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‘The Challenge’ Recap: Fessy Turns Heel

Plus: Tori is the only person who knows how to fly a drone, and no one understands what crying is

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.


Some Nice Tabloid Synergy

For those who don’t follow gossip news during the offseason (what’s wrong with you?) this may come as a surprise, but the First Couple of The Challenge, Tori Deal and Jordan Wiseley, broke off their engagement just before the premiere of Double Agents. (Here’s Jordan’s post about it, in which he writes that they “weren’t able to escape the pressures that come with being in a very public relationship,” as if they’re fucking Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.)

I didn’t really expect the split to come up during this season—everything seemed pretty amicable. But MTV, those sly dogs, wouldn’t just let a potentially juicy narrative go. Seizing on the fact that Tori and Fessy are working together and a tiny confessional moment in which the suit-vested Fessy admits that Tori is an attractive human, the producers put together a little tease that something more romantic might be bubbling. And then they tweeted it out a day before the episode dropped:

This led to Tori flocking to Instagram Stories to deny that anything happened. “Uhmmm... I see how this is all being edited... but just because Fessy admits he’s attracted to me doesn’t mean I cheated... I never cheated on Jordan. So everyone needs to chill out,” she wrote. Over on The Challenge subreddit, meanwhile, people were talking in early December about Tori and Fessy vacationing together in Turks and Caicos. (Turks and Caicos: the top British Overseas Territory in which to have an affair.)

I don’t know about all that. If Fessy and Tori hooked up, we’ll find out about it soon enough. I’d just like to point out that this has been a very successful tabloid rollout, from announcement to premiere to pre-episode scandal to actual episode airing. Good job, publicists.

The Hardest Challenge in the History of The Challenge

Throughout the years on The Challenge, people have had to swim in freezing-cold water; they’ve had to wrestle each other on the top of moving semitrucks; they’ve had to rappel from the top of mountains. But they’ve never, apparently, done anything as hard as this: successfully operating a drone.

On Wednesday night, 12 teams were tasked with flying a drone through an Icelandic cave, with one teammate operating while the other directed traffic via VR headset—AND 11 TEAMS FAILED. I don’t have series-spanning stats at the ready, but I personally can’t ever remember a failure rate as high as this one. “The opposite of good, is what you guys are,” TJ Lavin told one sorry-ass pair. Which brings me to this installation, which I call “Failure While TJ Laughs”:

Screenshots via MTV

One more thing: The fact that Tori is the only one who knew how to work a drone is NOT SURPRISING. Have y’all ever seen that girl’s YouTube page? You don’t make that many music videos for your covers of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and not learn how to use drones.


We Need to Define “Crying”

Last episode, CT and Josh (and then Devin, somehow) got into a fight, mainly because Josh told CT that CT made Kaycee cry, when no such thing happened. This episode, Nelson and Devin (there he is again) get into a fight because Nelson says Devin made his partner, Amber M., cry. But once again, no such thing happened!

Here is what Nelson says:

  • “She came to me crying.”
  • “Bro, she’s crying.”
  • “This woman is crying on my shoulders.”

And here is what actually happened:

What Devin did to Amber was totally weird and uncalled for. But, like, what do these guys think crying is? Because there’s now a trend developing in which people keep mischaracterizing other people’s emotional states. I think we need to brush up on our vocabulary; there would be 100 percent less fights if Challenge contestants uniformly understood the meaning of crying.

The True Measure of Friendship

In the middle of the episode, Fessy talks about how close he and Cory are. “I flew out to L.A. for Cory’s gender reveal,” he says.

Now, I’m very sorry, but if “attended a gender reveal” is your best proof of a friendship, I have some news: YOU ARE NOT THAT GOOD OF FRIENDS.

And sure enough, the extent to which Fessy is friends with anyone becomes this episode’s big takeaway, as he finagles his way into elimination on a last-second deal, pissing off Nelson (whom he eliminates), Cory, Josh, and countless others. So many gender-reveal parties Fessy won’t be invited to.

The blindside move is spurred by Fessy seeing that the elimination is a hall brawl, notoriously the most physical event in any season of The Challenge. Seeing the setup, he quickly pleads with Tori to send him in, knowing that he has a size advantage on Nelson—which is an understatement, look at this shit …

Nelson is mad because he thought he and Fessy were cool (and because he knows he will lose); Cory is mad because he thought they were all in an alliance (and because he knows Nelson will lose); Josh is mad because he was mentally prepared to go into elimination, which is the tough-guy thing Josh always says when he narrowly avoids going into elimination.

It’s without a doubt a selfish move by Fessy, but gender reveals aside, it’s not exactly a surprising one. First of all, just one season ago, Fessy burned both Cory and Josh toward the end of the game; he literally looked directly into a camera and admitted that he will lie as much as he needs to to win. And second of all, this is The Challenge—no one ever prevails by playing unselfishly.

Still, we’re only four episodes into this season—it’s a little too early to be burning this many bridges. And with a little extra gasoline left, Fessy decides to create even more enemies by ditching his partner, Aneesa, and stealing Leroy’s partner, Kaycee. It’s a plainly stupid move: Not only does he turn basically the whole house against him, but he also aligns himself with a female player he was already allied with. It makes targeting him—which everyone now wants to do—that much easier.

It’s a bold strategy, as they say. We’ll see how it plays out for him.

The Double Agents Power Ranking: Week 4

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. Natalie
2. Cory: No change for the two at the top here. Losing Nelson as a number is a blow, but they could actually gain allies by starting the Everyone Hates Fessy party.
3. Kam: Potentially losing Kaycee as an ally, since she’s no longer Leroy’s partner, might not be as bad as it seems. Kaycee is tied to a major target now, and Aneesa, Leroy’s new partner, is a solid gameplayer.
4. Darrell: My guy is really floating along—not winning, but also not losing. But to this point, no one has even considered saying his name in an elimination vote.
5. Tori: Devin as a partner is a problem, but Tori is still this season’s best all-around woman competitor.
6. CT: This is CT’s first time in the Top Six. But after a rocky start, he’s found a nice rhythm, floating much like Darrell. And as far as I’m concerned, the longer everyone lets him stick around, the harder it will be to send him home.

The Bottom Six

24. Josh: People dislike Fessy, but everyone hates Josh. Even the people who say they like Josh clearly hate Josh. He’s an overdramatic baby who also cowers in the face of a challenge. He will not win.
23. Amber M.: I’d be absolutely stunned if Amber M. wasn’t the next woman eliminated.
22. Mechie: Mechie lost his not-very-good partner Liv … and got stuck with Amber M., an even worse partner.
21. Gabby: On the bright side, she’s not Amber M.
20. Theresa: Theresa is a solid competitor, but this deep into the season, she and Jay still seem to have zero alliances. And with people gunning for Jay, she’s liable to catch a stray.
19. Devin: For some reason, Devin’s schtick is to make enemies with everyone for no reason at all. That might work for a better, stronger competitor—I don’t think it’s gonna work for Devin.