I will confess immediately that my experience of this week’s Challenge: USA episode was greatly affected by my expectations for it.
Last week’s episode ended with Sarah threatening to gnaw on one of Tyson’s limbs like a turkey leg in Frontierland.
This week’s episode was titled “A Civil War,” which I assume referred to a between Sarah and Tyson, Survivor vs. Survivor, though could have meant other alliance infighting, too.
But the episode was quite a snooze, and my least-favorite overall.
Part of that had to do with the challenge winners: Desi and David. While David was previously subjected to one of the most ill-conceived twists in Big Brother history, he has since proven himself to be an ill-conceived casting choice.
He talks a big game, and does nothing. “Part of me wants to take a shot” at Tyson or Kyland, he said. “I should take a big shot to really shift the dynamics of the house.”
And then he and Desi made the weakest choice, choosing Derek and Shannon to face Enzo and Justine. “I just want to stay out of the drama,” Desi said, which is probably excellent strategy but also boring reality television.
Meanwhile, with the exception of some light trash talk in interviews, there was practically no house drama.
Cash cried to Sarah that Tyson told her “you get close to people and then you take them out,” but that didn’t go anywhere, nor did Sarah claiming, implausibly, “I took him out twice in Winners at War.” (Once, maybe, with the steal-a-vote; the other time, only by voting with the tribe.)
How do these players come back from watching Sarah literally foam at the mouth to doing nothing. It rarely even seems like everyone is in the house at the same time.
I’m used to the post-Tribal Council hurt feelings, back-stab conversations, and the morning-after attempts to repair relationships. Whether that didn’t happen, or cameras didn’t catch it, or the story producers decided not to show it to us, it turned into nothing.
The preview for next week’s episode shows Sarah and Tyson talking briefly, with no sign of war—probably because they’ll be matched as teammates since that’s one of the only possible combinations left.
I know MTV’s Challenge is famous for its drama, but here the producers haven’t structure either the challenges or episodes so that tension builds.
My overarching disappointment aside, there were some blips on the radar of enjoyable moments, like Alyssa mocking David for his elimination choice (“David, you are scary”) and Leo doing the “previously on” narration by saying “previously on snakes in a fucking compound.”
I’ve been so impressed by Tyson dominating this season in challenges, and strategically, and then this week he said this: “If you’re going to take it personal…” I stopped typing to wipe tears from my eyes because Tyson has declared war on adverbs, too.
The actual challenge, “Containment,” was another meh challenge for me.
The teams had to swim to different ladders dangling 25 feet from cargo containers, and then walk across two of them, counting symbols. After a rope swing to a floating, padded platform, they had to jump into the water, swim to shore, and do so math.
It did give us some fun images—Ben tumbling into a net, Ben bouncing off a floating platform—and some interesting moments, like Enzo just freezing and being unable to move at the rope swing, and Kyland offering to throw Cashay (!) and she replied, “don’t ever touch me.”
Leo shared that he almost drowned when falling off a boat, and thus has a fear of jumping into water, which explains a moment during the last episode. Leo eventually landed on the platform and everyone cheered for him, which was sweet. So was his delusion that they won the challenge: “I ain’t the worst, and I think I’m going to win the whole thing.” (They weren’t in the top three.)
Kyra swinging on a rope and tumbling into the water would have been funny except she was super-sick, and unable to even climb the ladder again, so she and Tyson were DQed.
So were Justine and Enzo, but since Kyra actually attempted the rope swing, she and Tyson were safe; their DQ ranked higher than Justine and Enzo’s.
“This one is big, and very hard,” TJ said about the challenge, and sure, but not well-conceived or edited.
The elimination challenges have, for me, been far more entertaining, and the challenge highlight, but even this one was flat: just moving 60 tires from stacks to a platform, running through sand.
But wait, there was a twist! Alas, it was just tacked on to the beginning: a brief spelling bee with backward words.
Missing one gave the other team a five-tire advantage, but it ended up just being 60-55, with Derek and Shannon only having 55 tires to carry.
Again, is this easy? No. Is it great television? No.
It did have a dramatic ending: Derek and Shannon were faster, but didn’t create great stacks, so their platform was messy, with columns of tires tumbling off, making room for Enzo and Justine to come from behind and win.
Congrats to them, but too bad for us, since their wins had no repercussions in the house, nor any connection to major storylines so far. This was the halfway point in The Challenge: USA’s inaugural season, and while all strategy-based shows can have lulls, I really hope it picks up one of its games soon.