The Challenge 39: Battle for a New Champion — Preseason Power Rankings

jfish
25 min readOct 25, 2023

With the Challenge 39 officially starting tonight, I thought why not a little power ranking to celebrate? The 39th season of one of the original reality television competitions is taking a big risk by casting zero champs and zero established veterans in the main cast. It’s a hard pivot to a new era and it will be interesting to see who among these young, fame-hungry challengers stand out and make a big splash with such a star-devoid group. The season will also crown a first-time champion, so I’m sure the competition will be hungry for the title.

The show in its “Episode Zero” preview gave us the pseudo-rundown on how the season is formatted. The start of the season is the “Control” phase, where challenges are run as one big team. I assume there will be a house vote to determine who goes into the early eliminations and maybe there’s some sort of monetary or in-game bonus or safety for challengers who do well? The middle of the season is the “Chaos” phase, where challenges are run in groups/pairs and, more excitingly, challenge champs enter the game not to win but simply to beat the competition in eliminations. The final phase is the “Conquest” phase where the challenge becomes individual. It also sounds like there may only be one sole winner in this season rather than one of each gender, but I couldn’t tell for sure. This format is definitely an odd one that could either be fantastic or a slog to get through.

Enough chat though, let’s rank the challengers. I’ll keep it split up between men and women as challenges and eliminations will likely keep the gender split even if the final only has a single winner. I’m well versed in the Challenge having watched everyone who was on the cast in their recent season, except for the two tattooed Aussie transplants.

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Ladies first…

12, Jujuy, from the Challenge Argentina

Viva Argentina! Jujuy makes her mainline show debut after two seasons in the “World Championship” universe, in which she made two pretty early exits. That’s not a fantastic resume to bring to season 39.

From her World Championship appearance, it seemed that she was well-liked and sociable, so she’s got to hope charm can carry her places. Her challenge skills probably won’t.

11. Jessica, from the Challenge Australia

I’ve heard the Bachelor franchise in Australia is an interesting show and MTV seems to think so too by giving Jessica a shot on the mainline Challenge. Honestly, there’s little tape on Jessica out there for what she can do on the Challenge. She won the second daily in Challenge Australia with Troy, then lost the next daily, then lost her elimination against Kiki and Grant

Unless she makes alliances quickly or proves to be a world beater, she seems like an easy name for people to call out for elimination. The only person she has any pre-show connection with is fellow Australian Cierran, and they seem to have a tumultuous past.

10. Big T

The Biggest of T’s returns to the Challenge after a short hiatus from her Spies, Lies, and Allies appearance, somehow as the most experienced player entering her fifth season. It felt like Big T was a rising star in the Challenge universe after a surprisingly fun sophomore stint on Total Madness and a tumultuous partnership with CT in Double Agents. But in retrospect, Double Agents felt more like the peak of her potential as she followed that season up with an uninspiring SLA performance in which she made it far, but never won a challenge and lost two eliminations (she returned to the game after losing her first elimination due to an off-screen DQ from Ashley).

Big T is a smart player and a good swimmer but will always be hampered by her lack of size and natural athleticism. Even after putting in the work to improve her fitness over her original Challenge run, she was still stuck in layup territory and not seen as a legitimate threat in a final. Because of that I cannot put Big T higher than here in my rankings until she proves me wrong, even if she has a solid political and social game in the house.

9. Ravyn

Ravyn was set up to fail in her rookie season of the Challenge. She came onto the show as fellow rookie F-Boy Johnny’s Ride or Die with the belief that they would rekindle a romance. She found out she was just there so F-Boy Johnny could be on the Challenge, and he got with Nurys instead. Due to being in a rookie-rookie pair, Ravyn was put into an early elimination and lost, ending her short stay in Ride or Dies.

Ravyn looks to be an athletic competitor and she could come into this season and surprise everyone with some strong daily challenge performances. The big question is whether she has allies or not: her early exit in her rookie season combined with being on the wrong side of Nurys (due to F-Boy Johnny of course) meant she doesn’t have the same alliance foundation as the rest of the Ride or Die sophomores. From episode zero, she seems to be on the good side of the season 38 cast but if things fall apart, I think she might be the first of that crew to go to the arena sand and fight for survival.

