Welcome to the 34th season of The Challenge y’all! In addition to putting out the Rotten Banana podcast every week, I’ll also be releasing recaps of each episode… Until someone makes fun of me on the internet, and then these will immediately stop. There’s a lot to unpack in this first episode (unless you’re Sean) so let’s get right to it!
Can we just agree “Fortunate Son” by CCR is the best thing to ever happen to the challenge? I feel like Lieutenant Dan is going to pop up at any second to explain the elimination process. There’s a chance I would have understood it better coming from him than from TJ. Seriously, did anyone follow that? In all seriousness, I’m loving this team format. The British are coming and I’m over here humming “I’m Not Throwing Away My Shot” from the Hamilton soundtrack.
We get some fun back and forth, mostly from Johnny Bananas, who appears to have a line in his contract that states he must make fun of people for the same shit we all make fun of him for. “So, this is what you look like without Instagram filters” he exclaims. Umm, JB, you have as much botox as any #fitchick out there in the jungle. “Rogan has already been on this season longer than he was last time.” You got sent home 3rd last season my dude, after the guy from Telenovelas and a Bachelorette contestant, which is the closest thing to Telenovelas we have in America. The guy who sent you home not only had Zahida as a partner, but signed a piece of paper saying he would intentionally lose to you, but go off.
Esther comes on to tell us its her first season on The Challenge, and I think everyone across the country said “no shit” at the same time. Tori lets us know she has no idea the year we gained Independence from the British, but her head could be full of pop rocks, or actual rocks, and I’d still love her. Laurel and Bear have a conversation, where the nicest thing she can come up with to say about him is that “he has an amazing face”. Considering Laurel has been on more seasons of The Challenge than Bear’s last girlfriend has had birthday parties, I’m hoping this goes exactly nowhere.
Producers: “You couldn’t possibly do worse than Nicole Z.”
Laurel: “Hold my beer.”
TJ shows up and announces the prize is a million dollars, which I’m guessing has been paid for by all these damn Amazon commercials. Our first challenge is a classic game of Capture the Flag, perfect for day one of USA vs. UK. Each team has 28 flags to transfer, except for Team USA who has 29 when you factor in Paulie, a walking red flag. We meet The Reinforcements; CT, Dee, Ninja Natalie, and Turbo. This is not the last time I’ll ask this question – but WHY WASN’T LAUREL A REINFORCEMENT? I’m a chubby woman who can’t run a mile, and I wouldn’t be intimidated by Ninja Natalie walking up as a Reinforcement. What a missed opportunity that was.
**insert generic variation of “I’m ready to hit someone” here**
A couple of hot takes for this first challenge: Watching CT cheer for Team USA on the second replay is just sad. He’s literally their cheerleader the whole time and even says he grew up with Team USA. Zach says he’s a “f*cking killer” at which point I reminded my living room that he asked for security from his own girlfriend last season. Bear makes fun of Paulie’s running, which feels like watching The Steelers play The Patriots – can they both lose? Turbo says, “Idris hit The Wes” and I’m wondering how long it takes Wes to start referring to himself in the same way. Most of Team UK admits their main form of cardio in the off season has been running their Instagram pages. Laurel has not forgotten that the best offense is a good defense and boxes out Tula, a move that essentially leads USA to their first victory of the season.
Immediately following their first win, Team USA serves up their first loss: not picking CT. I can’t believe I just listened to these clowns discuss Chris Tamburello as if he were Easy E. Even Ashley Mitchell, who ruthlessly stole half a million dollars from her own partner, is not okay with not picking him. If Millionaire Mitchell is questioning your integrity, you should immediately sign up for a hot yoga class or something. CT not getting picked feels like a metaphor for me as a viewer. I’m old, and apparently, I’ve gotten soft. Did wardrobe even create a Team UK jersey for CT?
(If you don’t know who Easy E is, slide into Bear’s DMs. You’re his type.)
Jordan Wiseley is officially back and prepared to speak for Team USA. I guess with Trump as President, everyone is feeling like they can lead without any real credentials. (Just kidding Jordan, I really wanted to make that Trump joke.) He chooses Wes & Laurel to join the Tribunal, at which point TJ explains the rules for eliminations, and I turn into every ‘confused person meme’ combined into one. The Tribunal gets to attend the other team’s deliberation and choose their opponent in elimination from either team. This has us all wondering: Who is going to toss in their own team mate first? Maybe I’m not as soft as I thought because I can’t wait to watch that play out. Oh, and you can’t be in the Tribunal twice in a row, which means the weekly opportunity to “Win or Go in” is basically off the table.
