The Challenge Vendettas Finale Recap and Power Rankings
We start this episode out with the group getting prepped for the final. Leroy and Tony talk about Tony turning on him, and he tries to explain to Leroy how his move wasn’t motivated by carving the easiest path to the final and he really was upset about Leroy’s demeanor during the Inquisition. Leroy says it wasn’t even so much that Tony threw him in it was that he was given no warning beforehand that Tony and Cara were voting for him. While I certainly understand where Leroy is coming from, this wave of people doubting Tony’s reason for throwing Leroy in seems to show an ignorance of his situation to me. Tony’s always been looked at as a bottom feeder on these shows. This was especially true last season, even when he actually gave a strong performance relative to his previous seasons, it seemed like every confessional was talking about how poor of a competitor he was or how he’s just Bananas bottom feeder and would only go as far as the power alliance males (Bananas, CT, Derrick, Jordan) took him. In my opinion Tony’s growth and gameplay this season has been by far the most intriguing storyline, and he’s really shown to want to reject the pushover label become an independent force in the house.
After the group gets dressed, they head out to the location of the final where TJ explains the rules. The competitors have to accomplish a variety of tasks while running back and forth along a track. They will be impaired by a variety of hindrances along the way, starting with having their legs chained together. This reminds me a lot of the Rivals 2 final; one that was not quite on the scale of some of the more grandiose finals of the series but was still well-structured and very fair if nothing else. TJ also announces that one of the tasks will be facing the final group of mercenaries, John Devenanzio and Melissa Reeves. TJ also says that only four people, (two male and two female) will make it to the final stage of the final and the four who do not will have their bank accounts wiped and added to the final pot. I really felt like at this point the competitors deserved to keep their money, with only four competitors able to keep their bank accounts it raises the question of why have them in the first place anyways.
With that, TJ blows the horn and the finale starts. On their way to the first checkpoint, Nicole gets stuck in a pool of mud and falls hard to the ground. Tony and Zach are first to the initial checkpoint, entitled Torch-er. Each competitor has a bucket full of torches and has to move them from one bucket with their name on it to another. When they move their torches across, they also have the option of removing a competitor’s torch and bringing it back with them. Tony and Zach conspire to take Leroy’s torches; while Cara says she won’t take anyone’s torches if they don’t take hers. Nicole decides to take Cara’s torches, which clearly ignites a fire under her who starts taking Nicole’s torches. While Tony, Zach, and Leroy are all working their problems out; Kyle is able to work an egalitarian approach to torch taking and somehow slides by the radar and finishes first. Leroy finishes next, with Zach right behind him. After Cara leaves, Nicole really starts to struggle. Eventually she melts down and asks for medical attention. Tony finishes, and tries to encourage Nicole before he leaves. Eventually he relents, and Nicole is removed from the final. Kam follows Tony out of the task, with Kailah in last.
Kyle is the first to reach the mercenaries in the dungeon; and has to deal with the wrath of one Johnny Bananas. Bananas says they will be playing a game called “High-Low”; which entails the mercenary flipping a card over and then the competitor picking whether they think the next card will be higher or lower than the one the mercenary is showing. If they guess correctly, they win that round. Best two out of three rounds wins, and if the competitor wins they are free to go. However, if the mercenary wins; they get to select a grenade to bestow upon the competitor. These grenades are one of drink a glass of water, do fifty jumping jacks, or have to bury a log. This game could be rigged VERY easily by production (have the mercenary show a very low or high card such as a 4 or King; then have the following card be either a 2 or an Ace) so I was extremely skeptical upon seeing it initially. Kyle is able to escape scot-free and has to don knight armor for the next section. Leroy is next to meet Mr. Bananas in the dungeon; and Bananas looks much too happy to see him for a mercenary. Leroy also wins the first two rounds and gets to put on the knight armor. Zach is next to enter, and Johnny doesn’t look as happy to see him as he did the first two. Zach is shown a 2 and an Ace and is able to get by without a problem.
Cara enters the dungeon next and starts buttering up Melissa by saying how pretty she looks. She gets two 2’s shown and is able to slide by as well and starts putting on the knight gear. After Cara leaves, we finally get to Tony. Tony gets the first one right but misses on the next one; and tension fills the air. However, it soon leaves once Tony gets the next one correct and is off to the next task (so much for my rigged cards prediction). Kam is next to enter the dungeon to deal with Melissa. Kam inexplicably picks higher with a 10 showing and loses the first round; and loses the third as well giving Melissa the chance to give her a grenade. Melissa tells Kam to bury a log, putting her at a huge disadvantage compared to the other competitors. Kailah is last to go; and she skates by but struggles putting her armor on.
