Monday, June 19, 2006

Fresh Meat Challenge: By The Numbers

I may have given up recapping Real World/Road Rules Challenge, but rest assured that I’m still wasting vital areas of my brain thinking about it. Hey, where else can you go? At least I don’t have pop-up ads that slide from left to center.

In 2002, Bunim-Murray Productions decided to include the concept of elimination to the Challenge. On that note, 32 former RW and RR cast members were divided into duos by season, with eight pairs per side. After each mission, points would be awarded based on how well the teams did (32 points for first place, 30 for second, etc.) The top three pairs on each side formed the Inner Circle, which convened to take out one pair of their own. The end result was a series of verbal and written agreements on both sides to share the prize money with departed players, in exchange for the last-place pairs to take a hike. Before this, those booted had to leave because they annoyed people (Beth, Chadwick), creeped people out (Stephen), were partnered with those in the the first two categories (Jon, Piggy, Lindsey), or looked too powerful from the start (Yes and Veronica, back when she resembled a human being). While the show dragged on due to no eliminations in the second half of the season, it was interesting to note who the power teams were. On the RW side, Mike & Coral took the early lead, but were eventually outdone by Boston cast members Sean & Elka. On the other side, Theo & Holly from Maximum Velocity Tour went wire to wire as the best pair in the game, even if they were a little too nutty.

BMP kept the scoreboard and Inner Circle with Battle of the Sexes, with the top three male and female players making a choice as to who departed. The men agreed almost immediately to vote off the last place players, with only two of them dropping out early (David E., Jake). As for the women? Well, they ended up following suit, but Emily’s bullying convinced Ellen and Ruthie to cut Rachel and Veronica. This wouldn’t have seemed too bad, except that Emily herself dropped out after her boyfriend James was kicked off by his teammates. There are people who suggest that the pattern was set by the first Inner Circle, which voted off a rather strong player in Julie. That worked great for me, since I was (and still am) a fan of Melissa, and she felt wronged by Julie on the lecture circuit.

After Sexes, BMP went to do-or-die endgames in The Gauntlet, The Inferno, Inferno II and Gauntlet 2. Sandwiched between those seasons was Battle of the Sexes 2; this time, three “captains” were chosen within the male and female ranks. If a team won, the captains got the credit and picked off another player on their side. If a team lost, the other teammates voted to kick off a captain. Between the men force-feeding the women their lunch almost every week, and the women’s questionable decisions (especially keeping Angela over Cynthia), this made for a crap format.

The cover twist of Fresh Meat was that twelve non-alumni were put into the game. But BMP went one step further. Instead of two teams slugging it out, the players were spilt into twelve pairs, each team fighting for themselves. After each mission, the winning team would pick another to go into an “Exile” challenge. Then the remaining teams would openly vote another pair into the challenge. Both doomed teams would have the opportunity to bail themselves out by winning the next mission, thus picking their replacements (save for the team that won in the previous mission). The two teams in Exile would then run a race, carrying weight equal to what they brought on the flight over. Winning team stays in the game, losers go home.

Now...the first four missions have had an order to them. I remembered Seasons and Sexes, and I started to make my own calculations on who the strong and weak teams were. First place would yield 24 points, second place has 22, down to twelfth and 2. What can I say? I might be sick in the head.

First mission...get tied up back to back with your partner. Walk across a platform jutting off a very tall building, make a complete turn at the end of the platform, then walk back. Coral & Evan were randomly picked to set the order. The results?

24 Coral/Evan
22 Theo/Chanda
20 Shane/Linette
18 Katie/Eric
16 Danny/Evelyn
14 Wes/Casey
12 Tina/Kenny
10 Darrell/Aviv
8 Derrick/Diem
6 Johanna/Jesse
4 Melinda/Ryan
2 Tonya/Johnnie

Coral & Evan tagged Melinda & Ryan for Exile, and Wes’s plan to put in Shane & Linette backfires. End result: Wes & Casey are put into danger. Next mission: stand on pegs, and try to tag your opponent with a tethered ball. I awarded points even for teams that were disqualified for holding the ball for more than three seconds. After two missions:

48 Coral/Evan
34 Shane/Linette
32 Wes/Casey
30 Darrell/Aviv
30 Theo/Chanda
28 Danny/Evelyn
28 Tina/Kenny
24 Tonya/Johnnie
22 Katie/Eric
14 Derrick/Diem
14 Melinda/Ryan
8 Johanna/Jesse

Neither Exiled team managed to squirm out of the endgame, and Wes & Casey managed to defeat Danny & Evelyn. So far, so good...one Austin idiot gone, and Danny and Evelyn started a MySpace fight. We’re all winners. Onto the third mission: a mix of Deadman’s Drop and Hangman, where the guy hangs upside-down and holds the girl by the arms over the water. Not only do Coral & Evan “threepeat,” but we get Theo & Chanda in place and Shane & Linette in show, just like in the first mission.

