Another episode of the Challenge: USA is in the books. Let’s run back through the episode, decompress, and gather our thoughts over what has happened this week.
“Top Dogs” Align to Target Weak Players as Breaking Show Alliances Gain Steam
The algorithm works again to re-partner all the challengers, and players prepare for what the next challenge will be. While show alliances are still a big thing this early in the season, the lines are starting to blur, most notably with this alliance I’m deeming the “Top Dogs” with Tyson from Survivor and Angela from Big Brother. The two players see themselves as the strongest man and woman in the game, and want to make it a priority to target the weakest teams each week so that they avoid having to be partnered with them later on. When the only way to have power is winning, this type of alliance can be dangerous. Tyson and Angela have established resumes now in the house so it will be interesting to see how long they can ride on their challenge strength before others rise up to try to send them into the elimination ring.
Beyond that a few other pairings get highlighted. The perceived weakest team this week is Dom and Cashay, and all signs pointed towards a dysfunctional pairing between the two (which gets validated later on). Sarah really wants to make the most of her opportunity paired with the athletic Cinco (she does not). James has watched his partner Tasha on Survivor. And Shan talks about how she’s just trying to make friends and be a social player while her partner Derek really sees her as a true manipulator. Shan gets another highlight on this episode after News Shan last week and despite being a non-factor in the happenings of the challenges, so I think we are being set up for a big move on her end, or a big betrayal against her in the future. We’ll keep an eye on that development.
The Daily Challenge: The Challenge Version of Hangman
The daily challenge this week was intriguing strategically but visually a little lacking compared to the other two. Teams have to run back and forth over a vaguely long distance to make a staircase (which itself was a simple puzzle). Once the staircase is built the partners each take a role: one must keep running back and forth and play hangman/wheel of fortune while the other stands on a balance beam with a rod on their shoulders. If the runner gets a letter wrong, then he or she must take a 10 pound bag and put it on their partner’s rod. First team to get their phrase right wins the challenge. Also, the last team to finish, or more importantly the first team to have a challenger fall off their balance beam, goes straight into elimination. Ignoring if the phrases involved the same amount of letters, (each team had a different phrase, so how did they make them balanced?) the key strategy seemed to be who you have run and who you put on the balance beam, and from there it’s a cardio based challenge with a little bit of luck on what letters you guess early. Despite slower runners saying it’s a marathon not a sprint, I’d argue being a fast marathon runner really invalidates the argument for setting a slow pace early. It also looked like regardless of gender the best move was to put your strongest runner on hangman duty and just hope your other teammate can handle the bags and balancing. It left a variety of players on balancing duty where physically strong guys like Danny and Cinco were doing the same job as some of the physically weaker girls like Alyssa and Shannon.
While Dom and Cashay were marketed as the weakest team, it was James and Tasha who go right into elimination. They were one of the slowest getting the staircase finished, and then they miscommunicated on the first 10-lb bag transfer during hangman, which caused Tasha to lose balance and fall off the beam. That makes two straight challenges for James where he came in last. First place becomes a tight race between Kyland/Angela and Ben/Kyra, but Kyland finishes his phrase just before Ben does and beats him to the finish. Kyland even gets props from TJ for his effort in the challenge, so that earns him MVP for the daily.
One Dysfunctional Pairing, One Show Alliance Broken
Tyson loses his first challenge this season, but it’s all good because Angela is in the power position, and the Top Dogs are looking to get weak players out. Taking show lines into account the two teams on the block to face James/Tasha are Dom/Cashay and Leo/Justine.
Dom and Cashay are easily the weakest team this week, and their pairing is a match made in hell. Tensions fly between the two over their conflicting personalities, the generation gap, and different approaches to being up for possible elimination. Dom looks to have mentally accepted that he will be in the next elimination and the show gives us plenty of shots of him moping around the house bemoaning the Algorithm’s poor pairing skills. I thought the Algorithm was rigged, how could they give me a bad partner??? Cashay doesn’t like how Dom has vocally accepted defeat and is carrying around a negative attitude, and Dom doesn’t like the younger and more “immature” Cashay trying to tell him the big Survivor gamer how to play a strategic game. While I felt Dom was acting a bit childish this week (and maybe more: we’ll get to that soon) this is all in line with his character from Ghost Island, who lost out on a million dollars to Wendell basically for being a steamroller personality, which garnered him no jury votes in the end from his season long primary alliance. Though to be fair, I’d get frustrated if Cashay, the woman who if she caught a whiff of her ex-boyfriend Cinco wearing new cologne could probably make an hour-long podcast about what this means for their on-and-off again relationship, lecturing him on strategy.
However, there’s a bit of mystery in the air because James looks to have politically diverged from staying tight with Amazing Race, and has floated out the possibility of going against Leo and Justine in elimination so he can take Justine’s wealthier bank for himself. Leo gets into his feelings about this: Amazing Race is a brotherhood and they have to stick together! This is a nice taste test of what the show could look like later in the season when just staying alive takes priority over being tight with your show. Regardless of the alliance-based consequences, James’s reasoning about his attack on Leo being for Justine’s money is flawed: if James has more money after winning another elimination then it makes him a juicier target to be called into elimination for the exact reasons he wants Justine to be called in. And based on daily challenge performance, I’d still rate James one of the weakest players even with two arena wins.
The Elimination: Plug and Play
Dom and Cashay are sent into elimination, as the aggregated weakest team to face James and Tasha. The elimination has one partner diving into a tank of water to release 14ish pieces, while other partner takes the pieces to make a tall tower with them. First to complete their tower wins. However, there’s a caveat. The challenger in the tank has another job after retrieving the pieces: TJ has pulled a lever that opens a drain in the bottom of the tank, and if the water goes below a certain level you automatically lose. So if the tower stacking takes a long time, the importance to the partner in the water skyrockets.
The best performance of the elimination was Cashay, who won by making quick work of the tower stacking. Quick work on the tower stacking was a necessity, because Dom was inadvertently (or adventantly?) throwing this elimination by completely neglecting to cover the drain after fishing the pieces out of the tank, and their pair was maybe seconds away from DQing due to water level before Cashay finished the tower. It was such a blatant mistake that it makes me at least 70% percent sure that Dom was ok with throwing the elimination and getting on a flight home. He looked checked out all episode and his attitude towards Cashay gave me the impression that he was not aware of what show he signed up for. Which is crazy to me because on Survivor he proved to be a smart player. But there’s really zero excuse for how poor this partnership was and how he neglected one of the most important jobs he had in this elimination. He had to notice the water was sinking right? Or maybe to give him the benefit of the doubt he thought that the tower was on an unstoppable timer so he put all his focus on directing Cashay to get the tower done quickly.
James and Tasha go home on episode three for simply being slower in the elimination. I couldn’t really tell who was ahead at any part of this elimination because of the editing, but I think it was more Tasha dropping the ball on the tower than James being super slow in the tank. James leaves the season with an entertaining performance overall. While he was very weak in the challenges his strong political game made up for it, and I think if we get a season two James will get a callback. Tasha unfortunately was a non-factor on the season, which is disappointing given how good she was in two seasons of Survivor. Dom and Cashay are the first pair to return after being thrown into the arena, and while they want to make noise about it their status as weak players may hinder them. Overall I think Cashay’s stock has gone up, and Dom’s stock has gone down.
This episode felt like an early season transition episode, and the weakest of the three so far. But you are always gonna get the less consequential episodes so early in the season. I’m still excited to continue watching the rest of the season.