The finals have arrived on The Challenge. At the end of this week’s episode (which was excellent), T.J. told the cast to pack their bags for the finals. He then promised it would be the most brutal final yet (as he usual does), and even apologized to the cast for what was to come. Can’t wait.
To get to that moment, we had to say goodbye to two more people, Dee and Nelson. And whoa buddy, lemme tell you something: your boy Nelson won the hearts of everybody watching this week.
To begin with, Nelson did some Nelson-ass shit during the weekly challenge. The challenge was basically bowling with a car. The player drove a car towards a set of barrels stacked in four-high columns, spaced out like bowling pins, with other cast members standing on top. The idea was to pull the brake and slide into the barrels, knocking as many down as possible (with tiebreakers decided by how far the barrels flew… T.J. had a blast during this one). Nelson managed to slide in such a way that he missed the barrels completely. But he didn’t just miss them, he did it in magnificent, artful fashion. It was the most beautiful failure I’ve seen in some time, quite possibly ever. It was like an action movie where the car was trying to miss the barrels, and the stunt-driver fucking nailed it and got thisclose without touching them.
Side note: Nelson wasn’t alone in throwing a zero up on the board. Kyle somehow found an entirely new way to embarrass one’s parents on reality TV. You see, Kyle’s dad was a professional stunt driver. Now, that’s not something you’d necessarily pass down to a child, but you’d think they’d learn a thing or two about driving growing up. Well, Kyle didn’t apply it if he did learn anything, because his zero was just awful. He came up short. Way short. Like, if the idea was to come to a stop as quickly as possible while also covering the least ground, he would’ve won in a landslide. And if not for eventual winner Bananas pulling him into the tribunal, Kyle might’ve seen Purgatory.
But Kyle was not meant for Purgatory this week, my friends. No, that was to be the fall of our hero Nelson. Or, perhaps, was this the beginning of his rise? Nevertheless, after Rogan figured out he was gonna get voted in, he said fuck it I’ll see you in Purgatory. When it came time for the tribunal to decide their male candidates, they picked Cory and Nelson. Nelson came to them after the interviews and told them to say his name. His reasoning? He was willing to put his game on the line to make his best friend Cory’s path easier, and he was willing to do this because of Cory’s daughter and Cory’s need to support her. That is friendship in its truest form.
Nelson may take this show a little too seriously at times, but that was an incredibly honorable thing to do. He, without telling his friend, without making some big show of it, made a sacrifice to help his friend. Be nice if there was more of that going around these days.
We knew from last week’s tease what the elimination event would be: Hall Brawl. It is beautiful violence. Nelson’s gesture was so grand in part because he knew Rogan was waiting for him. He didn’t know it was fucking hall brawl waiting for him, too, but it’s all in the game. Rogan had the line of the episode in his confessional before Purgatory when he praised Nelson’s move and spoke of the massive respect he had for him, then ended the interview with “but that’s not gonna change what I’m about to do.” Cold. Blooded.
Nelson fought as hard as anyone I’ve ever seen on The Challenge. He met Rogan head-on (terrible form by both men, keep your head up!) and didn’t back down. In the first heat, he even pushed Rogan back a bit, and had a chance to let Rogan go and sprint to the bell. But, he was too caught up in the fight, and didn’t realize where he was in the hall. Eventually, Rogan wore him down and got to his bell. In the second heat, Rogan gained the upper hand early, but Nelson actually had an outstanding opportunity when he tripped up Rogan. Unfortunately, he was just too gassed from the fight, and couldn’t keep his balance on the way to his bell, and Rogan won. Nelson jumped into the gladiator pit to give his friend a better chance to win. Everyone applauded the move, and Cory shed a few tears.
Nelson had a wild season, man. He had flashes of greatness, moments of only-Nelson-stupidity, a couple of cringeworthy incidents, and ended it with a moment for the Challenge ages. Bravo.
Bananas won the weekly in convincing fashion over the rest of the guys, knocking down 25 barrels. Kaycee won the ladies side with 18 barrels, and was convinced by Bananas to pull Kyle into the tribunal over Fessy. Fessy wasn’t happy, but Bananas and Kyle swore they wouldn’t throw him in and he was never in danger of getting the house vote, so no harm was done.
Our other young star did not fare so well, however. We finally found a weakness in Jenny’s game: politics. Rogan exposed her lack of coherent strategy when it comes to forming alliances, and she got voted into purgatory by the house. She was a stuttering mess during a TENSE nomination session, and although Jenny is leaps and bounds ahead of her competition physically, she needs to learn the game that’s played inside the house.