8. Melissa

A welcome returnee in my eyes, Melissa is back for her fourth season of the Challenge. One of the original British invaders of the Challenge (with the likes of Kyle, Joss, Kayleigh, etc.), Melissa was a drama magnet for her first two seasons, getting into plenty of arguments in a promising Vendettas performance and getting kicked out for fighting Kailah in Final Reckoning. Melissa was a more focused competitor in her third season, reaching the final of Total Madness before she withdrew due to pregnancy (beginning a long-standing tradition of Challenge women being pulled from the show due to a lack of pre-show pregnancy testing).

She returns to the show surrounded by a cast she is unfamiliar with, so it will be interesting to see if she has the political game to protect herself. As a competitor she has always been solid, and she is one of the only women in the cast who has seen the final, which should be an advantage for her. If Melissa gets to the final I think she can make noise, but earning her spot will be very difficult.

7. Michele Fitzgerald

The Survivor winner has quickly become a staple of the Challenge, hopping onto her third season in the past year. While she has found plenty of success getting to the end in Survivor seasons, things haven’t clicked yet for Michele in the Challenge as she still hasn’t seen a final. At some point Michele is going to need to have that breakout season, not as a personality but as a competitor, that proves she is a threat. Right now, she seems to be on a Nany-esque career trajectory: fun addition to a Challenge cast bringing dramatics and is down for the TV romance but isn’t talented enough to win a key daily or elimination to get to the promised land. USA 2 further cemented my opinion on her, as she made it far by playing the middle but felt clearly a step below challengers by the end of that season. She had a chance to prove her grit and talent but got emphatically beaten by an average competitor in Cassidy.

Michele is solely reliant on the political game to move forward and mental skill in the challenges. She isn’t the best at anything physical, and frontrunners will probably outclass her in physically focused daily challenges unless it involves swimming. Her game is going to come down to if she can earn people’s trust and get the alliances to keep her safe and with a cast devoid of vets. If she does that, making the final becomes more feasible.

6. Nurys

Originally on the “Are You the One 6” cast that believed that they would get their shot as rookies on the Challenge but didn’t, Nurys made her Challenge debut years after her original TV appearance due to her friendship with Nelson. She clicked immediately with the other rookie girls (minus Ravyn) and made her mark on the season with two different romances with Johnny and Jordan.

Nurys was a solid competitor in her first season of the Challenge. It takes a lot of skill to get Nelson a daily challenge victory after his ginormous winless streak, and she did just that not once but twice in the season. Many of the challengers she was aligned with last season are back in this cast this season so she should be comfortable for the first half of the competition. While I think she should be aiming to make the final, right now she isn’t a true threat to win. There are simply athletes better built for both eliminations and the final over her. She is also the most volatile challenger as someone who gets in the drama, so I could see a path where burning some bridges makes her chances at a final that much harder.

5. Colleen

How kind of Kim to make sure we know who this preview is about

The tiny blonde European is back for another season of the Challenge. Determined to get some more German representation on the show, Colleen made her debut on Ride or Dies with her partner Kim. The pair was somewhat involved in the early part of the season, but the unconnected challengers were a logical early boot in the season. She had a little fling with the introvert Faysal, and she had drama with Devin that got cut in the editing room. But she did enough to get another invite to the show.

Colleen is still in “prove what you got” territory as a competitor, but I’m high on her as my dark horse challenger to make some noise competitively this season. She’s one of the smarter players in the whole cast and is in really good shape. If she can connect with her fellow Ride or Die rookies she could make a deep run in the season.

4. Berna

It’s season number two for Berna, as she returns after a solid rookie showing in Spies, Lies, and Allies. She was one of the “out of nowhere” international castings for SLA, originally appearing on Turkish Survivor. In the Challenge she showed to be a good, well-rounded athlete who didn’t mind hopping into some drama when she felt like it. An unfortunate pairing with Hughie sent her home before the halfway point, after being paired with CT for most of the game.

Berna to me feels like the line in this women’s cast where the “I just want to make the final” girls meet the “I’m trying to win this thing” girls. Berna’s physical skill set is one of the best in this cast among the ladies as she combines cardio, coordination, and toughness. She’s well built for all the aspects of the Challenge: dailies, eliminations, and the final. On the flipside, Berna is not well connected politically within this set of challengers. I can’t name a single person that would logically be coming into the game wanting to work with Berna, unless she pre-gamed hard to build connections for the upcoming Challenge (she might only have an ally in Colleen because German). If she can weather the early political storm, then maybe this season will be Berna’s to lose.

