The Challenge: All Stars - Free Fallin'

We made it pretty far into The Challenge: All Stars without TJ making a Paramount pun, and I'm honestly disappointed it took this long, despite savoring it's arrival. This is a show where actual dads (and moms, of course) compete against each other, and I like the humor to follow suite. Cory, for example, could use more on-screen Dad humor. Did you know he has kids? Anyway, back to Argentina.

After last week's mega twist, this was the first episode to feature the new rules truly influencing gameplay. Gone are the innocent days of yore, where the worst player goes in and the house holds a generally drama free vote. Credit where credit is due, this format idea was mentioned on the Challenge edition of our Taking It Down podcast around the Total Madness final. By my wife, no less, who might have reminded me of this fact this week. Did Bunim/Murray tune in? Either way, the premise delivers.

Mark and Kendal are locked in for elimination following a truly terrifying daily challenge. Yes, on a show where people leap from airplanes, run full speed at one another in small spaces, and eat all manner of disgusting food, this one would be among the scariest. They were sent into sheds suspended over water to solve a puzzle, with the kicker that they were standing on trap doors. With no cues as to when the doors would open, they raced to finish the puzzles as best they could. Somehow, the only human being to successfully do this is Big Easy. Yes, Big Easy. Poor Katie has been so traumatized by falls over the years that she can't even pretend to care about the task at hand. She crosses her arms and shivers and shakes and it is tough to watch, but she has accepted her fate. Since it's a ladies' elimination day (or, at this point, vote), part of that fate will likely be going into the Arena.

Until Kellyanne and Jemmye say what we're all thinking during deliberation. First, Jemmye wonders aloud in a confessional about why all of these people are so willing to go into elimination. Do they understand the show? Katie volunteers herself, much to the scorn of Jemmye, and Kellyanne points out that they need to actually vote. What if the guys don't want to compete with her? Every vote has a serious ripple effect. This format could potentially give us the most tangled political chess matches the show has ever seen, and I hope they employ it more often going forward. On its maiden voyage, the cast goes with Katie's wishes.

The guys make a show out of giving Katie reasons not to pick them, and we endure a night of that, only to be redeemed by tensions developing in the house. Aneesa has her sights on Laterrian, while Jisela and Alton continue their flirtatious whatevering. Aneesa really hopes Laterrian doesn't get called in. The next morning, a montage of dudes prepping for battle sets the tone. Laterrian is running hill repeats in fully extended white crew socks and a baggy long sleeve cotton shirt. If you've never played pick up basketball or worked out at a YMCA or university rec center, this is the universal sign for a middle aged dude to steer clear of. Sure, Mark is stretching his enormous arms in a different corner of the yard, but come on.

Kendal is very unsure of Mark, by the way. Why have these people been gunning for Kendal? Outside of the threat she poses in a final, they seemed to decide to not like her in a really personal way. It's funny when individual and collective emotional growth finds a blind spot, because they are still totally Mean Girl-ing Kendal.

Mark swears he is in it to win it, which is a funny thing for the guy who got this whole show together to need to say. Mark has never really spent much time in eliminations. Bananas bested him in a pole wrestle to end his final regular show appearance, but he had cruised through a stack of seasons before that without ever being tested. Why wouldn't he try his hardest, Kendal? He's supremely motivated to make the final.

Anyway, they get there and its a partner's version of the tug of war game Jordan destroyed Josh at. I think the rope is slightly bigger, and there may be less length to work with? But the premise remains two folks standing on logs, trying to pull the other off. Katie decides, somewhat surprisingly, that Laterrian is her best bet as a partner. I agree that he is a great choice, just a surprising one for her.

It pays off immediately. Katie and Laterrian take round one. But there's been a cost. Turns out giant ropes are heavy and balancing is exhausting. Mark mentioned in an after show interview that the elimination lasted an hour and a half. That is a battle. In round two, the fatigue sets in. Mark and Kendal manage to play a slightly cleaner game, with a little cleverness from Mark before Katie punts for round three. It ends in agony. Everyone out there is pumped, they're spent, but Kendal and Mark emerge victorious. The defeated leave graciously, knowing they've left it all on the field, and Mark and Kendal live to fight another day.

The implications of this partnership may be the most important takeaway going forward. No one wants to run against Kendal in a final, but who thinks they can take her out in an Arena? Nothing bonds folks like a shared experience, so will Mark finally stick up for her going forward?

So long, Katie and Laterrian. I thought Laterrian was a genuine threat in the final, and I'm disappointed we won't get to see him there. The end game is approaching fast. Who can hang on?