The best match-ups in sports are the ones where each opponent is so highly skilled, it’s impossible to guess who will win. No one would ever bet money against either, but at the end of they day, someone must be declared a winner, and another, the loser.
On Tuesday’s (April 4) “The Challenge: Invasion,” it’s competition among the best of the best. And after last week’s cliffhanger, viewers finally get to see who comes out on top when six-time winner Johnny Bananas faces four-time champion Darrell Taylor, and all-star Laurel Stuckey goes up against heavyweight Cara Maria.
If “The Challenge” had a Super Bowl, this would be it: This is the elite, Olympic-level test of strength and skill, performed by the most seasoned competitors possible, head to head. And adding to the anticipation, the show’s secret ingredient, is knowing that all these people are friends.
Bananas understandably makes more enemies than friends on this show, but he and Darrell are real-life buddies. Cara Maria and Laurel have also known each other for years. They have slumber parties and walk their dogs together. When two people meet in an elimination, rarely do each of them have anything nice to say about each other: This kind of camaraderie and respect is unusual, and thrilling.
But if we were expecting their insanity levels to drop, that these vets would go easy on each other, we were sorely mistaken. Once host T.J. Lavin blows that buzzer, it’s like he yelled, “Fight to kill!”
Bananas, who’s tripled his weight in muscle since his first appearance on the show, and Darell, who’s now an owner and trainer at LB4LB Fitness, look like two NFL linebackers going at it — exciting, but so hard to watch, because we want both to win, somehow. Nobody wants to see either one of these guys go home — but someone must.
And that person is Bananas!
Now, there is a silver lining to Bananas getting sent home early — he went into “Invasion” as the most winningest champion of all time. And Darrell taking him out almost ensures that this won’t be the last we’ve seen of the master pot stirrer. There are things money can’t buy, and that’s the title of being the best: Darrell is now officially the Mohammed Ali of “The Challenge,” and while the wind might be temporarily out of Bananas’ sails, it’s highly unlikely that Season 29 will be his swan song.
For Cara Maria and Laurel, then, the ladies’ elimination turns out to be even more intense than the men’s. No sane woman would ever willingly step up into a fight with either of these ladies. Cara Maria is like a ripped and shredded modern-day American gladiator, literally snarling in anticipation before the buzzer rings.
But Laurel is also ridiculously strong — and what ultimately gives her the edge is her ability to think strategically while in the heat of competition. Like Wonder Woman, she figures that if she charges at Cara Maria with an initial burst of force, a full frontal tackle that would make even Darrell and Bananas unable to play defense, it will be nearly impossible for Cara Maria to score a point. And she’s absolutely right.
The Champs still left in play are now: Laurel, Darrell, C.T., and Camila. If that seems a little thin — if it feels a little ridiculous to expect such a small team to compete against the still-huge Underdog team… Trust that MTV is aware. Next week’s episode promises a “bloodbath” instant elimination, and we should prepare to see at least two contestants go home immediately. After that… It’s still anyone’s game. And what a game it’s turning out to be!
“The Challenge” airs on Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. ET/PT on MTV.