10:00 am EDT, April 1, 2020

MTV’s ‘The Challenge’ is made for sports fans, you just haven’t tried it yet

It's not just a 'reality' show. It's a reality show on steroids.

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From regular sports to extreme sports, MTV’s The Challenge has the same athletic, competitive skill to rival any major sports league.

MTV’s The Challenge is a reality competition series that’s been around since 1999, just barely longer than Survivor. If you’re a sports fan, you’re probably wondering how an MTV reality show could possibly be something of interest to you.

While The Challenge does have the reality show drama you would expect from an MTV show, it also has physically demanding competitions that require various types of skill and athletic ability. The best way to describe this is probably as a mix of Big Brother and Fear Factor.

Back in the day, The Challenge was far less difficult. Originally, it was called Real World: Road Rules, as the competitors consisted of cast members from both MTV’s The Real World and Road Rules.

It didn’t have the same calibre of challenges back then and the competition wasn’t taken as seriously. The show was more of an excuse for young people to get drunk, party, cause drama, and play some carnival games throughout. As the seasons progressed though, The Challenge became much more, well, challenging.

Apart from a couple of oddly formatted seasons, each episode consists of two challenges: a daily and an elimination. Every challenger competes in the daily. Depending on the season format, the competitions are individual teams of two, or larger teams of three or more.

The winner(s) of the daily are then safe from elimination. The loser(s) automatically get put into elimination to compete against another opponent chosen through various methods depending on the season.

Whoever loses the elimination goes home. The remaining contestants compete in the Final: a multi-day, overnight challenge that features some of the craziest and most exhausting competitions you’ve ever seen.

Although the original seasons of The Challenge were silly games like riding a mechanical bull, over time, the challenges became far more daring and physically demanding. In the most recent seasons, the partying has actually become far less wild.

Contestants take the competition aspect of the show so seriously now, they spend their off-time training and getting in shape, and are less inclined to get messily drunk on the show for fear of jeopardizing their ability to compete.

Some of the more exciting challenges include getting from one platform to another by jumping on cars suspended in the air; swimming 150 feet underwater, with only boxes of air pockets as a means to catch your breath; and traversing ropes with a tiny foot peg hanging from a rig to get from one platform to another.

The best elimination challenges often feature some kind of physical interaction. A fan favorite is hall brawl, in which two competitors start at either end of a narrow hallway, and must run through past each other to get to the other side first.

All abilities are tested throughout a season: swimming, running, strength, agility, eating gross things, puzzle savviness, trivia, fear of heights, and of course, communication.

All of these competitions are just a precursor for what is endured in the Final. The best seasons of MTV’s The Challenge are when no expense is spared for the Final.

Whether it’s a 24 mile run through the sunny, sandy desert of Namibia, or climbing the mountains and volcanoes of Iceland and Norway, the Final pushes the contestants to their physical limit.

It isn’t uncommon for people to drop out and not complete the Final. If you’re not in shape, and even if you are in shape, there’s a good chance the Final will destroy you.

Competitions aside, what makes MTV’s The Challenge unique from similar shows like Fear Factor are the recurring contestants. Much like sports leagues, The Challenge is rife with longstanding rivalries.

Since each season’s cast list consists of so many returning players, there’s a lot of baggage that comes with them from previous seasons. There’s a heavy amount of strategic gameplay involved in The Challenge, which means incidents that happened on seasons past, friendships built and friendships collapsing in real life between seasons, and years-long vendettas that never die, frequently come into play.

Like professional athletes, The Challenge is a job for many contestants, and the frequency of which they compete results in an often blurred line between real life and the show.

One of the longest appearing challengers, Johnny “Bananas” Devenanzio, has been on the show 20 times since 2009, about two seasons a year for 11 years. That’s 11 years of history with fellow challengers, because yes, there are other current cast members who have been around even longer than that.

One of the more prominent rivalries is between Johnny and Wes Bergmann, a veteran challenger who made his debut in 2006. There’s a whole different layer to the show when you watch the relationship between these two grow from a nasty, aggressive rivalry in their younger years, to a friendly competitiveness now that they’re older and more mature.

If none of this convinces you that the The Challenge is comparable to your favorite sport, consider this: It also has your favorite athletes. There’s a spinoff series called The Challenge: Champs vs Pros, in which winning challengers compete against professional athletes that include Terrell Owens, Lolo Jones, Louise Hazel, Gus Kenworthy, and Kamerion Wimbley.

Spoiler alert, the professional athletes get their asses handed to them. It isn’t just that they can’t keep up with the political side of the game, the competitions are actually (shockingly) too challenging for them at times. Who better to vouch for this show’s competitive credibility than from olympic athletes?

MTV’s The Challenge is a sport in its own right. It draws athletic skill from many different sports throughout the weekly challenges, including soccer, swimming, basketball, track, and possibly most of all, football.

Not to mention it encompasses many of the same elements you’ll find in any sports league: the rise and fall of champions, the underdog story, the deep-seated rivalries, and the underestimated rookie. With years, and sometimes even decades, of history between the competitors, it makes for a much realer and more complex viewing experience than your average competition show.

Though its origins may be rooted in stereotypical MTV reality fodder, it’s evolved over the last 20 years to become something much more physically demanding, and a highly competitive program that can easily piggyback off of your regular sports program.

‘The Challenge’ airs Wednesdays on MTV

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