Everyone moves into the house and President Snow announces that The 34th Social Games have begun. CT is sad, and members of Team USA seem eager to let him know they were not okay with that choice. Georgia remembers we don’t know British slang. Laurel and Cara are in the confessional talking about how horrible the other one is. Joss and Rogan explain “Jogan” like they’re the first people to combine their names into one, but admittedly, their friendship is pretty damn cute. Who else is going to rub baby oil on that one spot on your back you can’t reach? Jordan and Tori have accepted they can’t pretend they aren’t dating anymore. It will be interesting to see which “couple strategy” works out better, Tordan or Carlie. (See Joss, you can do that with literally any two different names.) Wes starts scheming with the other team before he unpacks his toothbrush. He has been building his alliance in the off-season, which honestly is a strategy I don’t love. Play the game when you’re on the field. Josh Martinez, the IRL 40-year-old virgin, steals a kiss from Georgia and its as cringy and confusing as it sounds.
However, that’s the 2nd worst thing Josh does on the first night. We now suffer through the dumbest fight I’ve ever watched, and I’m from the South y’all. My guess is that like the rest of us, CT can’t believe that Josh is part of Team USA and he’s not, and every word that comes out of Josh’s meaty mouth pisses him off more and more. Ten years ago, CT would have right hooked his way home on the first night, but husband & daddy CT just goes to the gym instead. (Was anyone surprised to see Turbo already in there? Nope. Me either.)
Rogan and Dee have a deep conversation about their shared stripper past, talk a little shop, and then go off to have sex faster than Bananas can give his annual toast. I’m here for it though – two people who look like that owe it to the rest of us to hook up immediately. The next morning, Kyle, whose entire narrative is based around who he hooked up with four seasons ago, tells them not to let it affect their game.
Wes has a strategy conversation with Joss, Rogan, Kyle and Bear, in front of God and the entire cast in the pool. Normally, I’d laugh along with Wes’ strategy of playing politics with the other team, but this is the first large team format in about 10 years… couldn’t the guy just not be a rat for once?
Cut to Team UK’s deliberation, aka that time Wes fully morphed into the villain from one of those Telenovelas I was talking about earlier. This whole thing is so uncomfortable and painful to watch. Sean is a deer in headlights, who somehow won his original show by “winning people over with his personality.” Wes continues to be more condescending than my high school Vice Principal. This feels like a good time to remind everyone that as much as we love this show, we can’t let it turn us into an asshole, in real life or on twitter.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but shout out to Johnny Bananas for convincing Jordan and Laurel to flush a rumor down the toilet and see where it comes out. Wes played into their hands perfectly. How dare you impress me Bananas. How f*cking dare you.
Leroy wants everyone to sit down together as a team and just talk. What a sweet guy, that Leroy. He’s like the “free shipping item” of The Challenge. He’s that necklace you buy that you don’t really need, but it puts you over $50 and the rest of your cart ships for free. They had a little money left in the casting budget and rather than spending it on shipping fees, they spent it on Leroy.
The teams walk into the Proving Ground, because after 34 years of this shit, they ran out of scary sounding arenas. I can’t help but imagine someone falling down those steep steps as they walk into an elimination. As for me, I’m hoping its Zach. Turbo calls Sean a rabbit, and I can’t decide which one is cuter. Wes votes for Bear, while Laurel & Jordan do exactly what you’re supposed to do on day one and send in the other rookie. Plus, Idris looks like a character from Love Actually, so I don’t mind watching him flex a little bit. By the way, who decided they should wear shirts during this? I just want to talk.
Idris beats Sean in two rounds of pole wrestle (not to be confused with the pole wrestling Dee & Rogan have on their resumes), and just like that we’ve got the first elimination of the season. Idris shouts “Are you entertained?” at the crowd and I need to take a shower because it feels like I joined a Fight Club. Since you’re not allowed to talk about Fight Club, I guess I should end it here.
Oh, not without mentioning one last little juicy tidbit. The winner of each elimination can choose which team they return to, which is a huge twist. TJ really is always one step ahead of us, yes – even you Wes. Eventually, TJ will retire, and this show is going to have Jigsaw as a host who shows up on his little tricycle and asks, “do you want to play a game?”