Monday, February 21, 2022

Getting Back On The Bike

I cannot call myself a writer. Not really.

I used to write. I wrote all the time. I used to write articles on a freelance basis. I met interesting people, interviewed them, wrote articles, and those got published. I can't remember the last time I did that, let alone the last time I got paid for it.

I think it's a matter of finding time and space to write. This is what I tell myself, because the alternative is that I'm getting older and the relevant parts of my brain are eroding.

Last year, I was planning on recapping The Challenge: All Stars. I managed one full essay, and I couldn't continue from there. I'm working these days, so finding the time to go over the episode was tough. It did help that no one really cared whether I did it like I used to. I don't mean that in a "woe is me" way. The pressure to produce wasn't there, and that was probably good for me in the long run.

Right now, I'm just going to type what's on my mind. My hope is that if I do this often, I can get back in the flow

The Amazing Race


This season is broken, at least in terms of statistics. TAR33 went through a nineteen-month layoff thanks to COVID, and four of the teams that were in contention didn't come back when the race resumed.


Anyone that knows me will tell you that I will not shut the hell up about The Amazing Race. I feel it's one of the best reality series out there, and CBS doesn't give it enough attention because of the two other shows that coast mostly on name recognition (Survivor, Big Brother). A pandemic is the worst thing that could have happened to TAR without a major and sudden tragedy being involved. Big Brother takes place on a glorified soundstage, so putting people through the proper protocols was easy. Survivor wound up taking a year off before returning . . . .and, sadly, the game is still geared to entertaining host Jeff Probst. Too many twists, too many hidden idols, far too many chances for the game to shift on a producer's whim . . . or Probst's.

TAR33 hangs in there. Teams are now sent off in groups, as opposed to starting based on how they completed the prior leg. They travel via chartered plane, as opposed to buying tickets on their own. The plus side is that if something goes awry with the format, the producers and host Phil Keoghan try to correct it. In the previous season (which was on the proverbial shelf for almost two years), front-running teams formed an alliance, going so far as helping each other out in terms of completing tasks. A few seasons earlier, the "Head-to-Head" challenges were imported from the Canadian version of the series. They took place right before the end of a leg, negating most of the progress teams had made. Viewers only had two seasons of that before it was quietly folded.

The race itself looks like a two-team battle. Ryan & Dusty became the only all-male team racing when Michael & Moe were eliminated once again (having originally skidded out in the first legs before and after the series resumed) and Anthony & Spencer (heroes who helped stop a terrorist attack on a high-seed train bound for Paris) were unable to return. I've read complaints from other viewers about their excited "dudebrah" behavior, but I've seen far, far worse. For the record, I don't give them slack because Ryan was wrongfully convicted of a crime and spent almost ten years in prison. The only other person I can think that competed in TAR and gone through something similar is Ron Young. He competed in TAR7 years after he was a prisoner of war.

The other contending team is Kim & Penn Holderness. They found a niche in creating goofy videos with their kids. That's not my thing, but I see the appeal.They've finished first in four legs, three after the season resumed. Penn comes up as cheesy often, but I'm good with him.

After flight attendants Raquel & Cayla, we have Arun & Natalia. They're a father/daughter team, and they are not good racers at all. They don't suck as people, but they could be mistaken for plastic surgeons specializing in buttocks . . . because they always bring up the rear. (Shut up, I think that's funny) They were the last team eliminated before the race shut down, they were brought back along with Michael & Moe when things resumed, and they've finished last in two non-elimination legs. They're probably lovely people, but -- once again -- they aren't good at racing.

I'll stop here. I kept getting distracted by the Internet. Like I said, I'm going to try and write more often, even if there's no demand for me to do it. I just want to get back into good habits.

PS: One of the teams that didn't come back was Caro Viehweg and Ray Gant. They met on Love Island (another reality show CBS fawns over), they ran three legs, but they split before the season resumed. I'm only bringing them up because of Ray's yellow sweater that he wore in the second leg.

Please tell me I'm not the only one that thought of those two. Lie to me if you have to.

Sunday, May 09, 2021

The Challenge: All Stars Episode 1: Monsters' Ball

                Given that four episodes of The Challenge: All Stars have aired as I start writing this, I should get these recaps out of my system. I’m going to try and make things shorter and punchier, as opposed to my detailed recaps from long ago.

Episode 1: “Legends Never Die"

Release Date: April 1, 2021

                Mark Long had a dream. A cast member of the original Road Rules and a veteran of The Challenge, Mark had been pushing for an “O.G.” version of the series for years . . . a season which would bring in players that haven’t been on the show in a while. That would include Mark himself, 49-years-old, yet fit as hell and capable of facing modern-day Challengers . . . even the ones that are half his age.

                 Cut to today, where Bunim-Murray Productions brings in “the best of the best” to compete. Well, more like a mix of legends and those you would never put on THAT level. Casting decisions would have been a pain even without quarantine protocols. Also, it’s on Paramount+, as opposed to MTV. So now, I am paying for a subscription service that I’m barely going to use, and where I’m not really interested in any other exclusive content. Bottom line: I am a dummy. Anyway, this is The Challenge: All Stars!

                I don’t know why there’s no hyphen in “All Stars.” I’m probably the only person wondering about that.

                Welcome to Argentina! Not that you’re told. Twenty-two past players (including Aneesa and Darrell, both of whom fell short in the recently filmed Double Agents) are dropped off. For the most part, we get a mix of introductions and old highlights. Also, there’s Jisela falling down the bus steps and laughing about it. Given that she lasted only four missions in each of the three seasons she competed (including Battle of the Sexes and Gauntlet 2), I am not expecting much from her. She’s also a mother these days. A lot of these people have kids, and it’s always a little unnerving when I hear about that, even if that involves people who weren’t irritating back in the day.

