All right, it’s a nice, relaxing Sunday…time to knock another one off!
The Challenge: USA season finale - CBS, 2 hours, 9/14/22
0:00 A shot of the five men who have locked up their spots in the finale, Domenick, Tyson, Enzo, Ben, and Danny, and the six women fighting to avoid being the last anuuda wun bi da dus victim, Justine, Alyssa, Cayla, Sarah, Desi, and Angela. I’ll valiantly attempt to dig up whatever I know about these people throughout the course of the episode.
0:01 All right, all right, what’s going down…uhhhhhh…apparently the final challenge is going to be really tough, and the winners get the half-mil prize, while the…other…survivors…split the remaining cash that they’ve banked…over all the previous episodes. Look, I don’t have all week for this, I’m just going to keep an open mind…
0:02 Enzo and Cayla have a chip on their shoulders about Angela, who has “a very strong group in the compound”. And something about Alyssa. Enzo looked really bad when he gave up on a rope swing in a daily challenge but has since rebounded, going to elimination three times and winning them all. Angela right now has the most money.
0:03 Alyssa discusses beverages with Tyson.
0:04 Sarah has a gargantuan chip on her shoulder about pretty much everything. She really, really has it in for Tyson. She tried to boss everyone around in the previous daily, which didn’t work out. Domenick gets philosophical with Danny. Danny really loves his wife Kiki and his daughter Zoe. They have a video chat. I don’t drink.
0:06 Domenick: “We get news that we need to prepare for a challenge to-nahaieeeet? We don’t go out at night for daily challenges! Something is about to happen.” FYI, he barely survived a colossal blunder during an elimination and since then has looked mostly clueless. Should be fun to watch in the final!
They enter a big truck. Desi displays an irrational fear of serial killers. And Cayla is afraid of getting buried alive. Tyson finds other people’s panic soothing. (also ). Tyson dominated the early dailies with three wins but lately has struggled just to avoid the bottom. Weirdly, despite other contestants openly expressing their hatred of him, no one’s ever put him into elimination. Enzo is still afraid of the water.
0:07 The first appearance of host and “BMX legend” TJ Lavin, who also hosted the regular The Challenge on MTV for many years. He reminds me of a young Jeff Probst, a dependable straight man for the most part, with the only real faults being that he tends overexplain things, cracks abysmal jokes, goes into cheerleader mode too much, and does this absolute nails-on-a-chalkboard laugh at completely random times for absolutely no goddam reason. With each passing month the departure of Tom Bergeron just looms larger and larger.
Today’s game is Getting Tired. The contestants have to swim across a 500m wide lake and enter an abandoned army complex decorated with random scary stuff. They need to find and retrieve tires of varying point values; the higher the value, the harder it is to claim. Then run 1k to the official scoring poles, put the points on the board, repeat. Only one tire can be carried at a time. Total time, 2 hours. As this is a women’s challenge, the winning man and woman get to select one woman to take on the last-place woman.
0:10 Apparently Sarah, Cayla, and Justine are in the same…thing. Really not seeing how factions are going to matter beans in the final, but give it time.
0:14 Cayla briefly gets a foot stuck in the mud and calls it a “sinkhole”. Bailed out by Sarah. Not liking her chances.
0:16 And Justine says the hell with it and grabs a 5-point yellow! Meanwhile Enzo is bringing up the rear. Again.
0:17 Tires go on poles. Enzo makes a 3-point blue official, so at least he can say he made some effort. Tyson scores the first 20-point pink. Angela…is struggling. All this time there have been lots of vaguely spooky shots of stock horror movie stuff just lying there and not doing anything.
0:19 Justine tries to copy Tyson’s work. More tires go on. Angela is going nowhere fast. 1 hour 30 minutes to go. Cayla is feeling vindictive toward Angela. Domenick has scored two 10-point reds and is right behind Tyson.
0:20 A couple of 7-point oranges are claimed. Ugh…even if it was a nerve-wracking puzzle, I really don’t think risking hurting your foot like that is a good idea.
0:21 30 minutes left and Angela…the current money leader at $21,000…is still running in place. This is just sad now.
0:25 With all the more valuable wheels claimed, there’s a run on the blues. Except for Angela, who’s still doing her thing.
0:26 Finally, success! And for Ben as well! Until he trips up and injures his shoulder. Um, you do know that this is the last women’s elimination, right?
0:27 Time! For the first time ever, we have a tie for first; both Tyson and Domenick got 52 points. As there is no tiebreaker for this contest, both get $2,500. Winner on the women’s side is Sarah with 42 points; she gets all of the $5,000. Angela, predictably, is on the bottom with 24 points. And now Tyson, Domenick, and Sarah now have the arduous task of agreeing on something. Hoo boy, this should be fun.
0:30 Lots of confusing politicking.
0:37 Angela has face time with boyfriend Tyler. More confusing politicking.
