The Challenge has always been a heavily edited show—the main thing that keeps it from feeling like an actual sport is the fact that every elimination challenge comes with about 600 camera cuts—but we can’t remember it ever being this boosted in post-production. Total Madness is flying through camera filters and low-grade graphics; it’s taking HUGE swings from the editing room. It’s, quite simply, astonishing. So, every week, we’ll collect the best moments of each episode in screenshots, sometimes adding context, sometimes letting the image itself speak a thousand words.
Previously, on The Challenge
After a season in which they hugged, kissed, and pretended to be the guys from Queer Eye, Wes and Johnny Bananas’s alliance dissolved last week. The sudden friendship didn’t explode; there were no fireworks. Instead, Wes simply made a gameplay decision that Johnny only slightly disagreed with, and went home after not being able to punch and kick through as much drywall as Johnny. (The drywall-punching elimination is a Challenge CLASSIC.)
The scenario that led to a Wes vs. Johnny elimination is the clearest example of the drawbacks of Total Madness’s setup—namely the bylaw that players need to win an elimination in order to qualify for the final. With only a few weeks remaining, everyone is now actively trying to get thrown into elimination—and the smartest players have realized that the easiest way in is not by putting the effort in to win a group challenge and get into the tribunal, but by simply losing and then asking the rest of the house to vote them in. The stakes of the group challenges have been totally stripped away—players now actively want to lose them, and the few still trying to win don’t mind too much if they lose; the only penalty is going into elimination, which is something everybody needs to do this season anyway.
The setup has also massively reduced in-house politicking. In past seasons, without the elimination win requirement, we saw players emerge as savvy, sneaky strategists, playing alliances against alliances in order to avoid being at risk. Sure, this led to some annoying outcomes, like weaker teams being kept around as layups for the final, but mostly it was fascinating to watch smarter players use their social game to evade elimination and advance to finals without ever displaying any physical dominance (or on the other end, to watch extremely dumb players fail to talk their way out of elimination). With those sorts of motivations dashed, Total Madness competitors are only faced with one question: “Do I want to go in this week?” The strategy has become less about politics and more about timing. That was exciting at first—take, for example, Jay’s upset of CT—but this late in the game, it’s disappointing to see someone like Wes go home not because he dug himself a hole, not because he failed at a challenge, but because he picked the wrong time to go in.
Oh well. We’ll always have this:
I, too, have seen American Psycho.
Tanks for Nothing
This week’s challenge saw competitors trying to pick up as many flags as possible while suspended from a tank. How does one get suspended from a tank? Well, I’m glad you asked: First step is someone welds a giant rig onto a tank.
And … that’s pretty much it, I guess. (Does The Challenge have its own engineering team? Did they outsource this tank Frankenstein—tankenstein?—job to some dude from the Czech Republic? How many waivers do these contestants have to sign?) The result was actually pretty sick, though, as people flew through the air while colorful smoke bombs erupted around them:
But if you’re wondering: No, TJ Lavin did not drive the tank this time. I’m just as disappointed as you are.
A Changing of the Guard/Underground Bunker Bar
This is now two times in the last three weeks that The Challenge has gone to Nebe instead of Hangar. What does this mean? Did MTV get banned from Hangar? How have they not been banned by Nebe? Is there a Plan C for if (read: when) that happens? Is there a third underground bar in Prague that’ll allow these heathens to take over?
The Dee Situation
Last week, as protests for the Black Lives Matter movement sprang up across the nation following the death of George Floyd, Dee Nguyen lashed out at commenters on social media. In response to someone who criticized her participation in Blackout Tuesday as hollow and said “Wake up!!! People are dying,” Dee responded, “people die every fucking day.” In another message, she wrote, “Idk why some of u think I’m anti BLM. I’ve been saying that since the day I lost my virginity.”
She was swiftly banned from future seasons of The Challenge, as MTV condemned her offensive comments.
As a result of Dee Nguyen’s offensive comments on the Black Lives Matter movement, we have severed ties with her. Out of respect for our Challengers, we'll air our season as planned. We strongly condemn systemic racism and stand with those raising their voices against injustice.— challengemtv (@ChallengeMTV) June 9, 2020
Of course, there’s no real solution for how to handle the rest of Total Madness. Up to this point, Dee had been one of the main characters of the season, a schemer-in-training building a reputation as a strong yet shady competitor. She’d made the most decisive moves—flipping on Jay, targeting Jenny—and therefore had the most people gunning for her. As much as MTV now wants to diminish Dee’s impact on The Challenge, her gameplay on this season has put her front and center. They can only ignore her presence so much.
That problem bore out on Wednesday night’s episode, as Johnny Bananas hatched a plan to blindside Dee, working with Josh and Dee’s ex-boyfriend/presumed ally Rogan to throw her into elimination. (The moment when Rogan looks Dee in the face and gives Johnny the go-ahead to vote her in—priceless.)
But viewers were probably as blindsided as Dee—though such a betrayal was easily the most stunning storyline of the episode, it was mostly edited out. There were almost certainly conversations between Johnny and Jenny and Johnny and Rogan that had been cut, along with plenty of the traditional confessional interview segments where each player explains their motivations. Even scenes that had to acknowledge Dee’s existence—like her appearance in front of the tribunal—were trimmed to be as short as possible. The episode functioned as if she wasn’t even on the show, until the point when it became impossible to do so.
That’s an understandable move from Challenge producers, suddenly forced by real-life events to alter their reality TV show. And as a one-episode fix, it’s not so bad. But then there’s this:
Dee beat Mattie in elimination. She’s not going home. In fact, she’s going back into that Challenge house. There will be drama there, drama that directly affects the gameplay and outcome of this season. This was probably the narrative turning point of Total Madness, but because of Dee’s horrendous comments, there’s a question of how much airtime MTV will invest in this story line. If they focus on it, they risk glorifying Dee despite her ignorant comments; if they cut her out, they risk losing all narrative cohesion. Only future episodes will tell which route the show chooses, but there’s no doubt that Dee has sullied the rest of this season.