                 Everyone steps to a nice clearing, where they are greeted by TJ Lavin. Teege’s listed title is “Host,” which works better than “Handler” during Double Agents. (Short story: season with a spy motif. Great on paper, lacking in results.) He does the usual introductory spiel: “You all are the best of the best. The legends . . .  the all-stars of this game.” He does this with a straight face, not discounting folks like Laterrian (three seasons, one completed), Yes (last seen in Battle of the Sexes in 2003), and Jemmye, Jonna and KellyAnne (players that stretch the definition of “old school” is pushing it). In the end, there will be one player going home with $500,000. Originally, I thought that seemed disappointing, given the touted $1 million on Double Agents, but it was split where the two winners (CT and Amber) got $450K apiece.

                The players go nuts as they explore where they’ll be living. It’s the usual swank house, but it could double as a museum. Gold-colored helmets adore the wall, each with a player’s name on them; Crests indicating all past Challenge seasons; and memorable quotes emblazoned on the walls. One example: “I don’t kiss ass I kick ass and if you don’t watch it, I’ll kick your ass.” This was uttered by Beth back in Gauntlet III. If you’ve never read my recaps, just know that she’s a pain in the ass, and she doesn’t seem to have changed. She does have a husband and two kids. That doesn’t offend me much. Stephen Miller finding someone as heinous as him while I’m single really pisses me off. Although she’s married, she can’t resist calling out to her kinda/sorta showmance from The Duel, Nehemiah. Her nickname for him: “Tenderoni.” Nehemiah looks embarrassed, as well he should.



                 Ace (the country boy who probably got less out of his stay in Paris than even young thug CT) notes that is curious about “how much evil” will come out for competing for $500K, noting “Back in my day, the stakes weren’t as high. These people before could kill each other for a scooter. I don’t know what they’re gonna do for half-a-million dollars.” Elsewhere, Laterrian shoots the shit with Syrus and Nehemiah. “I’m here for redemption,” he interviews. “I’m not here to lose. I’m not here to go home. I’m here to bust ass and win.”



 Name: Deep Blue Dive

The Deal: Two teams of eleven chosen at random swim out and dive down to retrieve puzzle pieces. Each piece has numbers on them. There is a platform with math equations. (Example: “247 ÷ 19 = __”) Players need to figure out what number they need, then swim out to retrieve the pieces with the matching number.

Goal: Complete the lengthy equation given. Any wrong answers and failed attempts to get the pieces result in five-minute penalties.

Additional: TJ instructs each team to pick one male and female captain. Winning captains will get power. The captains on the losing team? “Well, let’s just say don’t lose,” he snarks. Teege loves lots of things. Being vague about the rules is one of them.


                Given that we’re not told the members of each team, the mission gets confusing. Here’s how things shook out. Captains are in bold.









Big Easy



















  • Yes takes the lead on the equations for Silver. Turns out he was a state math champion. Also, he last appeared on the show in 2003 (here’s my recap of his final episode), and he doesn’t look like he aged at all. Also, "Yes" is really his name. His parents were fans of the band with that name.
  • Alton gets the first piece for Copper. In an interview, Aneesa barely keeps from drooling over him. I can’t blame her.
  • Beth is the first on Silver to swim out . . . and she winds up coming back, barely doing a backstroke. The funny part is that it looks like what Lolo Jones did during Double Agents . . .  which is sad when you remember that Lolo is an Olympic athlete, something she brought up in many, many interviews.
  • Darrell tags in for Beth, and he delivers a piece for Silver. Bad news: it’s a copper-colored piece.
  • Trishelle wades into the water, make a “fuck it” gesture, then heads back to shore. “What the hell?” she asks us. “I thought we were gonna be hanging out, having a good time, having cocktails by the pool. But no, this is a real challenge.”
  • Jisela declares that she’s going into “Mommy Mode” . . . and she brings back a puzzle piece. For real. Once again: my expectations for her in missions was low. She might be one helluva mommy.
  • As Jisela recovers, Arissa goes out . . . and she stops almost immediately. “I feel my body reject this,” she interviews. “I’m feeling this cramp from my stomach to my groin.” Given how she looks like she looks as skinny as she did in Battle of the Sexes 2, this is not surprising.
  • Montage of failure. “Welcome to The Challenge: Senior Edition!” Teck laughs in an interview, as players keep coming back to land empty-handed. “Today looks like recess at the old folks’ home! We got the medics out here. We got the walkers out, we got the wheelchairs out. A lot of old people are going own today . . . myself included!” I don’t associate Teck with seriously competition (or musculature), but it’s good to see him again.
  • Big Easy dives down to get a piece, but he needs a lifeguard to row him back to land. While he has lost weight from his Challenge days, this isn’t a good sign for the guy who almost keeled over in Gauntlet III.
  • Mark interviews about trying to look cool even though the pieces are heavy. “I’m having flashbacks of Florida, maybe running on the beach Baywatch style. But I’m totally out of breath, so I probably look like an idiot.”
  •  Laterrian goes out and cramps up in the water. “I look like a fucking punk,” he interviews, rolling his eyes. “I’m not 23 doing this. I’m 43 doing this, and I’d like to live to see 53!”
  • After we see Aneesa and Darrell fail, Jisela goes back out and gets another piece. I am genuinely stunned. I’m thinking there’s a monkey’s paw out there with at least one finger folded down.
  • Silver picks up the pace, mostly thanks to Nehemiah and Yes. Over on Copper, Laterrian is already dreading how he’s going to be affected since he’s one of the team’s captains.
  • Silver gets all their pieces into the platform, with Yes leading them in solving the lengthy equation. He writes in the final answer. TJ blows his airhor to end the mssion.

                Naturally, there’s a huge celebration on the Silver side. Easy: “FUCK! YES! LET’S FUCKING GOOOOOO!!!” Thank goodness Paramount+ comes with closed captioning. Nehemiah and Teck engage in sweet dancing for the cameras. “My kids are gonna flip!” Jisela interviews. “The way I did it, I even surprised myself.” I think she surprised everyone.



