulness!