Two decades after its debut, MTV’s “The Challenge” is still going strong.
What started off as a simple competition show has turned into more than 30 seasons of daring stunts, unpredictable twists, and enough drama to outlast both of its flagship series, “Real World” and “Road Rules.”
As entertaining as the show is, every season of “The Challenge” requires a lot of organisation and planning behind the scenes.
Here are 13 surprising facts you never knew about the hit reality series.
“Elite” cast members can make enough money on the show to not hold a full-time job.
You’ve probably wondered how “Challenge” stars can just take time off from their normal lives and jobs for upwards of a month to appear on the show.
It turns out how much the cast members make from the show depends on their performance and overall popularity. According to Us Weekly, “elite” players can make “upwards of $US80,000” just for showing up, allowing them to abstain from working outside of the show.
Other vets rake in $US3,000 to $US5,000 a week while rookies are paid about $US1,000 for every week they stay on the show. To supplement their income, some cast members work part-time or start side projects. Meanwhile, those who aren’t cast as often do maintain a regular, full-time job.
Producers think of the show as a “soap opera” of sorts.
In a 2017 interview with TV Guide, Jonathan Murray – the series co-creator and co-founder of Bunim/Murray Productions, which produces the show – said he believes a lot of viewers stick with the series “season after season” just to catch up with returning contestants.
“With ‘The Challenge,’ you’ve got cast members who viewers have grown up with,” Murray told Rolling Stone in January.
For the past two decades, viewers have watched some contestants go through “various phases of their lives,” including marriage, divorce, and “health threats,” Murray said.
“It’s the longest-running soap-opera on TV,” he added.
Cast members can get fined for leaking details about new seasons.
According to Murray, various preventative measures are taken in order to avoid spoilers getting out, including penalties for cast members who leak information too early.
“The cast understands that [leaking spoilers] only hurts them because if the ratings go down, the show potentially won’t come back,” Murray told Rolling Stone in January.”But we do have fines and penalties that come into effect if they release information. And we have serious talks about it.”
Contestants also get fined for showing up to competitions drunk.
In July, longtime contestant Chris “CT” Tamburello told Rolling Stone in an interview that the list of fines gets longer and longer every season.
Tamburello continued: “You get fined if you show up to a challenge drunk. You’ll probably get kicked off the show because that’s a liability. We do these crazy stunts where we’re hanging above a tall building on harnesses. You can’t be doing that if you’re drunk.”
Cast members have to get creative in their downtime.
According to Tamburello, contestants are not allowed to have access to phones, TV, or the internet during their time in the house. Cast members are not even allowed to leave the property, except for during scheduled outings and competitions.
To entertain himself on the show, Tamburello told Rolling Stone, he often liked to “indirectly stir the pot.”
“We call it a movie night when two people start fighting,” he said. “When something starts between two people you’ll hear someone yell out, ‘Movie night!’ Then everybody stops what they’re doing and they come running out to watch the fight.”
Competitors don’t get much warning before starting a season of “The Challenge.”
According to Tamburello, cast members get the call about joining the show only about a month or two before filming stars. But some get even shorter notice, depending on how the format plays out or if a last-minute slot opens.
“Some people get the call a week before. Some people will get the call while we’re filming,” he told Rolling Stone.
In a 2012 interview with TalkNerdyWithUs, longtime contestant Cara Maria Sorbello talked about how she got cast in “Battle of the Seasons,” the 23rd season of “The Challenge.”
Sorbello said she got a phone call at 10 p.m. one night asking her if she could get on a flight at 8 a.m. the next morning. “Something happened with one of the teams, and I guess they had to be sent home so we were called in as a replacement,” she said.
Getting alcohol isn’t as easy as it looks.
It may look like the cast members have access to unlimited alcohol, but that’s actually not the case. Players are provided with beer, wine, and occasionally vodka, which is dyed blue so that it can’t be passed off as water. The same limitations on beer, wine, and vodka apply to nights out, too.
