After a two hundred and seventy five month lay-off, The Challenge is back in our lives next week with All Stars 3. The cast is stacked with favorites and “holy shit, I forgot about that person” people up and down. It’s sure to be one hell of a ride. So with that being said, I’ve thought about a handful of things I’m looking forward to seeing this season. Including new champions, Inferno 2 throwbacks, and the South By Southwest OG’s back together….
Jonna, Challenge Champion
Outside of waking up one morning to a fat direct deposit into your checking account, a few other less important to real life things happen when you become a Challenge Champion. Whether because of freshly attained BDE, the increased amount of your peers either afraid of you or kissing your ass and making you coffee in the morning, or the way you’re ultimately portrayed in the editing room by the Challenge Gods, in the words of Canadian based poet Drake, Nothing Was The Same.
It’s not even a binary situation you could label as better or worse. It’s both of those things at the same time. The Challenge is fluid. It’s simply different.
Jonna has proved a ton of things to a ton of people through the duration of both All Stars seasons, myself included. Not that she’s ever asked me, but I’d never have thought she could win one of these things. But last season she took off on that private plane leaving everyone else with a belly full of envy and bug nachos.
It will be interesting to see how Champion Jonna behaves on this go-round. Maybe now that she’s older and wiser, she’ll keep an even head about herself. But there is pretty much zero chance she rolls through this one seeing as much adversity as you or me along the way. She’ll either have to get her hands dirty or up her game to another level to maintain her run of success.
Last we saw Sylvia she was calling Natalie a bleepin snaky bleep and lamenting over the general shittiness her experience on Final Reckoning ended up being once it was all said and done.
I don’t know if she was getting calls and saying no, or the calls vanished or whatever it was, but if I were her I wouldn’t have come back either. Especially for someone like Sylvia, who seemingly has a real life to live outside of being a reality television person. I can totally empathize, even from my couch at home, with how broken this show can leave you by the end of it and how it allows you to appreciate real life enough to run far away and never return.
So seeing her back here, in an environment that she was always surprisingly competent in, conjures up memories of Challenge chicanery, stolen dreams, and missing tennis shoes in my mind. I wonder what it does for her?
Back Like You Never Left
I can say with full clarity that The Challenge is the television show I’ve consumed the most in my life. I watch it when I’m sick. I watch it when I’m sad. I watch it when I’m happy. It’s been the soundtrack to many laundry folds and house cleans across essentially every year of my semi-adult life. A much younger version of myself found that eating probably-a-little-too-much Taco Bell and watching re-runs of The Ruins on MTV.com with my parents cable log-in on a shitty laptop was the pinnacle of happiness.
All that being said, Under Armor has never appealed to me. I’m almost exclusively a Nike sponsored athlete, and the non-living thing I care most about in the world has been shoving the idea of Under Armor apparel into my subconscious for decades. And yet I’ve paid a grand total of zero of my hard-earned American dollars to that company over my lifetime.
I know next to nothing about marketing, so I don’t exactly know what the goal is for them with this longtime partnership, but Under Armor, you should know, that it hasn’t worked on me. Not even once.
But absence makes the heart grow fonder, so when the gang rolled up in front of TJ for the first time last season completely decked out in Reebok gear I did a quintuple take to make sure I wasn’t just stoned.
So what happened? Did Under Armor price themselves out? Did The Challenge Gods strong arm them into a COVID induced discount and Under Armor called their bluff? Did Reebok Michael Corleone them into an offer they couldn’t refuse?
Well, whatever that little hiccup was, we’re back baby! Our heroes will be strutting their stuff in front of TJ sporting that wonderfully vertically palindromic logo plastered across various layers of attire, and all is right again the the world.
When Things Stop Being Polite…
Alliances on The Challenge are fleeting and almost entirely circumstantial.
This fact of life allows savvy players to take advantage of the carousel and ride it until the unicorn throws them off. For others ill-prepared for things to start spinning, their game gets spoiled pretty quick.
But I’d argue that outside of familial ties, the only true alliance that exists on The Challenge is when people find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real together on The Real World. With a few exceptions, being Real World roommates is the deepest and least questioned bond one can have with a fellow cast-mate in The Challenge house.
When it comes down to voting time, that person’s name won’t come out of your mouth, and nobody even seems to question the reasoning, regardless of EVERYTHING else swirling around the house. It’s the only variable mutually agreed upon. It’s the common denominator.
This phenomenon sort of applies to other shows like Are You The One and Big Brother, but for them it’s only ever applied when necessary. The roots of that bond aren’t like The Real World oak tree. They’re more of the half-assed herb garden you planted on your deck.
But there is only one Real World season where that strong tie, that unbreakable shield defending ones decision makes from the inquires of their reality TV peers, has been completely flipped on it’s head and weaponized against them.
From the minute they arrived on the scene, the cast of The Real World Austin wedged themselves into the Challenge ecosystem unlike almost every fresh batch of wide eyed twenty-somethings has before or since.
This happened for a few reasons. Number one, being that their first season was Fresh Meat and the set up was a Veteran/Non MTV Reality person partnered together, they were labeled as “Veterans” while for all intents and purposes being just as fresh as the other meat. Not exactly set-up for success by The Challenge Gods there. Secondly, they were all dating each other. And nobody likes the couples at the prom weekend house.
