The Challenge 36

Finale Recap – The End… For Real This Time

And the winner is…

Photo: MTV

Well, after four+ months, the finale of The Challenge has finally aired. Double Agents premiered on December 9, 2020. In lockdown time, that might as well be a full year ago.

Congratulations to Amber B and CT for winning what seemed to be the longest season ever, only paralleled by the current Drag Race season and maybe some Norwegian Slow TV.

Finale Thoughts

The episode begins where the previous episode left off, with CT and Amber B electing to penalize Cory and Kam. CT & Amber use this to expand their lead as much as possible, as Nany & Leroy pass Kam & Cory due to the penalty.

As those three teams complete the next few checkpoints (kayaking, the puzzle from Episode 10, a math puzzle, more running) without issue, TJ formally eliminates Kaycee and Fessy. Fessy continues to blame his loss on Kaycee’s foot as Kaycee attempts to finish the food to no avail.

The first day of the final ends with all three remaining teams spending a night in a gorgeous ice cave. Each team has to spend 12 hours trading off between sleeping and standing up holding on a metal cylinder. The highlight is CT drinking the fresh glacier water and seemingly having no issue with spending all night in an ice cave.

Leroy then announces to the rest of the non-Kam-and-Nany cast that this is his final Challenge and his last chance to win.

The second day comprises a run up a glacier and through a valley, solving a series of puzzles. Amber B dominates the running portion as CT kills the puzzle portions, clearly giving them one of the most dominant wins in The Challenge history.

The Challenge 36
Photo: MTV

Amber B has become the first Black winner of The Challenge since The Gauntlet III (in 2008) and the first female rookie winner since Battle of the Seasons (in 2012), and CT has a new record.

Cory & Kam manage to pass Leroy & Nany at the finish line, securing second place. Leroy gets a montage of his time on The Challenge to “Don’t You Forget About Me,” declaring himself as the real winner because he found true love on the show.

Amber B and CT discuss what winning means to them as a teaser for next season drops—confirming that Season 37 is using the spy theme. That is, assuming that whatever hashtag they’re planning to use next season isn’t deemed unbroadcastable in the UK and they need to edit the title and theme of the show in post-production (Bloody Hell, indeed).

Season Review

Much like Libya, Double Agents was a season of contrasts. On paper, a lot of the production decisions worked. Double Agents had one of the best ever Challenge casts. It showcased both Iceland and the James Bond/War Games themes in the best light. The partner-swap format was a fun combination between a pairs and an individual season, adding enough strategy without making it too complicated for The Challenge.

However, this season was just too long. Nineteen episodes are hard for any reality tv show to do, especially when, because of the Golden Skull twist, the strategy became straightforward from Episode 12. Furthermore, considering the majority alliance never had any meaningful opposition after Episode 6, the outcomes to each episode felt predictable and monotonous.

Even ignoring the dominance of Kam, Leroy, and the Big Brother alliance in the political game, it felt like this season didn’t have a proper catalyst for drama. While Josh and Devin would continually fight each other, the only person competing on their level is them, making their fights seem pointless and repetitive.

Per my thoughts on The Challenge All-Stars in last week’s recap, it seemed like the players this season were predominately athletes and not entertainers. Double Agents moved too far in that direction, giving the “entertainers” no chance to make it far into the game.

I also think this divide between athletes and entertainers is my biggest issue with this season’s villain. Fessy just lacked the charisma to own being the main antagonist. If his confessionals were more charismatic or his screen presence more electric, this would be a phenomenal season of The Challenge. However, Fessy is a villain you “hate to hate,” not “love to hate.” But as he is the sole person carrying the villain role for the last stretch of the season, it simply doesn’t work.

The Challenge 36
Photo: MTV

Another element of this season that didn’t work was the Golden Skull twist. I didn’t think they were a necessarily bad idea; it just made the end game very linear strategically. That isn’t necessarily bad, especially when the endgame takes an episode or two. Still, in a season where half the female cast got medically disqualified, the endgame took place a lot earlier than the producers expected.

While watching The Challenge for strategy is like watching Top Chef for the survival element, interesting strategy on The Challenge (and literally every competitive reality show, it’s just a different kinds of gameplay) is extremely important to the final product. Non-linear strategy adds uncertainty to results, stakes in daily and elimination challenges, and organically starts drama and factors onto every storyline on this show. As the strategy becomes more linear, those storylines become less exciting, which definitely played a role in Double Agents.

To be more specific, potential storylines, such as the Gabby and Fessy relationship, Aneesa attempting to prevent her partner from getting stolen, or Amber B playing both sides of the Big Brother/Rookie alliances, would have mattered if the women were actually trying to avoid elimination, instead of trying to prevent Lolo Jones from going into the Crater.

Another issue with the season was health and safety. On one part, for many of the medical evacuations, it is unfair to blame the production team. However, this is the second season in the row that MTV has let a pregnant woman compete. The challenge which injured both Liv and Nicole should never have been allowed.

Hall Brawls, which are banned in NFL training camps due to a link with CTEs, usually have shorter running starts or zig-zag patterns to slow the contestants’ momentum. But this season let Fessy—who has a 40-yard dash time only 0.5 seconds short of Usain Bolt while weighing more than an average fridge—compete with much smaller men. With Fessy as a competitor, Hall Brawl isn’t an elimination challenge; it is an injury machine.

While, to some degree, the injuries could’ve been a lot of worst-case scenarios happening at once, this season needs to be a wake-up call for MTV to start making their challenges safer because medical evacuations detract from the overall product.

The Challenge 36
Photo: MTV

Despite this negativity, I have to reiterate. I quite liked this season. It’s not a bad season, just a frustrating one. A version that is 16 episodes long is probably a top ten Challenge season. The challenges, ignoring the ones that caused injuries, were great. They were well designed, inventive, tested a variety of skills, and showed off their location beautifully. The dome bar was an especially fun idea.

Watching this cast interact was genuinely captivating, whether it was Big T & CT or Kam & Leroy dominating the political game. Some of the people who made it far are all-time great characters in The Challenge, and while I’m disappointed that Leroy couldn’t win on his final season, this was a good send-off performance for him.

Overall, I would give this season a B. It had many elements that I would expect from an A or an A- season, but the length and the monotony do drag it down.

For people looking for a recent Challenge season to binge during quarantine, War of the Worlds 1 would be my recommendation (and it’s on Netflix in the UK and Paramount+ in the US). For Survivor fans disappointed in how early Jay and Natalie were eliminated from the season, Michaela Bradshaw, Michele Fitzgerald, and Tommy Sheehan are all expected to compete on Season 37.

I personally had a blast recapping this season, and I would like to thank Redmond and everybody at Inside Survivor for letting me do so.

Written by

Joseph Hadaway

Joseph Holopainen-Hadaway is an Australian/Finnish/Filipino (long story) business graduate, who currently lives in London despite studying a law degree in Sydney (longer story). A life-long reality-tv fan with hot takes on everything from Santas in the Barn to Beauty and the Geek Australia, he has been a superfan of The Challenge and Survivor for nearly a decade. You can follow him on @josephhadaway on Twitter or @ilosttheway on Instagram.

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