Sports Television

Diving into The Challenge: Total Madness

It’s been joked about many a time by many a people (I believe Bill Simmons was the originator, but I could be wrong), but MTV’s The Challenge is America’s fifth major sport. We’ve both written and talked about it on this very site.

When it began, The Challenge was another vehicle for MTV’s rambunctious, party-life reality TV drama. It combined the casts of the Real World and the Road Rules, and pitted them against each other in “challenges” akin to those you’d find at some bar in PCB during spring break — one that comes to mind is swimsuit-clad contestants having to melt a block of ice without using their hands. Let’s just say there were sexual overtones.

As the years have passed, and The Challenge begins its 35th (!!!) season, the contest has become more serious. The goofy, gimmicky games have given way to actual athletic contests that resemble an iron man or tough mudder competition. The finals are a grueling test of endurance and fortitude. The cast members geek out when they find the gym at the Challenge house. Times have changed.

This season is known as “Total Madness” and has been hyped up as the craziest challenge yet. While that remains to be seen, after two episodes we can begin to paint this season’s picture.

This season’s format

The Challenge constantly tweaks its format to keep contestants on their toes and keep the show fresh. While we don’t know how the final will play out yet, the weekly challenges are a mix of individual and team events — for example, week one was an individual challenge with one male and one female winner, and week two consisted of randomly-selected three-person teams. The winners form the tribunal, then select three people to interrogate and from there select one of them to enter elimination — this season known as Purgatory. The losers — everyone in the house who isn’t in the tribunal — vote on one person to enter elimination. From there it’s simple: winner stays, loser goes home.

In recent seasons, MTV has thrown in little twists and wrinkles to the competition’s format to spice things up — such as having eliminated contestants whisked away to a secret house and having a competition of their own to get back in the game. This season’s twist is a good one: to be eligible for the final, competitors must earn a red skull by winning an elimination challenge. In an even better twist presented by longtime host T.J. Lavin in episode two, members of the tribunal can forego their vote and volunteer to compete in the elimination and earn their red skull. That will certainly alter strategies.

Off to a good start

On the debut episode, Rogan and Jenny emerged as victors of their respective heats, and chose Cory to join them in the tribunal. Those three, following Challenge tradition, decided to vote in rookie Jay to face another rookie, Asaf, who was voted in by the losers. Jay took the win, and afterwards is when T.J. let the cast know about the red skulls, throwing the “rookies go in first” strategy into disarray.

Episode two’s competition was comprised of randomly-selected three-person teams, and was won by the team of rookie Swaggy C, one of last season’s winners Dee, and Challenge vet Cory. Before elimination, they were presented with the volunteer option. It being a female elimination day, Dee was the only eligible person, and she declined to use the opportunity to earn a red skull and qualify for the final. Instead, the tribunal voted in Jenny, easily one of the female favorites, and she won handily over rookie Jenn.

So, that means after two episodes Jay and Jenny are the only two competitors eligible for the final.

Wes and Bananas have formed an unholy alliance

As for the game behind the game, there has been one major development: longtime rivals Johnny Bananas and Wes have called an end to their blood feud and joined forces. The two biggest shit stirrers in Challenge history have combined their devious minds in an attempt at power. We shall see how, or if, it even works.

Bananas may be a shithead, but he’s also a 6-time Challenge winner, the most all-time. Wes has won two, but ask him and he’s the greatest who ever lived. Wes constantly carries himself like he’s on Game of Thrones plotting to take the crown. Wes is annoying.

This should make for good TV going forward.

Nany works fast, possibly passes on her curse

Nany is a veteran of nine challenges. She has competed in one final, and won zero. She has a bit of a self-identified “curse” — she’s often made it to the challenge before the final, only to lose, or lost extremely early, In one cruel twist of fate, she had to face her own cousin in an elimination (she lost).

On this season’s debut episode, Nany had her eye set on rookie Asaf (an Israeli American Ninja Warrior competitor). She quite literally told him he was sleeping in her bed on the first night.

Unfortunately for Asaf, he was voted into elimination and subsequently lost to Jay. Perhaps Nany found a way to pass on her curse, we shall see.


On “Rivals III,” host T.J. presented the competitors with a huge twist: the winning team (consisting of two people) would have a choice to make: the individual with the better time would get to either share the prize money or keep it for themself. Bananas won and without remorse chose to keep all of the money, shattering his partner Sarah. Sarah has not returned to the show since. That was seven seasons ago.

On “Final Reckoning,” winner Ashley was presented with the same opportunity. She chose the same path, electing not to share the money with partner Hunter. What Bananas did is universally regarded as cold-blooded and the dirtiest move in show history. Ashley’s choice is a little cloudier. In the seasons since, she has caught some flak for the decision, but has also had a good share of supporters. I include myself in that camp, seeing as Hunter was a huge piece of shit to her. He constantly verbally abused her, and even threatened her at one point. Team Ashley all day.

Power Rankings

OK, so that header is a bit misleading. Eventually, once the season rounds into form, we’ll put out some Challenge power rankings. But, it’s too early for that. Kinda like how the College Football Playoff rankings aren’t released until October, we need to see how the season shakes out a little before making any rankings. That said, we can certainly make some snap judgements.

The usual suspects are still there: Bananas, CT, Jordan, Jenny, Tori, Ashley are your favorites, most likely. Fessy is a rookie to follow, as he was apparently a D1 football player. Mattie is another female to watch out for, as she made the final in her rookie season and has proven herself a strong competitor.

This season looks like it’ll provide plenty of excitement, and we’ll be here each step of the way.

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