A Love Letter to Fair Casting on Paired Seasons — Spotlight on Exes II

NovaRogue
13 min readDec 11, 2020

The Challenge: Double Agents premiered this past Wednesday, and started off “WiTh A bAnG” 💥

It’s a male/female pairs format, like the Exes and Fresh Meat seasons, Rivals 3, and War of the Worlds 1. No spoilers for Double Agents in this article.

Right off the bat, we have some very competitive and well-rounded teams — Ashley/CT, Wes/Natalie, Lolo/Nam, Leroy/Kaycee, Jay/Theresa, Devin/Zanatta, Kyle/Nany, Cory/Tori, Darrell/amBer, Fessy/Aneesa, and Kam/Josh.

If no teams change — which I am hoping does NOT happen; I want chaos just like Cagayan Kass — then any those pairs could make the final & even win it.

I don’t see Josh, Aneesa, Devin, or Nany winning a final, but getting there — through a combination of politics, social game, and performing well in dailies and elimination — is an achievable feat for everyone I mentioned.

To get ready for the thrilling thirty-sixth season of The Challenge, I re-watched the 26th, Battle of the Exes II. Theresa is back five years later, Exes 2 is an amazing season, and it’s the one that had the best and fairest casting of any paired season. So I wanted to have a conversation about that.

The casting was phenomenal and fair. At least half of the pairs could’ve made the final by their own merits and been serious contenders for the win. Even those who wouldn’t fall in that category — namely Jay/Jenna — still made it to Norway and into the final. I explain how they got actually performed great this season below, so check that out 😉

Anygay! Let’s discuss the couples.

[TL;DR the casting was surprisingly fair and well-done. Pre-season, I could’ve seen any of Sarah/Jordan, Wes/Theresa, Johnny/Nany, CT/Diem, and Jonna/Zach winning, with Averey/Reilly and Leroy/Nia as dark horse candidates. Name other pair season that had so many contenders — I’ll wait]

Sarah/Jordan obviously clinched the win in the end, starting the final in 1st place (thank to their helicopter head start) and never dropping to 2nd. Before that, they won 3 dailies and 1 elimination. They weren’t unbeatable, however.

They went to the Dome because they placed last in the Speed Dating (tractor trailer) daily after botching the one rule TJ told them about. And prior to running the final, everyone was doubting Sarah’s abilities and assuming she’d flop in the final. Of course, comparing her to Jordan is unfair — since he is a cardio monster — but she did keep up with him despite needing to have a BM in the Norwegian woods 😂

At the time, Jordan was seen as a good competitor whose losses were mostly attributed to his boneheadedness — DQing on multiple dailies on Free Agents and especially flipping all the Kill Cards to go against John 🍌 in an elimination that pretty much required two full hands.

Sarah had been on 7 previous challenges, made 3 finals, was DQed because of her partner twice — but had never won.

Both these players are seen much stronger now in retrospect — thanks to the Exes 2 championship and other Ws in the future — but going into the season, they were not seen as powerhouses.

The hybrid team of Leroy/Theresa had a close silver place finish in the final, which is impressive considering how it began. They were the last to start the race, had a big swim after jumping out of the choppah (which is Leroy’s Achilles’ heel), and struggled with the kayaking at first. They performed great in both days of the final, catching up to Sarah/Jordan at the caviar ’n’ rock-throwing checkpoint and being directly beside them at one point of the Mt Slogan climb — but they couldn’t make up for the 5 minute head start the Wonder Twins had on Day 2.

It was Theresa’s first final in 6 seasons and Leroy’s second in 5. His swimming was dubious and T was pretty green, so they weren’t automatic favourites to win either.

How they performed does make you wonder how the season would’ve played out if Lee/Tee were partners all season, with Wes/Kellyanne being the other hypothetical team. As Jozea would say, “Scenarios.”

Natch, Leroy & Theresa were killers in their original partnerships too.

Wes/Theresa were strong in their own right, winning 3 dailies (including stomping the mini-final) and placing high in many others as well. Many say that they played the best game on Exes 2 and were r.obbed by the Ex-ile twist.

I will say that it is 100% malarkey that the first daily after BaNany re-entered the house, Wrecking Ball, was one that so easily allowed for players to gang up on one team. Which, of course, led to the last-place finish, Dome visit, and eventual demise of Weresa, due to Hall Brawl once again doing Weston in. T put up a shockingly strong fight against six-foot Nia, but she couldn’t make up for Weasel Wes going into the fetal position in both rounds.

Entering the season, Wes was viewed favourably. Not as the best man there, due to early exits on Exes 1 and Seasons 2, but he had just clinched a dominant victory on his last season, Rivals II.

Like I said above, despite being on 5 seasons already, Theresa was relatively untested and unproven. She’s a tall, athletic girl — but her potential had been quashed by underwhelming partners (Ryan, Jasmine) and unlucky eliminations (Tina throwing Back Up Off Me to Tori Hall; facing a strong Laurel/Cara on Rivals 1). She shined on Free Agents and barely missed out on the final there — and if she managed to out-puzzle Laurel, she’s almost certainly the FA champ.

