It starts tomorrow at 10pm and it is, in my opinion, the most watchable reality TV show ever created. One part Real World, one part Survivor, one part American Ninja Warrior. Watch as these super attractive, super dramatic assholes, hand-picked from previous seasons of the Real World, battle, backstab, black out and bone each other till just one man and one woman remain! Grantland’s Bill Simmons has called The Challenge “America’s Fifth Professional Sport,” not just because soccer is stupid, but also because this show transcends mindless reality manufactured drama and features some feats of true athletic excellence. This season’s format is “Free Agents,” or every man for himself, a departure from the normal team formats in prior seasons. Can’t wait.
I’ll be posting updates as the season goes along, but here I’m going to rank the top 5 competitors of each gender from a “fantasy value” perspective. In my Challenge fantasy league, we award points for winning weekly Challenges, surviving elimination rounds, and winning the final Challenge, as well as creating good TV – particularly anything involving getting into fights and/or hooking up. I won’t bore you with the particulars of the league, or the details of my championship victory, so, here’s who you should look out for this year.
Easily the biggest wild card on the entire show. Hurricane Nia is the only reason I can’t definitively say that Frank is the worst person ever – I’ve never been more disgusted by a person’s behavior throughout a season of reality TV than I was by Nia during Real World Portland. A lazy narcissist with a gold digging complex and a passive aggressive mess-causing punk, Nia frequently talks about how hot and romantically successful she is. Single and good-looking and on television she may be, but she’s also prone to hungry-eyed fits of violence, in which she will blindside a housemate over the head with a hair dryer and proceed to punch people, repeatedly, as hard as she can in the face with a tinge of maniacal laughter. Also, she has gotten laid zero times.
Nia is big and strong, with top-3 physical potential and clear capability to cause a fantasy-point scoring ruckus, but I don’t trust her gameplay. Being a rookie should hurt her, and people have seen how much of an asshole she is during her season, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they gun for her early. I also question her toughness. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she decides “I don’t like it here” and checks out competitively. One would hope, in that circumstance, that she would go out with a bang, by knocking a couple girls out with a teapot on the way to the You Just Got Kicked Off The Show van.
I’m a little worried about Aneesa because she’s getting up there in years, but there’s a lot to be said for veteran experience on a show like this. When voting and politics determine so much of who goes home every week, it’s a huge advantage to be an established name and Challenge staple like Aneesa is every year. She’s toned her shit down pretty considerably since her days on – what was it – Real World Chicago? Last year, Trishelle drunkenly and incoherently accused Aneesa of being too “minority-y” (she’s half-black, half-Jewish, and a lesbian). And while she did often victimize herself in earlier seasons by speaking loudly on behalf of the underrepresented, which would often ruffle feathers, I think she’s learned that avoiding drama gives her a better chance at making the finals.
Aneesa is also a very good puzzler (well, most of the people on the show are pretty bad at puzzles, so this is all relative), which is guaranteed to come in handy at least twice during the season, whether it’s memorizing some order of cards while hanging upside down and being dunked in water or playing 3D tetris suspended over lava. She’s definitely lost a step in terms of agility, but is pretty much a lock to be around for the later stages of the game.
I don’t love Nany’s chances of winning it all. I’m just not sure she has that “it” factor to actually beat out 13 people. Having said that, she’s pretty well-rounded and has no real weaknesses. She made a somewhat deep run with Jonna last season and tends to finish in the top handful every competition. She’s also extremely attractive, probably the most attractive person on the show (maybe Jonna, but it’s close), and, from what I saw of the season preview, is getting a lot of attention from the dudes this year. In a competition as ethical and moral as The Challenge, her hotness level could really help her out on the stat sheet. Not to mention, the other girls will inevitably resent this, forcing Nany to throw down and scratch and claw her way onto the scoreboard.
So Nany is number 3 because I didn’t really know where else to put her; I don’t consider her a favorite to take it home. However, there is a lot of parity in the women’s bracket this year now that Emily and Paula – this generation’s LeBron and Wade of the Challenge – are taking this season off. Given the lack of a truly athletically dominant female, Nany is worth an early pick in my mind.
Camila is a lot like Nany, plus the accent and a few gallons of off-the-deep-end insanity. You know Camila as the girl who screams “YOU’RE GONNA DIE, YOU’RE GONNA DIE!!” while being held back by multiple dudes in all “this season on the Challenge” previews, so she’s good for at least three to four frenzies per season. Also a strikingly good-looking woman (it’s almost like the producers take this into account when they’re casting?!), Camila is not afraid to mix it up in the bedroom. Though she still is in love with Johnny Bananas, she likes to make a power play here and there and get at a bunch of other bros for jealousy’s sake.
Camila is also a very underrated athlete and performer. I don’t really know what it is about her, but she tends to do everything well in the arena. I think she is legitimately a competitive psycho who hates losing more than anything else in the world. Look for Camila to have similar value to Nany, with a little more fighting, a little less boning and a little more competitive edge and championship experience. As I said, very hard to call this year.
I don’t know a whole lot about Laurel but I think she’s going to be this year’s de facto Emily because she is the biggest and baddest player in the women’s division. I haven’t done research on her overall results and stats, but I remember her going pretty far two or three seasons ago. She didn’t play in Rivals II last year, so she’s probably rested and fresh for this competition.
I don’t expect a lot from her from an extracurricular standpoint, but what she lacks in fisticuffs and sexcapades, she will more than make up for in Challenge victories. I’m not sure how she will fare when having to eat disgusting shit in the final challenge (the greatest equalizer of all awful tasks), but I’m pretty sure she will be there at the end. I also get the feeling that the girls won’t want to vote her into the elimination round because she will win the day’s challenge so frequently that one has to worry about the revenge factor. Laurel is my pick coming out of the women’s bracket.
