A Churro Is the Sexiest Character in ‘Challengers’

For a movie with no actual sex scenes, Challengers is very hot. Well, the more accurate word here is “horny”—because its hottest moments are the ones whose subtext is so glaring, it’s shocking that the characters don’t pounce on each other then and there. And one scene in particular should send director Luca Guadagnino straight to horny jail, for heavily implying the sex we wish the characters were just straight-up having instead. It involves—as is this food-lusting filmmaker’s wont—a churro.

Yes, the man who brought you “Timothée Chalamet sticks his dick in a peach” and “Timothée Chalamet makes eating a human being look really sexy” has added a new moment of edible eroticism to his oeuvre. Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor have entered the pantheon of sensual cinema with their technically chaste, but unbelievably sensual shared churro chomp—an action so visceral with a food so phallic, I have to imagine it will inspire many porn parodies to come.

Challengers is already slathered in metaphors: Tashi (Zendaya) equates sex with success on the tennis court, a passion driven by her aborted career in the sport. Unable to dominate opponents as she once did—an injury in college means she can no longer play professionally— she projects her lust for the sport upon her husband Art (Faist) and ex-boyfriend/Art’s ex-best friend Patrick (O’Connor). This love triangle was born when Tashi’s irrepressible allure (and sex drive) attracted both Art and Patrick to her as teens. As Tashi’s desires volley between Patrick and Art—the latter of whom becomes a Roger Federer-style pro, while the former fades into obscurity—it causes a years-long rift in the boys’ friendship. That rift rips wide open once more when they face off at a small-scale qualifier match that, thanks to Tashi, suddenly becomes the game of their lives.

All of this happens within a frame narrative that sees the film going between modern day (August 2019) and the 12-year period that led them to this match. One of the most significant portions of the film involves Art and Tashi’s freshman year at Stanford, where Tashi and Patrick continue a long-distance relationship; Patrick forgoes college in favor of going pro. But all hell breaks loose the weekend Patrick comes to visit to watch one of Tashi and Art’s matches—the same match where Tashi injures herself, ending her career.

But what’s really important about this trip is a much smaller moment, one that is, in fact, so major that The New York Times already has an entire breakdown of it. Art and Patrick reconnect in the cafeteria over the sexiest damn-ass churro I have ever seen in my life.

On its face, the scene has a clear narrative purpose: Over some fried sugar sticks, Art slyly tries to sow seeds of discord into Patrick’s relationship with her, implying that she’s not as committed to Patrick as he is to her. It’s a move Art already tried to pull with Tashi, all in the hopes of manipulating the pair away from each other and back toward him.

In an interview for The New York Times’ Anatomy of a Scene feature, Guadagnino describes the sequence as “a game of rivalry sparking between these two young boys over Tashi.” But he admits there’s much more going on here: “At the same time, a jealousy ignites [their] relationship also, because probably these two guys are also jealous of another, not only of Tashi.”

“Probably?” These boys are in desperate need of each other, and they are not subtle about it whatsoever. Every single bit of body language screams, “I can’t believe you haven’t taken my clothes off yet”: Patrick’s hands folded inside of his shirt; Art walking over to his old friend, one long, sugar-flecked cylindrical snack in each hand; the camera cutting to their feet, as Patrick immediately pulls Art’s stool closer to him. (Never has wearing socks with slides looked so hot.)

Art and Patrick lean into each other as they chomp on their individual churros and talk about Tashi. As Patrick catches onto Art’s attempt to push Patrick and his girlfriend away from each other, Patrick swings his arm around Art, pulling his friend inches away from his beautiful, beautiful face. Then, Art paws at Patrick with his churro crumb-covered hand to push him away—and this is where things get so horny that Guadagnino is basically edging the entire audience.

“When the sugar goes on the cheek of Patrick, Art takes it off with his hand in a very nice gesture of kindness—and very intimate, I would say,” Guadagnino says in the Times video about this superficially innocuous motion. Yes, we would all say that, Signor.

And then, it happens: Patrick takes a giant chomp of his churro, then sticks it in Art’s face. And Art, smiling, takes a giant chomp back. The boys look at each other, chewing, smiling, before heading out.

Mike Faist, Zendaya, and Josh O’Connor

Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

It’s shocking. It’s sexy. It’s delectable. It’s going to make you want to take a cold shower, pronto. And, better yet, it was unscripted; in a recent interview, Faist and O’Connor said that Guadagnino encouraged them to do it. Guadagnino was coy about this nasty-boy moment in an interview of his own, however; “Sometimes, a churro is a churro is a churro,” he told Little White Lies with a laugh. Meanwhile, in the Times video, the director explains the moment by stating the utmost obvious: “I think [this scene] is about [the boys] being jealous of one another but at the same time wanting one another.”

That’s practically the thesis statement of Challengers, a movie that is ostensibly about two heterosexual relationships raging with homoerotic undertones. The movie’s (extremely over-hyped) three-way kiss scene is really only hot, for instance, when Tashi slowly pushes the boys together, setting the two of them up to unwittingly make out. It’s an explicitly sexual moment between Art and Patrick early into the film that they never come close to physically replicating. That is, except with that churro in the cafeteria.

It comes as no surprise that, in the days since Challengers’ release, the internet has erupted over this moment—a scene that’s already been hailed as “perfect.” (The Daily Beast’s Obsessed accurately described it as “perverted.”) Social media loves when two hot boys almost kiss each other just as much as—if not more than—two hot boys actually kissing each other. O’Connor put it best, however, in that same recent interview: “Churros are extraordinary.”

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