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NFL teams most likely to go from worst to first in 2020

We have talked a lot about the draft, biggest remaining needs for every NFL team, some breakout candidates and other stuff, so let’s now get back to more of a big picture and look at some teams from an angle of where could they go next season. In this article, I am analyzing those teams that finished fourth in their division this past year and why they could win it in 2020 or land at the bottom once again, plus an outlook where I actually see them.
Of course much of this is about these eight teams and how much better or worse I feel about them than the general public, but it was heavily dependent on their three division rivals as well. The top half I could certainly see earn a playoff spot and surprise some people if everything goes right. After that a lot of my faith is more built around the lack of great competition and giving some hope to these respective fan bases. As the cliché goes – everybody is 0-0 right now.

1. Arizona Cardinals

Why they can win the division:
Let’s just start with the main point here – this Cardinals squad has all the ingredients to make a big jump in 2020. I expect Kyler Murray to enter the superstar conversation in year two, after impressing with his arm talent and ability to extend plays in a (somewhat controversial) Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign. Steve Keim managed to unload a bad David Johnson contract and basically acquire an elite receiver in DeAndre Hopkins for a second-round pick. Kenyan Drake now has a full offseason to learn this offense and make himself a major factor once again, following up an outstanding second half of the season once the Cardinals traded for him with Miami. He perfectly fits into this offense with a lot East-West based rushing from shotgun sets and his involvement in the pass game, including those quick throws as an extension of the rushing attack. Arizona’s defense should be a lot better with run-stoppers being added in the draft that fit their 3-4 base front with Utah’s Leki Fotu and LSU’s Rashard Lawrence, since they can stay in those packages against the other teams in their division running a lot of 12 and 21 personnel probably. Add to that a do-it-all player with ridiculous range and overall athleticism in Isaiah Simmons at eight overall, plus all the other guys being in their second year under DC Vance Joseph. I love Budda Baker as a missile from his safety spot and I think some of the other young guys on that unit will take a step forward, like second-year corner Byron Murphy, who I talked about last week. Now let’s get to rest of the West – every other team in that division has some issues. The 49ers are facing the objects of a potential Super Bowl hangover and some limitations with Jimmy G at the helm. The Seahawks have question marks on the edge on either side of the ball with Cedric Ogbuehi and Brandon Shell fighting for the starting gig at right tackle and Jadeveon Clowney still on the open market, with a bunch of draft picks these last couple of years having to step up. And the Rams had one of the worst O-lines in football last season and they lost some pieces on defense. The Cardinals already gave all these teams issues in 2019 and have now added pieces that were clearly missing when last matching up against each other.

Why they could finish last again:
Most importantly, I am still not completely sold on the Cardinals offensive line, with D.J. Humphries being signed to a rather expensive deal as a below-average left tackle, third-rounder Josh Jones – while earning a late first-round grade from me – still needing an overhaul on his footwork before he can slide in at right tackle and guard Justin Pugh finally having played a full 16 games for the first time since 2015 last season. NFL coaches had a lot of time to study Kliff Kingsbury’s Air-Raid offense, which when you break it down is pretty simplistic in the amount of schemes they run. Yes, he diversified it a little as last season went along, going under center and running some pro-style rushing plays, but at its core, you can learn how to create some issues for all those mesh concepts and spread sets. As far as the Cardinals defense goes, it is more about pieces than proven commodities. Patrick Peterson is seemingly on the decline, they are thin in the secondary and could Chandler Jones follow soon, after he has been one of the most underrated pass-rushers in the league for a while now? You are staring the reigning NFC champs in the eyes, a team that was a few inches away from earning a playoff bye and another squad that went to the Super Bowl just two years ago. This is probably the best division in the entire league.

Bottom line:
I still believe the 49ers have done enough to repeat as division champs, re-tooling for all the losses they have suffered this offseason. However, I’m feeling pretty good about the Cardinals earning a wildcard spot. While I believe in the Seahawks quarterback and the Rams head coach respectively to not allow their teams to not have throwaway seasons, I also see enough issues with those squads to make me believe the Cardinals could have the second-best year of anybody in the West. To me they are pretty clearly the best of these eight teams, because they have a young phenom at quarterback, stars at pretty much every position, a different type of system around them and what I’d like to call “juice” coming into 2020.

2. Detroit Lions

Why they can win the division:
Matt Stafford is back healthy and when he was in the lineup last season, this was a team that defeated the Eagles, Chargers and only didn’t finish the job against the eventual Super Bowl champion Chiefs because of some crazy stuff going on late. The veteran QB stood at 19 touchdowns compared to five picks and was playing at a near-MVP type level. However, Detroit’s identity will be built on the run game with re-investments in the offensive line as well as adding D’Andre Swift to form a dynamic one-two punch with him and Kerryon Johnson. Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones may be the most underrated receiving duo to go with Danny Amendola as a tough guy in the slot and T.J. Hockenson coming into year two as a top-ten pick a year ago, having shown flashes when he was healthy. The defense is finally starting to take shape with third-overall Jeffrey Okudah as an elite corner prospect being added to an underrated secondary, Jamie Collins being a chess piece in the front seven after already having worked well with Matt Patricia and some young guys up front trying to prove themselves to go with the versatile Trey Flowers. Maybe more importantly than the Lions themselves – Nobody else got that much better and none of the other three really stand out to me. Other than the Vikings probably – who had the advantage of making a record-breaking 15 selections – the Lions might have had the best draft within the division. Thanks to that last-place schedule, they get to face the Redskins in the East (instead of Eagles & Cowboys) and Cardinals in the West, who I just talked about taking a step forward, but are still a better draw than the reigning conference champions or possibly having to travel to Seattle. I believe that new regime in Detroit has finally built an identity on both sides of the ball with the heavy investments in the run game and back-seven on defense. Winning ten games might earn you a division title, if everybody plays each other tough.

Why they could finish last again:
Can these guys finally stay healthy? Matt Stafford to my surprise played a full 16 games in eight straight years before last season, but a lot of that had to do with his toughness to fight through pain and he had major issues with that shoulder early on in his career before basically breaking his back after putting the team on it for the last decade. Kerryon Johnson has missed 14 of 32 possible starts and he has never carried the ball more than 118 times a season. Their receiving corp has been banged up quite a bit too. More glaring even – how will all these additions of former Patriots players work out? Can Matt Patricia build a New England 2.0 in Michigan or is he just bringing in players he knows will listen to him and the way he wants things to be done? Detroit could also rely on a lot of rookies to be immediate impact players – possibly two new starting guards on offense, running back D’Andre Swift probably sharing the load with Kerryon, Jeffrey Okudah having to immediately become their CB1 and Julian Okwara being asked to become a much more consistent player if they give him major snaps. And I recently talked about how their uncertainty at punter could be an issue for their ball-control, defense-minded style of play. They also have an early bye (week five), which I’m never a big fan of, after facing the Bears, Packers, Cardinals and Saints, which probably includes three playoff teams. If Chicago can get any competent QB play, all these teams should be highly competitive.

Bottom line:
I don’t think any team in this division wins more than ten games. Unfortunately I don’t see the Lions go over that mark themselves either. The Packers won’t come out victorious in so many close games (8-1 in one-possession affairs), the Vikings have lost a few proven commodities and look for young talent to immediately replace those and the Bears still have a quarterback competition going on. So if Detroit can do any better than just split the season series with those three teams, I see them finishing above .500, but ten wins is the ceiling for me. In terms of the competition inside the division, the Lions may be my number one team in this conversation, but I see a much clearer path to things crashing down for Matt Patricia and them having another disappointing season than I do with the Cardinals. No team in this division may finish below that 8-8 mark.

3. Miami Dolphins

Why they can win the division:
When you ask the general public, the Buffalo Bills right now are the favorites to win the AFC East, but they haven’t done so since 1995 and they still have to prove they really are that team. The Patriots lost several pieces on defense and Tom Brady of course, which probably leads them to starting a quarterback, who over his four career pass attempts has thrown more touchdowns to the opposing team than to his own. The Jets are still building up that roster, with GM Joe Douglas trying to plant seeds on burnt earth, and they face a BRUTAL schedule. So Miami has a lot of things going in their favor for an organization that I believe in what they are trying to build. Depending on what happens at quarterback, you could have a veteran in Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was by far the best inside the division in several key categories last season and/or Tua Tagovailoa, who had one of the most prolific careers we have seen from anybody in the SEC. They added at least two new starters on the O-line, they now have one of the premiere cornerback trios in the league with the all-time highest paid player at the position in Byron Jones and first-round pick Noah Igbinoghene to go with Xavien Howard and with some added beef up front, they are finally looking a lot like what Brian Flores had in New England. DeVante Parker really broke out over the second half of 2019 and Miami should have a much better rushing attack because of the additions up front and two quality committee backs in Jordan Howard and Matt Breida being added. They have two other young pass-catchers ready to break out this upcoming season in tight-end Mike Gesicki and a UDFA receiver from a year ago in Preston Williams. Whenever Tua’s name is called upon, he will be a perfect fit for Chan Gailey’s horizontal passing game.

Why they could finish last again:
As much as I like what I see from this entire organization, it is probably just a year too early for Miami. So many young players could be thrown into the fire and a lot of them I look at as needing that experience – 18th overall pick Austin Jackson (USC) is more of a developmental tackle still with his footwork and hand-placement issues, 30th overall pick Noah Igbinoghene (Auburn) has only played cornerback for two years and was bailed out by his athletic tools at times, third-rounder Brandon Jones has to develop more of a feel in deep coverage and at least one more rookie lineman will likely start for them. Even outside of this year’s draft class, they already had several players on their roster that are still moving towards their prime. Whether you look at last year’s first-rounder Christian Wilkins, a lot of second- and third-year pass-catchers or their young linebackers outside of Kyle Van Noy. The Bills are entering year four of that turn-around under Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane, the Patriots still have the greatest coach of all time and will be a tough matchup solely based on that and the Jets at least have people playing for their jobs, plus a very talented young quarterback I still believe in. As much as I doubt Adam Gase, as long as Sam Darnold doesn’t get mono again, the offense should at least be competent, and the defense could potentially have a top-five player at every level with All-Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams, an 85-million dollar linebacker in C.J. Mosley and my number one prospect in last year’s draft on the interior D-line with Quinnen Williams.

Bottom line:
As I mentioned before, the Bills are the front-runners in this division for me. As much respect as I have for Bill Belichick, I haven’t seen enough from Jarrett Stidham to make me a believer and he shrunk in some big moments at Auburn. The Jets to me could be a lot better than they were in 2019 and still go 6-10 just because of the type of schedule they are up against. So the Dolphins to me could easily finish anywhere from second to fourth, depending on how some of the players on that roster progress. I wouldn’t bet on them actually making the playoffs, but they could absolutely be a pain in the butt for some of the better teams in the AFC and in 2021 they might be the pick here.

4. Los Angeles Chargers

Why they can win the division:
First and foremost, this Chargers defense is absolutely loaded with no real hole that you can point to. Derwin James is back healthy after a first-team All-Pro rookie campaign, Chris Harris Jr. comes in to make this secondary one the elite units in the NFL to go with two more Pro Bowlers among it and they have some guys I expect to break out like Jerry Tillery, Drue Tranquill and Nasir Adderley. In terms of having matchup pieces and a versatile pass rush to challenge Kansas City, nobody in the league may be on the same level as these guys. Offensively, Ihave talked about how the left tackle spot is concern for L.A. with a battle between Sam Tevi and Trey Pipkins for the starting job, but the other four spots are as good as they have been in a while, acquiring Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner via trade, signing a top five right tackle in Bryan Bulaga and getting Mike Pouncey back healthy. Tyrod Taylor can steer the ship and even if Justin Herbert is thrown into the fire – which I wouldn’t recommend – they have the skill-position players and willingness to run the ball to take pressure off those guys. While the Chiefs return 20 of 22 starters from a year ago, this wouldn’t be the first time we saw a Super Bowl champion have some issues the following season and as much as we want to hype up the Broncos and Raiders, both their quarterbacks (and other players of course as well) have a lot to prove still. Outside of KC, the Chargers likely have the smallest changes to what they do other than moving on from Philip Rivers and we saw that formula work the year prior, when they challenged Kansas City until the very end for the division crown and the conference’s top seed potentially. While they probably would have liked to bring in Tom Brady over the offseason, the fact they decided against signing Cam Newton to a roster that is ready to win right now, shows you the confidence they have in that quarterback room.

Why they could finish last again:
I’m not a huge fan of Derek Carr, but the Chargers will probably have the worst quarterback in the division in 2020. And their starting left tackle could be the worst in the entire league. As good as their defense will probably be, you can not consistently win games in which your offense doesn’t put up 20+ points in the league today – especially when all these teams in their division have spent so much on acquiring offensive firepower these last couple of years. I believe all three of their division rivals got better this offseason and the Chargers spent their top draft pick (sixth overall) on a young quarterback, who might not even help them win games this season. As I already mentioned, Kansas City brings back almost their entire starting lineups and they went 12-4 despite Mahomes seemingly having his knee cap facing the sideline while laying on his back. I have uttered my thoughts on Denver several times now, which you can read up on later. As for Las Vegas’ new team, they did start last season 6-4 and just heavily invested into their two major issues – wide receiver and linebacker. And while I don’t like to talk about it – injuries have been a huge issue for this Chargers team in recent years and I don’t really know what it is even, but I can’t assume that they all of a sudden can stay healthy.

Bottom line:
In terms of talent on the roster outside of the quarterback position, you could make a pretty compelling argument that the Chargers are ahead of all the other teams on this list. That’s the reason they have a pretty high floor of finishing around .500 and if everything works out, they could absolutely be a playoff contender. However, for this exercise in particular, I believe their upside is capped by what they have under center. Tyrod Taylor can be a top-20 quarterback in the NFL this season and in terms of upside, Justin Herbert has all the tools to become a difference-maker once he steps on the field, but they don’t have the explosiveness the Chiefs or the Broncos have for that matter. With so much continuity on a team that has the best player in the entire league, I can’t go against the Chiefs and in the end we are evaluating the chances to actually win the division.

5. Washington Redskins

Why they can win the division:
These guys are very reminiscent of the 49ers with their defensive line, in terms of having invested a lot of high draft picks into the unit these last couple of years and now with that second overall pick bringing in a true stud from Ohio State – this time in Chase Young. When you look at all those guys up front – with the Bama boys patrolling the middle, Matt Ioannidis capable of moving around the front, Montez Sweat looking to break out in year two and Ryan Kerrigan still being there as a productive veteran – they will wreak some havoc this season. Ron Rivera could finally bring some structure to this organization and help them turn it around on defense with the addition of an old companion in Thomas Davis, plus some high-upside players like Reuben Foster and Fabian Moreau looking to prove themselves. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins had a very underwhelming rookie campaign, but he clearly wasn’t ready to be out there and found himself in a bad situation in terms of the support system around him. I like a lot of their young skill-position players the front office has surrounded him with, when you look at Terry McLaurin trying to become a young star in this league, who produced despite shaky quarterback play last season, Kelvin Harmon and Antonio Gandy-Golden being two big-bodied targets I liked these last two drafts, Derrius Guice hopefully finally being able to stay healthy to lead this backfield and this year’s third-round pick Antonio Gibson being a chess piece that you can manufacture touches for. Somebody I forgot to mention in this discussion recently is Steven Sims Jr., who is a jitterbug with the ball in his hands. New offensive coordinator Scott Turner will implement a system that should make life easier on his second-year signal-caller as well, while relying heavily on the run game.

Why they could finish last again:
Haskins is by far the least proven QB of the bunch, with Daniel Jones even being head and shoulders above him in their respective rookie seasons. No pass-catcher outside of Terry McLaurin had any major production to speak. Counting on a 37-year old Thomas Davis to not only be a leader for them, but also make plays on the field, could create issues, and Washington lost some pieces in the secondary. This offseason is a challenge for any team, that is looking to implement a new system on each side of the ball, but I think especially for a motivator like Rivera, who can give his squad a heartbeat and push them to success, not being there in person with those guys will hurt. Most importantly however, this division to me will be a two-man race between the Eagles and Cowboys – as it has been for a while now. They both will likely have top ten quarterbacks, better receiving corps, better offensive lines and more experienced defenses. The Giants may not blow anybody away coming into 2020, but looking at the two matchups from last year between them and the Redskins, Big Blue beat them 24-3 the first time around, when Daniel Jones threw one touchdown compared to two interceptions and then he diced them up for five TDs and no picks in week 16. The one area Washington would have had the clear upper hand was with their front-four, but New York just invested a lot of draft capital into their O-line to prevent that. Just go through the Redskins’ schedule and show me more than six wins. I dare you.

Bottom line:
These last two sentences really say it all. Even if Philly and Dallas split the season series and Washington can get a game off either one of them, it will be tough to turn around this squad as quickly as this season – with reduced practice time and team activities – to a point where they can finish above both of them. Both of them could easily win double-digit games in 2020 and while I think the Redskins are on the right track if Haskins looks more like the Ohio State version of himself, other than their defensive line, no unit for them is ready to compete for the division quite yet. Just going through their schedule in an objective manner, it is tough to find any lay-ups and say Washington has some baseline of wins they count on. To not have them any lower than this is more due to the respect for Riverboat Ron and how high I was on a lot of the guys they drafted recently.

6. Jacksonville Jaguars

Why they can win the division:
I was going back and forth between my number six and seven teams, because the Jaguars are projected to pick first overall come next April for a reason – they did lose a lot of pieces. However, to me it came down to the fact that the AFC South might be won at 9-7 or 10-6 and this coaching staff actually has to win to keep their jobs. There is a lot noise about the Colts, but when you go back to last season, Philip Rivers was a turnover machine with serious questions about his arm strength. Bill O’Brien made some very questionable decisions for Houston and Tennessee is counting on a formula that is built on a 250-banger running the ball 25+ times and Ryan Tannehill finally repeating a career year, as they are coming off an AFC title game appearance. As far as Jacksonville goes, Gardner Minshew was the highest-graded rookie quarterback according to PFF and altogether I would have put him second only behind Kyler Murray. D.J. Chark broke out as one of the young star receivers and I had a first-round grade on Colorado’s Laviska Shenault if he can be healthy, because his talent is off the charts. I think the O-line would have benefitted from another tackle to kick Cam Robinson inside to guard, but those guys are some road-graders to make the run game work. Defensively the only real contributor from that Sacksonville group a couple of years ago who actually wants to be there is Myles Jack, but I really like their young duo off the edge in first-rounders Josh Allen last year and now K’Lavon Chaisson (LSU). There are some questions about the back-end, but they were built front-to-back with a lot of zone coverage behind it and depending on the development of ninth overall pick C.J. Henderson, they can roll away from him matching up with the opposing team’s number one receiver. Avoiding some of the better AFC squads altogether is pretty sweet as well, to go with facing no playoff team from last year outside their division until the middle of November.

