When Johnny Bananas took the $275,000 first place prize all for himself and left Sarah with nothing at the end of The Challenge: Rivals 3 in 2016, it was considered the most cold-blooded move in all of The Challenge history. So naturally, when The Challenge decided to offer up its largest single prize ever in the form of $1 million for The Final Reckoning, the MTV series wanted to bring that kind of drama back.
The final challenge pitted four teams against each other, promising only one team the money. On top of that, the fastest member of the team was given the choice of splitting the money with their partner or taking the full $1 million for themselves. After five legs spread over two days, Ashley and Hunter came in first place, beating Joss and Syliva by mere seconds, and Ashley was given the option of splitting the money or sharing with Hunter. It took her about half a second to decide to keep the money for herself and become the most lucrative winner in Challenge history, including Bananas. And Ashley was right to do it.
When Bananas took the money from Sarah, it was after an entire season of them mending their broken friendship. Bananas claimed he forgave Sarah for sending him into the last elimination during Battle of the Exes 2 and then pulled the rug out from under her after she helped him get to the final and win. It was a completely unexpected betrayal, which is what made it so epic. It was so bad that Sarah hasn't returned to the show since (and the behind-the-scenes drama is just as intense).
Ashley, on the other hand, never pretended to be friends with Hunter during their entire tenure on the show this season. In fact, she was valid in saying that he belittled her, insulted her and slut-shamed her throughout the season. It was actually pretty gross when MTV played back the footage. Why should she give half a million dollars to someone who told the entire house she was a slut for hooking up with one person? Hunter's explosion after Ashley made her decision only validated everything she said about him. He literally screamed, "You will burn in hell!" as he stomped around a fire pit. It's a shame there wasn't a pan to TJ Lavin's face at that moment, because it was priceless. Ashley's betrayal wasn't shocking, it was deserved.
But Ashley wasn't the only one to stab someone in the back in the emotional finale. If anyone is going to rival Bananas for the most brutal backstabbing, it would be Natalie. The Big Brotheralum and her partner Paulie were actually the favorites to win the whole thing until Natalie got lost during the first leg of the final and put them in last place. They tried to regain lost ground in Leg 2, which forced each team to stand on wooden platforms until they fell off. A couple hours into standing, Paulie and Natalie convinced both Joss and Sylvia and Hunter and Ashley to jump off their platforms to give the Big Brother alums the win. In exchange, they swore not to use their grenade -- which gave whatever team it was thrown at a significant disadvantage on that leg -- on either of the conceding teams. Paulie even swore on his family's lives that he wouldn't go back on his word.
Just like Ashley, it took Natalie about a half a second to decide to go back on their promise when the teams reached the final leg, which involved walking across coals to get to TJ and the prize money. She convinced Paulie to throw their grenade at Joss and Sylvia anyway, convinced that it would clear their way to the prize money. However, Natalie's screwup on that first leg was more detrimental than she thought, and Hunter's appetite during the eating portion of the final put him and Ashley much further ahead. Joss and Sylvia were forced to free themselves from having their feet locked together before being able to walk across the coals, which is what lost them first place to Hunter and Ashley.
Natalie and Paulie came in third, which means they screwed over Joss and Sylvia after swearing they wouldn't and it didn't even matter. Of course, Joss and Sylvia were stupid enough to take the deal in the first place, but this was a rivalry made in complete vain -- and that's what makes it the one to watch in seasons to come.
Who do you think is the biggest backstabber on The Challenge? Vote in our poll below.
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One of the main reasons Dirty John is so engrossing -- apart from the cast, which I'll get to in a minute -- is that we've all heard some version of this story.
By that I don't mean the Los Angeles Times podcast on which this Bravo series is based -- a lauded podcast that tells the true story of how affluent, four-time divorcee Debra Newell (played in the TV series by Connie Britton) met a guy online who turned out to be a dangerous creep. The story we have all heard some iteration of is far less dramatic and, I hope, less deadly: someone met somebody on a site or an app and things went wrong. Maybe the guy turned out to be shorter, balder and fatter than his pictures let on, or maybe the woman started talking about marriage, babies and meeting her parents on the second night. That kind of thing.
