Tag Archives: TJ Lavin

T.J. Lavin’s Masterpiece Theatre: Episodes Five/Six

2 Mar

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

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The story of Jekyll and Hyde presented a very literal view of the difference between one man’s civilized and good side, and his crazed and dangerous side.  Dr. Jekyll was a mild-mannered scientist during the day, but due to an experiment gone wrong, his twisted and dark desires turned him into the wild Mr. Hyde at night.  There aren’t any scientific disasters going on during this Challenge season (yet), but the past two weeks have seen several contestants start to lose the battle with their inner Hyde.

Every season on the Challenge is a long and grueling process for the contestants, with the physical and emotional stress only increasing as the weeks go by and the smell of the prize money becomes stronger.  Adding a group of hard-partying quasi-celebrities for whom stability is a variable to this pressure cooker situation is like putting a gas can next to a bonfire.  You might get by for a little bit without incident, but sooner or later that fire is going to melt the outside of that can, and something’s gonna blow.  The first few weeks on Challenge seasons can be relatively tame as most of the people can hold their shit together, but there is always a point when gas cans start to melt, and sanity takes a backseat to the fireworks.  Battle of the Exes has reached that point.

Camila signaled the Hyde shift early on in Episode Five by casually flipping her crazy switch to On with several tequila shots and a few black censor bars.  She had been pretty quiet all season up until this point, but quickly made up for lost time by tossing furniture, leveling death threats, and telling her partner Johnny: “you don’t know anything about Camila.”  Camila’s Dr. Jekyll side has appeared to regain control for now, but her lack of caring about past outbursts and Brazilian passion present a volatile situation for Mr. Johnny Bananas going forward.

Once Camila started up the crazy train, other contestants with proven Hyde records began to lose their grip on self-control.  CT is well-known for his darker side, so it wasn’t necessarily a big surprise when he and Diem dissolved into a glassy-eyed shouting match that is decidedly not good for future team chemistry.  Cara Maria and Abe (who may just be in Hyde-mode all the time) had some crazy conversations about ‘painting all day’ in their love nest outside of the show, but unfortunately the imminent full nudity meltdown scene we all knew was coming will have to be postponed, as they were sent home in Ep. Five.  The best example of losing the battle with your darker side, however, came in the form of Paula and Ty’s romance.

We mentioned this earlier in the season, but Paula’s offhand remark about having a boyfriend was a clear signal of imminent danger for said boy.  Paula has been decidedly calm so far this year, in comparison to breakdowns in seasons past, but her grip on self-control has begun to loosen considerably in Ty’s arms.  There were storm clouds on the horizon in Ep. Five, when Dr. CT implored the new couple to “knock one out real quick” before a competition, and it was clear where this was headed by the time Paula was saying “boyfriend” like it was a bad word in a language she didn’t even know.  By the end of Ep. Six, the two had thrown all decency out the window and appear primed to take both of their partners down in flames with the Most Unhealthy Relationship Ever.  Dark sides are emerging all over the Challenge house, and the weeks ahead should prove to be full of emotional gas cans finally igniting.

Liner Notes

Ty and Paula’s softcore porn act on a bunk bed in a room full of other contestants inspired a thought of how this show is the most twisted and debaucherous summer camp you’ve ever seen.  Everyone’s in a group out in the middle of a forest, food is brought in so that there are group meals every day, there are regular activities in the forms of physical challenges, people wear colored shirts with their names on them, there are fleeting romances, and everyone sleeps cramped in rooms with twin bunkbeds.  If anyone would like to actually start an Adult Summer Camp like this, preferably with T.J. as Camp Director, we would like to submit our names for Summer 2012, and we prefer top bunks.

Johnny’s Come-On of the Week That Makes You Squirm:  The Bananas man doesn’t miss a beat when he goes straight from talking strategy with his partner to asking her if she wants to “conserve water in the shower.”  Literally no change in the tone of his voice, no pause from his previous train of thought.  We’re still not sure how she was able to say no.

With comments like “Not too often am I impressed with everyone,”  T.J. is becoming more and more like an emotionally distant group Dad that everyone is desperate to please.  Some might need (more) therapy when this is all over.