                TJ congratulations the Silver team, singling out Yes and Jisela. Over on Copper, KellyAnn and Laterrian hug in anticipation of getting screwed. Teege announces that captains Teck and Jisela are safe from going into elimination. In addition, Jisela is awarded a Lifesaver, giving her the power to bail out someone who has been nominated for elimination. And then TJ drops the hammer: a men’s elimination is coming up, and Laterrian will be going into it. He orders the players to select one guy (from either team) to face Laterrian.


                The players return to the house. Laterrian has a heart-to-heart with Syrus. Turns out that he wants to face Ace, mostly because he’s only known him for about 24 hours. Laterrian interviews that he doesn’t want to be the first one gone.




                The players solemnly walk into the clearing from the start of the episode. Back at the house, the team captains are kept out of the meeting. Darrell starts by congratulating everyone for performing in the mission, singling out Yes by saying “Thank God we had a mathlete.” I don’t think anyone has uttered those words in that order on reality television

                Syrus cuts to the chase, putting Ace’s name out for nomination. Clearly not happy, Ace asks if that is how deliberations will be done. “They pass it off as being noble,” he interviews, “but they’re not noble. They’re monsters.” Aneesa notes that they’re just talking. Ace: “You guys are fuckin’ monsters!” Really, Ace? Have you seen the most recent seasons? If Turbo was there, I’d given Ace a pass. Turbo is probably second cousins with the Minotaur.

                Mark interjects. Given how this edition of The Challenge is his baby, I’m thinking he’s probably practiced making speeches in front of the mirror. He figures that if someone going into elimination wants a certain opponent “if they’re passionate about it,” they should get it. Beth interviews that her heart is breaking because she loves Ace, but no one wants to rock the boat.

                Ace continues to rant about the “monsters.” Cut to Darrell cringing. “Ace, Ace, Ace,” he interviews. It’s always fun when he has to say a name three times. “Callin’ us monsters and shit? Man, it’s the fuckin’ game, man! Take your ass to elimination! Somebody gotta go in.

                Eventually, Ace calms down, and the others formally vote for him. Well, not Arissa; she interviews that she’s more “empathic and zen” these days, and it hurts her to see Ace like that. Beth gives Ace “positive vibes.” Ace reveals that he had a crush on Beth in 1993, when she was on The Real World. Me? I turn into Ben Affleck’s Batman, screaming, “WHY?!? WHY WOULD YOU SAY THAT?!?” Everyone there gets a good laugh. “In past Challenges,” Ace tells us, “I have always done what I believe is right, but it turns out the monsters just always seem to win. Maybe it’s because there’s not enough heroes to slay ‘em. But there’s only so much of me.” He laughs at the end. That was such a corny speech from him, and he knows it.


                House. Laterrian finds out that his wish has been granted. Ace lays on his bed. He interviews that he knows he’s not supposed to take it personally, but he feels the others ganged up on him.




                Ain’t no party like a Challenge party! Katie yells about checking IDs. Turns out it’s 40 years and older tonight. The editors get in on the fun with a “NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL A 90S PARTY” graphic. Drinking? Check. Dancing? Check. Merriment? Check. With most of the players not being hardcore veterans, there’s less of an atmosphere where anyone could hook up with anyone else. “This is what we used to do,” Aneesa interviews. “This is what we came here for.” The only real misstep comes when Ace wraps his head up like a medieval serf. Why did he do that? “I thought you said 1890’s!” he tells the partygoers. It’s a cute idea, but it doesn’t quite stick the landing. Still funny, though. More dancing. One of the women dances on the table. I can’t tell who that is, but the word “DAMN!” comes to mind. Ace interviews that he’s never been able to hold a grudge. He likes the “memories and friendships,” and that’s why he needs to stay in the game. More dancing. More partying. Fun, fun, fun!

                Cut to sunrise. Bodies lay limply on couches A few players have coffee and exercise. For some of these people, they’re paying the price from the previous night. Jisela interviews that she can’t party like a kid anymore. Meanwhile Laterrian talks to Syrus about the impending match with Ace. He interviews that $500K is at stake for him, as well as his reputation, his ego and his pride. He adds that hasn’t done The Challenge in eighteen years, and he doesn’t want to be the first person gone. Meanwhile, I’m checking for grey hairs. The Gauntlet was that long ago? Holy shit. Laterrian figures he’ll “Derrick Henry the motherfucker.” He doesn’t specify if he means the running back for the Tennessee Titans or the guy from Are You the One? that’s competed in two Challenges. Probably the running back.

                Elsewhere, Ace is washing himself in . . . I want to say a lake. It could be a puddle. He interviews that he can’t expect to win the $500K without going through someone. “I really want to win this, and not for myself,” he adds. “I want to win this money so I can give it all away and try to make the world a better place.” Good for him! Maybe he’ll go back to Paris and make it rain with the strippers like back in the day. Like I said: CT probably got more out of his stay there than Ace.




                Night. TJ welcomes everyone to the Arena, which will host the eliminations. I’m good with that. “Crater” from Double Agents was pushing it. “Killing Floor” from War of the Worlds? Yeesh. Teege calls down Laterrian and Ace. He asks Jisela if she would use her Lifesaver to bail out Ace. She tells us about remembering the episode (Gauntlet 2) where he said she was dead weight. Sure enough, we flash back to that moment, with Ace interviewing, “I think Jisela kind of dead weight for our team. I’m kind of glad she’s bowing out right now.” Cut to present-day Jisela: “Who’s dead weight now?” I’m not a huge fan of Ace, but back in Gauntlet 2? Jisela was dead weight. Like I said: she did three seasons and only competed in four missions each time. Ace wound up staying on the Veterans’ team for three more mission before getting beat in the Gauntlet by Derrick. Basically, Jisela holding a grudge for this long is great for this moment.

                 Back to the Arena. TJ asks Jisela if she wants to save Ace. “NO,” she flatly replies. Okay, then.


Elim. Record

Last Elimination

Clyde "Ace" Amerson


Lost to Derrick in Beach Brawl (Gauntlet 2)

Laterrian Wallace


Lost to Alton in Pole Climb (The Gauntlet)

                TJ announces that Laterrian and Ace will be playing “a good old-fashioned Pole Wrestle.” Ace is dismayed. Laterrian: “What’s a Pole Wrestle?” Really, man? You didn’t study the series from when you last appeared? Or maybe he knows and is just being a fun dick about it.