But again, not an overpowered team like other paired seasons.

Nia/Leroy are both intimidating physical competitors but have significant weaknesses otherwise. Nia is 6' tall, played competitive volleyball, and proved she is a strong, scrappy fighter in her altercation with Reilly & Averey on RW Portland. Her run on Free Agents was surprisingly short and underwhelming — but many people believed she had more to give than losing to 5' 3" Cara in a rope-pulling elimination.

Leroy hadn’t made a final since his debut but went far the previous season. Not the best swimmer or daily competitor, but eliminations are in his wheelhouse.

Leroy made the final by winning 4 eliminations in a single season — a feat only accomplished otherwise by Sarah Greyson, Wes, Casey, Derrick K, and Laurel in Challenge history.

You can’t tell me Nany could’ve wrestled the pole out of Nia’s hands during X Battle. If Nia had been smarter — and not homophobic, violent, and sexual assaulty—she would’ve joined Lee in this vaunted elimination ringer category and made the final in her sophomore season.

Could they have won? With all that swimming and Nia’s dubious cardio, no way, but she could’ve gotten $35,000 for silver. Another fairly cast team (even if they weren’t legitimate exes).

Johnny/Nany— another couple whose pairing was a bit sus, as no footage or video proof existed of them ever hooking up, let alone dating or having a relationship. BaNany were seen as the favourites to win this season. They had both made a final before — the only team besides CT/Diem and Sarah/Jordan to do so — and both excelled the previous season on Free Agents. What’s more, we saw them work together on some FA dailies and thrive. The chemistry was there, John had just won 5 of the 7 previous seasons and Nany was only 10 minutes from snatching a W from Dominant Laurel on Free Agents.

They were a scary duo, which explains Sarah throwing them into the last elimination and other people’s concerns with them being in the game. Of course, they lost two official eliminations this season — not a good look — but also won 4 Ex-ile battles to get back in the game. These aren’t considered canon victories (but Nelson’s loss to John/Tony in the Final Reckoning Redemption Challenge is? whut?), but nonetheless, that is impressive.

One final note — Nany really was that bitch in her first four seasons. After Exes 2, she had pitiful showings on Bloodlines and (less so, but still disappointing) Rivals 3. But before that, she was perceived as one of the women most likely to win.

Also, not sure who needs to hear this, but 5-Time Champion Mr. Devenanzio fell off the rope more than a minute before Nany did, in the nighttime Don’t Let Me Down daily. She killed it!

Zach/Jonna were flawed in their partnership. At the reunion, Jonna self-admitted to being bad at communication — but Zach’s lack of this is what ended their relationship in the first place. Jonna was underconfident, and Zach was a supremely bad partner. Instead of trying to motivate her, he lost his patience, yelled at her, blamed her, and even punched walls near her. SUPER concerning.

Despite all these issues, on paper, they were a strong team. Zach is a 6' 3" super fast physical specimen. He had won Seasons 2 and finaled on Free Agents, and also was the part of the best-performing team on Rivals II before his early exit. Jonna had never made a final in her Challenge career, but as a pre-teen she won the show Endurance. Her stamina was strong and she had the grit to run a final. Her weaknesses were balanced out by Zach’s strengths (similar to Zach/Amanda on Final Reckoning). Together, they won one daily and didn’t place last in any of them. Had they made the final, they could’ve been serious contenders.

Oh and let’s not forget that Zach is the one that messed up the elimination for their team, just like on Rivals II, AND also screwed up on numerous dailies during the game — Rounding the Bases and Speeding Dating, at the very least 🐸☕

CT/Diem were the most threatening team there. On the first season of Battle of the Exes, they were on track to win the whole thing and only got second because CT’s stamina couldn’t hold up in the Icelandic snow and latitude. [I wonder how that’ll play into Double Agents]

They had won two dailies, made some moronic political decisions, avoided elimination, and each went home with $50,000. Three years later, they return to be paired again. They already had great chemistry and communication, and more importantly — they were getting along again. CT had just killed Free Agents and Diem performed well on her previous season too, Rivals II. Both made it all the way to the final elimination before heading home. Huge threats.

If Diem stayed healthy, I can see them easily making Top 4 and possibly even the final. What could’ve been. Also, an obligatory Rest in Peace to beautiful Diem 🌺 You are missed.

Reilly/Averey were definite dark horses in this competition. She was brand new to The Challenge, but Reilly had just put on an impressive run on Free Agents, avoiding elimination, winning 4 dailies, making the final, beating everybody else up the mountain on Day 2, and getting a rookie silver medal finish. It was a shock.

Averey showed so much moxie on her Real World season, showing no fear while in a brutal dust-up with six-foot-tall and aggro-as-f*ck Nia Moore. Ave herself was also super fit, and Sarah famously referred to her as “freakishly strong” on a podcast. Now THAT is a rookie to look out for.

They had the worst team chemistry there, never hanging out in house, not talking or trying to patch up their relationship — but on game day, they brought it. They never won a daily but they did rack up two Dome wins, in addition to a “good loss” against Nia/Leroy in Hooking Up. Averey held off AmazoNia in this game for 90 whole minutes — when arm reach was paramount. Impressed.

