The global pandemic has shut down all modes of normal life. But MTV’s The Challenge stops for nothing. What—you thought they’d take a season off? The NBA returned, the NFL returned, the NHL returned, MLB returned—why wouldn’t America’s fifth sport also find a way to compete? This past September, production plunked down in Reykjavik, Iceland, to begin filming the 36th (!!) installment of The Challenge. They’re in their own bubble—though, it’s worth noting, they are not being held underground like last season—and they’re ready to kill each other for a million dollars. And we’re ready to document every moment: from the feats of strength to the bad decisions, from the bonkers late-night fights to the extraordinarily dope shit TJ Lavin does.
Oh, to Be a Rogue Agent
The parting twist of the season premiere of Double Agents was the reveal—by “Handler” TJ Lavin—that the winner of the elimination would have the opportunity to stay with their partner, switch to the former partner of the eliminated competitor, or “infiltrate” someone else’s team. On a week like this first one in which there are an uneven amount of players remaining, that means no matter what the elimination winner chooses, there’ll be a player left without a partner.
On Wednesday night, we found out what happens to those lone wolves. No, they do not get sent straight home. Rather, they become a “rogue agent,” which in practical terms translates to having a super chill week. Natalie decided to stay with Wes, leaving CT partnerless ... and free to kick the fuck back. He didn’t have to compete in the group challenge (which entailed swimming in Icelandic water so cold that Mechie needed a medic), he wasn’t in danger of going home, and he just got to lurk around the house with “steal your girl” eyes until the next elimination, when he was ultimately paired with Big T, whose former partner lost. Pretty sweet deal.
I don’t love a wrinkle that basically makes the game easier for a contestant whose team just lost an elimination, but it does add an extra layer of strategy—that specifically breeds sedition between partners. For anyone who hates their partner and can do enough math to know when there will be an odd number of players left, there will be opportunities to work against their teammate, getting them thrown into an elimination and ideally sent home, thus setting themselves up for a breezy week as a rogue agent. If you can do it in secret, there’s hardly any downside to this kind of move: Either your teammate will win and you’d successfully knock someone out of the competition, or your teammate will lose and you’d get to sit out the next group challenge.
The only wrench in this strategy is that it might not be possible to predict when it’s going to be a guys or girls elimination. Week 1 was girls, Week 2 was guys—going guys again in Week 3 would make it clear that there’s no standard process. This would make tanking a risky endeavor—if you don’t know if your gender is safe in a given week, you’re not gonna throw yourself into elimination and leave it to chance. Either way, it’ll be interesting to see if someone intentionally tries to become a rogue agent.
The Tragedy of Jacob—I Mean, Joseph
Dramatic irony is when the audience understands the stakes and consequences of a given situation in a way a character does not. It’s an essential ingredient of tragedies, being able to see someone’s bloody end before they do. The other essential ingredient is hubris.
That brings us to Joseph, a man referred to as a “himbo” by Big T within the first two minutes of this episode.
Joseph comes to us from America’s Got Talent, on which he excelled as a singer—not, it must be noted, as someone with any physical or strategic prowess. That has tracked on this season of The Challenge. In the premiere, he fell asleep at the first party like a dork. And in this episode, he randomly decided that he should be the big tough guy to send Wes home. This came out of nowhere. No one had to convince him to do it—in fact, when he started telling people the idea, everyone was like, “You sure, dog?”
It’s one of the dumbest things I’ve seen in the recent history of The Challenge. Rookies come into this game with targets pre-drawn on their backs—the only strategy for survival is to ingratiate oneself to strong, veteran players or otherwise float through the noise. Instead, Joseph made an enemy out of one of the show’s most influential players while wearing a sign around his neck that read, “I AM THE EASIEST MARK ON THIS SEASON.” And then! To make matters even worse, he started disrespecting Big T—the most charming human on this show—when she rightfully tells him how stupid he’s being.
“He did what you’re not supposed to do,” Natalie says, “which is bring attention to yourself in a situation where you don’t have the punch to back it up.” (As an aside: I love when the former Survivor players explain strategy to Challenge people. It’s like watching Einstein talk to a wall.)
