The Challenge: Spies, Lies & Allies Recap: Cell-shocked

The Challenge

Precious Stones

Season 37

Episode 10

Editor’s Rating

3 stars

Photo: MTV

Not to write about this show in conjunction with Real Housewives for the billionth time, but these editors could really learn something from the Bravo School of Receipts. This week, the players continue discussing their distrust of Ashley, which, I’ve explained repeatedly, feels rooted more in sexism and bandwagoning than anyone’s individual experiences with her. At this point, it’s clear the producers aren’t interested in providing a counternarrative against these accusations or even giving the audience context for where these suspicions stem from beyond the clip of her (rightfully) choosing not to split the prize money with Hunter on Final Reckoning.

If Devin and all his cronies are going to hone in on this narrative, can we at least get a sliver of evidence? A producer at any Bravo show would’ve done their due diligence by now and made an assistant dig up some clips either supporting their argument or making Devin & Co. look like giant hypocrites. I shouldn’t have to spend my evenings rewatching entire seasons on Paramount+ to fact-check these claims on my own! At the very least, someone should make Devin explain why he’s working with CT despite saying he doesn’t want any previous winners at the final and using Ashley’s wins against her. As alum Rachel Robinson tweeted last week, the treatment of the show’s female champs is becoming hard to watch. And if the show is going to continue on this newly progressive track of eliminating problematic elements and “celebrating diversity,” they need to do a better job of managing the misogyny that naturally occurs in mixed-sex competition!

Okay, now that my feminist, anti-production rant is over, let’s move on to my next gripe with this episode, which is that this show can’t seem to capture the cast’s backstories in an organic way and without giving away who’s on the chopping block. For instance, in the A block, we get a scene of Priscilla telling Bettina — allegedly for the first time, even though they’re friends — how she plans to provide for her mom with the prize money and Amanda video-chatting with her son (which I appreciated more on a level of some much-needed mommy representation than an emotional one). Still, we don’t see anyone else video-chatting with family, so it feels obviously purposeful. Also, the inquiry of “who or what are you competing for?” seems to be the only entry point for the producers to explore these cast members’ personalities lately. I miss evaluating these people on their sexual pursuits, confessional quips, how they behave in conflict, and ultimately how they play the game. With all respect to Priscilla, Amanda, and the rest of the cast, a sympathetic backstory will never be the reason I root for someone to win. Please keep the weepy, inspirational shit on Undercover Boss and not one of the last peak-MTV-era programs. All right, ViacomCBS?

Now, let’s get to this week’s challenge, where TJ reveals the twist that we all predicted: the competitors are no longer playing with partners. He doesn’t say that they’re playing individually either, as the last part of the twist is built into the challenge. For “Diamond Dash,” the players first have to race to a pile of rubble to retrieve a sledgehammer. Next,  they have to complete one of three checkpoints: (1) Vision Quest, where they have to use binoculars to find symbols for a code, (2) Fitting In, where they have to find a box that fits through a slot on a wall, climb the wall and break the box to get a code, or (3), Touch and Go, where they have to scratch paint off a board to get a code. Then they have to enter their codes into a safe that holds a giant gem. Finally, they have to run with the gem to the finish line, where they have to place it on one of three colored platforms that will determine which team they belong to for presumably the rest of the game.

This challenge doesn’t really get interesting until the last segment, when everyone starts creating teams. However, I will note that the paint-scratching section is the worst, slowest checkpoint to complete and makes my nail beds hurt. Anyway, let’s lay out the teams. First, we have the Sapphire Cell, an interesting mix of wild cards: CT, Nelson, Ashley, Amanda, Bettina, and Ed. Then we have the Ruby Cell, a.k.a. The Island Of Misfit Toys: Cory, Kyle, Priscilla, Emy, Big T, and Logan. Finally, the team with all the popular kids is the Emerald Cell: Devin, Tori, Nany, Kaycee, Emmanuel, and Josh.

After TJ formally announces this change, they have to complete one more task as teams. There are more pieces of concrete and sledgehammers, putting rubble onto a counter-weight system and retrieving another gem. Blah, blah, blah. This segment reminds me of the more exciting challenges where the competitors have to drop weights into people’s buckets and make their enemies and allies publicly known. I would’ve loved to watch everyone be put on the spot like that immediately after being grouped into (some) new alliances. Anyway, the Emerald Cell, which looks like the team to beat, wins.

This week’s club scene is mostly low-energy conversations about the new format and the upcoming women’s elimination, with Amanda, Ashley, and Priscilla the obvious targets. Later that night, Logan either has sex with Big T and leaves her without cuddling or rejects her offer to have sex. Either way, he’s seen leaving her bed as he shares with us that he’s no longer interested in Big T romantically. He doesn’t elaborate on why, other than that the sparks just aren’t there — either way, what a sad development. I love watching Black women be pursued by fine people.

The next day, we get a team meeting or an “emerald picnic,” rather — I really appreciate the high school clique-y vibes that are happening now — with the Emerald Cell to pick who to nominate. Nany, out of all people, claims that Ashley has “screwed over everybody,” and everyone, even the newbies who’ve known her for three seconds, agrees. I love Nany, but this is the same woman who has consistently worked with Bananas even after he voted her into elimination because he didn’t want to make his girlfriend think he was hooking up with her AND after the Sarah incident. Also, anyone who has competed on this show for more than one season has screwed over someone. So please give us a break!

Anyway, deliberation, once again, is just Devin arrogantly telling the people on the chopping block to defend themselves “or else.” I would hate for this show to be any more male-dominated, but we would definitely not be getting this rather annoying iteration of Devin if they brought back some more OG alpha males or maybe even Kam or Laurel. We certainly didn’t get this Devin last year when KamRoy was running the house — just saying! Anyway, the women politely plead their cases. And the house votes for Priscilla.

If the first twist wasn’t enough, Priscilla is given the option to pick who she wants to compete against at the Lair. Basically, the agency doesn’t have any power they can utilize besides immunity. Considering how cocky the Emerald Cell is, in particular, I appreciated TJ basically putting duct tape over their mouths. Priscilla commits to her whole go-big-or-go-home schtick and chooses Ashley. I expected her typical stomping and crying, but Ashley handles this with grace — not that she should have to. It was also sweet to hear her say that she wanted to come back to the house to help her friend Amanda.

Thus far, this season has had some pretty gripping eliminations and surprising outcomes. But I did not doubt that Ashley wouldn’t allow herself to lose a strength/endurance-based elimination to a rookie who seemingly doesn’t have much muscle. Ashley had the better strategy for digging those tires out of the sand by using her whole body instead of Priscilla, who solely used her legs. Yes, your legs are stronger than your arms, but they wear out eventually! I was mostly shocked and disgusted by how many people who previously stated they didn’t trust Ashley supported her from the sidelines. It’s giving clown behavior, to say the least.

Anyway, after cementing her place in next season’s cast, Priscilla says her goodbyes. TJ, a man after my own heart, basically throws the Emerald Cell’s imaginary trophy in the dump by giving Ashley the option to take one of their members’ places (or join the Ruby Cell or go back to Sapphire). She decides to return to her original cell, which is a boring choice but ultimately a safe call because they have a solid number of strong competitors and a good shot at winning the next challenge.

Whew. We’ve finally made it to the halfway point, guys. Get ready for a never-ending series of Hall Brawls!

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