If they were the rookie pair that made the final, I could see them making the others sweat. Reilly & Ave were conditioned. It’s a damn shame neither lasted long on Rivals III and we didn’t see them again. She in particular deserved at least a third shot, since MTV didn’t even attempt to get her a replacement partner when Leroy’s back took them out of the R3 game on Day 1 😤

Adam/Brittany — oh, the unlikeliest elimination ringers there ever were (after Sarah Greyson on Gauntlet 1). Three wins and very nearly a fourth on their debut season — and all in the first half of the game! — is impressive regardless you are. Could they have won the final? With Brittany’s performance and Adam’s delightful ditziness, hell no — but they definitely could’ve made it there.

Also a shame we never saw either of them again. If the next season weren’t 50% wallpaper relatives of Challengers, I’d expect to see them both back. They made a splash (and should’ve been at the reunion).

Ok, lol. Dustin/Jessica were the first losers on Exes 2 — both in the Dome and Ex-ile — and then she lost the second elim on Rivals 3 and we never heard from Porn Past Dustin again.

So why even bring them up? Well, Dustin had finaled on Seasons 2 and could feasibly have won if he and Trishelle had better team chemistry (but they hated each other, oops). And Jess performed surprisingly well the previous season, winning 5 dailies (including making it across that beam on top of the mountain), giving Cara Maria (in her first impressive season) a run for her money in elimination, and making Top 6.

Never expected them to win, but they each had potential we saw on previous seasons that could’ve brought them to at least mid-game. But they were the first victim of Weasel Wes & Theresa the Tarantula that season, so pour some out for the boys🍺

The Rest

That leaves Jay/Jenna, JJ/Simone, Knight/Jemmye, and Thomas/Hailey. As aforementioned, Jay/Jenna low-key performed well throughout the season — before the final, ofc.

You might argue that Jay/Jenna only made the final ere dragged there as lay-ups (and proved to be such because of some jus aux poissons), but!

  • They never finished last in any of the dailies
  • They even won a daily (trivia) and got a close second in the scariest one — Don’t Let Me Down, descending the ropes 50 flights above Panama City at night

Not to mention Jenna got in with Zach, and to a lesser degree, Jay with Jonna. So they potentially poli-dicked their way deeper into the season. Not that I believe that was their intention, but if the shoe fits/strategy works… Do it.

And beyond that, they also have good social game; people enjoyed being around them; and they leveraged the little power they had to make political deals with stronger teams.

No idea why they were production’s priority from Real World Ex-Plosion, but they earned their keep on Exes 2.

[Sidenote: after she flopped in the final and got excoriated by TJ — I’m surprised Jenna became such a casting stalwart. Because the host was not a fan of her during the Norway final, and neither was I. She was whining and refusing to jog way before they even got to the Flip Your Lid station, so it’s unfair to place all the blame on Jay’s shoulders.]

And Tom/Hailey put up a great performance in the first daily, being one of only 4 teams to finish. It’s bad luck they had to face Reilly/Averey in elimination — Reilly slew Free Agents and Averey is “freakishly strong” — so really, Noodly Arms Tom and Sneaky Strong Hailey (remember the physical altercations she had on Ex-Plosion? the chick was hard to stop) didn’t stand much of a chance. If they faced JJ/Simone, Knight/Jemmye, Jay/Jenna, or even Adam/Brittany — they would’ve won.

And then who knows what would’ve happened? They reminded me of Dustin/Heather on Exes 1, a pretty white-bread team that left early but still had potential to be surprisingly competent daily competitors.

And then JJ/Simone and Knight/Jemmye never stood a chance. Great personalities and social game, and would’ve loved to party with them — but they weren’t ever going to set the competitive field on fire.

Missed Opportunities with Casting

The competitive field could’ve been even better if they managed to get some other couples, like:

  • Jenny/Cory or Brian from RW Ex-Plosion
  • Thomas/Jamie from RW Ex-Plosion
  • Marie/Robb from RW St Thomas & Seasons 2
  • Shanley/Chris T or Jacy/Scaly from Are You the One? — like, WHY did they think JJ/Simone was a good idea?
  • Darrell/Rachel R as rumoured, from RR Campus Crawl
  • some pair switch-ups: Laurel/CT, Jordan/Jonna, Sarah/Alton or Nehemiah, and Zach/Ashlee Feldman or Ashley Kelsey
  • (and none for Erik/Sahar or Trey/Laura, bye)

..

And that’s that! High-key doubt anybody read through the entire thing, and that’s k. Just wanted to applaud MTV/Bunim-Murray for SUCH a great season on Battle of the Exes II. The casting was top-tier. Hope Double Agents lives up to the hype — because I am PUMPED for this stealing partner twist.

And also, idk, maybe give us a Battle of the Exes III sometimes? Kthx 💋

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NovaRogue

I write about MTV’s The Challenge, with a queer / social justice / critical analysis bent. #UnspoiledGang