It wasn’t too long ago that Rivals 2 was gracing our TV screen. The blog even existed during the airing of that season, so it seems very recent to me. But it was actually five years ago, and it has been long enough to see the impact this season had on The Challenge.
To fully understand the impact of Rivals 2 we will have to travel back to 2011 when Rivals 1 first aired. Prior to this season, teams on The Challenge were designed around a general theme such as “Real World vs. Road Rules” or “Rookies vs. Veterans” or an abstract theme like the ones we saw on Inferno 2 and Cutthroat. When Rivals was introduced, it was the first time that established relationships determined the teams within the game and Battle of the Exes continued with this trend. When you look at the rating for Fresh Meat 2 and Cutthroat, they were far lower than the ratings for Rivals and Battle of the Exes.
Clearly, this trend worked for MTV. They wanted to keep the relationship-centered Challenges going with Battle of the Seasons. The catch on Battle of the Seasons: most of the veterans couldn’t compete. Their original seasons were so far removed that MTV could not assemble a proper team to compete. So Battle of the Seasons really centered around rookies. This proved to be a risky move: one that many diehard Challenge fans loved but the less-dedicated disliked. As a result, ratings declined sharply when compared to Battle of the Exes 2.
Welcome to Rivals 2, the season where production began to cater to the “casuals.” When you look at hardcore fan bases on the Internet, you’ll often see references to casual fans. These are people who enjoy certain elements of a show, but are not dedicated to the longterm storylines or longterm success of the show. Rivals 1 and Exes 1 showed it was possible to connect with this audience, but Battle of the Seasons proved how fickle they can be. Rivals 2 was an attempt to reel the casual fans back into the show.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably a diehard Challenge fan. It may not surprise you to hear that Rivals 2 was not originally going to be the second “Rivals” installment. It was originally believed to be a Duel-like format. At the last minute, production decided to make the show a Rivals sequel. This is why many of the pairing are barely rivalries. There’s pairings like Paula & Emily, a rivalry entirely based around the fact that Paula was afraid to compete against Emily because she was strong. Or Banana & Frank, a rivalry based on Twitter beef. Clearly there were a few stretches in terms of the pairings, but the cast was also filled with a lot of beloved veterans.
This worked well for production. Ratings were up, fans had their favorite cast members, and many of the rookies began to forge connections with the casual fans. Production was very intentional with their pairings, despite the fact that they were seemingly based on fake rivalries. By pairing rookies with established veterans (in the cases of Frank, Jemmye or Emily) they attempted to fuse the new generation of Challengers with the old school.
Thanks to Rivals 2, production realized that some cast members need to become staples in the series and the only way new faces will become fan favorites is through story lines with the veterans. Rivals 2 established a hierarchy of importance in the series, one that still stands today. If a cast member isn’t creating enough drama, production has no issue letting that person go. Cast members need to have some place in a Challenge storyline. If you’re not important to the veterans, then you’re not important to the fans, then you’re not important to the series.