Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Challenge Postmortem: The Decision

This is how bad John Devenanzio, a.k.a. “Johnny Bananas,” bugs me. After he won an unprecedented sixth Challenge at the end of Rivals III and screwed over his partner, Sarah Rice-Patterson, I came across this post on Stop Being Polite, which wondered if he was wrong in taking the $275,000 for himself. I called him a “scumbag,” which shows where I stood on the issue, and I wondered if the split money would still have made for the biggest payout in Challenge history. Turns out I didn't research hard enough; at the end of The Duel (where Johnny made his debut and lasted all of one mission), Wes and Jodi went home $150,000 richer. Here's where I got more upset . . . could it be possible that Johnny wanted to take the single season money record from his favorite ginger-haired punching bag? As far as Johnny is concerned, I would not be surprised.

History will show that Rivals III was one long clusterfuck of a season. Four teams wound up leaving the game without going into the Jungle. Devin & Cheyenne were the first team out, came back into the game when too many players were vacating, got picked by winning teams to be in the Jungle, and they wound up avoiding the black skull on six draws. Johnny's idiot cousin Vince didn't learn any lessons from his first Challenge stint, and he wound up getting into his share of conflicts. After a shoving match with Thomas, host TJ Lavin gave Wince a warning. True, no punches were exchanged, but one has to wonder whether his “bloodline” with Johnny kept Wince in the game. He wound up finishing second with Jenna because somebody had to place. And Johnny & Sarah went into the Jungle only once, right before the final mission. A few episodes before that, Dario & Nicole had a chance to send Johnny and Wince to draw skulls with their respective partners, but Dario didn't pull the trigger. While neither team would have been an immediate underdog facing Nate & Christina, Bitchio could have turned up the heat. He did not, and Johnny continued yet another charmed run, aided by perhaps the best partner he ever had.

Even if I had not accidentally gotten spoiled about Johnny & Sarah's win (I hit the wrong button on my iPad), I still would have bet on them in the final mission. The only suspense was which of them would earn more points in order to decide the prize split. Like I said last time, Sarah was in a no-win situation, while the toxic atmosphere of the series ensured Johnny wouldn't be raked over the coals like his partner would. The turning point came in the overnight session. One player per team would sleep in relative comfort, while the other had to stand on a stump in the cold. Whomever stood on the stump longer would get two points, while the rest of the tasks awarded one. In the finished product, TJ doesn't announce the winners, probably out of suspense. Sarah was shown to have been feeling ill, so people would have to assume Johnny outlasted her on the stump. For somebody as cynical as me, this seemed like an easy way to give Johnny the points and the ultimate decision. Bad enough that the times per task were being added up, and the final ascent wasn't staggered like the start of a leg on The Amazing Race. The possibility of producer interference was too much to ignore.

Cut to the final minutes of the episode. Johnny & Sarah had trounced the opposition, and the lead points-earners had to make their decisions. Devin faked out Cheyenne before declaring that he would split the $25,000. Wince followed suit with a $50,000 split. Then came Johnny's turn. He bullshitted about how he had forgiven Sarah for the sin of playing to win on Battle Of The Exes II. Then he figured that he probably didn't have many seasons left in him, and he claimed the money for himself. While my grip on reality television is nowhere near as tight as in years past, that still has to rank as one of the dirtiest moves in the history of the genre. I saw Johnny's relationship with Sarah being mostly 50/50. At worst, it was 60/40, but that could have applied in either direction. Neither player carried the other outright. At the very least, Sarah deserved $137,500 from her trials. She wound up with nothing, save for a stipend and/or appearance fee, which would be considered small potatoes compared to the runner-up prizes.

Sarah broke down. Hard. Since she truly believed in friendships and forgiveness, she thought Johnny would do the honorable thing. Johnny broke Sarah. It is my policy to view anybody debuting on a BMP show to already have been damaged, but Sarah wasn't the massive trainwreck like so many of her contemporaries. Sure, she had visible cracks, but most viewed her as intelligent. I don't think she was seen as totally pitiable before the decision . . . and that was some feat given how many of her past teammates let her down. She had to leave Battle Of The Exes when Vinny pulled down Mandi’s top. She was dismissed when Trishelle quit Rivals II. In the aftermath of having won her first Challenge two seasons prior, she probably thought that the show wouldn't fuck her that hard a third time. At the Reunion, she pointed out that she merely sent Johnny (and Nany) into the Dome in Battle Of The Exes II against Leroy and Theresa, and she didn't add that he had already been eliminated earlier in the season. Not that the audience would have cared anyway, given the applause Johnny's choice got in the Reunion’s opening minutes. While Sarah has never been a widely-beloved figure, you can't help but sympathize with her when she yelled at the audience for co-signing Johnny's shitty, shitty move. Even if the crowd had loaded guns pointed at them, it was still an inexcusable reaction.

I don't understand why Sarah attended the Reunion. She probably knew that she'd be sitting next to Johnny, inches away from hearing his excuses (“All’s fair in love, war and Challenges”? Fuck you, Johnny. Seriously). The cynic in me figures she was paid to show up and stalk offstage for a spell, before being coaxed back by Cheyenne. Maybe she was promised five minutes alone with Johnny and no witnesses. The best move would have been not to show, letting Johnny beat off in front of his adoring fans. Then Sarah could have delivered a taped segment, venting about how she was wronged. The camera would pull back to reveal her holding a baseball bat. Pulling back further, we would see Johnny's car. And then Sarah would channel John Goodman in The Big Lebowski, screaming about the perils of fucking a teammate in the ass. Sadly, The Challenge is where hope goes to die, and Sarah didn't say much else when she returned. Instead, host Nessa (who is probably a glaring weak link on Girl Code) moved on to Devin and Cheyenne’s outrageous fortunes, an apparent hookup between Wince and Camila (somebody who probably didn't want to be seen grinding on the same family tree with its gnarled, stubby branches), and the “Challenged Awards.” This included Thomas getting “nominated” for bailing on the game, without the context of him wanting to be with his ailing girlfriend. Needless to say, the people who put the Reunion together made black holes envious with their sucking.

I'm going to stop here. I feel that I'll need to get my act together before writing about all of my problems with Johnny. Believe me, there are many. I also have to make time to listen to Bill Simmons' podcast with him, which promises to be brutal, given the affection the one-time ESPN "Sports Guy" has for Johnny. Or maybe I'll find a way to twelve-step away from Bunim-Murray for good, and move on with my life. Fat chance of that happening, though.


abo-bder said...
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abo-bder said...
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