The Challenge: Double Agents Premier Recap

MTV's long-standing competition series, The Challenge, is back, folks! And this season promises to be chock-full of secrets, espionage, and double-crossing. So let's dig into the premiere.

This season opened up with one of the slickest sequences the show has ever produced. Reminiscent of a spy drama, the opening featured TJ Lavin reviewing the dossier on all 30 agents competing. With HEALTH's Blue Monday playing in the background, TJ channels his inner Bond villain as he walks out of his hideout to a helicopter, explosives igniting behind him. The Challenge: Double Agents has officially started.

On a quick side note, a swelling sense of deja vu overcame me as TJ walked out of the helicopter. Then it hit me. TJ is the spitting image of renowned Chicago detective Julius Pepperwood.

New Girl references aside, the spy theme for this season feels like a refreshing change of pace, even if the rules of the game are nothing new to the show. There is a buzz of mystery, intrigue, and excitement about how the season will play out, which makes it fun to watch as a fan.

As TJ welcomes the agents, he informs them they all have a specific skill needed to rise above the deception to become an elite agent. As their handler, TJ has created a secret dead drop somewhere that contains $1,000,000 and will only be accessible to those agents that make it to the end.

Making it to the final won't be easy, though, and the first daily mission starts right now! Called Mission Decryption, agents will race to the top of a volcanic mound to retrieve a capsule with a color code. They will then have to duplicate the capsule code at their station. After two heats, the agent with the fastest time will be declared the overall winner.

The women are up first, and this may be the deepest group of female competitors the show has ever fielded, featuring an Olympic Gold Medalist, the CrossFit queen of Survivor, and a former women's professional football player, among others. I know The Challenge has been slowly building its reputation as America's fifth major sport (or at least that is what they are calling themselves), but I think it's safe to say the days of contestants putting on speedos and sliding on ice blocks are over.

The women's heat quickly turned physical as Lolo Jones bounded to the top of the rocky hill with what looked like one baby step for her and one giant leap for us mere mortals. She is the real deal physically, but this challenge has a mental component that proves to be the great equalizer. After several minutes of wrestling over the capsule, a small group of women started pulling ahead of the pack. In the end, Aneesa pulls out a surprising win in heat one, proving once again that it takes more than brawn to win a daily mission.

The men's heat is similarly physical, with Fessy managing to win in the end. More importantly, the men's heat featured one of the funniest moments in the show's history, with CT removing another competitor's shoe and flinging it into Wes's face from point-blank range. Production's editing of this sequence was on point here, rewinding the scene and interluding some classical music over the slow-motion image of Wes's face buckling under the force of the shoe.

Throughout both heats, the show featured several talking heads with agents discussing the value their fellow competitors bring to the game. At this point, TJ had not revealed the rules of the season, so this felt like a clue foreshadowing that agents would work in pairs. Sure enough, TJ looped the challengers in after the mission, indicating each challenger would partner with another of the opposite gender.

The overall winner of Mission Decryption received the advantage of picking their partner, subsequently making them the season's first double agents. Double agents are ineligible to be voted into the elimination round and can choose one team to enter elimination. The rest of the house will vote as individuals, in secret, for the other team they would like to see in elimination.

In a shocking turn of events, Aneesa beats Fessy by more than a minute in the challenge. That's right, the woman who is routinely dismissed by her fellow castmembers as being weak pulled off the win on a season with arguably the best cast ever assembled. She is here to prove her doubters wrong, and she is off to a great start. I do have to wonder, though, if the show's continual insistence on talking about Aneesa's tendency to get sent home right before a final isn't some form of foreshadowing.

Aneesa gets the first pick of partners and chooses the men's winner, Fessy. Fessy isn't overly thrilled but wants to help Anees get that first win. As for the rest of the teams, TJ tells the group that agents have to trust their gut, and he instructs them to stand next to a partner. The pairs are-

  • Amber B. & Darrell

  • Amber M. & Nelson

  • Aneesa & Fessy

  • Big T & Joseph

  • Cory & Tori

  • CT & Ashley

  • Devin & Nicole

  • Gabby & Lio

  • Jay & Theresa

  • Josh & Kam

  • Kaycee & Leroy

  • Kyle & Nany

  • Liv & Mechie

  • Lolo & Nam

  • Natalie & Wes

The choice of partners was chaotic, which I am sure is a shock to all of you. CT burned Kam by not choosing her after he had her list her strengths. Wes swooped in and stole Natalie right out from Darrell's arm. Lolo awkwardly stood there like a kid at a middle school dance waiting to be bust a groove with the popular kids. No one seemed overly excited to pair with Josh. There was just a lot going on.

