Tag Archives: The Challenge

T.J. Lavin’s Masterpiece Theatre: Episode Three

9 Feb

[Our ongoing Swanky coverage of The Challenge: Battle of the Exes.  For an introduction, go here.  For the episodes: One, Two]

The Fighter

We can’t choose our family, and for better or worse, we’re connected to them throughout our life.  The trials and tribulations that go along with having a dysfunctional family were a central part of “The Fighter,” in which boxer Micky Ward’s professional hopes are almost permanently derailed by the actions of his family, particularly his brother Dickie.  Even though Dickie’s flaws nearly become fatal for Micky’s career, Micky could never truly shake Dickie from his life, and their fates are permanently intertwined.  Which leads us to Battle of the Exes.

Episode Three emphasizes that the contestants’ partners are their family in the game – you can’t choose them, you can’t shake them, and they could very well bring you down.  There are Dickies all over the Challenge house, barely keeping their demons and issues at bay, while the Mickys keep fighting and hoping that their partner’s flaws won’t prove fatal.  So far, two players have been unceremoniously cut from the game solely due to their partners (one of them literally) slipping up.  And one of the strongest contestants of the season, Leroy, was felled this episode in a final Dome challenge that was a perfect visual representation of one partner holding the other back.  This season is as much about surviving your teammate as it is surviving the other teams.

The teams that are still standing by the end of Episode Three are by no means out of the woods when it comes to dealing with their weak links.  A short breakdown of the Micky/Dickie dynamics of the remaining contenders, in no particular order:

CT=Micky.  Diem=Dickie.  A close one, as CT’s past has indicated that he could be sent home at any minute for attempting to snap someone in half.  But CT seems to have his shit together for now, while Diem is one Masshole crack away from breaking down when it matters most.

Cara Maria=Micky.  Abe=Dickie.  Even though Cara Maria isn’t as strong physically and can occasionally burst into tears, Abe is beginning to swing back and forth between calm and insane intensity with more frequency.  If I were a contestant, I would pick the bunk farthest from his, and that’s not a good sign.

Emily=Micky.  Ty=Dickie.  Emily is clearly more stable emotionally than Ty, and she might very well be able to challenge him physically.  Ty continues to remind us of a petulant tween who’s constantly one comment away from a tearful and violent tantrum.

Mark=Micky.  Robin=Dickie.  These two veterans have stayed mostly out of the spotlight for now, so there hasn’t been much insight into their dynamic.  But based on the past, Robin has been more than willing to oblige the cameras with tears- and alcohol-fueled meltdowns that can prove costly.

Dunbar=Micky.  Paula=Dickie.  This is a no-brainer.  As much as she has seemed calm for the first part of this season, we have seen far too much of Paula Walnuts to think that she’s gone away for good.

Rachel=Micky.  Aneesa=Dickie.  Rachel has been one of the most level-headed people in the game to this point, and she seems to be the constant to Aneesa’s variable.  We’ve already seen Aneesa help Leroy patent the “sit-on-my-face” dance move, indicating that she’ll find love wherever she pleases, and she seems primed for at least one vocally violent confrontation before her time is up.

Johnny=Micky.  Camila=Dickie.  Johnny is a hardened Challenge veteran, and he knows all the tricks of the trade by now.  He’s reliable to take care of his shit.  Camila has kept it together so far, but she has shown in the past that she can care more about proving her point or protecting her pride than winning a Challenge.  Johnny will have to watch out for her.

Tyrie=Dickie.  Jasmine=Dickie.  We’ve tried looking at this from every angle to see which one of this team could be the Micky, and it just doesn’t work.  They’ve already come to blows in the first episode, and if this were real life instead of the Challenge, dual restraining orders would have been issued a long time ago(if that’s legally possible).  Tyrie seems to be calmer than Jasmine on average, as she seems on the edge of a meltdown at all times, but directing the phrases “You punch like a bitch,” and “Kiss my black ass” at your female partner does not merit a Micky label.  Could two Dickies take this Challenge down?  It’s definitely an unconventional method, but stranger things have happened.  Stay tuned.

Liner Notes

Last week, we bestowed the Swanky stamp of approval on Leroy, and it turned out to be the kiss of death.  We’re sorry, Leroy.  Going to take a break from the stamps of approval for a bit.

