We are three episodes into this Challenge season (the two-hour premiere was technically two episodes) and already two shows have been titled with puns on the word “shelter.” Episode one was Gimme Shelter and this week was Helter Shelter. Depending on when they finally bring those lucky ticketed individuals to “The Oasis,” I’d say we’re definitely a week or two away from an ep called Fallout Shelter and/or Take Shelter. Maybe even He-Man and Shele-tor if we’re lucky.
I saw 50 Shades Darker this week which means I am only able to contextualize things through that lens right now. Let’s be honest, we’re all waiting for the Champs to show up. That’s what this season is about. That’s the big move we’re all waiting for. And if you’ve seen 50 Shades, you know that Christian Grey only has one big move. He unbuckles his pants, leaving them on, and immediately thrusts in. That’s the Champs showing up. But you can’t just throw that move around willy-nilly. You need a build-up. Some foreplay. But Christian Grey doesn’t do romantic foreplay. And neither does the Challenge. Christian Grey’s version of foreplay is getting you mad. There’s an entire Ne-Yo song about how much better his sex is right after a fight. I think it’s called “Every Ne-Yo Song.” So Christian Grey will be like “you are my property, I own you working fiction editor Alexandra Rose Steele.” And she’ll be like “Christian, don’t talk to me like that, I hate you.” And then a throaty rendition of a downbeat cover of a song from two years ago will start and Dakota Johnson will bite her lip and Christian Grey will start to unbuckle his pants and pull them down a little and then thrust. These first few eps are the Christian Grey saying something awful to make Alex Steele mad so they can do it. Parading the never-wons around, showing them talking shit about the not present Champs and celebrating little victories, that’s the best kind of dramatic irony build there is. We know something they don’t. We know a secret. We know the thrust is coming. We just have to get mad and warmed up for it.
Even better, the Shelter is split into two groups of its own. On one side there are the people that have been on Challenges before and even almost won, Jenna / Cory, mixed with people who seem so far to be good at competing, Nicole, Kailah, and someone who almost died from a Challenge injury and kicked off for fighting and is the most entertaining man on television, Tony. Then on the other side there are the rookies, aligned with the Are You the One? crew, and some others. Don’t get me wrong, I like people on both sides. Hunter is a beast of a human being. It’s like in the Street Fighter movie when they made Blanka from a scientist and cheetah hormones and a lightning bolt. And I get what Nelson is trying to do. But it’s dangerous. He’s playing the Wes game of rally up the numbers and get out the threats. The problem is it usually backfires. It’s hard to keep everyone loyal. Also, if you win an elimination you get a ticket to The Oasis so there is major incentive for a good competitor to go in, especially if it’s against a weaker player. Even if you have the numbers, if the people on your side can’t win, they’re just going in to get picked off. But in reality, the big trick here is that we think it’s real cute watching these players think they’re making moves in this game but they’re really playing a different smaller game and don’t know the real rules of the bigger game. It’s like thinking Jurassic World is an issue—having dinosaurs around kids and then finding out that the army is actually breeding raptors to use as soldiers and the little picture doesn’t matter as much anymore.
Hunter and Ashley win this week’s challenge and while I am not surprised that this man who has arms and legs like the Batman and Robin bodybuilder Bane would be good at rowing and carrying bags of coconuts, it is extremely surprising that he basically turned into Craig Hodges from the three-point line in 1986. I don’t know if that was edited to look like Hunter never missed a shot but that was seriously NBA Inside Stuff with Ahmad Rashad—impressive. One time I played basketball with a very muscly guy, who was very fit, but he basically dribbled the ball with two hands and when he shot it was like he was throwing the ball at the backboard so hard, it clapped off like cannon got fired. Most huge dudes don’t have the finesse of a nice jumper. Hunter celebrated big time after the win—even calling out Cory specifically which is kind of a rookie move. We’ll see how that plays out. But Cory managed to finesse it into an elimination against Theo, whose irrational confidence stays off the charts. Jenna went in against Anika, making this a full-on Real World Ex-Plosion vs Real World Bad Blood faceoff.
Even though Theo talked a huge game, he quit. He didn’t jump off his platform. And TJ hates quitters. Now I don’t know for sure that this was TJ’s call but it definitely was TJ’s call. Jenna, Anika, and Cory all jumped. So while TJ was giving them the results, they slowly lowered Theo down off the mountain right beside them. And then TJ said he looked like Britney Spears. Which is already like a 49 out of 50 dunk. But then they start playing Britney’s song Slumber Party, specifically the line about “the candles hanging, hanging from the ceiling” while they are lowering this man down slowly on a rope and I’m sorry Theo, I liked you on your season but TJ is Vince Carter and you are Frederic Weis. It looked like when black and white Sting would get lowered from the rafters in wrestling except maybe he accidentally fell asleep because he’s slumped down. Then TJ was like “Why did you even come here. Go home.” Jenna beat Anika, who at least did do the wild, swinging from a rope in an arc through the jungle jump. And Cory and Jenna made it back to shelter, basically singing Champagne Supernova because now they got those Oasis tickets. That said, the Champs have landed and the thrust is coming.