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‘The Challenge’ Recap: An Embarrassment to the Whole Population of Men

This week, ‘Challenge’ dad TJ Lavin is forced to call out quitters and man-children

MTV/Getty Images/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.


Previously on the “Previously On … ”

Screenshots via MTV

It’s absolutely hilarious that they made Ashley Mitchell—in a face mask—introduce the recap that was about Ashley Mitchell getting sent home for the second time this season. Girl can’t stop taking Ls.

Don’t Let Down the Challenge Dad

This week’s group challenge is one of those challenges that make you wonder just how long the waiver these contestants have to sign really is. How many times do they have to initial next to a line that says, “MTV is not at fault if I break every bone in my body”?

The task at hand is to hold onto a cargo net … that’s hanging from a moving helicopter. On the one hand, the setup was made a bit safer by the fact that the helicopter was flying over water; on the other hand, the helicopter frequently dipped low enough to smash the cargo net into the water.

We’ve had multiple contestants go home with injuries this season. I don’t know how a majority of the cast wasn’t forced to do the same after this.

Or, well, I guess I do know how: Instead of battling with each other, most of the guys decide to just go for a ride until they’re all disqualified. Kaycee was out here sending girls into the deep, but the guys barely moved a muscle. “They let down men,” Big T says. “They let down the whole population of men.”

Once this kind of thing happens, you know what’s coming next. Nothing disgusts TJ Lavin more than half-measures; it is his life’s mission to rid the world of quitters. And nothing about The Challenge is better than seeing TJ express his disdain at minimal effort. After giving props to the women for actually trying, his eyes turn dark. “But the boys,” he says, and I’d like to think his word choice of “boys” instead of “men” was intentional, “you guys fucking sucked.”

It’s so simple, yet so cutting. TJ then threatens that there’ll be further consequences for the guys’ egregious actions. Those consequences—it’s later revealed that the votes of the disqualified men didn’t count—don’t have an actual impact, but that’s beyond the point. What matters here is that everyone disappointed TJ—they fucking sucked, and he no longer respects them. Having that black mark on your Challenge résumé is worse than any in-game twist. “TJ’s the Challenge dad,” CT wisely and remorsefully says. “And we let dad down.”


Theresa’s Tank Job

A week ago, I wrote about how Theresa and Jay’s decision to lie to literally everyone in the house was a risky move. (Writing it out like this, it occurs to me that that wasn’t such a genius take.) So it’s no surprise that this week, Theresa and Jay find themselves with a massive target on their backs.

After finding herself alone in a dark hole, however, Theresa decides that it’s best to just keep on digging. She starts making plans to target Darrell, and when Darrell’s partner, Amber B., doesn’t let her win the group challenge, she flips out. (I really wonder why Amber wouldn’t just sacrifice herself for a person she barely knows. It’s a mystery we will never solve.)

“People are popping off saying I had some crazy plan to win so that I could get Darrell into elimination,” Theresa says. “I don’t know where this is all coming from.” But, uh, I’m pretty sure I know where it’s all coming from:

It’s weird how your words and actions have consequences, right? But don’t expect contrition: With the whole house against her, Theresa confronts Darrell, yells at Amber B., insults Kam, and then tries to go to war with CT. This is not the tact I would take with people who are already trying to destroy me. “I feel like I’m so misunderstood!” Theresa says—but it’s pretty clear that the problem is everyone understands her a little too well.

The tragic thing is, though, Theresa’s not even at risk this week. It’s a guys’ elimination—her partner Jay is the one who actually has to pay for her self-combustion. “Having a partner trying to save me as hard as Theresa is trying to save me right now is super dope,” Jay says in a confessional, “but at the same time, please stop doing it. It’s not working right now.”

What a tough way to go: dragged into the abyss by a partner in a game that’s technically every player for him or herself. Theresa has been playing a sneaky game all season—unfortunately, Jay went along with it for too long, and couldn’t detach himself until it was too late.

The Most Athletic Moment of the Season

This is amazing: Leroy goes to fist-bump Kaycee, sees that she’s coming in palm-open, and switches to a dap in one fluid motion before contact is made, narrowly avoiding one of the most awkward things that can ever happen to a person.

The second I saw this I knew Leroy was going to smoke Jay in the elimination.

