The Challenge USA Season 2 Power Rankings — Week 1 (Pre-Season)

Brian Batty
22 min readAug 8, 2023

24–15) Alyssa S., Ameerah, Cassidy, Chanelle, Chris, Dusty, Luis, Monte, Sebastian, Tyler

Welp, another batch of wide-eyed, bushy-tailed, six-pack-toting, burgeoning influencers have been tossed into a stock pot with a couple of chicken bouillon cubes and left to simmer on the Challenger burner.

And as usual I know nothing about any ofthem. Should I start watching Survivor and/or Big Brother? Idk, I’d probably like them. Survivor much more I’m sure. There’s just so many shows though, ya know? I haven’t even seen Breaking Bad yet. It’s just too much to watch. I don’t understand how I could possibly add another wrinkle to the already overflowing portion of my brain that stores totally useless reality television information.

But I’ll know them all soon. A few of them I’ll be spilling thousands of words about over the next few months. Or if they’re lucky, over the next few years. Maybe there’s even a new CT/Jordan/Laurel/Coral high level personality in there. There might be a Jenna or Nelson type personality that surprises all of us and becomes a competitive, compelling staple for a stretch of seasons. Or maybe they’ll all disappear and become nothing more than another line item on Wes’s (Wesi? Wei?) Wikipedia entry.

Welcome to the first day of the rest of your life.

14) Tiffany

We lost Tiffany too soon. I think. It’s possible that you can trace the flaccid downfall of the first season of Challenge USA directly from it’s high point moments before Tiffany’s departure.

I honestly don’t know much about her. This is mostly just bullshit. I’m not even sure what her original show was (Big Brother?). But I do remember her vaguely flirting with Cinco. Who Cashay was totally super duper over but was totally super duper hurt that Tiffany would dare even speak to him in any manner beyond “can you pass the salt?”. But she totally didn’t care though.

So upon Tiffany leaving the house back to wherever it is she lives after losing a stationary bike race/Peloton commercial to James and Cayla, the season went from midnight to six and stayed there in perpetuity.

Speaking of midnight, everyone raise your nipples if you want to see a sweaty Horacio ride a stationary bike shirtless…

We’re back baby!

13) Alyssa L.

Outside of saying something slightly demeaning, and possibly not-so-slightly objectifying, such as I find her so attractive that I revert back to the insecure middle school version of myself and look away when she’s on the TV screen (which is one hundred percent true), I honestly don’t remember a single thing she did during Challenge USA Season One. I want to say she made it pretty far, maybe even the Final, but I seriously cannot recall off the top of my head.

She’s back now, lucky for anyone with working eyeballs. So if any reader out there knows who she has for homeroom, please let me know. I’d like to send her an anonymous candy gram for Valentine’s Day and then never work up the courage to tell her the kind gesture came from me. Oh and I’ve updated my AIM profile. At the bottom it now states,

Crushin on…****** lol

All she needs to do now is ask me for unsolicited advice on how to get some other guy to like her and she’ll be just like all the rest of my middle school crushes, ******** and ******. Unreciprocated and unaware.

12) Desi

There was a lot, like a lot, like way too fucking much, made about the high-level (or low-level depending on your perspective) Challenge chicanery involved in the first iteration of The Challenge USA. A whole new sector of reality television competition show fans shifted their viewfinders over to our side, The Challenge side, of town for the first time. And what they saw was not what they expected to see.

Remember in The Lion King, when Mufasa is talking to his shithead son Simba and is like “Look at all this land. It’s all yours. Because one day you’ll be king.”

And then Simba points to the only place that for whatever reason doesn’t get sun and apparently was also the site of a massive elephant massacre and is all like “but Dad, what about that area over there?”

To which of course Mufasa’s like, “oh yeah, over there? You don’t wanna run out of gas in that part of town, yaknowwhatimean?”

For many people, they were Simba without his Dad when The Challenge USA Season 1 aired. They looked over to the site of the elephant massacre where The Challenge lives without anyone warning them not too and when they arrived they were like wtf is happening you people are insane over here.

