The Challenge

Is it Time to Reevaluate Final Challenges?

On Total Madness, nine people made it to the final. Two people won, and viewers saw two separate races: day 1 and day 2.

Total Madness took the final into a cold climate, something fairly unique, but we’ve seen it in the past. Rewatch Battle of the Exes or Free Agents (all on CBS All Access now!!) and you’ll see them trekking through snow during the final.

Really, it was Rivals that gave us the biggest change to the final. That season moved the cast to a new location and made the final an overnight event. It was a long event, one where people struggled to finish, but it had its flaws. Mostly, fans will complain that Kenny & Wes finished day 1 about 45 minutes before Johnny & Tyler, but they only got a 2 minute head start on day 2.

Then Exes gave us a two-day final. As did Battle of the Seasons, as did Rivals 2 (though one team go left behind on day 1), as did Free Agents, and the trend would continue to repeat.

After about 15 seasons, the two-day final races have gotten pretty stale, especially on seasons like Total Madness. There was no team dynamic, and once again, the day 1 times had little impact on day 2.

Total Madness highlighted a lot of the flaws we’ve seen, and proved the gimmick we saw on Rivals has become stale. Despite having 90-minute episodes, production didn’t even bother to let viewers know the final filmed in Austria and not the Czech Republic.

Many people argue that War of the Worlds 2 had a bad final because Team USA was an utter disaster. This is true, but it made me miss the team dynamics we used to see in finals. On War of the Worlds 1 and Total Madness, someone would just give up if someone couldn’t continue. Mattie, Georgia, and Bayleigh all dipped out of the competition and the other competitors were fine with it. No one was depending on them, so there was no one pushing them to carry one.

One of the biggest differences between War of the Worlds 1 and Total Madness is the fact that War of the Worlds measured cumulative times. Turbo won because he completed all courses in the lowest overall time. Meanwhile, Bananas won because he completed day 2 the fastest. Cory’s success on day 1 only gave him a one-minute lead over Bananas. It seems viewers never really know what the competitors need to do to win.

It feels like it should be time to reevaluate what we see in a final. As the show recruits more difficult comeptiton, the finals remind viewers they’re watching a game show. Rules can seemingly change on a moment’s notice and viewers don’t even know what’s required to win.

The final should be challenging, but it shouldn’t be so hard that people are quitting. We lost half of the female competition on Total Madness due to the rigor of the competition. Production should try to make the final competitive, because a nail-biter competition is more entertaining than a blow-out. This means check points need to matter and timing-out shouldn’t be the default option.

Purges and eliminations aren’t awful additions to the final, but they should make the game interesting and equitable. I actually think Rivals 2 did the best job of this when only two teams advanced. Marlon, Jordan, Camila and Jemmye had no disadvantages going into the race. I also think Cara Maria getting Purged on War of the Worlds was alright because at that point anyone could have fallen victim. On War of the Worlds 2, the Purge seemed to punish Team USA because they had more members on their team: a feat they only accomplished by being more successful throughout the season. Meanwhile, the eliminations on War of the Worlds and Total Madness were OK concepts, but the games themselves were dull. Bananas and Rogan had to jump and ring a bell, no tackling allowed. On War of the Worlds, Ninja and Hunter competed in a competition designed to simulate walking a dog. Not sure who thought that’d be fun, but it was about as exciting as expected.

Final challenges should be competitive, they should assess overall abilities, and viewers shouldn’t feel production’s manipulation. It has been a long time since all of these things described a final challenge, and that’s an issue. If we’re going to keep having overnight finals with Purges and silly twists, at least let viewers know what Challengers need to do to win. I want to read TJ’s lips as he lays out the rules before the race. No voiceovers, no technicalities, just a fair competition.

If production wants to really spice things up, skip the 30-mile run and give us something we haven’t seen.

1 comment

  1. If you have really good athletes I like for the Finals to be extremely physical and use cumulative time. It gave us the first and only pure rookie champion: Turbo.

    I wish they would get rid of the eating portion of the Finals tho. They’re boring.

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