Television

The Challenge: All Stars – Semi-Charmed Lifesaver

Hope to see you never

“Alright. Don’t take care. Hope to see you never,” TJ yells, as a competitor storms out of this week’s elimination. He didn’t even get a chance to sound his beloved airhorn. Why take this from TJ? We have a quitter. A full blown, honest to God quitter. In a testament to both the old school personalities involved and the editors’ skill, the identity of the quitter stayed a moving target until the very last second. Twists were presented and cards were laid on the table. The temperature is rising in Argentina.

As tempting as it is to always view this show as a “then versus now,” investigation, in my mind, we are firmly into new ground here. There are just the right amount of folks left in the house to get a good sense of who everyone has become, and to forget the oddness of seeing these people again in this context. Its just a genuine Challenge viewing experience. But not everyone has found that old gear again, and, according to the edit she’s received, Arissa is not handling it so well. She’s an adult, she is used to having her own space, and apparently really struggled to keep herself fed due to a host of food allergies, per conversation with Entertainment Weekly and others. Communal living would be hard for anyone, but when your roommates keep eating the only food you have? In a foreign country, isolated in a cabin during a pandemic? Its easy to see why she reached a prickly place.

Beth and Katie were the other women centered in this episode. Beth has, understandably, hit a wall of missing her family. She is ready to fight, but as we’ve seen in seasons past, is she really ready to fight? Katie, on the other hand, tells Derrick that she feels she’s improved quite a bit, but isn’t ready for everyone to know that yet. She presciently tells him the fear of falling into water lingers (which, fair, we’ve seen the blood), but otherwise, she’s grown and toughened. But no one needs to know that yet. There’s nothing wrong with playing the layup card as long as possible.

Unfortunately for Katie, they arrive for the daily competition to find a platform suspended over water. Kudos to production for designing another simple, easy to follow contest with good entertainment value. The cast was yet again split into teams, a throwback element that I have really enjoyed, and asked to make the risky choice of team captains. Some volunteer, some lose rock-paper-scissors, some scoff at the idea (Jemmye). We then watch them shimmy back and forth across this rough rope bridge in a race to release one of the opponents cables. Alton does Alton things, but its not enough. Darrell does Darrell things, standing in the background and instructing his teammates to release the exact right rope to send opponents flailing with the most comical effect. Jonna has the shining moment of the daily, fighting and clawing her way through, speaking in a confessional about how having two children has made her an entirely different, tougher person, only to fall inches away from safety. I hated to see it.

Meanwhile, Kellyanne notes that her and Kendal are a dominant force. I think we’d all have to agree, based on the competition so far. They cruised across the ropes. If people are looking to a final, I don’t think anyone would want to see them there. Which brings us to the hinge of this week’s drama.

The women seem to constantly reach for reasons to not like Kendal. Jisela says this to her face during the captain picking, and makes it very clear in a confessional. Have they figured out that she’d kick their ass in almost any Finals scenario? You’d have to think so. But it also comes off more than a little mean girlish. Perhaps Kendal has isolated herself, and her explanation as to why she didn’t jump through the platform at trivia made me cringe as much as the next person, but if anyone can complain about snakes in the house, as someone does during the elimination, its Kendal.

Mark’s team wins the ropes course. Beth’s team loses. Mark now has the power to use the Lifesaver. Beth is going into elimination. The entire cast is fascinated with the Lifesaver and what it might do. Conveniently, since Katie could not face her fear and simply jumped into the water instead of really competing, she volunteers herself as the house vote to face Beth. Any chance they have to not lay their cards on the table and vote, these folks take it, so they all agree and Katie is headed to elimination.

You cannot convince me that Katie and Godfather Mark didn’t cook this plan up, simply to see what might happen. It’s as clean a way to figure out the Lifesaver as any. Katie is safe, and there’s still enough folks left for Mark to throw someone else in and not make too many waves. There’s even the not so insignificant possibility that Beth will just quit, and whoever he throws in will cruise to an uncontested win. Who does the Godfather love the most? Everyone has some moment of jockeying for position with him. Katie notes that she has known him for sixteen years (Mark says twelve), and Beth has known him for so long that they got their own flashback montage. He meets with each woman and promises not to throw them in. Even Arissa, who has separated herself from the group on their night out, he finds the next day and says some very kind things to while telling her that she is safe. She’s not ignorant of the fact that people think she’s the weird one; hearing Mark acknowledge and respect where she’s at seemed to mean a lot to her. But it didn’t matter.

It didn’t matter because when Mark invokes the Lifesaver and Katie trots back to the rest of the cast, TJ tells them its time to vote. This is not what Mark or anyone else expected. He fully planned on sending Kendal, poor Kendal, in to face Beth. Darrell is the first in the crosshairs, with unrelenting pressure from TJ. Among a house full of wily vets, I’m not sure there’s one that can play a quiet game better than Darrell, and even when he’s put on the spot here, he slips out of it. He asks Beth who she wants, and goes with it. One vote for Arissa. As they work through the rest of the folks, its clear that these people either can’t do the quick vote math in their head that we’ve come to expect from the main season, or that they just don’t have as many shits left to give. They make almost no effort to hide allegiances, and Kendal bears the brunt of the disrespect here. Is she floating? Sure. Do Aneesa and Jisela have to do her like that? I don’t think so. But, again, it didn’t matter.

It didn’t matter because Arissa, who arrived in her street clothes, is sent down into elimination to face Beth. Could there be a worse feeling in the Challenge? She balks at a few pats on the back as she walks down, imploring them not to touch her. She is ready to spit fire. Or maybe a little too ready. As TJ prepares his precious airhorn, she unleashes a profanity laced tirade upon her castmates that was stunning in its rawness. Thank you, streaming. Had this been on cable, it would have rivaled the epic Buster Bluth bleeps of yore for coherence. But here it was, laid out for all to hear. This is not what Mark intended. Arissa is there through a combination of people supporting Beth’s choice, protecting their own interests, and those that spite voted, despite knowing it was likely a burn. But it is easy to understand her position.

She would’ve gone back into a house without support. She was, apparently, literally hungry all the time. Who wants to live like that? She admitted to Entertainment Weekly that she hadn’t seen a single season of the Challenge, even the one she was on, and got in over her head. As Darrell said, it’s not the Brady Bunch. So long, Arissa. I fear you will actually prove to be collateral damage in the crossfire between the mean girls and Kendal, once all the cards are laid.

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