(Can we talk about The Lion King for a second? Mufasa and Scar’s parents, though we never meet them, might be some of the most evil parents in cinematic history. They named one of their sons after the Swahili word for ‘king’. Their other son? They named him after his facial deformity. If he’d have been born with a cleft lip they’d have named him Cleft. Not only that, but he popped out with dark hair and dark skin (apparently the only lion like this?) so they sent him to live where the sun literally (nailed it) doesn’t shine. Kid had no shot. No fucking wonder he was a total prick when he grew up. I think most of us would have been. C’est la vie though, I guess. )

But let’s also be honest, if more of those people knew how to do a sudoku puzzle, we’d likely be having an entirely different conversation about the ending to that show. Also, sorry, real quick, why did they all act like sudoku puzzles are like this foreign, niche, thing that only a select few people in the word have ever seen? They’re basically everywhere I can understand not knowing how to do it. But they acted like they were tasked with winning the Super Bowl with a basketball. It was a fucking sudoku.

Anywho, the point in all of this nonsense rambling is that there is really only one person on that entire cast who deserves to be actually kind of upset.

Desi.

All the other whiners and complainers were just being whiners and complainers. I usually don’t consider anything to happen on this ultimately unfair show to be actually unfair. But what happened to Desi I’m willing to concede actually super duper sucks. Being ejected from the Final thirty seconds into it because a guy who should’ve never been on the field in the first place refused to jump off the boat or whatever the hell it was is absolutely wild.

I’m happy she gets another opportunity. It’s deserved. I’m also looking forward to spending my time with her on the screen being envious of her shoulders. But I will no longer feel bad for her, no matter the outcome. I don’t blame any of them for not truly understanding what they signed up for the first time, but anyone who came back after Season 1 knows exactly what they signed up for.

So if she draws the short straw again, well, that’s just how it goes over here amongst the hyenas and the elephant bones.

11) Michaela

The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless.

— Jean-Jacques Rousseau

One of the ways in which this show really stands out from the vast quagmire of reality television is it’s ability to reflect the human experience. A hyper-reality of sorts. And for many of us, myself included, perception is reality. How we view the world and the people in it shapes our reality in myriad ways. From how and what we eat, what we wear, who we are attracted to, what we think…It all stems from personal perception.

Many other shows I watch aren’t rooted in perception. Because the parameters of that specific show (think The Bachelorette) determine behaviors and feelings. And while of course The Challenge has that as well, behaviors and feelings are mostly influenced by perception of the world from those stuck in between the rigid confines of those same parameters.

Michaela came from Survivor, and while I don’t watch that program, I’d say that I carry a fairly rudimentary understanding of how it works from Challenge discourse shrapnel (Basically it seems like whoever is the best liar wins). But there’s also the aspect of surviving being marooned on an island with minimal supplies that likely overwhelms most other variables.

Nothing is more real than surviving. There’s nothing to perceive about thriving at a massive calorie deficit. I don’t care who you are, hungry dogs gotta eat.

But Michaela learned quicker than just about anyone in the history of this show that unlike on Survivor, on The Challenge perception is reality. And even that reality doesn’t matter very much.

Her debut season, Spies, Lies & Allies, was so flooded with rookies that choosing a sacrificial lamb without any glaring reason to do so would have come off as kinda mean. One of the cardinal rules of this game is that any reason is the best reason to be voted into elimination. So with no obvious answer, and knowing that just based on pure numbers the adults were outnumbered, wily veteran Aneesa went looking for a reason.

And she sure did find one.

It doesn’t matter much what was on this “list” that Aneesa found. It could have been a grocery list. And it isn’t as though writing words on paper is some sort of Challenge sin. Hell, Laurel’s made writing lists into the Challenge equivalent of holding a machine gun in a fly swatter fight. Michaela rightfully defending her perception, which was that the list of names she wrote down was as innocuous as could be, was totally pointless. She could have orated a defense strong enough to make Johnny Cochran blush. Wouldn’t have mattered. She was toast the minute the molecules of an idea that there may have been some sort of list misted across their palatial Croatian estate.

