The first episode of Season 35 of The Challenge premiered on Wednesday night. “Total Madness” opened by going straight into a pretty hellacious opening challenge: All 28 men and women had to reel in barrels of “medical supplies” on a battlefield with puzzles and math equations to solve between each station, and if they didn’t go fast enough, T.J. Lavin would eliminate them by driving a literal tank over their barrel.
It was clearly a tone-setting challenge, asserting that this season is going to be intense from the jump and push the players throughout. The winners of the first challenge weren’t total surprises, as it was a major benefit to be one of the most physically strong players, and Rogan and Jenny took home the first wins of the season, while Fessy — the gigantic rookie from Big Brother and American Ninja Warrior — and Dee finished second. After the win, we learned how eliminations would be determined, as the tribunal returns this season but so does the house vote. The house gets together to vote one player directly into elimination, where they face one of three tribunal selections.
The house this year is a doomsday bunker — but, like, a nice one with a pool table and CrossFit gym and giant kitchen and above ground pool — hence the “Total Madness” subtitle for the season. The players claim their beds and begin their typical nightly shenanigans, which, 40 minutes into episode 1, leads to Nany hooking up with rookie Asaf. House deliberation ends with Asaf being voted in — but not without him calling out Wes, who gets way madder than he should about a throwaway vote — and the tribunal chooses Wes, Jay, and Kyle as the three to meet with.
As happens most every season, it ends up being all-rookie showdown in the first elimination, with Jay getting all three tribunal votes. He gets a win, outlasting Asaf in a pretty cool challenge that forced the two to hang from steel bars dangling in the air from a crane while kicking a pane of plexiglass at each other to try and force them to drop. Jay, who is a mountain climber, realizes from the jump the smartest thing to do was just hang there and let Asaf tire himself out flailing at the glass. Asaf fell twice, ending in a loss, and Jay picked up the win, which is when T.J. announced the twist that was in the preview: to make the Final, you have to win an elimination this season.
Now, let’s get to our stock watch for Episode 1.
It wasn’t a secret to anyone that saw a preview, but the stipulation that you must win an elimination to make the final is one of the best tweaks to the format they’ve ever done on the show. It is going to make for far more interesting deliberations as alliances will now have to posture to not just throw enemies into elimination, but also get their players in against favorable matchups.
The other twist this episode was the revelation that Wes and Bananas have decided to work together, at least at the beginning, dubbing themselves “Team You’re All F*cked.” I prefer Wesnanas, but to each their own. The two longtime rivals shared a hug in front of the house that raised eyebrows and then shared a confessional to announce their new alliance.
Whatever strategy they hatched before the season will have to be tweaked now that the elimination stipulation is a factor, but it’ll be very fun to see them working together for once to manipulate everything in their combined favor.
Aside from Asaf, it was a very good start for rookies. Jay not only won the first elimination, but he became the first person in Challenge history to make a coherent argument for why he shouldn’t get sent in by the tribunal — it didn’t work, but kudos for the effort. Fessy looks the part of a monster after one challenge and has terrified some of the vets enough to not want to anger him, thus not getting a single vote in house deliberation. Swaggy C avoids picking up any votes because somehow every person in the house is already terrified of his fiancee, Bayleigh, a fellow rookie. So, this doesn’t seem like a season where the rookies are going to fall by the wayside early.
Jenny was expected to be a beast last year and made it to the second-to-last elimination as a rookie, and to open her sophomore campaign, she dominated the first challenge. She notes she did flashcards to get better at math before the season, so it’s nice to see at least one person recognizing their weakness and preparing for the mental side of the show for once. It paid off and she has to be considered among the favorites among the women.
Rogan’s win in a very physical first challenge was impressive and after being one of those that “skated by” in the words of T.J. to a win last year without even seeing an elimination, he could use to assert himself more this season and prove that wasn’t a fluke. This was a good start, but that target might grow having just won a season as part of Team U.K. and now winning the first challenge.
Above Ground Pools
There has never been a group of adults more excited about an above ground pool than the Challenge participants this year. This is going to do wonders for above ground pool PR, an industry that’s long been the mockery of the aquatic world.
The most lopsided rivalry in Challenge history is Math vs. Contestants. Watching them try to do simple equations is painful to watch, and this episode is no different. Five of the women got their barrels run over by T.J.’s tank because they were stuck on the math problem, and the men didn’t fare a whole lot better. Everyone should follow Jenny’s lead and do the nightly flashcards.
Nany’s Love Interest
First, shouts to Nany for knowing what she wanted and going and getting it. She says in the very first confessional before the men’s challenge even starts that she digs Asaf and by that night she’s making out with him. The bad news, the young man takes the first L and now she’s stuck with an empty bed and no Israeli playboy to cuddle with.
Wes Playing Possum
Wes insisted he was going to lay low and “play possum” this year and then makes a huge scene when Asaf decides to call him out randomly and burn a vote at his expense. Playing possum =/= screaming at someone in the very first deliberation for a throwaway vote. Lock it up, man.
Normal Challenge Strategy
Speaking of strategy, anyone who had a plan coming into this season is now going to have to recalibrate it on the fly. Folks like Ashley, whose main strategy is getting by without ruffling feathers and, generally, being friends with the rest are going to now have to figure out when to get themselves into an elimination and how to get their preferred opponent voted in as well. My guess is the biggest pivot point is going to be using alliances to get tribunals to send in the person they want to face (or send them in if the house votes in an opponent their confident in beating).