Why they could finish last again:
I’m just not sure if all of these players are ready to fight for that coaching staff and organization. Two of their remaining veterans (Leonard Fournette and Yannick Ngakoue) have openly talked about how they want to be traded, they only have a few actually proven commodities on that entire roster and with the way they have unloaded big cap numbers, they have set themselves up for a true rebuild potentially, as they are expected to be in the Trevor Lawrence-Justin Fields sweepstakes come next April. Even if they can get a few breaks and the division is up for grabs, does this organization even want to win this season? If not for the injury to Jacoby Brissett in the middle of the season, all three other teams in that division would have almost certainly finished above .500 and the Colts are actually the team that improved by far the most among them. That Texans, who have actually won the South four of the last five years, including last season, may be the smallest challenge and still sweep Jacksonville. Vegas rarely misses completely and the Jaguars right now are the odds-on favorite to pick first overall come next April, with an NFL-low OveUnder of 4.5 wins on the season. And as favorable as the early portion of their schedule looks like right, check out this eight-game stretch after their week seven bye – at Chargers, vs. Texans, at Packers, vs. Steelers, vs. Browns, at Vikings, vs. Titans, at Ravens. Ouch. They might go winless over that period.

Bottom line:
The Jaguars to me are a very interesting team, because I believe they have accumulated a bunch of young talent, which gets lost a little when you see all the names that aren’t there anymore. There is a lot to like about this roster, when you look at what these players could develop into, but that doesn’t mean they will have success this year already. The Colts have the best 53 currently in the division (or 55 now), the Texans have the best quarterback and the Titans are coming off an AFC Championship game appearance. Gardner Minshew could make this kind of a tough decision if they end up picking anywhere after first overall and I think some of those other kids will put up pretty good numbers, but they are still pretty clearly fourth in the South as for now.

7. Carolina Panthers

Why they can win the division:
Nobody knows for sure what Matt Rhule and his new coaching staff will throw at them. Joe Brady gets to work with Teddy Bridgewater once again, who he already coached in New Orleans – so there will be familiarity for him in this system and they already “speak the same language”. That young receiving corp with D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, free agency addition Robby Anderson and even an up-and-coming tight-end in Ian Thomas is pretty underrated actually, plus of course they have one of the truly elite weapons out of the backfield in Christian McCaffrey, who is probably set to break his own RB reception record once again. The Panthers defense-only draft has brought them a monster in the middle in Derrick Brown (Auburn), a really talented edge rusher in Yetur Gross-Matos (Penn State) on the opposite of last year’s rookie stud Brian Burns, a super-rangy safety with linebacker size in Jeremy Chinn (Southern Illinois), what I think is a starting corner in Troy Pride Jr. (Notre Dame) and some other pieces in the secondary. The talent is clearly there and now you bring in a scheme that is probably going to be unique for the NFL level as well, when you look at that 3-3-5 Baylor ran under Rhule and defensive coordinator Phil Snow. As much as we want to praise our legends of the game, the quarterbacks of the two front-runners in this division will be 41 and 43 years old respectively and let’s not forget that Atlanta started out last season 1-7.

Why they could finish last again:
Especially this offseason, without certainty if there will be anything like training camp or even a real preseason, that completely new staff with new systems they are trying to teach will certainly have some growing pains. Bridgewater has been a top-20 starting QB maybe one year of his career and even when he was applauded for the way he filled in for Drew Brees last season, he finished dead-last in intended air yards among quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts. How will that mesh with a lot of vertical targets around him? When he has those guys running free on slants and dig routes, the ball will get there, but will he be willing to throw that deep post or give his guys a chance on go-balls? Defensively they are counting on a lot of young players and they have nobody to even come close to replacing Luke Kuechly, as well as making the switch to an unproven scheme possibly, if they actually use some of those 3-3-5 looks coming over from Baylor. When you look at Rhule’s track-record, it always took him until year two to show improvement and then in that third season is when those teams can really make some noise. And that was in the AAC and Big 12 respectively. Now he is in the NFC South with a team that just went 13-3 in the Saints and a Bucs squad that already was 7-9 and lost six of those games by one score, only because despite finishing fifth in takeaways, they ranked in the bottom five in turnover differential due to easily leading the league with 41 giveaways. That should get a lot better with Tom Brady coming in, who has never even quite thrown half of Jameis Winston’s 30 interceptions in any of his 20 years in the league. Even the Falcons – for as poorly as they started last season – went 6-2 after really coming together and making some changes in their bye week last season.

Bottom line:
The Panthers are clearly the most unproven team in this division. While new systems that haven’t been scouted yet certainly have an advantage in terms of game-planning early on, especially in this offseason with heavily limited live reps most likely, that might equal a net minus. You have to root for a guy like Teddy Bridgewater and the way he has worked his way up to a starting spot again, but I just don’t look at him as a surefire franchise signal-caller. The other three teams in the South all have top ten quarterbacks in the league in my opinion and much more continuity around them. Until the Panthers finally get to their bye week at the start of December, I don’t see them winning more than four of those twelve games. At that point they may have their eyes on a different goal already, if Teddy B isn’t the clear answer under center.

8. Cincinnati Bengals

Why they can win the division:
We’re not that far away from 2015, when the Bengals won the AFC North with a 12-4 record as the fifth year in a row making the playoffs. Since then this is the first time I feel like there really is change happening with this team. Marvin Lewis was replaced by a young Zac Taylor, trying to prove himself to the league, they drafted Heisman trophy winner Joe Burrow first overall to replace as average a quarterback as we have had over the last decade in Andy Dalton and the front office finally spent some money in free agency. While you would think a quarterback going first overall usually comes into a situation, where he is devoid of talent around him, Cincinnati suddenly has one of the better group of skill-position players in the entire league, assuming A.J. Green is back healthy. Tyler Boyd is a stud in the slot, who will be Burrow’s version of Justin Jefferson, a 50-50 ball specialist in second-round pick Tee Higgins (Clemson) matches perfectly with Burrow’s expertise of winning with ball-placement and if they get anything from former first-rounder John Ross at least as a decoy with his speed, that’s a plus. I expect Joe Mixon to be among the league leader’s in running back receptions and be more effective in space with those receivers around him as well. The signings the Bengals have made on defense gives them a lot more talent and complements very well what they already had. D.J. Reader is one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the league and frees everybody up along the front, they completely overhauled that linebacker group, which was a major issue these last couple of years, they brought in a starting CB2 and nickel from Minnesota to pair up with William Jackson III, who is ready to announce himself as one of the best corners in football, and Von Bell is a great match with the rangy free safety Jessie Bates.

Why they could finish last again:
As talented as all those guys throwing, catching and running the ball may be, it all starts with what’s happening up front and the Bengals offensive line is still in transition. They could have two of the worst starters in the league at both guard spots and right tackle once again, with the prior ones close to reaching that bust status and Bobby Hart still somehow having a starting job. As great as Joe Burrow was last year at LSU and how clean his evaluation was, how much better than Andy Dalton will he be right away, especially going up against those scary defensive fronts inside his division? Defensively they could easily have six new starters, which obviously can be looked at as a positive sign, considering they allowed 20+ points in all but two games last season, but there is also a lack of continuity and reduced time to fit all those pieces together. Cincinnati’s coaching staff hasn’t really proven anything yet and they will be facing a massacre of a schedule, with three occasions of back-to-back road games and while three of their final four games of the season are at home, they will face the Cowboys, Steelers and Ravens, to go with a trip to Houston in-between. If they don’t beat the Chargers in the season-opener, they probably don’t get that first W until week four against the Jaguars and then they have to hope they can sneak out another one until their bye week. Baltimore is tied with Kansas City for the highest projected win total with reigning MVP coming into just his third season, Pittsburgh is favored to make the playoffs with Big Ben back under center and Cleveland was the offseason favorite in 2019, while fielding an even better roster this year.

Bottom line:
I feel bad for putting this team last, because I thought Joe Burrow was the top quarterback and definitely worthy of that number one pick and the Bengals finally spent big money in free agency to retool the defense. To me this is less about them than the Ravens, who just were the number one overall seed in the playoffs at 14-2 and haven’t done anything other than get better themselves, a Steelers team that made a run at the playoffs with the worst quarterback play in the league now getting Ben back and a Browns roster that is among the top ten league-wide in most people’s opinion. Still, there is a lot to like about this team at the skill-positions, which is probably behind only Cleveland in terms all the weapons they have, some young standouts on defense and hope that all of this brings a fresh breath of air.

If you enjoyed this content, I would really appreciate if you could visit the original piece (with video clips) -
You can also listen to my breakdown on Youtube -
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Watching The Challenge for the first time and documenting it as I go. (Part 8: Good god these keep getting longer)

