The Challenge USA Episode 1 Premiere Recap: 10 Biggest Takeaways
Episode 1 of Challenge USA is in the books. You probably have some thoughts, so let’s compare. Instead of giving a simple summary, I decided to focus on the 10 Biggest moments/takeaways from the 1st episode. If you’re a first-time reader, buckle in for a ride, my recaps are a bit atypical, but dozens of people enjoy them.
If you prefer audio/video, my podcast recap can be found above/below.
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10 Important Introduction & Tyson as the Opening Day Pitcher
That opening confessional to the Challenge USA was an important one. So they gave the ball to Tyson Apostol, one of the most prominent characters in Survivor history. There’s a handful of Survivor fans watching the Challenge for the first time solely for Tyson. Tyson hit it out of the park with his opening line: “Never felt closer to God than getting handed a million-dollar check from a large corporation for lying and cheating on national television.” Tyson is a great character, incredibly witty, and really knows how to take the piss out of people with his wry and sarcastic demeanor. I’m thrilled to watch Tyson make fun of the more absurd people on this show and the wackier stuff the Challenge throws at people.
The next two players who got confessionals were Tiffany Mitchell from BB23 and Angela Rummans from BB20. Tiffany is one of my favorite Big Brother players, except something about her openly saying she won America’s heart weirdly threw me off; even though she won America’s Favorite Player, it’s just a weird thing to say (I’m hoping Production told her to say that). Meanwhile, Angela is one of my least favorite BB players ever, yet I kind of enjoyed her openly mentioning she’s a bit of an ice queen and maybe won’t be super likable. There was a jarring difference in self-awareness between the two’s openings that I did not expect. Other confessionals we got before TJ’s entrance were players I see as significant threats: Danny (former NFL player) from Survivor 41, Xavier (attorney and BB winner) from BB23, and Desi (Fit Pageant Queen with a Doctorate) from Survivor. Cayla from the Amazing Race got a confessional too, and she seems like a delight, though; I have no read on her, and part of me thinks she was thrown in with these big names as they need TAR representation.
9 Individual Bank Accounts Are Awesome
TJ’s entrance was a stabilizing force for long-time MTV Challenge fans as 28 new names were thrown at them all at once while the branding of their favorite franchise gets draped across the house and clothing of these new folk. A familiar face and voice go a long way and could lead to some fans giving this new version of the show a chance. Sidenote: TJ’s outfit had him one button away from looking like Gru from Despicable Me.
Among all the things TJ said, the most crucial detail was there would be individual player bank accounts this season where players can earn money by winning challenges or eliminations. You must have $5,000 to run the Final, which, based on the end episode, I think it will be pretty easy to accumulate 5k (two players already have); however, it does mean you can’t just float to the end without any accomplishments under your belt.
Stakes matter, and adding money to the equation of every daily challenge forces people to care. First-time viewers who randomly watch the show while channel surfing will be impressed when they see someone winning 5–10 grand after a daily challenge. The power to vote someone in doesn’t matter as much for new viewers because they don’t know who the people are, but winning 5k is something anyone would understand, and once they keep watching, they’ll be more fascinated by the power that comes with it.
8 There Is No Clear Pecking Order
On a regular Challenge season, you have people like CT, Wes, Bananas, Cara Maria, or Kam who feel like the gravitational center of the show. They are the top players who MTV will make sure to edit around — even in episodes where they aren’t the most important. The Challenge USA does not have much semblance of that, and the crazier part is that because many of these people have experienced success/stardom on their previous shows, they want to jump forward and act in the star/mastermind role. It’s both a good and a bad thing. I love that anyone can be the main character, though; it does feel nice when you can look at someone and know they are the measuring stick for everyone else.
You see Shan (Survivor), Tiffany (Big Brother), Sarah (Survivor), Leo & James (The Amazing Race), Cashay & Justine (Love Island), and Dom (Survivor) all incredibly confident about their abilities to be in control of the game socially and politically. They all want to be the master manipulators, and they all can’t be, especially when you realize a lot of what The Challenge comes down to is winning comps. In this game specifically, it seems as though the format will be the winning team gets to throw a pair into elimination and the last-place pair from the daily goes directly in as well. Unless you win, it’ll be hard to make big moves.