This use of the mercenaries twist really bothered me. While I appreciate the idea of trying to incorporate it into the finale; why not bring back one for each competitor so you don’t favor one over the other? Finding one for Leroy would admittedly be difficult; but even if you have to stretch that one it would provide a much more balanced playing field for all involved.
Kam starts burying the log, and it is not an easy task. They say she is not allowed to just make a hole for the log and actually has to dig essentially a grave for it. This gives Kailah enough time to pass Kam and get into 2nd for the girls. Kyle is first to arrive at the next checkpoint; and has to play a game called “Backstabber”. This is played in pairs, so odd-number competitors have to wait for the next one to show up. This game entails the competitors removing one, two, or three swords from a triangle board. Each player has their own board, and whomever removes the last sword loses. The winner must select one of three foods (Hot Chocolate, Cheese, or Spicy Tripe Soup) for the loser to consume. Kyle waits for a while but eventually Leroy arrives so the two can play. Kyle looks and sounds straight out of Monty Python and the Holy Grail as Leroy arrives, and the two get to playing. Leroy wins and forces Kyle to eat the cheese. Zach is next to arrive and has to wait for Cara. Cara gets there eventually; and her and Zach agree to remove three at a time and just give the other Hot Chocolate to get through the task quickly. Tony arrives as Zach and Cara Maria are about halfway through; but he has a LONG wait ahead of him. Zach wins and is on his way while Cara has to drink the hot chocolate. Zach and Cara both leave before Kyle is able to finish though putting him at third place. Tony, realizing the direness of his situation decides to just lay down and wait for Kailah.
It’s unclear how much time passes exactly, but it certainly seems like a lot considering Tony’s demeanor and position on the map shown on the screen before Kailah finally arrives. They make a similar pact to the one Zach and Cara made to just pull three at a time and then give the loser whatever they want to eat. Tony wins and gives Kailah the Hot Chocolate, and both soon head on their way. Kam looks very demoralized, and when she arrives at the Backstabber task she has nobody to play. Production tells her to just remove all the swords and keep moving. Doesn’t really seem fair, but after she got hit with the grenade earlier I guess it balances it out.
Outside of the twist at the end; this was the portion of the finale that bothered me most. At this point, the race was actually very close. However, Tony having to wait as long as he did really took him out of the race entirely. They’ve made competitors wait for another competitor to show up on previous finals, with the most notable example being on The Duel II. On the Duel II, at a little past a third of the way through the final they came to a portion where each of the three male competitors (Brad, Evan, and Mark Long) had to wait to pair up with the three female competitors (Rachel, Brittini, and Aneesa). The first male would pair with the first female, the second male with the second female, and the third male with the third female. Brad beat Evan to that point by a few seconds, with Mark Long maybe a minute behind them. Rachel was right behind Mark Long, allowing Brad to leave quickly while Evan waited quite the long time for Brittini to arrive. Even worse, Mark Long ended up having to wait seemingly forever for Aneesa to arrive. While Evan was able to make a miraculous comeback, Mark Long was essentially taken out of the race entirely and handed third place based on Aneesa taking forever.
I say all this to show MTV/Bunim-Murray shouldn’t be unaware of the problems having competitors wait for others, they’ve encountered it before. In this situation, while Tony was behind he certainly could have made up ground. Forcing him to wait in a way no other competitor had to felt very unfair, and an unfortunate result to the person with the most money heading into the final. Instead of having competitors wait and pair up, why not have the mercenaries stationed here? Nobody would have to wait, and they wouldn’t be able to make pacts to just slide by easily. Production also could have coached up the mercenaries on some of the best strategies to play the game so in order to beat would have actually taken a decent display of skill by the competitors. Overall, not just a missed opportunity but also one that ripped any semblance of a chance for this season’s most dynamic character.
On the way back, Kyle and Zach both burn past Leroy. Zach gets to the gate first and is able to take off his knight armor, with Kyle a bit behind him. Cara is next to arrive and runs towards the end of the first stage; with Leroy behind her. Zach is first to TJ and secures his spot on the final. Kyle is second to arrive, locking in his spot and eliminating Tony and Leroy from the competition. Leroy arrives in futile, with Cara coming in right behind him and getting first for the girls. Tony arrives next, still in full knight armor. I’m not sure if he didn’t see the option to take it off or just didn’t bother with the last lap; but his time on the show has ended. Kailah arrives soon after, eliminating Kam (who also arrives in full armor) and locking in the final four competitors.
