After seven episodes, someone finally took a shot at one of the top competitors on The Challenge: USA ... and it actually worked out. Sure, we've seen players make big moves a few times already this season, but never against someone who's qualified for the final — and the fact that it actually worked out the first time someone took that risk against one of the biggest threats means it not only shook up the game, but it also made for a delightfully thrilling episode. Let's recap!
First things first, let's let the algorithm do its thing. The new pairings for this week are: Enzo and Angela; Danny and Justine; David and Cashay; Kyland and Kyra; Leo and Alyssa; Domenick and Cayla; Tyson and Sarah; and Ben and Desi. I can't believe Tyson and Sarah are being forced to work together so soon after he threw her into elimination. Tyson is thrilled to be with his No. 1 enemy because he knows she can't get rid of him if they're attached at the hip. But if she's in a "full frothy rage," he knows nothing will stop her from making his life a living hell — and that's exactly what she wants to do! Watching him hug her while she's full-on dead eyes and scowling is fantastic. I don't know what "scientific" means the producers are using to figure out this algorithm, but if it brought us this unholy pairing, then I'm not mad at it.
Back at the house, we finally see the "winners" alliance that has been happening behind the scenes all season: Tyson talks with Angela and Kyland about how they've been working with everyone who has enough money to qualify for the final to make sure none of them are thrown into elimination. So far, this deal has kept them all safe, and it also explains why, after winning a daily challenge, no one with power has taken any "big" swings against Tyson or Angela or any of the other big threats who have enough to run the final. Every time someone's won enough money, they've been immediately brought into that alliance, and the desire for safety outweighs the desire to make a big move. I've been wondering if that was ever going to be shown or discussed on screen, because it fills in a lot of gaps of why people haven't been targeting Tyson. Finally viewers are getting clued in to some of the most crucial gameplay that's been happening all season!
Outside, Tyson and Sarah have a sitdown conversation where they both say they're not coming for the other person, and they can totally trust each other, and they're totally going to win tomorrow's challenge together. They both "feel good" about this partnership. Sure! They both know they're lying, but they also both want to win, so it's a "devil you know" kind of handshake situation. This is pure comedy.
Meanwhile, Leo has a video call home to his girlfriend, who's not happy to hear that he's been sleeping all the time "like a cat" while she has to "put out fires" for him at his three bars back home. He thinks if he wins The Challenge, the money will more than make up for the headaches his girlfriend, family, and employees are feeling in his absence. But things are apparently so bad right now at home that he worries the bars might actually go out of business before he can get home.
After a heated fight with his girlfriend, Leo decides to just leave — right now. He packs up his bags and tries to sneak out, but Alyssa catches him. She's freaking out because she knows that if her partner leaves, she might have to leave too. Everyone else doesn't really care since no one wants to be Leo's partner anyways, but Alyssa convinces Leo to stay for now so he doesn't ruin her season. Hey, it wouldn't be a season of The Challenge without someone threatening to quit because of some drama back home.
The Challenge: Wreck-reational Driving
It's demolition derby time! Teams work together to drive a car with four giant balls attached to the outside in a last-car-standing challenge. As cars crash and smash into each other to pop the balls or wreck the cars, the last pair remaining with either a ball intact or their car operational wins. But there's a twist: every single driver will be blindfolded, so the passenger has to be the eyes, communicating with their partner on where to drive.
Before the challenge begins, all the teams are bantering, joking around, or at least talking with each other about how difficult it is to drive with your eyes covered... but Tyson and Sarah's car is completely silent. You can cut the tension with a Survivor machete. But once the horn blows, the cars are off.
Angela and Enzo are the first to lose a ball, but a bunch of teams aren't having much luck with just staying on course and not hitting barrels on their own. Surprisingly, Alyssa and Leo are doing great together (no one saw that coming), as are Desi and Ben. But Leo and Alyssa gun it too hard into the dirt wall and get stuck, giving Justine and Danny the perfect moment to completely wreck their car. That means Alyssa and Leo are going straight into elimination, so his hopes of going home early might still be realized.
It's entertaining to watch the rest of the challenge, but kind of hard to keep track of everyone's progress. There are cars crashing and balls popping everywhere. It's chaos, and I love every moment of it. Angela and Enzo are the next to get stuck and completely wreck their car, with Kyra and Kyland out next, then Cashay and David pop their own balloons and wreck their own car, and Tyson and Sarah get totally wrecked. Desi and Ben are out next, leaving only Justine and Danny and Cayla and Domenick.
