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‘The Challenge’ Recap: A Letter From Fessy

After a grueling group challenge and a bone-breaking hall brawl, the final eight is set. But before that, an introvert would like to say a few words.

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.

Now This Is True Love

Screenshots via MTV

Before this, there was an extended sequence of Kam and Leroy professing their love for each other and their general giddiness over being each other’s soulmates. They kissed in a hot tub while The Bangles’ “Eternal Flame” played in the background. But I don’t care—Kam making Leroy a PB&J at 5:30 in the morning before a challenge and asking if he wanted her to cut the crusts off is easily the most romantic moment of this episode. It’s shit like this that lets you know you’ve found your partner in life.

Amber B, Foiled by Math

In very recent seasons of The Challenge, some of the puzzles have really just been simple algebra problems. I guess at some point producers were like, “Why are we working so hard to come up with these puzzles? These people probably don’t even remember PEMDAS.” And boy, they were super right about that: In this week’s daily challenge, Amber isn’t even destroyed by the order of operations, she’s simply cut down by a multiplication problem:

This is the first puzzle of the challenge; Amber does not even get a chance to attempt the other puzzles, because she can’t solve this one. “Numbers are not my thing,” she says at one point, the understatement of the century.

Now, I timed myself trying to solve this problem as well—and though I got the answer wrong on the first try, it still only took me under two minutes to get it right (the answer’s 6,496, by the way). Amber spends at least an hour on this before eventually throwing in the towel. It’s a very sad showing, for both her and the American school system.

Obviously she was under pressure, and had just completed a five-mile run in frigid temperatures, but come on—this is third-grade stuff. And I know we all have iPhones now and haven’t thought about writing out a math problem in decades, but if you’re going on The Challenge, you gotta know how to do multiplication. You just gotta. You can’t let yourself get disqualified because you haven’t taken out the math flashcards in a while.

The Letter, Annotated

Once Kam and Cory win the daily challenge, it’s clear that the house is going to have to choose between sending Leroy or Fessy into the Crater. (Kyle was always going in.) No one really wants Leroy to go in (because he’s likable), so everyone turns their attention toward getting Fessy to go in (because he’s not likable). There’s plotting and yelling and crying, as Fessy stands his ground and shies away from putting himself in; Fessy claims to be the strongest, most fearless person in the house, even when his actions suggest the exact opposite.

Cory is the one who ultimately convinces Fessy to nominate himself, smartly appealing to his ego and telling him that he’ll be considered a legend if he takes this risk. As the house deliberation begins, Fessy announces that he has something to say—and not only that, he’s put his thoughts into letter form.

Here’s the whole thing transcribed:

I just wanna say that I’ve genuinely enjoyed getting to know each and every one of you. This game means everything to me and I’m beyond grateful that I’ve been able to experience it with all of you. I know sometimes I can come across as arrogant and overconfident but I do not think I am better than anyone. I just want to compete. I look up to all of you in this room and strive to be like you guys one day. A lot of this game has been out of my control and I feel like the one thing I can control is taking this game into my own hands, possibly going into elimination tonight. Win or lose, I can hold my head high. I know no matter who I go up against tonight, Kyle or Leroy, it’s gonna be a dogfight, and I’m honored to go against either one of you legends. Amber B, this has nothing to do with you. I’d be more than OK to run a final with you. It’s something I feel like I have to do for myself.

So, let’s count the lies here:

  1. “I’ve genuinely enjoyed getting to know each and every one of you.” (Fessy doesn’t genuinely enjoy anyone but himself.)
  2. “I do not think I am better than anyone.” (Fessy definitely thinks he’s better than everyone.)
  3. “I look up to all of you in this room and strive to be like you guys one day.” (See: nos. 1 and 2.)
  4. “Amber B, this has nothing to do with you.” (Fessy spent the entire episode complaining about Amber; he was basically crying about it.)
  5. “I’d be more than OK to run a final with you.” (Again, he was basically crying about it.)

