‘The Challenge’ Field Study, Entry 4: Spiritual Leader TJ Uses His Benevolent Powers To Spare Two ‘Rivals’

In addition to the cameras, this season of “The Challenge” was documented in print. Check out the latest behavioral analysis, straight from our anthropologist-at-large’s Thailand field notes!

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By Carey O’Donnell

What is it about this particular grouping that makes them physically ferocious and equally cunning in their games of mental manipulation? Even more curious is TJ, the spiritual guide and puppet master whose subtle control over this herd has turned him into a soft-spoken Machiavellian. It is also important to note the speed with which these herd members can move from their characteristic lethal behavior to genuine — and often moving — camaraderie in support of one another. Mind boggling, really.

This week’s initial “Challenge” was a demonstration of brute strength, and, more importantly, communication. The bond (or lack thereof) of each pair was visible to the rest of the herd, as both male and female “Rivals” were required to hold a 90-pound bamboo log while navigating a complex maze made of the same sacred wood. To complete this successfully, constant communication was necessary, especially if one member of the pair was physically weaker than the other. This proved apparent with the two male winners, Jordan and Marlon. Judging from my past entries, I’d imagine that these two males will face elimination in the coming days. As evidenced before, anger throughout the nest swells whenever new members of the herd defeat the older, “wiser” members. On the female end, rivals Paula and Emily continued their winning streak, evoking envy among the other ladies. It’s also interesting to note that these two seem to be linked on some telepathic level, as they were able to defeat this nest challenge using only grunts and heavy breathing. This connectivity could potentially mark an advance in this species’ evolution.

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Knight and Preston and Jasmine and Theresa were unable to conquer the blessed bamboo, however, only the latter would be facing exile from the nest, as the Jungle was hungry for a female battle this week. Cooke and Cara Maria were selected by the herd once again to face off against the competition losers. They seemed eager after the voting, perhaps using their overzealous amounts of confidence to intimidate their opponents. Before the elimination, the overwhelming sexual tension in these close nest quarters tore another hole in the herd, as former mates Jemmye and Knight erupted into a fight after a seemingly amicable interaction. Knight, well-informed about Jemmye’s dos and don’ts due to their history, smeared an edible ointment of some kind on Jemmye — an ointment of which she is violently averse. This reignited the bad blood between the ex-mates, adding yet another rift in the unity of the herd due to the powers of mating.

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The Jungle elimination TJ put forth was most terrifying, such that I had to look away many times out of fear for the herd. TJ appeared menacing in his “torture” garments, as he explained that each pair would have to endure high electric voltage from the Jungle’s energy source in order to win. Just before the challenge started, however, TJ showed a rare, benevolent side and admitted the horrifying Jungle was all a ruse and that both female pairs would each be spared exile from the nest. Everyone rejoiced in the salvation of their nest-mates, a momentary glimpse of togetherness in the herd. Diem opened up to her female rivals about the damage a past illness had done to her body, while they showed her affection and support. It was heartwarming for me to see that propensity for kindness was possible within this typically hostile group.

Whatever joy this halted elimination brought, it was a true demonstration of TJ’s complete control over the nest and its inhabitants. I have stopped fearing the herd and now fear FOR the herd; for what wrath TJ will bring down upon them next time.

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