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‘The Challenge’ Recap: The Old Man and the Fessy

After everyone jumps out of a plane, one young gun has the gall to disrespect a legend—on ’80s night of all nights!

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.


Just a Photo of CT in a Makeshift Fat Suit

Screenshots via MTV

Kinda looks like the Mr. Krabs meme.

Who Was the Most Scared to Jump Out of a Plane?

Back in early seasons of The Challenge, sometimes the wildest they’d get was having the contestants play, like, dodgeball. On Wednesday night, the 11 remaining contestants on Double Agents jumped out of a plane. The show has done some legitimately dangerous stuff in recent years—just this season MTV had everyone wrestle each other on top of a speeding semitruck—but skydiving might be the most life-threatening activity to ever be performed on this show. The Challenge is not for the faint of heart—I mean, this was some intense stuff:

Naturally, some of the competitors were more enthusiastic about jumping out of a plane than others—it ranged from “so excited it’s borderline concerning” to “I’m pretty sure that person pooped their pants.” And so, here is a ranking of every remaining character (besides Amber B., who was a rogue agent who didn’t compete) based on how scared they were:

1. Kaycee: Kaycee went at this thing with arms wide open. Major respect.

2. Kam: It’s worth asking if Kam is afraid of anything.

3. Cory: Cory seemed pretty pumped to do this. And then he yelled out his daughters’ names … in case you haven’t heard, he has daughters, and he’s doing this for his family.

4. Nany

5. Aneesa: Notice how most of the women are at the top of this list?

6. Kyle: Kyle’s smiling a lot when they’re on the ascent in that plane—but I think he’s just smiling so hard to stop from losing his lunch.

7. CT: “Let’s be honest, it’s pretty scary, all right? I’m terrified too.”

8. Leroy:

That’s right, keep those eyes shut, big man.

9. Big T:

HAHAHAHAHA.

10. Fessy: For the most of the plane ride, Fessy seems excited—then he gets to the door and loses it.

Toughest guy on the show right here.


Testosterone Overfloweth

Early on in this episode, Fessy decides that he wants to get out the Joker face paint and become an absolute hater. Prompted only by the sight of CT having fun with Big T, he starts to talk shit about the man, the myth, the legend. “He’s gotten by on reputation,” Fessy says to Kyle. “He hasn’t had to prove himself.” Talking about CT’s elimination victory against Josh (someone Fessy is supposedly friends with), Fessy says, “He didn’t even have to get his hands dirty.”

This is all fairly rich for a few reasons. First of all, CT is one of the most decorated players in Challenge history. The guy’s made eight finals and has won three of them. He’s one of the most recognizable reality TV characters ever—not just on The Challenge, but in the entire genre. On the other side, granted, Fessy’s Challenge career is just beginning, but he hasn’t exactly wowed anyone: His two elimination wins are against Nelson in a hall brawl [shrug] and against the one-handed Jordan in a pole wrestle, an event that definitely favors someone who has both of their hands. Meanwhile, in last season’s final, Fessy gassed out and not only lost to Johnny Bananas, but also to Kyle and Cory. It’s pretty amazing to hear him accuse someone of coasting on reputation when he’s spent the last two years coasting on his imposing size and his past life as a college football player. Maybe wait until you win a ring before you start all that jawing.

Fessy, of course, doesn’t do that. Instead he goes right up to the man himself and starts telling him that he’s over the hill, that his reign on The Challenge is over. (“This conversation started off with me trying to give CT a compliment,” says Fessy, a liar.) CT, who is like a bear in that he’s big and round but also in that he will eat your face if you poke him, doesn’t take too kindly to being called old by a man with a fancy haircut. They start to yell at each other and puff out their chests. That all of this happens on ’80s night is just the cherry on top:

Truly, the funniest thing about this fight is that the only way you know it’s gone from lighthearted to potentially violent is because CT removes his ’80s wig.

It ends rather uneventfully, since neither guy is dumb enough to hit the other, but it’s nonetheless an instructive moment about both Fessy and CT. “Here’s the thing, though,” Nany tells Amber B. after the dust settles, “they’re two very different kinds of animals. Fessy’s the type that’ll hire a hitman to do his work, whereas CT will end your life with his bare hands.”

