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‘The Challenge’ Recap: A Tectonic Plate–Shifting Episode

Not that anyone on this show really knows what tectonic plates are

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.

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The Contestants, Ranked by How Much They Know About “Tectonic Plates”

For this week’s group challenge, teams had to swim back and forth between two tectonic plates, in what TJ calls “the clearest water on the planet.” This is the draw of competing on The Challenge, right? On top of the carrot of a million-dollar prize, this show is probably the only time anyone is ever going to be able to dig through volcanic sand on an Icelandic beach one week and swim along a fault line the next. But that doesn’t mean that any of these people really know what a fault line is. Let’s rank everyone by how much they seem to grasp the concept.

12. Amber B: Amber B. can’t even say “tectonic.”

Screenshots via MTV

11. Leroy: Here’s his quote on it: “Today we’re swimming between two tectonic plates—I’m like, ‘Yeah … Yup … That’s gonna be cool. What? What’s that?’”

10. Nany: The following six didn’t have any airtime regarding the tectonic plates, but all that definitely means is that their answers weren’t as hilariously embarrassing as Amber and Leroy’s. It’s still not a guarantee they know science stuff.
9. Fessy: I bet Fessy says he knows what tectonic plates are …
8. Kaycee: A few weeks ago, Kaycee said that wolves are vegetarians; she definitely doesn’t know what causes earthquakes.
7. Cory: LOL no way.
6. Kam: I could go either way on Kam. She could probably figure it out, and then explain it to her boyfriend Leroy.
5. Darrell: Darrell’s kids are old enough that he’s probably had to help out on homework relating to earthquakes.
4. Aneesa: I feel confident in saying that Aneesa understands what tectonic plates are.

3. Kyle
2. CT
1. Big T: These last three make up the group who sufficiently—admittedly, that word’s doing a lot of work here—explain the definition of tectonic plates during the episode. Big T is the only one who could pass a fifth-grade earth science test, though.

The Best Outcome for Content

Sometimes you root for the teams you like, or against the ones you don’t—but other times you root for the result that would simply be the most entertaining. As we head into the end of this season, Leroy and Kaycee—and the Big Brother alliance they lead—are running this game. There are only a couple of teams they don’t control, and each week, there are only a couple of outcomes that would truly shake things up. This week, that one outcome was Kyle and Aneesa winning the group challenge: With Cory and Big T standing as the only team without gold skulls, they’re an obvious candidate for elimination, and because Kyle and Aneesa are the only team untethered to Big Brother, they would’ve been the obvious choice to throw in against Cory and Big T. Simple and easy.


But Kyle and Aneesa actually won. This threw everything up in the air (especially because Kyle sometimes acts like the Joker). It no longer became a given that Cory and Big T would go in, and for the first time in forever, people like Leroy, Kaycee, and Fessy were nervous. It was a much-needed moment of chaos.

Unfortunately, in the end, Aneesa convinced Kyle not to blow anything up: The house vote sent in Darrell and Amber B., while the winners acquiesced and gave Cory and Big T a chance to get a skull. Personally, I would’ve forced a power player like Leroy or Fessy to prove themselves—which would’ve also had the bonus effect of shutting Cory out of the final—but in the end, friendships and fear reined. At least we got a moment of unpredictability. Hopefully CT wins next week and truly destroys everything.

Damn, Darrell

Famous last words: “These challenges are a lot harder than they used to be.”

It was a weird season for Darrell, a Challenge legend who’s won four finals. Besides an elimination against the walking cigarette Devin, he didn’t win anything this year. And what’s more, he was perfectly content to take a backseat to his rookie partner and her Big Brother friends. He consistently voted against veterans like CT to instead side with people like JOSH—and guess what? It was those people who hung him out to dry in the end.

Faced with a “him or me” choice, the Big Brother alliance closed ranks and threw Darrell into elimination. (Maybe if he hadn’t alienated him earlier this season, CT would have gone to bat for Darrell.) They used Darrell as a number all season long, and the second they didn’t have anyone else to sacrifice, they turned on him.

And unfortunately, the elimination was one that hinged on speed. Darrell’s still an athletic, smart, agile competitor—but he’s also 41 years old. His fastest days are long behind him. Cory, who’s young and speedy (but not smart, remember what we said about the tectonic plates), had no trouble sending Darrell home. I hope as Darrell was leaving he was thinking about all the times he should have tried to build a political game this year, rather than letting a bunch of strangers dictate his time on Double Agents.

Darrell will be back. In fact, he’s competing on The Challenge All Stars starting on Paramount+ on April 1. But that season looks to be full of over-the-hill contestants who can no longer compete in the premier league. That’s probably more his speed.

Reunited and It Feels So Good

MOM AND DAD ARE BACK TOGETHER.

After a two-week dalliance that wasn’t really working for anyone, CT has reunited with Big T. And now we’re set up with a perfect climax for the end of the season: CT and Big T have an emotional reconciliation, he helps her get her gold skull, and then they go and upset the world and win TJ’s final. Lolo Jones recently accused The Challenge of fixing things to favor CT and Big T. Since it’s coming from Lolo Jones, a person who blamed a bad swimming performance on her shoe falling off, these claims have to be taken with a grain of salt. But honestly? I would love it if The Challenge fixed the final for CT and Big T. Sometimes beautiful story lines are more important than truth.

The Double Agents Power Ranking: Week 14

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 Four

1. Leroy
2. Kaycee: Speaking of fixing challenges, a part of me suspects that Leroy and Kaycee actually won this week’s group challenge. It seemed like they went really fast. They’re just so dominant this season—so dominant that maybe even the show is trying to make them lose now.
3. Kam
4. Fessy

The Bottom Four

11. Amber B.
10. Big T: We’re hurtling toward an elimination between Amber B. and Big T and man, I am dying to see Big T win that thing.
9. Nany
8. Kyle: Kyle is like a zit you can’t pop; it’s always a mistake to bet against him. That said? I’m currently betting against him.