0:39 Final elimination time. Tyson nominates Kayla, Sarah choose Alyssa, and Domenick…oh, get to the damn point, you blowhard …Alyssa. The game: Pole Wrestle. Both of them grab a pole and fight to take it from the other; best two out of three wins. The individual eliminations have no mental element, and I’ll leave it to you to figure out why. Provided there is a reason.
0:49 Angela, excessive crocodile tears notwithstanding, wins handily, bumping her bank account to a beefy $33,500. Now the extremely prolonged weepfest, which would be very emotional for someone who’s religiously followed CBS reality TV for the past ten years or so and has also managed to care the whole time. Can we get back to the part where stuff happens, please?
0:59 Cozy plane trip to the final battleground. Ben is in serious denial over how much of a problem his shoulder injury is. Destination: Patagonia. TJ is standing next to some kind of box with a crank in it…and immediately delivers the bad news. The medic who looked at Ben’s shoulder has deemed that it is too risky for him to continue; he’s done. In his own words “I wanted to do this, I know I could do this…this sucks.”
1:02 The final test! Climb the mountain in the distance (didn’t quite get the name…“Semino Lopez” or something). First man and first woman to reach the summit get $500,000 (and have to give up the banked money although obviously that’s a small sacrifice). In what is truly a radical departure from how literally every other network does reality TV, the nonwinners get to keep all the money they’ve scored so far…IF they reach the summit. Give up, run out of gas, or get hurt, and all their labor was for nothing (and the other summiters get to divvy up their bank).
Justine wants to win it for her parents who survived the Rwandan genocide. We briefly see a family photo. CBS understands the need for Acceptable Stories but doesn’t like to spend a lot of time on them.
Oh wait, there’s more. The contestants will be in male-female teams, decided by the “algorithm” (very much looking forward to that tell-all expose 25 years from now which explains how the frack this worked), and have to switch partners at each of an unspecified number of checkpoints. If one drops out, both team members are finished. Sarah calls this “nails on a chalkboard”, to which I can only shrug, because this is reality TV, you were expecting any of this to make sense? Each woman runs one leg alone due to Ben’s departure.
1:04 First pairings: Danny/Cayla, Domenick/Angela, Tyson/Justine, Enzo/Desi, and Sarah solo. 1st leg, a 500-yard swim through freezing water to the shore, and a sliding puzzle. And…gods, it’s really annoying getting all the rules piecemeal like this…each checkpoint is worth points, 5 for first, 4 for second, and so on, and the finishers with the most points take the half-mil. There, I think I got it now. Angela immediately expresses her trepidation at the puzzle.
1:08 Uh oh. Desi and Enzo are still waterborne, and they’re not anywhere near the shore. Enzo whined a lot about how much he hated the water this season, but now it’s much more serious…he’s foundering. Badly. He’s screaming for help. Desi, who’s not a strong swimmer herself, can’t do much to help him.
1:10 It’s over. The bull-headed knucklehead who tried to go the distance on sheer stubbornness barely got one foot on the dance floor before crapping out. He actually says “I quit”, which I’d probably be fuming at if I had a macho molecule in my body. (I’m a pudgy account clerk with blood pressure issues who spends hours on the computer, and the last physical game I was any good at was Red Rover; what do YOU think? ) Desi is devastated and extremely raw at Enzo, and again, why the freak does any of these people expect justice in reality TV? They were on it! They know how this lousy scam works!
1:12 And then there were seven! Danny and Cayla quickly figure out the puzzle and claim 5 points. Dunno why he’s choosing this reality show to uncork “There ain’t no second place”, but whatever works for him, I guess. Sarah makes a fine unassisted effort to claim 4 points. Justine and Tyson get 3 points. Angela and Domenick timed out, but by virtue of at least making it across the damn water, they have 2 points and a glimmer of hope.
1:13 Round 2! Danny/Angela, Sarah/Tyson, Domenick/Justine, Cayla solo. They hike to the first part, a table with plates, forks, and knifes, and bottles of what Angela says is lemon juice. Each plate has a large onion and a several pieces of garlic on it, all raw. “You must eat all the food at your table before continuing.” Having attempted to eat raw onion on a couple of occasiosn…yiiiiikes. Some of them have trouble finishing and have to take a break to, uh, clear the air. Justine proudly proclaims “I have the best vomit of everyone here” and…y’know, I’ve heard lots of dubious quotes on reality shows, but that is definitely a new one.
1:16 Danny and Angela are the first to the second part, an equation. They have to get numbers and math symbols from barrels; it’s largely the same as the first daily. Meanwhile Cayla’s appetite has been seriously suppressed. “I’ve been eaten maggot cheese on The Amazing Race. I don’t know if it’s the garlic or the onion or lemon juice, but my taste buds are completely on fire.” Domenick and Justine finish their exercise in extreme veganism and methodically make their way to the barrels. Cayla just reversed another fortune (normally when I watch reality TV, I’m the one who feels like throwing up, it’s not the contestants who are actually throwing up), and she still less than half done. She says that she doesn’t want to quit, but it looks like the clock is going to make the matter academic. “My body is shutting down completely.”