You know how this is gonna end—with Joseph falling flat on his face. He’s perhaps the least physically intimidating contestant in the game—his training seems to just be a bunch of mini ab crunches and licking mustard???—and he’s dumb as rocks. He gets his wish of being thrown into elimination: “I built enough hype for it to be a pay-per-view fight,” he says, sounding like someone who wants to be Don King but doesn’t realize that Don King never actually stepped foot in a ring. The amazing part, though, is that he doesn’t even get to face Wes. Instead, it’s Kyle who sends him home, while his own partner celebrates his demise right in his face.
At least there won’t be anyone sleeping in the Bubble Bar anymore.
British Soundtrack Watch
Just a note here: On the premiere, they played the Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now?” On Wednesday night, they played the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven.”
I don’t know if this is a coincidence. If we hear Joy Division next week, we’ll know it’s not.
The Kyle Disrespect
I would like to clear something up. Throughout this episode, several people—namely Kyle’s own partner, Nany—slag Kyle off, claiming that he’s just on the show to fuck around and that he doesn’t want to win. (“Slag” is a British term that I am using out of respect to my friend Kyle.) And while I know that he: (a) changed his face through plastic surgery, (b) has back tattoos that rival Ben Affleck, and (c) has a very silly accent, I can’t stand this disrespect. In six Challenges he’s made two finals, won three eliminations, and proved that he’s one of the better politicians on the show, and more of a physical threat than you’d think. If he had the gift of size, he would’ve won at least two Challenges by now.
It was a triumphant episode for Kyle. First, he wore this turtleneck, which looked great:
Then he literally dragged Joseph across the floor in a dominating elimination win, puked his brains out, gave everyone the finger, and called Fessy a bitch.
That last thing was particularly enjoyable. Fessy constantly tells people that he won’t put himself into an elimination unless he sees “a stick in the sand,” but I didn’t realize how literal he meant that: On Wednesday night, there was a ring in the sand and Fessy was like, “No way.” Fessy feels very good about sticks; rings, and any other miscellaneous shapes, are simply too scary.
“Shut up,” said Kyle. “You always say that but you never come down. You knew it was physical, didn’t you? Come on. What’s here? There’s nothing at all here—of course it was fucking physical. It was gonna be a headbanger. You pussied out and you didn’t come down.” Everyone’s faces during this were priceless:
Please, stop this madness! Put some respect on Kyle’s name, dammit!
The Double Agents Power Ranking: Week 2
After each episode, we’ll determine the players who are best situated to win it all—and the ones who are hanging on by a thread.
The Top Six
1. Fessy: Fessy’s ducking elimination might come back to bite him; getting shut out of TJ’s final is definitely in play. But he still hasn’t been beaten in a challenge this season and he still has the best odds.
2. Tori: Didn’t hear a peep from Tori this week. That’s a good thing.
3. Darrell: “Wes ain’t that rich. Real ballers don’t tell everybody how much they balling.” I can’t speak to Darrell’s partner, Amber, but he’s the best. And he’s so well-liked and respected that he might coast to the final.
4. Kyle: Kyle is Kyle—he can’t be killed. Also, he now has a skull and just upgraded partners from Nany to Kam.
5. Theresa: It’s just a feeling. Theresa’s proven, and she and Jay are playing smart so far.
6. Natalie: I still think Natalie should be the most-feared female competitor this season, and she has a skull. At the same time, it seems like she and Wes are going to be targeted week in and week out. That’s a tough hill to climb.
The Bottom Six
28. Gabby: Gabby almost drowned this episode.
27. Mechie: Mechie almost drowned this episode.
26. Josh: Josh stinks; Josh lost an ally and a strong partner when Kyle stole Kam; Josh is going to try to fight CT next week.
25. Liv: I know close to nothing about Liv, but I do know that she is paired up with Mechie. Pound for pound (and there are not many pounds between them), they’ve gotta be the weakest team at this moment.
24. Nany: Getting foisted onto Josh is a HUGE issue for Nany, who also made a mistake this episode by blurting out to Fessy that she’d drop her partner in a second for him. I eagerly await her biannual breakdown.
23. Nelson: Nelson said he got better at swimming. He did not get better at swimming.