What is the best way to describe The Challenge in general? It helps if you're familiar with the story of Pinocchio, particularly the part where the wooden lad gets into mischief with other bad boys. They drink, smoke, generally act unruly . . . and then they transform into donkeys and get forced into labor. Of course, there are a few differences. For instance, women carry on as badly on the show. Also, nobody learns a lesson. And donkeys are cute creatures. Your average Challenger? Not so much.
It's hard to pick the high point of the show’s 28-season history. Maybe it was back in the pre-elimination era, when Real World/Road Rules Challenge was more of a traveling circus. The original Battle of the Seasons piped in voting drama, but the prevailing pairs wound up sharing their spoils with most of the departed teams. Battle of the Sexes? Anything with the detestable Puck Rainey cannot be considered a good thing, even when he bailed out halfway through. The Gauntlet introduced the win-or-go-home format that is in the DNA of the show today, and it yielded a great heroine in Sarah Greyson. But the finale was marred by Coral succumbing to a spider bite, leading to her team losing and Mike and Nathan pitching fits afterwards (logical in Nathan's case, since he knew this would be his final Challenge). My nomination for the last good season would be Inferno II, where the shrinking Good Guys team prevailed over the Bad Asses in the final. However, like I said previously, you have to remember Tonya struggling and her nasty female teammates heaping abuse. After that comes a blur of drama and turmoil, headed by TJ Lavin, the poor man’s Jeff Probst.
(Quick tangent: It sucks that BMP never found another host, because I find Teege to be so tiresome. Off the top of my head, the following would have made suitable replacements over the years: Melissa Howard, Coral Smith, Frankie Abernathy, Blair Herter, Timmy Beggay, Devyn Simone, and Rob Dyrdek. I know, Rob isn't in the Bunim-Murray Productions “family,” but he's probably the most entertaining person on MTV. Also, he could have whipped up a theme song for the show. And perhaps performed it as Bobby Light, his Eighties one-hit wonder alter ego.)
As of this writing, it looks like Johnny & Sarah will triumph in Rivals III, giving him an unprecedented sixth Challenge win. While I do not care to call him “John” like Abram did last season, I refuse to use his nom du famewhore. Sure, those two come off better than most of the Go Big Or Go Home cast, but they are grimy as hell. Sarah is the biggest disappointment this season. While she did not know she would be partnered with Johnny going into this season, she has shown regret at playing to win during Battle of the Exes II. She went as far as to apologize to him for her supposedly treacherous actions, as she and Jordan sent Johnny & Nany to their eventual doom. Never mind that those two had already been eliminated, only to be brought back in the lame web-exclusive “Battle of the Ex-iled” series. Worst of all, there have been no interviews of Sarah saying that she needed to appease Johnny for the good of their game. At best, she is a dog with a weakness for belly rubs. At worst, she is an embarrassment of a human being who would let Johnny luck his way to a win yet again.
Naturally, the rest of the cast has been crap. While the Are You The One? alumni are guaranteed to be represented in the finale (a first after three seasons), they still come off as unworthy of getting more camera time. Devin & Cheyenne lost the first endgame, only to be brought back when the field began shrinking uncontrollably, with Leroy getting injured and Brandon punking out by quitting to be with his girlfriend (I doubt they’re still a couple). Since then, the AYTO pair have been picked for the Jungle five times, but they haven’t fall back into it. Then there's Dario, who was partnered with Nicole. After they won a mission, they had to pick two teams, one of which would have to face Nate & Christina in the Jungle. The obvious play was to send in Johnny and his idiot cousin Vince, along with their respective partners. While Nate & Christina would have been the underdogs in either endgame scenario, the thought of Johnny Fortune or Wince going home with nothing was appealing to most of the rookies and never-would-be rivals. Dario and Nicole weighed options and listened to opinions, including Johnny’s. Dario was determined to be the shot-caller in this round. Whom did he pick?
Cory & Ashley and Devin & Cheyenne.
Dario's rationale was that Cory was playing both sides, but it was still a stupid move. Before bowing out in the Jungle, Ashley called Dario a “bitch,” and I can't say that I blame her. I'm torn about what would be the better nickname: Dummyo or Bitchio. Once again. Johnny walked away as marked as a gang boss's moll, and that continued to suck. Also, he instigated a conflict between Tony and one-time partner Camila, leading to their ejection from the game. He expressed regret afterward, but I imagine him rubbing one out from glee afterward. Ditto Wince, once Johnny explained what happened.
The next paragraph is a little gruesome, so feel free to skip it. I figured out why other players love to ally themselves with Johnny, even at their own expense. It's because his ass is so delicious. Seriously, this show offers a clinic in salad-tossing, and these people are experts. They don't even bother with jam or syrup when they dive in. Does it taste like pie? Ice cream? Is it like the Everlasting Gobstopper, where you get many courses in a single bite? Maybe it's banana-flavored, giving Johnny his nickname. Sure, there are those that don't feel like partaking (Abram, Cara Maria, CT, Jordan), but they're in the minority. Aside from his ability to toast (Bill Simmons once invited him to a Grantland shindig for that purpose) and being Diem’s friend in her more painful days, is there anything good about Johnny? I don't think so.
You're probably wondering, “What about Wes? Don't you like him?” No, I do not. There is an elitist air about him, like you'd know he would root against the Deltas while watching Animal House and for Alpha Beta in Revenge Of The Nerds. More importantly, Wes resembles Wile E. Coyote, perhaps the most hapless predator in cartoon history. How many of Wes's grand schemes to upend Johnny have blown up in his face? And when he interviews about getting the upper hand, you can mentally add a “Weston Bergman, sooooooooper genius!!” soundbite. The guy has been sent into endgames on eighteen occasions, and he was picked or voted in all but three times. Never mind that hewon two-thirds of the win-or-go-home games. Sure, he's won two Challenges, but I figure he triumphed in The Duel because he got a headstart on Brad in the final mission, and he won Rivals II because karma decided to pay his partner CT for years of suffering. Last week, the main story shouldn’t have been about the first endgame between relatives (cousins Nany and Nicole), but rather Wes E. Coyote plummeting off the cliff yet again.
As Johnny & Sarah face off against a field as hapless as the dopes from Survivor: Redemption Island that Rob Mariano ran over for the win, we turn our attention to casting rumors for the next season. As you'd expect, most of the candidates hail from the bottom of the barrel, topped off by three of the biggest headaches from Real World: Go Big Or Go Home: Dylan, Dione and Racist Jenna (as opposed to Challenge veteran Poor Life Decisions Jenna). Sabrina's name has also come up, but she would probably be offered up as a sacrifice to the dark gods these idiots worship. In a perfect world, MTV would pull the plug on this shitshow. Really, reruns of Ridiculousness would get better ratings. Alas, we are no doubt stuck with The Challenge until it inevitably collapses inside Johnny’s rectum.