The last episode of The Challenge: USA that had a player’s name in the title (episode 2 “Oh Say Can You See Tiffany”) saw the exit of that player.
So I expected episode 5, “In Tyson We Trust,” to be bad news for Survivor’s Tyson Apostol. But no, he won the challenge with new partner Cashay. That’s Tyson’s third win in the main challenge; Angela and Kyland have each had two wins.
Actually, it’s episode 6’s title, “A Civil War,” that foreshadowed the outcome: a war between two Survivor players and former allies, Tyson and Sarah.
The “trust” for Tyson in the episode’s title came from Sarah, who told Tyson, “you have my 100 percent trust.”
There was also trust between Sarah and Ben, who told us, “I built an alliance with Sarah. I trust her, and I know she trusts me.”
But Tyson didn’t share that. “We didn’t have the best relationship on Survivor, because you never know when he’s going to go off,” he said. Tyson also told Sarah, “if we can corral him, we can keep him.”
We saw a flashback to Sarah and Ben voting Tyson out at Tribal Council, and seeing Probst in this context was jarring, though he made another appearance later.
Given the opportunity to eliminate one of his fellow Survivor winners, Tyson went after Sarah, who was partnered with Leo.
The actual challenge was “Barreled Treasure”: a 150-yard swim from a barge to a buoy, where the pairs had to memorize a code and then swim 75 yards to a cargo ship to find the code on the lid of a barrel containing puzzle pieces. Then they had to swim all the way back to the barge—and repeat that again.
“This is The Challenge. Welcome,” TJ said when the players reacted to the idea of doing the course twice.
Things did not go well for Cash and Tyson—at first. Upon arrival at the barge, Cash touched a barrel lid, and we learned that Challenge rules are enforced by a shouting producer: “Cashay, you moved that one. You guys got to go back to your buoy.”
“I am fuming,” Tyson said after having to swim back and forth unnecessarily.
Meanwhile, because Cash can’t swim, she kicked while Tyson pulled her. (Everyone was wearing life jackets.)
But although Cayla and Derek had a long lead, and found the memorization to be easy, they fumbled at the puzzle, which was shapes locking together to make a rectangle.
Tyson and Cashay came from far behind to win. “I won a swimming challenge and I can’t swim,” Cash told us. “Like, what are we doing here? What am I doing? … My journey does not make sense.”
This was another challenge where I had no sense of who was ahead, because of both the layout of the course, the camerawork, and the editing.
It’s notable that Survivor challenges almost always move in one direction, so you can see teams or individuals’ progress.
As if on cue, one of the commercials that aired during The Challenge was Jeff Probst taking us “behind the scenes to show you just part of the prep that goes into laying out a challenge like this.” Such shade, CBS, showcasing its marquee show in the middle of a lesser series to point out how much time and attention it spends on crafting challenges!
Also making her regular appearance during the main challenge: Danny’s wife, though this time it was not as a direct address, but in a moment of masculinity panic.
At the barge, the players had to climb a cargo net to get to the top. Danny’s partner Angela was trying to help him, and he told us later, “She tries to help me up the ladder. I got it, I got it. I’ll get up myself. You’ve already got me looking bad enough on TV. Kiki’s going to kill me when I make it back home.”
For being helped by your teammate during a competition? Yikes.
That cargo net also provided my favorite moment during the episode, besides the epic conclusion to the elimination challenge. After they dropped off their first set of puzzle pieces, Sarah and Leo had this exchange:
Sarah: “Just jump, Leo, You can do it.”
Leo: “Sarah, I’m going to swallow water.” [starts climbing down the cargo net]
Sarah: [does a front flip off the barge into the water]
Sarah’s so effortlessly bad-ass, and the player I’m rooting for now that James and his strategizing are gone.
Speaking of strategy, Cinco and Azah were in the bottom, and in an awkward meeting (because of Cashay/Cinco history) basically declined to identify who they’d want to go up against.
But Cayla sat with Tyson and said, “I would like there to be more game talk.” When he asked, “who do you think is the most dangerous to me in the house?” she identified Ben as “someone who’s frustrated that you’re winning.”
They did this using complex code. “Does this person start with a B?” Tyson asked
Ben felt protected (“It’s aggravating, but he’s going to protect the Survivors. I feel pretty safe at this point.”) and in fact, he was.
That’s because Tyson and Cash chose Sarah and Leo to go into the challenge. The rationale: Ben was partnered with Justine, who’s Cash’s Love Island ally, and Sarah was partnered with Leo, who no one wants to be paired with.
Also, going after Sarah implicitly is an attack on her ally Ben, as Danny pointed out for viewers who might not understand Survivor strategy.
What was particularly great about the elimination challenge is that Sarah and Leo went from not working well together to dominating.
“I don’t have a problem carrying extra weight, I have a problem carrying someone else’s weight,” Sarah said about Leo earlier in the episode. “Just fucking take it serious.” (Request: Can we also take adverbs seriously?)
This immediately lit a fire under Sarah. “Tyson, bro, you played Survivor four times, you’ve only one once, and you’ve screwed yourself every time,” she said.
And it brought out Leo’s WTF side: “I’m not a cat. Or am I? Who knows?”
The elimination challenge literally tied the two teammates together, and then they had to go into a pitch-black trailer, memorize a sequence of stacked reels, and then repeat that sequence back out in the arena.
Leo had a system which he described as, and I am embarrassed for him as I type this, “Leo’s 4-3-2-1 quadratic system—that’s what I came up with, and I coined it on the spot. I’m not saying I’m a genius—no, I am saying I am a genius.”
But while his talk about his system may be super-cringey, it made sense: they gathered and measured the reels outside before going into the trailer. “I think the strategy is absolutely brilliant,” Derek told us.
Their system allowed them to work in big chunks, while Cinco and Azah struggled and ultimately lost.
Cue Sarah miming cutting Tyson’s throat and…eating his limbs like a giant turkey leg at Walt Disney World? “You’re not going to disrespect me the way you did and not have to pay the price for it,” she told us, “so I’m going to make you play the price.”
I’m so ready for that epic Price is Right showdown next week!