the challenge aftershow
Photo cred: MTV (MTV.com)

I am a fan of The Challenge. So much so that I remember when the show was called Real World/Road Rules Challenge. I’ve been watching the show for a decade now, and it’s one of the few reality television shows that I religiously watch every week (and frankly, the only show on MTV I watch anymore). I live for watching season after season with Johnny Bananas, CT, Diem (rest in peace) and others. But this season I’ve been floored with how awful and problematic it has been. From the misogyny from basically all of the rookies — most notably Dario and Raphy — to KellyAnne commenting on Aneesa’s “black skin” during an argument, Battle of the Bloodlines has been quite the trainwreck of a season.

But with episode seven, entitled “Blood Brothers,” I was left in awe at cast member Abram’s behavior, particularly toward his girlfriend, Cara Maria.

To give a little background, Cara Maria and her cousin Jaime were contestants on the show from the beginning of the season. During the course of several episodes, Cara was in an ongoing flirtatious relationship with fellow cast member, Thomas. She said she was willing to flirt her way to victory if that’s what it took. I have problems with that trope on reality shows, as it’s completely overused and annoying for female competitors on any competition show. And especially with Cara, because she’s such a strong competitor; she’s built like a ton of bricks, and easily one of the best female competitors on any season she’s on. So needless to say, she doesn’t really need to flirt in order to win. But I digress.

After a few episodes of Cara and Thomas’ “close” friendship forming, Abram and his brother Mike entered the game. Abram has a reputation on the show of being the volatile type; yelling, screaming, and beasting his way through competitions — but in an “entertaining” sort of way (this is how MTV frames him, at least). Cara and Abram also live together. Cara neglected to tell Abram about her situation with Thomas. However, even without knowing what happened, Abram immediately began to try to police who Cara’s alliances were with, telling her who she should and shouldn’t trust. In episode seven, she finally comes clean after Johnny Bananas spills the secret, which only causes Abram to become more possessive over Cara Maria’s gameplay. He also guilt-trips her. Cara says repeatedly in diary room sessions that Abram is a distraction to her, and that she doesn’t like being told what to do. This is our first red flag in terms of their relationship. But it gets so much worse.

At the end of the episode, Cara confides to her cousin tearfully that she really wishes Abram weren’t in the game, that she planned to break up with him once she got back home, that they’ve broken up many times, and that it’s a toxic relationship.

The episode ends. We see at the start of the aftershow Abram screaming at producers and getting physical with them because he wants to see Cara. He calms down and is let in to the greenroom with Cara, who looks visibly subdued and embarrassed. The two then sit and watch the end of the “Blood Brothers” episode, where Cara says she wanted to break up with Abram — mere MINUTES before Cara is to take the stage for the aftershow taping.

(You can view the aftershow episode here. Just sign in with your cable provider.)

Abram then questions why she said what she did and why she spoke badly of him on camera. She said that she didn’t think it would be heard because she wasn’t wearing a microphone (which admittedly is kind of a silly remark; they are on a reality TV show after all). Abram once again proceeds to guilt-trip her, and even goes as far as to say that he thinks Cara said what she did because she was feeling guilty about what she did with Thomas. Which makes absolutely no sense, because why would Cara say that, in tears, in confidence to her cousin, out of guilt? She repeatedly, but powerlessly, asks Abram to stop browbeating her about what she said. This shows a power dynamic between Cara and Abram and a classic example of manipulation. Cara Maria is made to feel bad for expressing genuine emotion, and is somehow the bad guy for expressing discontent with her relationship. In this situation, a good significant other would ask their partner why they are unhappy and attempt to figure out a solution for the future. Instead, Abram blames Cara for being the bad guy.

Now, before I go any further, I’d like to say that I do not condone cheating. Cara admitted during the aftershow that she made out with Thomas. In my book and many others, that is cheating. And Abram is justified in being upset with her. But she said that she intended to break up with Abram, so she did it in the mindset that she was no longer in a relationship. Things only got complicated once Abram joined the show. I believe Cara would have been scared to tell Abram how she felt with how he reacts so viscerally to things that upset him. So if Abram didn’t see anything wrong with the relationship, why would Cara risk his wrath by telling him about her unhappiness in it?

Back to the aftershow. Cara takes the stage and sits next to Thomas, who asks her how her and Abram are doing. She makes small talk with him about how crazy Abram is, and Thomas says he’s “scared for his life.” As the aftershow begins taping, Cara still looks visibly uncomfortable, sitting with her legs crossed and arms glued to her sides, looking like she’s about to fold in on herself. As host Zuri Hall starts asking questions about Thomas and Cara’s relationship, Cara is hesitant to answer questions about Thomas, knowing Abram is backstage watching her every word.