Free Agents
Just when I think these write-ups and live reactions couldn't get any longer, I go and watch possibly my new favorite season. Can definitely see why I've been told so much about this being a great run of seasons, this one was a blast to watch and had a great cast from the jump. Jump to the end for an overall thoughts and tl/dr version of my thoughts on the season as a whole. Also have a bit at the end about the Jordan vs Bananas feud that might be controversial so check that out as well.
Other parts if you feel like checking the previous ones out:
Part 1: Fresh Meat - Duel 2
Part 2: The Ruins
Part 3: Fresh Meat 2
Part 4: Cutthroat and Rivals
Part 5: Battle of the Exes
Part 6: Battle of the Seasons
Part 7: Rivals 2
EP 1:
Individual competitors?
Johnny and Frank again...yay...
Jonna/Jasmine fourth season in a row?
Johnny just being called Bananas now?
If Sarah isn't on this season of individual competitors I'll be pissed.
"Whether you like how I play the game oor not, I play it well." Frank off to a great and humble start.
Laurel!, but the wrong Emily :/ I wanna see these two compete.
Fuck that's a lot of people.
God dammit, Pennsetucky again?!
Nice to see David again.
I see no Sarah...
CT showing up with a beard and looking not interested at all?
This Challenge house looks more like a silicon valley office.
Big dude with mohawk seems like he could come in and make an impact.
God damn Jasmine. Coming in strong. "I want dick and balls, all day every day."
"Not Johnny bananas, ewww" Nany speaking truth.
I don't have a girlfriend, but I made a pact with Heather. What in the fuck?!
I swear Johnny is wearing the shirt he wore from the Rivals 2 reunion on this first episode of Free Agents.
This house seems like they'll have a lot more to actually do with free time.
I forgot Laurel and Cara made kind of a bond over Rivals 1. Laurel comes off as a bitch a lot, but I like her.
This Jessica chick is kind of annoying instantly.
Heights being the first challenge makes me instantly remember Casey. Does Casey ever come back? lol
I still have to feel out how this challenge exactly works. I'm a tiny bit confused on the structure.
Nia seems like she's definitely getting the better of the teams.
Johnny and Laurel instantly taking the lead on assigning roles.
"There are no genders in this stairwell. Just bodies and elbows being thrown."
Ok, these challenges are starting off rough!
How the hell is Frank so ahead when they're chained together?
Latoya looks like she regrets her life choices.
When did CT become the guy you put on puzzles?!!?
Damn, Brandon almost clutched it out!
"Speed is an issue." Proceeds to babystep.
Good on Jessica. Went faster across the rolling platform than you did the stationary one.
It's all up to Pennsetucky! And she fails miserably.
I'm liking that the politics is hard on this season instantly. Johnny wants the strong people out, but is afraid to throw the names out. The rest are thinking they want the weak people out. Johnny definitely has the better idea of things.
Ok, now that I see how this season's concept works I really like it. Basically the only safety is the winning team or the winning people. So politicks still matter, but there is a randon draw aspect that puts everyone up for grabs.
The only thing I'm not sure I like, is how is the order of you picking your board determined?
Jimmye going in! Wooo! Next up, please be Frank!
YESSSSSSSSSSSSS Frank is going in! Is this his first ever elimination in 3 Challenges? I feel like he hasn't been in any before? He wussed out on the one he was supposed to go in on Seasons?
Damn Chet. That chin!
Fucking dammit Chet. Why couldn't you just take Frank out! Damn you Chet, you disappointment.
These girls just suck. They're all talking up their strength and speed but neither of them seem to have stopping power or grip.
Goodbyeeeee Pennsetucky! At least one of her or Frank was able to leave.
Weird to start the episode with an establishing montage, but with a whole ton of blurred faces.
I really like Cohutta.
"I think Jasmine just wore her regular clothes." Is Jasmine the new Tonya? They said this same exact thing about Tonya on Fresh Meat lol
Some weird no-hands kissing. Followed immediately by Emilee just throwing herself at Dustin. Damn Dustin, having to beat these women off with a stick.
Guy-Girl pairs? The race for Laurel commences.
Why the sudden name change to "Bananas"? Lol it's dumb.
Swift picking Theresa? Nia goes next?! Laurel goes all the way to Cohutta? Damn
I anticipate Camilla yelling the shit out of Preston.
Leaving this comp up to knowing how to drive stick shift is shitty, but also hilarious.
Dustin, give the chick directions. You're literally just screaming "Nany" over and over again.
Emilee seems awful. Why couldn't we get the other Emily(I forgot Laurel and Emily were on Cutthroat lol) on the same season as Laurel?
Did they call Johnny Bananas simply because there is another Johnny on this season? This challenge is literally all Johnny screaming.
Did the guys have to be the ones driving? I saw a couple girls nod at knowing how to drive stick but haven't seen any driving yet?
There was just a quick cut through scene that didn't get near enough attention. Jasmine is on the bar shaking her ass and Dustin's face is close to her ass with his tongue out. What's not getting attention is Jessica like 2 feet behind them just standing there awkwardly waiting for Dustin to direct his attention back to her lmao
Nany calling Emilee a slut seems like the pot calling the kettle black. How many guys did she get with in Rivals 2? I ain't slut shaming, girl do what you want. But don't sling shit.
Laurel seems way more layed back and chill this season.
How the hell does CT end up getting stuck with all of the bar tab but also ends up catching shit from Camila and Nany?!
The Camila tornado lol
God damn these people get so god damn angry over nothing. Screaming and yelling at each other 3 hours later lmao
Neither even understand what is going on. These people get drunk and become psychotic.
Oh its pairs only the winning pair picks the two competing? Not all the top half? Oh shit! I really like this game mode. I wish there was just some extra layer to the randomness aspect.
Frank in again! Wooo! Hopefully Dustin doesn't quit out like Chet.
Eh, I actually think Frank has the advantage in this Elim. Damn.
Goodbye the lesser Emilee
Damn, I still gotta deal with Frank.
Dustin constantly saying "Little" Jessica weirds me out.
That dude has a jiggly butt...
Leave Frank, LEAVE!!!! Please, dammit, please!
Dammit, he's sticking it out.
I swear I feel like I've seen this Isaac dude before.
Oh shit, someone about to get kicked? Frank?????
HAHA Johnny scooting away from Frank when TJ says he's contagious.
"They just saw the winner of this challenge walking away." Ugh, Frank shut up. You're not undefeated, you didn't win Rivals 2.
Nia goes around the house in her underwear and sucks her thumb? Damn, Isaac doesn't even look at her lmao
Preston and Latoya are literally kissing the wall at one point.
I know CT and Cara and all them went first, but how in the hell did they barely make it half way to everyone completing it with plenty of time?
Why the hell is Johnny talking shit on Jordan? lol He tried to readjust with one hand and dropped it. How is that show and bravado? Just holdover from Rivals with him and Marlon being on a run?
I hate the way Johnny and Camilla talk about their choices constantly. "You need to go in and prove yourself." or "I hate being around and seeing people avoiding going in when they should be going in." and all this shit. Just get rid of who you want and save who you want. Quit trying to color all this bullshit on it.
Why does he keep saying "That symbol" why can't he just say the skull and crossbones? Or the death symbol, or literally anything?
"Shut the fuck up Johnny!" I don't care how much shit people talk about Cara, or how whiny she is, I like her.
Johnny being the only one rooting for a rookie while his main strategy at all times is Rookies go in first. Johnny, the class act.
Everyone cheering Cara and Johnny comes in with "You're alright Nia, you didn't move!"
Don't go up and immediately hug Johnny! Damn you Cara!
I love the unabashed love that Laurel has for Cara now. These chicks hated each other and after Rivals you'd think they were siblings.
I kept thinking the CBS all access image for the challenge was Johnny staring down Natalie Negrotti, but now looking at it, I'm wondering if it's Cara... I don't actually know if Natalie is ever even on The Challenge.
When did MTV get so sensitive with blurring out ass cheeks?
How can you come in to the challenge house and be mad about people hooking up in a different bed in the same room? That seems like standard operating procedure. So much so that people even hang up blankets and towels on the bunk beds? Aneesa just seems to more dislike Laurel lol
Bananas being great in this challenge
Isaac mentions a gameplan, but seems to do the exact opposite of what he was saying? lol "I'm going to sit back until I can get a few one on ones." Immediately runs ahead of everyone.
I need to mention again how much I love the Free Agents challenge style. Different teams and design every episode is great.
Jordan randomly talking shit... It's Bananas against like 5, who cares if it's girls, he can't do shit. Is this the start of the Jordan heel turn?
Isaac not even being able to stand up is hilarious.
Swift falling off his chair lmao
Aneesa and Laurel clearly have some beef. Jessica being a SNITCH! lol
Why are we arguing about the very first challenge? lol Jessica did one good thing and she's relying on that to talk shit? lol
Aneesa is definitely hoping to get by more by being a vet.
Jordan voting for Latoya twice? That goes against what Aneesa was trying to bitch about.
Latoya going off lol They seriously must not be showing something about Jordan. Everyone is getting annoyed as hell with him. Either that, or Johnny is just poisoning the house on him. Which I could also see.
Latoya saying it's because Jordan didn't tell her, but did everyone else? lol what?
Why are they acting like Jordan flipped out on them? What in the hell are they talking about? Latoya went off on Jordan. lol What am I missing? Why is it all hanging on only Jordan for his vote?
Fuck, Brandon had to get Zach. God dammit. Brandon seriously can't catch a break.
Least it's a speed challenge. Think Brandon may have an upper hand.
Cara kicking ass.
Damn, bummer to see Brandon go so quick again. I swear we have not been able to see the actual potential of Brandon.
How can you hate how Laurel plays the game? She literally learned from Kenny and Johnny?
Johnny just seems to like calling people cocky. He said the same shit about Wes, CT, and all kinds of players in the past.
Theresa has been the first or second girl picked every time. When did Theresa become the expected comp beast?
Preston keeps getting picked last, but keeps ending up on the winning team.
CT covering Laurel's mouth lmao Don't give the apposing team tips!
Well the commercial tease just gave away who won. Devyn seems to be going in and Theresa had something to do with it?
"The thing I like about going second..." Yes we hear it every episode, we get itttttt
I feel like editing has it out for Jordan. I hear people talk more about Jordan's attitude than we have really seen at all. Johnny talking about him being "Mr Tryhard, and I can do anything you can do but better." really hasn't come across at all.
The gloves really seemed like a disadvantage. Multiple people seemed to slip because of their gloves and Preston takes his off to get better grip.
Hahahah Cohutta telling Johnny to just worry about drying off! I love it.
Guess the commercial teaser didn't give away the winners.
Cara instantly wanting to call for Johnny! Do it!
Wait, when did it suddenly become Preston and Laurel? It was Johnny! Who the hell said Preston!?!
All the guys on the losing team are strong except Preston, you'd be stupid to vote Preston in.
Theresa you pussy bitch! lol
Ok, Laurel you're acting way too much like hot shit walking up there. Someone's gotta catch votes, suck it up.
Why didn't they do the blind votes like in Cutthroat for this season. No diliberations or team meetings, just make it a true individual game and hidden votes?
See, Bananas at least openly accepting catching votes. He says "Finally" when Cara votes for him. He doesn't get all pissy, doesn't stare people down, just accepts it. That is a Johnny Bananas I want to see!
Though he does instantly talk up all kinds of shit about Jordan, again nothing of which we have really seen. He more just seems like he has a problem with Johnny.
Devyn, don't say "hashtag", this isn't 2014. Oh wait...
I would literally be flabbergasted at Johnny or Laurel going home right now. Laurel most of all. Johnny could get a bad draw with CT or something.
How does order of picking your card go? CT has picked first with guys every time?
TJ: "CT's card is blank, congratulations Bananas." TJ is great.
I love CT but he doesn't seem to have his normal killer mentality this season. Is this the beginning of the end for CT? He got his win so his heart isn't in it anymore? Mind you these challenges haven't really been his strong suit, but still. He seems way more laid back than usual.
Gooooodbye Jasmine. Your luck sucks. She's already crying.
Isaac vs Bananas could be a good match. My bets on Johnny though.
Wonder if they determined the face masks they were using was the cause of Chet's cut. They suddenly aren't using face masks this time around.
Laurel looking like she's tossing around a toddler lmao This shit's just unfair, someone call child protective services!
Cara: "This is sad." hahahaha this is so damn embarrassing.
Johnny standing Isaac up on his drive?! Damn Johnny, that alone is impressive. I think Isaac just assumed he'd burst through him.
Johnny being impressive honestly.
Jordan about to be a lot of people's target.
Isaac suuuucks, Johnny was impressive.
I'm at least on Jordan's side when he says "Johnny hasn't seen an elimination since 98" lol that shit truuuuuuue.
Jordan at least owns up that he hasn't accomplished anything yet lol If something like that was ever said toward Johnny, he'd instantly bring up how many challenges he's won or that he's earned his stripes. Ignore the fact that most seasons he completely skates by without going to elimination and he's been paired with strong people.
This is all I ever want from the challenge. Give me people going back and forth. People fighting tooth and nail all the way through. Getting all the vets or all the strongest people on one side and just eliminating all the weak people until the final is boring as hell.
Theresa fucking scared now. She realizes she fucked up gunning for Laurel but also backing out on the people who had your bad. Dumb as hell.
Even angry and firey CT is more laid back and casual than usual.
Laurel, you're a little wrong here. "CT is out of control. You have the ability to control yourself." looks like Jordan was the one losing his cool in the bus?
Finally an individual challenge?
They seem to keep having the comps at this same exact watering hole.
Bananas: "Dutch?" TJ: "Jesus christ"
"At least you didn't say fucking 'Dutch' bro."
I would have never thought for a second Zach would winner on the quiz challenge.
Camilla, why are you crying? lol
"What is a continent" god damn Cara...
People, stop calling your girls "little girl". Cohutta what the hell.
Ok, I feel like the girls questions were easier? Am I crazy? "Spell Nickel" vs "Spell Exacerbate" lol seriously?
Jesus christ Cara. Mohamid Ali's real name is Mahatma Ghandi?!
Laurel literally making a hit list and calling the kid she likes and telling her not to go to school tomorrow lmao
I could see why people both hate and like working with Laurel. She's pretty damn direct and doesn't really pussy fooot around. I think Devyn is kind of dumb to take this hit list to heart though because who gets voted in, in what order doesn't really matter if only like Devyn and Cara are up for being thrown in. You can have 4 people targeted before you but if they're all safe you're still fucked.
Shocked Devyn actually went for Theresa. I get that Theresa threw everyone under the bus with changing her vote, but she likely still wasn't going to target you.
Just quietly add a rope to the tug of war elimination so they don't last an hour plus lol
I've always contended that on these tug of war style elim's you should run and then jump at the end. If you jump first the other person is likely not planted and loses a lot of ground. It honestly seems like Jordan does that and wins handedly.
Camila...what are you doing? What even is this? Did Camila have a mental breakdown before this? Stunned seeing Camila go out like that.
I don't hate Jordan, but Laurel and Jordan kind of grosses me out lol
"I'm like Great Gatsby" hahaha
Dang, quick in to the challenge. This looks so dumb lol
"Not to sound cocky, I'm just used to winning." Oh Laurel...
I'm a bit confused by the "Rather be in the draw" mentality coming through right now. Is there just some out and about alliance that Leroy just knows he's going in if he's up for the pick?
Jordan wanting to possibly go in when he knows one of the winners is his buddies? What? You are definitely playing this game wrong buddy.
Jordan wants to go against idiot.
These guys acting like they're talking Jordan in to flipping over all the cards, but unless theres some editing foolery, that seems like it was the plan the whole time? Maybe not flipping the cards, but it seemed like he was fully intending to put himself against Johnny in the Elim? Absolutely stupid, but it seems like it was already his intention?
Aneesa is such a paranoid and terrible political player lol
Again Laurel just being absolutely direct. "You're a shitty salesman." lmao "Gotta let go of those expectations." daaaaaaaamnnnnnnn
I love Cohutta. He's just creepy with calling Nany his "Little girl"
Jordan scared now! haha He talked off and now people actually expect him to do it! lmao "Please tell me to not do it Laurel, please!"
Jordan, as soon as you see that wall you should wisen the fuck up and back out. You are dumb my dude.
Bye Jonna :( Aneesa beasted that comp so much her head was about to touch the bell.
Jordan you're an idiot. "Pride is worth $125k" ummmm, you're pride was never called out. You put it up for examination and then forced yourself to follow it. All of this is in your own damn head dude lmao you have some kind of complex going on my guy.
Laurel, why are you being so fucking weird and awkward? Why are you insisting on a weird ass handshake?!
"I don't think Jordan's intentions are 100% kosher. He went for the girl that would keep him safe." Bananas literally says this about every single guy and girl in the house every season. Last season it was CT, now it's Jordan. We just going to ignore The Island and The Ruins? Where that was literally the JEK strategy? So much so that the girls on the island literally thought they were going to be handed a key at the end?
Laurel, you kind of lose points in my book for being this head over heels for Jordan this quickly. I don't even hate Jordan, you just seem crazy infatuated which is just creepy.
"Jordan's most impressive performance in this game was flipping those cards over." Ok, that was hilarious.
