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.
Nam and Lolo Jones, No Longer Sitting in a Tree
From the jump, Nam and Lolo Jones were cast as Double Agents’ romantic leads—you could tell because MTV scored a montage of Lolo Jones watching Nam work out to The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven.” But aside from a British New Wave soundtrack and both of them giving the limpest endorsements of the other’s attractiveness, nothing has actually happened. Lolo Jones and Nam haven’t even kissed, not even after a rowdy night in the Bubble Bar. This is The Challenge—without a drunken makeout, you do not have a romantic side plot.
What’s actually been happening is Nam and Lolo Jones growing to hate each other more and more. Lolo Jones complains that Nam is bad at communicating (which, to be honest, feels just a little bit xenophobic); Nam complains that Lolo Jones complains too much. They don’t agree on anything, and it hardly seems like they’re even capable of having a civil conversation. It gets so toxic this week that CT of all people has to step in and play couples therapist.
A part of this divide can be explained pretty easily: Nam is great, and Lolo Jones is kind of a bummer. Through the first half of this season, Nam has functioned like a hilarious straight man, the guy trapped in a house with a bunch of absurd humans who reacts to all of the inanity as if he’s one us watching at home. One of the best moments of this season is still the cut to Nam during one of Josh’s freakouts:
But this week, Nam finally arrived as a competitor. In a group challenge that sent five guys into a mud pit to retrieve a stick, Nam works smart rather than hard, locating the stick and pretending he doesn’t have it, waiting until the right moment to jump out of the pit and run to the finish line. Then he does a Dragon Ball Z celebration that just completely warmed my heart.
In the next round, he faces off against CT … and gets completely owned. For about a minute I was legitimately concerned that he was going to drown.
But I consider this a genuine achievement—getting destroyed by CT is a rite of passage on The Challenge. Nam has truly become part of this show; I hope he and his amazing reactions and adorable personality are in every season going forward.
Lolo Jones, on the other hand … woof. During the same challenge, she throws a hissy fit because Aneesa dared get physical with her. Might I remind you: THIS IS THE CHALLENGE! YOU’RE IN A MUD PIT WITH A BUNCH OF PEOPLE TRYING TO WIN A MILLION DOLLARS! THE WHOLE POINT IS TO GET DISTURBINGLY VIOLENT!
“This ain’t the Olympics,” Darrell says. “Ain’t no such thing as playing fair. All these motherfuckers in this house are dirty.” And it’s true: The Olympics have rules; the Olympics don’t feature mud pit wrestling; no man has ever been strapped to another man in the Olympics. Lolo Jones needs to realize that her appearances in the Winter and Summer Games—during which she won exactly zero medals—have no standing in the twisted world of The Challenge. It seems clear that she thought everyone would be intimidated by her, but Lolo Jones is just as much of a rookie as Amber M. or Gabby.
And on top of that, here’s her reaction when Nam won his heat:
How can you not be happy for a man—your partner—who’s doing the Kamehameha? I’m Team Nam all the way in this breakup.
The Most Embarrassing Elimination of the Season
This week’s elimination pit Josh against Mechie, and it goes about as well as you’d expect a matchup between a bumbling oaf and the weakest man in the house to go. It’s a retread of the “throw medicine balls through a wall” challenge in which Aneesa defeated Tori, only this time, the guys have to solve a puzzle first.
Mechie can’t even solve the puzzle. Seriously. He doesn’t even get to the medicine balls.
Josh does solve the puzzle, which is shocking. Less shocking is the part right after, when he spends about 10 minutes unathleticially chucking balls at a hard wall—even though he just solved a puzzle that reveals which part of the wall he’s supposed to throw at.
This is one of the saddest displays I’ve ever seen on The Challenge. It’s one of the only times I’ve ever watched this show and thought, “Ya know, I think I could do this.”
And it’s so typical Josh that he gets a win despite delivering such a horrendous performance. Not that that stopped him from gloating and literally crying like he just won the Super Bowl. (Josh is the one person on this season who has a family—at least that’s how he makes it sound—which is why it means so much.) There is just no limit to his annoyingness. I need a shower to get it off of me.
As for Mechie, after the elimination TJ told him, “I still like you,” which is perhaps the funniest way to say “I don’t respect you.”
Let’s all just forget this ever happened.
Just a Bunch of Photos of People Laughing at Josh
This stuff, on the other hand, I never want to forget.
Gimme That Skull
All five gold skulls available to the men have now been claimed—but we’re only halfway through the season. Obviously there are going to be more female eliminations going forward, but it’s not like there aren’t going to be male eliminations, which means at least a couple guys are going to have to defend their skulls.
I love what this does to the game. On one side, heavy hitters like CT, Darrell, Cory, and even Nam are going to be jostling to get into an elimination, and likely also targeting some of the weaker skull-holders. (The power ranking of skull-holders goes: Fessy, Leroy, Kyle, Josh, Devin.) And on the other side, the guys with skulls are going to be forced to turn against each other to avoid elimination. A lot of men have been able to skate by on their physicality alone, but no longer. Now, those with real political skills are going to shine.
The Double Agents Power Ranking: Week 8
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
4. Kaycee: The top four stays the same this week (I only switched Kam and Leroy, because Kam truly seems like the luckiest, most unstoppable woman this season). These two teams are running the game right now.
5. Fessy: I was desperately hoping for Fessy and Aneesa to be the house vote this week so that Kyle could force Fessy and Josh into elimination against each other. Alas, the Big Brother alliance—which isn’t as scary as people say!—remains intact.
6. Nany: This is Nany’s first time in the Top Six, and she’s really only in here by default. Kam and Kaycee are the clear front-runners on the women’s side, and then there’s a host of skinny, nonthreatening ladies. In between those two poles are Nany, Theresa, Aneesa, and Lolo Jones. I don’t know who has the inside track; it seems to change weekly based on things like Theresa backstabbing everyone and Lolo Jones, an actual athlete, losing her composure against a bunch of reality stars.
The Bottom Six
19. Josh: I legitimately don’t care that he won a skull. I still don’t think he has any chance of making the final, let alone winning it.
18. Amber M.: After her partner, Mechie, got sent into elimination because it was a guys’ week, Amber M. said, “I am dodging these bullets.” Which, like, yeah? I guess? But survival is no longer the name of the game now—winning challenges and eliminations is.
17. Big T: I love Big T. I want MTV to make a spin-off reality show about her life. That said, man—she is not a great athlete.
16. Amber B.: Imagine going up to someone on The Challenge and basically saying, “Please don’t reveal this extremely incriminating secret, OK thanks.” Biggest rookie move of the week.
15. Devin: There being no more skulls for the men is a very bad thing for Devin. Guys like CT are going to need to steal someone’s skull in the coming weeks, and Devin, a waif who smokes too many cigarettes, is going to be the primary target for that.
14. Darrell: I’ll probably regret this take but: Are we sure Darrell’s still got it? Are we sure he still wants it? He’s a top three soundbite on this season, but it’s a little late in the game to still be playing the old wise man.