I’d venture to guess that most of the people that voted for Michaela and her partner Renan that day, which was everyone besides Michaela and Renan, even laid eyes on the list, the very object fueling their decision making, before they went into that stuffy iPad room. And of that group most of them likely didn’t know what was on it. Some of them might not even have known there was a list. But perception/reality was that everyone was voting for Michaela. Why?

Who cares.

This section began with a Jean-Jacque Roussaeu quote which was a bit pretentious and likely even eye-roll inducing for some of you. But allow me to raise the bar even higher, and get even more hoity-toity with this and elicit a more modern philosopher. Michaela, if you’re reading this, I have a video clip for you to watch giving you all the advice you’ll need to never allow the perception of your peers to overtake your own reality ever again.

10) Josh

According to the most popular annotation on the Genuis page for Joni Mitchell’s 1970 hit record Big Yellow Taxi, the song is “Joni Mitchell’s call to action to prevent the damage we are doing to the environment. It refers to lack of human awareness; only too late we recognize the profligate destruction done to the environment. We value what we have in retrospect.”

Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone/they paved paradise, put up a parking lot

When I started this journey, I had hoped I’d find something I could use to tie in the idea of paving over nature and covering it with a parking lot with Josh leaving for a little while. Instead I managed to accidentally stumble on a totally different messy, tortured metaphor. Where this section started off real flashy, using words like ‘according’ and referencing pop songs from fifty years ago, it ultimately fell flat, and accomplished absolutely nothing.

Sort of like every single one of Josh’s Challenge seasons.

I guess I just can’t believe I missed him.

9) Amanda

There’s not a ton of aspects of The Challenge that fans can agree on. Everyone’s got their favorites, everyone’s got their cast members they despise for one reason or another. Outside of “Camila’s a psycho” every fan of this show has conflicting opinions compared to any other random Challenge fan pulled out of a hat. One of the countless aspects of this show that makes it my favorite thing in the world.

But I do think we can all agree, to what degree at which we agree is left to the eye of the beholder, that Spies, Lies & Allies wasn’t great. Some of us liked it more than others, but other than CT and Kaycee, I can’t imagine anyone else in the world was like “yo that shit slapped.”

Of the plethora of variables one can choose from to describe why Spies, Lies & Allies didn’t work, the one most relevant to this section is that at some point (I honestly don’t remember when this started. Much of that season is a blur to me. The only thing I really remember is screwing up my Spotify algorithm by listening to so much Emy Alupei that I started getting fed other Romanian rappers/singers. Also there was that one scene of Logan standing in the kitchen with only a white towel to cover his unspeakables and one loosened grip away from giving us all what we really wanted.) all the vets figured out that if they kept the other ones safe, that they would be just as safe. At least for awhile.

One of the unintended consequences of this intelligent and boring strategy was that it completely neutered Amanda’s best qualities. Her ability to mix it up. But before we get more into that, let’s scratch the itch you’ve had since I brought it up and check out Logan in a white towel.

Anywho, to say that Amanda’s only purpose for being there is to mix it up for our entertainment is a bit minimizing. But on a season desperate for anyone besides a kind-of-sad-to-watch Ashley to mix it up, the absence of Amanda’s best television adjacent quality was hard to ignore.

I’m not sure how it would have gone tossing Amanda into the relatively calm waters of Challenge USA Season 1. My guess is she would have been ostracized for daring to have a personality, but here we are. On the verge of the second try at this whole CBS thing, and Amanda’s here. She’s got plenty of buffer with the arrival of a few Challenge solar systems coming up on this list, so it’ll be interesting to see if old Amanda’s going to come out to play. Or if she’ll treat this trip as business-like as last time.

8) Michele

The Challenge, like any good economy, thrives with a strong middle class. Rookies making a mess of things and the Jordan/CT/Cara Maria high-end players are both extremely important as well. But if you look to all the best seasons, what you’ll find is that the middle class, the Nanys, the pre-All-Stars Jonna’s, the Leroys, the Jenn and Mandys of the world were all compelling enough to carry their own weight.

