'The Challenge': On the scene for 'Rivals II' reunion (and that slap!)

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Image Credit: MTV

There was a chill in the air of a Midtown Manhattan TV studio when taping began for last night’s The Challenge: Rivals II reunion show — and it wasn’t the oncoming fall. Though the winners had just been announced, about 10 minutes into the live reunion, no one was talking about the results. Twitter feuders Frank and Knight — who weren’t technically rivals on the show — sat down to talk to host Jonny Moseley with a palpable tension between them as they discussed sparring online over comments Frank made about Knight’s ex (and Rivals II competitor) Jemmye. Flash-forward a few minutes: Bodyguards were escorting Knight out of the studio as a cluster of Challengers checked to see if Frank was okay. My first response: This has to be fake, right? But what went down in the few minutes after the altercation assured me it was not.

I have to admit, I didn’t think my stage-right, back-row spot was particularly prime. Boy, was I wrong. The exact seat that obscured my view on highlights packages and the castmates on the bleachers had turned into a front-row seat for the ambush’s fallout. As viewers at home saw, Knight called Frank “a little bitch” and “not a real man” regarding the Jemmye trash talk. Frank calmly accepted the harangue, which only annoyed Knight more. Ultimately, he stood up to assert his ape-like dominance, slapped Frank across the face, and tried to get in a punch. (On that last count, he did not succeed.) Knight was quickly ushered out of the building, never to return, as Moseley abruptly tossed to commercial. The host seemed genuinely rattled by the occasion, but Frank was rightly the most upset. Barely containing his rage, he stormed off the stage before the commercial break even kicked in.

When the show resumed, Frank was not in his seat (hot or otherwise). Now, I can’t say exactly what it took to get Frank back by act 3 — he, too, had been taken to a room for what I suspect was some combination of coddling, convincing, and cajoling. But before he went into that room, Frank went off just behind me about Knight’s sucker slap. According to Frank, he knew Knight was a loose cannon and had warned producers something was bound to go down. But can anyone really stop a train wreck (as Knight’s own teammate Preston called him) when it’s already barreling down the tracks? Probably not. Either way, Frank angrily told producers they could cancel his contract if it meant he wouldn’t have to stay at the reunion any longer. Then he disappeared for negotiations. Like so many of his competitors on Rivals II said last night, “Money talks.” Guess Frank’s $35k prize is worth taking a slap on live, national TV every now and again. And, on the bright side, at least he did tick off cactus-puncher CT. If you want to get hit by a low blow from someone in this context, Knight’s probably one of the least dangerous, right?

The confrontation was a far cry from earlier in the night, when I had the chance to talk to a good-spirited Frank about the finale. The episode hadn’t aired yet, so he wasn’t able to discuss the results (SPOILER ALERT! CT and Wes took home the $125k guys’ win; Paula and Emily landed in first among the girls), but he did admit that getting partnered up with two-time Challenge winner — and yet another onetime Twitter foe — Johnny Bananas “was a question of whose ego was going to be subdued first.” Happy to report, that beef has been laid to rest: “He and I, over the course of The Challenge, found a good balance, actually, and it was kind of refreshing. It was a good learning lesson for me.” Though, Frank added (jokingly?), “I think his ego bounced right back afterward.

Other highlights from my chats with the cast…

Diem, on why this will be her last Challenge: “I was very vocal about being very worried about competing on the show so fresh off [chemotherapy], but at the same time I felt like it was a story that should be told for other people going through it — whether it’s cancer, whether it’s going through early menopause because of health issues. I wanted to share that story. I’m sad they didn’t [really] show that story. But that was something that was very important to me, and, to be honest, that’s the reason why I’m not doing another one.”

Wes throws some shade (what’s new?): “I feel like I’m a lot more secure about being able to do these this late in my life [Editor's note: He's 28] because I’ve got a lot going on in my career at home, whereas some of the other people that are still doing this, it’s kind of… ummm… it’s probably time to move on.”

Paula and Emily have very different uses for their winnings…
Emily: Eventually I’m opening a CrossFit gym. I work at one now, and we’re expanding, and that’s my life, and I love it, so [that's my plan].
Paula: I’m waiting for the IRS to take half, then I’m going into an old-folks home.

Frank, on playing a mental game: “That’s 100 percent part of my strategy — and some of these people are very easily manipulated. [Laughs] The physical stuff is fun, but the mental game makes or breaks who stays and who goes.”

Diem on rekindling her relationship with CT: “It felt like déjà vu for me. When I met him, I was just off of chemo [the first time], and it felt like family. Coming back, it’s this comfort of someone, like, when you’re so insecure, [he] held your hand and helps you, and it was falling back into it. I wasn’t trying for anything else. I was so low, I was so depressed — like, legit I was not supposed to make it to 2014 — so it was this whirlwind of emotions and having someone just hold you [and tell you], ‘You look great. You’re good’ was something I really needed in the moment, and that’s where all that stuff came from.”

Aneesa, on partner Diem’s reconnection with her ex, CT: “I didn’t think it was the safest path to take for her, but it was a [comfortable] place, and she was vulnerable, and that’s fine. But I don’t like anyone to make my friend look like an a–hole.”

More from Diem on CT and her health: “When you’re insecure, you do really dumb things, and I was exceptionally insecure. I probably shouldn’t have gone on [the show]… but I have no problem showing vulnerability if it’s for a cause. [Editor's note: Diem is involved with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and advocates for the Affordable Care Act.] That was part of the reason I was so hurt this [time] — because I feel like they didn’t show the real reasons. I feel like it was a missed opportunity.”

Jordan, on how he’s used his exposure to inspire others with different abilities: “[I've spoken to] a lot of parents, and I think that’s the coolest thing because the biggest thing in my success was my parents — they treated me normal and never used [my hand] as an excuse, so I would never use it as an excuse later. That’s what I tell parents, and that’s what I tell kids.” (FYI: Jordan supports the Lucky Fin Project.)

Wes, on the “grueling” heat: “That was the second time I’ve been to Thailand. The first time was the worst month of my life by far, no second place is even close.”

Frank, in response: “This was my first place for the worst time. It was miserable. Even watching the show, we have glitter on our faces because we can’t stop sweating.”

What brings out “The Camila-nator”?
Camila: I’m a very passionate person–
Jemmye: It’s liquor.
Camila: I’m a very passionate person, and when I cross the line with my drinking, that comes out if you push me in the wrong way. [As she predicted, the Camila-nator did not come out last night because, she laughed, reunion producers were "limiting the drinking." Probably for the best...]

Wes on his pre-Challenge “training” regimen: “I have not worked out in two and a half years. I eat McDonald’s at least every day or every other day and barbecue, and I don’t work out at all.”

Diem, still wishing she’d made it to the final: “I would love to get a bag put over my head by a Thai ninja. [Laughs] I love finals. I live for finals.”

Johnny, advocating for ‘No Obvious Punchline Left Behind': “Diem getting a bag put over her head — that’s a Saturday night for her! That’s nothing out of the ordinary.”

Sorry, Challenge fans who once ‘shipped a TJ hookup!
Camila: He’s like a big brother.
Jemmye: We only see him on the Challenges. He’s not, like, hanging out at the house with us.
Camila: Unfortunately, because I would like to see TJ in that situation. I mean, TJ’s a very good-looking guy, he’s a cool guy, but I feel like we don’t look at him like that.

Note to MTV: Seven out of 10 cast members want the next Challenge to be a Duel, though Wes did offer the Survivor: Blood vs. Water-style suggestion to bring along a friend. Make it happen, execs!

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