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The ‘poetic justice’ of Challenge USA’s satisfying double elimination

The ‘poetic justice’ of Challenge USA’s satisfying double elimination
Michaela and Bananas race to a hot air balloon during the first part of The Challenge USA 2's final challenge (Photo by Jonne Roriz/Paramount)

I am all for people expressing their feelings on television, and I am especially for straight men breaking through the prison of toxic masculinity to be vulnerable and emotional. After all, they’re human beings.

But by the time Josh Martinez bawled “I hate this game,” I was so over his crying that when Johnny Bananas told him, “Enough, Josh. Enough, dude,” I was cheering.

Josh spent the majority of The Challenge USA 2’s penultimate episode in tears.

Why? Mostly because he finally did what he’s repeatedly said he wants to do: what’s best for him in the game.

He voted for Bananas to go into elimination, betraying one alleged friend to retain the loyalty of another, Fessy. But karma and the hopper had a different plan, and oh, was it fantastic.

A person with their arms folded, wearing a black sweatshirt that says 'The Challenge: Josh'
Josh Martinez, pictured here in The Challenge USA 2 episode 12, which you know because he spent all of episode 13 crying (Photo by Jonne Roriz/Paramount)

At the start of the episode, Josh told us that “winning this game has become such a personal goal and a dream of mine.”

He referred to himself as “first generation,” and without an antecedent, i.e. first-generation American citizen, I momentarily thought he meant first-generation Challenge player.

Then he had to go and humanize himself by saying, “When I say I want to win this game, the title’s for me, the money’s for my parents.”

Meanwhile, Bananas said that because he is “an unstoppable force in a final … today is a must-win.” Chanelle also needed a win: “I need a confidence booster—I need to win something,” she said.

At the challenge, T.J. Lavin let everyone know that this would be not only be a double elimination, but the last challenge before the final.

“Burst Your Bubble” was one of my least-favorite challenges this season. Because it was timed, there wasn’t a clear sense of direct competition. It was also conducted in two stages: climbing a 40-foot ladder to a floating hot air balloon, and then separately traversing a beam between that baloon and another.

The location and imagery were gorgeous, however, and Michaela’s performance made it worth watching.

A person crying clings to a ladder; a hot air balloon hovers behind
Michaela breaks down after finishing The Challenge USA 2’s final challenge (Photo by Jonne Roriz/Paramount)

Michaela looked sick when she first saw the hot air balloons and the “ladder going up to Jesus.” Yet when it was her turn, she climbed that ladder at the same speed as Bananas.

During the break between the two tasks, she freaked out, and we saw her both clinging to the outside of the balloon’s basket and then crouched down inside, crying.

Then she ran across the beam like it was on the ground. Bananas—who truly did grow on me this season—put it very well: “the more terrified Michaela is, the better she performs.”

Michaela ended up winning, beating Tori by 14 seconds. For the men, Chris beat Fessy by three seconds, perhaps saving himself from yet another elimination.

Survivor players—who are already half of the remaining players—controlled the final eliminations.

Michaela decided to target Cassidy yet again, because of her new alliance with Tori that we were shown in flashback. “I’m not really inclined to go back on my word,” she told us. Is keeping Tori for the final the best idea?

Meanwhile, Chris has the opposite idea: “I kinda want to see the big boys go at it,” he said. He wanted them to choose Fessy, assuming the house would put votes on Bananas, giving Josh a free pass to the final.

So they nominated Cassidy and Fessy.

Fessy predicted the elimination challenge. “What haven’t we seen tonight?” he asked. “A Challenge staple: Hall Brawl.”

I think of that as Concussion Corridor, and thought maybe it wouldn’t make an appearance this season, with its refreshed challenges.

Anyway, Fessy wanted Josh to vote for Bananas, but Josh didn’t want to because “he’s a good friend of mine.”

Fessy told Josh, “I know he’s your friend, but we’re all friends,” and said that if Josh voted for Cory, that was “like taking a shot at me” because “giving me Bananas is my best shot at returning,” since Bananas is “10 years older than me.”

So Josh cried. “I don’t want to cross Bananas,” he cried. He cried in the voting booth, and after leaving the voting booth, convinced he would “lose my friendship with one of these guys”

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Bananas asked when Josh confessed to voting for him. We saw another flashback: Josh saying, “I put that on my grandfather—I will never, ever vote for you.”

That is a hell of a promise to break, though why the hell would someone make a promise like that in a game like The Challenge? Why am I even wondering why Josh is a bad player?

In one of my favorite moments of the episode, Tori tried to comfort Josh by saying, “I voted for you.” That, it turned out, would be a much more consequential vote than Josh’s.

