Lanford Beard
July 11, 2013 AT 02:00 PM EDT

Last night, The Challenge (a.k.a. MTV’s hybrid of Survivor and Temptation Island) made its way to Thailand for Rivals II, its 24th(!) season. As is the case with any event involving ginger terror Wes, there was plenty of hate going around. But my eyes were only on Wes’s partner CT. The jacked-up Bostonian was in rare form last night, briefly reigniting what Challenger Aneesa called “a classic love story” with ex-girlfriend Diem.

CT made his debut 10 years ago on The Real World Paris, but we really didn’t get to know him until his unexpected relationship with Diem during 2006’s The Duel. After three Challenges together, Diem’s yearslong battle with cancer, and even a salsa dancing-themed episode of Made, CT has more than exposed his soft underbelly and proven that he can be (to co-opt his adorable Boston accent) a real sweethaht… when he wants to be.

As it were, CT generally doesn’t want to play nice. I’ll be the first to admit there are plenty of things working against the blue-eyed bad boy. I mean, this is the man who punched a cactus. In fact, calling him a man isn’t even really even accurate. CT is pure beast, described even by 6’3″ Challenge monolith Zach as “a freak of nature, a machine.” During 2010’s Cutthroat, CT  literally strapped on rival Johnny Bananas like a human backpack and Sumo-stomped across the elimination Gulag.

If I’m being honest, CT tends to do more harm than good during his interactions with well… anybody. Not least of whom the women he flagrantly flirts with for sport and strategy. And for every sweet moment in his relationship with Diem, he’s just as readily flipped the switch to become emotionally detached and intentionally cruel. And the games don’t end with the ladies. Sure, you can’t really blame him for enjoying putting a little hurt on smarmy Wes during a partners challenge. But that mindset plays out 24/7. This is a guy who likes to tussle, who starts fights with the ease that the rest of us breathe — including a physical altercation with “aspiring rapper” Marlon within the first 15 minutes of last night’s premiere and a seemingly kamikaze decision to gun for Johnny Bananas in the first elimination vote. Point of fact: CT might actually be a psychopath. To quote his own Rivals II partner Wes: “The man legitimately scares me to death.” And he used to have this haircut.

And yet! Just like Diem’s Rivals II partner Aneesa, I perked up at even the hint of a CT-Diem reunion last night. Like a kicked puppy, I cast aside all my reservations and skulked back, head down. The moment that got me? When CT encouraged Diem to take off her wig (she’d self-consciously starting wearing one again because of an ovarian cancer recurrence). As calculated — not to mention hormone-driven — as CT can be about the loose “ladies” of The Challenge, he’s shown that he doesn’t open up to Diem willy-nilly. In this moment, you see why they shared one of the network’s MTV’s most heartening romances. Where CT usually prods and provokes others, he was trying to ease Diem’s discomfort and make her feel beautiful regardless of the length or color of her hair, regardless of sickness or health.

And so, even though CT moved on to make out with nubile newb Anastasia literally the next night, what I’m saying is this: I believe in love. Why else would I watch Bachelor PadCouples Therapy, and the Millionaire Matchmaker? (Well… other than the fact that I have terrible taste in television?) In fact, CT even admitted to Entertainment Tonight that he flirted with other girls in part to get Diem’s attention. Dysfunctional? True that. Effective? Double true.

Let me be absolutely clear: I don’t think this kid is marriage material — at best, he’s a summer fling. He’ll tell you as much himself. But just when I’ve dismissed CT as a one-dimensional meathead, he drops the boom and demonstrates that there’s just enough goodness there to keep me coming back like a moth to a flaming lunatic. If Diem’s any indication, clearly I’m not alone.

Your turn. Which bad-news-bear reality star can’t you quit? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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