Honorable mention: Cara Maria. She tends to do well in these, but she’s so uncharismatic that I didn’t want to write about her.
I’d say that Frank “Casey Anthony” Sweeney is the most polarizing character in the series, but that gives him way too much credit as a man of any moral esteem. He is a despicable, manipulative sociopath with no redeeming qualities, known best for verbally abusing and shoving teammates who are passing out from heat stroke, backstabbing friends during voting rounds while boldly denying saying things he literally said in confessional five minutes before, and crying like a victim when he doesn’t get his way. Obviously, these qualities grant him pretty significant fantasy value – he’s gonna get into fights, make a lot of people cry, and likely break several household appliances. He has also finished extremely well in the last two seasons: a victory with team San Diego in battle of the seasons, and a runner-up finish paired with Johnny in last season’s Rivals II.
This makes him hard to place in my power rankings – though I can’t argue with his results and competitive spirit, I don’t trust his athleticism, and I suspect that he’s been largely carried by his teammates in seasons past. It’s hard to know whether the teammate-less format will help or hurt Frank this year – his cancerous personality won’t hurt team chemistry, but he’ll be exposed as an average athletic competitor without Challenge hall-of-famers (Zach, Johnny) by his side.
A fan favorite, tough-minded Jordan is a freak athlete and probably has the highest IQ of the dudes on the show. He’s not physically imposing, but he’s into extreme sports like wakeboarding, he does well with heights and being suspended over water, and has good balance when you have to stay atop a moving log and shit like that. He and fellow rookie Marlon enjoyed a cinderella run last season with a third place finish despite being shat on by the collective nepotistic, senioristic politics of the house and having to survive several elimination rounds, which ultimately, I think, gained him a lot of respect. He’ll be without teammate Marlon, a former D-I Big 12 linebacker, so we’ll see if he can really stack up to the other huger dudes on his own.
Also Jordan is missing a hand. Call it a “hand-i-cap,” but he doesn’t let it get to him! He’ll be at a disadvantage when the housemates play ten fingers as an icebreaker, and he’ll be limited when attempting Wonderwall in an effort to get laid, but from what I saw last season, I see no reason he won’t be able to compete at a high level in the challenges. Rooting for this guy ever since he stopped being such an arrogant dick in the Real World Portland season.
Somewhat out of place in that he’s really just a nice dude, Leroy is easily capable of making a strong run. He’s absolutely enormous, physically matched only by #2 and #1 on this list, and has earned my props ever since I saw him climb a rope in 8 seconds while being swung around by a moving helicopter three seasons ago. He was right in the mix and ready to make a championship push last season, but was dragged down by a mentally weak Ty who made a critical error in the elimination game (if memory serves me right). Even though he’s a great teammate overall, I think he’ll benefit from the Free Agent format because he tends to have to put the team on his back doe, and would rather not.
As a pure competitor, Leroy might be a higher prospect than just #3, but I’m not sure he’ll really fill up the fantasy box score. He doesn’t tend to slut it up too much, and he’s so agreeable (and monstrous) that no one is likely to fuck with him enough to draw fisticuffs. Still, I think he’ll secure enough victories and stick around long enough to rack up some big numbers overall.
Here’s a man who needs no introduction. Defending champion, perennial all-star, and arguably the face of the entire Challenge franchise, CT is dat dude. We know he is mentally strong, we know he is an absolute monster during these challenges, we know he will get scrappy in-house, and we know he’ll be ho-ing himself around, especially since longtime on-and-off-er Diem won’t be there to hold him back (thank god, Diem sucks and I hate her stupid face).
Why, then, shouldn’t he be #1? Well, he easily could be, but I am hesitant for a couple reasons. First, it’s notoriously hard to repeat on this show. You need luck to win, to avoid land mines in the form of house politics, ejections (he’s been kicked off the show before from just thirty seconds of blind rage), and bad matchups in the elimination round. Though it’s true every year, CT will have a huge target on his back and the other guys would be wise to gang up on him early, especially since he’ll have no teammate to deflect or dilute that target. You would think that a guy as physically dominant, clever and experienced as CT would have more than one championship at this point, but the fact that he doesn’t suggests that fighting against the hive is indeed an uphill battle when you draw so much attention. Wouldn’t be at all surprised if he proved us all wrong and took home the gold again though. He may no longer be Dan Marino, but he’s got a ways to go if he wants to be Tom Brady.
Might be an emotional move on my part, but Zach is the best I’ve ever seen. No one can match up to him physically – it’s that simple. He was able to drag a team of whiny, clashing misfits to a victory two years ago, and started off on a tear last season until he had a complete emotional blowup and lost the elimination round when he didn’t follow the rules. If I’m the opposition though, I’m intimidated even by the way Zach loses – when he and Trey got knocked out, it was because Zach failed to take turns with Trey since he knew it’d be faster if he did it all himself. Not having a teammate will help him immensely this year, since he has trust issues to begin with and won’t have anyone going behind his back or dragging him down.
Further along those lines about Zach’s weaknesses being strengths, I think he will manage to fly under the radar in the house. When people talk shit about him in confessional, they’re calling him a big dumb oaf, and I get the sense that people are more intimidated by the craftier-seeming competitors. In this regard, Zach plays it perfectly. He is big and oafish, but he’s not dumb, as he knows how to portray an image that will lull his opponents into a false sense of security. As far as fantasy value goes, CT is probably a better bet to get fighting/boning points, but I think Zach is that much more likely to win the whole thing that he’s worth the higher draft pick. Who knows.
Honorable mention: Johnny Bananas. He’s the winningest player in Challenge history but I think he’s too old this year – he looked out of gas last season.