A dominant new Titan is the takeaway from this opening episode, as The Rock’s gladiatorial reality show returns.
This recap of The Titan Games Season 2, Episode 1 contains spoilers.
There’s nothing new about Dwayne Johnson’s The Titan Games, and not just because it’s on its second season now. The idea of normal folks taking on elite athletic powerhouses in various physical head-to-head challenges is an old, timeless concept, here given a glossy, very American sheen and some big-name value both in the form of its enthusiastic host and its well-known so-called Titans. But the essential appeal is the same: You want these people, who represent you and me and other regular citizens, to emerge victorious against unlikely odds. A classic underdog story, repeated several times every episode.
It’s repeated more times than ever in the feature-length The Titan Games season 2, episode 1, which reintroduces the concept for a new audience. We’re in the Central Division — subsequent episodes will be set in the East and West, each region having different Titans defending it — here, with pairs of male and female competitors battling to wrest the title of Titan from former Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas and two-time Olympic gold medallist and middleweight boxing champion Claressa Shields.
First up, the ladies. Alexis Balliet is a quality specialist in chocolate with the slogan of “Barbells and bows”, which should clue you into her passions of weightlifting and archery, the latter apparently earning her comparisons to Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games. Her opponent is Chantae McMillan, a track and field standout and former Olympian, though she didn’t medal at the games. You’ll notice immediately that this show has a very loose definition of “normal people”.
Cari Champion and Alex “Goldenboy” Mendez are announcing, though they rarely get a chance to speak over The Rock, which I suppose is only fair. The first challenge is Launch Pad, in which the competitors have to swing from ceiling-mounted ropes and dropkick 250lb slabs. The first to fell them all wins — it’s neck and neck throughout, but Alexis just wins, much to the displeasure of a sour-faced Chantae.
Next up, the dudes: Bartley Weaver IV, the absurdly jacked mascot of the Tennessee Titans who can’t stop flexing at the camera and happens to be the number one professional eater in Kentucky; and Matt Chan, a firefighter from Denver who, in 2014, fell off his bike and had to have his leg painstakingly rehabilitated. He’s a classic, all-American underdog. Surely he can’t lose?
Nope, he doesn’t lose. In the first game, Nuts and Bolts, which tasks the athletes with removing 2000lbs in combined weights from a giant wall and then pulling the wall down with a rope, he falls slightly behind, but Bartley’s overconfidence gets the better of him. He runs for the rope too early, having left too much weight on the wall, and when he can’t tip it over he has to run back around and remove more weight. Matt takes the opportunity. 1-0.
The next game is Lunar Impact: A giant slab of wall on a half-circle track, with the simple objective of pushing it all the way to your opponent’s end. Matt’s a lot quicker, so he flies up the ladder and gets a huge advantage out of the gate, but Bartley is stockier and stronger — once he gets his shoulder behind the wall, he starts pushing back, gaining ground. Matt’s strategy is smart, giving the big man ground, waiting for him to tire, but he’s pushing off his reconstructed leg against a stronger man, and can’t hold him off. 1-1.
We return to the women in The Titan Games season 2, episode 1, where Chantae, still stinging, takes on Alexis in Over the Edge, a classic game of tug of war with a massive stone in the middle to make things more interesting. Chantae, fired up, comes out swinging and wins pretty easily, which brings us to the ladies’ tie-breaker.
It’s the Herculean Pull — another variation on tug of war, but this time requiring that the competitors yank out giant metal poles, starting with some lower, silver ones, then finally a big gold one at the top of the platform. It’s neck and neck all the way, and the two women end up fighting over that final pole, with Alexis screaming with every yank. She seems to be gaining some ground, but she falls! Her body just gave out from the exertion, and when she tries to climb back up, she can’t. Chantae wins! Claressa Shields, watching backstage, seems unfazed.
The men have the same tie-breaker, and Matt absolutely dominates it. Bartley doesn’t even get to the golden pole. It’s a wipeout.
That takes us to Mount Olympus, the obstacle course in which the competitors take on the Titans for the chance to steal their crowns. First up, Matt and Joe Thomas. Joe’s casual approach to all the obstacles is reliably hilarious — that’s a lifetime of competitive experience keeping him relaxed, but he’s almost too relaxed here, allowing Matt to make up an early deficit. The ending is razor close, and Joe Thomas is able to win by literally half a second, if that. A super tense showdown.
Any athlete who loses on Mount Olympus will return for the regional finals for another shot, so we haven’t seen the last of Matt just yet.
Next: Chantae vs the impossibly arrogant Claressa Shields, and in perhaps the feel-good moment of the reality-TV year, Chantae absolutely dominates the boxer. She’s the new Titan!
From here the extra-long The Titan Games season 2, episode 1 moves onto the next batch of contestants. First, the ladies: Jess Weatherby, a hardworking farm girl, and Jaime Seeman, a mom of three and a doctor from Nebraska. These two go at it on Chain Linked, which tasks them with clambering across big chain-link fences. The last one needs to be pulled closer. Doc Jaimie wins.
The next two men are up: Blake Wright, a middle-school teacher, coach, and chocolate milk enthusiast from a broken home whose pops adopted him and his brother at nine years old; and Steven Shelby, a deputy sheriff and Dwayne Johnson superfan and lookalike whose cute little girl has a heart condition. Two sad personal stories competing for dominance here in Launch Pad. Steven is able to take a big early lead, but Blake mounts a massive comeback. Steven wins by a fraction, but it was a close, tense round between two competitors you can’t help but root for — the show at its best, I think.
In Over the Edge, Steven wins pretty comfortably. It’ll be him, the Pebble (aka a small Rock) against Joe Thomas on Mount Olympus.
Before that, though, Jaime and Jess play Kick Out — the objective is to boot huge pistons into a wall with swinging kicks. Jaime takes an early lead but falls, though it doesn’t make much difference since Jess struggles mightily with the very first obstacle. The doctor goes up 2-0. It’s her versus Chantae on Mount Olympus.
And after all that, another easy win for Chantae. That track and field experience seems very well-suited to the course. She’ll be tough to beat.
Speaking of which, Joe Thomas proves himself equally tough to beat. His laidback, smooth technique keeps him at pace with Steven, who almost knocks himself unconscious tackling one of the obstacles, and the final ball and chain seems Joe’s favored challenge. His smoother technique there lets him best Steven and remain the Titan.
Phew. A long, packed opening episode, then, with a dominant Titan remaining for the men to tackle, and a new one standing tall over the women.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.