By Lanford Beard
Updated April 11, 2014 at 06:40 PM EDT
The Challenge 02
Credit: MTV

MTV’s jacked-up reality competition The Challenge returned for its 25th(!) season on Thursday night, adding one deliciously cruel twist: No one is safe. Now, most times when a show makes that grand claim, it’s all hype. But this season’s Challenge, subtitled Free Agents, really is taking no prisoners. None. Zero. Zip.

Get a load of this: Even after the Challengers — who are all competing as individuals, or “Free Agents,” this season — are forced to stir up internal friction by voting two of their fellow players into an elimination round, the rest of the players are still at risk of fighting for their lives thanks to a giant new ”screw you” from producers called The Draw. Regardless of performance in that week’s Challenge, the Challengers must select cards until both a guy and a girl pick one with a skull and crossbones on it, which signals he or she going into the elimination battle. Consequences? Anyone could go home any week. Some people will probably be a victim of The Draw multiple weeks, maybe consecutively, stronger players can no longer rely on their brute force or wits to keep them on top, and alliances now have essentially no value.

Let that sink in (and stop reading now if you don’t want any SPOILERS)…

It is BRILLIANT. My only hope is that my beloved CT won’t be sent home early because of this sick twist. Then again, anyone who’s seen him respond to the pressure of an elimination round knows he is not playing around.

Now, to Thursday night’s show: Ironically, Real World Brooklyn vet Chet was one of the only people excited about the new format, happily (stupidly) believing he wouldn’t have to “kiss anyone’s butt” in order to survive in the game. Yes, Chet, but you still have to not suck. Rookie mistake, my tow-headed little hipster.

After being randomly selected to lead a team in this week’s Challenge (some weeks will require teamwork, some partnership, and some individual performance), Chet proved he wasn’t up to the task. Despite a fight from Challenge legend Johnny Bananas, the votes were heavily against Chet. They were slightly more mixed when it came to the ladies, but it seemed like longevity wasn’t in the stars for LaToya (Ms. Jackson if you’re nasty), who had to be taken to the hospital due to a head injury followed by a dehydration-induced fainting spell. Challengers don’t just climb stairs, you guys, they jump on their housemates in the head while climbing stairs. (And did I mention they were chained together? So there was that…. And that was one part one — of three! — in last night’s Challenge.)

So, to recap, two super-weak rookies were easily voted in for potential elimination. Not sounding that different? Wait for it….

The Draw was upon them! LaToya learned she’d be facing off against Jemmye (who was a finalist last season but still wouldn’t have been all that surprising in the game’s old format), and Chet would have to take on Frank. Big surprise. Huge.

The elimination was purely based on brawn. Imagine that game from American Gladiators where one player has to get past another to drop a ball in a trash can. Now add a whole lot of blood. Frank busted Chet’s chin in an early round, and the self-described hypochondriac and on-camera talent forfeited so he wouldn’t have to delay getting stitches. Unlike Chet, LaToya disproved everyone’s assumptions about her weakness by beasting Jemmye in the physical competition. So long, Jemmye and Chet!

Now, as a bit of a pick-me-up for the dispirited, imperiled Challengers, I figured I’d hand out some gold stars for their best moments from premiere.

Simultaneous Highest-Yet-Lowest Aspirations: Jasmine

“I want to be the whore of The Challenge. I want d— and b—s all day every day.”

Most Revealing Soundbite(?): Leroy

The Challenge is a blessing. It’s free money, free vacation, free getting laid if you want it. It’s heaven.” (Ed. note: Leroy, are you accustomed to paying for sex?)

Best Cutaway: The New Most-Famous Frog in Uruguay

Seen after Johnny Bananas claimed, “I might be a man on the outside, but I’m a woman on the inside,” and Nany retorted, “You’re a frog on the inside.”

Best Game of Strip H-O-R-S-E Since What’s You’re Number?

Thank you, CT and Theresa! Keep shakin’ that thang in those skimpy skivvies, my beautiful Boston bruiser.

Most Predictable Pop-Culture Reference: The Hunger Games

Jemmye was the first to liken Free Agents‘ format to the hit YA franchise, but Laurel gets extra credit for shutting down Cara Maria when she compared the two, countering drily, “[It’s] not exactly [like The Hunger Games]. We’re not killing each other.” YET.

Most Foolish Attempt at Standards

Oh, Dustin, why would you promise not to embarrass your ex Heather by hooking up on national TV? That ship has sailed for both of you, child.

Most Pitiful Junior-High-Flashback Moment

Poor Preston! When he and LaToya were the last two teammates waiting to be selected for teams in this week’s Challenge, host TJ Lavin had to assign them so they (and, let’s get real, really he) wouldn’t get picked last!

Best Zing: Jasmine

“Chet [is] a coward. If your face is your money-maker, why are you here? This is The Challenge, not America’s Top Model.” (In related news, Jasmine has officially become my second-favorite Challenger.)

Punniest Player: Frank

After Chet refused to keep playing so he wouldn’t scar his face, Frank snarked, “This is an ugly game.”

Standout Preview Moment: TJ Could Not Care Less

While breaking up a fight between Cara Maria and Theresa, he asked flatly, “Can you guys… just… do this when I’m not here?” HA!

What did you think of the premiere? Share your favorite moments in the comments below, then watch EW’s exclusive supercut of some of The Challenge‘s craziest past Challenges (last night’s triple threat was nothing by comparison) and check out iconic Challengers’ favorite memories from the last 24 seasons.

Episode Recaps

The Challenge

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