- The Challenge -Devin Is The New Johnny Bananas & Writing Things Down Is For Nerds
Y’all, welcome to the latest season of MTV's The Challenge, the greatest of all possible reality competitions, 37 seasons strong. This season is called Spies, Lies and Allies and I’ll absolutely never be typing that out again so it’ll henceforth be known as SL&A.
This is the second espionage-themed season, So I’m assuming we’re getting another thematic trilogy, like the recent War of the Worlds seasons (War of the Worlds 1 & 2, Total Madness) and the Revenge trilogy before that (Dirty 30, Vendettas, Final Reckoning). I guess the 12 year-old boy that comes up with season concepts finally moved on from playing with tanks to watching James Bond movies, so let’s roll with it.
What matters here is that we’re into SPIES now, and we are leaning in hard. Teej is once again not a host but a “handler” and all our competitors are “agents” that have been “activated.” To be honest, this is the kind of hokey stuff I love. TJ is literally out here playing dress up. With the physicality getting more and more intense every season, this show could easily veer into self-serious territory if they weren’t constantly deflating the tension by reminding everybody that this is above all, Reality Television.
In an unprecedented casting choice, we’ve got more Rookies than Vets in this cast and I didn’t know who the fuck a lot of these people were because the feeder show network is getting both wider and wilder (12 Dates of Christmas???)
The cast is made of 17 Americans and 17 international players from shows like Big Brother Nigeria and Survivor Romania, a bit reminiscent of the War of the Worlds seasons. We met all these clowns in the pre-season "Global Activation" special and in case you didn’t? Don’t worry about it. It’s 34 people, you can’t remember ‘em all anyway so here’s your reminder.
ANYWAY, we open up the season proper in Croatia. All 17 Americans are locked and chained to cinderblocks and all the International agents are armed with keys and sledgehammers to set ‘em free. THIS IS HOW WE’RE PICKING TEAMS! The Internationals have to race down to release the Yank of their choice by unlocking their chains and smashing the bricks around them. Also there’s a safe. Okay.
In all this chaotic smashing and partnering, a few notable matchups emerge:
- Kyle picks Amanda, a known associate of Satan himself, back on her first challenge in 4 seasons.
- Big T picks Rookie/Survivor champ Tommy, who seems like a potential ginger powerhouse. The new...Wes?
- Berna, Survivor Turkey alum/circus performer picks the New and Improved CT, who has shed his dad bod of recent years.
- Esther picks Fessy, which means Team Festher can be a thing and suddenly I’m rooting to keep Messy Fessy in the game.
MOVING ON! Aneesa gets picked by Spanish dreamboat Logan, and is also one of the only Vets to clock that the BRIGHTLY PAINTED NUMBERS on the cinderblocks she’s chained to might come in handy later. This is especially funny when you realize that there are literally safes chained up next to them. How many seasons of this show do you have to be on to know that Chekov’s safe NEEDS to be opened, and how do you open a safe? You get it.
So yeah, the code unlocks the safe, go figure. They open to reveal a very weird gem prop that the teams have to then race with to the finish line. Are gems a spy thing? Feels more cat-burglary to me? Whatever.
Aneesa’s foresight means that they blow through the code-cracking and she and Logan, the challenge’s answer to Fabio, take first place. I absolutely love seeing Aneesa’s experience (all 15 seasons worth) finally benefit her a bit, and Logan seems like the soft-spoken motivator/willing lackey she needs.
Coming in absolutely dead last is Hughie, a former boxer/current make-up artist, and his partner Ashley “Smashley” Mitchell, who is too busy reminding everybody that she’s a 2-time champ to actually do well in this challenge. She, like a few of her fellow Vets, has not a single clue what her code is so I guess is just punching in numbers til this safe mercy opens.
Our Kind and Merciful Teej greets the new teams and after a too-quick pump fake puts Smash out of her misery and lets her know she’s still in the game. I’d actually gotten pretty used to them shaking people at the first challenge so I was a bit disappointed, but at least they seem like a pair that will offer some entertainment value given that they damn near killed each other during the very first challenge.
We learn a little bit about the game mechanics - Aneesa and Logan are now the Power Couple Troika Tribunal Agency (eye roll) and they’ll pick two players to go into elimination against the team voted in by the rest of the house after a short deliberation. Sounds straightforward! A return to form, even!
Enough about the challenge, LET’S HANG OUT!
It’s both Michelle and Logan’s birthdays and they don’t want to celebrate, but luckily for us this is SUPER not about them! It’s about the 32 other grown adults that need to let off a little steam - so it’s a house party! Nelson and Ashley are hooking up (surprising), Nelson and Fessy are still fighting about Double Agents drama (not surprising), and Amanda is making out with Fessy despite being super tight with Nelson (also not surprising).
Honestly though, who even cares because only one budding romance really matters – Nany and Kaycee. These two had PALPABLE chemistry on their prior seasons together and according to Nany on The Aftermath, started seeing each other more seriously right before filming started. I am a long-time Nany fan and feel like she is constantly getting screwed over so I hope Kaycee can be the rock my girl needs in this house and help get this win!!!
Another critically important thing happens during this impromptu birthday party: Devin appears as Bananas’ unlikely successor. The absence of Bananas for a second season in a row (which oddly continues to go unmentioned) has created a kind of social power vacuum. Nobody to give opening toasts, nobody to playfully stir pots, nobody to be lovably pompous and make everything about them... when suddenly, out of the darkness, appears Devin. Our man takes over the birthday party, presenting a cake while dressed in a blazer and leopard print speedo combo that is burned into my brain forever. He’s in the spotlight, he’s working his angles, he’s decent at challenges but playing a political game, he’s a precocious scamp and a total dickhead: he’s Bananas.