“[The alcohol is] distributed conservatively,” longtime contestant Johnny “Bananas” Devenanzio told Us Weekly. Producers want to prevent cast members from overindulging, arguing, or putting themselves and other co-stars at risk.
Johnny “Bananas” is not guaranteed a spot on the show indefinitely, despite popular opinion.
Devenanzio has become arguably the most famous player on “The Challenge,” appearing on 17 seasons, making it to eight finals, and winning six.
He has also appeared on “Champs vs. Pros” and “Champs vs. Stars,” the latter of which awarded him $US150,000 for a charity of his choice when he won.
Throughout Johnny “Bananas” long tenure, his aggressively strategic gameplay has arguably won him more critics than friends, but it’s also made him one of the most-talked-about stars on MTV.
With that reputation, it’s no surprise many people assume that he’s guaranteed a spot on “The Challenge” for the indefinite future. But in his interview with Rolling Stone from January, Murray told Rolling Stone that’s actually not the case.
“It has to work for the format,” Murray said. “It generally has for [Devenanzio], but we put out a lot of calls to a lot of people.”
Contestants must be prepared to go outside their comfort zone.
In August, Johnny “Bananas” told PopSugar that the producers of the show “think so outside of the box” to find ways to push contestants outside of their comfort zone.
Speaking about his many experiences on the series, Devenanzio listed several particularly “uncomfortable” challenges he’s had to complete.
“I had to go to a smell laboratory in Kansas City where they test deodorants, foot powders, that sort of thing, and I had to smell sweaty armpits and sweaty feet,” he said.
Devenanzio continued: “I got my a– handed to me by a bunch of NFL football players last week. I was in a haunted house. I didn’t believe in ghosts before going in. I most certainly do now.”
The rivalries on the show aren’t scripted.
According to Devenanzio, any animosity between cast members that viewers see on the show is real.
When asked about his experiences in his house – and, specifically, his feuds with other castmates – Johnny “Bananas” told PopSugar: “It’s not production at all … [Viewers] think that it’s scripted, and it’s not.”
He added: “Reality is stranger than fiction. You couldn’t write the stuff that goes down. You just couldn’t.”
The show is still so successful, it films four seasons (including spin-offs) a year.
“The Challenge” has proven to have impressive staying power, continuously pulling in strong ratings for MTV even after more than 30 seasons. The demand for the show is so high that the network decided to pursue a star-studded spin-off, known as “Champs vs. Stars.” Between the flagship series and its offshoot, there’s now some iteration of “The Challenge” filming at least four times a year.
“Right now we’re shooting two ‘Challenges’ and two ‘Champs vs. Stars’ a year,” Julie Pizzi, the President of Entertainment and Development for Bunim/Murray Productions, told Rolling Stone earlier this year.
Pizzi continued: “The network has had so much success [with the show] in the last five years – there’s a huge appetite for it, both in social media and on the channel, for it, so they have been kind of keeping us in the rotation.”
There is no maximum age limit for the competition.
From time to time, former contestants of the show who are now well into their 40s, like “The Challenge” veteran Mark Long, have suggested they’d be open to returning to the show. And it turns out producers wouldn’t be opposed.
“I don’t think anyone is ever too old [for the show],” Pizzi told Rolling Stone.
The finals are as difficult as they look.
In his interview with TV Guide, Murray said producers put a lot of effort into “constantly” changing the show to “keep it interesting” for cast members.
“We don’t want [contestants] coming into a season thinking they know how to play the game,” Murray said. “We’ve got to find some ways [to make them go], ‘Oh, it’s not working the same way as before. I need to rethink my strategy.’ We need to keep them on their toes.”
According to Us Weekly, cast members typically spend about six to eight weeks on location before making it the finals.
Throughout that time, they are never given any idea of what that last challenge will look like. Not knowing what they’re preparing for is what makes the finals as difficult as they appear to be on TV.
As series veteran Derrick Kosinski told Us Weekly, “You know it’s going to be long and gruelling, but you don’t know what it’s going to be and you have minutes to try and figure it out.”
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