The decisions here had an immediate impact on the game and will most likely continue to factor into decisions moving forward. Aneesa, Kam, Leroy, and Darrell (even if it wasn't by design) all created avenues for themselves into the Big Brother alliance, which is proving to be quite the unit. Players like CT, Ashley, Wes, and Natalie all made questionable decisions that immediately came back to haunt them - more on that in a second.

With the house divided up, the politicking can truly commence! In The Challenge house, that means heading out to a bar. But with a global pandemic going on, I wasn't sure how the show would handle these scenes that have become a vital part of the episodic narrative. Well, producers decided to bring the club to the house. And everyone is psyched, except for Jacob. I mean John. No, wait, I mean Joseph, who fell asleep on a couch at the club. His partner, Big T, was not a fan, but there wasn't any real game talk, so no harm here.

The next day is a vastly different story, however, as Kam and Leroy rally the troops against the CT and the other small contingency of former winners in the house. Kam doesn't take kindly to CT choosing Ashley. Now, he is a target because of it. As for Leroy, I am here for his aggressive strategy of targeting a veteran over the rookies. With this being his confirmed last season, I would love to see him get that ever-elusive win, and he cannot sit back his heels if he wants to get to the end.

As a crafty veteran, CT has been around the block enough times to know something is amiss in the house. His personality may be milder than it was in his early Challenge days, but CT still doesn't take kindly to having his name thrown out. Not only does he go around asking everyone who they are voting for, but he also makes an aggressive pitch to vote in Lio and Gabby at a house meeting.

The house views this as a desperate attempt for CT to bully his way to safety. It doesn't work, and a secret vote is a perfect opportunity to take a big swing. The agents vote to send CT and Ashley to elimination in the Crater. Just ask Johnny Bananas what a motivated CT is like in elimination.

Before Anees and Fessy make their decision about who to send in to face CT and Ashley, they are allowed to visit the Chamber, where specific information is declassified just for double agents. Aneesa and Fessy learn who the house voted into elimination as well as who voted them in. They choose to keep this information to themselves, so they can use it to benefit their game later on.

Finally, this brings us to the Crater. I have watched every season of the show, and this elimination set is by far the best the show has ever constructed. It is a beautiful backdrop for blood, tears, drama, and plenty of backstabbing.

Much like last season, agents will have to win a skull - though they are gold this season- if they want to compete in the final. The only way to win a gold skull is by winning an elimination. There are only ten to gold skulls available this season.

With CT and Ahsley already facing elimination, Anees and Fessy have the option to throw themselves into elimination if they would like a chance to earn a skull. Neither wants to face off with CT and Ashley, so they throw in Wes and Natalie.

Then TJ reveals a game-changer that shocks the house. The house may vote for which team enters elimination, but eliminations are individual. Today is a female elimination.

That means Wes and CT, at least momentarily, are staying in the house. The house took their shot and missed. And now the duo knows where they stand. I would expect some fireworks, both verbally and strategically.

As for Natalie and Ashley, they are competing in Operation Fire Escape, which found each suspended by their hands and ankles under a metal beam lit on fire. The goal is to be the first player to maneuver their way from one end of the beam to the other and back.

Operation Fire Escape was surprisingly closer than one would expect, with Natalie struggling to get in a rhythm. Eventually, though, Ashley gassed out, and Natalie finally got in a groove that led to her victory. Natalie earned the first skull of the season. But with Wes as a partner, I feel like she will be defending her skull pretty much the rest of the season.

That is if Wes is still her partner. As the winner of her elimination, Natalie can choose to stick with Wes, decided to switch her partner to CT, or she can infiltrate any other pair other than the double agents.

We don't get to see Natalie's choice, as the show left us with a "To Be Continued." With that, we have come to the end of our odyssey into the crazy world of The Challenge. The premier was a ton of fun, and I am excited to see how this season plays out. And we will be here along the way to breakdown everything that happens.

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