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.
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.
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.
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?