MTV’s The Challenge has been on television for a thousand years, during which I’ve tried tirelessly to convert those who ignore its beauty. You can keep your Survivor, your Amazing Race, and your American Ninja Warrior—MTV’s collection of bumbling amateur athletes (from reality shows all over the world) is the greatest sport, and it is also a pillar of bad sportsmanship, as witnessed in Wednesday night’s fourth episode of the season, one of the best to date.
The theme of this 34th edition is War of the Worlds 2: Team U.S.A. versus Team U.K., which has so far led to a lot of stupid war jokes. But that framework quickly became useless anyway, because the U.S. is full of people who hate each other and are willing to sabotage their team. (For reference, The Challenge is no longer just MTV-specific. It now welcomes players from all reality walks of life.)
Since it is a team game this season, as opposed to individual (as in recent seasons), you would think there’d be no need for in-fighting. But the rules, set up to create drama, state that after each week’s challenge, the winning team gets to choose a player from the opposing team to go into the elimination round (the Proving Ground)—or the winning team can instead be dastardly and send in one of their own players. The losing team has to automatically send in one of their own. The two players then go head to head in an elimination round, and that winner can decide to stick with their team or switch to the other side and become what the show is calling a turncoat. Stupid and brilliant. The thinking is that if you can get rid of your own team’s strongest players slash (your enemies), then you have a better chance of winning in the end.
This is a competition where the best athletic narcissists return each season, and so it pays to be a veteran. As such, the U.S. team members have years of history and bad blood between them, which means certain people have allegiances that help them play the game within the game.
Team U.S.A., of course, collapsed in last week’s episode when Wes’s alliance with U.K. members went awry, and his teammate Laurel hatched a plan—partnering with a dweeb named Josh (of Big Brother fame), who talks like his mouth is full of M&Ms—to secretly vote Wes into elimination. Wes, a recurring Challenge villain, lost to Bear (that is his name). And Laurel, a fellow legend most famous for berating her teammate Big Easy for his weight in a prior season, is undoubtedly one of the show’s greatest and meanest athletes. This genius had a notebook to keep a hit list of teammates.
Laurel’s defense about her decision to throw in Wes is reasonable: he was gunning for her anyway, so she’d be stupid to not get ahead of him. It also made for fun jousts on the U.S. side: Josh v. Wes, Laurel v. Wes, Johnny v. Wes. But poor Laurel was hyper-focused on strategy, to her detriment. Perhaps she shot her shot too soon.
With Wes gone, the next step for Laurel was to try to eliminate his remaining alliances in the house, which commenced in last night’s episode. Laurel teams with Johnny Bananas to throw this week’s challenge, losing on purpose, so that she can plot to vote in a Wes U.S. alliance member. She convinces enough people to vote for “Ninja” Natalie—who has that name because she competed on American Ninja Warrior, a show full of absolute freak athletes. Since the elimination is a climbing competition (they have to place 21 pegs into holes on a pole, climb to the top, and ring a bell), the stage is set for Natalie to win—she’s an excellent climber and brags about it. But Laurel ends up winning. Or so it seems. She celebrated this way.
Which is one of the greatest physical interpretations of “ahahahaha!” that I have ever seen.
But hold up. Laurel actually put the stick in hole that wasn’t a hole, producers checked the tapes, and Ninja was named the winner.
There are several problems with this outcome and a bunch of technicalities to be debated: TJ blew the horn. There appeared to be an extra hole on Laurel’s side at the top. They should’ve reset the game. Etcetera! Whatever the case, Laurel lost, and her intended victims (Cara Maria, Natalie, Paulie) got to boast about karma in their confessionals, while Big Easy is probably somewhere doing the same.