They're still talking like they convinced Jordan to go in, but it really seems like that was always the intention.
I would love to find out that Johnny doesn't even like bananas. He's just associated and named for this fruit he doesn't like.
This fucking funeral lmao
Either they had a deal with this bar to be able to film. Or it's literally the only bar close to the house lol
Uh oh, Leroy having an introductory segment of how he's handling the game. I don't like your chances to make it through the episode Leroy.
I like Cohutta, but he does and says some creepy shit. His "little girl" Nany, now he's grabbing her chin to talk to her...
Goooood Damn Nany.... Ya'll remember earlier this season when she called Emilee a slut?
Eeeewwwwwwwww Cohutta just laying in the damn spot where she tells him lmao
"Stretch your mind. It's gonna be a race." What the fuck?!
"I'm concerned because we have 2 girls I don't think can hold their bodyweight, which is pathetic." Well don't sugar coat it Laurel.
I feel like they didn't think very well about Theresa being the highest person, while being the shortest.
Cohutta been hanging for like an hour lmao
Devyn's team made that look easy.
I don't know what the hell the other team was doing. They were trying to get one person up at a time and just leave them there.
"Made out" with Johnny lol
There's people like Aneesa who I think whole goal is just making it to the final to get that minimum payout. Like she never has a chance to actually win the final. She just fights to stick around basically.
"I finally got picked first" Good on you Preston for taking it lightly.
"I just come clean and tell Cohutta everything." "You kissed a boy, so what?" Ummmmmm thinking there was stuff left out lol
I really need to hear the reasoning behind how the order is picked for drawing the cards. I just find it real suspect that the vets seem to always be first to pick, giving the slightly better odds.
"That was so stupid." I love TJ
Oh, Cohutta one hundred percent has this lol
"Waiting on ole dad on the couch." what in the hell Cohutta. You have some weird ass kink my dude.
Preston completely pushing Cohutta back, damn. Preston fell! Damn, he would have had that one.
"I feel like this is my first real elimination." True, you basically threw Jasmine around like a doll.
I actually think Aneesa got there first, but missed the bell?
Aneesa looks like she got fucking whiplash with that second hit lmao
Damn, another close one. Aneesa just wasn't jumping at all. I think she would have had that bell again if she went for the bell and not the chain.
"It shows she's beatable." She just handedly beat the next strongest girl in the house except for Cara. You planning on trying yourself Theresa? Or just talking shit?
"I'm going to have to move to a blue state now." "What's a blue state?" I don't know who I'm dissapointed more by this interactions lol
Laurel going back to mean Laurel?
Laurel is bitchy in interactions, that is 100% undeniable, but it's shown so many times throughout the season how insanely loyal and supportive of Cara Laurel is all season. She's just also a bitch lol
So apparently 14 down to 12 is the number where the Challenge goes from looking like a lot of people left to "Damn there is no one left" because this episode definitely hit that mark.
I'm thinking Laurel has some kind of weird thing about counting stuff. She's been shown coming into multiple of these challenges counting pretty much anything involved with the challenge every episode.
For a second, I really thought the guys and girls were about to be going at the same time.
CT gets his first captain?
"I'll take Zach" "Ahhh it's like Christmas" Damn, that's unfair lmao
"Oh fuck" Damn Cara, could you be any more bitchy about being stuck with Jessica? Like that wasn't an immediate known fact?
Nany got fucking ROCKED right off the bat! Damn!
I talked all that talk about Laurel being loyal then it shows her saying she's not best friends lol oops.
Nany dazed after that hit, now it seems like all the girls are delaying their runs haha Laurel afraid!
Now Jessica gets knocked! I love this challenge.
Laurel would rather go in to Elim than get ran in to.
CT and Zach have them going slow lmao
"Kill all, ask questions later!" I love CT. Here's the CT I've been missing all season.
Well that was a lackluster hit to add suspense for.
Zach is fast as hell.
Has the other Johnny been in an elimination? Why isn't it between Johnny and Leroy?
At least Cara isn't being completely shit on all season.
"I don't want to be friends with a kid." Geez Laurel, you can be such a bitch.
Daaaaaamn CT, being direct as hell. "Jess is the one I least want on my team."
Hey, the order was a bit different this time for card draw.
Cara's luck is back in full force. At least she's going against Jessica.
Cohutta might be fast enough to pull this out vs Leroy. Leroy just has the reach and size to plow Cohutta over though.
"Cara's a good competitor, if I win, then I'm a good competitor." Good logic Jessica...
Damn Laurel, just rooting on Jessica openly?
Cara looks like she's trying to rip Jessica's head off.
Laurel you are so childish. "Cara doesn't need extra motivation, and we're not speaking so of course I'm not rooting for her."
That last round Jessica looked like she just gave up. She was bent over on her side when Cara ran in to her.
Laurel doesn't even congratulate Cara on staying. Laurel, you childish bitch lol
Yeah COhutta, I don't see you having much of a chance in this.
TJ talking up Cohutta. Sweet TJ.
"What am I going to do, who am I going to hang out with." Hmmm I hear Johnny is still in the house...
"It makes me think Laurel would eat her own child if it got her further."
These doctors are looking at Cara like they're about to harvest organs lmao they're not hear for this crying bullshit.
"I don't really care if she stays or not." "Oh, we know." Straight calling her out on being a bitch.
Good on Johnny to straight up say it's Laurel's fault and saying she's talking shit.
Saying that it's bad to accept who someone is and then suddenly not be ok with it is CERTAINLY a take. "I'm always a bitch. When I'm bitchy to you it shouldn't bother you."
Laurel runs away. What a baby. She can not accept that she's in the wrong.
The things you did after I was a bitch, makes me not sorry for being a bitch. Good start Laruel lmao
"If you know I'm a bitch, you should just fully accept me being a bitch at all times."
Why does Cara get a choice?! I'm all fine for Cara to be there, but I feel like other people have not been given the choice with injuries?
CT with the wholesomeness. "Shut up! Pick me right now!"
When did CT become the confident puzzle guy?
How the hell did Bananas solve that shit? lol "I broke my puzzle curse!" seems like it.
Laurel basically saying "I need to be more of a bitch. Fuck this friendship shit!"
A different location!
Saying someone is kissing ass when there's only like 10 people left and you're going out for drinks just because they're interacting with the person seems crazy. Is she supposed to sit there pissed worried about the draw?
"You wanna poke a stick at a bear, go ahead. I'm not going to squirm or talk bad about him." I love CT, don't let Johnny get what he wants. He's wanting to hear "I'm not coming for you." and that literally it.
Zach actually being reasonable? I feel like Zach gets way more acceptable when he isn't just around Frank the whoole time.
Johnny just saying "No" when Nany says she's voting for Theresa lol
"Don't give me this BS. I'm your biggest competition at the final and you want me out of here."
Good on you Nany, probably not the brightest decision, but commendable.
Johnny not changing his vote. What a bitch.
If they can't decide Johnny gets put in elimination. That shit about to change real fast lmao
Nany better not change her vote, if she has any brain cells she should know that Johnny will not volunteer himself for elimination this close to the final. Don't be dumb.
Fucking coward Nany. You know damn well Johnny would not have gone in to Elimination.
Lol, TJ's like "I ain't here for this shit. Shut up until I'm gone."
I actually agree with Theresa, I don't think hanging out with one of only 3 other girls in the house when you all go out is kissing ass and politicking.
It's gonna be the wall climb isn't it? lol
Yup haha Cara is so fucked, or maybe has an upper hand? Those casts are pretty hard...
Oh god, it's going to be Laurel isn't it?
Yup. Damn this shit was destined.
Well, Cara, you had a good run.
I wish we coulld see this without Cara being injured. I feel like Cara has become somewhat of a challenge beast this season.
I really can't think of many eliminations where I wouldn't expect CT to come out ahead.
Location change isn't all that much of a twist CT, it's happened like the last 4 seasons?
I'm sad we couldn't get that Tokyo final. That would have been amazing.
CT noping out of jumping in the cold pool lol
A final draw, I'm assuming with two skull cards? I like it.
Zach safe, One of CT or Johnny are in the Elim. Dang
Oh my god. Johnny vs CT. Holy shit. Wow.
I'm shocked. Literally stunned. I never thought both of them wouldn't be in the final.
"Yes I'm safe!" "Oh crap, I'm in the final, I'm going to die!" lol Devyn
Theresa choking huge. Damn.
If Theresa won this I feel like Theresa/Devyn/Nany would be the most lackluster final for the girls yet.
Theresa catching up, oh she might have it? Say it ain't so. Having any two of Laurel/Johnny/CT not in the final qould be a kick in the balls to this season.
Ok, hoo, that was close. I couldn't have imagined the final without Laurel at this point.
CT noooooooo!
Damn, Johnny blew that out of the water. That's such a bummer that it came down to those two.
The other Johnny came in to this season with the best luck in the world on his side.
CT and Johnny not being in the final is a damn let down.
Does Zach win this? I'm favoring Zach/Laurel at this point. Johnny has the history and all, but Zach seemed fast as hell, and he had insane indurance in Seasons.
Three second places in a row? I for some reason forgot her and Kenny didn't win Fresh Meat 2.
"They said you have to finish, so Devyn I hope you cancelled your Christmas plans."
Final placement guesses: Laurel - Nany - Devyn, Zach - Bananas - Johnny
Zach has speed and endurance, but Bananas has experience. I think they're pretty interchangeable, but my money is on Zach right now.
Nany already looks cold.
"Some of you worked your butts off, some of you were just good at the draw." Cuts to Johnny lol
Was initially mad at pairs, but seeing guys/girls switch off each round is nice to hear.
Not a fan of hearing the determination comes down to times and not just a race to the finish. Must mean there will be some breaks.
Ok, I immediately want to go back on my Zach prediction lmao
I feel like the escelation of the finals over the last few years and how many people in Cutthroat got heat exhaustion scared them and caused them to change up. Cause I feel like it's around right after that that the finals started being broken down in to parts and different days.
I want the grueling all out races that last all day.
This final basically became 'control how much Nany screws you over' and there is basically never a chance that Laurel will ever not be first place with whatever guy she goes with.
Devyn how did you do the damn desert but you can't do a hike?
Hahaha Nany freaking out because of a Tarantula lol I'm deathly afraid of spiders, but you just walk the other way... Randomly seeing a tarantula would scare the shit out of me.
Zach is fucking dissapointing. Jesus. If only there was someone there to scream verbally abuse him and push him the whole time. Maybe then he'd start performing better... I hope Sam is somewhere watching this loving every second of it.
"You don't understand Laurel, I'M GOING TO DIE!!" hahahaha Zach you bitch.
My god he is literally like crying through this.
"I'm having a heart attack." Cries
lmao Karma is a bitch Zach
Laurel actually name dropping Sam HOLY SHIT!!!!!!! Fucking LOVE you Laurel!!!!! FUCK YES!!!! I just jumped up and cheered.
I like to think Laurel was thinking about Sam that entire time and was just holding off not screaming her head off at him.
"She's just a dumb bitch. She's stupid." That's more of the Zach I know and remember!
25 mile bike ride to rest and food. Nice.
Oh, it's on a stationary bike. Well this is pointless and anticlimactic.
Nany quitting 80 minutes in? What are you fucking doing? You've already done it for 80 minutes you idiot.
Zach has been a complete dissapointment in this final.
Good on Dev for not quitting.
Devyn already well behind everyone else.
"Frankly I just deserve" how bold of you Johnny. I'm not usually for bagging on Rookies, but this dude hasn't even seen an elimination and is only in the final because of luck! lol
Wonder if they will show the final times or if they'll just announce the placements. I feel like these times aren't all that close. Like there was only like 10 minutes or so seperating Johnny/Nany and Laurel/Zach when it was acting like Zach was going to die. So even the one Laurel was behind the most she wasn't behind that much. And she completed the bike well in advance as well.
Wait, they had to then walk back DOWN the volcano? to even find out? lol the hell?
Actually announcing the girls times were 9 minutes apart. Nice. Didn't announce the guys.
I'm actually happy with a Johnny Bananas win? wow At least the game wasn't just broken with him walking to the final.
Laurel and Johnny definitely worked their asses off getting to the end.
God dammit, not Moseley again... This guy is a terrible damn host
Glad to see CT dropping that beard. He seemed like a different guy with it.
What is this weird ass set?! Let's just put a bunch of steel beams and rafters all over the set and make people sit on them in weird angles.
How are you staring up at Laurel's bossom?
Nany literally looked like she was about to fall off her seat trying to get away from that spider.
Laurel wanting to go to blows with Theresa.
"You're sweating cause you're scared."
Laurel is a bitch, but I agree with her when she says "But you'll say it?" Saying you want to punch her and then acting like its so below you. Then don't fucking say it.
Laurel looks stupid standing up and saying she's scared.
"Why isn't zach taking all the flack for it?" "Because he owns up to it!" I wish I could say it for someone else other than Zach but so much damn truth to this. If you own your shit and don't shy away from it it become a far lesser deal than people who try to hide away from it and act like it isn't a thing.
I was swinging a little away from Jordan this latter half of the season, but this reunion is making me go back toward Jordan. Johnny just keeps moving the goalpost this entire conversation. First it's that he doesn't shut his mouth, then it's his actions, then it's him feeling insecure and overcompensating. Johnny doesn't know what the hell to say he's just regurgitating the same complaints he makes over and over again.
I agree with Johnny though. Fuck pride, fuck all this, your object is to not get in to eliminations. It was stupid.
CT: "How much did he get fined? Was it like per minute, per hour?" lol I continue to love CT
Ooooooof, sitting there having to watch yourself jump from one guy to the other in the same room with both guys has to be awkward as fuck.
"The black one said 'yes'"
"She told me everything." It really didn't seem like that on the show...
Are we going to not address that Cohutta was laying in the same exact spot WHEN she told him they hooked up? I mean...
Awwww Cohutta comes off so damn cute saying "It's okay." to Nany.
"If she hurts me, i'mma shave her head." Hahah this whole Cohutta/Nany section is hilarious and adorable. I predict they will be completely apart within weeks.
Oh my god if Moseley says "W-T-F" one more god damn time...
Laurel definitely has only-child syndrome.
"Cara, that hurts." "...and CT." "NO, NO! We're best friends!" Need I remind you how much I love CT?
"Holy shit, her ass looks like a butterfly!"
THere is a lot of butthole content in this unseen footage.
What in the fuck is Isaac?! He crapped in a damn zip lock baggy to deliver to Cohutta later?! WHAT??? Between that and Isaac sitting int he pool in a full suit makes me think Isaac wasn't given enough screen time. Guess he never comes back though.
"I'm not a harbering anger person." Theresa says as she quite stand-offishly says "It can be whatever you want. If you want to be cool, we can be cool."
TL/DR or Overall season thoughts:
Honestly this may be my new favorite season to this point. I love the structure. I love the randomness of teams and dynamics. I'm not crazy on the randomness of the draw, I wish there was a little more of an element to factor in there, but overall I love the structure of the season. The final was great, I just wish it could have been entirely solo and not timed sections. Make that all one go and it'd be an amazing final.
Bummed to see CT go right before the final. Sucks it had to be CT vs Johnny with the other Johnny freely skating by on luck to the final his rookie season.
I saw a lot of people talking about the Jordan/Johnny beef coming in to this season and I still come out of it not really feeling Johnny at all. I didn't really like Jordan coming out of Rivals other than it was two rookies giving the vets a run for their money. But over the course of this season between him and Laurel hooking up, and everyone talking so much shit on Jordan I kind of swung a little to Johnny's side of the argument. But I think the reunion brought me back to perspective and back to still disliking Johnny. If you just take this season and take what we see of Jordan he doesn't come off as consantly being cocky and showboating. What we get is every time he does anything even remotely over the top we cut to Johnny talking about how much he's showboating and being cocky. I think the edit and Johnny colors the perception of Jordan more than anything we actually see of Jordan. At the reunion Johnny had literally nothing to say when they brought up the disagreement other than saying Jordan was dumb for going in the Elimination, which I agree with. Other than that his arguments kept moving and changing, from him being cocky, to him showboating, to him just working out constantly. It's like Johnny personally didn't like him and just skewed every single thing with a negative slant. I don't perceive the dude doing a flip in the water as showboating just because Johnny takes it that way. I don't take him wanting to work out more to make up for only having one hand in a physical competition as being cocky and wanting to be better than everyone else just because that's how Johnny wants to paint it.
I feel like the perception and the edit was heavily influenced by Johnny and how he viewed Jordan specifically, where we could have just been shown him actually doing that? Instead all we see is him making some dumb pick up line from a season ago? lol
Also this season probably had the best reunion? Shocking with it being Moseley and last seasons being so damn horrible with him hosting.
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My overly documented and long winded journey through The Challenge for the first time. (Part 7: Rivals 2)