TJ brings together Zach, Cara Maria, Kyle, and Kailah for the final stage. He says that all that stands between them and victory is one little challenge. I assumed he was being sarcastic, but TJ then explains that the competitors will be competing in “Memory Smash.” This stage consists of the competitors memorizing a card with a wide array of different colored circles on it, then running toward the other side of the castle to lock in their answer…and that’s it. He also finally (FINALLY!!!!) tells the cast that there will only be one winner of the season. TJ says the payments for each placing in the final (in addition to their individual bank accounts) will be $5,000 for fourth place, $10,000 for third place, $35,000 for second place, and $150,000 for first place in addition to all the eliminated player’s bank accounts. With $223,124 from the eliminated players in addition to the $150,000 for first place, this totals to $373,124 in addition to the individual bank accounts. TJ also says Zach and Cara Maria will get a thirty second head start on Kyle and Kailah due to finishing ahead of them in the first stage.
I have so many questions about this. First off, that’s it???? We’re getting essentially memorize a card for $500,000? This harkens back to the eating challenge at the end of the Gauntlet 2 in terms of ridiculousness in determining a winner, but this was for substantially more money. In order to determine the winner of the ENTIRE season, we get essentially a lamer version of the Don’t Forget About Me mission from Battle of the Exes 2. That mission is actually one of my favorite of all time, but it has no place being what determines the winner of the whole season. Heck, the opening mission of the season was substantially more difficult than this one.
Not only that, but if everyone’s competing against each other, why does Kyle have to start after Cara? He did finish ahead of her, it would make sense to me that everyone starts in the order they finished in. I understand production’s motivation behind this, they want to make it so the competition is based less on physical attributes since both genders are competing against each other. However, one of the hallmarks of The Challenge is that it is a show that requires physical ability from its competitors. It takes the physical aspect from American Ninja Warrior, American Gladiator, and sport in general and combines with the more typical social and political aspects of a reality competition show such as Survivor or Big Brother. As far as I know, there was nobody asking for the genders to be combined and the last four seasons (minus one all-girl Battle of the Exes team and a few eliminations on The Gauntlet and The Inferno) to have done so were rated as the four worst since the introduction of the elimination on from The Challenge Seasons Rankings survey. I really hope this trend does not continue into future seasons and change one of the most integral features of the show that has made it so successful thus far.
Also, these individual bank accounts that could be used to great effect ended up being used for basically nothing. In total, the individual bank accounts of the four remaining competitors (Zach, Cara Maria, Kyle, Kailah) added up to $77,125. This is certainly a decent sum of money, but it actually only made up 15% of the total money awarded in the end. If the bank accounts are going end up mattering so little and the winner gets all the eliminated money anyways, why even try to get money in your bank account?
The second stage starts with Cara and Zach pretty much lockstep. as they head into the castle. After they head in, Kyle and Kailah uncover their cards to start the mission. Zach is first to his card, but Cara is not far behind. Cara’s first to head back to the start, and as she is leaving Kailah arrives. Kyle asks for a check but is declared wrong and has to go back. Zach and Cara both mess up the board again, and Zach heads back while Cara stares at her board. The credits start to roll, meaning we’ll have to wait until the reunion to find out the winner of this season of The Challenge.
I’ll post some more thoughts once the reunion airs and the winner is announced next week; as well as some news on future installments of The Challenge.
Nicole Z: The first of a few devastating departures this episode, seeing Nicole sob as her hard work this season is thrown away for nothing was hard to watch. She was probably the best option from the females to push Cara; and seeing her have to attempt the final puzzle would probably be a disaster at least entertaining if nothing else.
Leroy: Not a great season from Leroy competitively, while he did take out Brad outside of that nothing to write home about. It would have been nice to seem finally get a win though, he’s always been a stand-up guy and has certainly put his time into the show.
Tony: In my opinion, Tony was easily the most interesting character this season and the one who made by far the most waves in the house. To see him leave with nothing to show for it was pretty disheartening. Hopefully, he can parlay his outstanding performance this season into future success, but it could be hard with the gameplay he implemented to get to where he ended up.
Kam: Fantastic rookie year from Kam, who in the end got screwed for not being able to compute basic probability. She looks poised to be a strong female for years to come and continues the streak of the show adding in promising women each season.
4) Kailah (+2): Got pretty lucky with how the final broke down but seems likely to finish fourth.
3) Kyle (+4): There’s a pretty seismic gap between #3 and #2, but the fact Kyle is in this position after less than stellar performances in both the opening Get Off the Rock purge and the Help Me, Rhonda mission is astonishing. He seems to combine a Mark Long or Evan-esque social game with the clutch gene of Darrell or Wes. While he hasn’t ever been dominant physically, he’s always shown up when he needs to; but looks destined for third or fourth instead of second or first.
2) Zach (-1): It’s really a coin flip between #2 and #1; but Zach lands at two for less of a recent track record in puzzles and leaving while Cara is still working on her puzzle. It’s the first time he’s left the #1 spot since Bananas left town, but he still has a good shot to win.
1) Cara Maria (+1): She was great on this final challenge and was beating the other two girls by a ton. Regardless of the ending result, she put in a great performance and based on how she’s approaching the puzzle I’d give her the edge over Zach.