“Can the vets come together? Or will the rookies take control?” TJ Lavin asked in his narration at the top of The Challenge USA season 2.
It was titled “Civil War,” probably to differentiates it from last season’s “A Civil War.” (Curiously, episode 8 is currently titled “Independence Day” just like episode 8 last season.)
But A civil war would have been the better title, as it was a very civil war. It started with a small group resigned to their fate, and ended with two former enemies coming together after competition.
Oh sure, there was some yelling when Johnny Bananas learned that his fellow OG vets were not going to stick together, but he didn’t go bananas and punch someone.
When he first picked a verbal fight with Cory and then Fessy, none of them could be goaded into a round of good ol’ fashioned Challenge gonad-kicking or even get all that worked up. Fessy: “I’m just tired of your shit.” Bananas: “You’re dumber than you look.”
So instead, Bananas stood in the kitchen and delivered a rant as lecture, which the editors cut down into a montage and set to music.
The most terrifying part of all this was Amazing Race’s Dusty confessing, “the guy is my hero. I want to continue to build my relationship with Bananas. I want to continue to learn from Bananas.” Dream big, Dusty, dream big.
We first learned about an alliance between the non-vets that started in a bedroom; Chanelle pointed out how “fractured” the OG vets were, and Desi told us who was in the alliance, with their images popping up behind her, a nice touch.
Elsewhere, Cory and Bananas and others were talking, and the episode cut from Cory saying “These vets have never had my back” to Paulie lying in bed, talking to Tori.
Did Paulie just come out? Yep!
Paulie told Tori this:
In high school I would dress like my favorite lead singers, like Freddy Mercury, who’s just like, Yeah, I’m just owning the fact that I’m this gay icon. I always wanted to be that. But I came through athletics, so that forced me to suppress who I was sexually.
I didn’t know if I was attracted to women, attracted to men, or if it was just an energy thing. In past seasons that I came on, things would happen, and I would just get super-freakin’ angry. I’d be like, I need to prove that I’m the most alpha human in the world.
Paulie then told us:
“I’m a cutthroat competitor, but there’s a difference between blowing up in a competition and blowing up in somebody’s face. And finally, I wanted to break the cycle, so I went to therapy. I had to be honest about a lot of things. … I’m in the best headspace that I’ve ever been in.”
Blink and you may have missed it: Did Paulie Calafiore just come out as bisexual? He never used the word in the episode, but he did indeed.
The reason for the abruptness was obvious: This was Paulie’s last episode, so the editors needed to get this in.
And I’m glad they did. Just his brief discussion about dealing with rage in therapy instead of physical violence on a reality TV competition was a revelatory moment.
That’s especially true for Paulie—who’s The Traitors player Cody Calafiore’s brother—made his initial reality TV appearance on Big Brother 18, where he was universally loathed for his obnoxious arrogance and grotesque sexism.
For bisexual visibility, however, it might have helped if Paulie actually said some variation of, you know, “bisexual.”
I certainly didn’t need TJ Lavin to sit down and encourage Paulie to deliver a half-hour’s worth of exposition about what exactly bisexuality means, but considering how many people on social media were asking a version of “Did Paulie just come out on tv?”, maybe that moment could have used a bit more emphasis.
Paulie actually told GLAAD’s Anthony Allen Ramos, “I definitely spoke about it at length in my confessionals. I guess that’s part of the TV business.”
“Yes, I am bisexual. I am sexually fluid,” he added, confirming that he uses those labels. (Sexually fluid means that someone’s attraction, sexual behavior, and/or identity changes over time.)
Josh, actually succeeding in saying words, said in a confessional, “Coming into this season, I honestly, felt really on edge seeing Paulie, but I’m realizing that this guy has grown.”
This episode’s team challenge was “Capsized.”
On a windy, cold dock, players learned they’d all have to swim a considerable distance to a small sailboat, flip it to see a key with flags. One at a time, they had to swim back to buoys, retrieve flags underwater, and then put the flags in the right order on the boat’s mast.
“This is a memory challenge, an endurance challenge, and swimming all combined, all of which I hate,” Tiffany said, summarizing it perfectly.
One of the smarter parts of this challenge design was placing the key under the boat. Capsizing wasn’t easy, and if they got the order wrong, or forgot something, they’d have to flip the boat again.
In the pre-challenge team interview—I love these!—Wes said he “pledged my full, undying allegiance” to the green team, and Michaela said, “that’s not what I heard.”
Wes said, “Just for the record, Michaela is one of the most paranoid players I have ever played with,” and the team laughed.
Alas, the green team’s dock camaraderie didn’t pay off. They didn’t have their stuff together, and accidentally capsized their boat several times.
Ultimately, they missed one, while blue and red each got all 20 flags right. The blue team finished in 36:12, while the red finished in 43:18, making the blue team the winner.
Alyssa L. led her team to nominating Bananas and Amanda. As to the rest of the house, they were a little more scattered.
“I want to start making some moves and taking some shots,” Josh mumbled. Cory said, “I’m at the bottom … I don’t want to go down with a ship I already know is sinking.”
Chris Underwood, who seems to have aged backwards since Survivor, said, “I don’t want to get caught on the wrong side.” Yeah, actually being in the game and playing it is hard, huh, Chris?
The other teams decided to put more votes on red team men, which meant Paulie, Josh, and Dusty, but Dusty got zero votes.
The final tally: Josh 2, Tyler 3, Paulie 3, Monte 5. But of course, those votes just affect the odds. The decision came down to the lottery hopper, which chose Paulie’s ball, so he faced off against Bananas.
For “Fire & Ice,” the two players each stood on a block of ice, with their arm attached to a bucket that would dump on their head. (This allegedly had fish guts, but when it finally dumped, it just seemed like water.)
Each player could throw bean bags at a target, igniting flames under the other person’s block of ice.
Both Johnny and Paulie had perfect accuracy as they started to throw bean bags, and quickly ran out. Paulie had the last bean bag—and missed, keeping the flames lit under his own ice block.
I didn’t love the design element that the flames just stayed on like that, but I guess that’s how you make sure a challenge doesn’t last forever. Why not give them both an unlimited supply of bean bags? Throwing might have led to a fall as the challenge went on, especially since they were standing on slippery ice.
Instead, both players stood with their arm in the air, with Paulie giving Bananas a “death stare,” as Tyler said. It was not the most dynamic television. Eventually, Paulie moved his hand enough to cause the liquid to fall, ending his time on The Challenge.
“Paulie and myself, we’ve despised each other since the second he infected The Challenge,” Bananas told us. “However, throughout the course of being here, we pretty much put whatever issues we had behind us.”
They hugged and embraced, and Bananas complimented Paulie. That made Paulie lose it.
“I finally feel like I have nothing to prove to anybody but myself,” he said, crying. “Him saying that to me made me finally feel like an actual Challenger.”
The episode ended on a cliffhanger: Will Bananas defect?