                Rewind effects takes us back to Pole Wrestles past: Mark vs. Johnny Bananas and Robin vs. Camila in Battle of the Exes (2012), Darrell vs. Zach in Invasion of the Champions, and Derrick vs. Wes in The Duel (2006), along with the first Pole Wrestle elimination, pitting Aneesa and Paula. Good times. Good, very violent times.

                My original plan was to go over the rules with bullet points like I did with the mission, but there isn’t much to say. Both guys hold a pole and try to wrestle it away from each other (“by any means necessary,” Teege notes) inside a dirt circle. That’s it. First guy with two wins stays in the game, loser goes home. “Tonight is Pole Wrestle,” Ace tells us, his situation sinking inside his mind like a lead weight. “Fuck you guys!” he laughs. Jemmye interviews that she hasn’t seen Laterrian smile since she’s gotten to the house, but now he looks like he just won the lottery. Sure enough, there he is laughing at the impending physical elimination. Laterrian interview that he was “awful” in his last elimination. To be fair, that involved climbing a pole alongside Alton, and Alton could have done thing without using his legs. “I need to step the hell up,” Laterrian adds, slapping his palm for emphasis.

                The guys get suited up. The others start getting hyped. One girl yells out, “Kill each other!” After the appropriate amount of time to raise the tension, TJ blows his airhorn. Immediately, both guys slam into the dirt, dust rising as they try to take the pole. “When I see Ace and LT hit the ground,” Yes interviews, “all of the hair on my arms stands up because I know this is real.” More writhing. Yes: “We got half-a-million dollars on the line and they’re out there giving it their all.”

                 Soon, Laterrian stands up and slams Ace to the ground – hard – before swiping the pole. As the audience cheers, TJ reminds both combatants that Laterrian will win if he takes the pole again. “DIG DEEP!” TJ shouts, blowing the airhorn.

                What happens next is . . . brutal. Not “Someone goes to the Medical Place” brutal, but still tough to watch. Laterrian stands over Ace and repeatedly slams him to the ground. “Ace looks like he’s being plunged into a toilet,” Aneesa interviews. “Literally. Plunging. Kendal turns to me she goes, ‘Is it always this brutal?’ I’m like, ‘This is exactly what I’m gonna do to you!’” Poor Kendal. Given that her only experience in a win-or-go home game was moving bricks while walking on a plank (yes, really), I wouldn’t have blamed her for fainting on the spot.

                Meanwhile, Ace does not let go of the pole. Or maybe the brain cells that are supposed to tell him to do that are out of order. Slow-motion shot of Laterrian slamming Ace yet again. Playing referee, TJ reminds them to stay in the circle. Finally, mercifully, Laterrian yanks the pole for the win. Once again, Ace is the first one out of the game. At least nobody will be questioning his guts like when he bailed out of Bug Helmet in The Inferno after ten seconds.

                Laterrian basks in the win, with Syrus shouting at him. Laterrian does a field interview, happy that he got redemption from the last time he was on The Challenge. The guys do a quick shake-and-light-hug. “This has been rough,” Ace interviews. Replay of Laterrian slamming him to the ground. “When I was hitting the ground, it’s like I getting the air knocked out of you every single time.” Looking at the replay, I can believe it. “Losing again is upsetting,” he continues, “but it’s life, right?”

                Denouement. TJ is impressed that the seasons has started this way. He congratulates Laterrian for his win, telling him to rejoin the group. TJ turns to Ace, calling him “an O.G. legend.” After a beating like that, that’s a nice consolation prize. Yadda yadda, “This ends your time on The Challenge.” Teege doesn’t throw in something like “I’m sure to see you again,” which is something he drops after eliminations, so I’m thinking Ace isn’t coming back. Ace thanks everyone, they cheer for him and chant his name. “This has been the honor of my life,” he interviews. I do not consider that to be sad. I’m probably going soft. “Getting another chance to see these people after fifteen year was worth getting the crap kicked out of me, so it was great. But I’m . . . looking forward seeing my dog.” The music stops. “Who I miss very much.” Awwwww. No word whether the dog wants to see Ace, though.

                 TJ wraps things up. “Volume’s turned up a little bit,” he says to the players. No kidding, Teege. “I’ll see you guys real soon.” As the players walk home, Darrell gets the final interview. “Everybody is shaken,” he says. “The game has changed. It ain’t the same like it used to be After seeing Laterrian whup Ace’s ass, everyone in the house is like, ‘Damn!’ Welcome back to The Challenge!”

                Given how this recap is past relevancy (fifth episode will be streaming this evening as I type this), I’ll be brief with the show’s teaser, especially since I’ve watched how these bits played. Katie shouts at Trishelle about knowing her sixteen years ago. Aneesa to Darrell: “I’ve known you since I was fuckin’ twenty.” Shots of competition and Arena matches. Beth voiceover: “We all kind of went back to who we were twenty years ago. It’s scary.” Shot of two players trying to melt ice by using another player like a saw. Ah, yes. One of the few good memories I have from Battle of the Sexes 2. Someone drops from a rope into water. More action. More drama. TJ’s on a motorboat. Laterrian and Syrus have a conversation. Nehemiah is in bed with Jemmye. Players hauling a long log. Laterrian yells out in apparent frustration. Kendal lays on the ground.

                Arissa flips off someone, all, “So fuck you!” I’m pretending to not see the story behind that. Aneesa: “I really, really hope that good people fucking win, finally.” Not sure what that says about CT and Amber after their $900K win in Double Agents. More action. Mission set on a moving truck. It looks like something from Double Agents. Two players (Nicole and Liv) had to go home due to injuries. So, yeah, get the old-timers on the truck! Finally, there’s TJ. “You’re just quitting? All right. Don’t take care [blows airhorn], hope to see you never.” Is it wrong to think TJ would want to put those lines on t-shirts? “Man, that’s some bullshit,” he mutters. One episode down, eight to go!



