Nelson Thomas will be the first one to tell you just how badly he wants to win The Challenge. The former Are You the One? cast member has competed on nine seasons, including the currently airing Ride or Rides, and made it to two finals, but the closest he's ever come to securing the champion title was finishing minutes behind CT Tamburello on Invasion of The Champions. He has a lot of the qualities that it takes to win The Challenge ... but this week's episode of Ride or Dies just showed (once again) why, despite his best efforts, he'll never cross the finish line in first place at the end of a season. And it actually has nothing to do with his lack of puzzle skills!
While Scuba Nelly T's puzzle weakness is well-documented, it's actually his inability to put himself first that will always be his downfall. We've seen it many times before when he risks his game for his friends, like when he volunteered to go into an elimination to save Cory Wharton on Total Madness. A noble move, sure, but The Challenge isn't about falling on your sword for your friend when you're competing against them for a million dollars. But Nelson still hasn't learned that valuable lesson. Let's recap!
This week's episode begins with Nelson trying to validate why he voted Amber Borzotra and Chauncey Palmer into last week's elimination, saying he had no choice because we're getting down to the "needy greedy." This proves two things: 1. Nelson still doesn't know the term is actually "nitty gritty," and 2. He still doesn't know how to play his own game, because targeting someone like Amber, who promised she'd never target him, is not a good strategy. He let Devin Walker (a.k.a. the self-described "fat Tom Hardy") get in his ear and now the blowback is going to cost him a trustworthy ally when he was doing someone else's dirty work.
The next day, we get a montage of Nelson and his partner Nurys Mateo running laps Baywatch-style in the pool. As Nurys is one of the most beautiful people to ever compete on this show, thank you for that, editors. Meanwhile, Olivia Kaiser says she's catching "real" feelings for Nelson, but can real love ever actually bloom in the Challenge house? Or with Nelson?! We shall see.
The more shocking revelation that comes in this episode is between Nelson and Faysal Shafaat, because Faysal still hasn't apologized to Nelson for doing him dirty on Double Agents when he volunteered to go into an elimination because he wanted to compete in a Hall Brawl, and didn't care that he'd be competing against his "BFF" Nelson. That whole elimination was so cringe — Faysal used some really dirty moves to send Nelson home with even more injuries and a broken heart. But apparently Faysal thinks that Nelson should "feel safe" if he ever has power this season. Make it make sense? Nelson admits he knows people are confused why he's still friends with Faysal after Double Agents, and explains that while he forgives and doesn't forget, he has "bigger threats to worry about" in this game. I think that's a huge mistake, and we'll see how that works out for Nelson. Feels like this dynamic is only benefitting Faysal once again.
During this week's daily challenge, Nelson drops one of the keys during his run and DQs his team, and since Jordan Wiseley and Aneesa Ferreira win, they immediately pay Nelson and Nurys back for putting them into the previous interrogations. Faysal and his partner Moriah Jadea also end up being interrogated, along with Olivia and her partner Horacio Gutiérrez, and Jay Starrett and Michele Fitzgerald. Since Jay and Michele had just thrown Jordan and Aneesa into an elimination, they repay the favor and make Jay and Michele the main pick.
That leaves the real drama for The Draw. During the interrogations, Jordan tries to convince Nelson to save Olivia/Horacio over Faysal/Moriah if he pulls the safe dagger, saying that sometimes playing emotionally is a good thing. Jordan says what we're all thinking: Nelson should get revenge on Faysal, and this is the perfect opportunity to pay him back for his previous betrayal. Meanwhile, Faysal is feeling betrayed by Aneesa putting him in The Draw and wants to get revenge on her … but somehow doesn't think Nelson should get revenge on him? Again, make it make sense? The hypocrisy is real with this one. Thankfully, Nurys does the lord's work in making Nelson see that a big reason why he's never won The Challenge is because he keeps putting his "friends" before himself in this game. It's true, and Faysal isn't even a real friend to him whereas Olivia is his new girlfriend. The choice should be easy but Nelson is stressing.
At the elimination, Jordan and Aneesa of course make Jay and Michele the direct vote, throwing them right into elimination. And in The Draw, Nelson and Nurys go last but of course they pull the safe dagger, and Nelson is absolutely pissed that he has to choose between sending either his new girlfriend Olivia or his "long term friend" Faysal into elimination. All the vets on the sidelines are absolutely living for the drama, and they're all shocked and very disappointed when Nelson saves Faysal over Olivia. Oh Nelson, Nelson, Nelson. Will you ever learn?! You said it yourself: Faysal cost you a final in the past. And now you're saving him?! This, right here, is why you've never won and why you'll never win — you don't know how to put your own game first. Even from a strategic point, Faysal and Moriah are more of a threat to Nelson and Nurys in an elimination or a final, so why wouldn't you get revenge and make a better path to a win for yourself in one move? And if Nelson thinks he earned himself the same kind of favor from Faysal, he's going to be sorely disappointed. Messy Fessy will never pay him back in a good way, and I bet we're going to see the consequences of Nelson's mistake sooner rather than later this season.
