America’s 5th major sport — so dubbed by MTV — is back. MTV’s The Challenge, one of the longest-running reality shows on television, premiered its new season this week. This season, entitled “Double Agents” follows the show's most-watched recent season which premiered in April of this year.
The Challenge: Total Mayhem filled a void during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic being one of the only sports like competitions on TV when most major sports had their seasons put on pause. Already riding a wave of seasons that pushed the boundaries of the show, MTV has capitalized on its pandemic success by promising an even bigger and better challenge.
Originally called Road Rules: Allstars debuting in 1998, the series pitted stars two of MTV’s biggest shows, The Real World and Road Rules, against each other in a cutthroat competition for big prize money. Over the years The Challenge has grown and evolved. Competition has gotten bigger and bolder. MTV is using the phrase American's 5th largest sport" in its advertising and promotional materials this season.
Coined by sports media personality Bill Simmons, the phrase recognizes the physical and competitive nature of the show in a tongue in cheek way — something that's become less of a silly nod and more of a rallying cry for fans and MTV alike.
The premise of the show in short: a group of attractive and volatile individuals live together in a giant house in an exotic locale while they compete for large sums of money. It’s a reality show so there is always going to be scheming and alliances as well as plenty of fights and plenty of romance. What sets The Challenge apart is that it's a notoriously tough show with physically and mentally demanding challenges, blending drama and sports.
The appeal for longtime viewers is the relationships they have built with the challengers. Viewers watch to see their favorites compete in hopes of winning the title of challenge champ. Keeping the older established veterans in the mix is crucial to keeping the spirit of the show alive.
Still stocked with fan favorites and champs of the past, MTV has recruited stars from other reality shows like Big Brother and Survivor. MTV has also reached out across the pond getting an infusion of young British reality stars and hopefuls from shows like Love Island.
Eliminations and daily challenges range from running and solving a puzzle to scaffolding the side of a skyscraper to putting a pole in the sand and having to do whatever you can to wrestle it away from your opponent. The finals are notoriously brutal feats of endurance that go on for days at a time. Each season the difficulty and absurdity seemingly get turned up a notch and Double Agents does not seem like it’s going to buck that trend.
The face of The Challenge — Johnny “Bananas” Devenanzio — isn’t in the cast for this go-round taking a break after winning his 6th challenge title this summer in the previous installment. In his absence, MTV has stacked the deck with returning champs and fan favorites like Chris “CT” Tamburello (three titles), Wes Bergmann (two titles), Aneesa Ferreria (14th appearance), and brand new Houston resident Leroy Garrett (12th appearance). If returning favorites aren't enough The Challenge has upped the ante and recruited the likes of Olympian Lolo Jones who competed in a spin-off challenge competition Champs vs. Pros before but is now front and center in the main competition. Natalie Anderson, who is widely considered the best woman to ever compete in Survivor is poised to be a new force in The Challenge house.
Last season the mad scientists at MTV that tune and tweak The Challenge introduced a game-changing mechanic into an already chaotic competition. Contestants must win an elimination to gain the ability to compete in host T.J. Lavin’s finale (Lavin has increasingly taken ownership of all things within the show.) Usually, eliminations are something that you should avoid at all costs — staying in the game is crucial for a chance to win the final.
In the premiere episode host, Lavin flamboyantly arrives in front of the assembled contestants by helicopter decked out in a coat befitting the spy thriller theme of the season. He explains that every competitor is there for a reason, they all have specific skills whether it be athleticism or politics that set them apart and give them an edge in this game. Moves will be made, schemes will be hatched, and athletes will most surely be put in a tight hallway and told they have to go through each other for a chance at a million dollars. The game has evolved but it will always hold on to the things that made it great. With a new spy thriller theme and beautiful Icelandic setting The Challenge: Double Agents is poised for another boundary-pushing season.
Watch The Challenge: Double Agents on MTV Wednesdays at 7 p.m., also available on CBS All Access.