3. Zara, from the Challenge UK

Coming out of the UK spinoff and World Championships, Zara enters the fray for her first mainline season. In the UK spinoff, there were two women that were clearly a step above the competition: Kaz (now a two time champ thanks to Paramount’s “global initiative”) and Zara.

Zara will definitely be one of the best when it comes to cardio. She was well respected in both her spinoffs seasons as a motivated competitor, and if she gets to the final her endurance will be a problem for the other girls. She also has clear weaknesses, as shown by her elimination in the World Championships. She isn’t a puzzle or math whiz, and she won’t be winning any hall brawls or pole wrestles as she will likely be the lightest girl in the house. She also won’t be bringing much in the entertainment department other than looks, as she participated in the most bare bones showmance with AJ in the UK spinoffs and sounds like she is reading lines off cards behind the cameras in her confessionals like she is on Big Brother. The goal for Zara is to show out in the dailies and find an alliance that will keep you around so you can crush them in the long-distance race of the final.

2. Moriah

When you pretend to be friends to be on reality tv…

Moriah made her debut on Ride or Dies last season, due to being picked up off the street by Fessy so he could be on the season. While Moriah wasn’t a scene-stealing presence on the season, she competed well and made a deep run on the season. She originally got beaten by Nany in elimination but got back into the game due to the partner twist at the end of the season, but then she and Fessy lost to Nany (again) and Bananas in elimination right before the final.

While losing two eliminations in a single season isn’t a great look, Moriah was still one of the most athletic girls in the house that season. Her and Fessy’s partnership, while frayed due to Faysal’s general lack of empathy towards Moriah, was one of the strongest in the house and consistently performed well in the daily challenges. Without a partner to weigh her down and against a cast that I feel she is in the upper half of skill-wise, Moriah should be set up for success this season. The big question I have for her coming into season two is if she is going to give us more drama or entertainment because unless your name is Kaycee Clark, two seasons of boring success doesn’t get you a callback.

1. Olivia

I wonder what happens next?

She became a rising Challenge star last season, so of course Olivia got the invite back for Season 39. With multiple elimination wins with Horacio and a finals appearance in her rookie season, Olivia immediately vaults to the top of the female power rankings.

She’s not a runaway favorite to win. In fact, I’d say there are quite a few people in this cast more built for finals than Olivia, as cardio is not her strongest suit. But the full package of Olivia is what makes her formidable and I don’t think the other ladies will be itching to see her in the arena. On top of that, she is one of the most well-connected players in the cast due to her time spent in Ride or Dies. She should have the political allies in place to run this show and get her way whenever she wants.

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Now for the guys…

12. Jason, aka Lockie, from the Challenge UK

A second chance at an opportunity to make a name for himself, Jason (known as “Lockie”) debuts on the mainline Challenge after a one-episode stint on the UK spinoff. Jason got a bit unlucky in his single episode: he got double black eyes on the first challenge and got destroyed in his elimination while paired with the worst girl in the house.

Lockie is a complete Challenge unknown (but has a million followers on Instagram… hmmm I wonder why he got casted for the season), but one look at this typical Essex lad makes me think he’s a typical meathead and not very strategic. His lack of show experience makes him an ideal candidate for an early exit, but maybe he can do something on his second Challenge journey. A lengthy stay is dependent on a tightly knit UK alliance or flexing his muscles enough to intimidate the rest of the cast.

11. Asaf

Asaf, touting a laundry list of odd reality TV based appearances, is back after being the first person eliminated in his rookie season, Total Madness. For a one-episode stint, he had a pretty eventful appearance: he hooked up with pre-lesbian Nany, yelled at some people, and lost to Jay in the arena. He’s someone who seems built for the Challenge but missed the ideal window of entry.

He’s essentially a rookie in this game without any connections, so he has to impress early if he wants to avoid being an early elimination candidate. He’s in good shape but he’s also a bit of a doofus, which might make him a non-threat in any challenge requiring brainpower.

10. Hughie’s Ass

This is his face though.

The man with a dump truck of a butt is back for his second season of the Challenge after a solid rookie season in Spies, Lies and Allies. Hughie was predictably sent into an early elimination as he isn’t a physically imposing threat, but he responded with a victory with Amber B over Michele and Corey Lay.