Alright I'm returning for another full season first watch and reaction thread. I hated Battle of the Seasons quite a bit, took a few days off without watching any Challenge, but I was starting to get an itch to get back to watching so my break didn't really last all that long. There's a quick small TL:DR at the end basically summing up my overall thoughts on the season. No real in depth look at anything, that's more throughout the notes.
Part 1: Fresh Meat - Duel 2
Part 2: The Ruins
Part 3: Fresh Meat 2
Part 4: Cutthroat and Rivals 1
Part 5: Battle of the Exes
Part 6: Battle of the Seasons
Rivals 2
EP 1:
Fucking Frank!
I love CT
Is this like 4 in a row for Jonna and Jasmine?
I for some reason didn't think Johnny was on this season.
Wes and CT? Get fucked everyone.
Oh god, Pennsetucky again.
Diem and Aneesa have beef?
Trey calling it true about Zach "He's extremely insecure."
"Thank god I got in a fight with one of the biggest guys."
Glad to see Emily again. Paula and Emily seems like an OP duo, can't see any girls comparing.
Shain Gandee and Pennsetucky back on my tv screen.
Dunbar calling someone else being bad at this game is hilarious.
Damn Jonna is cute!
Johnny and Frank?!?! What? I can't imagine this going well.
Ok, this challenge house may be the best to this point.
CT instantly flirting.
Johnny definitely politicking and putting himself as some house authority instantly.
Zach calling everyone a kid is annoying.
"CT's not intimidating" Ok bud, coming in trying to step up to the biggest guy, I see you. lol
About CT: "It depends on which one of his personalities comes out!" lol
Tyrie already slacking this season, falling asleep on a toilet. lol
Oh Nooooo Diem with cancer again! :(
Diem looks cute as hell with the short hair honestly. Quit wearing wigs!
This may be the most athletic full set of girls on a season yet. Not too many blatant standouts on the low side.
"60% fall rate" no one falls. Eat shit Johnny!
I would seriously think you can just chalk Emily and Paula in for the final and likely winning it. From episode 1. Not even joking. If Emily/Paula and Wes/CT aren't the two winners I'll be shocked.
My wife doesn't even watch this show except for the episode here and there and just saw Wes/CT were a pair and asked if that was fair lol
I love CT. Him giggling because he basically gets to tackle Wes over and over is great.
Tyrie and Dunbar lost? No way! lol
Calling Zach and Trey the pair that hates each other most? That seems weak. Zach just hates everyone.
CT gunning for Johnny? I didn't think I could love CT more. Throwing them against DunbaTyrie is a dumb joke tho lol You're just painting a target on yourself pointlessly when there is almost no way they'd lose.
At least everyone else realizes CT is being dumb.
Opposite sex decides? Wow, I like it. Politicking became more important.
CT calling Johnny on his shit! I love it. "You're going to tell everyone you'll take them to the final and pick em off little by little!"
Diem and her territorial-ness over CT shows up instantly!
Someone leaving already?!
Frank trying to talk shit, color me surprised. "A shot was made and a war was started. Now I'm going to finish it." Whatever you say Frank. I look forward to you randomly talking shit once someone is already in an argument so you can just gang up on someone and not be the only one on your side. Your schtick is tired and it's only been one season dude!
If there was anyone I think Dunbar and Tyrie could beat it'd be Derek and Robb.
Oh my god Dunbar is so god damn terrible. Even when you get to the bell first you fall and miss hitting it and have to get back up to hit it? You are awful dude. Sit down, retire. Seriously wow, you're awful.
Just terrible. Dunbar trying to put it on Tyrie haha god damn dude. Walk away.
Johnny honestly playing smart. Paint a common target for enough people and it keeps you out of being the target.
EP 2:
CT has a thing with ninja gear. This is like the third season he's brought up ninja gear.
What is with these challenge houses having terrible cooling? Everyone is literally camped in the living room for air?
Frank wanting to get in to a random argument that doesn't concern him? Wow, so refreshing. Once again it's only when it's like five people around arguing with one person that frank jumps in and screams over everyone. lol somehow Frank is the victim. I fucking hate this guy.
Ct is shit for pinning lying about hooking up on Anastasia, but it's shit on Anastasia to go around publicizing the shit. Wes actually talking truth. It's none of anyone's business.
Why does everyone hate Cara? I don't remember people out and out hating her this much. Something happen before the season or something? She said something about putting her foot in her mouth on twitter or something? Like I know there was some Wes/Paula/Tyler shit from Rivals 1 I think, but this seems like all around hate. Plus I think most of that beef was on Laurel.
Wes seriously seems so slimmed down from earlier seasons.
Wes you manchild! "I can't put my face in another mans crotch." Grow up
Why are these people so damn whiny. Now Preston too?
CT and Knight just grabbing each other and trying to do it is pretty hilarious. Why stop them? You could have just said they can't win lol
This comp does kinda suck though...
Diem acting like she is scared to death to be between Aneesa's legs? Trying to get the ball from around her legs? What?
The people that can't get up and decided to just roll the way lmao
Everyone hating Trishelle is a-ok with me. Sucks for Sarah though.
CT probably crossing his fingers hoping for Anastasia to get eliminated.
Sarah straight up asking Trishelle if she plans on quitting lol Damn Sarah
Diem, lose the wigs. The short hair is adorable and cute as hell.
You can kind of tell CT kinda gets off on Anastasia flipping out and thats kinda gross...
I am developing quite a crush on Jonna this season. She's coming to these elims with absolute fire looks.
CT giving help to Cara/Cooke haha
Why is Cara so damn greasy looking?
TJ has no time for people shit! "It's three minutes..." Basically suck it up and hang upside down for 3 damn minutes you baby.
Just gonna fall in your own piss Cooke? Really? I mean I guess it's motivation not to lose? one person using both saws cheating? It showed Cara and Cooke and Cooke was using both saws while Cara held on to Cooke so she wasn't moving all around. That seems counter to the point of the comp. I kind of miss the days of these challenges having intricate rules and technicalities. Ripping the flag in Duel 1 and the jeep push in sand in Gauntlet 3.
TJ talking shit again! "Guess you should smoke cigarettes and not eat?" I can't understate how much I love TJ talking shit.
Apparently these seasons have a communal fuck spot? Exes was the laundry room and I guess this season is the closet? First CT/Anastasia now Sarah/Jordan? lol They said "Nah, we're putting a camera in there this time."
EP 3:
Why are they suddenly naming these episodes after shows and movies? Have I just not noticed this before?
Good for the rookie dude being bi and owning it.
Fucking Shain Gandee dude. Jesus. He just instantly says "That's Marlin" like it's the fucking punchline of a hilarious joke. You can't for a second think that's funny. Oh now he's talking about melting a toothbrush and stabbing him? What?!
Trishelle repeating Robin's weird argument of asking Aneesa what she is? EEEESH
"TRASH-ELLE"!!!!!! Aneesa, I love you. Forget any negative things I said about you in the past.
"She's a stripper!" What? lol what does that have to do with anything? Not making a good argument when you're talking about all the things she is and then bringing up her being a stripper? Trashelle you have some high horse complex, for sure.
Sarah fucking calling Trishelle quitting days ago?!?! Definitely seems like there were some strong vibes coming off Trishelle from the start.
"She's so many things, so anything will offend her!" Trishelle you just sound like trash. If you can't talk without offending multiple groups of people the problem is you and the way you talk.
I swear if Sarah doesn't get another teammate after Cooke does I'll be fuming.
Ugh, fucking Knight you douche. If you're always the bad guy in almost all situations, the issue isn't the people. It's you.
Of fuck off! She left because of a family issue is no damn difference than someone quitting! Neither one of those scenarios the partner has any fucking control over!
That's horseshit.
DQ'd for a fight? Get a new teammate. Leave for family? Get a teammate? Quit or be a shitty person that happens to be Sarah's partner? Sarah goes home too! Fuck offfffff.
Wes: "I hate to say it, but me and CT are bonding." You love to see it.
If their time limit was 10 minutes and 30 seconds was being added after their time why wouldn't you just DQ them at 9:30. No one would be able to go past 10 minutes anyways. You're just giving them an extra 30 seconds to get farther than someone else that DQ's at only 10 minutes? I really feel like they don't think these challenges through all that well.
I feel like half the guys this season have had zero screen time.
Ty continues to be shit at anything taking longer than 2 minutes.
"I need this old man to fire up his wheel chair and keep going." Frank literally doesn't know how to talk without talking shit.
This Elim challenge of braking the stick on each other just sounds like a leftover jackass stunt.
Mad props to Nany. There's women still today that will look at a bi dude and say hell no he's gay and won't even think about dating them. There was this exact case on that Netflix reality show love is blind or something like that. The girl was repulsed and basically quit right away.
EP 4:
Jordan taking no time moving on from Sarah lmao
Damn Nany also just moving along the men too!
Diem girl, damn chick. Move the hell on. Either decide you want to be with CT or ignore what he does completely. Writing a rap?!?! lol
Fucking Pennsetucky. "Woah woah woah, you're gonna just lie to her?"
"Jemmye is one of the prettiest girls in the house." What a weird way for Leroy to come out about having the worst taste in the house. (Top tier: Theresa, Nany, Jonna. Bottom Tier: Jasmine, Pennsetucky.)
Paula with some weird ass makeup for this challenge making her look like she has face bruises walking in today.
"I don't like going first, it's a disadvantage." No shit, why do we need at this commentary every single damn challenge?
Wes and CT, it definitely came down to looking like Wes being impatient and then CT getting annoyed and frustrated with him.
The hetero guys on this season literally can't help themselves but make gay jokes any possible time they can.
Emily/Paula continue to dominate.
A fucking Johnny bobble-head...
I don't hate that vets come in with the idea of protecting each other. I hate that some people come in and just expect it and are appalled by even the suggestion of a vote coming their way. You are not entitled to skate by simply because you've been on multiple seasons. Grow up. That was one of my favorite aspects of Battle of the Seasons. The rookies came in and said fuck that noise and the vets got fucked because of it.
Why is everyone so hateful on Cara Maria? What did I miss? I get like the attitude aspect, Cara is whiny
"I know how to politic like nobody's business." You mean the guys in control are sticking to vets strong and it scares the rookies from disrupting it? Sure, good politicking Diem...
"Ketchup is my biggest fear." Sentences I never thought I'd hear in my life.
This entire Jemmye rant I barely make out any words.
Imagine seeing Theresa and Pennsetucky and thinking "I can't tell which is more attractive." Hahaha and Jimmye says theres is the backup plan haha
I feel like all these Elim's that look scary and intimidating are always the biggest let downs. The flyswatter slap off comes to mind.
I feel like this whole Elim is specifically designed for Cara Maria.
"I have a battery pack like that I attach to my nipples." Damn Cara...
Maybe my knowledge of batteries being attached to things, and electricity in general sucks, but I feel like the batteries only being touched by one side(assuming positive) and there being no real completion of the circuits would make thi....oh It's all for show. Yeah, that makes sense. No one goes home.
Fucking thank you Diem. Go without the wigs! Damn girl, you look so much better.
If the non-vet girls want shit to change they need to start putting in the vet guys to get any kind of shift to happen.
EP 5:
If anyone is fucking, you can guarantee Jasmine is trying to catch a glimpse.
Ugh, Wes and his territorialness. "How dare you have sex in your bed...with my ex-hookup!"
"This is cute." Oh, this definitely bothers Wes. It turns in to Leroy being the insecure one! lol
Don't show me Zach crying, I don't care about this fuckhead.
Oh god, it turns in to a fucking panic attack lol screaming and throwing a tantrum. Yup, thanks, fuck this guy. "You had a healthy neice/nephew!" "Fucking fuuuuuuuuuuuuck, I'm panicking!!!!! HULK SMASH!"
I'm a fan of this Jordan dude. "My tummy hurts and I miss my family. Time to have a hissy fit."
Frank has to turn it into being about himself somehow.
Zach having this panic gets like a full medical team in the house. Big E looking like he's having a heart attack got another fat dude and a girl to throw him on a stretcher after a half hour of waiting lmao "Here's some pepto you giant baby."
Oh, wild glimpse of Diem's amazing political prowess, talking to Wes!
Finally the rookie girls smartening up and trying to stick together. Diem also suggesting letting Jasmine/Theresa go by too? That seems off..
This Jordan guy continues to be crazy competitive. These Rookies are impressive.
Zach-"I'd rather not pull for Frank and Johnny." Frank-"That's a good idea Zach." lol this is so hilarious and dumb to me.
Letting Wes and CT of all people just walk by?! They're two of the best competitors, don't give them an advantage lol
Blaming one single person not pulling out of like 8? I don't like Johnny, don't get me wrong, but that one damn person isn't making a difference on your ass sucking.
Zach is the biggest god damn baby. "I sucked at a challenge? Who is the first and easiest person I can put this blame on other than myself?"
I am completely with Zach on Johnny being a snake. The logic behind it is just stupid and whiny.
The two closest people to Leroy completely fucks him! Haha the stupidity! If you're just going to throw a vote away, mayyyyybe not throw it on the people you're clost to trying not to make a target of yourself.
Don't blame someone else for your damn vote! You voted for him. You wanted to skate by without making a target and did something stupid. Your own dumb mistake. Live with it.
Love this elim challenge. Get to the bell and win basically, but smash shit to do it.
Ty and Leroy losing lmao
Oh god, Zach throwing the helmet. What a dumbass.
Zach, you dumbass. "That's clearly not what happened." I always knew your sense of reality was off.
Ty winning an elim by default is great.
Man, Frank saying all this shit about self reflection and realizing when Zach is an ass. If only he could look in to a mirror...
EP 6:
Oh no, a storm is brewing!!
Theresa, let it the fuck go. You voted on your own damn dude, that's your problem.
Production change idea: Change the "clue" text messages to random ominous things TJ says after an elimination. Make it a suspenseful end to an episode and still get the clue out of the way. Then you can have the replay of it and speculation by the players on the next episode as a recap. The text stuff is just kind of dumb and real played out now.
Freinemies is great, but what this show really needs is superlitives. Calling out the cockiest, the ugliest, cutist for the whole cast would cause so many laughs and drama. Shocked they haven't done it. Same basic prensiple, but everyone should be answering them with everyone as an option.
She didn't say it was your favorite Aneesa, she said it was your best.
Definitely not your face Jemmye
Hair is the best body part lol
I wish I knew why everyone hated Cara so much, but how much it bothers her is fun to watch.
Pennsetucky is like the only to take it personal. Of course.
Yes, Johnny the most fake, and the one that needs the most attention. Definitely.
Emily and Puala literally just blazing through these challenges. Seeing Emily be so good, just makes me want to see Laurel and Emily on the same season.
Pennsitucky lol such a sensetive baby.
Wes is going to say Theresa is the trashiest. There is literally no doubt. Of course he'd say that. CT being smart! Fucking genius not answering.
Johnny just owning it and calling Paula trash lmao
Ty/Leroy accidentily being sent in to Elim and winning by default and then coming back and getting first to control the order on guy day. What a turn of events.
"Jordan gave me my word so he better not be going back on that." Nothing says he'll be going back on his word more than this being put in the ep.
Johnny OF COURSE, wanting to sit back and control the game and not let people play their own games. You're a rookie, don't try to play. That'd be a mistake.
I want to see the 3 hours of footage it took for CT and Wes to coordinate their nomination vote.
"I gotta show these old bitches how to do an elimination." Jasmine ain't taking ya'lls shit.
I never follow with the relationships between season. I'm still wondering about Ty/Paula, and Jonna/Zach lol It's like every season is basically a reset unless it specifically brings it up.
All this Theresa anger is all predicated on her making a dumb mistake. She wanted to play the middle and not pick a side. Now suddenly she fucked up and is angry and wants to pick a side, but everyone would much rather just cut you loose.
I see treadmilles, I'm instantly thinking goodbye Theresa.
Diem wearing an ugly ass "Team Jemmye/Camilla" shirt.
These people act like they're shocked Jasmine has basic motor functions lol "Jasmine is actually catching these!" "I'm surprised when Jasmine actually catches it!" ....what?
Wes is such a child. 3 seasons later literally still bent out of shape with Theresa liking Kenny.
EP 7:
Diem, you should literally have no hope at all for the final. Why are you even wasting your time thinking you have a chance?
Shock collars? I like this comp already.
Aneesa screaming in pain at the smallest shock?
Wes and his damn ego.
Cara and her shock sex thoughts continues.
"Just listen!" "To what?!" lol Cooke trying to go by the sound of the ocean.
Cooke calling Cara on her shit. Talks a big game of loving shocks and shit, but can't stop freaking out during the comp.
Ty and Leroy completely lost and going back to the start haha
Oh my god, Jonna and Nany literally making it nowhere and DQ'ing. Wow
Jesus, someone please take out Johnny and Frank for me please. I already hate these two, why put them together and make them stronger?!
Ty and Leroy back in the Elim. This is the biggest back and forth swing people can have in just two episodes.
Johnny, fucking Johnny. Instantly going in to try and control the game. Of fucking course.
Emily, fucking thank you!!! "Johnny, youre just wanting to help you and Frank farther along to keep winning. Which is fine, but just say it." Thank you Emily!!!
Frank bitching, and trying to act like the bigger guy by saying he wasn't campaigning on a technicality.
Fucking Frank. Jumping in peoples faces and screaming INSTANTLY. Oh look, he also only does it when other people are around and are also yelling/arguing with the person. I'm really noticing a trend with this guy... Not really, I been knowin!
Johnny, Franks ego does not need any extra stroking.
Jordan is completely right. Girls literally said they are voting in Knight until Johnny/Frank walked in the room.
Please Frank, say "check your facts" again.
"There's a team everyone wants here until the final."(Knight/Preston) You know...except the girls who were going to be voting them in. They're not just here to make the final easier for you Johnny.
The headbanger elim? I'd be all money on Ty/Leroy, if I didn't have a long history of knowing Ty runs out of complete gas after like 30 seconds of effort. Marlon and Jordan both seem pretty damn fast too. That and the editing of Johnny talking Jordan down about Rookie aspect makes me think Marlon/Jordan are pulling this win out.
Guys, they aren't sleeping on you guys, they want you gone because you've won multiple challenges.
God damn I hate Frank. I don't think I could hate anyone any more than this dude.
Hahaha Jordan/Marlon pulling that shit out!
The one thing I like about Wes, is that he sees and knows how Johnny plays/wins the games and he likes basically anything that disrupts that. He wants Jordan/Marlon back in the house because they're good competitors and it disrupts Johnny/Frank. Everyone else all looks shocked, Wes genuinely looks like he's having fun.
If the guys don't immediately start targeting Diem/Paula/Camilla, the people Johnny will always have on their sides, they're stupid.
EP 8:
Ugh, can I just not give a damn about Diem and CT?
Fuck Frank. "These new kids." Lmao you have one damn season under your belt! Literally the same amount as a lot of the people you're bitching about! He's right about Pennsetucky though lol "What the fuck is a Jemmye?! Besides the ugliest girl to ever be cast on one of these shows?!" That rough...but accurate.
Jemmye talks non stop shit about Knight, but instantly wants to be angry at him for not standing up for her. These two fucks are white trash personified.
Camilla got that Hulk anger strangth. Good god chick. She's pushing Emily around! lol
On this trapese competition, I don't get why you would want to ride the bar down to the water? Why not jump in and immediately swim unstead of waiting for it to take you down? Some kind of unmentioned time penalty?'
These people suck ass at swimming!
Please cut back to Diem trying to get Aneesa to swim laps and her saying "We will never have to do that." lol
"Die in the water, die in the water, die in the water!" and "I know my time is better than both of theirs, it's just up to Johnny's." I fucking hate Frank
Diem has absolutely no faith in Aneesa, but somehow thinks she has a chance at the final? Chick...
Cara/Cooke again. If you come on this show and don't expect heights and're fucking stupid.
The god damn vets!!!! Ughhhhhh. Literally my least liked thing about this show. Can't vote for Paula or Diem so you have to vote in Jonna, Frank, sorry bud. Vets get to skate by in this game, that's just how it works! You did better last year when you came in and said fuck that and got the vets out instantly. Now when it's your teammate and you're walking to the final it's all abored the vet ship!
Why go to a commercial? There is absolutely zero chance Johnny would allow their vote go against Paula or Diem lol
Fucking Frank, gotta be antagonistic. Gotta piss someone off and then act like the victim and be a bully about it. You fucked over Jonna and then you want to act smug about it and act like she can't be upset with you. I fucking hate this guy.
Frank wearing a god damn Jonna headband. You're a fucking joke.
Cooke/Cara are just going to eliminate everyone on their way to the final lol
Oh god, frank and his damn whining! Going to the vets and whining to them isn't getting you anywhere dude. They're going to reinforce whatever you whine about because you're going along with letting them walk to the final!
EP 9:
I want CT to be asking Wes the entire season if they're friends yet like he did with Adam.
I can't describe how little I care about Diem and CT.
CT sleeping on the floor next to her is sweet though.
What is with all the writing on everyone this season during the challenges? So weird.
CT and Johnny rematch challenge? This time without Adam not being able to get up?
Darn. Forgot CT/Wes pick order.
Calling Johnny out of shape when he's probably in the best shape he's been in to this point in the show is funny.
Cara Maria talking so much about her knee pads seems weird seeing as how it never seems to slip?
Pennsetucky just flipping around like a dying fish while trying to climb up is hilaroud.
Johnny saying it will take CT and Wes at their best to bet them lol They have like 40 seconds left with all the balls already put in. Johnny and Frank and their ego's just go so well together.
"That was a warmup!" "Nah, that couldn't be it? Could it?" "I think we just won?" Love the CT/Wes dynamic when they're forced to work together.
Johnny bitching about them not being humble winners is a huge fucking chefs kiss lmao Johnny is the biggest fucking loudmouth at challenges! You god damn fuckboi.
Please let Johnny be in the last elimination again. Pleaseeeeeeeeeeee
Frank, you god damn bitch.
Johnny gets to walk to the final again.
Wes/CT/Johnny instantly letting shit fly now that they're in the final is fucking amazing.
At least Johnny, unlike his partner, isn't waiting until like 3 or 4 people are engaged in an argument to start in on it.
I hate Johnny, but Wes and CT look way more dumb in this argument.
Knowing Johnny goes on to win a lot of these challenges and comes back a lot makes this argument even more hilarious.
"I have a BMW, a Porsche, a monster truck and 3 businesses!!!!" Ok Wes...
"Are those matchstick cars?" lol
Where was this Wes/CT shit talking during the whole damn season?! It's like they were all pussies and saw how Seasons went down and realized they'd get mopped up if they didn't stick together.
"I don't have to say shit, I'll just leave it all out on the field." Fucking Frank, literally all you do is fucking talk shit.
Johnny getting his usual suspects of Paula, Camilla and Frank to patch up his ego after the fight. CT and Wes looked absolutely dumb, but Johnny and Frank just seem so ridiculous with this conversation afterward.
The Rookies stick around! I'd be worried about these rookies if I were Johnny/Frank.
EP 10:
This episode can basically be summed up with one long tirade about the entitelment of the vet women in these seasons. We saw it all the way back on the island with Johanna saying she expected to just be handed a key at the end. Now here you are with Diem absolutely losing her shit the second she might be at risk. There is literally nothing I hate more in this game than the entitelment the vets have.
Hearing shit like "Cara and Cooke just get to walk to the final and they've done nothing." or "I've worked my ass off to get here!" fuck the fuck off Diem. Cara and Cooke literally took out just about every other couple, went in too the elims constantly! Politicking and sitting around skating on old friendships isn't putting in work! You haven't done shit, but sit around all season trying to encourage your team mate to prepare for the final because you just expact to walk to the final without any issues.
Paula and Emily going in to beg and cry to the rookies who they sent in repeatedly is just fucking gross.
You want to go to the final, then fucking win!
I can't stand seeing these people throw around their "power" and "influence" all season and then flip their shit the instant they have none.
Ok, maybe I'm crazy and blinded by CT love, but where is the manipulation on CT's part? What did he ask for, what did he do differently that he doesn't always do? He flirts constantly. Diem is the one who ended things, Diem is the one that gets jealous and territorial, Diem is the one who freaks out and suddenly gets mad at the other girls for seemingly unrelated issues. It more seems like Diem is trying to use CT and is now asking for reciprecation and getting mad it isn't automatically given.
What Johnny is doing throughout the season is more manipulation than CT. Johnny is constnatly getting in Diem's head about CT and blaming CT for Diem going in to elimination. How? What are you talking about?
By Diem and Aneesa, I have absolutely zero faiith in you guys for this comp...
EP 11:
Diem instantly flipping her shit.
Camilla and Jemmye definitely seem to have a height difference, but they don't freak out.
Diem "I can't reach! It's not fair!" Fucking Diem, good god.
Diem has always been bad at these challenges. That's why she flips out.
"They played a good game, and they deserve a lot of respect." Nah Wes, this ain't it cheif.
Why is Paula acting like she's coaching Emily on her first final? She was literally just in one on Exes?
I don't want another cold final!
Cara waiting until she's literally in a final to try to learn swimming. Jesus.
My thoughts were initially on Paula and Emily being a shoe in for the win, but she now just seems too much in her head. I can see her having somoe kind of break down.
Tokyo seems nuts. In the middle of a city? This I'm interested in.
"I don't want an even playing field." God damn it Wes, don't be a bitch.
"It's a crapshoot, something anyone can win." Where's all that confidence and brovado Wes?!
I love that they're afraid of the rookies.
These fucking vets and hating not knowing whats coming up. God damn the vet mentality is so infuriating.
Why are these bus cams so ominous?
"There's ninjas" These people and ninjas!
No location change! Thank you!
Tokyo would have been really cool to see though.
"Throwing twists and turns through the season"?? What? You didn't have a single elimination, what are you talking about?
Third team being out almost instantly seems fine. There's usually one team that wouldn't make it anyways.
It sucks that both the teams the vets are worried about are bad at swimming. To see Johnny and Frank eliminated instantly would be amazing.
At least the swim isn't that huge of an aspect. The puzzle and kayak will be more than enough to make up time.
These people talking about geometry like that matters at all lol
Pennsetucky just seems like useless garbage.
Wes and CT running away with it. No one else seems even close.
What a lackluster first half of a final?
Swim > Puzzle > Kayak done?
Fingers crossed for a Johnny/Frank loss.
"I am living a nightmare." Jemmye, you are my nightmare.
Let's go Cara and Cooke!
I don't care which of Paula or Camilla get eliminated. This is win/win.
I'd rather Emily make it, but meh, I'm tired of the vet entitlement.
Timed out, and a kayak race? lol
Well, at least there was hope of Johnny and Frank being eliminated.
I hate Frank
Nightmare Island lol
All those times in Fresh Meat of Wes skipping puzzles and now they're getting all these puzzles right.
I really couldn't ask for this to go any differently at this point.
I really don't like the catch up assist that is built in to the first place teams having to clear some kind of blockage. You're just artificially slowing down the first place team for no reason.
"1 times 1 is... That's how you do multiplication right?" Wow Frank. You stupid fuck. Wow
Johnny and Frank getting help. Of course.
Cara NOT being the one struggling?
"Wes is having trouble with his poop soup." What a line.
Paula and Emily are flying through this gross food. Jesus! Emily literally just jamming maggots in Paula's mouth! Damn!
Hahahaha the cascade of liquid coming out of CT at one point haha
I haven't seen Johnny put a single thing in his mouth lol Yet he's the one saying Frank is breaking down.
I thought Durian fruit just stunk and wasn't actually bad? Maybe I'm remembering wrong.
Johnny is literally just standing around doing nothing!!
Still have yet to see Johnny put anything in his mouth other than water.
Oh wait, he put these weird dried things in his mouth. He ate something.
Maybe I'm realizing why everyone hates Cara. Fuck she doesn't stop whining! Everything is a struggle with her.
Cara can't figure out "1-2-3" lol
I'd love to see Emily, Laurel, Sarah and Ev all on an individuals season. They need to do some kind of best of the best season. Somehow take individuals win or success rates and get the people that have the highest rate of winning in these challenges.
Lets go Wes and CT! It seemed a little easy, but I really liked this last idol checkpoint.
So glad to see Frank and Johnny lose.
Seems I was vindicated in my early prediction of Wes/CT and Emily/Paula running away with this from the first episode.
I'll say it again. I'd love to see TJ hosts these reunions
Why is CT's mic so quiet?
Oh weird, cutting down the cast for specific segments?
God dammit, Pennsetucky, Ugh.
Knight seems drunk as hell.
Frank is the biggest fucking shit talker. He literally doesn't say shit unless there is like 3 other people involved first.
Knight is just so out of his mind.
I'm all for Frank getting hit, but Knight, jesus.
This is awkward as hell with Moasley trying to pull this back together lol Dude has zero care, he's just going in to the next cue card lmao
Sad to hear how much Diem was going on while recording the show. Can completely understand being all over the place. Still don't like the entitlement shit.
Cara trying to crawl up and grab Diem's hand and Aneesa yelling at her hahaha
This dude is such a terrible host. He doesn't even finish statements. He just kind of rambles.
Jemmye and Knight are straight trash.
"I play a mental game and I get in people's heads." Frank, shut the fuck up.
Pennsetucky literally wearing a ring in the shape of a gun. You can't make this shit up.
This reunion kind of sucks simply because the host has zero control over anything. He asks a question, barely, and then just doesn't say anything no matter how much people are talking over each other or how much silence there is. When Johnny and someone else have to jump in and say something when Jordan can't get more than 3 words in to a sentance that's when the host should step the hell up.
Instantly CT is walking all over him. You're asking too many open ended questions and letting them just mumble around them. Ask direct and simple questions and don't let them barrel over you. Jesus this is bad.
"Next questions robot!"
"They had everyone saying 'WTF'" what in the hell was that?!
"What did you not like about the Charades moment? Was it just that Knight called you out?" What the fuck kind of question is that? You need to ask for clarity on why that was wrong?
This reunion has just turned into shitting on this host being absolutely terrible.
TL:DR / Overall thoughts on the season:
I thought this was a really fun season to watch, but was a little disappointed in how predictable it was. I called CT/Wes and Paula/Emily within the first five minutes of the first episode. It just seemed like there was no possible way it was going to happen any differently. This season also didn't really have any kind of back and forth or dominating factor. It was more a season of watching the rookies and Cooke/Cara do everything they can to stick in until the end and then who of the vets was getting the short end of the stick. Fun season to watch, but a little anti-climactic.
Thanks for reading, I literally have no clue what is up next.
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[This Quest is Bullshit] - Chapter 12: A High Constitution Score Isn’t the Only Way We Protect Ourselves

