For the past decade, The Challenge has been getting noticeably tougher. Fans often remember the competitors who could endure the current levels of difficulty, but other competitors seem to hold a different legacy. Perhaps one of the most surprising champions is Johanna Botta, the Real World Austin alumnae who won her second season.
Much of her legacy revolved around her relationships with Wes and Kenny, but there has to be some merit there. After all, she did win a season where Kenny was on the other team and Wes was absent.
This victory was somewhat surprising after her debut season. On Fresh Meat, she was part of the Austin alliance and was cut from the game pretty quickly. Her partner, Jesse, was possibly the least capable of all of the Fresh Meat. Did that really matter? Probably not. The Austin kids were going to be targeted first and Johanna was a pretty bad at the missions. She was clumsy, slow, and usually a bottom-tier competitor. I honestly think Casey would have beaten her in a one-on-one competition, but Johanna’s poor performances don’t get highlighted like Casey’s did.
When she came back on The Gauntlet 3, she was undoubtedly an improved competitor. Not a great one, but far more capable than she was on Fresh Meat. In this game, her Austin alliance had much more weight. They were four people on a team of pure rookies (plus Danny on the Veterans team). Most impressively, Johanna was outspoken and somewhat of a leader on her team. While she wasn’t the best person on her team, you could build a case for her being in the top half. Getting the to final wasn’t too hard for her, but her team had a hard time against the strong Veteran team. They only won because Big Easy was medically disqualified from the final.
Then The Island came, and it seemed Johanna had changed. She wasn’t there to compete and she spent most of the season paired with Kenny. Of course, there weren’t a lot of competitions this season, but she is remembered for saying she was going to coast through the game and have a key handed to her. That never worked, so she just spent the season supporting an alliance that wouldn’t support her.
Her final appearance was The Ruins where she had to face Kenny and Wes. This was incredibly awkward, and by the end of the season she was mentally fatigued. While she lasted a while, it was clear her heart wasn’t in the game and her Challenge career ended after this season.
Johanna’s legacy lies in a very transitional time for The Challenge. She is a product of cutthroat gameplay, relationship-based casting, and a super popular Real World season.
Her only victory is really due to poor decisions on the Veteran team rather than skillful play by the Rookies. Johanna was able to coast through the game due to the number of Austin kids on the season. If she was on a different team with fewer of her Real World roommates, she probably wouldn’t have had such an easy ride to the end.
This narrative would change on her later two seasons where her position in the game was defined by her break up with Wes. Also, the Austin cast was being phased out and we saw them appear on seasons with fewer numbers. Given the fact that she wasn’t the strongest competitor, she needed to find another way to advance in the game. So, she worked with the leaders in the game. At the time, this was Kenny, Evan, and Johnny’s alliance.
In some regards, we see someone playing every card she could to survive the game. From a different standpoint, we see a good girl gone bad. On The Real World and Fresh Meat she was a sweet girl and stood up for Casey and didn’t tolerate Wes berating her. On The Island and The Ruins she worked with a group of guys known for picking on the girls and making their time on the show more difficult.
Ultimately, Johanna’s type of story was more common on older seasons. She is someone who won the game because she had more allies than skill. As the show became more cutthroat we saw fewer people successfully uses this strategy. It’s not an impossible way to win, but it’s an old-fashioned strategy for the new era.