Since the beginning of the modern Challenge (The Gauntlet and later), competitors needed to make it to the final to get money. Traditionally, the individual missions were worth $10,000 a piece. The team who lost the final challenge would get their share of their team bank, the accumulation of daily wins.
As the show progressed, we saw seasons where all the money went to the winners. First, it was The Duel. Then we saw The Gauntlet 3 and The Island, but oddly not The Duel 2. For a while, MTV moved away from this format until Final Reckoning. Of course, production wanted the winner to get a million dollars, and the buzz of a million dollar prize made the show seem more intense.
Recently, War of the Worlds 2 and Total Madness gave all of the prize money to winners. It seems like a trend that will become more common, but does it ruin the show?
The first time we saw a winner-take-all prize, it was pretty cool. It sucked to see Svetlana and Brad leave with no money, but it definitely made The Duel much more memorable. The second time we saw it, on The Gauntlet 3, it had its ups and downs. It made the final more important, but it also made the daily missions useless. As we saw, throwing missions was a viable option to get more money and it was implemented by the veterans.
Then we saw The Island. There wasn’t a huge need to give one team all the winnings. I know they wanted to present this facade that there was a treasure chest buried, but this made the season utterly miserable for the 4 finalists who lost.
In the modern challenge, it really sucks to see the non-winning finalists leave empty handed.
I might give Final Reckoning a pass, as the whole point of the season was to go as big as possible and throw as many twists as possible. Love it or hate it, that was the intent of the season from the beginning.
On War of the Worlds 2, there was no reason from the runners up to leave empty-handed. The winners split a million dollars, so they really only got $250,000 each. That’s a great payday, but at this point in Challenge history it was not remarkable. If they split $800,000 and the runners up won $200,000, the show would not have been any worse.
On Total Madness, it seemed like the final prize was unclear for the bulk of the season. Throughout the season, competitors referred to winning $1,000,000. In all actuality, it was split 50/50 between the male and female winners. As a viewer, it seemed like the prize split was kept secret until the very end.
Knowing the consolation prizes can be beneficial for the viewer because it lets us know how many people will be in the final. For some seasons, viewers don’t know how many people will run the final until the very end. I doubt any unspoiled viewer thought War of the Worlds 1 would have eight finalists and one winner. Same for Vendettas and Total Madness.
Often, I find it better to set proper expectations for the final. It also sucks when finalists leave with no prizes because many of them put in stellar performances. Even if there’s a huge gap between the first and second place prizes like on Dirty Thirty, there are very few scenarios where I don’t want the runners-up to get any prize money. This is a gameshow, and if you make it to the final, you did something right in the game. That should be rewarded.