In the 90’s and 00’s, college-aged kids in the United States would dream of being on The Real World. Reality TV was a new concept, and The Real World was the first program to rise to popularity.
The show became a cultural phenomenon that would leave to Road Rules and The Challenge. Other reality shows owe a lot to Bunim/ Murray Productions (BMP), and soon enough the networks would become flooded with reality television. Undoubtedly, Survivor and Big Brother owe a lot to BMP, so it make sense that all of the shows now fall under the Paramount+ umbrella. The streaming service is also where you will find The Challenge: All Stars.
The Challenge: All Stars has just finished airing its first season, and Challenge fans have resoundingly positive things to say about the season. They love seeing all of the people from decades ago, and viewers felt a better sense of camaraderie amongst the cast. There was some drama, but it felt more authentic. These were people who had been off TV for years. Viewers knew they weren’t pandering for camera time. Rather, they were allowing cameras back into their lives.
While watching the show, which aired after the 36th season of The Challenge, I began to wonder how we got so far. Teck was on a BMP show for the first time in 21 years. Our winner Yes had been away for 18 years. All of these people had the opportunity to return because their origin shows hold a level of cultural relevance. Clearly reality TV hasn’t faded into obscurity like many people predicted.
Longtime fans of BMP shows, much like myself, felt a pleasant sense of nostalgia when viewing All Stars. People were on the cast for their potential to relate to the audience and their ability to bring competition. On the main series, we’re starting to see a lot of unknown faces from all over the world. Viewers can’t relate to these people, and view them as pawns to drive production’s narrative. Rather than having a competitive beast emerge from a pack of rookies, they’re casting Olympians and bodybuilders. Casting provides less excitement because viewers seldom have a connection with new cast members.
All Stars proved that viewers do care about the people they grew up viewing. If you watched the early days of The Challenge, you might gravitate toward someone like Mark, Yes, Arissa, or Ruthie. If you’re a newer fan, someone like Derrick, Aneesa, Jonna, or Darrell excite you. There’s a lot of history behind every person on the cast, and viewers feel connected to these people.
All Stars also sees a shift away from age-based casting. Admittedly, The Real World was guilty of this during its debut. Cast members had to appear to be 18-24 years old, and we seldom saw people over the age of 25. Shows like Big Brother and Survivor also seem to be casting a younger crowd. Big Brother even has a stereotype that the old guy gets voted out first, leaving a young cast behind.
All Stars is a show comprised almost entirely of the 35+ crowd. Of course, these people were originally cast on a reality show partially because they were good looking. So, it’s not a shocker to see them age well. However, we’re clearly not watching a college crowd this season. Many people have kids and spouses. On the show, they still proved they have the potential to be entertaining and drive storylines.
All Stars was probably as physically demanding as a season like Free Agents. There were some silly competitions, but eventually the weaker players would get weeded out. The show also remains just as competitive as the modern show. In fact, the final received a lot of praise for its ability to avoid obvious front-runners and make every leg an engaging competition.
I will admit that I was worried seeing some of the older cast members come back to compete. We even have Beth who was born in the 1960’s (though you’d never know it by looking at her). She handled all the stunts like a champ and never shied away from scary elements.
On reality TV, age can be a huge factor. On All Stars, they proved it shouldn’t be.
Everyone had unique talents and adapted to the game differently. This made the competition engaging for viewers. We even had hook ups and drama, but we also saw cast members viewers have grown to love. On a modern season, we will dismiss people because they made a foolish mistake; viewers have no connections to them. On All Stars, we love the cast members in spite of their foolish errors.
It excites me to see this project become such a success. That’s not to say it was flawless, there are some things I would change. However, there is so much potential that I want more seasons. This is the show Real World and Road Rules fans fell in love with. The Challenge is interesting for its competition, but there are shows like Survivor or Big Brother for that. What made the older seasons so unique was the character development. Viewers have been able to watch Darrell grow from a college-aged ladies man to a proud father. We will never have that type of connection with people from House Hunters: Pakistan (or wherever they get people now), and it makes it hard to root for the newcomers. On All Stars, I was able to cheer for Kendal just as much as I cheered for Darrell. They both have a place in my heart, even though one hasn’t competed in 17 years.