Cara goes on to admit that she made out with Thomas, and that she went into the show wanting to win and “have fun,” noting how long it had been since she had put on makeup and felt pretty living at home (no less, with Abram). “Maybe this was my chance to be single again?” she says. Yet, she stipulates that despite how many times they’ve broken up, she kept running back to Abram. So, she explains that hooking up with Thomas on camera, out in the open was her attempt at ending her relationship with Abram.

As Hall brings Abram (as well as Johnny Bananas and Vince, the two responsible for spilling the beans about Tom/Cara) out, Cara asks immediately “Do you have security?”

Cara’s tension and reiteration that Abram is extremely temperamental shows a symptom of a larger problem. It is clear at this point that Cara is genuinely afraid of her own boyfriend, and is desperate yet almost helpless to get away from him. And like many victims in abusive relationships, she has continuously gone back to her toxic partner because she loves him.

The men come out. Hall asks Abram what he thinks of all that Cara has said and says, indirectly to Tom with a stone face, “Keep her.” He then mocks Cara, and as she attempts to speak up for herself, Hall asks Abram whether or not he wants to see clips of what happened between Tom and Cara. Abram sternly says no, again saying directly to Thomas with a pointed finger that he would “put that through your skull.” This is the second time on the aftershow that he has threatened violence on someone whom he had issue with.

Then we enter the portion of the show wherein all of the guys on stage — even Tom — gang up on Cara for doing what she did. They all agreed that Cara was shady for keeping her hookup from Abram, and scoffed at the fact that she was more concerned about winning than taking care of her relationship. To ridicule Cara for doing what she’s on the show to do in the first place, win, and furthermore doing what every other man on that show is doing is hypocritical. I’ve watched this show for many seasons, and I can say that no guy has ever been given as much flak for flirting and hooking up on the show with a significant other at home than Cara has. Men do and have done the same things Cara has done to get to the end of the game. And their judgment undermines what Cara said earlier about her hoping her hookup would end her relationship with Abram. This segment is a classic example of men prioritizing their voices and their “bro codes” over anything a woman has to say. Abram at one point even cuts Cara off when she’s asked a question by telling her she has no right to speak. He then proceeds to degrade Cara’s morals and integrity. There is nothing more frustrating as a woman to watch another woman being shamed, blamed, and silenced by a group of men. Especially when one of those men is supposed to be her partner. Abram eventually walks off stage in a huff, shortly after which Cara runs off stage after him. Here we see her running back to Abram in action, an expected move by someone abused trying to ensure that they didn’t upset their abuser too much.

After minutes more of awkward discussion on the episode, the aftershow draws to a close. Cara says that she meant what she said to her cousin, and expresses how conflicted she has been so many times before about breaking up with Abram. She explains that when things are good she wants to picture herself with Abram forever, but when they’re bad, she wants to “run away.” She says that she knows she loves Abram, but Abram says to her, “If this is love, I don’t want it.” Hall then asks the guys on stage if they thought Cara and Abram belonged together, to which Abram immediately barks “Fuck off, it’s none of your goddamn business.”

***

If you watched the aftershow, it is obvious that Cara Maria is hiding a great pain beneath the surface. Abram devalues Cara’s voice and emotionally manipulates her by simultaneously saying he loves her and verbally demonizing her for expressing her feelings. The relationship between Cara Maria and Abram is a perfect example of emotional abuse. Emotional abuse is being repeatedly subjected to behaviors that cause psychological trauma, like anxiety or depression. Or in other words, it’s the perpetual feeling of having to walk on eggshells around a temperamental person. Although the abuse is not physical, it doesn’t mean that it is any less painful. Emotional abuse leaves scars on your psyche and can greatly affect your relationships with friends, family, and romantic partners. But most of all, emotional abuse can negatively affect your quality of life. I myself have experienced emotional abuse, and I know it when I see it. I believe Cara Maria is being psychologically abused by the loose cannon that is Abram. For those of you that are skeptical, I would ask that you do your research on emotional abuse and then carefully watch the “Blood Brothers” episode and its aftershow. Yes, it’s healthy for partners to fight. It is not healthy for one partner to be consistently silenced, scorned, and controlled by the other.

So to Cara Maria, all I can say is that I hope you do run away like you said you wanted to. Run. And run as fast as you can.

If you think you or someone you know may be suffering from emotional or any other kind of abuse, visit WomensHealth.gov or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1800-799-7233.

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