Hughie is not a pushover as a competitor, but I would still rate him as the weakest physical challenger on the men’s side. What Hughie can do to counteract this is play the political game and make alliances, which he is more than willing to do. If Hughie can perform well enough in the dailies to at least look like he can win power and ingrain himself into strong alliances, he could make a solid run in this season.

9. Chauncey

The father of Amber B’s child is back for his second season of the Challenge. Starting from humble beginnings as a vocal Amber stan on Twitter to actually dating her, he found himself on the show himself as Amber’s Ride or Die. He made a deep run on the season but went home just before the final, being outsmarted by Jordan in a physical elimination.

Chauncey brought good vibes to the season and is generally likable, but as a competitor he is no more than average. He won zero dailies with Amber and the duo never held political power at any point throughout the season. If Chauncey is by himself with the Cory Wharton “Doing it for the Kid” buff, will he blossom into a power player in his sophomore season? I’m not really buying it right now. Chauncey could find a good alliance to go far with and he might be able to win a physical elimination, but I don’t think he is good enough at the “carinval-ish” nature of daily challenges to be a threat to make or win the final this season.

8. Callum, from The Challenge UK

Oops, wrong Callum from England

It doesn’t take very long to realize what Callum will bring to the table in his mainline Challenge debut. He’s an athletic player who’s on the PUP list (which means Physically Unable to Puzzle, of course). He will attempt to play the political game, likely to mixed results. And he will absolutely try to hook up with multiple girls within the first few days. You can make a clear comparison to the Rivals 3 version of Cory Wharton with Callum.

Among the male challengers in the UK spinoff, Callum felt like a middle of the pack competitor. He did make the final in the spinoff, but he did not win a daily or an elimination to get there and slotted pretty comfortably into a semi-distant third place. Given the caliber of player in the main show, I don’t really expect much from Callum.

7. Ciarran, from the Challenge Australia

I’m going to be honest. I haven’t watched Challenge Australia and don’t know a ton about Ciarran. He came from Australian Bachelorette, accrued some amount of fame and infamy from his time on the show because he is both charming and messy, and did well on the spinoff show.

If you go on any Challenge, even spinoffs, and can get to the final and get second place while at least winning one daily challenge and one elimination, you are probably talented enough to compete well in the main show. But like fellow Aussie Jessica on the girl's side, he is entering the season without any real allies so it will be interesting to see if he will gain any political power or if the MTV based challengers will just use him as a punching bag and send him into a bunch of eliminations.

6. Corey Lay

Where my 12 Dates of Christmas fans at? Corey is back for his second season of the Challenge after debuting in Spies Lies and Allies. A relative unknown when he entered the Challenge landscape, Corey did enough legwork to be relevant in his first appearance with an elimination victory alongside Michele and a humorous elimination loss against Hughie and Amber B.

Since then, Corey has stayed active in the Challenge universe and should come into Challenge 39 as a threat to make the final. He’s in great shape and should be one of the better athletes in the house based on pure size and physicality, and he has probably done the required pregaming outside the show to have alliances entering the season. However, Corey is still a bit of an unknown when it comes to daily challenge performance, so we will see this season if he is a legitimate threat to compete at the highest level or not.

5. Kyland

I think Kyland may be the most interesting person to rank in this cast. He’s a competitor who has a pedigree entering his first season of the mainline Challenge, with a strong performance in Big Brother and a respectable showing in the first season of the Challenge USA. He was a fan of the Challenge entering his debut on the show and trained specifically for the show, and won multiple daily challenges on USA before losing by upset in elimination at about the halfway point of the season.

What’s weird is that this time around, there are no Big Brother players for Kyland to align with. The infamous “Big Brother Alliance” of Kaycee, Fessy, and Josh is not here…so who does Kyland work with? It seems that Kyland has done the work outside of the show to pregame and befriend people in the MTV Challenge sphere, so I feel that Kyland will be able to survive politically in the first half of the season. However, there is a clear gap between Kyland’s athleticism and the skill at the top of the men’s cast. Everything about Kyland screams mid-to-late elimination boot. He’s more likely to go far than the people ranked below him while simultaneously less likely to make a final than the people ranked below him, if you get what I’m saying.