Speaking of Leroy, the mid-commercial interlude scene in which he’s giving CT a haircut was the best moment of the episode.  At the very least, the producers need to start work on a “Leroy and CT’s Barbershop” web series right now.  Having those two bullshit with each other and then clowning on new guests every week would be amazing.  We would say at least put them on a team next season, but that would just be unfair for everyone else.

T.J. threw a ‘hang-loose’ sign at the end of the Dome, so we urge you to take his advice and we’ll see you next week.


T.J. Lavin’s Masterpiece Theatre: Episode Two

3 Feb

[Our ongoing Swanky coverage of The Challenge: Battle of the Exes.  For an introduction, go here]


“And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”  So proclaims Russel Crowe, as Roman warrior Maximus, in the film “Gladiator.”  And so proclaimed Vinny, with much less eloquence and much more grunting, in Episode Two of Battle of the Exes.  Now, what Vinny did to Mandi on the dance floor was deplorable, and should not put him on the same heroic level of Maximus, by any means.  But for the sake of our tenuous connection here, we are going to put that aside and look at the bigger picture.  And the picture in Episode Two was one of Vinny exacting his clumsy vengeance on Wes, even if it cost him his own Challenge ‘life’ in the process.

Maximus made true on his promise for revenge by killing the slimy Commodus, but he did so at the expense of his own life.  Commodus was responsible for the death of Maximus’ family, and although it was a long and arduous journey, Maximus was finally able to get the powerful Commodus in a weak position, and killed him on the Coliseum floor.  In this episode of Battle of the Exes, the mighty Wes, responsible for taking out Vinny and many other contestants over the past several challenges, finally found himself in a position of weakness.  Once the garishly tattooed combo of Sarah and the Big Tan Baby locked up their status as the deciding Power Couple of the week,  Baby made it well known that he had a personal score to settle with Emperor Wes.  But as with Maximus, revenge was going to come at a high cost.

This episode saw the first ‘going-out’ segment of the season, and we all know by now that this means poor decisions are on the horizon.  Self-control is not a common trait among Challenge stars, and alcohol-soaked dance floors in tropical countries have been the downfall of many a past contestant.  Vinny, showing us a nightmarish alternate version of Jersey Shore, fell on his own gladiatorial sword by boorishly ripping off Mandi’s top and stumbling off into the night.  After this point, Vinny’s fate was sealed, but T.J. (he’s pulling all the string here) allowed him to stay long enough to take Wes down with him.  Shortly afterwards, T.J. showed up with a delightful smirk and Vinny was booted from the house,  unfairly taking Sarah with him.

As Maximus’ vengeance was finally realized on the sands of the Coliseum floor, so too was Vinny’s, as Wes was left gasping for air under the Dome, staring at an early exit.  The saga of Wes and Vinny is probably not over, as it seemed that Wes was eager to introduce Vin to ‘his boys’ and ‘an alley’ somewhere in the outside world.  Hopefully this won’t actually happen and leave them both in prison, as their bumbling showdowns in future Challenges should prove entertaining.

Liner Notes

With his performance in this week’s episode, Leroy is coming on strong as a Challenge powerhouse, both in physical challenges and in social dynamics.  The dance move in which he basically has Aneesa sit on his face would be more than enough for a memorable episode performance, but he was also able to throw in an excellent wide-eyed reaction to Naomi’s urgent and well-thought-out assertion that they should sleep together, for competition’s sake.  Leroy has the Swanky stamp of approval.

He may be somewhat under-the-radar for now, but the seeds for a CT meltdown are quietly being sown, and hopefully we will get to see them flower this season.  Diem seems to be pushing every button that CT has, and the CT I know is not going to take this forever.  He acted calm this week when Diem pretty much shut down the competition to prove some kind of point (that she sucks?) but his competitive juices had to be boiling.  Keep an eye on the CT meter, because it’s starting to rise.

T.J. Lavin’s Masterpiece Theatre: Episode One

26 Jan

[Our ongoing Swanky coverage of The Challenge: Battle of the Exes.  For an introduction, go here.  And now we know that Vinny keeps his shirt on in the pool]

808s & Heartbreak

Comparing a show about ex-lovers to a breakup album seems pretty obvious, but if the shoe fits, we’re going to wear it.  Kanye’s 2008 album, “808s & Heartbreak” was an emotional and personal piece of work.  The skeletons from his recent breakup are strewn all over minimalist productions and haunted vocals, with the occasional burst of bravado breaking forth in a particular verse or beat.  The album was uneven, but it was a deeply felt, unique, and quality work from a visionary artist that helped to usher in a new style of hip-hop [hey, Drake] and pointed towards the great things to come.  The messy pieces of lovesickness in “808s” laid the way for the passionate expansiveness of “A Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” much like the uneven parts of Battle of the Exes’ first episode point towards greater things.