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

17 Feb

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

The Art Of War

Secret meetings, tentative alliances, public betrayals.  If mastery of these elements is the key to political success in today’s society, then there are some Challenge veterans who should seriously consider running for their local government office.  The constant maneuvering and manipulation of relationships is a central component of every Challenge, and this week’s episode of Battle of the Exes gave us the first taste of this season’s particular brand of political mischief.

Johnny Bananas was at the forefront of the scheming this time around, which shouldn’t be a surprise.  He’s a successful vet, and has learned how to pull the strings in his favor.  He may not be particularly subtle, and it’s yet to be seen how this particular game works out for him, but he is definitely a formidable force in the House Politics that every contestant must survive.

It’s unclear if Johnny has studied Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” prior to every season, but we sure have, and this week’s episode has led us to examine how Sun Tzu’s timeless principles can be applied in the cutthroat world of The Challenge.

The philosophy of battle strategy put forth in “The Art of War” is broken down initially into five basic factors.  For any Challenge Warrior striving for that prize money, this is a good place to start.

1)   Climate/Timing:  Sun Tzu spoke specifically about the actual weather changes, but these particular principles can be applied to The Challenge in the way contestants should monitor the momentum swings in the house.  For all the pre-game alliances someone may have going into a particular season, they can’t totally control aspects of the game such as challenge victories and simple accidents.  These uncontrollable events can shift momentum from team to team or person to person, and a skilled Challenge Warrior should be able to recognize these shifts.  Timing is crucial when you’re deciding whether to make a bold move, or lay low and wait.

 2)   Moral Ethics:  Few and far between.  Move on.

 3)   Terrain/Ground:  Tzu refers to these in literal terms, discussing the importance of your geographical location on the battlefield.  For The Challenge, this can pertain to the knowledge of your current status in the house hierarchy.  There can be many factors behind who is currently the ‘power team’ or ‘power player,’ such as dominance in physical challenges or pre-existing alliances, and for a newcomer it can be difficult to fully comprehend the unspoken rankings at any given moment.  But even though unspoken, these power positions are very real, and can affect who faces elimination every week.  Knowing where everyone stands can be a huge asset for a Challenge Warrior as they attempt to pull strings and climb to the top.

 4)   Leadership/Command:  This aspect of the “War” philosophy reasons that success on the battlefield is greatly dependent on the strength and wisdom of the person or persons in leadership roles.  For all the craziness going on in the world of The Challenge, there are still some intelligent and capable competitors whose track record of success reflects the importance of these qualities in the game.  Especially in a game like Battle of the Exes, where there are all kinds of situations with potential for emotional breakdowns, having a clear head and the willpower not to black out every night will take you far.

 5)   Methods:  Tzu emphasized that no matter what methods one uses in war, they should always be effective and efficient.  For a Challenge Warrior, this should mean that you have the freedom to bring your own personal style to the game, but if you want to get far, you’re going to have to keep things consistent and under control.  Contestants who have had success in the past have done it with different styles – Kenny’s unmatched egotism, Wes’ near-pathological dickishness, Laurel’s unhinged aggression – but they’ve all shared a confidence in their strengths are and a dedication to their initial gameplan.

Liner Notes

There’s no way that  the small-town bars the contestants get ferried out to every week are prepared for what’s coming their way.  At full strength, this group’s substance ingestion is fearsome, and the destruction they leave in their wake would put some rowdy frat houses to shame.  Some quiet owner of a local Dominican Republic bar probably jumped at the chance to host some “celebrities” from MTV for a few nights, and they got a Category 3 slurricane as a result.  Here’s to hoping they were properly compensated for the several weeks of cleanup duty they likely pulled.

At one point, Paula mentions that she ‘cannot’ (those quotes are intentional) hook up with Ty because she has a ‘boyfriend’ (those are too).  Now, Paula seems like a very nice person who means well.  But I would pay $10-15 to see and speak to her boyfriend, just to gauge what his game is.  He must be okay with open relationships, right?  Or has never seen MTV before?

We sincerely hope that CT is currently holding auditions for his new speed metal band Dome of Nagging Gremlins.

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.