Final Reckoning Rookie of the Year
Just like in professional sports, the idea is to not take the postseason into account when awarding seasonal awards. While I can’t promise that’s exactly how things are run here, I can say that, regardless of outcome in Final Reckoning, our Rookie of the Year is set.
It wasn’t but a few weeks ago that I was really dreading this award. We are coming off a couple of incredibly strong female rookie performances (Tori and Kam), after all, and the thought of having to choose the least-terrible rookie was neither daunting nor exciting. That was, however, until we saw a certain Redemption-darling escape that dreaded lesser house and join the group he deserved to be with. As a quick reminder, rookies this season:
you could make an argument that Derrick H. and Kayleigh are rookies, the same way that in Major League Baseball you can still be considered a rookie if you stayed under an AB limit during your true rookie season —I’d say Derrick had a shortened season (based on his getting eliminated) while Kayleigh voluntarily left after a bullying incident. Regardless, it doesn’t matter much.
A month ago, you could argue it was Jozea and Da’Vonne with a shot at being ROY—hey, every season needs one— although at that time the games best rookie leaderboard was incredibly cloudy. That is, until someone finally stepped up, grabbed the reins and ran with it. And let me clear it up a bit, I’ve been a Paulie-backer since day one. I liked him on BB18, and really looked forward to his debut on the Challenge. I also loved his first Challenge Mania spot where he made it very clear that he was a long-term Challenge fan.
And then Season 32 started. Paulie and Natalie came on as one of two Big Brother 18 teams, they even had a little bit of experience based on Natalie’s Vendettas showing — and while I never expected them to come out and dominate, I had hoped for a decent first showing, from Paulie in particular.
Fast forward a bit to a very early elimination, where Paulie and Nat were to face Kam and Kayleigh in the elim with the cables and puzzle boxes. It didn’t take long to notice something was amiss in that matchup, watching Paulie struggle to get anywhere near the cage while Kam quite literally leaned on hers—a frustrating visual for Paulie fans and a massive topic the next morning on social media. It was also after this first matchup where we saw the vitriol from the other Challengers (mostly male, mostly Kyle) spewed toward Paulie, which helps frame this bigger ‘rise from redemption’ narrative.
We almost inexplicably (well, it can be explained...Cara) saw Kyle go from fan-favorite last season to a near-completely unlikable dickhead—and his main target? Paulie. And it’s hard to have an edge in a pissing match when you just lost an elim and are headed to redemption, but Paulie gave it his all. He also found himself in an elimination in which he had no chance to prevail as Natalie was unable to power a sledgehammer through a wall despite Paulie’s dominance, which again led to laughs and mockery from the Kyle and Brad peanut gallery.
It was in Redemption that we saw a different side of Paulie. In the history of this game, we’ve had our share of good partners, bad partners, everything in between. But Paulie — Paulie was different. He was paired with a partner that was obviously holding him back, but instead of pulling the typical Challenge whiner card, Paulie did the opposite. He built Natalie up, took the blame for losses. All of this even more impressive seeing as how he was being taunted by the strongest teams in the game. Paulie knew that he believed in himself, but in order to get back in that main house, Natalie needed to believe even more.
We also need to address his mental/political game. While in the moment, Paulie just looked like a lunatic, literally being held back kicking and screaming at the chuckling hecklers. However, dropping the Britni bomb on Brad turned out to be quite effective, and we saw his words twist the minds of others a little too easily.
All of that said, being 0-3 in eliminations doesn’t necessarily scream worthiness of an award. However, Paulie and Natalie were not done. After Nelson and Shane sent Kyle and Brad to Redemption, it was time for our BB18 duo to put in work. Unfortunately, it was pretty obvious that this elimination — where one person from each team had to find certain numbered balls from inside a giant bingo spinner, while the other teammate was busy spinning said players — was almost designed with Kyle and Brad in mind. While I don’t need to go into specifics (go back a few write ups if needed), we saw Paulie and Natalie absolutely crush this elim and take out two of the biggest threats on this season.
If that wasn’t enough, they took the next two weekly challenges and won those as well. And, tonight, we saw team Paulie-Nat pull their biggest move ever: eliminating Bananas and Tony in an epic, 5 1/2 hour endurance/eating challenge. And while it’s fair to say Natalie was the queen bee tonight by beating Bananas mano-e-mano, Paulie had to match (and actually beat, time wise) iron-stomach Tony in the traditional fermented milk portion of the evening, a feat that is sure to be overlooked when we inevitably tell our children’s children about the time Bananas and Tony were allowed to be teammates and still didn’t win the whole goddamned thing.
And it was that win, in the middle of the ring, with eyes puffy and red from an unexpected stubborn dual, that projected Paulie and Natalie into the Final Reckoning finale. Where they go from here is anyone’s guess. With Natalie’s persistence and Paulie’s overall dominance, I don’t know that they shouldn’t be the overall top seed in my Power Rankings this week (out tomorrow!).
And one final thought about Mr. Calafiore - I’ve said since BB that this guy is the real deal. I’ve overlooked the bullshit eliminations in which he was quite obviously fucked over, looked past the awkward Cara stuff, past the jokes heaved toward his head and said, from day one, this guy has what it takes. Paulie promises to be a Challenge powerhouse for as long as he’s on this show, and has the chance to be Jordan 2.0 and, dare I say, Bananas 2.0.
This is an exciting time in the Challenge World, with a potential monster looming. And if Paulie ever gets the chance to run wild with no one holding him back, there might not be another competitor that can stop him.
Rookie of the Year Winners:
Final Reckoning: Paulie Calafiore
Vendettas: Kam Williams
Dirty XXX: Tori Deal
Invasion of the Champions: Nicole Zanatta
Rivals III: Devin Walker