Johnny Bananas misses one season and everything on The Challenge goes to hell.
Lio Rush made quite the impact on the season premiere of The Challenge: Double Agents despite not doing much in the competition.
Every season on The Challenge, there's a new twist that throws the game out of alignment. This season, through one episode, the twists never stopped coming. Here's how this season works:
* Challengers are partnered up
* Voting is done in secret and individually
* Winning team gets voting information
* Male/Female elimination challenges
* Winning challenger in elimination can keep their partner or pick a new partner
* Must win elimination to qualify for the final
That's just through episode one. Chances are there will be more twists as the season unfolds.
Fessy and Aneesa won the first challenge -- a memory challenge where all male/female competitors look at one "bomb" then go to their puzzle box to defuse the "bomb" by putting the wires in the correct order -- allowing Aneesa (the overall winner) to pick her partner. She picked Fessy.
The rest of the challengers just...got to pick their partner. It wasn't based on performance or draw. Whoever said, "Yes, I'll be your partner" was your partner.
Lio ended up being paired with Gabby from Love Island UK. I don't know anything about Gabby as she's a fellow rookie but being from Love Island doesn't inspire much confidence in terms of competitions. My guess is that her social game, aka her flirting game, is good.
But two rookies being paired together is typically an easy target in this game. The veterans know that. CT and Wes immediately see it and are ready to vote in Lio and Gabby. On almost every season in 36 seasons of The Challenge, this is an easy vote. The veterans unite, the rookies go in to earn their stripes, and that settles that.
This season is different.
Most of the veterans have not won a Challenge. Instead of aligning with champions, they're going against champions to ensure what would be perceived as an easier final and a first-time winner. The numbers are on their side. In The Challenge, numbers are everything.
Lio has a big hand in this new strategy. During the "intelligence meeting," CT tried to play the "send in rookies" card, specifically naming Lio as his target. Lio, likely knowing he had some numbers on his side based on how the Kam-Leroy alliance was moving, called out CT's game and explicitly said he was going to vote for CT, who had aligned himself with fellow Challenge champion Ashley.
During the discussion, Lio dropped the line, "I flip people twice your size for a living."
CT and Ashley went into elimination, Aneesa and Fessy picked Wes (former champion) and Natalie to face them, Natalie defeated Ashley and is faced with a decision next week.
Lio wasn't shown much during the first competition, making it tough to judge his performance since it was a single winner and no order, but I was impressed with his social game.
Following the competition, he made sure to note to his partner that he wanted to stay under the radar. Obviously, he didn't quite do that during the intelligence meeting as he got into a verbal exchange with a damn legend, but again, I believe he knew the numbers were on his side and when someone says they are targeting you, targeting that person right back is the easy play.
The mental aspect is something I'm concerned about when it comes to Lio and his partner Gabby.
Lio mentioned early that he's missing his wife and kids and they have another kid on the way. He's on The Challenge for the money, so his goal is in mind, but you're isolated in the challenge house. People start missing their families, being around the same people starts to wear on you, the drama becomes too much. Having a family, having never done the show, and having a pregnant wife is an extremely tough situation to deal with on The Challenge. The fact that they used this talking clip of Lio during the competition indicates to me that a breakdown could come at some point.
Speaking of breakdowns, Gabby was crying during this episode. She doesn't want to let Lio down or appear weak. Crying comes across as weak. Just ask Josh. Again, I know nothing about Gabby, but this was a poor first impression. The good news is that Lio could potentially trade her if he goes into elimination and wins.
Right now, Lio is in good standing. The rookies/non-champions have the numbers and power moves have been made early. Lio has to get in good with the Kam-Leroy alliance because he would seem to be low on their totem pole. Sooner or later, the champions will be gone and then the rookies will become the target.
With the way this season is working, the numbers can change in a hurry.