Once upon a time a month ago, I was invited to attend the filming of the reunion episode of Challenge: Invasion of the Champions because your dreams can come true sometimes if your dreams are dumb enough. I’m not saying the Challenge is dumb because it’s the thing I care about most on television that bleeds over into my real life. What I’m saying is that lots of people have lots of dreams that are big and shiny and philanthropic but I went to this reunion taping and it was a top five moment in my life along with the time Michael Jordan came back from retirement with the Bulls, that time I did five real pull-ups all the way down and back up, one more thing that’s a secret, and when I went to the Big Brother premiere party. How could it not be a perfect night? I mean the reunion episode is like the Pro Bowl of the Challenge season—the championship is over, not all the players shows up to it, and everybody is there for the free trip. Plus, I had a seat directly on the aisle and the MTV Challenge account even gif’d me clapping during CT’s intro dance.
All of the best stuff comes out at the reunion, too. Like whether or not Jenna got fingerbanged—please bleep the finger and not the banged—by Bruno on the plane. She claimed that she didn’t and on the show she said nothing happened at all. But finally Jenna admitted that they did make out on the plane even though there were no fingers involved. After the taping I was able to get some interview time with the cast. My most important question: Why did they bleep the “finger” and not the “bang”? This lead to a spirited debate as to which part of that word construction is dirty. And Johnny was like, “I just didn’t realize you couldn’t say fingerbang on television.”
There were also so many fights. Laurel and Cara Maria got into it about Nicole—although to be fair, their relationship has had a rockier road than that Rocky IV sequel spec script I wrote this isn’t Rocky V but Rocky IV Part II. Someday, someone with vision will let me tell Ivan Drago’s side of the story fairly. Laurel tearily admitted that the reason she finally decided to act on her attraction to women was that after Diem passed away, Laurel decided to stop holding back in her life. It was a really real moment. I’ve been saying all season that one of the thing’s they missed out on was the development of Laurel and Nicole’s initial coming together. It happened so abruptly in one episode this season and it felt like there was more to explore there.
Seeing Laurel get choked up was a reminder that these aren’t just characters on my favorite show. They’re actual people and these storylines aren’t plot points, they’re things that happen in their lives. “I don’t think of myself as a person whose on t.v.” Laurel told me afterward while I was in a room with her, Jenna, Shane, and Kailah. “These are real emotions that actually happen,” Kailah said. Shane, who took a break for a few years and rejoined the cast this season added “It’s a living soap opera.”
There were other fights. Mike “The Miz” Mizanin, two-time Challenge champ and WWE superstar came back to host the reunion show. He’s spent the last few years in a wrestling ring and even he couldn’t control all the mayhem. Camila got up and did her “I Can’t Hear You While I’m Twerking” dance while Amanda was talking. A few minutes later, Amanda was pushing Camila out of her face and security had to rush the stage. Nelson was ready to argue with everyone, including all of his friends. Hunter, Cory—whoever. Nelson is dope because he cares so much. He cares more than anyone has ever cared about anything. He’ll get mad at you for getting mad at him and be like “fuck your apology bro.” A Nelson outburst is like a Hallmark card–you’ll be like “why did I open this in public?”
But most importantly, I got to meet the only person on television I’ve ever cared about meeting. His name is CT and he is a dad now. And I got to tell dad CT that I, like many of the other strangers who approach him are very proud. CT said he came back to do this Challenge for his son, who shares the same name as him. He was afraid his son would Google himself one day and see everything that his dad ever did and he wanted to end it all on a positive note. CT has literally grown up on television. “I didn’t think my fifteen minutes was going to last fifteen years.” he said. And then he explained how reality television relates to Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty and I was like “where am I and how is this happening?” This is 100% true, I have the recording to prove it.
Ashley knew that she was going to win. She wrote it down in her notebook over and over again “Ashley Mitchell Challenge Winner.” She attributes her win to The Secret and suggests we all get involved with it. I put it out there that all I wanted to do was go to a Challenge reunion taping and that happened so I think she is right.
Darrell said the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me and that was “Ay, you kinda hood in your voice bro, where you from, Bronx or Brooklyn?” And when I told him I was born and raised in Queens, he called me Coming to America. And then I walked home scream-singing “To Be Loved” and everyone in my neighborhood yelled out their windows for me to shut the hell up.
Finally, I had Jenna there in front of me and had to ask the most important Challenge question of all time. How is your cousin at the bakery? “She actually got fired by her dad.” That bakery life is tough if you ain’t built for it.
So yeah, this season may not have been perfect. As Johnny put it, “it was more like to be a champion you have to watch all of the other champions beat each other.” The sides could’ve been more even. They didn’t need to make the champs eliminate each other instead of going against the underdogs. They could’ve bleeped the “bang” instead of the “finger.” But this night, it was a reunion. And everyone got together to get together. Including me.