'The Challenge' Field Study, Final Entry: The Remaining 'Rivals' Fight To Escape Nightmare Island

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!


It was a cruel summer. The fall equinox has come and gone, and so has my time with the "Rivals II" herd. Through all the fighting and carnage, the courting and intrigue, former flames and foes and, strangely enough, new friendships, I have watched this particular herd disintegrate like burning paper into the final four teams. They were locked in a feverish concentration to win the final challenge as dictated by spiritual leader T.J. and reap the treasures of nest dominance. Any previous challenge or scuffle between each other, inside or outside of the Jungle games, seemed minuscule in comparison to this ultimate test of brute and cunning on the terrifying Nightmare Island.

Once the teams were fed and rested, they departed from T.J.'s raft of bounty and swam through the treacherous water to the burning hot sand of Nightmare Island. The rivals were giving their instructions from an ancient scroll, demanding that they must complete 5 sacred tasks, each more difficult than the previous. Once one level was complete, they had to make their way back to the starting zone and plant that level's sacred idol on an altar before progressing to the next.


The first level once again tested their puzzle-solving skills, and each team was required to rearrange tall wood spears with skulls mounted on their blades until only one remained, using a sacred hopping maneuver. Despite their slow start in the water, Cara Maria and Cooke dominated the thinking tests once more, catching up to and pulling ahead of Paula and Emily. On the men's side, CT and Wes took an early lead over Frank and Johnny. The next level was another test of intelligence, as T.J. required them to follow the Pythagorean theorem to solve an equation. Each rope was painted a color corresponding to a number option for the answer; if the right rope was cut, they were free to pass onto the next test. Cara Maria and Cooke once again pulled ahead, as did CT and Wes. Things were looking grim for the others.

However, things took a turn at the third station, which was the most repulsive, gruesome thing I have ever seen in all of my years. T.J. demanded the rivals to consume a host of rotten and decayed foods, including maggots. This slowed ALL teams down tremendously, as their ravaged bodies struggled to ingest the filth, resulting in host of projectile vomiting. I nearly fainted at the ghastly scene. Wes and CT were able to overcome the horror around them, finishing the wretched food and moving ahead. Emily and Paula were also able to break past Cooke and Cara Maria's lead, as the latter two succumbed to despair over this specific task.


In the theme of decay, T.J. then called upon the each pair to move 20, heavy corpses wrapped in sheets to a sacred burial ground. Already weak from the previous level, this proved to be a torturous follow-up. CT and Wes moved quickly, although it proved difficult for Wes to battle his fatigue and the rising temperatures. Cara Maria and Cooke's solid bond began to crack in this task; Cara Maria was not as strong as Cooke was when lifting these body bags, angering Cooke and increasing their arguing. Emily and Paula, though also finding it difficult, remained steadfast and worked through each step with each other using encouraging words.

CT and Wes surpassed Johnny and Frank and were able to move to the final challenge, which required them to dig through the sand to find a tunnel. The tunnel led into an opening, blocked off by wood poles that they needed to break through to retrieve the final idol. They were able to do this swiftly and reached the altar at the starting line just in time to set off the smoke signal that they had won nest dominance on the male side. Paula and Emily reached the final level soon after, and eventually joined their fellow victors on TJ's raft of bounty, still docked closely to the shore. Cara Maria, Cooke, Frank and Johnny watched as the winners pulled away from the rotting island they stood on, drifting further into the dusk until they blended into the mauve wall of twilight, and my time in Thailand came to a close.

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