And now let’s look at everyone else’s reactions during this speech:

It is truly amazing how quickly Fessy has shot up the hateability rankings this season. His arrogance—which he often attributes to “being an introvert,” because he apparently doesn’t know what that word means—is astonishing. His level of disrespect for other people, especially behind their backs, is shocking. His ability to do things in a way that makes your skin crawl is unparalleled. Reading out this highly patronizing speech—which again, he took the time to write this down and this is the best he could come up—is just the cherry on top of an amazing run as The Guy You Hate the Most. I just wish he wasn’t built like an NFL tight end.

Some Actual Double Agents Stuff

It’s ironic that on a season called Double Agents, hardly any shady shit has gone down. No one’s really double-crossed anyone—everyone has mostly just arrived at a peaceful consensus and gone about their business. So I was absolutely thrilled to see some attempts and backroom dealings on Wednesday night.

With Kam and Cory in power as the double agents and Leroy and Kyle trying desperately to stay out of elimination, a deal is forged: If Kyle agrees to vote Fessy in as the house vote, Leroy will get Kam, his girlfriend, to pick her own partner, Cory, to be the double agents’ vote. This, of course, would trigger a stalemate, as surely Cory wouldn’t want to vote himself in—thus setting up a scenario in which TJ would force the double agents, Kam and Cory, to just come into the Crater anyway.

To put it lightly, this is juicy as hell. The plan would not only rob the Big Brother alliance of their power, but it would also completely blindside Cory, in what would surely be one of the most unexpected, most savage moves in Challenge history. I was nearly giddy watching Leroy and Nany hatch this plan in the wee hours of the morning—it’s this kind of maneuvering and back-stabbing that defines the best of The Challenge, and exactly the kind of plotting that Double Agents has been missing.

Of course, because he ruins EVERYTHING, Fessy completely negates the need for this plan when he nominates himself for elimination. With Leroy no longer needing to be saved, Kam balks on her promise to Kyle and throws him in over Cory. (Definitely the safer move—throwing Cory in would’ve been a wild decision.) Kyle says he feels heartbroken and betrayed by Kam and Leroy, and while I understand his saltiness, the sad truth is that the terms of engagement changed when Fessy read that dumb, stupid, ridiculous letter.

Kyle comes out the loser in the end, unfortunately. (I’m a Kyle Head and I don’t care who knows it.) Fessy—who again, is built like an NFL tight end—absolutely trucks him in the first round of a Hall Brawl, and when he rises up for round two, he realizes that one of his fingers is VERY BROKEN:

He’s deemed medically unfit to compete, and his time on The Challenge ends. Just think: If Fessy hadn’t been convinced to write that letter, we might’ve gotten to see one of the dirtiest double crosses ever, and Kyle might still be in Iceland competing for a million dollars.

The Double Agents Power Ranking: Week 17

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.

1. Kam and Cory: As the final approaches next week, the teams are surprisingly even. Not a lot separates the best from the worst. But Kam and Cory definitely proved in this episode why they have the best odds to win.

2. Kaycee and Fessy: I won’t be rooting for the Big Brother squad—the prospect of Fessy gassing out in a final again is just too sweet—but Kaycee and Fessy have a lot of athleticism and strength on their side. Hopefully they know their times tables.

3. Nany and Leroy: After completely dominating this season with Leroy at her side, Kaycee was more than happy to slough him off for her Big Brother bestie. I hope Leroy finally understands what happens when you trust people from that show. But I also hope these two win—their Real World: Las Vegas season is extremely underrated.

4. Amber B. and CT: If these partnerships hold throughout the final, there’s no question that CT has the weakest link on his side. You saw what happened when Amber B. went up against the undeniable force that is MATH, but more pointedly, she’s the only person left who’s never run a Challenge final. These things are grueling and borderline torturous, and just getting through it is going to be difficult for the rookie. That said, you can’t bet against CT—don’t think he won’t literally carry Amber across the finish line.