72 Coral/Evan
54 Shane/Linette
52 Theo/Chanda
44 Darrell/Aviv
40 Wes/Casey
38 Tina/Kenny
36 Tonya/Johnnie
32 Derrick/Diem
30 Melinda/Ryan
28 Katie/Eric
12 Johanna/Jesse

Since the teams are on an anti-Austin kick, Melinda & Ryan are placed in Exile. One plan called for Johanna & Jesse to join them, but Wes “nobly” volunteered himself and Casey in order to save girlfriend Johanna. Also, I think he was getting sick of Casey. That brings us to the latest mission: players get handcuffed behind the back, and are forced to bob through slop to get the keys to unlock themselves. Coral & Evan picked the order, then decided to blow the mission in order to not seem as strong. The unofficial scoreboard as it stands:

76 Coral/Evan
76 Theo/Chanda
64 Darrell/Aviv
64 Shane/Linette
58 Tonya/Johnnie
52 Wes/Casey
48 Melinda/Ryan
46 Tina/Kenny
42 Katie/Eric
38 Derrick/Diem
28 Johanna/Jesse

So what does this mean? Sure, you can use a points system to gauge how good a team can be. You could even determine how big a blabbermouth Tina can be by how far she and Kenny fall behind Tonya and Johnnie. Hard to call somebody “doormat” when you can’t get it done in missions, right? For me, the Exile format provides a greater emphasis on strategy than in past seasons. The scoreboard merely provides insight.

For instance: as bad as the Austin kids can be, there is no way Johanna & Jesse should be put into Exile. Yes, they are annoying, but they’re also very week. Look at the scores...it took them four missions to get the same number of points Danny & Evelyn did in two. They managed to improve in the latest mission, but they still reek of bottom-feeders. That said, can you imagine going up against them in the final Exile? Or even better, in the final mission? An 1-in-4 chance for the grand prize magically becomes 1-in-3. Also in the same boat is Katie & Eric. Katie is no stranger to endgames, going 1-1 in the Gauntlet and 2-0 in the Inferno. But it appears that she has more alcohol in her body than blood, and she probably couldn’t lug her bags over the Exile course. Eric’s heft might also prove problematic in Exile. If the final mission doesn’t involve stationary activity like in Gauntlet 2, then Katie & Eric would be worth keeping.

The concept of an alliance has wrecked the Austin kids and their respective partners, but it will keep the more savvy alumni alive. All it takes is for three or four pairs to control the vote, win missions, and send other teams into Exile. Coral might be thought of as a bad girl by fans, but she knows how to work people, a talent that has kept her in four complete Challenges. Darrell has not only won three Challenges, but also has never been in a single endgame. While he appears to be less than intelligent due to his mangling of the English language (see “Infuorno” and “poorlest”), but alliances kept him in the running for big money. Same goes for Theo; as eye-rolling as he might be, he knows how to make friends.

On the outs? Tonya has been such an outcast in past seasons, she might as well call herself Pariah Carrey and be done with it. Theo has vowed to send Wes into Exile every time, so he and Casey are probably toast. Even if Wes is strong, his chemistry with Casey is extremely volatile. On the bubble: Derrick (still the “new kid” even on his fourth Challenge), Shane (never completed a Challenge before), and Tina (bit of a wild card).

There you have it. Barring any twists (partner-swapping, for instance), I hope that I provided a new way of looking at Fresh Meat Challenge. The next few months should be interesing, and it should be a pleasant diversion from the upcoming Challenge. In that one, we might be getting Wes, Nehemiah, Paula, “Johnny Bananas,” Svetlana, Tyler, Julie....and Beth. Who knows? Six months from now, we’ll probably be missing the taste of Fresh Meat.