Well, you guys, we did it. We watched all twelve episodes of The Challenge: Free Agents together. And after another triumphant season enjoying former Real Worlders’ drunken shenanigans, we’ve finally made it to the finale. We’ve seen hook-ups (!), fights (!!), geography trivia contests (…), strip basketball (!!!), ballot strategizing (…?), and multiple cliffhangers regarding medical diagnoses (??), and now there’s nothing left to do but crown a winner. Which also means this’ll be our last Episode Recap together. Yes, “[t]his haze of blood must subside, the palace must collapse under the weight of the riches it conceals.” – Gustave Flaubert (not applicable). Shocking, really, how quickly the time went by; time we could have spent doing almost anything else we wanted to, but we didn’t, because The Challenge is perfect. Speaking of: enough dilly-dallying. On to the show!
Ok, so, last week (you’ll recall) we left off with our six remaining heroes in the throes of their final challenge, possibly the most demanding in Challenge history. (“You crazy for this one, The Challenge: Free Agents” – Jay-Z.) Theresa and defending champion CT had just been eliminated in heartbreaking fashion, having failed to solve a series of puzzles, including a tangram and a sudoku, quicker than Laurel and Bananas, respectively. Probably the best moments of that segment were when they’d show reaction shots from the rest of the contestants: Johnny Irish (basically all the guys on this show go by nicknames because they’re otherwise impossible to tell apart), Zach, Nany, and Devyn. After years of effort and targeted marketing at courting a new generation of teenagers even more easily distracted than the last, MTV has really established itself as the go-to network for people who like to watch people watching other people solve brainteasers. I don’t know about you guys, but when I saw Nany cheering on Theresa to beat Laurel at sudoku, I almost had to call in the ambulance squad and a home-repair company because my pulse went through the roof. (Kidding, that’s ridiculous, I live in an apartment.) But sometimes it’s good to remind yourself that there’s such a thing as TOO much excitement.
The sudoku extravaganza was all the more amazing considering how the show had already just shattered the excitement meter by having the players draw cards to determine who’d compete in the elimination round. Zach was the first to draw his card, and you could feel the tension rise as he approached a table decorated with four wooden blocks and had to decide which one to flip over. (“One nation, one oh come on” – Soccer, the second-most boring thing on television.) (“I believe that we will zzzzz.”) But so Zach chose the third card, stage left to right, and it was blank. Then, as the music crescendoed with suspense, the next three players approached the tables to draw their cards, one at a time, each more nervous than the last, crumbling with terror as they stared fate in its chiseled face… and they also chose blanks. I liked this part! B.J. Novak wrote a short story where “Nothing” was nominated for an award for Best Thing In The World, and I’m pretty sure last week’s Challenge episode inspired it even though the story was published like five months ago.
Sorry that it’s taking so long just to get to last night’s episode, which this Recap is about.
Before we get there, though, it’s a little majorly upsetting that players like Devyn and Johnny Irish got free passes into the final, when superior competitors like Cara Maria and Leroy had been eliminated earlier in last week’s episode, and, if you guys are ok with it, I think we need to take time for a little communal venting. Leroy was unfortunate to face off against CT in the Wrecking Wall elimination, and he at least lost a fair fight. It happens! Sometimes Kevin Spacey and Denzel Washington are both up for Best Actor, and even though Kevin Spacey wins for American Beauty, which is a garbage movie, there’s always next year for Denzel (and he did it!) (he won two years later, for Training Day) (which I didn’t see because it looked way less emotionally sanitized than American Beauty). My point was that you have to feel bad for Cara Maria, because Wrecking Wall basically tests how quickly you can punch through drywall, and she had to play it, against wildebeest Laurel, with a fractured hand. Eep! That’s how we ended up losing Cara Maria and clearing a path for Devyn into the final. And after twelve weeks of Recaps, you guys know how I feel about Devyn by now. Ugh.
But so anyway, as we were saying, we left off last week’s penultimate episode at the start of the final challenge, right after host T.J. “Teej” Lavin explained the rules, which involve mandatory, coordinated partner-swapping, calculating totals of timed events, and stationary biking on a volcano. Laurel and Bananas were in the lead, with Zach and Devyn having capsized their kayak and Zach floating down the river, desperately signaling for help. (Mortal-peril cliffhanger!) (Is he going to DIE?) (Let’s hope not, he’s one of our favorites!) And that’s right where last night’s finale picked up.
Americans love frivolous competition, which is probably all the explanation we need for the continued existence of American Idol, Las Vegas, and the Senate. Nothing quite tickles us like taking a perfectly enjoyable or even socially necessary activity and staging a lavish contest to determine who’s The Best at it. Every year, for instance, I go to the college a cappella finals in New York City (U.S. News’ #5 Best Place to Visit in the United States) (thanks for the tip!), the biggest gathering of hardworking, creative, (adorable,) and seriously talented groups from across the country and beyond on one stage. Each group performs for twelve minutes, and they’re almost universally fantastic. And then at the end of the night, the emcee is always like: “Wow, that was amazing. So much great a cappella tonight. But, unfortunately, there can only be one winner. [Ed.: There can be as many winners as you want. You’re in charge! You could literally declare each Teletubby a co-champion and the audience would have to be like: “well, I don’t agree with the decision, but damn if it I don’t respect it nonetheless.” Argh.] Now, I know everyone has a favorite group. So, on the count of three, I want everyone to scream, as loud as you can, the name of the group that you want to win. Ok, ready? One, two… three!” And then everyone in the audience is like: “UNINTELLIGIBLY LOUD CACOPHONY OF SYLLABLES!!!!” and I’m like: “Uhh, I just came for the music, why would a concert ever have a winner, what kind of dystopic Hunger Games weirdness is going on right now?” But so instead I just say “Barden Bellas!” and contribute to the noise chamber. To think that a couple of a cappella groups traveled all the way from Los Angeles, or Portland, or England, just to be told that they’re not The Best. I don’t know. New York is America’s #2 city for cocktail lounges, according to Travel + Leisure magazine, so I guess they’re almost in the right place to drown their sorrows in a gin fizz.
I haven’t seen last night’s finale yet. Based on past performance, I imagine it involved Zach and Bananas in a race to the finish. (By definition.) (That’s what races are.) But I don’t think that means it’s too early for a eulogy.
R.I.P., Free Agents. Heaven just got a little more challenging.