The Challenge Ride or Dies Power Rankings — Week 16

Brian Batty
12 min readJan 22, 2023

Welcome to a fresh batch of Power Rankings! The last two women champions have been sent packing, and as of now we have officially set our clocks to Winning Time. The field is pretty even, and for the first time in awhile I truly have no idea who is going to win. So let’s get right into it. Inside this edition: I make the case that Kaycee isn’t to blame for Kaycee, are Horacio and Olivia join the 16.6%?, we take a ride in Devin’s Delorean, and much much more…

7) Kaycee & Kenny

I think there is a place on this show for cast members who are a little less…showy. I don’t mind stoicism. I don’t mind the quiet type. A wide spectrum of personalities is the sign of a healthy feeder system.

So from now on, I’m not going to blame Kaycee for being “boring”. She is who she is. She can’t control that. Bringing Kenny on as her partner was probably a mistake, and keeping her around for this many seasons in a row hasn’t helped either.

But the editors and storytellers behind this show don’t even bother to try and make her interesting. She’s been relevant to the result every single time she’s competed, not to mention that she’s currently dating a face of the franchise, so they’ve had every reason in the world to do so. I refuse to believe she just sat in her bed all day. There has to be something there to extract.

I was watching Knocked Up the other night, and there’s a scene where Katherine Heigl’s character is arguing with Seth Rogan’s about her career as a celebrity interviewer on E!. To paraphrase her point, after Seth Rogan claims Mathew Fox from LOST isn’t interesting, she says that it’s her job to make these people interesting. That’s what she does.

So, please, any Challenge producer reading this, if you’re going to insist on bring Kaycee around every chance you get, force yourselves to do better. Squeeze whatever juice out of her that you can. Hell, make shit up. I don’t care. But to have such a central figure to the current iteration of my favorite show in the world be not only shoved aside, but essentially totally ignored, is borderline irresponsible.

Where is Kaycee from? What was her upbringing like? What are her goals in life? What are her hobbies? What does she stand for? What are her beliefs? What does she think…about anything at all that isn’t specifically about the singular moment during the season she’s speaking on? What’s her schtick?

She’s not a mute. She’s not unable to move. She has to be spending her day doing something. Who does she talk to? What does she talk about? Does she have any secret talents? Has she had any embarrassing moments? A trip down the stairs. A fart. Water going down the wrong pipe sending her into a dramatic coughing fit in the middle of a serious dinner table conversation.

Don’t force me to do extra work and look up social media accounts to get that information, and don’t use that as an excuse to outsource your work. I call bullshit on that. It’s not my job to find ways of making the characters on my television show interesting people. I’m not speaking for me right now, but for the majority of viewers their relationship with these people begins and ends with the 90 minutes a week they slice out of their schedule.

How is Jennifer from South Dakota who uses this show as her escape from her busy life supposed to generate anything beyond apathy for this person who has been an enormous part of this show for almost three years, when she’s only given Kaycee’s useless confessionals and empty challenge platitudes.

It’s their job to give us something. For the sake of Jennifer from South Dakota all the way to the psychos like me who care a little too much. It’s not like I’m asking for a lot. Just a tiny little morsel of personality spliced in between slow motion work-out shots. Something. Anything. I don’t think anybody would care if it’s ultimately not anything truly fascinating. That’s not the point. But they have to at least try.

6) Amber & Chauncey

What do you think it was like for Chauncey to witness how Amber is treated by the power players on this show? During filming and especially afterwards?

He met Amber, they fell in love, he’s met her friends who think she’s great. He’s met her family who obviously think she’s amazing. Sure, she’s a public figure in a way, so there’s always the unhappy lunatics online with something to say. And she’s likely got at least someone in real life who doesn’t like her for some reason. Everybody does. But through their time together, Chauncey’s view on how his girlfriend is perceived by other people is an overwhelmingly positive one.

Then he got to The Challenge house.

The amount of negativity and toxic energy Amber is able to generate in these people does not, has not, and will not ever make sense to me. They’re probably projecting their own insecurities onto someone who doesn’t totally stand up for herself. They might be a smidge jealous of the championship she has that they all feel like they deserve. Likely there’s a hint of internalized misogyny involved as well.

But none of those on their own tell the complete story behind the gap between the Amber we see on television and the Amber who exists in real life. The second one, the real Amber, outside of her family and friends, we’ll obviously never know. I’m starting to think we’ll never truly know the on television Amber either.