  • ·         Lots of differences between streaming and basic cable. For one thing, cursing isn’t bleeped. That’s a bit jarring at first. I don’t think it applies to flashbacks; when we got the flashback to The Inferno where Katie almost murdered Veronica, her curses are removed. And there was a LOT of cursing. Good times.
  • ·         I like the flashbacks. I get the sense that we could see anything from past seasons pop up, including stuff that’s not readily available for view via streaming, such as the stuff I covered in my recaps. Seriously, sometimes I feel like I wound up painting on caves, because those seasons were that long ago. During Mark’s intro, they went to All-Star Challenge, the second season of the franchise. I actually recognized Neil Forrester. He was the guy from RW: London who got his tongue bitten off.
  • ·         Bunim-Murray Productions has upped their soundtrack game in recent seasons of The Challenge, and the songs used are pretty choice. I will say that Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town” is a bit too obvious, in that it could be used at the start of any season. I’m waiting for them to haul out “Princes of the Universe” by Queen. Given how most of the current crop of Challengers think they’re immortal already, I think it’d be a great fit.
  • ·         I cannot stress enough how amazing the house looks. In addition to the stuff I mentioned, you can see pictures on the wall . . . and if you look closer, you’ll see that someone sketched out great moments in Challenge history. I honestly feel this house could be converted into a museum for the diehard fans. Maybe MTV and/or Paramount+ can give us a tour. I don’t think that will happen, though.·  
  • ·         If you’re wondering about the time penalties . . . you’re probably me. For the record, each team had seven penalties, so they canceled each other out. That is if you believe the editing.
  • ·         In Battle of the Sexes, Laterrian was the second guy that went home. In that season, the men’s team elected to vote off the player with the least about of points. Here’s the funny thing: in the first mission, he and partner Antoine were the first guys out, giving them 2 points each (out of a possible 36). If not for David Edwards and the Puck-related shitstorm and subsequent departure (read the recap; it is a long, dumb story), Laterrian might have been the first guy out. Then again, he was probably more well-known at that time, so they would have booted Antoine. Given how entertaining the Belgian turned out to be, I think viewers got lucky.
  • ·         Speaking of that episode: Jisela made a reference to “sugar cookies.” That was related to the first mission, Sergeant Says, which was basically Simon Says with drill instructors. There’s no flashback for that, but Jisela’s throwaway line made me smile.
  • ·         The setting for deliberations is pretty sweet. The main attraction is that each player has what looks to be a wood carved portrait. I wonder if they got to take those home.
  • ·         In an interview, Ace reveals he broke a rib and cracked another facing Laterrian in the Arena. Damn.


               Finally, I know this was a long recap, and it is way overdue. I’m open to feedback. I’m relearning how to ride this bike, and I want to know how I’m doing in a time where Challenge recaps are everywhere. I don’t know where to find the bells and whistles, but I’m hoping you had fun reading this.

            Special thanks to Shannon Healy for her feedback and patience.


Sunday, May 02, 2021

The Challenge: All Stars: An Incomplete Draft

 The following is the rough, incomplete draft of my recap of the first episode of The Challenge: All Stars. It is long. It is detailed. I wound up stopping right when the mission started. I'm working on shorter recaps because that's how things are done these days. Who knows? Maybe I'll have this season recapped right before the second onestarts streaming.


Special thanks to Shannon Healy for her feedback.

                I am so weak.


                I had a plan. I was going to recap the “O.G.” edition of The Challenge, because I covered a lot of the names involved. Then it was announced that the series (now titled All Stars) would be streaming on Paramount+. And so, here I am, subscribing to a service just for the one series. I’m on the 30-day free trial, but I know that I’ll probably watch long after that. It’s a testament to the reality television model of Bunim-Murray Productions: keep bringing back the same people season after season, weaving an ongoing tapestry for those who don’t go for soap operas or professional wrestling. I keep saying that I wish I could quit the franchise, but, once again, I am so weak. Well, at least I’m writing again. Mostly because I crave validation too much.


                Right. Moving on . . .


                Title card: “MTV Entertainment Studios.” Audio: The “MTV” from “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits. Make your own comment about how MTV hasn’t been about music in forever,


                Mountains.  Majestic music. Voice of TJ Lavin: “The Challenge is the most thrilling competition series ever created.” Not bad for a show that started with putting kids on a pair of RVs. Cue the highlights from the series’ history. There’s Derrick and Joss playing Pole Wrestle in Vendettas. I still think Derrick won because Joss wound up getting distracted by departed love ones beckoning him towards a bright light. It was that brutal. Teege: “The victories are monumental.” There’s the Road Rules team getting their check for $150,000 in The Inferno. Teege congratulates Darrell and Aviv for winning Fresh Meat. “And the defeats are devasting.” Cut to Eric Banks, aka “Big Easy,” gasping for breath in the finale of Gauntlet III. I think the bright light was there for Easy that day. As for context: Just do a search for “Challenge, Gauntlet, trim the fat.” It was that messed up. I’m just thankful they didn’t go for Coral almost dying of a spider bite in The Gauntlet.


                TJ: “We have chosen the best of the best. The all-stars of the game.” Uh huh. That would’ve been debatable before the pandemic and protective quarantine measures. Teege goes on about testing these all stars like they never have before. Yadda yadda, yadda, more historical highlights. “The time has come to see who is the greatest amongst all these legends, and who still has what it takes . . . because in order to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.” Ah, yes. The Tao of Ric Flair. More highlights lead to a CGI mountain and the title card: “MTV THE CHALLENGE: ALL STARS.”


                Mountains. Clouds swirling around mountains. According to Wikipedia, these are the Andes Mountains in Argentina. I don’t think that’s mentioned in this episode. Overhead shot of a bus going down a dirt road. It’s time for some introductions. Names will be put in bold during each person’s first interview.