Other notable moments in this episode, including who was eliminated:
Johnny "Bananas" Devenanzio turns 40 in this episode, and while Nany Gonzalez throws him a birthday party fit for the king of The Challenge (complete with a cake thrown in his face), it feels more like a funeral for their team as all the other players keep side-eyeing the poster of his winning stats that Nany presents in front of everyone. No one wants to see this team make it to the final, and Nany just enlarged the target on their back by calling out how good at winning Bananas is.
This week's challenge, "Double Trouble," looked really cool but only tested the male competitors as they had to run and jump between moving cars while their female partner just handed them keys from inside one of the cars. They should have formatted it where the men and women switched off running the course! Meanwhile, after a bunch of guys have issues with the harness holding their momentum back, it's clear how the vets' experience make them better players — just watch how Bananas and Jordan always keep an eye up on the crane holding their harness above them to time out how to run without getting yanked back by it, which gave them faster times overall. The top three teams are Jordan/Aneesa, Bananas/Nany, and Jay/Michele, which makes what happens next even more frustrating for Jay and Michele.
As soon as Jordan and Aneesa are revealed as the winners, Jay and Michele know they're going into elimination. They're prepared for the inevitable, but that doesn't stop Michele from trying to politic! During her interrogation, she tries to make an offer for a new deal between their teams, and you have to respect her failure to accept defeat. It doesn't save her and Jay from being thrown directly into elimination, but still! A solid attempt.
The elimination, "Spun Out," is tough. Teams have to complete the Tower of Hanoi puzzle where the male is running in a giant hamster wheel to spin their female partner who is strapped to the outside of it. This puzzle is hard enough to do on its own if you don't know the algorithm needed to complete it (trust me, I've seen it take down the smartest of puzzle masters before), so adding in the dizzy element and that the guy can't even see what's happening makes it even more complicated. It also doesn't help that the only way to communicate with your partner is to yell, and everyone on the sidelines starts yelling to throw off Jay and Michele, helping Olivia and Horacio beat them. At one point, Jay yells at Jordan to "shut the f--- up" because he gets so frustrated, and it's tough to watch.
I'm sad to see Jay and Michele go, despite how horribly they were playing strategically, because they really brought some chaotic drama this season. I wanted to see just how much messier it could have gotten if they'd returned to the house. But Jordan's right: as much as I love Survivor (and I really do), this is The Challenge, where the way you play each episode has lasting consequences. Your reputation sticks with you, whereas on Survivor, the lines and alliances shift each Tribal Council, sometimes without lasting consequences if you're able to maneuver well socially and strategically. On Survivor, words can mean more than actions, but actions mean more than words on this show. But like Jay said, he and Michele flipped the house on its head and made all the vets stressed out, which gave us all some quality drama involving all the vets earlier in the season than what we see normally, so thank you for that!
I love how Jordan checks Olivia's perspective during her interrogation when she says she's "lucky" to have made it this far as a rookie: "No no no, you're not lucky — you're good." She and Horacio should be extremely proud of how well they've done this season, and good on Jordan for giving them the props they deserve. He should know: he made it to the final his rookie season.
There's a whole side plot about how Amber gets upset at Michele that is so ridiculous I have to include it. After Jordan and Aneesa make their four picks for interrogation, Amber hugs Michele immediately after she sees her name on the board. But Amber thinks that Michele "acts cold" to her and starts crying and Michele has to console and coddled her later, promising that they're still good. I mean, come on Amber — Michele just saw her name on the board. Give her a second to process that she's almost definitely going into elimination. Why Amber took that so personally and made it about her was just out of nowhere and so tone deaf. I was rolling my eyes through all those scenes.
I've got to ask ... what is the deal with Jordan's babushka he was wearing during the elimination? He's had some questionable looks in the past but this one is most definitely the worst.
After the elimination, TJ makes an ominous comment about how this game is unpredictable and you never know what's around the corner ... "and that corner will be at the next challenge." It's time for a twist, baby!
The Challenge: Ride or Dies airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on MTV.