New? Start here!
Wes spat out his juice. “Fate-al blow? You’re joking.”
“That’s what I said! Hells, if I didn’t know better I would’ve guessed you had somehow written my skill descriptions.”
“Me? You’re the one who went with ‘I’m not squatting I’m standing’ earlier today.”
“Ooooh,” Preston taunted. “He’s got you there.”
“And I stand by that!” Eve said. “Standing-not-squatting is a thousand times cleverer than ‘fate-al blow.’”
Wes flashed an incredulous look. “Cleverer?”
“It’s a word,” Preston backed her up. “It sounds stupid as all hells, but it is a word.”
“Either way,” Wes turned back to Eve, “you’re the one with a dumb pun for a skill name.”
“Not for long. If you got a new skill or upgrade for every level of Uncommon, I’m sure as hells getting one at Rare.
“None of mine ever changed names.”
Eve turned up her palms. “There’s a first time for everything. Maybe I’ll just replace it when I unlock a new one. I’m ability-capped anyway, and unless my math is wrong it’s only like a twenty percent boost.”
Wes rattled off the answer without pause. “It’s a twenty percent boost now. By the time you promote again it’ll be over a hundred.”
“You and your Int.”
“I’m serious,” the mage continued. “There aren’t any actual damage abilities that scale off Endurance. Considering your Adrenaline Rush can convert it to Strength, something like Fatal Blow is going to be your best bet.”
Preston added, “Especially if your base damage is already massive from hitting them with insane momentum.”
Eve leveled a glare at Wes. “Since when are you an expert on skill selection?”
He shrugged. “I’ve been in the guild longer than you, makes me your superior.”
She snorted. “Oh, does it, Mr. Tier 2?”
“That’s ‘Sir Tier 2’ to you. This team is a professional outfit.”
Preston stepped in, “Professional, huh? Then how come we still know nothing about your fancy new class, Sir Tier 2.”
Wes held up his hands. “Alright, you win. It’s not like I was gonna keep it secret. I’m an Acolyte of the Devouring Flame. Rare tier 2, mage-type, you know all that. It’s fifteen each flat Int and Spirit, then twenty points divided between Int, Spirit, Constitution, and a lone Endurance.”
“So… stats of a Rare tier 2 mage.”
“Right. The requirements and description talk a bunch about knowing the true nature of fire and wielding its insatiable hunger.”
Eve’s brow furrowed. “That’s not ominous at all.”
“Oh, just you wait,” Wes continued. “It gets worse. I got two new abilities, both passives. I’m pretty sure the first is really the core of the class, because it lets me gain mana from nearby natural fires.”
“What’s a ‘natural’ fire?” Preston asked.
“Something that’s actually burning,” the mage explained, “as opposed to the flames around my fist that Burning Hand generates.”
“So keep a torch or brazier lit and you can cast spells forever?”
He shrugged. “I haven’t tested it, and I’d probably have to keep giving it more fuel to burn, but yes. I can turn fuel into mana. Can’t say how fast or efficient it is, but it sounds useful.”
Eve looked up from her breakfast. “As long as you don’t go burning cities down to fuel your spells.”
Wes nodded. “Which gets me to the second passive. I can’t make heads or tails of it, so I’m going to show it to you so you know I’m not bullshitting you.” His eyes flashed blue as he pulled up his status screen.
Eve and Preston both leaned across the wooden table to stare at the reflection in the man’s eyes. Only a single skill description was in focus.
Passive Ability - Whispers of the Devouring Flame Hear them.
“Ayla’s tits,” Preston swore. “That’s terrifying.”
He ran a hand through his chestnut hair. “You’re telling me.”
“Maybe it’s a good thing,” said Eve. “Maybe our campfire will tell you the future. Or the brazier will give you dating advice.”
Wes shifted in his seat. “Or this ‘devouring flame’ whispers in my ear until I go mad and set you on fire.”
Preston placed a hand on his shoulder. “You’re not going to go mad. Unless you’ve done some evil shit without telling us, I don't see how you could’ve ended up with a detrimental skill. I’m sure it’ll turn out to be a good thing.”
“He’s right,” Eve added. “No way that skill turns you insane. I reserve the exclusive right to drive you mad, and any whispering candle is gonna have to wait its turn.”
Wes chuckled. “Thanks.”
“The real question is, whose skill will drive them mad first: your spooky whispers or the fact I have to live with an ability named fucking Fate-al Blow?”
Preston grinned. “I vote Eve. Hers is way worse.”
“Yes,” Wes admitted, “but what you’re forgetting is that I also have to live with the knowledge you have that skill.”
“Shit,” Eve cursed. “I can’t argue with that. Better send you to the asylum right now.”
“As if you could afford to put me up in an asylum.”
Eve snapped her fingers. “Good point. Sounds to me like you, oh dear party leader, should go ask the clerk about getting us another job.”
Wes cocked an eyebrow. “So now that you want something, I’m the party leader?”
Preston laughed. “That’s what you get for lording your two days of guild membership over her.”
Wes sighed as he pushed himself to his feet. “Alright, fine. At least I won’t antagonize the level fifty clerk. I suppose next you’ll want me to track down Alex and patch things up with her?”
“Actually,” Preston said, “I think Eve should do that.”
“What? Why me?”
“She empathizes with you,” the healer explained. “You proved your worth against Steven, and unlike Wes and me, you didn’t luck out with an Uncommon class. She’ll respect that.”
“Oh,” Eve paused as the information sunk in. “That’s actually really insightful. I’m impressed.”
Preston grinned. “What can I say? We priestesses are just more in touch with our emotions.”
Eve giggled. “Leaning in to it now, huh?”
“If the gods-damned Questing Stones are going to have a sense of humor, I will too.”
Eve stood, patting the acolyte on the back as she addressed Wes. “So you get us a new job and I’ll see about talking to Alex.”
“Sounds good to me. Meet back here for dinner?”
She nodded.
“Oh, and Eve?” Wes added. “Don’t get stabbed.”
“Last I remember, you’re the one who’s been stabbed before. By a goblin.
“Actually, never mind,” Wes said. “You should aggravate her just like that. I’m sure it’ll work out fine.”
“You know what?” Eve smiled as she stepped out into the city street. “Maybe it will.”
Eve stopped partway through her journey through the streets of Lynthia when she came across a message depot. She only had a few coins left after paying the assorted guild fees, but what use was money unspent? She’d happily skip a meal somewhere down the line if it meant getting a certain letter sent.
Though the office itself was fairly simple, a strange sense of nostalgia overcame her as she stepped inside. She didn’t realize why until she cast the first Appraise.
The place was filled with folks of a familiar class. Messenger Boys and Girls waited patiently for the next job while Couriers swapped packages back and forth. Eve smiled. If nothing else, the depot served as a reminder of the life she’d escaped, of the fate she’d shattered. She approached the counter.
Postage to Nowherested was only a silver, but the fee still left Eve with little more than the two coppers she’d started with. She refused to spend those.
Ma, I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, but it turns out my quest is a bit harder than it sounds. I’m writing from Lynthia to let you know I’ve unlocked a Rare class, I’ve joined the adventurer’s guild, and I’m loving every minute of it. Maybe someday I’ll make it home with that loaf of bread. Love, Eve
Eve exhaled as she handed the missive to the clerk behind the counter. She wished the slim parchment had space for more, or that her handwriting wasn’t so poor as to fit so little. Most of all she wished her Ma could see her now.
She passed right by a bakery as she left the message depot, not even bothering to check if the door was locked. It probably was. Either way, Eve hadn’t ventured out into the city to put more bakers out of business. Her first errand complete, she moved on to the second.
She had a Soldier to find.
The thwack thwack thwack of dull steel against wood filled the air as Eve crossed the yard. Men and women in varying quantities of armor swung their weapons about in a wide range of skill levels. While some expertly performed complex maneuvers against their wooden opponents, others somehow managed to miss the stationary dummies.
Alex was among the former.
“How did you find me?” she addressed Eve without pausing her routine.
“According to the guard I spoke with, there are only four training grounds in the city. I knew you’d be out practicing after yesterday, so it was just a matter of looking around. It took a bit of running, but that’s what I do.”
Alex swiped her spear in a series of slashes along the dummy’s neck. “Clever, aren’t you?”
“I try.”
She finished her pattern with a brutal strike that left her spear tip buried in the wooden man’s neck. “So why are you here?”
“I wanted to make sure you’re okay. We killed your ex and you stormed off and I haven’t heard from you since.”
Alex turned to face her. “For the record, I’m glad that little shit’s dead. He deserved what he got. And I didn’t storm off. I’m not obligated to celebrate with you; the job was done and I went home.”
“After yelling at Wes.”
“Because he was bragging.”
“He wasn’t bragging!” Eve exhaled. “He was excited to get a new class. You didn’t have to bite his head off.”
“And I didn’t have to cheer him on either. I’m your teammate, not your friend. I showed up on time, I did my job, and I went home.”
Eve took a step forward. “That’s not how this works. I need to know that I can trust you, that you’ll have all of our backs, even if you’re pissed at Wes for some gods-damned reason.”
Alex matched her, staring Eve down from her superior height. “And I’m telling you I do. Not because I’m your friend, but because I’m a professional.”
“That’s your argument? We don’t have to like you because you’re ‘a professional?’” Eve scowled. “If you’re such a pro, why did you take a mission to go after Steven? Why didn’t you tell us, your teammates, that we were hunting your own bloody ex boyfriend?”
Alex faltered.
Eve pressed on. “If you want us to trust you under the premise that you’re a professional, you need to actually act like one. Being a pro doesn’t mean being a dick to your teammates, it means not letting personal shit get in the way.”
“You’re right.” Alex spoke through gritted teeth. “I should’ve told you about Steven. That’s on me, and I’m sorry.”
“And Wes?”
“What do you want me to say? That I’ve been fighting my entire life to prove I’m worth more than fucking Common and I’m pissed that he gets a Rare class for free? Because I fucking am. Happy?”
Eve sighed. “Alex, I’m not here to rub it in your face. Look, if anyone knows what it’s like to fight for your place at the table, it’s me. I started as a Messenger Girl. I won’t speak for Wes because that’s his job, but I earned my class.”
“Did you earn it, or did your fire mage friend carry you to it?”
Eve’s laughter elicited a confused look from the tall warrior. “He wouldn’t have made it a day without my help. If anything, I carried him. In more ways than one.” She exhaled. “I understand your frustrations. I do. But it isn’t Wes’s fault that he got lucky and we didn’t.”
“So what do you want, Eve?”
“I want to help. I want you and Wes not to yell at each other. I’d like to be friends if we can.”
It was Alex’s turn to let out a sigh. “I’m sorry, Eve, but that’s not on the table. Not now. I apologize for my lapse in professionalism, and I will strive to perform better in the future.”
“Can I know why?”
She turned back to where her spear still rested planted in the dummy’s neck. “No. You can’t. Now let me practice in peace.”
“It won’t help, you know,” Eve called after her.
Alex pivoted on her heel to stare back at the Striker. “Help with what?”
“With your class. Practicing more won’t suddenly boost your rarity. It’s about taking risks, trying things others wouldn’t think to.”
“What’s your point?”
Eve gestured with open palms. “Look around you. Not a single Rare class among them. If you want your life to turn out differently from theirs, you need to do something different.”
“Practice isn’t about leveling up. It’s about surviving. A Rare class is only any good if you actually live long enough to use it.”
Eve nodded. “I can understand that. It’s admirable, even. Hells know I don’t have the patience to run drills all day. I just… I know how it is. My advice? Pick something you want, and give your everything to get it.
Eve quoted her class description, “Clench your fists and stand your ground and whisper defiance at fate itself. It’ll mean taking risks; it’ll mean making sacrifices; and it’ll mean trusting in the friends you make along the way. I can see the sweat on your brow, and I can see the absolute beating you gave that practice dummy. I know you’ll get there. You deserve it.”
At last the first chink in Alex’s armor appeared in the form of a thin smile. “Thanks. For what it’s worth, I think you deserve yours too.”
“Of course I do,” Eve chuckled. “I fought like hell for it. And you will too. Wes is arranging our next job as we speak.”
Alex yanked her spear from its place embedded in the dummy. “Guess I’d better get my practice in while I can, then.”
“I guess you should.” Eve didn’t press any further. Whatever reason Alex had for keeping her distance from the others, she clearly wasn’t ready to share. “I’ll see you back at the guild.” She turned to go.
“Hey, Eve?” the Soldier called after her. “You mentioned not having the patience to run drills. How about something a bit more interesting? I’m sure you’re dying to try out your new skills; why don’t you show me what you’ve got?”
“Are you asking for a bout?”
“You know I am.”
Eve spun back around, a smile already stretching across her face. “You’re on.”
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[This Quest is Bullshit] - Chapter 8: Welcome to the Guild

