Review: The Challenge: All Stars 2021 Tv Series
Greetings, fellow Challenge fans! It’s finally here. The version of the franchise we’ve all been reminiscing about on Twitter (mostly that time Julie almost killed Veronica for $10,000) and that Mark Long’s been campaigning for to anyone who will listen. It turns out that MTV is so committed to its new, sterile (as in clean, because no one is hooking up anymore), pyrotechnics-filled, action-movie era of The Challenge that they had to create a brand-new show on a separate network just to give us a taste of what the original competition used to be like.
Likewise, the OGs are back. The show is decidedly subtitled “All Stars” and not “OGs,” even though the latter feels more appropriate. Yes, we have contestants who started their reality-TV careers more than a decade before others. But as far as I’m concerned, anyone who has appeared on Real World or Road Rules prior to the explosion of Instagram can claim OG status, considering how far the series has strayed since then. The “All Star” designation is strange, given that you have competitors like Darrell and Derrick, who have won multiple times, grouped with someone like Jemmye, the show’s equivalent of the last kid picked in gym class, or Jisela, who has never had a great athletic showing but nevertheless makes excellent TV. (Kendal and Katie are, shockingly, the only female champs on this show, which is annoying.) I’m assuming there were more intimidating competitors who have either decided to hang up their Challenge uniform for good or tweeted something problematic that got them dropped from the show, which I’ve heard rumors about.
Speaking of, one of the first competitors we see hop out of the bus that the cast arrives in is Trishelle from Real World: Las Vegas, the season credited with ushering sleaze into the franchise. Of course, she shows up to the woods wearing a sequined silver cocktail dress (I’m not sure where you would even purchase something like this today) and seemingly without a bra, which I kind of stan. However, I was immediately reminded during her confessional, in which she talks about her history of quitting The Challenge, that she left Rivals II after a fight with Aneesa that started after Aneesa overheard her talking about Aneesa’s Black Jewish heritage and got annoyed. I really don’t care whether she’s in the cast or not. I’m just saying this incident is easy to recall if you revisit old seasons of The Challenge regularly, as I do, as it is available to watch on several streaming platforms!
Anyway, everyone gets a mini-introduction, mostly with the same story: “I was an iconic player. I had kids. And now I’m back. Don’t underestimate me!” Syrus still dresses like a cyberpunk. Darrell is still fine. Aneesa doesn’t really need an introduction because she hasn’t gone anywhere. Of course, they’re obliged to show that clip of Big Easy almost dying in the Gauntlet III finale. Mark’s confessional, in which his eyes are leaping out of his skull, really left an impression on me. He says that he wears a size-15 shoe and is ready “to stick it up someone’s ass.” I’m terrified and also surprised he didn’t join WWE with the Miz.
Everyone shows up to an unnamed forest location that is obviously somewhere in Atlanta. They all sit on tree stumps in front of TJ, who’s clearly trying not to geek out. I should probably list all of the competitors here for reference. For guys, we have Ace, Alton, Darrell, Derrick, Eric “Big Easy,” Laterrian, Mark, Nehemiah, Syrus, Teck, and Yes. And for the women, we have Aneesa, Arissa, Beth, Jemmye, Jonna, Jisela, Katie, KellyAnne, Ruthie, and Trishelle. TJ tells them that they’re going to be competing individually for one prize of $500,000 even though some of the challenges will have them grouped into teams. It’s the same format as Free Agents, which I think was one of the smartest ways this game has been organized.
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Next, everyone goes to the fancy lodge they’ll be staying in. The Gen-Xers are bonding over how old they are. It’s funny because everyone in this cast, with the exception of Jemmye and Jonna, who are obviously the youngest, feels like they should be at least 40 because we haven’t seen them in so long and because age is being emphasized on this show at every moment. But Kellyanne is somehow only 34? And Nehemiah is 35?? Beth is still calling Nehemiah “Tenderoni,” by the way, which he instantly rejects. I appreciate that Beth is still the same boozy soccer mom that all the guys despised during her original run. The next day, Nehemiah is telling Latterian that The Challenge has become more of a political game since his time on the show. I feel like it’s always been political, I’ve just noticed contestants using the words “politics” and “politicking” more often over the years to make it seem like they’re intellectuals. Latterian doesn’t seem that pressed and declares that he’s a “silent assassin.” We’ll see!
