Warning, this post will contain Season 34 casting spoilers. If you don’t wanna know, you don’t have to read.
This season, we saw contestants invade the show from all over the world. We had representation from the UK, Mexico, Canada, Turkey, Brazil, and the US. The new blood made for an interesting season, but did this even make sense? Was War of the Worlds even a war? It was a paired season turned invidivual. That’s not a war, and there was no rhyme or reason for the newbie invading the show. As we move to future seasons, the same issue lie within casting.
I’ve watched The Challenge for ages, and for the better half of the show’s life, fans have been resisting casting changes. First, people were mad Real World and Road Rules were not cast evenly. Then, people hated Fresh Meat. Then, Are You the One? came into the show. Now, we’re going international. There’s always reasons people are going to be mad, but I think we’re reaching a point of concern.
Regardless of what fans saw, there was a reason Fresh Meat and AYTO came onto the show. The casting pool was shrinking, and Fresh Meat were introduced the void caused by Road Rules getting cancelled. AYTO was introduced for a similar reason, especially because seasons were being defined by relationship. While Fresh Meat could not introduce “exes” or “rivals,” AYTO could. It was a show already in MTV’s ecosystem, the drama on AYTO was a reflection of the current state of The Challenge.
Now, we’re in the outsourcing era. It started with Big Brother, Ex on the Beach UK, and Geordie Shore. Now there are dozens of shows being represented.
Has it worked? Yes. But why has it worked?
One of the reasons people watch the show is for the relationship aspect. I’m not talking about hook ups, but rather the fact that competitors have continuous story lines. This makes The Challenge different than Big Brother or Survivor. Fans depends on seeing Bananas, Cara Maria, Wes or CT on multiple seasons. Some variety is good, but the fact that no competitor is officially retired by MTV makes fans invested in the show. Now, it feels like people are unofficially retired. On season 34, only 3 returning competitors were not on Final Reckoning or Vendettas. It seems like the possibility of taking a couple of seasons off is a death sentence for competitors.
Their replacements are UK kids who are unfamiliar faces to US viewers. I have no doubt they’re entertaining, but I have no investment in these people. At least I can (legally) watch AYTO or Big Brother in the US. If I want to familiarize myself with Ex on the Beach UK or Love Island UK I need to go to a sketchy third party site. Further, the people who stuck with the show through casting changes feel like these changes are pointless. Fans came to like AYTO kids like Hunter, Nelson, Tori, Kam, even Amanda. Now, we don’t get any new faces from AYTO. Bloodlines (AKA unofficial Fresh Meat 3) was a waste, as only one competitor appears on more than two seasons of The Challenge. Now, season 34 doesn’t even have any new Big Brother representation. It also seemed like MTV wanted to segue people from Ex on the Beach US onto The Challenge, but no one from Ex on the Beach is a new face on Season 34.
Every season feels like Fresh Meat to some degree, and while it’s a nice change of pace sometimes, it’s not exciting when it’s presented each season.
The inevitable response: but ratings are doing great!
This is true, ratings in 2018/2019 are significantly better than 2015/2016. I follow ratings and try to understand them, but I could not tell you what made ratings better. Firstly Big Brother and UK kids were introduced at the same time. I’d believe the Big Brother alumni would be a bigger draw for the US audience than the UK kids. It could also be the formatting or increased competition on the show. Truthfully, I think casting is the reason for improved ratings, it’s just not clear which casting changes sparked the improvement.
Of course, I will continue to watch The Challenge, but I find myself going into the next season with my excitement at an all-time low. There’s no one I am surprised to see, no story lines that don’t feel repetitive, and I’ve invested interest in only a few people. I may fall in love with some of the new UK kids, like I did with Georgia on War of the Worlds. But that won’t motivate me to watch episode 1. The goal should be to get viewers hooked with the first episode, and the current casting practices just don’t do that.