                The door opens up, and we get one of my favorite highlights from my “tenure”: the episode from The Inferno where Katie curses out Veronica and comes close to killing her. In Katie’s defense, Veronica had been asking for it for most of that season. Cut to present day Katie Cooley (nee Doyle).  She tells us about how she got two black eyes in Cutthroat the last time we saw her. Cue the clip of her trying to dive to a platform, only to smack her face against it. “Back then, I was known to be a little feisty.” There she is, going nuts with a plunger that was left on her bed in The Ruins (easily one of the most awful seasons you can watch). She interviews about being married with a kid. We get a picture of her family. It’s always going to be weird imagining Challengers – either long-time veterans or one-shots – getting hitched and reproducing. At least for me. She wraps up, telling us she’s got a social game ready.


                Next up: Mark Long. In case you didn’t know, he was the one pushing for an “O.G.” version of The Challenge for years. I wound up turning on him from Battle of the Sexes 2 onward, but I’m glad that his dream came true. Highlight of him holding court over the men’s team in the first Battle of the Sexes. Highlight from the original All-Stars that aired in 1999. Hey, that’s Neil from RW: London! You know, the guy that got his tongue bit off! Past and present, Mark flexes. He’s still good at that. “I don’t care if it’s the 1990’s or if it’s 2021,” he interviews. “I am still coming in at six-foot-three-and-a half, 220 pounds of twisted steel.” Montage of present-day Mark working out. People made rank on him for wanting to compete even though he’s probably older than the preferred demographic, but I’m sure he could have come into Double Agents to whup the asses of guys less than half his age. “I have a size 15 shoe, and I’m ready to jam it up someone’s ass!” Thanks for sharing!


                Highlight from the Gauntlet 2 finale where Alton Williams finds out that his team had won. Tangent: worst final mission EVER. The present-day version notes that he’s made it to three finals. Cut to a highlight of him handling Danny Dias with ease in Beach Brawl. This would be funnier If Danny hadn’t died recently. Turns out Alton has a seven-year-old daughter and five-year-old son. “This season,” he adds, “I’m on a mission with no permission.” Huh?


                Slipping on the bus steps and laughing about it: Jisela Delgado. Given that she was the first person voted off from Road Rules (The Quest) and that she’s only done four missions in each of the three seasons she’s done, I’m not expecting much from her. As Foreigner’s “Feels Like the First Time” kicks in, she interviews that she’s now 40. Characters making me feel old is probably going to be a running gag played on me with this show. Jisela: “Do we . . . do we do that? Let’s not even do that. Back to me being 25!” I forgot to mention that during interview segments, each player have graphics showing past titles and finals appearances. For Jisela: “6 Daily Challenge Wins.” No. No, she does not, at least by my definitions. Cut to her basically giving Ruthie her win in Reverse Tug-of-War in Gauntlet 2, and TJ being very disappointed in her. In the present-day, she tells us that she’s a mom now, but she’s come to win “this damn money.” We get a slow-motion shot of her walking. She still has it. So very hot. That’s all I gotta say for now.


                Here comes an old favorite of mine: Syrus Yarbrough. He’s done five seasons, and he won Extreme Challenge. That was before eliminations were brought in, but I can vouch that he was good there. Clips of him struggling on ropes and wrestling Laterrian. He interviews that people will think he used to be a beast. “I’m here to show people that-” he adds, looking to the side for effect. “I just don’t want to win. I expect to win.”


                Walking on the path in a fancy dress is Trishelle Cannatella. This one annoyed me back in the day. She interviews how she walked off her last season, Rivals II. I imagine Sarah Rice (the partner that had to go home because there wasn’t a replacement available) throwing a brick at her TV, or whatever device she’s watching on. If she watches it. Which I doubt. Back to Trishelle: “I would say that I’m about 50/50 Challenge badass and Challenge quitter.”


                More shots from people we’ll get to see soon. Another shot of the mountains. The players walk into a clearing to find TJ Lavin waiting for them. I’m happy to report his title here is “Host.” This is opposed to Double Agents, where he’s a “Handler,” because spy theme. Everyone sits down on stumps. Behind them: what look to be wood carvings of each player. Maybe they come with whatever “swag bag” they get for showing up. It just feels like a bit of “extra,” though I like it.


                Teege welcomes everyone back to The Challenge. Everyone cheers. Teck is wearing a striking red hat he looks to have bought just for this occasion. Or it could be an everyday hat. He always went for style points. “You all are the best of the best,” TJ adds. “The legends, and the all-stars of this game.” Cut to Mark grinning, his vision finally being realized. Cut to Ruthie. I saw her in person with the short hair a few years ago, and it really works for her. “You started this. You made The Challenge what it is today.” TJ piles on the hype, giving this season the title “All Stars.” I don’t know why there’s no hyphen. The players whoop it up. Cut to a shot of Laterrian not smiling. The editors have decided this will be a thing this episode. TJ tells them they have no idea what’s in store for them. Cue the montage of future highlights of the players doing the usual hardcore stuff that’s inflicted in the “regular” Challenge.


                TJ continues: “Those past relationships that you’ve had will either help you or hurt you in this game.” We pan up to Nehemiah looking shook. Maybe he’s seeing the future with Beth making him want to die? TJ specifies that this will be an individual game, though there will be missions (they’re called “challenges” on the show these days; I might be too old-school) where they will be put on teams or partnered with each other. And then TJ lays out the giant carrot: only one player will be walking away with $500,000. The players love this; even though it’s not near the $1 million currently hyped on Double Agents, it’s far from chump change. Cut to interview with Darrell Taylor, four-time winner and awesome commentator. “This ain’t no damn jolly reunion,” he tells us. “I think everyone gonna be ready to cut anybody and everybody at any time.” TJ tells the players to get moved in, and that he’ll see them soon. Jemmye Carroll interviews that you don’t have to be a champ to be legendary, and she is one of those players. “The Challenge started out as adult summer camp,” she continues, “but that is not The Challenge anymore. A lot of these ‘legends’ have never played for $500,000. This is a whole new game, and I don’t think they’re ready for it.”