New? Start here!
The glass walls of Lynthia glimmered in the distance, its many prisms shattering the afternoon sun into a thousand rainbows. Wes approached. Eve, on the other hand, did the sensible thing, and stopped dead to gawk at the work of art before her.
“It’s beautiful.”
“It is,” Wes called back at her, “and you’ll have plenty of time to stare at it as we walk.”
Eve forced her gaping jaw shut, quickening her pace to catch up to her large companion. “It’s gotta get hot in there,” she said. “All that glass must…”
“I doubt it. The walls are a quest reward from Ayla herself. She’d be a pretty shit goddess if they made the city miserable.”
“Makes sense. Just explain all the hundreds of problems with glass fortifications as divine intervention.”
Wes shrugged. “I didn’t put them there. Take it up with Ayla.”
“Oh, of course. Let me just pop over to the divine plane for a chat with a goddess.”
“If you put it like that, it almost sounds as hard as popping over to the next town for a loaf of bread.”
Eve winked. “Almost.”
As they walked on towards the sparkling city, Eve slipped a hand into her pocket. Two copper pieces rested there, the same two her mother had given her to pay for her bread. It had only been a few days since she’d left Nowherested, but already the distance seemed an eternity. Multiple brushes with death had that effect.
She absent-mindedly rubbed the coins against each other for good luck. In a city like Lynthia, there’d be more than one baker. One of them had to have a loaf for her, right? Only so many bakeries could burn down before whatever curse or divine interference that plagued her made itself too apparent. Or so she hoped.
Eve quietly chuckled at the idea of every bakery in Lynthia simultaneously bursting into flame the moment she stepped through the gates. Would the authorities run her out of the city? Could they even hope to discover her connection to suspicious bread shortage? As per usual, she had no answers. At least the questions were amusing this time.
As it turned out, the only thing that happened when she stepped within the city boundary was a direct assault on all things olfactory.
Lynthia stank.
This wasn’t the foul scent of manure in a freshly fertilized field or fumes wafting from the local tannery or the fetid decay of a trash heap in the summer sun, but a demented panoply of all that and more. It clung to Eve’s nose, tracing her every step as she walked the rough cobblestone.
How do people live like this? the Courier wondered. She swallowed down bile as a breeze blew a fresh wave of the sickening mixture into her face. She hated it. Even as the walls loomed above in all their towering splendor, the stench and the filth and the thickness to the air grated against Eve’s very being.
Ten minutes later she’d already grown accustomed to it.
By the time they stopped to ask a uniformed guard for directions, the stink had already faded to the back of Eve’s mind. By the time they crossed the threshold of the local adventurer’s guild, she had more pressing matters to think about.
The place was a menagerie.
Ice Mages and Axe Throwers and Hedge Knights milled about the common room, laughing and drinking with men and women of every class Eve could’ve imagined, and a few she’d never have thought to. Interestingly enough, not a one of the guildsmen she Appraised had a higher level than she, though Eve was smart enough to know they outclassed her.
Rarity trumped level. An uncommon class five levels lower could easily double her stats, and nothing about these adventurers could be called ‘common.’
Their diversity astounded her. The pale, freckled skin and chestnut hair that all citizens of Nowherested shared was practically absent. Guild members displayed every kind and combination of skin tones and hair colors, including a few shades Eve would’ve thought impossible without magical or alchemical intervention.
Her eyes grew wide when she spotted a gnome, but the nonhuman vanished in the crowd before she could point him out to Wes.
Two queues lined the inner wall, one for drinks and one for the clerk. Eve and Wes joined the latter.
“Let me guess,” the woman behind the desk greeted them, “the Stones gave you a quest and your backwards town shipped you off to be their great hero?”
Wes reddened. Eve snickered.
“And you,” the clerk turned to Eve, “are his naive young lover who left your quiet life to follow him, not because you’re destined for adventure, but because your love is special.”
Eve’s jaw fell open as her brow furrowed in offense. “Excuse yo—”
Wes cut her off. “My sister and I want to join the guild. We’ve seen battle on our way here. I’m sure you’ll find we’re more than qualified.”
Sister? Really? Eve supposed it would at least dismiss any assumption they were lovers, and they did look the part. Compared to how different the adventurers all were, she and Wes could practically be twins.
The clerk nodded. “You, I can help. Uncommon classes at tier 1 are… well they’re uncommon. Mages are in decently high demand right now, so you could find a team pretty easily, assuming you aren’t a dick, of course.”
Wes flashed a grateful smile. “Than—”
The woman cut him off as she addressed Eve. “You, on the other hand, don’t belong here. Doesn’t matter how high your level is or how useful your brother is, the guild doesn’t take noncombat classes.”
“But my quest is—”
“I don’t care if your life quest is to join this particular branch of the adventurer’s guild on this particular day. The rules are clear. Go home.”
“I can’t just go back after—”
“Then go deliver some packages for all I care. You’re a bloody Courier, that’s your job, isn’t it? Look, I’ve been through this exact same song and dance with a hundred hopeful idiots just like you. If the Questing Stones didn’t want you to be an adventurer, you aren’t. Go home.”
Eve shut her mouth. Rude as she was, yelling at the woman would accomplish nothing. She watched in silence as Wes went through the motions of signing his documents and paying his fee.
For an extra few copper, he booked a room, a lodging they’d have to share given Eve’s inability to do the same. Guild housing was for guild members.
He waited until they made it upstairs before going off. “That bitch. Who is she to say you’re less of an adventurer than any of those fools downstairs? I bet half of them would’ve—”
Eve stopped him. “It’s okay, Wes. Really. They can’t stop me from going on jobs with you, and I honestly couldn’t afford the fee anyway. Besides, I’m only six levels away from my next promotion, and that’s sure to be a combat class.”
“Speaking of…” Wes’s eyes went blue. “I just hit a milestone.”
“Ayla’s tits,” Eve swore as she noticed her own blinking notification. “So did I.”
“Wait, but you didn’t… I got a milestone for joining the guild.”
Cracking a smile, she checked the message.
Legendary Quest Milestone Reached: Be Rejected from the Adventurer’s Guild! +2000 exp!
Eve doubled over. Heaving, full-body laughs filled the tight room as the milestone sunk in. Wes gave her a questioning look.
“I got—” she managed through bursts of laughter, “I got a milestone for being rejected.
Wes snorted. “I guess it takes true skill to get turned away with a Legendary quest.”
“The worst part is, I can’t be mad at that clerk any more. Sure she’s a bitch, but she’s a bitch that just gave me five whole levels.”
Wes grinned. “Don’t worry; I can be angry for the both of us. Get anything good?”
“It dropped twice as much exp as the last one, but otherwise no, just the ten Endurance. You?”
“Doubled for you too? And here I thought I’d catch up some day. Your quest really is some bullshit, you know that right?” Wes said.
Eve just smirked.
He continued, “Anyway, I got a new passive called Minor Flame Manipulation. Not sure exactly what it does, but I imagine it’ll at least be useful for not starting any brush fires.”
Eve giggled. “Or putting them out once you do start them.”
“Or that.”
“Anyway,” Eve started for the door, “I vote we find some dinner and turn in early. You’ve got recruiting to do, and I want to stop by the bakery.”
Wes cocked an eyebrow as he moved to follow her. “Ooh, gonna start another fire? Which bakery?”
Eve smirked, calling back to him as she descended back down into the common room, “All of them.”
The glimmering city of Lynthia had a lot of bakeries. Fortunately enough, not a one of them went up in smoke over the course of Eve’s tour. She did, however, find one that had shut down after defaulting on its debts, one that had mysteriously run out of flour the night before, and one that had been booked out months in advance to prepare cakes for some noble’s wedding.
Eve rubbed her copper pieces together as she traveled from shop to shop, greeting each baker who’d taken the day off to visit his mother with a smile on her face. There were three of those.
As the day wore on, she found the string of coincidences more amusing than anything else. Of the nearly two dozen storefronts she visited, Eve’s favorites were the couple who’d closed up to go on their honeymoon and the elderly baker who’d gone to celebrate the birth of her grandson.
Well, she figured, it’s good I can do more than burn ‘em down. By her score, Eve counted roughly as many bakers closed for strokes of fortune as misfortune. She took solace in the idea that whatever god had found it funny to saddle her with such a ridiculous quest wasn’t outright malevolent.
Eve herself found the situation comedic at times. By the time she reached the baker who’d left his keys at home and thus missed his chance to rise the day’s bread on time, she’d already given up on actually completing her quest.
Curiosity more than ambition drove her to continue her search. She knew it wouldn’t be this easy, but the act of pushing coincidence to its limits entertained the Courier more than she could say.
Her money still rested safely in her pocket when she returned to the guild hall with an exhausted smile on her face.
Even seated, Wes towered over most of the guildsmen as he waved her over to a corner table. He wasn’t alone.
A thin man sat across from him. He was every bit Wes’s opposite, slim and boyish to the mage’s built masculinity. Golden locks draped across his soft face as he smiled at the new arrival. Eve Appraised him.
Level 6 Acolyte of Ayla Uncommon Tier 1 Class
Makes sense given the white robes, she thought, except for… “Doesn’t Ayla only accept female acolytes?”
The priest reddened. “You can take that up with the Questing Stones. They seem to have a sense of humor lately.”
“Believe me, I know.” She held out a hand as she took a seat. “I’m Eve.”
“Preston.” They shook.
Wes explained, “The guild is setting me up in a new team—classic healer, warrior, mage combo. Preston here is our healer.”
“And the warrior?”
Preston shrugged. “Some guy called ‘Alex,’ or that’s what the paperwork says. Hells know where he is.”
Eve’s eyes widened. “An acolyte who swears; color me impressed. Wes, how’d you manage to land the least-holy priestess in the entire church?”
Wes ignored Preston’s open mouth. “Same way you landed the most bullshit quest the Stones have ever given. Dumb luck.”
“I’m not a priestess, I—”
Eve cut him off. “What use is a priestess if nothing ever hits you?”
“You mean like that goblin never hit me?” Wes retorted. “Besides, a party’s gotta have more than just me. You can’t carry all of us.”
Preston furrowed his brow. “Wait, she carries—”
Eve interrupted, “Fair point. Maybe we do need a healer.” She turned to Preston, a teasing grin on her face. “Are those women’s robes?”
The acolyte hid a smile of his own by lifting a tankard to his mouth. “Is that a corpse’s blouse?”
Eve’s jaw hung open. Preston sipped his ale. Wes applauded.
“I like this one,” he said. “Welcome to the team.”
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My Friend's Bed Was Haunted by Sexual Energy

