Television

Takin’ on Double Agents – Coming in Hot

The Challenge is back, baby!

Every Thursday, head writer TD Wood will examine the previous night’s episode of The Challenge: Double Agents. Tune in each week and join in on the discussion!

Hello Takers and welcome back to our favorite time of year: Challenge Season!

Season 36 of MTV’s The Challenge started off with a bang, throwing contestants straight into a challenge, and throwing multiple twists at the cast before night’s end — and they’re not even done yet.

It all started with a FRESH looking TJ Lavin hopping off a helicopter like a boss, in true TJ fashion. I mean, that coat and aviators look was A+. He threw the contestants into the first challenge, separated into guys and gals heats. The challenge was simple enough: run up a small hill, find a pipe with a color pattern on it, run back to your spot and try to match the pattern. Lolo Jones quickly reminded everyone she’s a friggin’ olympian when she sprinted up the hill before the camera could pan over, without even another contestant in the shot. However, it was veteran Aneesa who took the first W of the season. For the guys, sophomore Fessy — fresh off a strong, strong showing in Total Madness — took the men’s heat.

But the highlight of said guy’s challenge was CT somehow ending up with someone else’s shoe in his hands, chucking it blindly behind him, and nailing Wes dead smack in the face. Best moment of 2020, by far (save for everything DeVonta Smith is doing).

Partner up

The real story was the season’s first twist coming immediately after the challenge, with TJ informing the cast the competition would be done in guy/girl pairs. Aneesa had a better time than Fessy, giving her the first choice, which she used on Fessy (who wasn’t exactly thrilled). After that, TJ told everyone else to pair off, and that created some interesting duos.

Cory and Tori stand out to me as a serious dark horse contender for the title. Both are strong competitors who have yet to win it all, and that’s a good pairing. Kyle and Nany formed team “almost there” — it remains to be seen if that’ll be a formidable duo. Leroy and Kam decided to split up (smart move), and ended up with Kaycee and Josh as partners. However, Killa Kam initially tried to pair up with CT, who instead picked Ashley “Millionaire” Mitchell and immediately put a target on his/their back, as the only team comprised of two former champs. This would come back to bite them right away.

The skulls are back, and that’s awesome

Last season, TJ introduced a new twist when it came to qualifying for the final: competitors had to win a red skull via elimination to become eligible. This season the skull is gold, and there are only ten, but the premise remains: you have to earn your way into the final. Gone are the days of coasting to the final by staying in the shadows. This is definitely one of the best moves in recent Challenge memory.

Getting to elimination is a little different, too. The winners are obviously immune, leaving the rest of the house to publicly deliberate who to send into elimination. HOWEVER, the actual voting is done in private, and individually as opposed to voting as a duo. That will absolutely play a major factor this season.

Let’s do the twist

As alluded to earlier, CT and Ashley had a target on their backs right away, and were voted into elimination. Fessy and Aneesa, as winners, got to choose their opponent. But, in a unique twist that forces teams to strategize, before the winning team votes, they are shown not only which team got voted in by the house, but which cast members voted for said team.

At elimination, Fessy and Aneesa declined the opportunity to compete for a gold skull — getting a “You sure? Might be your only chance” from TJ — and chose the team of Wes and Survivor legend Natalie. That team seems like a natural pairing, too. Wes plays the game a lot like you would on Survivor, so Natalie and him should mesh well. Although, she might have second thoughts after getting thrown into the first elimination.

About that elimination, too: turns out TJ wasn’t done twisting things up, as he announced it would be a girls elimination night. So, sadly, we were denied a Wes/CT showdown out of the gates. Natalie beat Ashley, sending the two time champ home — for now, anyway. You never know with The Challenge, and the whole spy theme totally leaves room for some chicanery.

After Natalie’s victory and Ashley’s goodbye, TJ had yet another twist for the cast: the winner of elimination has the option to keep their partner, or trade them for the partner of the loser or anyone who didn’t win the day’s challenge. That is 100% going to cause some drama down the line, and we’re all better off for it.

That said, we didn’t get to see Natalie’s choice this week, as MTV gave us the ol’ cliffhanger ending. We did see both CT and Wes in the teaser for future episodes, so that leaves a few unanswered questions not only pertaining to Natalie’s decision, but also about how exactly the format of this season’s game works. As said above, there’s not guarantee Ashley is gone for good; and who knows what the hell happens to the odd man out. Does the partner of the loser keep going as some sort of mercenary? Do they sit challenges out, hoping to get picked by an elimination winner? Should be extremely interesting to see where the game goes from here.