Lucky for Jenny, Hall Brawl is a very physical elimination, and Dee — the tribunal’s choice — didn’t stand a chance against her. Jenny BODIED her. I mean 100% domination. In the second heat she literally pushed all the way back and into the bell. It was a perfect send-off: quick and merciless.
Bananas, Bayleigh, Cory, Fessy, Kaycee, Kyle, Jenny, Melissa, and Rogan are this season’s finalists. It’s a good bet the final will consist of stages, so I imagine not all of them will make it to the end. That’s a pretty stacked field, with a couple of good underdogs. Should be a good one.
This was the best episode of the season (so far), and I will bloviate accordingly. It was just a perfect concoction of Challenge greatness. And Nelson was its star. Honestly, there was a bit of a bait and switch — I thought this was going to be Kyle’s week, after he has only started emerging from the background recently. Kyle whiffed on the car bowling, but Nelson whiffed spectacularly (two spins!). Kyle got power, but Nelson pulled the ultimate move. But before I get into that, I’ve gotta say how consistently impressed I am by Bananas. When the situation is dire, when he really needs to win, he usually does. And it’s usually a few moves ahead of an actual danger zone. Because the game was back to its classic format this week. And boy did it deliver on that front. I loved Kyle as his willing accomplice (telling Fessy he wouldn’t say his name, immediately confessing that he would absolutely say Fessy’s name if Johnny wanted to; Kyle is a charismatic survivor). The relative harmony in the house that the Red Skull twist brought was dramatically ripped apart, and that sudden switch in format made for great TV. Poor Jenny. Her authentic kindness makes her bad at politics. Bananas immediately diagnosed the problem: Jenny’s alliance split their votes. And then she made a classic mistake usually reserved for comic book and James Bond villains when she shared their strategy publicly. Rogan showed no mercy, and even though I’ve often found him to be a real prick, I was really impressed with how someone without an alliance dominated the nomination session. It helps to just throw yourself in. Jenny has a bit of built in immunity for her bad politics, I guess. What girl wants to compete against her? I have to imagine that this Hall Brawl would have been even more satisfying, had Dee gotten a normal edit. She was supposed to be the villain here. She runs her mouth too much, she’s too cocky, she lucked her way into a Finals last year. And Jenny destroyed her. She had time to pick up her shoe in the first round, and could have used Dee to ring the bell in the second. It was amazing. Good riddance, Dee. Now on to Nelson. I don’t think anyone on this cast loves the Challenge as much as Nelson does. He and Cory have a friendship that obviously runs a lot deeper than the show, and watching them grow up has been a nice arc. He still makes embarrassing Nelson mistakes, but his self-sacrifice this week is just about the most moving thing I’ve seen on the Challenge, outside of the Diem-CT arc. They gave it a great edit. And the Hall Brawl itself was everything you’d hope for. Nelson could have won the first round. Rogan just getting a hand on him as he turned to run, shown in slow mo so that we know the hero’s demise is here, was so good. And kudos to Rogan. That was a real elimination. He’s earned his stripes now. On to the Finals (and probably one more elimination stage)!
I’ll say what none of my compadres have said above: had Fessy been chosen to go into that elimination, we would have a dead competitor on our hands. He looked as if he wanted to be in there once he saw it was Hall Brawl. Or maybe it was relief of not having to go in there, but I doubt it. To back up, I was thrilled that there was one more elimination before the finals, and having T.J. frame it as a way to send a rival or someone’s “main competition” home was a nice move. (He’s great, isn’t he? I’d watch the show just for him.) I’ve made a little out of not watching The Challenge for many years, but this episode truly felt epic. Rogan putting in his name got the first “Wow!” out of me. I’ve liked Rogan, despite Adam advising me early on that maybe that’s not where he would lean. But then Nelson. As a father, you’ll find no apologies here for the heartstrings being tugged. I know the show uses Cory and his child as a narrative device, but it works for me. You seriously do want the best for your child, and you’ll do what it takes to ensure their well being. And yes, Bayleigh going in would be a bloodbath and worth watching, but seeing Dee get taken out so close to the final was excellent television. I just wish we could’ve seen her bitch about it more. And Bayeigh’s going to suffer on that mountain from the tease of next week, isn’t she? It looks intense and I can’t wait.