7 Big Brother Bad Blood & Love Island’s Open Wounds
Big Brother 23 has the most sizable faction coming into this game with six people: Xavier, Tiffany, Azah, Kyland, Derek X, and Alyssa. Those are good numbers to have, where if you can pick up the additional BB players and some other stragglers, you can swing the game’s direction from the jump. The problem is, Alyssa and Derek are a bit salty about the Cookout alliance from their season (which the other 4 were a part of), and they might be looking for revenge. A potential Big Brother Civil War is something the Survivor players would love to see.
Love Island has its own inner turmoil going on, with Cashel & Kyra and Cashay & Cinco having open wounds from their past relationships. Cashay looks to be very affected by the break-up, whereas Cinco seems as though all he wants to do is compete. To be honest, I have no fucking clue how Cashel got to date Kyra not only on a Reality Show but in real life after the cameras were off. The guy seems like a dud personality-wise. What does this dude have that I’m missing? I messaged every friend I know who watches Love Island, and they had no clue either. The best response I saw was that “she likes that he’s goofy.”
We also see Shannon St. Clair (Love Island) a bit emotional and despondent at the beginning of the episode, which shocked me as most people told me going in that she’s a bit of a badass. Although, I think part of the reason Shannon was upset was that her boyfriend (at the time), Josh Goldstein, was an alternate for the season, so she was probably hoping to do this season with him. As the episode progresses, Shannon seems to have her head on straight. I also want to shout out to Justine Ndiba — she seems like a flawless human.
6 Up and Down Daily Challenge
I loved the opening daily challenge. It had an extreme element to test players’ fears, a mental element with the math, and was something that everyone could capably do. Visually, it’s a challenge where people watching for the first time will get drawn in. The only negative with this challenge is it did take a long time to get all 14 pairs done, and at times it felt like there was no rhyme or reason as to which pairs were doing well. Players were allowed to pick their partners, and the savvy move would have been to pick someone from a different show as it potentially doubles the number of allies you might have for the first vote.
Tyson (SUR) & Angela (BB)
David (BB) & Cayla (TAR)
Ben (SUR)& Alyssa (BB)
Xavier (BB) & Tasha (SUR)
Kyland (BB) & Azah (BB)
Tiffany (BB) & Leo (TAR)
Dom (SUR) & Justine (LI)
Cashel (LI) & Kyra (LI)
Cinco (LI) & Desi (SUR)
Javonny (LI) & Cely (LI)
Sarah (SUR) & Enzo (BB)
Derek (BB) & Cashay (LI)
James (TAR) & Shannon (LI)
Danny (SUR) & Shan (SUR)
The pairs who did well in this challenge were those unafraid of the moment and those with stronger math skills. Kyland and Azah’s failure at the opening set a precedent where people saw a passed-out Azah after running up 22 flights of stairs and realized: “wow, no way in hell are we going to get the math wrong because we don’t want to pass out like her.” The Challenge can be a bit luck-based at times, and had Kyland/Azah not gone first — I think they would have finished in the middle of the pack.
Teams who did not finish in the Top 3 who impressed me were: Leo & Tiffany, Derek & Cashay, and Xavier & Tasha. David & Cayla pulling out their answer on the 3rd attempt to avoid catastrophe was also super clutch.
5 Daily Winners and Losers
The top three during the daily challenge were: Danny & Shan, Tyson & Angela, and Desi & Cinco. Three pairs where all the players are either strong physically, mentally, or both.
During the challenge, Tyson looked extremely natural and unafraid; it was almost like he’s been competing in wacky carnival games and immunity challenges for 14 years. Angela, a former gymnast, looked made for the challenge, and the two were mentally on point from the jump. They impressively dominated this competition. Luckily for all the other players, Tyson & Angela will not be partners next week because they looked fierce together.
As we know, Azah & Kyland’s last-place finish put them in elimination automatically, not a great spot for the Big Brother alliance to start the game.