A person with his hands clasped, standing in front of a glass and metal structure
TJ Lavin standing in front of The Challenge USA 2’s version of Hall Brawl (Photo by Jonne Roriz/Paramount)

At the elimination arena, we learned votes went to Tori 2, Desi 1, Chanelle 5, and Cory 1, Josh 2, Bananas 5. (Every player voted for both a male and female player, because of the double elimination.)

The hopper went with the odds for the women, delivering Chanelle’s ball, so she faced off against Cassidy.

And then the hopper did what it was designed to do: it gave us Josh’s ball. “Karma just bit him squarely in the ass,” Bananas said. “This is the greatest case of poetic justice I have ever seen in my entire life.”

They did indeed play “Hall Brawl,” but it’d been updated: The players’ goal was basically to run past each other, this time with padded shields, to arrive at a puzzle. So, not just beat the shit out of each other.

The puzzle itself was a count-the-squares puzzle, similar to the count-the-triangles puzzle Chanelle did on Survivor 42’s first episode.

In terms of challenge design, this was also one of my least-favorites, because they checked their answer by running to T.J. and saying a number. Chanelle counted and got it wrong at first, but then got the correct answer, eliminating Cassidy.

Fessy realized that he didn’t have to stand and count. He just kept running back and forth saying numbers to T.J., until he landed on the right one. He won, and fairly according to the rules. But I’d so much rather have seen Josh loose by struggling to, say, assemble a 3-D puzzle. Of course, that might have led to even more tears, so perhaps this was a blessing in disguise.

That leaves us with eight players for Thursday’s finale: Chanelle, Chris, Cory, Desi, Fessy, Michaela, Johnny Bananas, and Tori. Who will win? And will they get screwed like last time?

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart

    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!

Kurt S

Monday 16th of October 2023

What a poorly designed elimination in a season that has a lot of good ones, which is disappointing. Hall Brawl is a very intense elimination that naturally draws eyes, but so were duels to the death in Roman gladiator arenas. It's just not healthy for people, and if there's any sort of size discrepancy, it's over. Josh isn't that much smaller than Faysal, but we all know how that one would have ended.

I really just don't enjoy Josh on my TV screen. He's not a good player, he's not overly entertaining, he just brings awkwardness and discomfort, and not even in a particularly entertaining way. I find cringe-based entertainment off putting, and so much of what he does causes me to cringe. I realize being overly emotional his "thing," but I don't think it's a deliberate strategic or camera-time garnering thing, just a side effect of who he is. Ultimately, I worry about his mental health and why they keep putting him on the show as he frequently seems on the verge of a breakdown. That just makes him an uncomfortable watch for me.

Bad Mitten

Monday 16th of October 2023

This was probably one of the worst designed eliminations in challenge history. Talk about ruining a challenge staple. Like what was even the point of the hall besides to say hey we had hall brawl. The hall literally didn’t matter. It all came down to the puzzle and then to top that off the puzzle really didn’t even matter either since they could just keep running back and forth guessing single digit numbers. If you are going to allow multiple guesses, at least have a time penalty for guessing wrong. Yikes that was awful.


Monday 16th of October 2023

I love Josh. I love him for all the wrong reasons though. It's all the crying. Every time he starts crying a smile appears on my face. He's the best thing on the show. Chris is my guy but Josh is the show's entertainment.

He's said the entire season that he wanted to "go up" to prove he deserved to be in the finale. He gets put up and then FAILS! :(

Poor Josh. I'm gonna miss him.


Monday 16th of October 2023

@antonio, I kinda love him too. I REALLY wish Bananas had to go in, and lost. I want Josh to get to a final. He's a giant toddler, but there is something I like about him. And it is funny when he acts like a baby.


Sunday 15th of October 2023

I think Michaela's decision to not go against her word with Tori makes a lot of sense in the long term even if it isn't the best thing for her chances this season. Michaela seems to be looking to become a mainstay on The Challenge proper, and having Tori trust her is going to get her to many more finals. Tori is probably the most politically well-situated player in the current Challenge universe--even when she makes bone-headed political decisions, players feel incentivized to keep her over her rivals. If Tori is willing to protect Michaela in the future, then the other vets will too. And since experience is the best teacher, every time Michaela makes a final she will be more likely to win. Def rooting for her this season, she has probably been my favorite player to watch so I will be glad to see her return to claim the title if she loses to Tori this time around.


Sunday 15th of October 2023

I'm not sure why they decided to Probst up the elimination by combining two diverse tasks together.

I don't see much reason to brawl if you have to count squares (or throw random numbers at TJ) afterwards, and I'm not sure the Challengers did either, since no one was worn down or gassed once they got to counting squares.

Andy Dehnart

Sunday 15th of October 2023

😂 "Probst up"

I do like the idea of combining physical and mental tasks, but maybe they should have had to repeatedly go through the hall, while retaining information? Just something to complicate it.