Welcome to MTV’s The Challenge — Guide for New Fans / Viewers
Hey y’all! Welcome to the show !! 🎉
The 34th season of MTV’s The Challenge — dubbed War of the Worlds 2 (but originally titled Bloody Hell, resulting in repetitive and humorous voice-dubbing whenever TJ mentions the season)— is currently underway, and it is LIT! 🔥
We’ve had back-to-back shocking eliminations and many people calling the past 2 episodes the best in literal years — helped along by them having 90 minute eps this season. Both #TheChallenge and #(name of the eliminated competitor) were trending worldwide on Twitter after the episode, at 2 and 3. That is POWER. You love to see it.
And the viewership numbers are up too: the #3 show for the premiere and the #2 for last week’s ep (on Sept 11). The subreddit I moderate has been poppin’ too — with 32,500 members (and rising every single day) and 1000+ active users all day yesterday.
All this means that MTV is (finally?) succeeding and The Challenge is getting new viewers — and/or maybe older fans tuning back in. But since it’s in the 34th season, there is a LOT of history and lore to know, to enjoy the show to the fullest. So here is an intro guide for new viewers. It’s long but worth it (that’s what he said).
HERSTORY OF THE SHOW
The Challenge began a LONG time ago, in June 1998, and looked a lot different than it does today. It started as a silly competition with alumni from Real World and Road Rules, with a light-hearted “summer camp” feel, no eliminations, and small prizes.
Season 5 (Battle of the Seasons, 2002) was the first to have eliminations, but only by vote-off. Elimination rounds (typically one-on-one physical competitions, sometimes puzzles or endurance) began in S7 (The Gauntlet 1, 2004). This is one reason that that separates The Challenge from other reality TV competitions like Big Brother and Survivor.
Casting originally expanded on S12 (Fresh Meat I, 2006), with people (the titular Meat) who had not been on reality TV before. This happened again on:
- S19 (Fresh Meat II, 2010) with the same idea
- S26 (Battle of the Exes II, 2015) with alumni from Are You the One?
- S27 (Battle of the Bloodlines, 2016) with siblings/cousins of alumni from RR, RW AYTO, FM, and Spring Break Challenge
- S31 (Vendettas, 2018), with alumni from Big Brother US and MTV UK shows Geordie Shore and Ex on the Beach
- S32 (Final Reckoning, 2018), with alumni from Bad Girls Club and Vanderpump Rules both of whom were on Ex on the Beach US
And then Season 33 (War of the Worlds, 2019) exploded the casting pool, having 18 competitors debut from an enormous variety of shows: BBUS, EotB UK, AYTO Brazil, Survivor Turkey, Geordie Shore, Party Down South, The Bachelor Canada, The Bachelorette US, BB Over the Top, American Ninja Warrior, Love Island UK, Floribama Shore, and even a telenovela.
This was to create a new trilogy with international competitors. The US 🇺🇸 and UK 🇬🇧 were obviously represented, along with Canada 🇨🇦 Turkey 🇹🇷 Australia 🇦🇺 Mexico 🇲🇽 and Brazil 🇧🇷
The brightest stars (besides Mattie) returned for the current season (War of the Worlds 2, 2019), which added further new franchises: Shipwrecked UK, Survival of the Fittest UK, and even a YouTube channel (BKChat London).
Previously, it was easy to watch these people’s previous shows to get to know who/how they are — when it was only RW and RR — but now it’s pretty much impossible, and The Challenge has become a Battle Royale of reality TV stars (plus some randoms). The show was flagging for a while, but the UK and BB competitors gave it the booster shot it needed — and now we might be in a new Golden Age 🤞🏽
All along the way, throughout these 34 seasons + 4 spin-offs, The Challenge has gotten harder, less friendly, more extreme, and more Cutthroat— with innovative formats / themes, experimental (and controversial) twists, fewer winners, and a much larger prize purse.
Gone are the carefree days where people would volunteer to go into elimination and cast members had access to phones and email, as well as days off to relax, go bike riding (looking at you, Trishelle), or whatever. Now they have less freedom and the Double Cross and steal-your-money twists and the option to change allegiances and Mercenaries who can take your spot in the game, with everyone clawing and backstabbing their way to get their share of $1,000,000+.
As I said before: it’s lit 💥
SO, WHERE TO EVEN BEGIN?
