Final Score: The Challenge Gods — 3, Joss — 0

Brian Batty
12 min readJul 2, 2021

The first episode of Vendettas was exciting for a lot of reasons. We officially open the Big Brother pipeline, Brad’s back (really?), Kailah and Cara begin inflating their self worth immediately, this Victor guy has cool hair, and wait a second…are those British people?

Besides whatever is happening on the top of Kyle’s head, there was just a lot going on. We were coming off of Dirty 30 which was…complicated by the end of it. Maybe it was just me, but I thought it was really weird seeing Camila in that TJ costume during the winner unveiling. The show was desperate to shed some baggage, bury Camila’s body somewhere, and never look back.

So why not, with all of these newbies who many folk probably do not know, make the first 24 hours of their lives miserable and basically make them run the first day of a Final right away.

This leads us to Joss.

Now, running up mountains, and staying up all night, and having to hold a weighted ammo case for some arbitrary reason are all standard Challenge fare. What wasn’t standard in any way, was what occurred next.

Joss not only won this extremely difficult opening challenge, he dominated it. Now, some of the cast was clearly extremely hungover and not in tip-top shape. But he smoked everyone. Zach was the closest competitor and the editors, reminiscent of the Double Agents Final, did their best to make it seem close. But it clearly wasn’t.

So if you’re any of the vets, or even one of the new comers, now what? What do you do when the hottest guy you’ve ever seen in your life just crushed every single one of you in the race up a mountain in their first shot at it?

Through the early part of Vendettas, Joss’s (shout out to the letter ‘s’) performance on the Rock of Gibraltar remained the elephant in the room. How are we going to get rid of this guy? Don’t worry everybody, The Challenge Gods have your back.

During the seventh episode, TJ splits the group into two teams. The task is simple. While chained together, erect a robot statue or either Aneesa or CT (neither of who were there in body and mind, only spirit).

Joss’s team failed to create their creepy CT robot as fast as the other team created their creepy Aneesa robot, which laid him naked and vulnerable as the day he was born. The losing team smartly votes Joss directly in. Which, like, duh. This was their first chance and the guys were smart enough to take it.

He ran up a mountain without breaking a sweat, but performing under the bright lights of an elimination round is as mental as it is physical. So how would he handle it?

Once the sifter was shaken, the elimination round looked to be Joss vs. Shane, which seems to be a bit weak on paper. I remember at the time thinking this was gonna be quick work… and then…wait a minute…

IS THAT ANEESA’S MUSIC!??!?!

Bringing back the mercenary twist was both predictable and exactly what was needed. Jordan and Derrick is about as “mercenary-y” of a choice they could have made. TJ pulls out a coin, flips it, and sets the match-ups. Shane drew Jordan, and Joss drew Derrick.

What came next is probably one of the most entertaining elimination rounds you can possibly hope for. If the pure competition aspect is your favorite part of The Challenge, this night was for you.

The ensuing battle between Joss and Derrick was a back and forth marathon where neither player had any interest in surrendering an inch.

There are three types of people in the world. There’s quitters, there are those who never quit, and then there’s Derrick. See this is where Joss being a rookie really hurt him. He should have most certainly beat Derrick in this. He’s faster, he’s probably stronger, he’s probably a better athlete. But what he didn’t understand is the kind of person Derrick is.

Derrick was never going to lose this. And he didn’t. While the ending may have been a bit anti-climactic, (Derrick won when Joss thought they had already stepped out of bounds. A bonehead move to be sure.) this is easily one of the most intense elimination rounds ever played.

Joss would be forced to leave the game empty handed. And nobody on the actual cast had to even get their hands dirty. It’s hard to think of anyone standing up there (maybe Zach?) who would have beaten Joss in this.

And all the women wept, as the house just became much less handsome.

The Challenge Gods — 1, Joss — 0

At the beginning of each episode of the show Who’s Line Is It Anyway? host and famous Ohioan, Drew Carey, used to describe the show with the phrase “where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter”.

