Playing both sides of the house is a hard strategy to pull off on The Challenge. Players have to be prepared to walk the delicate line between honesty and deceit, and one wrong move can bring a swift end to their game.
To this point, Theresa and Jay have managed to thread that needle, but last week's vote against Aneesa has some of the women worried about where Theresa stands. Nany, in particular, doesn't trust Theresa. The former rivals had seemingly put aside their dislike for each other some time ago, but there is still some lingering distrust from Nany.
After a quick chat with Nany and Kam, Lolo decides she wants to confront Theresa about where she stands. Unsurprisingly, Lolo comes in a little hot, but Theresa stands her ground, defending her decision not to tell Aneesa about the vote last week. Theresa maintains a calm demeanor, allowing them to smooth things over. Lolo even votes with Theresa later in the episode. But Ashley, who overhears everything, expresses doubt over Theresa's trustworthiness.
Wrestling with Emotions
Before heading off the daily mission, the show shifts gears to focus on Lio. Lio opens up to Nany about living in a group home as a teenager and the emotional trauma remaining from that experience. Just waking up in the mornings in his bunk surrounded by strangers is becoming a trigger for him. After much thought and discussion with his wife, Lio decides it is time for him to go. Lio shares this news with his partner Gabby. She is heartbroken to lose Lio but understands he needs to take care of himself. It is a tender moment that shows the strength of their bond.
Despite being the smallest guy in the house, Lio has proven himself a physical competitor more than once this season. It is sad to see him go, as he has been a breath of fresh air, even in the limited screen time he received. The house is an incubator of emotional distress, and Lio made the right call to remove himself from the situation before jeopardizing his health further. Some things are just more important than winning a game.
I have to give credit to the show as well here. Not only did producers take time to share Lio's struggle with mental health, but they also tried to normalize it. There is no shame in seeking out resources or support when someone needs to. As TJ put it, health is the number one priority.
With Lio gone, Gabby doesn't have a partner. Similarly, Devin doesn't have a partner, so TJ announces the two of them will be partners moving forward. I wonder if Lio's exit shifted production's elimination schedule. With Devin as a Rogue Agent, wouldn't a male have to be eliminated next so a female partner would be available to team with him at the end? Maybe it didn't affect anything, but it could be a potential consequence that impacts the game's immediate future.
The daily is called Mission Smuggle Run, which is essentially a mini final. Each team will carry a heavy capsule across a five-mile run. Along the way, teams will have to complete various checkpoints to advance. The first team to cross the finish will be this week's double agents. More importantly, each teammate will win $3,000 courtesy of P3. That's right, folks, this week marked the return of a long-forgotten staple of early Challenges, the sponsored daily mission.
Honestly, a challenge like this one is hard to follow at times, especially at the begging. For the most part, teams manage to stay relatively close to one another through the first checkpoint, with a few minor exceptions. Aneesa and Big T, in particular, struggle to keep up with their partners. The house is already questioning Aneesa and Big T's capability of finishing a final, and their performances here do very little to dispel that idea. Surprisingly, Nam and Lolo cannot get their act together either, mostly due to poor communication.
The first checkpoint required teams to place their capsule through the hole in a wall to scale it. Cory and Ashley arrive at the wall first. Utilizing Ashley's experience as a cheerleader, they manage to pop themselves over relatively quickly. Not too far behind are Kam and Kyle.
The second checkpoint is a pseudo sudoku puzzle. Ashley and Cory are the first to arrive at the checkpoint and the first to leave. Ashley is one of the few challengers who can call themselves a puzzle master, and Cory is like a proud dad watching her do her thing. As Cory and Ashley are finishing the puzzle, more teams begin to show up. Jay and Theresa solve their puzzle shortly after. The only other team to solve the puzzle are Aneesa and Fessy, but the duo is dead last by the time they do. Everyone else times out, pretty much eliminating any chance they had at winning.
Unfortunately for Cory, he leads his team down the wrong path, allowing Jay and Theresa to catch up and pass them. As both teams come down the home stretch, there are maybe ten seconds between them as they both push to cross the finish line first. The lack of directional sense ends up costing Cory and Ashley as Jay and Theresa cross the finish line mere seconds ahead of them. After the challenge, TJ reveals that P3 is doubling the winnings to $6,000 each. Not a bad payday for winning a five-mile race.
I have a feeling this daily will be a pivotal moment this season. Everyone knows where teams stand now physically. You can already see some challengers jockeying for opportunities to switch partners while a few teams solidified their bonds with their strong performances.
Paranoia Pam and the Case of Empty Promises
One of the more shockingly bad performances during the daily belonged to Lolo and Nam. The powerhouse duo could not get on the same page during Smuggle Run. Their post-challenge conversation at the house wasn't much better.
