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‘The Challenge’ Recap: God Save the Queen

After a few major shake-ups, it is time for Big T—and her bodyguard, CT—to take over

Getty Images/MTV/Ringer illustration

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.


Me Watching This Episode

Screenshots via MTV

Natalie NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Before the group challenge, TJ announces that Natalie is going home. He does this by using the spy lingo of this season, which is both ridiculous and hilarious: “I’ve received some intel, and I have no other choice but to deactivate one of our agents.” This makes it sound as if Natalie, like, leaked spoilers or called in a bomb threat to an Icelandic high school. The actual story is much more serious: Though she’d only say that she had a “personal matter” to attend to on the show, in an interview with Us Weekly she revealed that she was pregnant. “It was like this weird wave of happiness, shock, surprise, disappointment. I didn’t even process what I was actually feeling. I was just like, ‘How am I pregnant? I want to win this money!’” Natalie said. Sadly, weeks after returning home, Natalie had a miscarriage. “It was really difficult because I had just kind of come to peace with leaving the game and saying goodbye to the competition of the challenge, which I love, came back home and changed my mindset into this new journey. And that was then taken away from me.”

In terms of the game—which, admittedly, feels a little silly in the context of Natalie’s story—this is a huge development. Not only was Natalie one of the best competitors on the show, an athlete and a skilled politician—she was also the only woman who had a skull! Making the final just got a lot easier for everyone.

This makes it three contestants who’ve gone home outside of elimination: Natalie joins Nicole and Liv, who left after both injured their arms. So far on Double Agents, merely being a woman has been an incredible advantage; until this week, there hadn’t been a female elimination since the premiere. But host—I’m sorry, handler—TJ realizes this too, so he announces a second twist, once again presenting it like he’s talking about the KGB: “Drastic times call for drastic measures. I’ve decided to trigger a security breach.”

That’s right! A security breach! Everyone at MTV is having so much fun, wow.

What that actually means is that Ashley Mitchell—who was eliminated by Natalie in the season premiere—is back in the game. I guess that counts as a security breach? I don’t know, not really. I feel like we’re pushing the boundaries of how many spy terms we can work into this thing.

Tori Woke Up the Rookies

Last week, I wrote that I’d be “absolutely stunned” if Amber M. wasn’t the next woman eliminated. And well, here I am, absolutely stunned.

How did this happen? Well, because Tori apparently can’t count. Tori spent the early part of this season doing that thing veterans do on The Challenge, puffing her chest out and refusing to give the rookies any respect. Tori was legit calling people weak to their faces! And while I understand the instinct to do it—and its venerable status as a Challenge tradition—it’s best practice to do it only when said rookies are isolated. You can make an enemy out of a smaller girl, but you can’t make enemies out of four to six smaller girls—because then they’ll vote you into elimination every time, and your only defense will be to hope and pray you win every group challenge.

I gotta give Amber M. credit—watching her partner Nelson go home really flipped a switch for her. Since she is a person who can count, she realizes that teaming up with Big T, Gabby, and Amber B. gives her more power than Tori, who’s alienated herself from everyone other than Aneesa. It’s a strong political move, executed swiftly.

Big T and CT win the group challenge, and Amber successfully gets the house to nominate Aneesa and Leroy for elimination (even Leroy votes for his own team), paving the way for Big T to force a matchup between Aneesa and Tori. In that elimination, Tori gets beat fairly easily—some editing tricks make it seem like she was staging a comeback, but she still got crushed. I’d like to think that while she was struggling to tip over a crate of medicine balls, Tori was wondering how the hell Amber M. ever got the best of her.

“This was our worst nightmare,” Aneesa and Tori kept exclaiming about having to face off against each other. But they can’t act like they didn’t let it happen. You need allies to survive the early phases of The Challenge; for some reason, Tori especially thought she could win by calling everyone losers.

Return of the Mack Truck

Aside from having a screaming match with Josh, CT’s been on the sidelines since his team was sent into elimination in Week 1. That changed on Wednesday night. First, he was there to laugh at Fessy and Tori:

He’s so happy! I love it so much!

Then, he fully morphed into an adorable father figure for his partner Big T, gassing her up, literally holding her on a cliff for a very long time, and then taking a step back to let her enact Project Take Out Tori. CT used to be an infamous bully—you loved him as a chaotic ball of violence, asserting his will with his fists and his pure brawn. He was an asshole, but he was a charismatic one.

Now I just plain love him. He’s softened up, turned into an actual adult, and become a wizened vet slow-playing the game and helping those who deserve to be helped. Every time he asks Big T to give him her “mean face,” my heart melts.

“My job is to protect the queen,” CT tells Big T as they plot against Tori. (A plan that, again, works flawlessly.) I think that makes him Richard Madden and her Keeley Hawes. Maybe CT will start saying “mum” a lot.

All Hail Queen T

It only feels right to drop in some shots of Big T absolutely milking her time on the top of The Challenge world. She got people to serve her and bow down to her!

Big T is a top-three Challenge character. Also, between this and The Bachelor, it’s been a huge week for reality TV queens.

The Double Agents Power Ranking: Week 5

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. CT: The big guy deserves top spot. After dodging a bullet in the premiere, he’s been incredibly smart. And now that he’s starting to win and scheme a little? I’m all in.

2. Kaycee: With Tori and Natalie gone in one fell swoop, Kaycee stands as the hardest out on the female side.

3. Leroy: He’s a good competitor, and he’s got strong ties to Kaycee and Kam. Leroy’s in a good spot.

4. Kyle: Kyle’s receded into the shadows since securing his skull. I mean that in a good way.

5. Kam: She’s got a good partner, a good alliance, and unlike Tori, she seems to understand that it’s at least a little important to not turn oneself into a target.

6. Lolo Jones: Lolo and Nam just keep coasting along; they haven’t won anything, but they haven’t really been tested either. (I also don’t know if they’ve made out yet? It’s been a very sexless season of The Challenge.) Now that CT seems to be striking up an alliance with them, they may get a much-needed boost.

The Bottom Six

23. Josh: Josh inserting himself into Fessy and Cory’s argument at the beginning of this episode so that he could yell some more was the most Josh thing ever.

22. Gabby: All props to the Itty Bitty [long pause] Small Committee, but that alliance only really works if someone in it is winning challenges. The second they get shut out, the house is probably throwing Gabby in—and she’s probably not winning.

21. Mechie: See directly above.

20. Lio: As the season progresses, the rookies who haven’t made any inroads with any vets are going to get squeezed out. I’m not sure Lio brings anything to the table.

19. Ashley M.: First of all, I was pretty disappointed to see Ashley come out of that SUV as the “security breach.” I know that COVID precautions probably rendered this impossible, but I was hoping for a new contestant—like Jenny, or even someone extremely annoying like Kailah or Cara Maria—rather than a retread. Ashley already lost! Why does she get a second chance?!

18. Amber M.: Look, great episode for Amber M. She has earned my respect. But none of that changes the fact that she’s the smallest person in the house. You can’t scheme your way to TJ’s final anymore—she’s eventually gonna get trucked, right?