The middle of any Challenge season is always the worst part. By then the game is usually figured out, the pecking order has been established, some players have checked out for a variety of reasons, the large amount of cash that once seemed like monopoly money is close enough to potentially become reality, which all adds up to a lack of surprise and intrigue. If you want to know why porducshin throws in a few thousand twists per season, this is the reason why.

Because just like America, somewhere along the line the middle class completely fell out of this show. Bringing back a so-low-it’s-almost-a-joke percentage of rookies post War of the Worlds hasn’t helped that. The sudden nuclear fission of some of the other people they hitched their wagon to (most notably the one named after Chicago’s NFL team and another whose namesake can be found between C and E in the alphabet) but that’s no excuse for their bizarre modern strategy for talent acquisition and development.

I say all that to say that Michele is suddenly an incredibly important Challenge person. Her ability to consistently get to the middle of the game before making a fatal error and providing game-related intrigue and animosity is, in an astonishing turn of event, desperately needed.

So you go Michele, buy that house in the suburbs. Two car garage, a regular schmegular job in a regular schmegular town. Game night with the neighbors. Maybe even start selling Arbonne to your church group or something like that.

The Challenge needs you. America needs you. We need you.

7) Cory, Nelson’s Friend

Just as Cousin Mitch was once able to get his cousin Cory onto Bloodlines, so too was Nelson able to springboard his friend Cory from a phone call on Ride or Dies to a full on casting for Challenge USA Season 2.

The fact that they look extremely similar is pure coincidence.

6) Paulie

I started this blog during Double Agents. Meaning I’ve gotten to write a whole lot about Kaycee and the next guy on this list, but it also means I’ve missed out on writing on a whole bunch of people who have yet to return since then. A few of my white whales have made their return (Laurel being the most notable) since then, but there are a bunch floating around that I one day hope to be able to watch again.

And Paulie has always been high on that list.

War of the Worlds 2 is my favorite Challenge season of all time. Especially with the benefit of hindsight and on re-watches. In real time, one of my biggest takeaways was that Paulie and Cara’s energy really sucked the oxygen out the room after a certain point. So much of the decision making became inevitable the moment Laurel lost to Ninja, and so much of the spotlight was put on them, that even with the ending the way it was, I was just kind of tired and dirty by then. I needed a Paulie and Cara shower. And we got one.

I do have a confession though: I’m ready to get dirty again.

There’s an argument to be made that in the history of civilization, no one has suffered from the “I’m the main character in my own movie” complex more than Final Reckoning Paulie did. It was jarring at the time, and maybe he turned the volume up so high that he broke the knob, but we haven’t had anything like that since on this show.

He got eliminated like a hundred times and still made the Final. And could have won too! Had his partner not gotten lost in the South African wilderness for a little while, not only may the result have changed, Hunter would have never had to pay all of those therapy bills.

Then he returned for War of the Worlds and dominated the entire time. From start to finish. He dominated all the way up until I’m almost positive he concussed himself during the final daily challenge which unfortunately ended up being a purge.

I don’t have to talk any more about War of the Worlds 2, but there is one moment that I think says everything you need to know about the level of control Paulie had asserted by a certain point in that game.

During the daily challenge on Episode 12, Team UK decides to throw the challenge to put Dee into elimination (which they didn’t even end up doing but, ya know, whatevs). This was made obvious by CT, who isn’t exactly an honest player, just not someone you’d expect to purposefully lose in the way he did. So when Zach, whose job it was to defend against CT that round, realizes what’s happening, he asks a very telling question.

And if that isn’t telling enough; a strong willed, championship level, monster competitor in Zach seeking confirmation of Paulie’s permission as if any plan being carried out without his ultimate approval would be a shocking idea, CT’s slightly histrionic, Summer Roberts-like answer tells you everything else…

So while Paulie’s spent his hiatus sporting bizarre haircuts, attempting to create a sex cult, and lobbing Molotov cocktails into the Challenge social media sphere at alarming rates, he’s made it extremely easy to either forget or dismiss his between the lines accomplishments.

I’m not sure what we’re going to get from him after this long of a cool-down period. Force it, and he risks a house years removed from fear of his skills just simply ridding themselves of the problem before it starts. Fly under the radar, and then he just becomes another guy. Which is the exact thing someone like Paulie never ever wants to happen.

