Why "The Real World/Road Rules Challenge" Is The Most Brilliant Investment MTV Has Ever Made


The latest round of MTV’s reality competition “Real World/Road Rules Challenge” kicks off tonight. Can you feel the excitement?


That’s because “The Challenge” has never sparked the same fawning cultural obsession that “Laguna Beach” and “Jersey Shore” have earned.

Rather, it’s busied itself with delivering consistent, steady ratings for MTV — and with serving as an efficient workhorse for the 21 (yes, 21) seasons it’s been on the air.

For a network that spends most of its time trying hard to stay ahead of teenagers’ boredom, the durable “Challenge” has been a rare perennial.

And it’s easy to figure out why.

“The Challenge” has a brilliant formula when it comes to casting: mix recent “Real World” alums who are still top of mind with dynamic old favourites who, over the years, grow gradually into hallmark “Challenge” characters.

After a while, viewers can’t recall: was it “Real World: Hollywood” that gave them Wes Bergmann? Or was “Austin” his season?

The answer: doesn’t matter. He’s now just known as a fiery “Challenge” antagonist. (OK, the real answer: it was “Austin.”)

And then there’s this: the show has one of the most disciplined formats on television (one that “Survivor” completely copied with its “Redemption Island” twist, by the way).

Producers reinvent the “hook” — this time around, contestants will be paired with their historic “Challenge” enemies — each season.

They create sophisticated competitions that are complicated, but never too complicated — and let them play out over time periods that are never too short or long.

And most importantly, they capitalise on the ways competition can bleed into real life.

Unlike “The Real World” (or the long-cancelled “Road Rules”), “The Challenge” never has to rely on sly¬† editing to trump up controversy.

Pit people against each other in the jungle all day, put out the booze, and they will fight and hook up all night. There’s no getting around the adrenaline — or the complete geographic isolation.

And there’s no getting around the fact that “The Challenge” is the biggest no-brainer on MTV’s balance sheet.

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