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‘The Challenge’ Recap: How to Lose a Guy in 10 Episodes

While Gabby makes the worst move of the season, Lolo Jones and Nam continue to consciously uncouple

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.


Here’s a thing I wrote after the second episode of the season: “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.”

Well, two months later, what song did MTV use to score Fessy and Gabby’s makeout sesh? That’s right: “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” by JOY DIVISION.

This is a photo of me when I heard it:

Screenshots via MTV

I’m sure this means nothing to you but look: I’m not right very often; I need to celebrate when I actually am.

Just Get Divorced Already

The Challenge house has been a toxic environment as of late. Not because of the Amber-on-Amber crime or because, like, CT left a hoagie in the bathroom, but because Nam and Lolo Jones are going through the most protracted breakup in history.

These two have fought incessantly for basically the entire show; Lolo didn’t even crack a smile when Nam won a competition a couple weeks ago. They’re at the point—maybe you’ve been there—of unconditional dislike. It doesn’t even matter what one of them does or says, the other one will hate it simply because of who it came from. I can’t even really tell what they’re fighting about in Wednesday’s episode—bad feelings seem to swell because Lolo wants to go into elimination while Nam wants to slow-play. But then later in the episode when Nam suggests that they volunteer to be the house vote, Lolo seems disgusted, only for her to tell someone else two minutes later, “Yeah, I wanna be the house vote.”

“My Achilles heel is trying to have a relationship,” Lolo tells Nam, which is a can of worms I have zero interest trying to unpack. She goes on to throw out some classic breakup lines: “I want a guy who accepts me for who I am,” she says, as well as, “You may not say it but you make me feel like that every day.” It also comes out that Nam used to tell Lolo to “put the tiger in the cage,” but that he hasn’t used that phrase in at least three weeks.

Finally, this all culminates in a glorious line from Lolo Jones. “You want space?” she says. “You can get it for eternity!”

But can we slow down for a second? I have a pretty pertinent question: WHY ARE THEY ACTING LIKE THEY WERE DATING? Never once on this season has it seemed like Lolo Jones and Nam were in a romantic relationship—the best footage of the “good times” MTV has to flash back to in this episode is a shot of the two hugging in an extremely uncharged way. They aren’t dating! None of this is actually a thing! Like, sure, it probably sucks to be partnered up with a person you don’t like, but it’s a game! Why are they fighting like they’re in The Notebook?

The only logical explanation I can come up with is that Lolo and Nam hatched this plan as a way to gain sympathy so that people would feel bad and vote them into elimination, since that’s the only way to get a new partner. If that’s the case, I gotta applaud them—that’s a high level of manipulation. Even if in reality, this drama only emboldened all the other contestants in trying to keep Lolo and Nam partnered up.

I really don’t know what’s happening here—I just want mom and dad to stop fighting. I want the tiger to go back in the cage.

Rookie Moves

Of all the skull-holders, Devin winning the group challenge (along with his partner, Gabby) is surely the best outcome in terms of chaos. The Man With the Floppy Cigarette is not here to win. At least, it’s not his top priority—his top priority is bothering the shit out of people and making those he hates feel uncomfortable.

But it’s also intriguing because he’s only one of two skull-holders whose partners don’t also have a skull. There’s an obvious tension between Devin and Gabby—she needs to go into elimination to earn a ticket into the final; as a person who has that ticket, he wants to do everything he can to stay as far away from the Crater as possible. As Gabby pleads for Devin to take a back seat in the decision-making, he doesn’t budge. Put yourself in my shoes, Gabby begs, to which Devin responds, “You also have to put yourself in my position as one of the most vindictive people you’ve ever seen.”

Devin also has little to no power in the house, despite winning a group challenge. The Big Brother alliance, which Kam and Leroy are also a part of, has too much sway in the house, so Devin can’t even swing a house elimination vote his way. His plan to get Josh out is purely fantasy.

When the house goes against Devin’s wishes and puts in Cory and Amber M., it’s clear that the only logical choice for Gabby is to throw herself in as well. Especially once it becomes clear that the elimination is a hall brawl—Amber M. is the least physically daunting person remaining; hall brawls are overt feats of physical strength. As CT notes, “The whole reason Amber M.’s been kept around this long is for this very moment.”

So what does Gabby do? She acquiesces to Devin and throws a golden opportunity to Amber B., a person Gabby doesn’t even like. Amber B. literally claps when she hears her name; and it’s such an obviously bad decision that TJ Lavin tries to stop it from happening.

In the end, Gabby regrets the decision faster than it takes Amber B. to destroy Amber M.—which is really saying something, because Amber B. won that elimination so freaking quickly.

The Double Agents Power Ranking: Week 9

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
2. Kaycee
3. Kam
4. Kyle: The top four haven’t changed—even CT this week commented on their solid status. Technically there’s still a chance something shakes up this group, but they’re almost a lock for the final at this point.
5. Fessy
6. Amber B.: Last week, Amber B. was ranked 16th out of 17. This is what happens when someone gifts you a trip to the final.

The Bottom Six

17. Josh: The whole time Josh was winning the group challenge, there was never a doubt in my mind that he’d eventually blow it. Also? Josh talking shit at Devin while he stood on an entirely different stage at the Crater was the most Josh thing I’ve ever seen. That man loves puffing out his chest when the risk factor of doing so is literally zero.
16. Gabby: Well, at least Gabby can say that she made the worst gameplay decision of the season!
15. Big T
14. Lolo Jones: Lolo could probably win a final, but no one’s going to let her see an elimination, and she’s too busy breaking up with her not-boyfriend to politick.
13. Devin
12. Nam: Poor, sweet Nam. If only he didn’t end up trapped in a relationship that isn’t actually a relationship.