I was signing autographs in a downtown Richmond book boutique when Henry came in. I had been there for over four hours, sitting at a folding table scribbling my name on the inside covers of endless copies of Night Terrors, and was exhausted. My arm ached and my head throbbed. Meeting a perpetual flow of fans, many of them gushing, is hell to me. Don’t get me wrong, I love them dearly, but social situations tend to repel me, and actually engaging people I don’t know is an awkward near impossibility.
It was nearing one, dark and nasty without, and I was longing for a nice long nap in my hotel room when Henry’s turn came. I thought that the woman before him, a middle-aged blond in a brown leather jacket, would never leave. But thankfully Mr. Preston, the owner of the shop, ushered her away in his prissy manner.
I smiled at the man whom I did not recognize as Henry. He was tall and pale, his wavy black hair limp and lusterless, the flesh of his face tight and his eyes an unhealthy pink which bespoke sleepless nights. He smiled wearily yet warmly.
Without a word he passed me his copy of Night Terrors. “And how are you today?” I asked as I sat the book down, my blue Sharpie pen, the second one of the day, poised.
“Just peachy,” he croaked, and I at once knew the voice. I looked up, and Henry was still grinning as if through pain.
“Henry!” I cried happily, and extended my hand. He took it, and it was like a block of ice.
I and Henry were like brothers since time out of mind; our parents were high school friends who lived next to each other in the Pickett subdivision on Thomas Street, and from diapers we were always together, on play dates, camping trips, and backyard pool parties. We were inseparable all through our school years, and only parted, tearfully and grudgingly, when I left Picketts Meade to study at UVA in 1997. Since then, we had seen very little of each other, as I lived mostly in New York City and he in the house willed to him by his childless aunt and uncle.
“Hey, man,” he said, “what’s goin on?”
“Not much,” I said, “same old stuff. Working and all that. What about you?”
He shrugged. “Same here, pretty much. Listen, are you free this afternoon?”
“Sure, what’s up?”
“I got a ghost,” he said, as though the words were kidney stones.
“Sure, I’d be happy to come by.”
Henry smiled again. “Thanks. You know where my aunt’s old place is, right?”
“Ahhh, no, I forgot.”
“Okay, here.” Henry pulled out his wallet and opened it. In the translucent slot where preening fathers proudly put pictures of their children, there was a faded Polaroid of two boys, one tall and skinny, the other short and fat, at a lake on a summer day in 1988, mugging it up with their arms thrown around the other’s shoulder. I had the same one in my wallet.
Henry produced a small piece of creased paper and, with my pen, jotted down the directions.
“I’ll be there at around four or so,” I said, sticking the paper into my blazer’s breast pocket.
“Thanks a million, man, I can’t tell you the kinda shit I been goin through.”
“I can imagine.”
“Good book; is it number one?”
I snickered. “Ahead of Glenn Beck? I wish.”
Henry shrugged. “Still a classic. I can’t believe some of the shit. All of it’s real?”
“As you and I,” I replied. I jotted down my name and a small, personal message onto the inside cover, and handed it back to Henry.
“I’ll see you,” he said. “I’ll be there,” I responded with a smile.
Almost two hours later I left the bookstore by the back door, emerged into a narrow ally of grimy brick walls, and carefully crept toward busy 5thstreet. Above, the sky was malevolently silent.
Before leaving the relative safety of the alley, I looked both ways along the sidewalk, and found it empty save for several rushing, bundled forms. For a moment I was reminded of those old shots of The Beatles running from mad throngs of screaming women through the streets of London, and smiled.
I stepped into a freezing gust and hurried up the sidewalk, passing drab storefronts darkened by the gloomy afternoon light. A Ford Focus passed by on the street in a splash of puddled rain, its red taillights glowing satanically in the mist.
Ahead, a brave hotdog vendor, possibly a transplanted New Yorker, stood tensely behind his cart, ready to feed the world. He offered me a taste of his wares, and the almost desperate imploring of his voice touched me. Imagining poverty and mounting bills, I bought a small fountain Coke even though I wasn’t thirsty, and almost as soon as I was out of sight I cast the cup into a metal trash bin, the clanking ice cubes within having sapped the heat from my hand.
Slowly the scenery bled into one of the residential. Dirty Brownstone tenements marched dismally into the ashen day, their crumbling stoops guarded by rusted metal sentries overflowing with rank refuse.
I finally came to the small lot where I had left my Jeep in-between a pick-up truck and a hatchback. The latter was gone, replaced by a small red Beetle. I fished the keys from my pocket and opened the driver side door.
Behind the wheel, I started the engine and the radio came to life with one bland Taylor Swift song or another. Before leaving I slipped Krokus’ Change of Address into the CD player, and slowly cruised back the way I had come.
Several minutes later I took a sloping onramp and met the babbling interstate; before I joined the flow I waited for several large Mac trucks to scream by in their shrouds of water mist. The meager Richmond skyline stretched away to the east, interrupted only by the wide river which bisects the city. Maybe it was the mood and light of the afternoon, but the city seemed a deserted necropolis, the buildings bizarre Druid ruins rising black against the sky.
Once on the interstate I noticed that several idiots cars next to mine were busy blabbering into their cell-phones or texting. I’m not the kind of guy who wants to ban this and that, or the kind of asshole who preaches his opinion to everybody, but I know what can happen on a freeway when someone wants to whip out the old Droid and chat.
One girl, with wet black hair and dressed in a loose white t-shirt, flipped me off when I motioned hang up and drive.
Women, I thought with a grin, they taste good…but the heartburn!
I soon took rural Exit 154 and coasted into the parking lot of a small roadside gas station fed by a narrow hillside lane. I pulled under the gas-pump shelter and killed Marc Storace in the middle of Burning up the Night. I searched my hip pocket and checked the directions again. The name of the town was Fairfield, not too far north of the city.
I got out into the damp and filled the jeep up with juice, wincing at the price. With that done, I crossed the open space between the pumps and the store, my hair dampening, and entered.
After waiting for a white man in a mossy oak camo cap to buy a six pack of Bud Ice and a black woman to purchase a pack of condoms and tampons (an ungodly mix, if you ask me), it came my turn. The wispy old man behind the counter, wearing country regulation suspenders over his button up work shirt, studied me for a long moment.
“Hey, you’re that writer fella, aintcha?” he asked with a rough smile, revealing that his teeth were mostly black or tarnished gold.
Despite a swelling of pride in my chest, I wanted desperately to avoid an embarrassing scene.
“Hm. You look a lot like ‘im. She loves all that damn ghost huntin’ garbage.”
I paid for the gas, and the old man wished me a good afternoon with a crooked grin.
Once back in my car, I again studied the directions, trying to absorb them so that I wouldn’t have to constantly consult them in transit.
Feeling confident that I could make it on my own, I started up the engine and followed the ascending byway toward Fairfield.
I soon left behind all urban pretense and found myself speeding through low hills and tiny hamlets made up of slanted wood structures decades past their prime. It had begun to rain more steadily. Crossing the murky Roman River, I saw that it had overflowed its banks.
The winding lane took me past yet more hilly farmland enclosed by strands of barbed wire, putting me slightly in mind of northern England. When I came to the outer limits of Fairfield, which sat across another, smaller, swollen river, I was greeted by a white board sign proclaiming it as The Nicest Town in America.
Main Street, lined with gray brick shops dating from the 1920s, sank down into the rest of the town, from which a white church spire rose into the air, and a blue water tower next to a tall brick schoolhouse loomed supernaturally forth from the thick valley mist. The sidewalk boasted fiery trees, the embers of which carpeted the wet concrete.
At the four-way intersection, the only cars that I met were a station wagon going to the east part of town, a minivan heading back the way I had come, and an SUV going down into the heart of the town, which lied spread before the hill like a fog enshrouded dream.
I took the left and followed the street for a time, passing a small doctor’s office and the police station. The big roll-top doors of the local volunteer fire department were open, and I glimpsed several men in the gloom lazily wiping down the sleeping green dragon within. A group of children struggled down the sidewalk with crammed backpacks dragging along the wet pavement. A boy on a ten-speed bike shot past them and hung a sharp right, taking a small dead-end road ending at the foot of the hill. In the rear view mirror a large yellow school grinded to a halt, the red lights on its mounted stop sign blinking rhythmically. Teenagers tumbled out and hurried across.
Lee Street was an odd mix of ranch and Victorian houses, all beautiful and tastefully enclosed by hedges or withering gardens. A few of the larger homes were sectioned off with low stone walls waist high to a man.
The last house on the left was tall and narrow, dating back at least to the latter half of the 1890s. With spires and gingerbread trim it affected a stately air.
I parked along the street and sat for a moment, memories washing over me. I and Henry had come here several summers during our childhood. Being unable to have children, Jo and Oscar doted on us so much it was almost cloying. They were rabid antique collectors, and spent thirty happy years hoarding history together before Flight 93 went down over Pennsylvania on the eleventh of September, 2001.
I killed the engine and got out into a brisk slap of wind. After waiting for a minivan to swoosh past, I crossed the street. The grass along the flagstone walk was encroachingly tall, and I wondered if Henry’s ghost had hidden his lawnmower.
I bounded up the porch and knocked on the door. I waited in the cold for a moment, a wind from the west raking my flesh. Finally, as I cocked my fist to knock again, the door opened, and was filled with Henry, dressed as he had been at the bookstore.
“Hey, man” he greeted and moved aside.
“Long time no see,” I smiled. Stepping across the threshold, I was immediately struck by the heaviness of the atmosphere, crushing down on me like the world upon Atlas’s shoulders. I staggered, and Henry at one grabbed my arm and helped steady me.
“Uh-oh,” he said, “I don’t like that.”
“I’m fine,” I lied, looking suspiciously about myself, “just tired.” I didn’t at once remember what such a black heft meant, but I did know that it wasn’t good. At all.
“Well, if you wanna go back…”
“Nah,” I dismissed, “I’m alright.”
“Okay,” Henry said and led me from the shadowy foyer and into a wide parlor. A large bay window, an ugly modern addition, sat across the room, uncurtained. Save for tall, dusty bookshelves along either wall, the only other furnishings in the room were a couch piled with tangled blankets and a pillow, and two armchairs.
Henry showed me to one of the chairs and took the one across from me.
“So, what’s up? How’s life treating you?”
I sighed. “Alright. I hate the touring, though. I can’t stand being on the road.”
“Ah,” he dismissed me with a wave of the hand, “you always were a little homebody. I love the open road. Nothing like it. You want a drink?”
I nodded.
“Coke,” he warned me.
“Better be.”
He laughed and moved off to the kitchen, leaving me alone in the room. The dark feeling pressed down on me harder than it had been, compressing my chest. I tried to take a deep breath, but was unable. It was like standing on a high butte overlooking a strange plain in a dark world, the air thin and sour.
Henry returned with two Cokes. He handed me one and sat back down. “Sorry they’re not cold. I just bought ‘em on the way back.”
“That’s fine,” I said, opening mine and taking a long drink. Henry sat his between his legs.
“I saw you on Ghost Hunters last month,” he said with something like pride, “I was over at my old girlfriend’s house and when your mug popped out, I about went crazy. “Hey, I know that guy!””
My appearance on the popular SYFY Channel show had been little more than a publicity stunt engineered by my agent. I was against it from the first, but ending up going on anyway. The target was a 13th Century castle on an Irish bluff overlooking the crashing sea. Supposedly, a family of werewolves had lived there in the sixteen hundreds.
“They’re a sham,” I said, glancing around as if expecting a hostile apparition to materialize. Maybe I was.
“Those attention whores,” I said, referring to the ‘ghost hunters’. “There weren’t any ghosts. It was all faked. The noises. The mist. All of it.
“I figured,” Henry said, “they usually are.”
“I guess,” I looked around.
“Yeah.” Henry finished off his Coke and sat the empty can at his foot.
“So, what have you been doing?” I asked, “just hanging out?”
“Yeah,” he said, “aunt Jo and uncle Oscar weren’t rich. They had money, but not much. The way the recession’s going, I’m probably gonna have to go back to work soon.”
“Sometimes I wish I could just stop writing and investigating and all that and just live off my books’ proceeds,” I confided, “live the life without doing the work.”
Henry chuckled. “You’re lucky; you got a kick-ass job. I’m most likely gonna end up at Food-Lion or something.”
“Gotta start somewhere,” I said. “Maybe we can write a novel together.”
Both of us had tried as children to write our own horror stories. Henry’s were mostly better than mine.
“Maybe,” he seemed to taste the idea.
I opened my mouth to reply, but a stiff gust of wind slammed into the house, and I jolted.
Henry laughed. “Scared?”
I shook my head. “No, not really. I just…well, what exactly are we dealing with, here?”
Henry sobered, his face darkening. “I…I been thinking how to word this for a while now.” He paused. “You ever hear that phrase La petite mort?”
I missed a beat. “What?”
“You know, that French metaphor? It refers to a state of euphoria after you “finish.””
“Yeah, I know.”
Henry sat grasping for a moment. “People believe that some kind of spiritual lifeforce is…expelled when you cum. Somehow that’s like dying or something.”
“Uh-huh,” I nodded awkwardly.
“And in Ghosts and Ghouls, you said that some people think a ghost is just…leftover human energy. Right?”
“The atheists and agnostics in the field, yes.”
“Do you think it’s possible that…that release of energy can leave a…a ghostly residue?”
I laughed. “Henry, that’s just a metaphor; it doesn’t mean anything.”
“Are you sure?”
I opened my mouth, but closed it again. I couldn’t honestly say that I was.
“What…what makes you ask that?”
“It’s my bed,” he replied darkly.
“Your bed?”
He nodded. “Remember Sarah Kerns?”
For a moment I drew a blank, and then an angular face framed in raven hair materialized before my mind’s eye.
“Sure,” I said, “your girlfriend in eighth grade. What about her?”
“Remember how she moved over the summer, before we started high school?”
I nodded. Her father was in some kind of business that forced him to relocate often. I can’t remember what it was, though.
“The night before she left, she came over to my house and we did it...”
“Alright,” I urged, and then it dawned on me. “You still have the same bed, don’t you?”
He shrugged. “Never saw a good reason to get rid of it.”
“And you’ve…done a lot in it, huh?”
“A lot,” he admitted.
“And now you think…what, all that combined energy has created a sort of ghost?”
“Look, I know it’s crazy, but just hear me out, okay?”
Henry took a deep breath and began.
Several weeks before crying out to me for help, he told me, he had been lying awake in bed. It was a windy night and he was as far from sleep as a man can get, so, as he watched the darkened ceiling, he let his mind drift unfettered. He had always had a fertile imagination, and was entertaining himself with undisclosed fantasies when, all of a sudden, the foot of the bed lurched to one side, as though booted by an angry WWE star after an in-ring betrayal.
“Man, that scared the shit outta me,” Henry said. “I froze up and just laid there for a minute. Then it happened again, and this time I got knocked off.”
Frightened, Henry jumped up, fell in the sheets tangled at his feet, and flew down the stairs.
“I sat here in the living room for a little while. After a half hour or so, I decided it was a nightmare and went back up. In the room, I flipped on the light switch and…”
He was quiet for a long moment, looking down at his ashen hands. “And there was a fuckin dead girl spread out on the bed, covered in blood and shit.”
I gasped softly at this, my heart freezing in mid beat.
“You’re sure?” I asked incredulously.
He nodded without looking up. “Yeah. And she looked like Hanna Giles…you remember her, right?”
I did. She was a cheerleader during school, a tall drink of blond perfection. She and Henry spent much of the 11th grade getting hot and heavy together before he grew bored and found another conquest.
“And…and she…sat up, her fuckin eyes were black and she had these long Dracula fangs. She opened up her legs and…fucking blood gushed out.”
He stopped at my hiss of horror. “It looked like…you know, in The Shinning, when that elevator opens up in the beginning?”
I nodded, my mouth slightly agape.
“I saw that shit and lost my mind. I ran out the front door and down the street. Spent the rest of the night in a booth at the diner, too afraid to come home.”
In the morning, Henry stretched out in the parlor.
“I was having dinner the next day. A buffalo chicken Hungry Man. So, I was sitting at the kitchen table eating, when something above my head, in the room, crashed against the floor. And right after, I heard this long, high pitched laugh.”
Stiff with terror, Henry remained unmoving at the table for nearly an hour before packing up and going to a motel for a few days.
“I was starting to think it was a nightmare, but when that shit happened…”
Henry eventually returned, convinced that the “ghosts”, while frightening, were harmless.
“So, one night, I got brave and went back upstairs to see what would happen.”
After several uneventful hours, Henry was on the border of sleep when something, something cold and dry, wrapped around his throat.
“It felt like hands, little…you know, a woman’s hands.”
The world grayed as Henry clawned at the phantom hands to no avail. He nearly collapsed into death before they suddenly and inexplicably spared him.
“That was the other night. I was about to leave, go get a motel or something, but I heard you were coming down, so I thought I’d see if you could help me.”
For a long moment I sat in brooding silence.
In 1999, I left school to work for a noted regional paranormal researcher named John Haggis. I accompanied him on many outings, most of them busts. Only three confirmed cases of the genuinely supernatural came across our desk in the three years I worked with him, one of them being the demonic haunting of a bar in Headwaters, a tiny hamlet nestled in the Shenandoah foothills southwest of Harrisonburg.
I learned several things from our experience there. One: Demons despise the presence of a professional. Two: While ghosts can, on extremely rare occasions, possess human beings, only demons can shapeshift and actually harm someone without the use of a human agent.
“Have…have you ever smelled sulfur here?” I asked, my voice natural, at least to my own ears.
“Rotten eggs? No, why?”
“You’ve been left alone outside the room, right?”
“Yeah. What about the sulfur?” he seemed impatient.
I ignored him and looked from one shadowy corner to another, the house bathed in a sour, uneasy silence. I was shocked to find myself wanting to get as away from the house as I could.
“Henry,” I drew, my eyes darting apprehensively, “there…”
I stopped. How would he take hearing that a demon was in his house? But was it really a demon we were dealing with? I couldn’t be sure; I’m not, after all, a demonologist.
“What?” he asked, his tone low and worried.
If it was, then it appeared to be attached to the bed somehow, like a ghost to a favorite rocking chair…
“…I doubt that your ghost is made of girl goo.” I at length flashed a smile, hoping that it didn’t look too fake. “I’ve heard of similar cases, and they are relatively easy to deal with.”
“Really?” Henry’s face brightened for the first time all day, and his tone was one of a child in the presence of a shyster birthday-party magician.
“Yeah,” I said, “no problem. Tomorrow I’ll call some people and they’ll conduct…sort of an exorcism. It’ll be a breeze.”
Henry sighed, relieved. “Okay.”
I looked again from corner to corner. “Hey, you want to go and get some dinner, my treat?”
Henry smiled again, his dark eyes alight. “Sure.”
We took my car, and drove off into the thickening gloom. Main Street was busier than it had been when I entered town; it was past six, and people were returning home from work in droves.
“Take a left up here,” Henry said as we approached the four-way, “and go for about…five miles. Place called Ryan’s.”
I nodded, lost in thought. I would have to call Tom Youngblood, the only demonologist in the Richmond area, in the morning. And maybe I would have to call the Catholic Church in town, too. Then again, the church has tried in recent years to distance itself from the supernatural.
I took the left, and descended down into the heart of Fairfield. Queerly, about a mile of hillside between the upper and lower sections had been left undeveloped, and was currently a hopeless tangle of dead grass.
“Man, I feel like a weight’s been lifted,” Henry said as we passed the dark shops and rain sluiced sidewalks, empty save for the phantom trees along the edge. “You can really do all of this tomorrow?”
“Yeah,” I said confidently. I took a deep breath, and seemed to blow away all of the mounting worry crushing my chest. I only had to call Tom and a priest, and they would take it from there. They were experts. It might not be an easy break, but it would get done. Demons were actually weak in the presence of religious men; which is why I abandoned my former atheism.
“Good. I can’t wait to get this shit behind me. It’s been a living hell, you know?”
I nodded, and then realized that it was probably too dark for Henry to see. “Yeah, I bet it’ll feel really good.”
“Like a million bucks,” Henry said.
“And…get rid of the damn bed. I don’t think that what we’re dealing with is…what you thought, but just burn it. It’s possible that the ghost is attached to it for some reason.”
“Way ahead of you, man,” Henry said. “I’m gonna go down to Mattress Warehouse and get me a new one tomorrow.”
At the end of town, just before the beginning of the dark, wet woods, I slowed at the traffic light, pulling to a stop alongside a school bus; the small lights affixed to the ceiling within were on against the dark. I saw a few dark silhouettes through the rectangular windows, and ascertained from their distorted shapes that they belonged to the high school’s football team.
“And…don’t have all your fun in one place, okay?” I said as we got back underway, the bus falling behind in the darkness.
“I ain’t gonna have that kinda fun for a long time.”
“Yeah, bullshit,” I jested in hopes of further lightening the mood, “you can’t go a week without having sex with someone…or something.”
Henry chuckled. “Yeah? I once went a month without doin your mom.”
“She needed that long to stop laughing at your…handicap.”
Henry laughed. “Okay. Just wait till we get there; take you in the bathroom and show you what’s up.”
I snorted. “What’s limp.”
“It won’t be limp when I shove it down…”
The restaurant, a sparkling oasis cloaked in primal black, loomed so quickly from the darkness that I nearly missed the turn.
“Alright,” Henry said after I had slid us into a slanted parking spot facing the empty road, his penis forgotten, “let’s get some grub.”
“You look like a German Jew,” I said as we got out of the car, “you need a good meal.”
“Yeah, thanks, mom,” Henry said as we crossed the parking lot. Through the big front windows, we could see happy families sharing joyful meals in the warm brightness.
We came to the double doors, and both held them open for the shuffling passage of an elderly couple. “Thank you,” the old man rasped and nodded as he helped his wife past us and toward a silver Cadillac parked in one of the closest handicap spots. They were immediately followed by two teenage girls in gym shorts and pink tops.
“What is it with kids dressing like that when it’s cold?” I whispered as we entered the restaurant, assaulted at once by the good odors of many steaming, mingling foods.
“If you got it flaunt it,” Henry reckoned.
We walked up to the long lunch counter and took cups, silverware and plastic trays from a hotplate guarded from inconsiderate sneezers by smudged plastic. We waited behind a party of rowdy college students to pay the casher.
We paid the chipper blond behind the register and were shown by a young sleepy eyed man in a red t-shirt and black slacks to a booth along the far wall of the room, mercifully away from the main population. Henry was immediately off to fix himself a plate at the buffet.
I sat at the booth for a moment, looking around the brightly lit room. It was crowded with families, mostly, passing food and laughing over their tables.
After another moment of inventorying how many people I would have to pass to get to the drink machine, I got up and moved to the Coke island. Apart from the dispenser there sat a plain metal canister marked with the picture of a tall, frosty glass of chocolate milk looming forward like a favorite uncle. I considered for a moment, and finally decided to get the milk, the likes of which I haven’t tasted since I was a child.
As I drew the dark liquid into my clear cup, a beefy older man in a brown leather jacket walked unthinkingly up to the machine and filled his cup with Sprite, all the while gasping softly to himself about someone named Mony-Mony.
Sidestepping a yellow WET FLOOR sign at the head of a nasty spill, I went back to the booth where Henry sat, bent protectively over a plate of fried chicken and breaded shrimp. I took my plate and quickly filled it up with French fries, several times nearly colliding with a young boy in small glasses examining each bright pile of food as if he would die if he did not detect the poison on his choices. At the booth I splattered a liberal amount of Tabasco sauce on the golden potatoes and dug in, my chocolate milk standing dutifully by should I need its aid.
“Remember Donny West?” Henry asked around a mouthful of food. I nodded. Donny had been one of our friends as kids before his mother moved the family to West Virginia. A beefy kid with red hair and deep freckles.
“Yeah. How can I forget?”
“He died.”
“What?” I asked, a bit of fry falling from my mouth and landing on the plate.
Henry nodded and swallowed. “I talked to his sister on Facebook, and she said he was drinking and wrecked his car into a tree a couple years ago. Took two of his friends with him.”
“That’s horrible,” I said numbly. Though I had not seen Donny in years, to hear that a once close friend was dead broke my heart.
“You remember what he did on April Fool’s Day that one time?” I asked Henry after a long, respectful moment of silence.
Henry nodded. “He had balls to do that.”
Donny, much more a practical joker than even Henry, had run the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy up the flag pole before school started that day. What made it even funnier were the facts that no one even noticed until lunch, and that the school sat right on the main highway in Picketts Meade.
“Yeah,” I sighed, black, cancerous nostalgia flooding me. “The good old days.”
We then lapsed into a comfortable silence. After savagely stripping the meat from a chicken bone, Henry wandered off to treat himself to a cold dessert. I finished the last of my fries and polished off the chocolate milk, my burning mouth greedily absorbing the cool liquid.
After a return trip to the machine, meeting once again the boy who had been diligently studying for his buffet safety PhD (he wasn’t quiet as conscientious when it came to Coca-Cola), I placed myself in my seat and awaited Henry. He soon returned empty-handed.
“They all sucked,” he declared.
I did not reply, but suddenly realized that the ice cream machine was next to the soda and chocolate milk fountains.
Suddenly, from across the room, there came a loud racket, drawling the puzzled stares of patrons in the gulf between walls. From a door came a line of people dressed in red shirts and black pants. The person at the head of the rank, a rather fetching teen goth with long midnight hair and a generous bosom, held something in her hands, something aflame, for her strong angler face was awash in orange. The Ryan’s troops behind her were clapping.
With mortification I saw them making a B-line toward our table like a personified children’s show choo-choo. Now all of the bemused eaters were looking toward me and Henry.
“You bastard,” I said, turning to Henry. He was smiling and clapping flourishingly. I broke out in my own grin, my cheeks afire. “Oh you son of a bitch; real funny.”
The Ryan’s Birthday Army now surrounded my half of the booth, leering over me like grinning psychos and clapping madly. I hung my head in embarrassment as they sat a flaming birthday cake on the table before me. “Bastard,” I muttered, lowering my head, realizing that now all of the other patrons too were looking at me and clapping.
Then the singing started.
I could just imagine Henry going up to our hostess and stage whispering across the counter, his hand shielding his mouth from prying lip readers, Pissst; it’s his birthday, pointing in my direction.
Coming out of the Ryan’s parking lot nearly half an hour later, I took a right on the rain swept street and followed it back to town past several large comfortable southern homes boasting screened in front porches and spotlighted flags. Most of these were protected from the street by rusted chin link fences.
We were silent and content, our stomachs full.
Finally desirous of breaking the silence, but too stuffed with food and lazy to speak, I switched on the radio, picking up a station from southern Maryland. After a “local” newscast about a New York mobster choking to death in a King George pizza joint and the discovery of a well-known radical poet shot dead in a D.C. parking garage, Cyndi Lauper came on with Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.
“Your song,” Henry croaked from the passenger seat.
I changed the station. The Culture Club was singing about a Church of the Poisoned Mind.
“Damn, must be your night,” Henry snickered from the darkness.
“Shut up,” I replied, hitting the scan button; the radio settled for a station playing a Seether song.
Henry laughed. “I meant you like eighties music. I wasn’t trying to say you’re gay…not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
Pulling to the end of Henry’s street, I noticed that we had left none of the lights on when we departed; the thought of waltzing through the door into the pitch black slightly uneased me.
I thought of asking Henry to stay with me at the Marriot in Richmond rather than me staying with him, but quickly decided against it; we’d be safe in the parlor.
Putting down my own childish reluctance, I parked the car at the curb and killed the engine, shutting Kanye West off in mid-rant.
We entered the house and immediately repaired to the parlor, where Henry took care of stoking a warm fire into existence.
That done, he came back to his chair and sank with a pleasured sigh. “So, you gonna write about this?”
To be honest, the thought hadn’t crossed my mind. “Maybe,” I said. Of course I would. Would it make it into my next book? It had a better chance than some of the other cases I had. People love their supernatural when it’s really weird.
“Well…” Henry said, but was interrupted by a terrible crash from overhead, which shook the house and caused us to jerk in surprised fear.
“There it is,” he shivered.
Another long bang sounded upstairs, as if something had thumped to the floor.
I swallowed around a lump in my throat, and opened my mouth, but was forestalled by another loud crash, this one followed by a stomach-piercing moan.
“Maybe we should go,” I stammered, a sudden bubble of stark fear overwhelming my cool rationality.
Henry licked his lips and swallowed hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing.
I looked appraisingly up at the smooth ceiling above my head, partly hidden by the gloom. There was another thump that stopped my heart and froze my blood. A shower of fine plaster rained down upon me like hard snow, and I quickly averted my eyes to avoid it.
“Henry?” I panted breathlessly, wrestling with my own galloping fear.
“Fuck this,” Henry affirmed and moved to stand, “let’s…”
Henry had been whispering, as if worried about disturbing his inconsiderate guest, so I was able to hear the soft, terrible footfall. It was as if an electric shock ran through me, reducing my bones to jelly.
I heard it again, louder this time.
Henry’s eyes were wide. “Was that…?” he whispered superstitiously.
I gulped and nodded. “It sounded like it…
From the dark upstairs hall there came a soft, fugitive creak. Henry was now fully standing, his wiry body tense and rigid.
“Hennnryyyyyy!” drifted a thin and ghostly greeting.
“Jesus Christ!” I exclaimed, and bolted to my feet. I turned to the dark threshold into the rest of the hostile house, and saw nothing but playing shadows.
“Hennnryyyy, baaaabyyyyyyy!”
I spun on my heels. “We have to get the hell out of here!” I whispered incoherently, my mind reeling. There was no hope of using the front door. We would have to pass the stairs…
Henry stood slack in place, his eyes wide and seeming to vibrate with terror.
There was a more confident footfall from halfway down the staircase, and a definite swish like that of a passing priest’s cassock.
“Come on!” I screamed, my fear boiling over. I desperately regarded the window beyond Henry’s chair. It appeared wide enough for both of us to escape side-by-side.
I grabbed Henry’s wrist, but pulling him was like trying to move a wooden post set deeply in the ground.
“Come on, we gotta go, NOW!!” I screamed franticly, hearing the loud moan of the last step. Henry shook his head as if shaking away a dream and looked at me with frightened, pleading eyes. But before a word could pass between us he turned back to the threshold.
And screamed.
Hearing the horrible, damned-soul quality of his voice broke my resolve and nearly my mind. It was the high-pitched shriek of a child on finally seeing the thing under its bed and finding it far worse than imagined; it was the scream of a sinner being shown into his new abode in hell; it was the pitiful cry of a madman.
Fueled by mindless animal terror, I sprang for the window.
Forearms thrown protectively over my face, I crashed through with a cry, and sailed into the damp night in a shower of broken glass, my stomach throbbing in my throat. I hit the grassy ground with an umph and staggered to my feet, my knees watery and quivering.
Behind me, the laughter of madness turned into the orgasm of agony.
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MLB Money Line Betting Explained - YouTube

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