4. Ed Eason

Appearing as an alternate for Nam in Spies, Lies, and Allies, Ed became one of the most enjoyable rookie presences on the season and now gets his second chance on the show. Ed came into his first season late, but his positive energy and well-rounded Challenge skills helped him last through the partner portion of the season and into the team portion.

Ed is athletic but is still an unproven political player. He got far in his first season because the veteran challengers liked him and wanted to keep him around as a number. Without any real vets this season, I am interested to see if Ed will continue to play a passive numbers game or actually look to make some big moves. He said in his rookie season that he was an engineering student pre-reality TV, so he theoretically is a complete package “brains and brawn” type of challenger that could win the whole thing. But he still has some proving to do and the Challenge 39 is the time to do so.

3. Jay Starrett

The first Survivor alumni to ever be on the Challenge is back for another season, and this time he might actually have some power in the game. Jay’s original season was Total Madness, where he became the early season rookie punching bag. He was sent to elimination a few times but won twice, most notably beating CT in a major upset, motivating the legend to get in shape and dominate the next two seasons. Jay has continued to appear in recent MTV seasons but he never found his footing. He competed well but constantly found himself on the wrong side of the numbers, which resulted in a few early-midgame exits.

This time though, there are no veterans to cramp his style: Jay actually might be one of the most well-connected political players on the season. All the rookie outcasts that Jay tried to rally to go after the established vets in past seasons make up this cast so if Jay is smart, calculated, and doesn’t take a big strategic shot at someone for no reason, then Jay’s proven Challenge skill should get him to the final with a chance to win.

2. Emanuel, the Romanian Jordan

Jordan’s vampiric doppelganger returns for his second season on the Challenge. Emanuel came just short of a final in his rookie season, as the Challenge producers threw a puzzle elimination at him since they wanted Devin to make the final. He got to play his rookie season in a relatively safe position due to spending the majority of the game paired with Kaycee Clark, but throughout his time on the show he impressed with a combination of speed, agility, and coordination that made him a strong physical competitor.

That reputation will probably boost his intimidation factor going into a season where he can’t hide behind the vets. Unless he goes into an elimination that is purely weight-based or requires puzzle skills, then Emanuel should have a good chance to beat anyone on this cast except Horacio. The big question mark is if he can find political allies that want to back him.

1. Horacio

Sorry, snuck a picture of me on this preview. Hoped you wouldn’t notice.

After a historic rookie season, it should be obvious that Horacio is the favorite to win Challenge 39. Despite being a popular choice for the arena in Ride or Dies, Horacio made the final in his first season with FIVE elimination victories. He had to tragically DQ in the final when his Ride or Die Olivia sustained a serious facial injury, but he took it like a champ and left the season as a fan favorite.

He’s by far the best physical competitor on the season. Plain and simple. He combines quickness, strength, and endurance in a way that no one else on the men’s side of this cast does. And given his track record, I think people will be scared to put him into elimination and get on his bad side. It’s going to have to take an injury, an unlucky twist, a puzzle, or a legend like CT to get this man out of the game.

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Oh wait, there are some legends entering the game too!

I also have to do a legends ranking, since we know they are coming onto the season as mercenaries. This ranking is solely based on how good they are at eliminations and if I would want to go up against them… not a ranking of their overall challenge skill!

10. Kaz

One of these legends is not like the others… Kaz won two seasons of the Challenge in two attempts, so you would be stupid to disrespect her accomplishments. But Kaz is by far the least intimidating Legend on this cast. She’s been in one elimination that was essentially a big puzzle, and she was being coached by Jordan through the whole thing. If I’m one of the girls, I’d be breathing a sigh of relief if I found out she was the legend I had to beat. But I won’t overlook Kaz: she’s mentioned she has a Muay Thai background, so if she ends up having to do something physical like a pole wrestle, she could kick some ass.

9. Darrell

It pains me to put Darrell this low because he’s a true OG and one of the best finals competitors ever. But this is Darrell past his prime, and all the things that make him a legend are not based around elimination performance. If he gets a strong athlete in a physical elimination, he is an underdog, but I’d put my money on him against the bottom half of the cast and on anything “carnival-gamey” where experience matters.

8. Devin

He’s just staring at me, menacingly.