                Cut to one of the most time-honored tropes in The Challenge: moving into an unbelievably awesome pad. It’s a feeling that goes all the way back to the original Real World in 1992. Because BMP has stepped up their soundtrack game in the past few years, they bring out “The Boys Are Back in Town” by Thin Lizzy. Naturally, everyone is excited, even if they’ve done this so many times before. Gold-colored helmets hang on the wall with each player’s name on them. Derrick dusts his helmet off. Crests are mounted, each representing a prior season. Mark giddily goes over some of them with Nehemiah. Teck: “Oh, shit, my name’s on the wall!” Sure enough, their names are bolted to the wall. I’m thinking that once this season wraps up, the house could be moved to the U.S. and be used as a museum. Oh, and there’s no bleeping on streamed television. I’ll need time to get used to that.


                We move on to Beth Stolarczyk, someone I don’t want to get used to. Turns out she’s got a quote of hers on the wall: “I don’t kiss ass I kick ass and if you don’t watch it, I’ll kick your ass.” First: this quote from Gauntlet 3 (wasn’t that in Roman numerals?) could have used a few more commas. Secondly, Beth has never been a kicker of ass. So much bark, so little bite. “I’ll have to live up to my quote,” she tells Syrus, one of the few people I’ve seen that can stand her for long periods. She interviews about her last appearance being Gauntlet III. Cut to her in the Gauntlet wrestling Coral in the sand, where she lost. “I’m known for being the underdog,” she continues, keeping a straight face. “For some reason, the women never like me.” I could probably devote 2-3 paragraphs to why she grates, but I’m running long as it is. Here are links to my Inferno II and Gauntlet 2 recaps. She adds that she has two allies: Syrus (a guy who’s chill enough to like everyone) and her “Tenderoni.”


                Cut to her calling out for her “Tenderoni” from the balcony. She means Nehemiah Clark, who genuinely looks shook being reminded of that. “Oh, my Lord,” he mutters as he comically looks away. Basically, they flirted with each other in The Duel, and I questioned his sanity because of that. He tells her that he’s got a new cuddle buddy, which I take is his new roommate, Laterrian. They confirm what I’ve known for a while: Beth is married. “I’m irresistible,” Nehemiah concludes, and he and Laterrian share a laugh. Nehemiah interviews about The Duel, and we get to see them fool around a little. “Out of all that I’ve done,” he continues, “In my whole history of The Challenge, that’s the one thing that everybody remembers!”


                Night. Here’s a fan favorite that hasn’t been around in forever: Yes. Yes, “Yes” is his name. His parents loved the band. He’s talking to Ace Amerson and Kendal about being “strong for the old people.” They compare birth years. Once again, I feel so old. Kendal says she was born in 1980, leading Ace to call her “about the hottest 40-year-old ever.” She hugs him on the bed for being a giant ball of cheese to her. “I’m just curious to see how much evil comes out for [$500,000],” he drawls. “There’s going to be some shady shit going on here.” He adds, “You can never underestimate the power of greed.” This is going to be a theme for him in this episode. He interviews about his last appearance being Inferno 3, and that his team came in second place. The joke is that the season had only had two teams, and he was a part of the Good Guys squad that fell to the Bad Asses. Given the rest of his “career” leading up to that season, that counted as going out on a high note. “Back in my day,” he adds, “the stakes weren’t as high. These people before could kill each other for a scooter. I don’t know what they’re gonna do for half-a-million dollars.” Ah, memories. Mental note: check to see which seasons offered scooters as prizes.


                Elsewhere, Nehemiah and Syrus are shooting the shit with Laterrian Wallace. Syrus assures Nehemiah that he isn’t nervous about what is to come. “This is normal shit.” Laterrian also denies being nervous. Cut to his introduction: he is a personal trainer in Southern California. “Some of these people,” he continues, “might think of me as a silent assassin.” No, man. No, you are not. At least not to me. Flashback to The Gauntlet, where Alton smoked him in Pole Climb. To be fair, Alton could – and probably still can – climb mountains using his bare hands. “I’m here for redemption,” he adds. “I’m not here to lose. I’m not here to go home. I’m here to bust ass and win.” Nehemiah tells Syrus that the individual competitions – as opposed to team-based seasons that Syrus competed in – are “a different world.” “This game,” he continues, “is a political game jut as much as anything.” Laterrian claims not to have thought of that. He lightly snaps at Nehemiah. “I’m not worried about that,” he concludes. #Foreshadowing


                Lightning effects! New day! Players outside meditating, exercising and yoga posing. Ace adjusts his socks on a bench. There’s a stray cat nearby. I like seeing random stuff like that.


                Cut to the players walking down a path. Jisela confesses that doing her first mission in fifteen years is scary. She asks, “What if it has absolutely nothing to do with anything that I know?” Looks like someone hasn’t been watching recent seasons.


                Mission site. We got cubes being held down under water, each with a number on it, and there are math questions posted on a long pedestal. That reminds me: if Cory Wharton (from The Challenge and Teen Mom) ever comes at you with intent to harm? Show him a math textbook. It’s almost guaranteed to ward him off. Same goes for Nicole Zanatta, but you didn’t hear that from me. TJ sternly stands by as the players get up on the platform.


                Teege welcomes everyone to their first All Stars mission: Deep Blue Dive. The player will be split into two teams of eleven via random selection. Each get their own colors: Copper and Silver. In the clear blue water (they don’t say if this is a lake), there is a “mine field” of puzzle pieces, each one with a number on it. Each piece is colored either copper or silver, corresponding with the teams. On the back of the platform are equations.  It’s along the lines of “34 x __ = 408”; not tough if you’re doing it at home, but a pain if you throw in swimming in cold water. The teams are to solve the equations, and then go out and retrieve the appropriate-numbered pieces, one player at a time. The bigger the number, the further out and deeper they are. Each person must go out to retrieve at least once. If a player fails to get a puzzle piece, that person must tag someone else in to do the job, and a five-minute penalty is incurred. Sign that I am “Old School”: I got excited about that. Brings me back to the time where screw-ups meant the slowest time in a mission, with minutes added on to that. Once all the numbers are retrieved and lined up, teams will have to solve the final equation. First team to solve the equation (“properly,” TJ adds) wins. Cue the production team plugging in Teege saying lines after the fact: “This challenge is unlike any other diving challenge you’ve done before. The water is colder, the dive is deeper, and the blocks are heavier.”