Wes and Johanna, Danny and Melinda, all coming in cocky and at the height of their strange fame. This reared it’s ugly head when almost immediately upon arrival they asked some people to move out of one of the rooms so the four of them could essentially live-in their own private bungalow.
Not exactly the best way to ingratiate yourselves into the group. The third reason, and probably biggest, was Wes. The Sun to the rest of Austin’s Solar System. You know the book “How to Win Friends and Influence People”? Well Wes’s approach on Fresh Meat was like that, but pulling a Castanza and doing everything the opposite.
All seven of the Austin roommates would go on to compete on The Challenge. Nehemiah and Rachel would arrive in the next few seasons, and Lacey much further down the line. But ever since their maiden voyage into the Challenge waters, being a cast member from The Real World Austin initially renders your individualism inert, and you officially become part of a collective. It was something much larger than the individual, something no Real World cast has had to deal with since. (This is the kind of thing the current Big Brother people want us to think about them, except that nobody cares.) It’s both helped and hurt them along the way, but as most things do, over time this idea has eroded and their individuality has been retained.
But the All Stars house has a funny way of bringing elements of the past back from the dead in some whiplash inducing ways. So will Nehemiah, Melinda, and Wes once again be looked at as “the Austin kids”? Or will Nehemiah and Melinda’s All Stars runs and Wes’s overall Challenge bonafides be enough to overcome their always-lingering past? Nehemiah and Melinda found themselves in yet another boisterous alliance last season. Will Wes’s game get dragged into that target and be their ultimate downfall, or will their strength in numbers Save the Palace?
I can’t wait to find out.
And The Waving Wheat, Can Sure Smell Sweet
For years and years, the most astute Challenge fans have been pointing out to anyone who will pay attention all of the surreal similarities between Jordan and Jon Brennan. Oh, you haven’t noticed?
Think about it. Both multi-time Challenge champions, both uber-athletes with insane stamina, both only have one hand. Should I continue? I didn’t think so.
Now that Jordan’s embracing his inner-Oklahoman and rocking the ten-gallon (does Under Armor make cowboy hats?), the symmetry between the two Hall-of-Famers is finally too obvious not to notice.
Shout out to Jesus.
If You’re Not First You’re Last
The three official All Stars Champions; Yes, Jonna, and MJ, aren’t exactly yanked straight from the legends bin at the check-out line.
We haven’t seen Yes in a long time, and even when we did, he wasn’t exactly lighting up the radar guns. Not that the show allowed him the opportunity to do so at the time, (my favorite accomplishment of his was managing the portfolio for the Road Rules team on The Challenge 2000 and making the most money. Could you imagine them doing that now? Like Josh has to sift through index funds and pick the right ones? Anywho…) but either way the “bring him back” chants from the Yes hive haven’t been exactly deafening over the years.
Jonna’s time on the show was certainly impactful if not complicated. But if you put a gun to my head and asked if Jonna would ever win one of these things just one year ago, I’d probably have said absolutely not.
MJ’s technically a former champion on the main show, but his appearances were usually pretty underwhelming and to be completely honest I always thought that he was a poor reflection of SEC football.
But all three of them have something that every single other cast member cannot say they have, so credit goes where credit is due. And try as you might, but you can’t really even parse the results either. Because in both instances they’ve edged out Challenge Hall of Famer Darrell in the process. Not exactly a poor strength of schedule.
So which one of these cast members that nobody thinks can win will be passing Darrell on the side of a mountain this time? Will he be looking up one minute only to see Syrus flying past him? Will Roni and Sylvia both leave him in the dust?
Or will Darrell finally get off the schnied and secure his first championship, secure his legacy, cash a monster check (the thing I’m sure he’s much more concerned with) and win his first modern final after dominating the first half of this franchises life?
North Pole vs. South Pole
Who gets the business end of the inevitable Laterrian Pole Wrestle this season?
Bein the best is my destiny/So fall back you don’t wanna pole wrestle with me
Those are actual lyrics actually rapped by Laterrian from The Road Rules: Maximum Velocity Tour during the best verse on a song by Teck from The Real World Hawaii that also features Nehemiah and Melinda from The Real World Austin that’s actually on Spotify that actually kind of slaps that was actually released in the year two thousand and twenty one. It’s one of those things that’s so silly when you spell it out, and would be something I don’t even think I would laugh at as a joke because it’s pure nonsense.
When my Spotify Wrapped for this year comes out and Save the Palace is my number three most listened to song, I’m not apologizing for anything or to anyone for it.
Back to reality, part of me thinks Wes would be an enjoyable foil for Laterrian this season. Ultimately leading to a pole wrestle show down. Two people who live life as the star of their own movie, a feeling that’s only elevated by being thrust into this atmosphere, (because you asked, Latterian thinks he’s part Rambo and part Brandon Lee from The Crow. While Wes thinks The Social Network soundtrack is constantly playing around him.) but otherwise could not be more opposite.
Laterrian would say something like “I cant wait to shut him up” in his confessional while Wes would mention something about how he’s smarter and more athletic and “better at this stuff” than Laterrian is in his. I can see it all now. In fact, it would probably be a little too on the nose. Then again, nobody likes to ham hand things quite like The Challenge.
Thanks for reading! See ya next week for some All Stars Winners and Losers (finally)!!! And as always, Happy Challenge Watching!!!