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The Challenge: USA has its first major blindside as its show alliances crack

The Challenge: USA has its first major blindside as its show alliances crack
The Challenge: USA cast member and Survivor alum Danny McCray falls from a giant buoy during episode 2's challenge. (Photo by Laura Barisonzi/Paramount)

What drew me to The Challenge: USA, the collection of CBS reality stars, is now making it even more interesting as old and new relationships collide in a new game.

T.J. Lavin’s episode-one bombshell that the pairs would be split up—by a super-fancy computer thingy—did not disrupt the Survivor vs. Big Brother vs. Love Island vs. the three people from The Amazing Race.

It didn’t seem to disrupt alliances, with Angela insisting her alliance with Tyson would continue. Nor did it interrupt Tyson’s winning streak, and who knew Tyson would be the muscle of this season?

What “the algorithm” did do—and a reminder that it, as T.J. said, “is a program to randomly select your new partner every week”—is split everyone up, and completely, totally, absolutely randomly pair them with the exact people they did not want to be paired with.

“We literally just broke up,” says Cashay about Cinco, and they were then paired together by the “algorithm,” which must be programmed to read Us Weekly.

I did love that not even the cast buys that this is random, using air quotes to refer to the “randomizer.”

I also love the new sides we’re getting to see of people, or at glimpses of their personalities. Survivor winner Sarah tried to console Cashay, suggesting they at least now how to talk to each other. When Cashay said that communication was their problem, Sarah told her, “You guys are fucked.”

Meanwhile, Cayla and James were paired, as two of the three Amazing Race cast members. And after they got zero words in the challenge, they were automatically in the bottom two.

That challenge was “Yeah Buoy,” a version of a Big Brother challenge. After collecting letters, the players had to arrange them into words; the team with the most words won.

The differences: Instead of individual words, they could interlink words like in Scrabble. And instead of the letters being scattered across a set, they were on the side of giant spinning buoys, with tires attached to them, so the team members had to climb a ladder, jump, climb, gather, and then fall into the water and swim back.

They did this in pairs, with everyone else watching. Each team’s attempt was edited in such a way that didn’t make it easy to tell how many times they went back for more letters—well, except for Tyson, who went back and forth roughly 32 thousand times.

James pointed out on Twitter that the editing misrepresented their (disastrous) run: He tweeted that he and Kayla actually went first, so everyone could learn from their mistakes, and also said he and Cayla “went up that damn rope ladder & jumped MULTIPLE times, despite injuries & failure. Never giving up on the challenge or each other.”

The Challenge didn’t have the time to show that, but did have time to revel in possible death and dismemberment.

When James fell and hurt himself, Derek said in a confessional, “This isn’t just a game any more. This could be life or death.” I imagine that’s what The Challenge contract says. That, or You’ll probably be killed by our incompetence.

Big Brother turns against one of its own

Cayla Platt and James Wallington (left) faced off against Tiffany Mitchell and and Cashel Barnett (right), with host T.J.Lavin in the center
Cayla Platt and James Wallington (left) faced off against Tiffany Mitchell and and Cashel Barnett (right), with host T.J.Lavin in the center. (Photo by Laura Barisonzi/Paramount)

With Tyson and new partner Justine in the power seat, they met with Cayla and James, and we got to see more of James strategizing this episode. He pointed out the obvious with show alliances, and suggested that Tiffany and Cashel would be a good choice, because “Tiffany being out of the equation; she’s kind of the glue, in my opinion, that keeps Big Brother together.”

While Tiffany seemed surprised later when she was sent into elimination, the flashback montage—and the pre-elimination scenes—made it clear that there was a lot of talk about her. Tyson told us, “Most of the Big Brother contestants just want her gone.”

For example, Cashay told Kyra, “She wants to control all of the guys from Love Island.” Cinco carrying Tiffany to bed provided plenty of illustration of that dynamic.

There was a very weird conversation about Tiffany’s “BB23 clique,” which happened in subtitles and terrible camera shots that didn’t actually let us see the players’ faces—this is one show that earns its snubs from Emmy nominations—and part of it sounded like frankenbites, with sentences cut together from fragments of other sentences.

The subtitles, though, were pretty amusing:

Shan: “I do not trust Tiffany as far as I could throw her.”
Sarah: “Well, I fell like I could throw her pretty far.”

I do give the editing some credit for the spectacular moment when David and Tyson were on opposite teams attempting the challenge, and David said in a confessional, “I see it as a good match up to see where I stand now.” Cue David falling into the water while Tyson returns dozens of times.

An upset or underestimated players?

Cayla and James assemble strings of symbols during The Challenge: USA episode 2's elimination challenge
Cayla and James assemble strings of symbols during The Challenge: USA episode 2’s elimination challenge. (Photo by Laura Barisonzi/Paramount)

Tyson told Justine, in flashback, that she was experiencing “your first blindside,” and Tiffany and Cashel did seem blindsided.

They might have been even more blindsided that they lost to an Amazing Race team, since, on a physical size level, it appeared to be an uneven matchup.

But so far this season, The Challenge: USA has given us main and elimination challenges that, thankfully, don’t just require brute strength and/or steroid use.

The two teams had to ride stationary bikes, but it wasn’t just about who could bike the fastest. After they reached a certain level, probably powered by the algorithm, a set of 12 symbols appeared on a screen for 10 seconds.

Cayla and James, who joked that this was “free spin class,” were behind at first, but caught up and easily won, sending two major players out of the game. But James and Cayla are major players, too, as it’s clear that even the alleged “underdogs” this season are anything but.

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.


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Happy discussing!


Friday 15th of July 2022

I only watch Survivor, so I'm not familiar with all these people, but I like the show so far. Except for the challenges. They're just not that involving to watch. But I'm enjoying the strategizing.


Tuesday 19th of July 2022

@Andy Dehnart, Exactly!! Although last week's elimination challenge seemed heavily edited to me. Those memory symbols looked hard, and there were like a dozen of them? Maybe I'm projecting my own abilities, but I don't believe they get them all right on their first try.

Andy Dehnart

Tuesday 19th of July 2022

I've been thinking the same thing! The elimination challenges have been fine, but the main challenges are quite repetitive and boring. I'm sure having so many contestants is part of it, which is also why Survivor does team challenges for the first half of the season—two or three teams are easier to keep track of than so many pairs.

For a show called The Challenge, it needs to pick up its challenge game!


Thursday 14th of July 2022

I’m thoroughly enjoying this edition and hope this may open the door to other CBS shows merging franchises. Perhaps a Survivor season comprised of Challenge/Big brother people? A Big brother season mixed with Amazing Race people… the possibilities are there!


Friday 15th of July 2022

@BadMitten, we did have a TAR season that was TAR vs BB vs Survivor so it’s definitely something they’re willing to try


Friday 15th of July 2022

@Don, I'd also love to see that. I feel like after all these years they've been doing Survivor/Big Brother, we've yet to get any sort of versus/crossover season though so I'm not holding out hope. Also was Jeff/Jackie from TAR on BB17 not enough for you? ;)