For the first time in nearly 2 years we’re on a Challenge off-season. During this period I’d like to recap some of the older Challenge, Real World, and Road Rules seasons. I’m not going to summarize each episode of the season. Rather, I want to focus on seasons that shifted the direction of the shows.
A while ago, I did this for The Gauntlet 2. This season was quite transformative because it was the first time a new generation of Challengers became the main focus of the show and led to Fresh Meat being introduced into the franchise. Today, I am focusing on The Inferno 3.
The Inferno 3 was the first season to complete a trilogy in the franchise, but it felt quite different from the first two Infernos. The others took place in the heat of Mexico, while this season migrated farther south to South Africa. This is fine,but contributed to a vibe that made the season feel different than the other two Inferno seasons. It did maintain the Good Guys vs. Bad Asses format from the second season, but the teams felt much weaker this time around. The Bad Asses on The Inferno 2 were some of the craziest and most drama-fueled competitors we’ve ever seen. The Inferno 3 Bad Asses were mostly people who made a couple inappropriate jokes or people who got angry when they lost a challenge.
Casting for this season didn’t seem to make a lot of sense. As a fan of The Challenge, The Inferno 3 was one of the earlier seasons where I was invested in uncovering casting spoilers. Fans had a really hard time determining the direction of the show because casting seemed all over the place. We saw four Denver cast members, a standard number for a new Real World season (at the time), but the rest of the cast seemed like an attempt to revisit Gauntlet 2 drama. We had Susie, Cara and Alton from the Rookies team transplanted on the Good Guys team. Meanwhile the Bad Asses would eventually have Derrick and Aneesa from the Veterans team while the Good Guys would add Veterans Timmy and Ace to their roster. This resulted in Susie & Cara maintaining a devious alliance and Alton, Timmy, and Derrick serving in captain-style roles. After more competitive seasons like Fresh Meat and The Duel, The Inferno 3 seemed like an attempt to revive the success of earlier seasons.
When the season aired, ratings were low. Sadly I can’t support this with any concrete evidence. In 2007 cable TV ratings weren’t as readily available as they are today. We mostly had summaries of the highest rated cable shows of the week, and Inferno 3 was not producing the ratings to rank on those lists. I do recall Evelyn had a Myspace blog at the time where she discussed the future of the show (again, I can’t find this as her profile has been deleted since 2007). She mentioned production was really upset with ratings. However, MTV as a whole was at a funny point in its history during this time. Early 2000’s successes like Laguna Beach, The Osbournes, Jackass, Viva La Bam, and My Super Sweet 16 were over or had lost their luster. This is before A Shot At Love or Jersey Shore, so the only big show on MTV was The Hills. The Inferno 3 also fell victim to awkward scheduling. During this time MTV would air a “sneak peak” of new shows after TRL. This was really the full episode about six hours earlier than normal. Plus, the network would randomly air two new episodes back-to-back at 10 PM. As a fan, I liked getting a full hour of The Challenge, but it was odd that MTV did this with little promotion. This unpredictable scheduling made it difficult to keep up with the show.
Evelyn’s blog also mentioned ratings were so bad The Challenge was almost cancelled. She mentioned the next season, which ended up being The Gauntlet 3, was production’s last attempt to revive the show. Luckily, this was a great season but it was different than Inferno 3. The failures of The Inferno 3 resulted in a few key changes in the series.
Most notably, Inferno 3 was the last season to have half hour episodes. The full hour format has worked really well, but the editing on Gauntlet 3 made it blatantly clear that the season was not filmed with the intent of full hour episodes. The Gauntlet 3 also made the show a bit more cut throat. While it was still a big format, the season encouraged strategic eliminations. A smaller team would have fewer people splitting the final prize. This meant teams would want to eliminate weak players and would have to work to get players eliminated.
The Gauntlet 3 also ushered in a new generation of Challengers. This is the season where Fresh Meat and Key West became the primary focus on the show. Production also did a good job casting a veterans team blending generations of Challengers. While there were only a few older schoolers on the Veterans team, they were fan favorites. Coral, Beth, CT, Katie, and Brad had become popular with fans while new veterans like Evan, Kenny, Evelyn, Diem, and Paula really established their presence on this season. This demonstrated the necessity to create new story lines and retire stale plot lines.
There is a reason The Inferno 3 is a lost season. You can’t purchase it online and it has been removed from MTV’s online archives. This is due to it’s failure to connect with fans and its failure to produce notable stories. While there are many failures that came from this season, it did initiate some necessary changes. I also believe it is an interesting season with good daily challenges. It goes by fast due to its 30 minute episodes, but I also recognize how forgettable most of it is. If you’re able to find this season, it is worth watching. It focuses on many of the B-list Challengers and shows some of the Challenge greats during their rookie days.