4 Club Night (Love Island Felt at Home)
Partying and going to the club are classic elements of the Challenge experience. Long-time fans were probably intrigued to see how it would translate on a PG CBS version of the show. Survivor/Big Brother fans likely wanted to see how their favorite personalities act in a party element.
Tasha Fox is one of my favorite Survivor competitors ever. At 46 (and looking amazing), she is the oldest person on the cast. Her quote about the nighttime experience put a big grin on my face: “On the island, there were no parties. There were no adult beverages. But here we are on the Challenge. This game is different, and I’m loving every minute of it.” Tasha is smart as hell, fit, and down to have a good time; I can’t imagine liking this woman more than I do already.
What’s funny about their club night is that there was a large contingent of older players trying just to sit and have a drink. Meanwhile, you had the Love Island people who were trying to be loud, throw some ass, and looked like people who would be naturals in a regular MTV Challenge house. Right now, Love Island players feel like sitting ducks competitively. Yet, if you asked me who are the personalities I’d like to see on the main show, the Love Island people look fun and vibrant.
3 Politicking and First Power Vote
Tyson and Angela’s win set a tone for the first vote and potentially the opening part of this season. When they won, the immediate decision was that nobody from Survivor or Big Brother would get thrown in; meaning people from Love Island/The Amazing Race would be fair game. Initially, it was between James/Shannon (TAR/Love Island) and Javonny/Cely (Love Island). At first, everyone thought James and Shannon would be the pick, except James worked his ass off and made an effort to have a conversation with the right people to ensure it would not be him and Shannon going in first. I don’t know if James has the size/athleticism to compete at a high level on the Challenge; nonetheless, the guy has a great work ethic and a passion for the game.
By picking Javonny & Cely for elimination, Tyson & Angela may have shifted the game’s direction. It won’t surprise me if the BB/Survivor people end up targeting Love Islanders from here on out so they can avoid making big game moves for a few weeks. Then again, you can never really trust BB/Survivor players when it comes to blindsides. Had Desi & Cinco won the daily, you wonder if Big Brother would have become public enemy #1 instead, with the Survivor/Love Island players teaming up.
The elimination was Javonny & Cely vs. Kyland & Azah (BB vs. Love Island). I loved the pre-game emotions shown by both teams.
2 Knot So Fast
Production made sure the season’s first elimination was a classic game that long-time Challenge fans know. Knot So Fast is one of the best-designed eliminations in Challenge History as it’s a game that requires a lot of cardio, strength, mental prowess & ingenuity, and when played in partnerships, requires teamwork and communication.
I have to give a big shout-out to Kyland because he had a great strategy from the jump where he used his arms to reel in as much rope as possible inside his team’s dome immediately. It was an intense arm workout he put himself through, except it allowed him and Azah to choose where they would tie their knots a bit more freely and, ultimately, with more slack behind them. On the other side, Javonny & Cely just tried to immediately make knots and loops, which, if they don’t have a ton of slack behind them, they’re easy to untie.
Kyland did an excellent job directing throughout this elimination, and Azah was an absolute trooper willing to do whatever. In the end, Kyland and Azah pulled off the win and started the season strong. Cely & Javonny are the first players eliminated from the Challenge USA, and sadly, I don’t have any feelings about them. They brought some fun energy; unfortunately, those vibes couldn’t get them through the first week.
1 Where Do We Go From Here
At the end of the episode, we learn the twist where the weekly partnerships this season will be decided by “the algorithm.” Essentially, a random number generator that will become much less random when producers need certain players to win or stay safe. Joking aside, the uncertainty of the algorithm does give you faith that Love Island does have a shot in this game where maybe next we see Tyson and Justine winning as partners, and now they are going after Big Brother. Or maybe Cinco and Tiffany get a win, and suddenly, the gun gets pointed at Survivor players.
We know from this week that the girls in the house would like to see a Sarah vs. Angela elimination as they are getting seen as two of the top players in the house. There’s going to be so much to watch out for this season. While I have a general sense of which players are strong, the Challenge can be random at times, and already through the first episode, so many people have surprised me with their performances. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.