In the battle royale of Justine/Danny vs. Cayla/Domenick, Justine and Danny don't put up much of a fight. It's actually a very anticlimactic end to a fun challenge as Cayla and Domenick take the win. They're excited to finally have power and get some revenge on their vendettas, but we've heard this song before! Will they actually pull the trigger?
Back at the house, Dom and Cayla get assurances from Leo that he's not going to quit and that he's here to compete, because that affects their decision on who they're going to throw in against him and Alyssa. Both Dom and Cayla want to take a big swing, because they're both tired of seeing the same people win week in and week out. But now they're part of the winners alliance, so let's see if that sticks.
Angela meets with both of them individually and makes a good argument (and offers up a great deal) for why they shouldn't target her — both Cayla and Dom see through it and don't accept it immediately, but it's kind of hard to ignore what she's offering them. Cayla and Dom also take a moment to laugh about how Tyson has been glued to Sarah's hip all day to make sure she doesn't make any sneaky deals to throw their own team into elimination — because it's exactly what she's been thinking about. She wants to take her chances in an elimination to steal the money needed for her to qualify for the final rather than wait to potentially win a challenge.
But here's the thing: you never, ever want to be in a Challenge elimination, because nothing is guaranteed in this game. Sure, Sarah has a strong partner in Tyson, and their opponents would be Alyssa and Leo, who are perceived as weak players. Now seems like the best time for Sarah to try and win her final-qualifying money in an elimination. But the last thing Tyson wants is to go into an elimination.
The next day, Dom and Cayla meet with Kyland, who gives a slightly less attractive deal than Angela did, so I think I know where Dom and Cayla might be leaning. Let's find out who they choose!
Surprise, surprise: Dom and Cayla choose Kyland and Kyra to go into elimination. They both have solid reasons for taking this shot: Cayla has never been approached by Kyland for game conversations, and Dom wants to take out someone he's in competition with (a.k.a. not Angela, because he could be partners with her in the future). What this means for the "winners" alliance, we'll just have to wait and see, because this is the first time people in power have made a move against someone who has won a challenge.
Elimination challenge: Ball and Chain. Players must uncover trivia questions that are high up on a wall, find and unlock the heavy medicine ball chained up with the correct answer to that question, and then lift the medicine ball up and over the wall. The first team to correctly answer all six questions with the right medicine balls in place on the wall wins.
Kyland feels good about his chances with Kyra because he knows a lot of trivia and both he and Kyra are tall, but they struggle with getting the first medicine ball up, whereas Leo and Alyssa get their first one easily. Finally, Kyra and Kyland get their first ball up, but then both teams get stuck on their second question. When Leo and Alyssa's third question is how many lives does a cat have, that just fires Leo up, but it soon becomes clear that this whole elimination is gnarly. Those medicine balls are extremely heavy, and the players have to stand on each other's shoulders and backs to reach the top of the wall. The exhaustion sets in fast and both teams are struggling only halfway through. Even the players on the sidelines are cringing at how hard this is to watch.
But thankfully, no one quits, and they just keep grinding it out. I'm super impressed with both teams refusing to quit despite how difficult this elimination is. At the end, Kyland and Kyra realize their sixth question's answer is one they already used, so they have to swap it out, and then Leo and Alyssa realize their last answer is also one they already used, so they have to swap too. Then Kyland and Kyra accidentally pull down one of their medicine balls, so they have to do that one again. When they finally call for a check, one of their answers is wrong, and Leo and Alyssa call for a check and have one wrong too.
It literally comes down to the final answer, and both teams are neck-and-neck in trying new answers over and over again. But Leo and Alyssa get theirs right first, sending Kyland and Kyra home. What an upset! I've got to say, I did not expect this outcome. Now both Alyssa and Leo are qualified for the final with the money they stole, and a giant threat in Kyland has been taken off the board.
But wait, there's more! TJ reveals he's tired of the algorithm, so it's time for a twist. Are the players going to get to choose their next partners, or be forced to stay with their current partners? Or is the whole thing changing to an individual game now? I'm hoping the partners are getting thrown out the window because I'm ready to see who can actually compete and who's been sliding by thanks to partners carrying their slack...
Challenger of the week: Even though we didn't see that much of her this week, Angela really impressed me with her ironclad defense of why she shouldn't be thrown into elimination. She came prepared for her talks with both Dom and Cayla and left them with no other option than to work with her. It was a masterclass in social politics, and in that moment she proved she's more than just a physical threat.
The Challenge: USA airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.
Sign up for Entertainment Weekly's free daily newsletter to get breaking TV news, exclusive first looks, recaps, reviews, interviews with your favorite stars, and more.