Random thoughts

Ashley has had the weirdest Challenge career — she either flames out early or wins the whole damn thing. This is her eight season, and this is how her previous seven played out: Rivals 3 – eliminated in 11th episode; Invasion of the Champs – won the final; Dirty 30 – left before the first challenge; Final Reckoning – won the final (this is the one where she took the money from Hunter); War of the Worlds – eliminated in episode two; War of the Worlds 2 – made the final; Total Madness – eliminated in episode four. Lots of peaks and valleys there.

I’m really interested to see Lio Rush this season. He is a professional wrestler, and a pretty damn good one at that. He is probably best known for his time in WWE, where he was NXT Cruiserweight Champion for a spell. He is also known for having a rep as a bit of an asshole backstage, and I’m interested to see how that plays out on this show.

It was nice to see some old faces again. Nicole Z is back after a few years away. She’s appeared on only two challenges – Invasion and Vendettas — but made the final in both. She should be one of the better female competitors. Challenge legend Darrell is back again, for the first time since Dirty 30. Darrell won the first four seasons he appeared on, but his last win was way back on the first Fresh Meat. Theresa is back after 10 seasons, last appearing in Battle of the Exes 2, where she was a runner-up in her only final.

It’s also worth noting two faces we won’t see this season: reigning champs Bananas and Jenny.

As for sentimental favorites? Hard to go against Leroy and Aneesa. Leroy is in his 12th season, and has made four finals without winning. Aneesa is making her 14th appearance, having made it to two finals without winning. Leroy announced before this season that it would be his last, and it’d be nice to see a guy who’s played second fiddle to Bananas so many times actually win one for himself. Aneesa has been in our MTV lives for almost 20 years now, having first appeared on The Real World: Chicago way back in 2002. You gotta think she’s coming to the end of her career, and it’d be great to see her actually win one.

Confessionals

Blaine

First, what to make of CT’s tone of voice in deliberation? He sounded like a man who lacked the confidence of his former self. But, moving more broadly, how refreshing to see a show filmed in 2020 in the reality vein not say one word about the pandemic. I kept thinking during the obligatory party scene that at least one player on camera would allude to his or her gratitude for the ability to be close to others sans masks. And it’s likely someone did, but with poor Joseph falling asleep on a nearby couch, perhaps editing didn’t have room (I mean, we didn’t even get a glimpse of Dee!). And we may all like to think we’re the CT, Lolo, Leroy, or Wes, or Tori of the bunch if put into The Challenge but let’s be honest: 2020 has turned us all into Joseph, exhaustedly napping in an oblivious world. This season has more twists than any snake I’ve seen; fitting, as Ashley all but called the house a snake pit with the backstabbing to come. My prediction on who wins? Fessy, who showed up much more fashionable than last season and will drop poor Aneesa in dramatic fashion, and Kaycee, who made a strong enough showing last season — her first — to go the long haul. Yep, I’m picking two sophomore Big Brother alums to be victorious and possibly pair together before season’s end. It’s a promising one.

Adam

This was one of the best season openers in recent memory. And I had very high expectations! They’re not back on a beach, but at least they’re out of the bunker, and I have a feeling the astonishingly high level of production will do wonders with Icelandic landscapes. Sure, there will be some pandemic quirks, like the “nights out” happening in a private geodesic dome and the lack of a location switch for the Final, but with this excellent format and stacked cast, I don’t think we’ll care. Speaking of that format…were they listening in on us? This is a dream scenario for fans. Sure, we started without reigning champs (I will continue dreaming of a Jenny vs Lolo elimination where Jenny politely destroys the competition), and we lost Ashley immediately, but we also narrowly avoided a Wes vs CT first round matchup. The implications of all the switching possibilities may make players think twice about going after these Vets. And the cap on how many skulls are given out is a needed change from last season. It’s really cooked up to be excellent. And half the cast wasn’t even in this episode! Did y’all know Darrell is on this program? Theresa will surely get some screen time, too. She has unfinished business with Nany. So many storylines! I have no idea who will win. I remain an MTV homer and hope the ten skull holders are OGs who battle it out. And Kyle. Sweet Kyle.

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