Game Changers: The Gauntlet

When looking at turning points for The Challenge, I believe all three Gauntlet seasons marked changes in the series. The first Gauntlet was an interesting season that formed The Challenge into the show it is today. Today, I want to look at this season and discover why it has such an important role in transforming The Challenge.

Filmed in 2003, The Gauntlet takes place during the formative years of The Challenge. It was different from its prior seasons in a number of ways but there’s one key difference, and it’s not the one you’re expecting. Every season prior to this one was filmed on a once-per-year schedule. After the successes from seasons like Battle of the Seasons and Battle of the Sexes, MTV upped production to filming two seasons per year. This meant production would be filming two seasons in 2003 and there’d be two seasons airing in the 03-04 seasons. With the guarantee of a second season following The Gauntlet, production needed to focus on story lines. In retrospect this seems pretty obvious. The Gauntlet didn’t even have a proper reunion, it was just a mid-way show summarizing The Gauntlet and introducing The Inferno.

It’s hard to believe this now, because The Gauntlet is remembered so fondly, but The Gauntlet’s cast was initially perceived to be weak. The earliest seasons of The Challenge never repeated cast members, and Battle of The Seasons and Battle of the Sexes were huge reunions of cast members with almost every season having representation. On The Gauntlet, there were 24 prior searsons of The Real World & Road Rules to cast from. Of the 28 cast members on The Gauntlet, 18 cast members came from the most recent six seasons (Real World 10-12 and Road Rules 10-12). Of the ten remaining cast members, nine had already appears on Challenges (Matt from New Orleans being the one exception). For an existing fan of The Challenge, this season seemed like it lacked diversity. However, production was able to cast the most interesting people from recent seasons. This worked out well, as the cast mostly seemed to click instantly. Relationships started, fights erupted, and rivalries began. In the eyes of production, this was the beginning of new story lines. This was important, because there would be another season of The Challenge filming shortly after The Gauntlet.

If the casting didn’t work out, production did have one great twist for this season. As you’d guess by the name “The Gauntlet” itself was a huge focus of the season. This was the first season that ever had elimination rounds, and this was a very welcome change for the show. On prior seasons, the inner circle could just boot people off the show for whatever reason they wanted. This season, people could always earn their way back onto their team. Sarah became The Queen of The Gauntlet, and this was because she always had the opportunity to fight her way back onto the show. This was the best way to create genuine, game-related drama.It worked, because voting people into The Gauntlet was a huge source of drama on both the Real World and Road Rules teams.

Despite the fact that The Gauntlet and The Inferno were Real World vs. Road Rules, it was the beginning of story lines that were intended to carry over from season-to-season. Think of The Inferno. Some of the biggest conflicts began on The Gauntlet. Katie vs. Veronica, Trishelle vs. Coral, Coral working with Mike to preserve the females, or The Miz vs. Abe. All of these elements of The Inferno’s story started with The Gauntlet. Plus, the social aspect fused with the competitive aspect in the best possible way. Voting people into elimination has been a source of tension for almost two decades on The Challenge, and we have The Gauntlet to thank for that.

The modern Challenges exists because The Gauntlet happened. When people say Veronica “paved the way for these girls to be here,” they’re not kidding. Veronica has a played a pivotal role in taking the new elements seen in The Gauntlet and spinning them into a game-winning strategy. Of course, people like: Coral, Theo, Rachel, Sarah G., and The Miz also deserve credit. These people adapted to the changing climate of The Challenge and made it into the show it is today.

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