Now, as a rule, any fun night must be followed by a drama-filled morning. Vague anxieties about a potential Survivor US alliance come to a head when Emy, of Survivor Romania, reveals that she heard the Survivor US folks, Michaela specifically, have written a list: who can be trusted, who can’t, and who they could vote into elimination. Devastating.
Reliably, everybody in the house acts like this very basic bit of strategy is WAY out of pocket behavior and they turn on this girl INSTANTLY. Michaela goes into panic mode and her attempt to ease the minds of the unsettled Vets goes about as badly as it could. Michaela admits to the existence of a list, even showing it to Aneesa and some other Vets (wild tactical error) while the other two Survivor US folks (Michelle and Tommy) make quick work of distancing themselves from her. Fact is, Michaela’s a Rookie who’s paired with a Rookie – all anybody needed was an excuse to throw her into elimination and she handed them a great one.
Deliberation, to put it simply, rules.
Aneesa & Logan get to oversee, though they don’t get a vote, and TJ gives the rest of the agents a 20 minute time limit before secret ballots will be cast. This is my favorite deliberation format in recent history, since bandwagon voting is a boring cop-out and I absolutely HATED the Troika/Tribunal systems where one or two bossy dudes tended to run the show.
In deliberation, Michaela further explodes her already bad situation by coming for Michelle, accusing HER of being the reason for the turn against her. This truly burns the bridge with her Survivor US brethren and prompts Emy, my knuckle-tatted, blue-haired Romanian queen, to lay it all out again, mincing no words.
Tommy, the last remaining shot Michaela had at a Survivor bud, corroborates Emy’s story. The Vets are watching this play out like the comedy it is because honestly? They’re barely involved at this point. These Rookies have generated enough drama to keep the Legacy Vets out of the line of fire this week, and it’s gotta be fun to watch a perceived threat implode like this.
Further proof that Devin is Bananas 2.0: he’s RIGHT next to drama without actually getting involved. Like Johnny B. before him, he almost seems like production’s shill when he’s just providing highly giffable reactions to the wild surroundings.
So yeah, shocking no one, Michaela and her partner Denan are just about unanimously voted into elimination... They are to be tried for the crime of taking notes, which to be fair is big time nerd behavior in a house with very low nerd tolerance. Team Loneesa briefly talk strategy and plan to put in Emy & Corey L, because they’re rookies or whatever, but Logan isn’t thrilled.
At the elimination arena, called The Lair, TJ has a twist to announce because of course he does. The Agency can put any two individual players into elimination, not necessarily a team. Any man, any woman. That means a lot of these Rookies that lined up behind a well-liked vet might not have the cloud-cover they planned on, and basically any political planning thus far has to be straight up RETHOUGHT. As far as twists go, this is a BANGER.
When asked which guy they’ll throw in, Aneesa and Logan send in Emy’s partner Corey L. sticking with their original plan. When it comes to the girl vote though, Young Logan goes rogue, sending in Michelle. Aneesa is shocked but rolls with it and we see a non-team go into The Lair on our very first elimination. WHAT A DAY! Corey L is understandably pissed since he’s only even on anybody’s radar because of his loudmouth partner and suddenly she’s not even on the chopping block, but he channels all that rage into an absolutely killer elimination performance.
The elimination game is called Back Me Up, and is actually very simple: all four players are strapped together and have to try to push and drag the tangled mess of bodies off their side of the ramp. Because it’s an all-rookie elimination it was hard to know going in who was favored but god damn Corey L. crushed this. To paraphrase Aneesa, what Corey L. pulled off in this challenge was basically Johnny Backpack x 3.
So Michaela and Denan are basically eliminated for leaving a paper trail, which really is a pretty amateur mistake for a spy. As for Michelle and Corey L. TJ drops yet another twist on us: as with Double Agents, they can opt to infiltrate and pick a new partner from any other team excluding those in the Agency. Corey L. picks Tori, a pretty solid choice, and for reasons no one can quite articulate, Michelle picks Devin. Out of everybody, she picks Devin. Above CT, she picks DEVIN!!!
Now if i wasn’t already convinced that Devin was taking up the BananaMantle, this would have sealed it for me. Like Johnny, he’s got a tough-to-pin-down kind of charisma that’s not even entirely likable. You love to hate him. It’s fun to be annoyed by him. He’s got a handsome face that’s also HIGHLY punchable. He’s Our New Bananas, and I’m happy to have him.
Stray Observations Time!
- I am highly optimistic about the format this season, but I do wonder if eventually this will become an individual game like War of the Worlds did, or if we’ll stick with pairs to the end.
- Denan being a 22 year-old sex counselor sounds... sus to me. What are your qualifications and is it just Being a Hot Person?
- Gabo fully admitting that he has Popcorn Muscles AND that he picked Nany because she’s hot is the kind of honestly I look forward to seeing more of. Live your truth Gabo baby
- Logan saying Aneesa is like his sweet loving grandmother has gotta be one of the most unintentionally brutal insults I’ve ever heard on this show
- I am deeply excited for the reunion of Lavender Ladies Amanda and Ashley, and I see many screaming matches including these two in our future
- Nam Vo was removed from the game (“deactivated” according to handler Teej) and though unconfirmed, the prevailing theory is that he got COVID during filming. It’s known that a cast member did test positive, pausing production for a few weeks, but maybe Nam was too sick to continue
- Nam was replaced by Ed Eason from The Circle (US). He looks so different than he did on that show that it made me doubt I'd even watched it
- Nany and Kaycee watched the premiere from Mexico, because they are just living better than the rest of us
- Generally, I'm bummed not to see more Vets out here. I get that we need an injection of new blood, but I hope more of these Rookies stick around a few seasons at least. This show is as much about long-standing grudges as it is about wild feats of athleticism.
Until next week!