We move on to the first challenge of the season, which you just know took seven hours to complete. It’s called Deep Blue Dive even though it takes place in a green, foggy river. Basically, the competitors are split into two teams of 11. Each team has a puzzle that’s a series of math equations. For every math equation the team solves, one team member has to swim to a certain point and dive underwater, retrieve a block with the answer on it, and attach it to the puzzle. The higher the numbers are, the deeper they are underwater. If a team member can’t get the block, they can come back to shore and tag someone else to get it, but they receive a five-minute penalty. Once they have all the numbers lined up, they have to solve one final equation. As you can see, the rules and requirements here are a lot. They don’t even give the fetuses who compete on the regular season of The Challenge this much to do, but I appreciate the producers trying to kill these older competitors right out of the gate for our entertainment.
The teams are divided into Silver and Copper. Each has to pick a male and female captain. Everyone’s nervous to volunteer because TJ hasn’t laid out the consequences of being a captain if your team loses. Laterrian and Kellyane eventually step up for the Copper team, and Jisele and Teck lead the Silver team. This entire challenge can be described as, well, a struggle, both in water and on land. Darrell, Alton, Jisela, Mark, and Derrick are the only people capable of retrieving blocks and doing it multiple times for their teammates. Arissa, who has a sort of Mary Cosby from Real Housewives of Salt Lake City vibe to her now, gets a debilitating cramp during her attempt. Jonna almost drowns. Ruthie and Teck can’t even swim to the point where they have to dive. No one is given pens or paper to complete the math equations, so they are all trying to write in the dirt. The thing I love about this show is that everyone is so happy just to have an opportunity to compete again that no one is upset about anyone’s underwhelming performance. Instead, we get a confessional from Teck joking about how this is the senior edition of The Challenge and a funny montage of everyone getting dragged out of the water by medics.
After what feels like five hours of watching everyone struggle to breathe, the Silver team comes out victorious. TJ tells Teck and Jisela that, as the winning team’s captains, they’re granted Life Savers, which allow them to save whoever’s nominated by the house from elimination if they care about them enough. The losing captains are automatically sent into elimination. And because it’s a men’s elimination day, that means Latterrian. At the house, he tells Syrus that he wants to go against Ace because he’s the person he knows the least well, which is the best option this early in the game. It’s an easy choice for everyone else, too, because at the deliberation, no one hesitates to say his name except for Arissa, who pretends to be Ace’s only ally for two seconds before she ultimately says his name. I found this so funny. Ace’s response is to call everyone “monsters,” which is both such a dramatic and a weak insult. Likewise, no one seems to really care.
Back at the house, everyone throws on random costumes, none of which is really identifiable, and jams out in the living room area to ’90s hip-hop and R&B. At least that’s what’s played over the scene. We have two excellent needle drops, Mase’s “Feel So Good” and Mark Morrison’s “Return of the Mack.” Meanwhile, the music supervisor at the regular Challenge is using the most overplayed ’80s hits, like “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and “Billie Jean.”
The next day, it’s time for elimination. Laterrian is hyping himself to Syrus, claiming he is going to “Derrick Henry” Ace. I’m assuming this is something violent. Meanwhile, Ace is in a creek wearing khaki shorts and picking up rocks, so you can make your predictions based off of that. We go to the Arena (I love how generic everything is this season). For some reason, Jisela is the only person who controls the Life Saver, and she chooses not to save Ace when asked by TJ. Jisela still remembers when Ace called her deadweight a hundred years ago, and you better believe she’s holding on to it. Finally, we get to the actual elimination, which is a Pole Wrestle, and I don’t think I need to explain what that is to anyone who’s reading this recap. Laterrian is pumped because he’s huge, and Ace is saying “fuck you” to the camera. I didn’t expect the rounds to be this brutal. Usually, everyone is more just rolling in the sand as opposed to causing injury to the other person, like in a Hall Brawl. In both rounds, Laterrian gets the pole out of Ace’s hands by slamming his body against the ground. I’m not sure if the crunching sound we hear is Ace’s actual back or someone breaking celery into a mic. Either way, I’m harrowed!
So Ace goes home to his dog, whom he gives a shout-out to. TJ gives him the warmest send-off I’ve ever heard, calling him an “OG legend,” saying “everyone loves you,” and thanking him for coming on this show. TJ’s excitement level is making me realize how much he hates the newer competition on the regular Challenge. I think I’m more happy for him than I will be for whichever competitor actually ends up winning this thing.