Lolo sits down to have a heart to heart with Nam, believing he should have done more to support her during the challenge. Nam feels he did his best to go at her speed, walking like Quasimodo the whole time - which may be the best description ever made by a challenger about their performance. Lolo feels like Nam is not a team player and is questioning whether they should be teammates. She storms off without a resolution, Nam looking confused. I think it's safe to say the honeymoon period is over.
At least neither of them feel like they are in danger of going into the Crater. Ashley cannot say the same. Her intuition is kicking, and she doesn't have a good feeling. Some may see her as a "Paranoia Pam," but her gut tells her she is in trouble.
And she is right. Theresa wants to make a big move by targeting a strong girl. After a good showing in the daily mission, Ashley is an appealing target. So Theresa goes to work campaigning. She is in everyone's ear, letting them know Ashley is who she wants in The Crater.
Despite going hard after Ashley, Nany doesn't trust Theresa. At the club, Nany expresses a concern she could be going in. Considering Theresa has already beaten her in an elimination before, Nany assumes Theresa would be comfortable going in against her. I guess some rivalries die hard.
Jay and Kyle also have a conversation about the Crater during the club visit. Kyle wants to know if he needs to get ready, but Jay is adamant Kyle doesn't need to stress. Either way, Jay promises to let Kyle know if they plan on throwing him and Kam into elimination. In a confessional, Kyle admits he likes Jay but doesn't know if he can trust him. Power couples seem to be popular targets this season. And as a member of a power couple, Kyle is worried.
Perhaps Kyle has good reason not to trust Jay. The next day, Theresa has a conversation with Kam about her going in. She reasons that Ashley, as the only former female winner, has to go, and Kam would beat her easily if it is a physical competition. Kam doesn't seem on board but isn't scared to go in either. She ultimately agrees, but only if it is a headbanger. Kam wants agency here, so she makes Theresa promise to give her a heads so she can decide if she wants to go in.
At the house deliberation, Ashley makes a pretty compelling case to vote someone else in. She has participated in three finals in her Challenge career, winning two of them. It does seem this season will feature a paired final. The daily just showed which challengers will most likely struggle in the final. The guys are going to need a strong female partner in the end. Ashley is proven while some of the other girls are not. It would behoove everyone to keep her around for the end game. It's the same argument Tori tried to make last week, just with more tact behind it.
No amount of logical reasoning matters here. The rookie alliance proves to be too large for the Ashley and Cory block to overcome. It didn't help their cause that half the house was comfortable burning votes, essentially sealing their fate. They are Crater bound. Jay and Theresa agree not to tell them. The only problem for Jay is that Cory is his friend. As such, Cory would appreciate a heads up if he is going down into elimination. Much like his deal with Kyle, Jay promises he will tell Cory if he is going in but never does.
With Ashley voted into elimination, all Theresa has to do is pick the right opponent to send her home. She ends up picking Kam without giving her a heads up or say regarding the elimination. Understandably, both teams facing elimination feel lied to by Jay and Theresa.
You are probably beginning to notice a theme with Jay and Theresa. The duo made several promises they choose not to keep. It's a bold strategy, one that allowed them to target and eliminate Ashley. But at what cost? They burned several bridges making this move and are the number one targets heading into next week. As Jay put it, they are "doing stupid moves right now."
Kam, Kyle, Ashley, and Cory may all be pissed off, but they have to get their head in the game for elimination. To this point, the house has assumed it would be a girl's elimination. Then TJ reveals the elimination will be important for the guys...to watch as their partners will compete against each other. It's a fun fake-out, and hopefully a reminder that nothing is set in stone until TJ says it. It's only a matter of time before the host flips the script at the last second, ruining well-laid plans.
The elimination is called Dead Ringer. Each player will start on a podium, surrounded by six poles with hooks. The goal is to swing back and forth, placing a ring on each hook. The first player to do so wins, receiving the second Gold Skull among the females.
Dead Ringer is not very close. Kam pulls out a pretty impressive win. While both women struggled to build momentum early on, Kam finally got into a rhythm. Ashley did manage to place three rings but never got into a real groove.
With Ashley eliminated, Kam decides to stick with Kyle, making Cory a rogue agent. For Kam, this is the right call. She and Kyle have worked well together, have a lot of power in the house, and performed well in the mini final. Why rock the boat?
As for Theresa and Jay, they managed to pull off their big move. But in doing so, they drew a line in the sand, making several enemies in the process. Jay, in particular, should feel uneasy about his prospects heading into next week.
At its heart, The Challenge is a social game. Jay and Theresa forgot that fact in favor of making a splash. Now they are public enemy number. Yes, getting Ashley out removes a threat to win, but Theresa's road to the final just got harder. What good is making a big move if you aren't around to reap the benefits.