In a season with a meh male cast, too many people in committed relationships beforehand, and a format that made daily challenges irrelevant and the political play boring and abhorrent at times, Nelson brought all his energy to Total Madness when others sat in the background. Nelson’s ascension on the Challenge coincided with the beginning of me covering the show, and he’s always been a fascinating character to write about/examine. For a long time, Nelson was the minor character punching above his weight and tried to act like the star of the show. At one point, he actually started filling that role and succeeding, and then got a little drunk on that success, fell back down the card for a bit, and has now found a really solid niche as a supporting character who you can move up or down the card depending on the needs of the show.
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Introducing Nelson: His original reality show was Are You The One? Season 3. What’s funny is that before Nelson got on AYTO, he was trying to get on whatever reality television show he could, even appearing on a Jerry Springer spin-off on the Game Show Network. Nelson’s run on AYTO 3 was pretty meh, making his casting for Rivals 3 surprising, although it brought Amanda Garcia on, and she was an absolute firecracker from the jump. Even more surprising, he got recast for Invasion and took advantage of the opportunity. Nelson aligned with Amanda and the Lavender Ladies and held political power for a majority of the game. While Nelson wanted to be the star of the show, he struggled mightily in daily challenges but made a name for himself in eliminations, winning three en-route to a final. In the final, Nelson pushed himself to the limits and came up two minutes short of a win. Had Nelson won, the way he’d get perceived today would be infinitely different. He’d probably get regarded as a top 20, maybe top 15 male ever, considering his career elimination stats.
For Dirty 30, Nelson watched his friend Cory get pushed by MTV as a star and he as the sidekick when the actual game reflected Nelson as the star. He was winning daily challenges and took out his best-friend Hunter in a physical elimination. Sadly, Nelson DQ’d from a physical altercation with Derrick, right when he was in prime position to take on the entire Challenge house on his own, and get the Wes Bergmann/Chris Tamburello edit. Nelson’s Vendettas and Final Reckoning were mixed performances. He was someone who fans got invested in, and he won even more eliminations, taking out Cory, Brad, and Kyle, and of course, the only elimination tie in Challenge history with his battle against a mercenary in Darrell. His exits were anticlimactic. On Vendettas, he got purged after coming in last in a daily challenge that nobody knew was a purge until after it was done. Final Reckoning was a head-banger where Nelson probably could have beaten Bananas and had a good battle with Tony solo but wasn’t strong enough to make up for Shane’s inability in physical games.
When Nelson returned last season for Total Madness after a two-season absence, you could tell not getting cast the previous two seasons lit a fire under him to try and be as entertaining as possible, whether it be good or bad. He struggled in the daily challenges all seasons, sometimes due to the teammates he had, and other times because Nelson doesn’t have the skill-set to succeed in them. The eye-catching thing was Nelson making a fool of himself by cursing out the woman on the cast, specifically Kailah and Aneesa. As a long-time fan, I thought I was done cheering for Nelson. Then out of nowhere, he was one of the only men to give Aneesa and others a real-talk about their positions in the game. He showed genuine care versus fake friendship. Nelson eventually won me and the world back by volunteering for the final elimination to give Cory the guaranteed spot in the final, as he knew Cory was playing for his family. Even crazier, Nelson had the wildest Hall Brawl ever, coming up short against the bigger Rogan, not from lack of effort, but because Nelson was so focused on pushing back the bigger opponent that he lost track of the bell. It was as impressive of a loss as they come.
Nelson Thomas: 32 Years Old, 5'8, 185 lb, 6 Seasons, 1x Finalist, 9–3–1 Elimination Record, Highest Finish: 2nd Place Invasion of the Champions
Skills and Physical Strength: Gonna be blunt, Nelson sucks at daily challenges. He is clumsy as hell, isn’t great with heights, is a terrible swimmer, not a puzzle person, and doesn’t have the natural intuition of how to attack the carnival games. What he does have is a lot of heart. Nelson is someone who puts in a crazy amount of work in the gym, and his body gets described as being made of metal. He’s the type of person who, when a wall gets put in front of him, he is going to sprint straight at it until the wall falls. Even if there’s a doorknob, he’s going to ignore that doorknob and use pure force.
In a partner season, he’s a blessing and curse. You have someone who will go 110%, who will carry extra weight during a final, and will help you in whatever way he can. The problem is, he isn’t helping with the puzzles and could hold you back in a swimming portion. Nelson has excelled in the more endurance/heart-based daily challenges.
(Episode 3 of my new podcast, where my host and I breakdown the entire female cast. We even include a pic of which girl is being talked about in the bottom-righthand corner so you can skip around.)
SSMP (Social, Strategic, Mental, and Political) Game: Nelson has gone into two eliminations every single season of the Challenge he’s been on, except for Dirty 30, where he was likely going into his second elimination of that season before getting DQ’d. That’s honestly staggering. What makes the stat impressive and even possible is that he’s won an elimination all 6 seasons he’s been on, which is also a record. Of his 13 career eliminations, he’s been voted or called out into 9 of them. He needs to improve on that. I don’t think Nelson plays a bad social game; it’s just more or less the fact that whenever Cory or Hunter is in the house, he sticks to them. As an individual, he needs to create more friendships and alliances and not get caught making an alliance with every person in the house again. That is unless Nelson wants to offer me a spot in his alliance, to which I’ll graciously accept. From a political/strategic standpoint, you have to appreciate Nelson is willing to make big moves. It’s just he doesn’t win the daily challenges to gain the power to do so.
Of course, when it comes to the mental side of the game, Nelson is essentially a lost cause in terms of puzzles and memory games. However, he apparently helped CT win the third daily challenge of Total Madness by memorizing half the pattern required to win.
Eliminations & Winning Potential: Nelson in a headbanger is always fun to watch. His elimination win over Hunter on Dirty 30 was one of my favorites, as the game was about weight, and Hunter entered the season bulky, whereas Nelson entered a bit trimmer than usual. The players are tied to one another’s backs and have to wrestle atop a pyramid-like structure, where it’s all about weight and core strengths. After losing the first round, Nelson came back to win 2–1 and send his best friend home. There was so much heart displayed. He obliterated Bear in Pole Wrestle, and went toe to toe for hours with Darrell, and looked pretty damn close to winning in one of the rounds before TJ called it a draw. If you throw Nelson in a puzzle, he’s going to have a bad time. Put him in something physical, especially against someone bigger, and we, the fans, will get a damn good show.
Can Nelson win? I feel like if it was going to happen, all of his previous seasons were better shots. Before, it was clear that Nelson was a better player than Cory, and I don’t think that’s true anymore; if anything, I’m rating Cory higher this season. He’s made it late into the game for many seasons, but it’s been four seasons since he’s made a final. It hurts me because Nelson has been one of the most important players since he debuted on the show, and a win would feel meaningful.
Nelson’s Overall Rating: 83/100 (-2 from Total Madness)
Total Madness Rating: 85/100
Final Reckoning Rating: 87/100
Vendettas Rating: 90/100
Dirty 30 Rating: 85/100
Invasion Rating: 89/100 (didn’t know he couldn’t swim or do puzzles at all, projected way too highly based on his workout vids and me being an idiot)