5) Aneesa & Jordan

For the entire time I’ve been a fan of this show, which is just about as long as I can remember being alive, by far my biggest frustration is the Final.

It’s always been odd that in a game that takes brains, agility, an eagerness to step outside your comfort zone, intuitiveness, adaptability, a strong stomach, strength, functional strength, social awareness, foresight and the ability to apply that foresight, luck, charm, good looks, a strong general knowledge of society and the world at large, heart, fearlessness, calm under pressure, and so many more human attributes, the only thing that really matters (outside of a few exceptions) at the end of the day (shout out Nany) is how long you can run and how fast you can run while doing it. Or at very least, who has the highest stamina rating on Madden.

And, look, that’s what the show is. It’s much too far gone to change. If anything, it’s only going to get more extreme. But sometimes it hangs like a grey cloud over every single interaction. It makes it so the winner is usually inevitable. There is no parody in the championship game because whoever has the best endurance is 9 times out of 10 going to win.

There is no one more aware of this fact than Aneesa. She’s played this game roughly a thousand times (Challenge Stats correct me if I’m wrong on that calculation) so it’s not like being in sick shape as a requirement is a surprise. But I almost wish the same randomness of any given daily challenge or elimination was similarly applied to the Final challenge.

I’d love to talk about ANYTHING else when it comes to Aneesa. But as it applies to the Final and winning the big money, that’s all there really is to be said.

Jordan is the embodiment of everything it takes to win at the end of his game. Aneesa is not. The crater between them is a bottomless pit. Which makes last week, while thrilling and heartwarming and the peak example of what this show can be at it’s best, still just kind of a bummer.

I have no idea who is going to win this season, but I unfortunately know precisely who is not.

4) Olivia & Horacio

What is it even worth being a rookie anymore?

Total Madness, between the skull twist, Dee being a moron, and the passage of time since Covid began becoming more and more of a “before covid” and “after covid” type feel in real life, represents a point of change for this show. There’s nothing concrete, but for whatever reason looking back, War of the Worlds 2 feels like the end of a certain era.

As a thought exercise, let’s just take a look at the names of rookies starting from Total Madness through Spies, Lies, & Allies

Jenn, Bayleigh, Kaycee, Asaf, Jay, Chris, Fessy, Liv, Survivor Natalie, Lolo (!), Amber M, Amber B, Gabby, Joseph, Lio, Mechie, Nam (❤), Michaela, Tracy, Tacha, Michele, Esther, Berna, Priscilla, Bettina, Emy, Renan, Kelz, Tommy, Corey L, Gabo, Hughie, Jeremiah, Agent Ed, Logan, Emmanuel…

That is one hell of a hodgepodge of names. Just take a second to soak it in. Took a second? Okay. I’ve bolded the ones we’ve seen again since. Count em up. How many you got?

Six?

That’s correct. 6 out of 36(!) fresh faced potential Challengers that we’ve seen come back for seconds. And one of them, Nam, doesn’t really even count. I’m no scientist, but I’m pretty sure that’s only a 16.6% retention rate. That’s insane. How are we supposed to care about any of them? How can we possibly get to know them within such an enormous cast?

Two of the 16.6% are champions in Amber and Kaycee. Not exactly the most bombastic duo I’ve ever listed out. One is Fessy who, despite his lack of charisma, has become a lightning rod in the fan base and honestly has morphed into a fascinating character on this show. Jay is probably the most interesting one of them from a game perspective, even if his time has been short on every season. Then there’s Michele, whose performance on Ride or Dies gave her some cache with fans who didn’t watch her on Survivor.

Still, and I’m sure I’m not alone, I’m left flaccid by those six names. A Flaccid 16.6% (new band name I call it). I’m left even more flaccid looking above at all those names who never returned, and likely never will.

I’ve come to conclusion that I refuse to judge rookies, really, until after their second season. The cast is so swollen now, and the returning veterans bring so much baggage with them, that it’s on the verge of impossible to stand out on your first go.

But still, six? That’s all? If refusing to even attempt to mold a television character out of Kaycee is borderline irresponsible, only bringing back six of these newcomers is borderline malpractice.

I think there is no more boring conversation around this show than the armchair accountants turning these people into line items on a budget sheet. That’s still a part of this whether my eyes are glazing over just thinking about it or not, as it is with any business venture. So I understand needing to cycle through cheap rookies the way NFL teams cycle through runningbacks. That makes sense to me.