First of all, this is the most on-point, insightful thing Nany has ever said. She’s exactly right—people like Fessy who’ve been on just the last few seasons know CT only as the dad in the room, the older dude who’s softened both physically and emotionally. But people like Nany and Aneesa, who have firsthand experience with the old CT—in Aneesa’s case, she was there on The Duel II, when multiple security guards failed to contain a raging CT—know that just because he’s grown up a little bit doesn’t mean he’s someone who can now be messed with. Sure, CT may have lost to Jay last season, but that monster who turned Bananas into a backpack is still lingering just under the surface. It feels like an unforced error to willfully wake that beast.

What it really comes down to is this: Fessy is jealous. He’s jealous of CT’s résumé; he’s jealous of CT’s level of comfort; he’s jealous that people like CT more than they like him. Deep down, he knows that no matter how many times he wins The Challenge, he’ll never be as highly regarded as CT—for someone as arrogant as he is, that’s a tough pill to swallow.

Hopefully Fessy is happy he got his old man jokes off—I’d hate to see it backfire on him. (And by “hate” I mean “absolutely, wholeheartedly love.”)

The Agony and Ecstasy of the Crater

This episode was destined to end in an elimination between Aneesa and Big T. (Maybe next season they’ll find a way to make things less predictable.) And once you saw that the elimination was Fire Escape—the one where contestants hang from a beam and have to use their momentum to race across it—it was relatively obvious who would win. Aneesa has many good qualities, but strength and endurance aren’t her strong suits, and Fire Escape is certainly a more difficult challenge for bigger people. Aneesa hardly moves an inch before the more lithe Big T crosses the finish line. (You gotta wonder if Challenge producers screwed Aneesa on purpose by making Fire Escape the elimination challenge, or if that was always the plan.)

For Aneesa, this continues a trend of making it deep into a season but losing before the final. It’s gotta be incredibly disheartening to be trapped in a house with these people for that long, for basically no reward—and for it to just keep happening. Double Agents is Aneesa’s 14th season; her first appearance on The Challenge was in 2002. She’s a vet who’s been with us for a very, very long time, and while she’s never been the best competitor, you have to respect the way she keeps coming back for more.

On the other hand, BIG T!!!!!!! What a performance. Strength also isn’t one of Big T’s strong suits, yet she crushed this elimination, figuring out the rhythm and gliding across that beam before Aneesa could even get going.

It’s Big T’s first elimination win, and for a contestant who’s been doubted—and who’s seriously doubted herself—it’s an amazing moment. Big T’s Double Agents journey, from being a cast-off to CT’s sidekick to being spurned by CT to now proving that she belongs, has been the most rewarding story line of the season. Now she just needs to cap it off with a win in the final. Although, considering how she struggled to, um, run in this week’s group challenge, maybe we’re still a couple seasons away from a Big T championship. Running’s a pretty fundamental element of this show.

The Double Agents Power Ranking: Week 15

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. Starting this week, we’ll be ranking the players by their teams.

1. Leroy & Kaycee: Four challenge wins this season. At this point, anyone else winning Double Agents would be a massive upset.

2. Cory & Kam: After being a curse all season long, Cory suddenly has a pep in his step with Kam as his partner. They’ve at least got a chance.

3. Kyle & Amber B.: It’s hard to know where Amber’s head is at after losing Darrell, or how she’ll fare if she makes it to her first final, but it feels like she has better conditioning than the two girls below her. And what this really comes down to is: You can’t bet against Kyle. He’s a rat who simply finds a way to survive. I love him.

4. CT & Big T: Big T had a chance to switch partners—to take Kyle or Cory or steal Fessy from Nany—but instead she chose to stay loyal to CT. I’m not sure this makes any sense on a personal level: CT ruthlessly dumped her a couple episodes ago and was super mean to her this episode after she tired out in the group challenge (after jumping out of a plane, it’s worth noting). This was Big T’s chance to get revenge. But maybe this is just commentary on how insufferable Fessy is. Big T would rather stay with the guy who burned her than spend time with Fessy.

5. Fessy & Nany: Is this controversial? You could argue that Big T’s strength and conditioning issues put her team below these two, but I don’t know. Neither of them have performed well in a final. And with all this shit Fessy is talking, he’s just begging to have his hubris checked.