But Dirty John is the extreme example: a modern-day, real-life horror story, relatable and intoxicating because it hits so close to home, and incites such primal feelings for everybody in or adjacent to the dating pool. Though people who've listened to the Dirty John podcast may gripe that Bravo's series doesn't do it any favors (disclaimer: I only read the story), Bravo's take is nonetheless gripping and addictive because, duh, Connie Britton, and because it's a melodramatic, Lifetime-esque yarn that could happen to anyone, with juicy, satisfying turns made for yelling at the screen. If the now-tamed but once-salacious site Don't Date Him Girl! from the early 2000s, which allowed women to warn others about cads and monsters in the midst, came to life, this is what it would look like. And that's just fine.
We watched all three episodes given to us in advance of Sunday's premiere, and the action starts right away as Debra teeters around her interior design firm, privileged and well-heeled but clearly lonely and ready to meet Mr. Right, again, common sense be damned. Connie Britton sells Debra's warmth and reckless vulnerability well, convincing the audience that the borderline desperation she shows in bringing John Meehan (Eric Bana) into her life so quickly after meeting him is rooted in... something deep, even if it's not exactly clear what. But it doesn't matter. Dirty John doesn't appear to be trying to deliver any highbrow societal commentary, even if the underlying theme about the ways the judicial system and law enforcement fails to protect women is salient. It's nonetheless engrossing, thanks to a measured unfurling of increasing terror, and its cast, including Bana, whose gravitas complements Britton's compassionate portrayal of a woman making unthinkably bad choices.
The characters people will love most though, are Debra's daughters -- especially Veronica, played by a fantastically bitchy Juno Temple. Veronica is not only skeptical of John from the very beginning, but she's openly horrible to him, delivering the type of shade and snappy one-liners that would make iconic mean girls like Regina George or Madison Montgomery from American Horror Story proud. She and Terra (Julia Garner) are stylized (and in Veronica's case renamed from the original Jacquelyn) in ways that depart from the source material -- one of a few ways the Bravo series will detour from what actually happened, which I won't spoil here. Honestly though, the details of the original aren't even necessary to know in order to enjoy this version of Dirty John exactly as it is. All you need to know is that it's the mostly true story of 'girl meets boy and she comes to regret it very much.'
By the third episode, all the red flags and warnings Debra failed to see, even after her own family's warnings, explode in her face, and the real danger she's now in feels intense and tactile, again thanks largely to Britton's remarkably non-soapy depiction of a woman being a fool for love. Dirty John won't be lauded for its nuance and depth of layered emotion; it is not, however, entirely vapid and shouldn't be dismissed for being slightly campy either. It's on Bravo, after all, the network best known for the Real Housewives franchise, where the fare can be as thoughtful as it is intellectually tawdry at the same time. Dirty John might be middlebrow, but it's filling.
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The Sopranos prequel film has found its lead and it's a character who had a large impact on the world of the original series but was never seen. Alessandro Nivola is in final talks to play Dicky Moltisanti, Tony's (James Gandolfini) mentor and Christopher's (Michael Imperioli) father, in the film, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The Many Saints of Newark takes place in the 1960s, more than 30 years before the HBO series, when Italians and African-Americans were essentially at war in New Jersey. Moltisanti is described as a "charismatic but violent man" who falls in love with his own father's extremely young bride. He's the mentor to a teenage Tony Soprano, who is under Moltisanti's tutelage after Tony's father goes to prison. Other Sopranos fan-favorite characters are also expected to appear in the film.
New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. are collaborating on the project with original series creator David Chase writing the script. The film will get a theatrical release. The Sopranos is one of the most critically acclaimed television series in TV history and is often credited with creating the mold for TV anti-heroes. The series ran from 1999 to 2007 on HBO and won 21 Emmy Awards.
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