..to dive into this 20+ year old franchise with so much background and mythos? Well, ~let me tell you.~
The What Season Should You Watch 1.0 thread on reddit can guide you and answer some questions, and I’ve tried to make it as useful as r/Survivor’s version. It’s not yet there, but it is only the 1.0 version, so chill. Check it out anyway.
The biggest difference between The Challenge and other popular reality TV competitions like Survivor, Big Brother, RuPaul’s Drag Race, and maybe The Amazing Race (idk I don’t know her) is that cast members come back season after season.
Of course, there are returning players on those shows too, but the luckiest on RPDR and BB have only had 3 chances, and before S39/40, Survivor only had 4 people who played 4 times.
But on The Challenge, Johnny “Bananas” has been on 19 seasons + 2 spin-offs; CT on 16 + 3 spin-offs; Cara Maria on 14 + 2 spin-offs; and Wes on 12 + 4 spin-offs. Yeah, it’s a lot.
(Some would argue that’s way too much, but I digress…)
But the ability for these characters to return season after season is what makes The Challenge so great! You see this long-form storytelling, with alliances forming and falling apart; how actions in one season affect future ones; relationships starting, progressing, and ending (including multiple weddings and divorces between cast members); multi-season story arcs; people growing/glowing up and going from hopeless underdogs to multiple champions; and how 3 players who were eliminated first on their debut season may actually have become the Greatest of All Time. It’s fascinating and makes for compelling television. There’s no other show like it!
Because of this, though, it means there is always history and past events that will enrich your viewing experience when watching a season — the background and context of relationships between players. But as a new fan, it might seem daunting and difficult to plunge into this world. So I’ll help you out.
CRASH COURSE FOR WAR OF THE WORLDS 2
If you’re currently watching War of the Worlds 2 — which you should be, and if you aren’t, why are you even here?— and just want a quick ’n’ dirty way to get up to speed for this season (and you’ll watch other, older ones after WotW2 concludes), here’s my recos to binge-watch:
1. War of the Worlds 1 (season 33)
The best season since S26 (Battle of the Exes 2) and also the most recent season. Features NINETEEN of this season’s 32 competitors — everyone except the debuts, Faith, Jordan, Laurel, Tori, Joss, Kayleigh, and Rogan.
2. Free Agents (season 25)
Another superb season, which will introduce you to Laurel and Jordan. Other competitors are here too and also have great showings (Cara, Johnny, Leroy, Nany, Zach).
3. Dirty Thirty (season 30)
An under-rated season that is better on a binge-watch because it has more episodes than the average season. Get to know Tori here and Jordan more, including how they met (they just got engaged).
4. Final Reckoning (season 32)
Get to know Faith, Joss, and Kayleigh here. Also features Tori, Ashley, Cara, Johnny, Kam, Paulie, Zach, and CT.
For Rogan and the debuts (Esther, Idris, Jenny, Nicole, Sean, and Big T), they (essentially) haven’t been on The Challenge at all. So get to know them during WotW2 like the rest of us!
WHAT SEASON(S) TO START WITH
If for some reason you haven’t begun watching War of the Worlds 2 but want to get up into this gig and start watching The Challenge (which I wholeheartedly recommend), I have some tips for you, so you don’t do it all helter-skelter (and end up playing yourself, like I did).
In recent years, I became a huge fan of US Survivor and Big Brother (both US and Canada), but figuring out where to dive in was difficult. You CAN’T Google the seasons, because you’ll learn who wins, but you also don’t want to just take a blind stab at a random season, because of all the returning players, legacies, and formats that rely on previous knowledge.
So I’ll save you the hassle. BBUS — season 20 from 2018. BBCan — season 2 from 2014. US Survivor — either season 28 (Cagayan) from 2014 or season 37 (David vs Goliath) from 2018. All available on CBS All-Access.
But more importantly, knowledgeably, and thoroughly — let me be your light in the darkness for the Challenge.
Option 1: Watch Season 33 (War of the Worlds, 2019) + then start WotW2 (we’re only 4 episodes in)
As in, you should’ve done this already, before reading this post. Of the cast, 18/34 have never been on a previous season, and 2 others have only been on 1 before (and 3 only 2 before, etc). So you don’t really need to understand all the past events to enjoy it, because the majority of players haven’t been on the show before.