Either way, as I said earlier, I look forward to once again getting dirty.

5) Fessy

It would entirely too poetic if Fessy were to win this season, and technically still not be a Challenge champion in the minds of so many of the commenters on his social media posts that he very clearly reads each and every word of.

Being the best at this is something he knows he is and should be, and that’s always the most enjoyable personality type to watch lose at something. I have this friend who’s insanely competitive in Mario Party. He also happens to be by far the best at it when we play after discovering the bottom of a few bottles of wine. By far my favorite part of those games is when he’s losing, or not playing up to the standard he’s set for himself in his mind. Watching him squirm as someone else buys yet another star after rolling a ten is easily as pleasurable as winning myself.

It’s similar to how I feel about Fessy. Watching him lose, while I’m not entirely rooting for it to happen, is as enjoyable as anything else currently on this program. If only for the intense juxtaposition between reality and expectations.

I could write way more here. I could write about Fessy all day. As you’ve probably noticed if you’ve read more than like two of my recaps. And if his track record is any indication, I’ll have ample opportunity to unleash the good stuff at a later date.

4) Johnny

Unlike the two previous people on this list, Johnny is actually quite difficult to write about. And I wouldn’t even say that’s why I don’t necessarily enjoy writing about him either.

In an abstract, and maybe not so, way Johnny has partially narrated my life. Much in the same vein as the way your favorite podcaster, whomever they may be, is always in your ear and along for the crazy ride you call life. The Challenge has been my comfort show for as long as I can remember. I still can recite my parents original Comcast login and password because the old MTV website never saved your shit so you had to type it in when you wanted to watch The Ruins for the eleventh time.

Since I was around seventeen, Johnny’s just been kinda there. In the background, in all his various forms, making copious amounts of observations and jokes in confessional form. Whether I’m actively watching or not, Johnny’s been behind me calling Wes ugly and freckle-faced for a decade and a half.

Not only that, but he is such a lightning rod (less so now) that any and all opinions on him have been said a hundred times over by everyone else. I can’t imagine I could possibly dig up some under-discussed aspect of him as a Challenge person. So it’s hard to have feelings about it either way.

Take air for example. Air’s pretty cool, right? We breathe it, it keeps us alive. Without it, we’d turn blueish-purple and die. But, like, how do you feel about air? I don’t really feel anything. I guess I’m obviously pro air, but I’m not gonna go buy an air jersey. Or wear an air branded hat. Air is just kind of there (I’m a poet and I didn’t even know it (I’m sorry, promise I’ll never do that again)).

Now we don’t necessarily need Johnny to breathe or anything, which leaves this connection a bit unripe (like a banana, get it?) but if you’re like me and use The Challenge as background noise, I imagine you feel similarly.

3) Wes

The last two times we saw Wes perfectly sum up the post-Ruins-cocky-outsider Wes experience.

No one flies higher and no one crash lands harder than Wes. He can be King Dick of Fuck Mountain or he can flounder on the dock like a fish out of water, flopping around and making a bunch of commotion before quickly running out of oxygen.

All Stars 3 was a clinic in only the way Wes could put on. He leveraged the fear the Jordan elicits with his social standing surrounded by long time friends and created a boogeyman out of him. All while being essentially just as daunting a potential opponent for all the people focusing on Jordan’s spaceship. They just weren’t paying attention.

Then there’s the World Championships. Where he went from first guy chosen to a plane ride home in a total flash. Now if he would have won that elimination round would things have been different? Who’s to say. That was a super competitive, super-weird season where politics and social game weren’t necessarily that important.

Think the difference between War of the Worlds 1 and 2. Sure he lost to a Turkish cartoon character in the first one, but there’s no denying he was King Dick in that house. Then next season Jordan sounded the Wes Is An Asshole alarm early and he was toast.

Any outcome with Wes is believable. He could be first out the door or last out the door. I have no idea. Almost nothing is guaranteed with him. Except for one aspect, which I’d argue is by far the most crucial aspect any prospective Challenge person can bring with them to the show.