After winning Ride or Dies, Devin gets to sit at the big boy table and get the title of legend. He’s the one guy in this cast I’d want in elimination, even over Darrell despite rating him lower. He’s probably going to get some puzzle-based elimination so that a Horacio or an Ed or even a Lockie doesn’t embarrass him in Balls In or Pole Wrestle or something. And if it is a puzzle elimination you have to like his chances against these bright MTV reality star minds.

7. Laurel

What is she pretending to hold here?

Laurel is one of the most imposing challengers in the show’s history. Her vengeful aura makes other challengers poop their pants (just ask Michele). But quietly, Laurel has been in an elimination slump. After winning her first NINE (wow!) eliminations over many seasons, Laurel has lost three of her last four in the arena. Everyone above her in this ranking is a gym rat or a consistent Challenge presence. Laurel doesn’t do Challenge seasons as a job so she isn’t at the same Challenge sharpness. But even as I say that… this is her third Challenge appearance in the past two years (since she is on All Stars 4). She’s due to beat someone down in the arena and I feel sorry for whichever victim stands in front of her.

6. Brad

Life lesson: don’t try to fight a boxer when you are drunk.

No one on the challenge has had crazier eyes than Brad. He was a consistent presence during the teen seasons (or for old school fans, the golden age) of the Challenge, where he was a consistently strong performer with multiple finals appearances and one victory in Cutthroat. Brad made a surprising return to the mainline show in Vendettas and Final Reckoning, giving everyone a peek into his midlife crisis. Currently, Brad appears on the All-Stars spinoff, where his excellent physical skill set has given him a chance to win in each season, though he has fallen short so far. Brad really doesn’t have a great elimination record in his recent seasons, but Brad has an X-Factor quality to him that would make me fear for my life in any physical elimination against him.

5. Kaycee

Legendary duo

While Kaycee is an entertainment vacuum on many of her Challenge seasons, you can’t deny that she is one of the most successful competitors in the current Challenge landscape. Like most of the legends remaining in the list, she is a fantastic physical player and probably beats everyone in the non-legend cast in a headbanger elimination. Kaycee also has great coordination so carnival games, balance-based eliminations, etc. should be favored for her.

4. Tori

I’ve said this multiple times in the Challenge USA recaps: this is Tori in her Challenge prime, and right now she is near unbeatable in your typical elimination. If Tori is going to lose to any of these incumbent competitors, it’s going to be because she makes a mistake or fails under the pressure. Tori in the past would make those mistakes… but she’s on such a hot streak that I don’t think a bad performance is even possible from her, even after a lackluster finals performance in USA 2.

3. Jordan

I need to rewatch this episode… I need to rewatch War of the Worlds 2 in general.

Jordan is one of the best to ever do the Challenge. Every season he has been on he has been one of the favorites to win. In elimination, Jordan is just as intimidating and he is capable of beating your average challenger in just about anything, even if he is put at a disadvantage due to his hand. Because I’m sure the producers will give him eliminations that doesn’t require superior grip strength, Jordan should be able to have his way with just about every male on this cast. Maybe he will be able to get revenge on Horacio this season for his Balls In loss in the Ride or Dies final, or revenge on Emanual for trying to fill the spot as the edgy tattooed white guy with a bad haircut.

2. Cara Maria

If you know your show history, I don’t have to tell you who Cara Maria is. If you’re a new fan of the show, I’ll keep it short: her Challenge accolades and history makes her arguably the best woman to ever compete on the show. Cara made her name winning eliminations back when she was the plucky underdog, so if she has to face-off against any person in the main cast, I’m just going to put my money on her, even though she’s been on a multi-year (probably forced) hiatus from the show.

1. CT

Unless CT comes to the elimination ring with a dad bod again, he isn’t losing to anyone in this cast. He’s not only one of the most physically imposing challengers ever, but also one of the best at puzzles in the show’s history. He’s also done mercenary work in the Challenge before, and we know how that turned out.

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In terms of how much I’m going to blog about this season of the Challenge… because we are in the middle of Survivor 45, don’t expect a weekly recap or anything. Two articles a week written after the day it airs, every week, when both shows are on at the exact same time is difficult for me to do. But if the season inspires me, I’ll check in with what’s going on from time to time.

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jfish

Reality TV connoisseur writing about the shows I like, especially Survivor. I also watch the Challenge, the Bachelor, Love is Blind, and more.