Big Brother vs. Everyone

Even more so than seasons prior, there is a clear schism in the house between those who come from the world of Big Brother and the Challenge veterans. Devin says he can’t trust any of the Big Brother people because they’re liars, but honestly, all of the Challenge people are liars too. What we’re really seeing here is a great example of tribalism—these two groups don’t like each other simply because they come from different backgrounds.

That said, the emotional frailty and inferiority complex of the Big Brother dudes is wild. After a rowdy night at the Bubble Bar—it looked very cold in there, by the way; you could see peoples’ breath and Jay was literally wearing gloves—Fessy returns home upset because, um, people were saying they didn’t want him to win? Seriously, that’s the most I can deduce—Fessy is enraged because his opponents want to beat him. Off-screen, someone yells, “Fessy, you’re being a weirdo!” which I fully agree with.

It’s at this point that Devin begins yelling, “Big Brother sucks!” Perhaps you recognize this from the time he yelled it at Josh, which led to Josh punching a wall. These three words are apparently the most infuriating thing you can ever say to someone who has appeared on Big Brother. As Fessy continuously slur-yells “You bitch-ass,” Devin responds by showing him his “bitch ass”:

This time, it’s Josh who has to restrain someone. (You know you’re in bad shape if Josh is your measure of serenity.) “That’s what he does, he gets under people’s skin!” Josh says to Fessy, speaking from experience as the guy who lost his mind over Devin repeatedly asking him, “What’s 8 times 9?”

But that’s not the end of it. Josh wouldn’t just not participate in some unnecessary drama that was never even about him. With Devin still needling him—because Devin knows he’s easily needled—Josh chucks a cup of water in his direction, but instead hits Kyle. “I threw it at him!” Josh says like a scared toddler as Kyle moves in his direction.

“I want to punch his head in,” Kyle says.

“I know, we all do,” CT responds. “But you can’t because he’s a man-child.”

From there, there’s yet more of Devin getting under Josh’s skin—despite the fact that just five seconds ago, Josh was the one telling people not to let Devin get under their skin. But I think it works because of Devin’s disheveledness.

Imagine this guy talking shit to you. He seems so drunk and effeminate! His face is so punchable! He’s just goofily holding a cigarette! And speaking of the cigarette, it’s NOT EVEN IN GOOD CONDITION:

That thing is busted, man. It must be such a bad feeling to be furious at someone and then you look down and they’re just nonchalantly holding the least appealing cigarette you’ve ever seen. That’s low. There’s no coming back from that.

The Double Agents Power Ranking: Week 6

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. Leroy: Lee got his gold skull, and with Kyle and Kam at his back, he seems well in control of the game.

2. Kam

3. Kyle

4. Kaycee: We’re hitting the point in the season when competitors will start trying to go into elimination rather than avoiding it. Next week will likely be a men’s elimination, but the following week, look for Kaycee to angle her way into earning a skull.

5. Lolo Jones: I just don’t know who the third-strongest woman is at this point! Yes, Aneesa has a skull, but can she keep it? And even if she keeps it, can she even finish a final? Lolo is here by default on account of her being more athletic than Gabby, Nany, Big T, and the Ambers and less hated than Theresa.

6. Fessy: Drunkenly yelling while wearing Chelsea boots isn’t a good look for anyone. But Fessy kind of had a point: For him to lose, someone’s gonna have to beat him in an elimination. First, I don’t think anyone takes that chance of throwing Fessy back in; secondly, I’m not sure anyone could beat him if that happened.

The Bottom Six

19. Josh: Good at throwing water; good at making every shred of drama about himself; horrible at everything else.

18. Amber M.

17. Mechie

16. Gabby: For the remaining rookies this season, there really seems to be only two fates: Either they will be used as sacrificial lambs, getting thrown into elimination so that a stronger vet can beat them and earn a ticket to the final; or they will just be ignored and shut out of eliminations entirely, forced to go home because they never got skulls.

15. Theresa: Getting paired up with Cory might actually take some heat off of Theresa. Then again, every single partner Cory’s had this season has gone home—it wouldn’t be a shock if Theresa was next.

14. Nam: Poor, sweet Nam. He’s been a benevolent, harmless presence this season. But now we’re getting to the point when if you don’t have strong allies, you will be targeted. We saw it start with Nam in this episode—he’s on the chopping block.