1:22 Angela and Danny easily nail the equation…holy cow, Danny, who’s been practically an nonentity up to this point, is in the lead with 10 points! Could he pull of the worst-to-first miracle upset? Cayla, now waaaaaay behind, trudges to the barrels. Tyson and Sara finish business and get 4 points, which leaves Dominick and Justine with the gentleman’s 3. Cayla, incredibly, manages to finish the task and get 2 points, but I’m guessing there’s going to be a very unhappy man on the next leg.
1:24 Round 3: Domenick/Cayla, Angela/Tyson, Sarah/Danny, Justine solo. This is a memory/decoding task with plenty of hiking. Tyson rattles off his credentials and laments that the stuff he’s seeing in the final he’s done just for fun. Angela/Tyson with 5 points, Sarah/Danny 4, Domenick/Cayla 3. The overwhelmed Justine times out and gets a nice-try 2.
1:28 Round 4: Danny/Justine, Tyson/Cayla, Domenick/Sarah, Angela solo. 10:27 PM with tents set up. They have to…shovel dirt into a wheelbarrow…and…dump it in a boxed-off area. Plus they have to finish before they can camp for the night. I’ve seen all kinds of tasks on these shows, but only CBS would see the entertainment value of back-breaking forced labor. Angela, currently 2 points shy of the lead, says the hell with it and goes to her tent.
1:30 1:58 AM and no one is finished. Rain is falling. This…this is just getting unsettling now.
1:31 Domenick & Sarah get the monumentally hard-earned 5 points. Tyson & Cayla get 4. Danny & Justine get 3. 3:58 AM. And at 6:59 AM, a little over 3 hours sleep for most of them, it’s go time. TJ makes fun of how much someone smells. He then grills Angela, who admits that she was willing to accept last place in exchange for more rest. Sarah is full of moral indignation about how everyone’s tired, wet, and cold and she took the easy way out, which I’d totally agree with if this was something of actual importance and not a ludicrous and extremely poorly designed game show. Seriously, get bent, Sarah.
1:38 TJ gives the highly predictable bad news: for not trying to complete the task, Angela is done. “I do not quit.” No, you messed up, which amounts to the same thing. Don’t worry, I would’ve done the same. Forced labor. Bah.
1:39 The final push! The remaining 6 contestants now compete individually to get to the peak. Points are doubled for this round. The leaderboard comes up: On the women’s side Sarah has 17 points, Cayla 14, and Justine 11; on the men’s it’s Danny 17, Tyson 16, and Domenick 13. Tyson gives some highly overconfident final words. Rain is now pouring down.
1:40 Checkpoint 1, a hex puzzle. I used to play this on my IPad. I needed a lot of hints for that one. I do not like this puzzle. Tyson is the first to clear it. Cayla is struggling with the cold. Domenick finishes. Justine is struggling badly but gets the puzzle first. Cayla laments the Amazing Race where she arrived first and came in second…can anyone explain that?
1:43 Tyson chest-thumps about how strong he is, and right now I’m hard-pressed to disagree. Snow is pouring down. He’s the first to task #2…Sudoku? Sudoku. Danny’s here, and ooh, he once went through a whole book of this before, looks like he has the advantage! Back at the hexes, Cayla is done, Sarah…is not. She’s made no progress on the puzzle, and she sounds like she’s suffering. Even if by some miracle she gets this, I don’t think she’s making it to the finish line.
1:45 Justine, now with a walking stick, is stubbornly hanging in there, but she’s never done Sudoku. This is bad. Now we see them all at their respective boards. They’re struggling. This is very bad. It’ll be a miracle if no one gets frostbite out of this. Danny is the first to finish, and I’m starting to think that he really is going to steal this. Dominick is at his limit and he still has at least 7 spaces to go. “This is not doable.”
1:52 Oh boy. Dominick’s reached the point where his senses don’t even work properly anymore. Tyson has two spaces to go, but neither of his remaining numbers fit in them and his hands are quickly becoming useless. Justine has completely hit the wall. They’re done. They’ve had enough. Frankly, I’m astounded any of them lasted this long. Cayla is the only one there smiling, and she looks confident.
1:53 Back to Sarah, who’s still stuck at square 1. She really, really, reeeeeally doesn’t want to surrender the grand prize, but with each passing minute it looks more likely that hypothermia is going to settle the issue. Lonely shot of Danny hiking the final few meters. Cayla…oh dear. No longer confident, and I see at least 12 blank spaces on that board. She’s out. Back to Sarah, who finally finishes the hex puzzle and soldiers on.
1:55 Back to Danny…where we see that the trail has ended and he has to climb up a rocky, snowy slope. And…he’s got it! And now…Sarah… I really hate deceptive editing sometimes. Finishes the puzzle, reaches the top. She thinks she finished last. She’s soon corrected.
Due to the computations, Danny takes home $245,500, Sarah $254,500.
(I’d really like to see just how Sarah completed that Sudoku puzzle. I felt cheated there.)