TJ Lavin’s line in this episode – “You like money more than you hate each other” – sounds like it could have come straight from Kanye’s discarded lyrics pile.  Episode One had many of the ‘twisted love gone bad’ themes expressed in “808s”.  There was the weird, darkly sexual union with Abe and Cara Maria, who now both look like they work the “Pirates of the Carribean” ride on breaks between seasons.  There was the angry, don’t-fucking-touch-me attitude with Jasmine and Tyrie; any kind of non-violent ending for these two would be a borderline miracle.  The infatuation with porn stars shines bright with Dustin and Dunbar, the latter of which, incidentally, looked to be the second coming of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man while walking that honey plank.  And then there was the ‘I tend to sleep with the closest person in my vicinity, and you’ve happened to be that person at several times, so I guess let’s just bone some more’ union of Wes and Mandi.  Most of these people have probably lived out a few Kanye verses in their lives, and Battle of the Exes is all the better for it.

Episode One definitely had its slow points, and mostly laid the foundation for many of the storylines that should lead to emotional and physical  fireworks in the “Dark Twisted Fantasy” portion of this season.  The producers seemed to put the most emphasis on the Diem-CT relationship, indicating that could be headed for a sorely-needed CT meltdown in the near future.  Meanwhile, Wes’ aggressive strategy nearly got the best of him this year, but he was gifted a final showdown with quite possibly the least-appealing pair in Challenge history, Red-face and What’shername, and thankfully sent them home to irrelevance.

The muted, catchy, uncomfortable, and promising sounds of “808s” hang over Episode One, and while better things are on the horizon, it was still worth the time.

T.J. Lavin’s Masterpiece Theatre: Introduction

26 Jan

The Challenge

I’m not an avid reality TV viewer, by any means.  Most of my exposure to this type of programming comes from seeing random clips in passing at friends’ places, and I have never really had the desire to devote entire hours to watching these shows.  With one exception.  For the past several seasons of The Challenge, I have made sure not to miss any of the debauchery and emotional instability on display in these competitions, and have enjoyed every minute of it.  The beauty of The Challenge, and what sets it apart from other reality programs whose purpose for existing is hazy, is that the stakes are very real for the contestants on the show.  Particularly with the repeat offenders – the ‘veterans’ – the competition borders on being a veritable career, and the prize money on the line represents their livelihood.  And if The Challenge drives any point home, it’s that you don’t fuck with someone’s livelihood.

The high stakes on the show lead to some of the most entertaining and interesting displays of human nature on TV, with the contestants constantly scheming on new ways to fuck each other over – and when the emotional manipulation fails, their bodies are sacrificed in physical challenges that have gotten more sadistic with each passing year.  Throw habitual intoxication and copulation into the mix, and there’s not much else you could ask for in an hour of programming.

With all of its core elements, the best seasons of the show have become fascinating glimpses into a weird, mutated version of the American Dream  – there is fame and fortune to be had on a limited scale, and these people have made the decision that just a limited, specialized scale is enough to sacrifice your body and integrity for.  Luckily for us and the franchise, there seems to be a non-stop supply of people willing to make these sacrifices, as the roster of past and present contestants continues to expand with every new season, to the point that mythologies are starting to be created around the more memorable veterans and events.  Don’t tell me this isn’t the visual embodiment of a Tall Tale, one that will be told around the campfire to scare future Challenge contestants for years to come.

The newest season of the show that began last night acknowledges the history of the contestants, and their proclivity for hooking up, with this year’s theme: Battle of the Exes.  The contestants are paired off with someone from their romantic past, be it a long-term relationship or one-night stand, and then need to navigate the physical and emotional landmines of the Challenge on their way to the $150,000 grand prize.  This season has the potential to be another great one in the show’s history, and to get the most out of the social experiment unfolding over the next several weeks, we here at Dan Swanky’s are introducing a segment we call T.J. Lavin’s Masterpiece Theater.  With every new episode, we will examine the notable events, celebrate the small absurdities, and offer up a work of literature, film, or music to serve as a sort of thematic companion piece for that week.  So throw on your backwards Monster hat, pick out a graphic tee, and let’s kill it.