It’s a new era for the Challenge as CBS enters the fray with their own take on the long running MTV franchise with The Challenge: USA! As a combination of two of my favorite shows (The Challenge and Survivor) I’m excited to see what the show looks like and if it can find new life in a new arena called network TV. I’m planning to do a writeup for every episode this season so let’s kick off with the premiere!
The Challenge: USA — Same Challenge You Know, New Characters to Love
The biggest question mark for longtime Challenge fans going into this new spinoff of the show was whether this new environment would feel like that Challenge we know and love. And CBS delivered with a strong first episode that felt exactly like what you want a Challenge to feel like: good vibes from contestants and intense challenges to compete in. In fact, I’d say the more competition focused tone that MTV has been moving towards in recent flagship seasons works a lot better with a CBS cast who have experienced (sans Love Island, as we see later) the rigors of being in reality TV competition. Having TJ Lavin host makes it all feel familiar too, as the host of the show has become bonded with the identity of the product. The cast itself brought good energy when doing the competitions and I’m excited to see how they respond as the intensity goes up in the latter stages of the show.
The House Dynamics are Set: The Cookout is Recognized and Love Island’s got Exes
Before we get into the first challenge we get conversations from players that give us a feel of where people stand coming into the game. The first thing that stood out to me is that people understand that the large contingent of “Cookout” alliance members needs to be watched. Specifically Derek and Alyssa, who did BB23 with them, state their desire to beat them this time around. While the strategy for the first episode revolved around grand show ties and not rocking the boat, let’s make sure to put a bookmark there as Big Brother is not so married to each other as other shows may be. As people get to know each other and the volatility of partnerships throws curveballs into strategies, will Big Brother start gunning for each other sooner rather than later?
We also are informed that some of these Love Island challengers have a bit of dating history with each other. Cashel and Kyra dated after their season aired but broke up. Cashay and Cinco had a relationship during and after their season that left some hard feelings for at least Cashay (while Cinco just wants their saga to be over). I’m sure some drama will arise from this in the near future: the other three shows don’t bring this type of baggage with them to the Challenge so for flagship fans this type of petty drama feels more at home with them then the uber strategic Survivor and Big Brother. I hope as the season goes along we get to see more of the messy romantic drama play out to its conclusion.
Beyond that, we get to see plenty of players like Xavier, Tiffany, Sarah, Danny, Tyson, James, etc. give their pitch as to why they think they will thrive in this new competition show. Without any of the established MTV Challenge big dogs like CT, Bananas, Cara Maria or Laurel on the season, that means the hierarchy of threats have not been established and it will be fun to see who really rises to the power player positions as the episodes go by.
The Daily Challenge
So for the first daily of the season we get going with a straightforward heights challenge: rappel off the top of a tall skyscraper, while doing a math equation on the way down. As long as you get the answer to the equation right in three tries, then you don’t have to go all the way up to the top again and retry the challenge. It is a simple challenge that emphasizes the extreme aspects of the Challenge, allows for new viewers to understand what the show is about, and lets us get a good feel of who are the threats to watch out for. After the challengers choose their own pairs, the first group to go includes Kyland and Azah who drop the ball right out of the gate by making a mistake in the math. Kyland and Azah have to run up the building and go again which leaves Azah so physically strained that she needs medical assistance. Once that low bar was set all the rest of the pairs had to do was get their math equation right to avoid going into elimination. Everyone else is able to get the math right (though it took a composed Cayla and shook David all three guesses) so Kyland and Azah go into the first elimination.
From there it is about who looked impressive. A lot of groups do a good job of getting down the building quickly once the fear is stamped out and the rappel rope is figured out. Tyson and Angela do the challenge incredibly quickly and win, with Danny/Shan and Cinco/Desi as the runner ups.
Don’t Rock the Boat: Just Send the Love Islanders In
When the politics of the show take center stage, it becomes clear that Love Island challengers weren’t prepared for the political legwork that comes with the challengers. It’s funny to see when the cast goes to the bar that while all the older players are content to sit down and have a beer the Love Island ladies are doing shots and twerking on each other. Because Tyson and Angela won and have all the power to choose who goes up against Kyland and Azah, all Survivor and Big Brother players are off the table, because Tyson and Angela are smart enough to know that it’s best not to shake up the easiest alliance lines so early. After discussing with the losing team, it looks like James and Shannon are going to be sent in because Shannon was talking about wanting to leave after an overwhelming first day and James looked beatable to Kyland. However James has watched the Challenge before and wants to avoid being first out as much as possible, so he goes to Tyson to politic his way out of the arena. It succeeds: Tyson and Angela choose instead to send in the Love Island duo of Javonny and Cely.
This was a great first episode for James and gives more confidence to me that Amazing Race won’t be a pushover. James put in the work to save himself while Love Islanders Javonny and Cely simply did not. Hopefully this first episode will be a wake up call for the rest of Love Island so they don’t just get chopped one by one in the early stages.
The Elimination: Knot So Fast
The season’s first elimination is a challenge classic. Knot So Fast involves teams tangling up a big rope in their own personal jungle gym set, then switching sides and untangling the other team’s work. The first one to untangle the other team’s rope wins. If you’ve never seen the challenge I’d highly recommend watching the Knot So Fast eliminations in The Challenge: Invasion of the Champions (Season 29). CT essentially created the unbeatable strategy for this elimination when he played it that season.
Both teams put up a good effort in the elimination. Both Azah and Cely were willing teammates and worked really hard despite being some of the less physical competitors, and Kyland and Javonny put in good work to get the ropes tangled and untangled. Kyland and Azah end up sending Javonny and Cely home despite Javonny and Cely chirping at them in the pre-elimination confessional. It would have been really funny to see Kyland go home first after hearing him talk about how he trained months for this chance at the challenge, but having the two cookout members here is more interesting than Cely and Javonny who were fun but didn’t really play the game.
After the elimination we learn the big twist of the season will be The Algorithm, which will “randomly” *wink wink* select a different partner for each challenger in every challenge they do. This way the players have to be versatile because they won’t be paired with a single player all season, and alliances will have to be more fluid, because there may not be an easy partnership to target on a given day. Overall this episode exceeded my night one expectations and I’m excited to watch the season play out!