In the early 2000’s, The Challenge was an entirely different show. Initially, the cast didn’t even vote each other off. Then, Battle of the Seasons and Battle of the Sexes ushered in the Inner Circle. This sparked some drama and a much more competitive show. However, the Inner Circle allowed some pissed off cast members to go home without any opportunity for revenge.
Production wanted a competitive show, but they didn’t want the top performers to have all the power. After all, this is a reality show, not a sport. Thus, elimination challenges were born and known as The Gauntlet.
This allowed Sarah to fight her way to the final, Trishelle to win a puzzle, and a one-on-one Miz vs. Abram battle.
Seventeen years later, we still have eliminations, just under different names. This was a huge change to the show, but it’s not the reason The Gauntlet is most important to the franchise.
The Gauntlet was the birth of drama-fueled casting. If you look at prior Challenge seasons, you’ll notice production made a huge effort to have representation from different seasons of the franchise. Battle of the Sexes had representation from 20 of the 22 prior origin shows: only omitting Real World London and Real World Seattle. The Gauntlet had little representation from old seasons. The Real World had Norman (11 years removed from his original season) and Road Rules had Roni (5 years removed from her original season), but for the most part the cast was very young.
At the time the season aired, fans criticized the casting. The season was viewed as an attempt to recreate drama from Battle of the Season and reignite drama from recent Real World and Road Rules seasons. On the Road Rules team we had eliminated Roadies reuniting with the people who voted them out. Of course, this resulted in Rachel and Darrell targeting Sarah almost immediately. The Real World gave us Alton and Irulan as a couple, and reunited Battle of the Seasons winning pair Mike and Coral. The team that worked so well together saw their bond loosened when Coral was sent to The Gauntlet and Trishelle developed a relationship with The Miz.
If the drama-fueled casting wasn’t clear during the airing of The Gauntlet, it should have been when The Inferno aired. Many of the arguments from this season exploded on that season, such as Coral vs. Trishelle and Katie vs. Veronica. Plus, Mike and Trishelle had broke up at that point, so there was bound to be some new drama.
As the series would progress, we would see a need for relevancy when casting for the next seasons. We started seeing fewer Ronis, Nathans, or Normans on the show; people who had taken breaks but were remembers from their original season. Instead, The Gauntlet began a series of building storylines before the planes had landed. Obviously, this worked, and it became less disguised over the years. Rivals and Battle of the Exes told viewers exactly what production was trying to achieve.
Now, Challenge fans look at this season fondly. Eliminations made the game much more interesting, the cast was young and fresh, and underdogs could prevail. Plus, this season had quite a few stars in the making. Theo Von, The Miz, and Dave Giuntoli all lived under one roof for six weeks.