Whatever Wes’s (Wesi? Wei?) ultimate outcome as far as placement goes almost doesn’t matter. Whichever direction the rocket ship takes off to, it’s guaranteed to be entertaining. And isn’t that really the whole point of all of this?

2) Jonna

March 3rd, 2015.

That was the last time Jonna has been properly eliminated in this franchise. Despite some slightly disingenuous framing of the parameters, that’s a pretty wild stat to throw out there.

Could Jonna and her partner Grant have won the World Championships? With Jordan around, I don’t know. Probably not. That Final seemed to be more endurance based than anything else, and was also stacked (as it should have been considering the circumstances and format of that season) with high level pairs across the board.

But she probably would have gotten there. Enough of the dailies on that season were catered towards anyone who payed attention in Math class beyond seventh grade that Jonna could have and likely would have won enough to stay safe. Maybe her ticket gets called, maybe not.

I could play the maybe game all day. It’s one of the genius aspects of this show. The Maybe Game is almost always in play, regardless of the circumstances. But what to do with Jonna, or I guess by now the more sophisticated way to look at her would be the idea of Jonna, is a total mystery to me. As is her back-to-back championships.

Maybe we could play the Maybe Game for both of them. But there’s no takes-backs on The Challenge. For one, it’s already televised and locked into Paramount+ for as long as they keep the lights on at Viacom. But secondly, and most importantly for Jonna and her family, the checks are already cashed.

Which is more than most of this cast can say. Because on The Challenge, unlike life (and most other sports) the results are all the only thing that matters. Baseball’s a process. Basketball is more about the ebbs and flows than the results. Football is just about the only thing that compares in that sense. And despite her record, or point differential, or turnover margins, Jonna’s got two rings on her fingers.

And guess what?

Flags fly forever.

1) Tori

There’s going to be a portion of readers who clicked this link to scroll down to see who number one is. Or, more optimistically, at the very least check out where each person is ranked. Out of that (probably larger than my fragile ego will allow me to think) portion, I have to imagine at least half of them are going to click out of the link and check their Instagram the minute they see who I have number one.

And I get it.

I do. If I were a Challenge fan reading these rather than being the idiot wasting his time writing them, I’d probably roll my eyes and switch apps too.

But here’s the thing, in my years of doing Power Rankings, outside of CT on Spies, Lies & Allies, this was the easiest Pre-Season Number One I’ve ever conceived of. There was honestly no other choice.

Besides being the most recent champion, which is who I almost always default to number one, right now there is no one (other than maybe Kaycee) positioned better as far as the social/relationship web/safety net goes in the ENTIRE extended Challenge universe. She just spent the entirety of World Championships essentially begging the house to vote her and her partner Danny into elimination. And it still didn’t happen.

I’d go so far as to say that literally (oh yeah, I went there) any other partnership in this shows history would have gotten voted into elimination if they behaved the way Tori did last season. Even Wes and CT on Rivals 2. Even Sarah and Johnny on Rivals 3.

The two of them acted like such, pardon my French, assholes every single deliberation that season. At one point Tori was even like, fuck it, let’s just go in there to repent for acting like assholes. And even then, nothing. Just think back to the Michaela section, and how easily she found herself in elimination. While that comparison may be simply a demonstration in one kind of privilege, it also highlights an entirely different kind of privilege. Challenge privilege. Right now, Tori is the Challenge mirror of society’s super rich, white, super rich, conventionally attractive, super rich, male.

She’s basically playing the Challenge on easy mode.

As far as how that translates for us viewers? I don’t really converse with a ton of Challenge fans in real life, and the internet is an awful place to get an honest opinion (opines the guy with the Challenge blog), but I can’t imagine many of us enjoyed watching that. Or enjoyed watching Tori increasingly morph into the ChatGPT version of herself as every season passes.

So in a few weeks, when we’re down to the needy greedy, and Tori’s sitting right there, generally safe and secure heading into the final few elimination cycles, don’t bother remembering I told you so. Because I didn’t have to tell you. You already knew. It’s programmed directly into the code.

VIVA LA REAL WORLD!!!!!

Thanks for reading! See you back here soon for some long awaited Winners 7 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.