                Cut back to on-site TJ, as he adds that each team with have two captains. The captains on the winning team will have power. The captains on the losing team? “Well, let’s just say don’t lose,” TJ snarks.


                The teams have been determined. The editors don’t tell us viewers how they were divided. Luckily, Wikipedia has your back.








Big Easy


















                On the Copper side, Derrick figures that the captain on the winning team would get to decide who goes into elimination, and that the losing captain would be forced into that situation. Laterrian asks if anyone wants to step up. Long pause. Laterrian decides that he does not give a fuck, and that he’ll take the role.


                Mark asks the women who will be captain from their number. Long pause. Ruthie probably tried to repress the memory of her captaincy on the Veterans team in Gauntlet 2, which ended when she got dragged by Beth in Reverse Tug-Of-War. Aneesa Ferreira interviews about having the most experience. “I’m not going to be captain,” she tells us. If we win or lose? [shrugging] Not my problem.” KellyAnne Judd declares that’s she’ll do it if the team has her back. They agree. She interviews that she’s put up with a lot of crap in the past, and that she’s done well making a name for herself, Flashbacks to her in past competitions none of which are labeled. “I don’t think being 34 has changed that fire inside of me,” she adds. “I am known for being a formable wild card.” Scene from Battle of the Bloodlines, where she screeches while sticking her head in a box of insects. She tells us that she’ll take a risk now rather than later on in the game.


                Silver Team. Jisela is taking the lead in the group huddle. Apparently, she already has ideas on how to do this mission, and she is good being captain. She asks which guy will join her. Teck decides to step up. His last season was Challenge 2000, so you must figure he’s had two decades to rest up for this moment. “I need you guys to remember,” she interviews, “that my Challenges were us doing ‘sugar cookies’ in the sand!” No flashback to Sergeant Says from Battle of the Sexes, but the reference makes me smile. She adds that this mission is “so crazy and death-defying.” “All I keep telling myself,” she tells us, “is that this can’t be real. This can’t be life.” Silver does a group cheer.


                Over on Copper, Alton interviews that his team has strong players like Derrick, Ace, Mark Long (it’s acceptable to use his full name), KellyAnne, and Jonna “This is gonna be a good team.” On Silver, Eric “Big Easy” Banks forces a smile, interviewing that Copper has “a stacked deck of cards,” while Silver resembles the Bed News Bears. I’ll give Easy credit for dropping the weight he had during his previous stints on The Challenge, but I’m surprised he’s here given that he gave up in Battle Of The Seasons [2012]. “Thou Shalt Give Thy All And Not Quit” would be high on Teege’s list of Commandments. Also, as seen in earlier, he almost died in the Gauntlet III finale. If anyone needs redemption, it’s Easy.


                TJ blows his airhorn (another fun tradition that seldom gets addressed), and the teams start off by looking at the equations. First one we see: “247 ÷ 19 = __” I have a B.S. in math, but I’m going to try and cut these people some slack. Silver studies the numbers, with Yes Duffy scrutinizing the hardest. He interviews that his last Challenge was eighteen years ago. That would be Battle Of The Sexes. Flashback to Yes getting ready to skydive in the Challenge 2000 finale. He tells us that he’s now a career-driven architect. Photo of him with wife and two sons. It looks like he’s barely aged at all. “I’m a state math champion,” he adds. “Hopefully, I can help carry this team all the way to the finish.”


                Both sides continue studying. Beth complains that they can’t write anything down, so she’s trying to do the math in her head. “I feel like I’m losing my mind right now!” Over at Copper, Alton goes out into the water to retrieve the first piece. Quick cuts take us to the first commercial break. I know, this is a streaming deal. I’m putting the commercial for 16 & Pregnant in there with my mind.


                Coming back, Alton swims out, while Mark reviews the rules of Deep Blue Dive for those . . . coming in late? Randomly streaming? On Silver, Beth solves the math problem (13), and she goes off to get the puzzle piece. “Don’t Sweat the Technique” by Eric B. & Rakim plays as she passes Alton carrying his piece. Slow-motion shot of him majestically swimming Aneesa interviews about how Alton’s physique screams “I can do anything.” Is that a new symptom of COVID?


                While Alton pulls his piece to shore, Beth . . . isn’t putting in much of an effort. This is one of her many, many, MANY faults as a player. “I really don’t like being cold,” she interviews, trying not to laugh. She swims back to shore, floating on her back and kicking. That isn’t a backstroke. The soundtrack goes whimsical as her teammates call out that she’s going the wrong way. Because Beth. The sad thing is that her technique resembles that of Lolo Jones in her last mission in Double Agents before she quit. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but she’s an Olympic athlete. No, really. Check her Wikipedia entry. She seldom brought it up on the show.


                Meanwhile on Copper, the players see that the answer from the puzzle piece Alton retrieved can be plugged into the next equation. Beth returns, earning Silver a five-minute penalty. Darrell rushes into the water to make up the difference. Further out, Derrick Kosinski dive for a piece, but he rushes back to the surface. He interviews: “If you thought TJ and the Challenge Gods were just gonna bring a bunch of 35-plus-year-olds and take it easy on us?” Cut to him running with his piece. “You are sadly mistaken!” For those new to the series: “Challenge Gods” are a thing on this show. I think they’re like the “Survivor Gods,” only they’re awesome with drinking and hooking up.


. . . . and that's when I wound up bailing. Keeping the Mighty Big TV/Television Without Pity style is tough, especially when I don't hve as much time to write as I did back in the old days. Once again: I'm working on making things shorter, punchier, and more readable.