How will you leave your mark on this world? That’s the overarching theme of the 5th episode of The Climb, HBO Max’s gripping reality climbing competition. In this episode, host and legendary climber Chris Sharma takes the six remaining amateurs to an exotic new location he’s never been to himself but promises it will “rock their world.” He doesn’t lie. The gang lands in Wadi Rum, Jordan, where the dramatic rock formations and sand dunes look straight out of an Indiana Jones movie.
Like Dr. Jones, Sharma is an action hero, but instead of wielding a whip – in Jordan, he’s armed with a power drill. He decides to stab a new climb for the contestants on rock that’s been there for thousands of years, then he’ll let the winner of the next challenge name the route, which will live on in the pages of climbing guide books, for eternity.
It’s a big deal. Most climbers will never create a “First Ascent” or FA, in their entire careers. “It’s coveted,” Sharma explains. “Most people are happy to follow.”
“An FA from Chris is a gift,” Alice marvels. “It’s special.”
Sharma is feeling generous but isn’t about to take it easy on them. He drills into an 85-foot high arret, angled 90 degrees like an open book, with 14 bolts. The sandstone is slippery, with little to hold onto. As he bores into the slab, it’s very fragile. He makes sure it’s not super hazardous with loose rock or deadly holes. It’s fascinating to watch.
It’s Anyone’s Game
Unfortunately, this exciting adventure will not include Tiffany, because she contracts COVID and is stuck in quarantine. The group is also mourning Brad — everyone is still in shock that he was eliminated on the last go. “Brad would love it here,” Robyn sighs. “We are definitely missing his energy.”
Brad’s absence creates major opportunity for the other front runners though, like Cat and Dom, who now have a real shot at the $100,000 cash prize and sponsorship with prAna. Cat and Dom have a deep convo about how important representation in the sport is to them. “Not many people like us have put up a route,” says Dom, who is Black. Cat, who is transgender, desperately wants the First Ascent. “You don’t have to be white or Cis [gender],” he says. “I can be trans and be great at what I do.”
Climbing order is key. To see who goes first, the group climbs a short slab with no hands, testing their footwork and balance. The winner gets to determine the order. It’s a lot harder than it looks, and Deco is the only one to reach the top. Sharma points out that the Brazilian has what it takes to win the whole competition, but he’s a little “chaotic” and needs to “calm down.”
The Main Climb
Deco graciously offers Cat and Dom the first two spots. Cat’s strategy is to be patient and focused. This climb has incredibly delicate hand holds and intricate footholds with microscopic edges.
He makes it to the middle, which has almost no footholds. He “smears,” which means pushing his sole into the wall to create friction. It’s risky because it’s slippery and he can fall at any point. Cat starts shaking…then falls on the 7th clip. He’s totally bummed he won’t get the FA and name the route. “I really wanted it.”
Dom doesn’t do any better. He’s not comfortable on his feet and while he gets close to the crux, he falls below the sixth clip.
Alice heads up next and she looks the best she ever has in the competition. She started out so insecure and defeated but her confidence has blossomed with every challenged. To get over the last hump, she grunts like Serena Williams, and it works like a charm. She tops. “It’s a great moment for me,” she beams.
Alice’s climb is inspiring to Deco, who claims it “lit a fire in me.” More like a stick of dynamite. Deco gives a jokey shout-out to his competitors before ascending aggressively. He breaks a big hold and tumbles off the face before he even really gets going. It’s obvious Sharma is disappointed in Deco, once again. Not only because he ruined his route but also because he obviously doesn’t care what’s on the line.
Being the goofy one is a cop out, co-host Meagan Martin scolds, because if it’s not real, what did you lose? Sharma tells Deco it’s a “wake-up call to be more focused.” Deco promises to show that he really wants to be there, but we’ve heard this from him before. His immature act is getting tiresome.
Name That Tufa
So, Alice wins the FA and gets the huge honor of naming the route. She chooses “Steely Eyed Sandy Dance,” and even after explaining what it means, nobody has any idea what it means.
Apparently, climbing routes have a long history of being quirky, funny, juvenile, even vulgar and misogynistic – never “boring.” C’mon Alice. That’s like naming your firstborn child Jane Doe.
The elimination round, a 65-foot ribbed Tufa, ends up not being an elimination round. To be fair, because of Tiffany’s (lucky fo them) COVID absence, Dom and Deco live to see another week.
Instead, the top two climbers — Alice and Cat — will face off and the winner will get immunity in the next climb. Oh joy. They look about as happy to climb as if they were getting a root canal. They’re physically and mentally exhausted.
But the show must go on.
Cat heads up first with redemption in mind but gets pumped, meaning his arms are totally spent. He gets stuck under the last clip, and the episode ends once again in a literal cliffhanger.
But because we already know nobody is going home, it’s about as exciting as “Steely Eyed Sandy Dance.”