Somewhere along the ling the producers of Final Reckoning took that ironic turn of phrase much too literally.

Joss came into Final Reckoning an already made man. Going through an elimination battle like he had with Derrick, even with a big fat L next to his name, cemented him as a high level player who would play a big factor into how the game shook out.

He was partnered with the somehow highly capable Sylvia (seriously, is there a bigger upset in Challenge scouting report history than Sylvia actually being…good (I think?) at this?) in a pairing that was a bit confusing at the time, but would come to pay dividends as the months wore on.

To put it succinctly, they cruised. They made some savvy political moves, managed to stay on the right side of safe on most of the daily challenges, and when called upon were able to take care of business in an elimination against Bananas and Tony.

But little did they know, in Final Reckoning all the points are made up and the rules don’t matter. People were eliminated, then they’d come back. They’d get eliminated again, but then come all the way back again. I’m pretty sure I was on the cast at some point. Hell, some teams even showed up halfway through. But more on them in just a second…

By the time the season had mercifully played out and The Final was finished, Joss and Sylvia were the only team standing to both not be eliminated and participate in every daily challenge. Seriously, Paulie and Natalie were sent home like nine times, it was out of control.

But back to that second part, about participating in every daily challenge. While The Challenge is no place for participation trophies, this time around that designation held more weight than you’d think. Two different sets of “mercenaries” were brought in, similar to Derrick showing up to ruin Joss’s vacation in Spain the season prior, able to join the game without going through the rigors of competing and living in the house for weeks.

But because fuck it, why not, the twist was that these mercenaries were here to stay for good. Enter Ashley & Hunter, having fast traveled through the first third of the season, here to compete just like the rest the schmucks who showed up on time.

*CONSPIRACY ALERT*

It actually almost didn’t matter who “won” the Final that night. It really didn’t. Between editing, each stage being mysteriously timed by some production assistant with an iPhone, and the arbitrary grenades being thrown around (or not, but we’ll get there) production could have said anybody’s name because it’s a television show. They can do whatever they want.

You all remember what happens next. Ashley and Hunter were announced as the winners, Ashley stole 500,000 pre-tax dollars from Hunter, and to top it all off he couldn’t find his tennis shoes anywhere.

Paulie and Natalie were just happy to be there, Cara and Marie were just happy to be able to get away from each other, but Joss and Sylvia were devastated. They were the only ones there who went through the entire game. And it was a long, grueling game. They did everything a Challenge duo is supposed to do. And yet, as the great Wilford Brimley once said…heartbreak.

So did Ashley and Hunter actually win that Final? Maybe? Probably? Did the producers realize that Ashley was the only person standing there at the end capable of taking the money and creating the moment they just spent two months setting up? Maybe? Probably?

Honestly, who the hell knows. This is Final Reckoning, where the rules are made up and the points don’t matter.

The Challenge Gods — 2, Joss — 0

War of the Worlds 2 had a lot going on. Like, a lot. I’ll save my thoughts for another time, but I firmly believe it’s the best season of the show they’ve ever produced. This mostly had to do with the fact that if you had followed the show for the last decade plus, you had a vast smorgasbord of long-term storylines crashing to a head all at once. That meticulous investment you put into this show, between watching it and pondering it, finally paid off with War of the Worlds 2.

But beyond all of that, existing on the peripherals of the juicy, rich text that season were the wide-eyed Brits. And Joss, with some super dope bleach blonde hair, was looked upon as the leader of the clown car from day one. He’d earned it by now. And between his relationship with the power on the U.S. side and his stranglehold on the numbers (I know, it’s the last time I’ll use that word I promise) on his own side, Joss was firmly settled in at the top of the totem pole.

And just like Final Reckoning, Joss cruised along the entire way. His team didn’t necessarily do much winning, but Joss was rarely in danger once things settled in despite being one of the highest level players on his team. And because this is a funny game, he only really got in any danger because Jordan decided to provoke Turbo…because he’s Jordan and he just couldn’t help himself.