But what doesn’t make sense is having a pool of thirty-six new people, and only utilizing six of them. And if you take Nam away, that six shrinks to five real quick.

Which brings us back to Olivia and Horacio.

It’s difficult to submit a better rookie season than the two of them have earned and enjoyed so far. 3–0 elimination record together, plus Horacio tacked on a couple more on his own. Both of them have added notches to the non competition related pillars of this show. Between Horacio’s perfect hair and Olivia’s charm, they’ve done all that you could possibly ask a rookie to do.

So here they are, on the precipice of a Final Challenge that they probably won’t win, but will likely have a say in the outcome one way or another. What does that matter though? What odds do we have of ever seeing them again? If you go by current trends it’s a slim 16.6% chance. Toss me the keys to the cast list and Horacio and Olivia would both get written into next season with a black sharpie. But those decisions are sadly not yet made by me.

So, I ask again, what is it even worth being a rookie anymore?

3) Tori & Devin

One of the member of this team has spent this season with an immersion blender resting against their psyche set on high speed, and the other has been playing a lot of pool.

Less than two years ago, Devin was walking off the set of Double Agents after having lost to Darrell in a puzzle as the class clown. Now we’re on two seasons in a row where he’s got the house politically and socially under a vice grip and has as good of a chance as anyone to win the whole thing by the end.

Nobody embodies the saying “life comes at you fast” more than Devin’s meteoric rise towards the top of the Challenge Org Chart.

There doesn’t seem to be anything outside of bad luck stopping them from making the Final. That seems to have been written in ink since the minute they sent Kailah and Sam packing. What happens when they get there is so much more important to both of them, though.

Gone are the days when participation trophies and moral victories are acceptable in their minds. They both entered this house with the expectation of winning the whole thing from minute one. Can they pull it off? Well, unfortunately, as I spoke on earlier, it’s probably going to come down to how much running Devin’s been doing. He’s a smart enough guy to understand that, so my guess would be he’s done plenty.

So, sure, they can win. But Moriah and Fessy could win. Johnny and Nany could win. And while unlikely, Olivia and Horacio could win too.

I wouldn’t go as far as to call the competition remaining ‘fierce’, but no matter how this shakes out, the ending will be competitive. So I guess the question should be, will the Challenge Gods be in their favor or will history repeat itself and they find themselves staring up at the back of somebody else's jersey’s again while TJ congratulates them.

2) Moriah & Fessy

Slotting them in at number two is probably a mistake. In a long, drag em out Final, are Johnny and Nany actually going to beat them? Even if Johnny’s won seven, I think that mini-final they won leading up to choosing teams sort of showed all we need to know.

But there’s just something inside of me that thinks they aren’t going to win. I don’t know what it is, and I’m an idiot who incorrectly predicts things all the time. The money I’ve given to Draft Kings so far this NBA season is a testament to that.

It might be one of those things where you can’t believe it until you see it. And we’ve only seen Fessy lose so far, despite hypothetically being totally able to win every time.

Total Madness was tough. He was a rookie and Johnny had experience in both Finals in general and more specifically climbing up a mountain in snowy conditions. Double Agents might have been a totally different result had Kaycee not gotten injured. That’s just bad luck, regardless of what Culture Club had to say about it. Then as far as last season goes, if Fessy’s there for that specific Final things might have played out another way entirely and the conversation around him right now would be totally different.

So if Moriah is a Challenge Champion in a couple of weeks, how are you really going to feel? I’d get prepared. If that hypothetical transforms into reality, the waters will be turbulent to say the least.

1) Nany & Johnny

Welp, we’re here. The Final is right around the corner. And the guy who has won more than anyone else has barely had to sweat. There were plenty of confessionals about getting him out. This wasn’t totally the same as CT last season who was just kind of ignored for whatever reason. No, Johnny’s looming presence as been felt, but only a little bit.

Except when handed the loaded gun, nobody has even switched the safety off.

Nany’s done nothing but lose Finals in her career, and Johnny’s been out of the game for long enough that it’s entirely possible he doesn’t have the legs to keep up anymore. All I know is that letting them get even this far was a mistake. Even if they don’t win, there’s no way it should have happened.

Thanks for reading! See you back here after Episode 16 for some Winners & Losers. And until then, as always, Happy Challenge Watching!!!

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Brian Batty

Writing about MTV’s The Challenge, one of America’s great institutions, from a fan’s perspective.