It’s time to look into a dark, dark era of The Challenge history. The Island, the season that could have ruined The Challenge but somehow didn’t.
The Island was a weird transition from the prior season, The Gauntlet 3. That season was the first to have hour-long episodes but it was clearly filmed to have half-hour episodes like the first two Gauntlets. This meant most episodes had 2 challenges and 2 eliminations. A lot happened in the course of 60 minutes (42 without commercials), and the season almost felt rushed.
Then we get The Island. Episodes had one face-off. Three people competed each episode, that’s it. We went from having four competitors an episode to having a fraction of the the cast compete each episode. This meant the show was going to focus on drama and strategy over competition. Some people like this, and I think this is why The Island has fans.
In retrospect, this made some sense. On The Gauntlet 3 we saw a house divided by alliances. There were the Veteran boys, the Austin alliance, the old-school girls, and the couple voted most-boring on the internet. Because all of the money was won in the final, The Gauntlet 3 was very strategy based and the daily competitions almost didn’t matter. So, the challenges almost took away from the real game play. The Island was designed to emphasize the strategic game and push people to insanity.
As we moved away from half-hour episodes, production needed to fill the hour-long episodes with more social content. The Island was a taste of that, and the cast delivered drama. We had Bananas tormenting everyone, Kenny and Johanna hooking up, Evelyn trying to make a statement then working with her enemies, and Dunbar. Each episode added to the story, though many episodes dragged. There was entertainment, but it didn’t feel like a Challenge season.
The biggest problem with The Island was the fact that it felt like a bootleg Survivor. If we wanted to watch Survivor, we’d tune into CBS. We watched as Challengers withered away to win $75,000 in the end, not the $1,000,000 a Survivor winner would get. We also had Dave quit due to the conditions, and everyone shit on him. Wasn’t surviving these conditions the challenge? People were awfully hard on him, after he left his comfortable life to not compete and eat rations of steamed rice.
The best thing about the season was the fact that it resulted in drama that would linger on The Challenge for years, though it sucks that a lot of it was at Paula’s expense. The worst thing about the season was everything else: the lack of real competition and the lack of important veterans.
The Island will forever be considered a social experiment in The Challenge’s archives, but one we never need to see again.
Also, as we wait for the Season 35 trailer three months after filming wrapped, I’d like to remind viewers of this. The Island had a teaser air before filming for the season wrapped. The was a clip of Kenny and Johanna making out on the beach that air while Real World: Hollywood was airing, and before the Island finale filmed.