People loved this season and see it as a great return to form for The Challenge, with more physical dailies and eliminations, the hardest final they’ve ever had, and a less twisted / convoluted format. It’s superb, not overlong, and very recent. Check it out.
If you’ve already watched WotW1 and started WotW2, and have been enjoying it, but don’t want to go too far back just yet -
Option 2: Watch Season 29 (Invasion of the Champions, 2017) + then the Trilogy
An excellent starting season to meet many of the major players for the next couple seasons (including WotW1 and 2). Of the cast, 8 are debuts and 6 are on their second season, so again, you don’t need too much knowledge of the past to enjoy it. Also underrated in my eyes (it renewed my love for the show and is also when I got super involved on this sub), but people don’t like it because of (valid) complaints about the format.
Again, not a bloated season, entertaining, and is v. recent. After that, watch 30–32 (the “Trilogy”) and WotW1 to catch up to where we are.
Really like the show and are comfortable going back a couple more years?
Option 3: Start with Season 19 (Fresh Meat II, 2010) + watch chronologically from there
The Fresh Meat have not been on TV before, so you can get to know them here. A strong political season with big personalities, a unique location, and an exciting, unpredictable boot order and final. The debut of 2 women who are in the argument to be Top 5 of all time, along with some other fun characters. Followed by Cutthroat, a good season (better than FM2 in my eyes, and a great Old School and New School season), and then comes Rivals 1, which is often people’s favourite season.
Why don’t I recommend to start with Rivals 1? Well, it’s like Survivor Heroes vs Villains, possibly the best season of all, but much better when you understand the history and everything that precedes it. You’ll enjoy it more if you don’t watch it first. So do what you want, but that’s my twenty cents.
Love the show and want to see more of what made it great?
Option 4: Start with Season 12 (Fresh Meat I, 2006) + watch chronologically from there
An amazing season that is the debut for SO MANY huge characters and competitors that will dominate the show one way or another for the next 10+ seasons (some of whom are still “killing it” on the show nowadays). The Fresh Meat have not been on TV before (again), so you can get to know them here, and 4 of the alumni on this season come from RW Austin and debut on FM1 — so knowing much history is not critical to enjoying FM1.
Also followed by another perennially favourite season, The Duel I, which is a phenomenal format and season, which also debuts 2 people who have been on 10+ seasons. Honestly >> this is where any new fan should start << simply because of the calibre of the debuts (even if it missed some of the best seasons like Inferno 1). Episodes are only 20ish minutes and not widely available or in HD, but still, it’s a must-see.
Adore The Challenge and want to *really* invest your time in enjoying it?
Option 5: Watch Season 5 (Battle of the Seasons, 2002) + watch chronologically from there
The first season with eliminations and thus the start of The Challenge as we know it today. A large cast of 32 people (when the casts before only had 12), including the debut of many Challenge legends. It’s really what made the show what it is today, and soon after it, it has some all-timer seasons (The Gauntlet 1, The Inferno 1, Inferno 2, and I guess the Battle of the Sexes seasons).
Obviously it’s super old at this point, and thus not available widely or in high-definition — but that doesn’t mean it’s not hella entertaining! A great show. (The first 4 seasons are fine too, and the debut of other legends, but don’t have eliminations so they are much different from other Challenge seasons)
WHERE TO WATCH
You can view many past seasons legally and for free on mtv.ca; some on mtv.com; and maybe on other international MTV sites. Check out this reddit comment for a way to do this if you don’t have cable. Amazon Prime has “MTV Hits” right now for less than $10 / month, which is gr8. You can buy full seasons from Amazon as well (like Fresh Meat 2 and Invasion), and on the Microsoft store. Maybe iTunes? Is that still a thing?
Pluto TV — which is legitimate, free TV streaming — recently launched a channel that only shows reruns of The Challenge, something MTV refuses to do. It’s free and great to tune in and watch some random episodes.
There’s lots of podcasts you can listen to, often for free, about the Challenge and often by/with Challenge alumni. These are great to learn behind-the-scenes secrets & interesting tidbits. Check out the Brain Candy Podcast by Challenge alumni Sarah Rice & Susie Meister; Challenge Mania by Challenge veteran Derrick Kosinksi & his buddy Scott Yager (who also did a wonderful recent AMA on the subreddit); Smashing Heads; No Quitters; You Killed It; and others — a list is here.
Ok, werk. Go have fun, enjoy the show, and long live the Lavender Ladies! 💜