Because Turbo’s a cartoon character and needed some ego massaging just to stabilize him, the U.S. team acquiesced and played the game in a “fair” way, voting in Joss based on his ability rather than any politics.

Once he took care of a surprisingly game Bear in a sort of zig-zag version of Hall Brawl, things were officially smooth sailing. While the team wins remained elusive for now, Joss was officially out of harms way and in complete control of his own destiny…or so he thought.

A few weeks later, the UK team finally snagged another victory. This allowed Kayleigh, Jenny, and fearless leader Joss to form the Tribunal. This happened at an incredibly interesting point in the game. Joss was firmly entrenched in the alliance that would allow him to continue to remain safe through the rest of the game. But this came with a uncomfortable caveat, the two strongest women on his team (Jenny and Georgia) were on the outside looking in.

And with all the main alliances heads put together, based on the math, the plan was the throw in Georgia against Tori. A battle of two of the strongest women in the house that also represented the unorganized “other side”.

But deep down Joss knew this probably wasn’t his best move. Sure, it would appease his new American pals, but did it actually make his team any better? Of course not.

So when Kayleigh pulled the trigger and blurted out Georgia’s name, it sent the house into a frenzy. Everyone was locked into the game at this point and they knew exactly what this meant. But for Joss it meant something else, something else he couldn’t have ever predicted. But more on that in a bit.

After clear mental anguish, Joss decided to play the math and vote in Georgia. Technically, it’s the right move. This game is about survival, and voting in Georgia ensured his survival as much as possible for essentially the entire rest of the way.

Tori sent a tearful Georgia home, joined the U.K. team, and now the house was officially shaken up. And it remained that way, anxious and testy, for the next few weeks. Joss made the “right” decision, and it’s ugly backlash had yet to announce itself.

The U.S. won the next couple of daily’s, Jordan switched teams, Tori and Jordan got engaged, Cara made a fool of herself, and everything had officially settled down. Now it’s time to play.

The gang arrives at a lake with a clear swimming intensive challenge ahead of them. TJ explains the rules, going step by step on how they’re going to partner up and swim from one end of the lake to other and solve a puzzle. Standard Challenge fare. Been here done that…

Then like a kid who got suspended from school but led the dinner-time conversation with the B+ he got on his math test, TJ ends his explanation with an “oh, by the way, the slowest pairs of swimmers is going home immediately.”

Oh okay, totally. For sure.

Much was made out of being stuck with Dee as a partner, as well as Leroy’s inability to swim, but absolutely nothing was made out of Joss being partnered up with Kayleigh. Those unforeseen consequences from a few weeks earlier have finally reared their ugly head. Joss chose his partner for this daily challenge two weeks ago when he voted in a broken and defeated Georgia into elimination.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record…

*CONSPIRACY ALERT*

This daily challenge was fully swimming based, all the pairs had staggered starts, and there was absolutely no way based on the naked eye for any of the participants to have a clear idea on who was the slowest swimmer.

Any of this ringing a bell?

When all the swimming is done and the U.S. team solves the puzzle to win yet again, the gang all lines up in front of T.J. to find out who the slowest swimmers are. All episode we’re being set up for a Leroy disappointment. Or even a Dee let-down.

Look, here’s the deal. Joss and Kayliegh probably were the slowest swimmers. Hell, maybe they were the fastest swimmers? Probably not, but who knows? Point is, the only ones who really know the truth are the Challenge Gods and it almost doesn’t matter what anyone else says or does. It all starts and stops with them.

The empty, soulless look on his face when TJ announces they’re the losers makes me think Joss came to that realization all at once. He may have been in denial after what happened on Final Reckoning. But no matter what he does, no matter how he plays the game, no matter what mountains he climbs without breaking a sweat…none of it matters.

With a somewhat sad lack of fanfare, Joss quietly walked away that day with no nickles left in his system, and The Challenge hasn’t been quite as handsome ever since.

Final Score: The Challenge Gods — 3, Joss — 0

--

--

Brian Batty

Writing about MTV’s The Challenge, one of America’s great institutions