Game Changers: Dirty Thirty

Dirty Thirty seems like a very recent season to me, but we’ve now seen four seasons following it. It’s safe to say this season had a long-term impact of the Challenge series and its effects still impact current seasons. I would even argue that this season began the modern era of The Challenge and retired a few elements of older seasons.

Looking back on the past few seasons you’ll notice a few characteristics of The Challenge that are different from the first 29 seasons. The biggest, perhaps most obvious change is the money. Early seasons saw competitors playing for a share of $300,000, then it was upped to $350,000. Dirty Thirty took that prize pool and fattened it to $1,000,000. Of course, this is going to result in a heightened sense of competition among players. It also impacted viewers in the sense that seasons had to be longer. The Challenge was becoming a big expense for MTV, and while it’s one of their most popular shows, MTV will have a hard time supporting a show whose prize matches that of major network shows.

If fans weren’t already annoyed from Rivals 3 and Invasion of the Champions, they really hated the cliffhangers from Dirty Thirty. Some episodes had just a challenge, some episodes had just an elimination, and some episodes just had Camila’s racist tirade (ok, that was just one episode). This trend would continue into Vendettas and Final Reckoning until backlash from fans was taken seriously during War of the Worlds. Even on the two War of the Worlds seasons (so far) we saw efforts from production to keep the season longer. This may be a good thing if you’re a Challenge fan, but it may be grating if you’re a challenge fan.

With these changes The Challenge simultaneously became more of a sport and less of a sport. The competition factor was still pretty strong. Of course we saw a couple of silly challenges like Cool Under Fire or Backstabber, but we also saw a lot of competitions measuring strength and logic. Further, the huge prize pool attracted the best of the best when it comes to competition. We saw a season with Jordan, CT, Bananas, Darrell and Derrick for the men. Meanwhile the girls had the strength of Cara Maria, the sneakiness of Veronica, and the craziness of Camila. In the subsequent seasons we would see more big names make a return to the show, partially due to the opportunity for a big prize.

On the flip side, this season was packed with randomness and unpredictability. Things like Redemption and Purges plagued this season and cost some of the fan favorites to leave the game. Darrell left in the first episode and was sent to Redemption. The double cross would give people like Nicole R. and Jemmye all the power, and Purges would allow CT to get sent out of the game for being strong. Of course, Redemption also allowed people to come back into the game which mitigated some of the randomness, but these twists encourage mediocrity. Bananas played a very mild game this season. Why? Because winning would give you a target thanks to the double cross and losing didn’t guarantee going into elimination.

Dirty Thirty ushered in an era of unpredictability in terms of formatting. Even the best competitors could be thrown off the show due to the twists. It feels like every episode is an attempt to out-shock the last and create more buzz. In terms of casting, Dirty Thirty ushered in an era of predictability. Each following season would be noted for its lack of variety in casting. At least half of the competitors are returning from the prior season and many competitors with promise would not be invited.

This is where we are now, and it’s thanks to Dirty Thirty. The same people coming into the same show with the same strategy. Then the format shakes everything up.

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