Reel Therapy

Unraveling the mind through film

The Challenge: Someone's In Need of Therapy

How interpersonal and emotional dysregulation causes one cast member's downfall

Let’s talk about the big blow-up on “Battle of the Seasons” this past week. Team Las Vegas imploded, which happened because the relationship between Trishelle and Dustin deteriorated, which stemmed from…the way in which a bad event was handled.

Here’s the bad event: Every episode there’s a daunting athletic challenge that each team competes in, and the individual team’s performance and subsequent outcome in this challenge determines whether or not two of the four team members must enter into the arena (a second competition in each episode in which two competing teams battle and the losers are booted from the show and, therefore, any chance of winning the grand prize money). So in this episode Team Las Vegas lost the daunting athletic challenge because Trishelle tried to complete her part of the challenge and failed. This is a simple fact, but an important one and I’ll talk more in a minute about how the denial of this fact fueled the blow-up.

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The competition involved deep-diving under water, and retrieving an object attached to a rope and resurfacing with it. Again, Trishelle, tried…failed the first one or two times that she made an attempt…and then she panicked, froze, and refused to try it again. As a result, Team Las Vegas lost.

In and of itself, this is not the end of the world. Trishelle could’ve apologized for being the sole source of the team’s loss (and inevitably placing the team on the chopping block); and it probably would’ve helped to acknowledge that she was the only member of the show to not complete her task. And as a final logical step in responding to her role in the team’s loss she could’ve done what Dustin reasonably requested - volunteer herself as one of the two females on the team to go into the Arena. She lost the challenge, thus it makes sense that she apologize and be the one to risk elimination from the show by going into the Arena.

If this had happened - if Trishelle had adaptively managed her emotions and responses to the bad event - then the bitter disappointment of defeat would’ve likely dissipated and the team’s cohesion would’ve remained intact as the team awaited the Arena. She even would’ve got something she seemed to want, an apology from Dustin for “treating her harshly” during the competition as she was failing at the task.  

Sadly, this is not what happened; not by a long shot. Instead, Trishelle exhibited a patterned response to the whole thing that shows a fundamentally maladaptive way of relating to herself and others.

For starters, it became clear at a certain point in the aftermath of the failed challenge that her goal was not to behave in a moral, thoughtful, logical manner but to instead stay on the show at all costs, which meant avoiding the Arena at all costs. While understandable, this motive is hardly admirable. More problematically, whatever emotions she felt about her failed performance (i.e. embarrassment at having failed, sadness that she put the whole team at risk, etc.) became instantly disavowed. At no point in the show did she verbalize any of these unavoidable human emotions. To her it seemed as if the Team lost, and that Team's lose some times and people really need to get off her back about it. She couldn’t event admit that there was a link between her performance in the challenge and the outcome of the team being on the chopping block. And she couldn’t even have a coherent conversation about her decision to not volunteer herself for the Arena.  

So her thinking at the outset of all this was a bit immature, a bit self-interested.  She doesn’t believe she should have to go into the Arena, she’s going to strategically do all she can to avoid this fate, and she’s going to lash out if anyone questions this. It’s important to notice the choices she’s making all along the way, like how she seemed unwilling to manage the anxiety of going into the Arena, and didn't see why going into the Arena was a logical option. She doesn’t verbalize any of this, or own up to any of this, or even briefly cop to it before continuing to cling to her own agenda.

And now we’ve arrived at, in my opinion, the most disturbing part – Trishelle’s increasingly hostile and avoidant reactions to Dustin, her teammate and someone who became increasingly and understandably frustrated with her.

Dustin is pretty straightforward and emotionally stable, so he’s consistently pushing the agenda that Trishelle go into the arena (natural consequences for having lost the challenge), and he’s not letting her off the hook. He’s respectful and polite at first, but persistent. So, now Trishelle’s in a corner. What does she do? She lashes out and we learn a lot about how she relates to other people.

She feels attacked and abandoned by Dustin, which doesn’t make any sense. And she decides to create a distraction from his inquiries by pre-emptively attacking him. Her social world becomes a war zone in which people are either friends or enemies, and Dustin is clearly on the other side of the battle line. In-between the failed challenge and the Arena, Trishelle spends the episode attacking her teammates indiscriminately while bemoaning a sense of victimization. And she provokes arguments with Dustin and then recruits others in an inexplicable campaign to discredit and anger him. And, again, she does this even though Dustin has predominately treated her with patience and respect. She flings insults and lies at him, which he predominately handles with composure and restraint. And when he attempts to confront and resolve, she shuts down and becomes impossible to work with.

On the surface, this episode’s depicts Trishelle losing a challenge, and strategically avoiding her entrance into the Arena (a goal she surprisingly succeeds with when the other female member of Team Las Vegas volunteers herself….we’ll need another blog to illuminate that seemingly bizarre decision). But below the surface, the depths of Trishelle’s maladaptie approach to handling emotions and relationships have been unearthed for all to see.

We’ve learned that (at least in this high-stress context) Trishelle fundamentally struggles to process her failures with clarity and humility, to take ownership over her performance and her role in causing conflicts, and to brutally hurt others in the service of selfish goals.

I’ve got one word for Trishelle….therapy; lot’s of it. It’s a very destructive pattern that she’s stuck within; it’s a pattern in which she unknowingly creates distress in herself and conflicts with others, and she unskillfully responds to such emerging events so that they blow-up.

 

Jeremy Clyman, Psy.D., attained his doctorate in clinical psychology at Yeshiva University.

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