Five years ago, MTV was airing Invasion of The Champions. It was an interesting season, and it also marked an end of an era. It was the last season where winners could only get a modest $350,000. Just months later we’d be watching the thirtieth season where competitors competed for $1 million.
Now that time has passed, we’re left with the memories. Rewatching it, you can really see the mistakes production made and how much went wrong. But when you analyze life after Invasion, you can see how much the season did to shape the show, and ultimately keep it on the air.
Bringing in the Champions was a big deal. The four episodes leading to the “invasion” teased fans with clips of them prepping for the show. Producers knew the show was nothing without big names, and they were right. Then the vets came in, and ratings went up.
So what went wrong? Fans were upset with the formatting. The season was always lopsided because there were more Underdogs than Champions. This did mean that the Underdogs won sometimes, but they were only really successful when the odds were stacked in their favor. Worst of all, the eliminations were structured so the Underdogs never faced the Champions.
In the end, Ashley and CT won. It’s kind of hard to remember this because CT had won three more times since then, and Ashley’s Invasion win is nothing compared to the million-dollar steal on Final Reckoning. But you have to wonder if the final would have been different if the eliminations were structured differently. Of course, The Challenge always makes questionable decisions, but it’s so obvious that fans didn’t want this format.
To understand how Invasion benefitted The Challenge as a series, you need to look at the seasons prior and compare them to the ones after.
You could argue that Bloodlines was the least popular season ever, at least it began that way. Fans weren’t really connecting with the new cast members, and a lot of the veterans were absent. Rivals 3 wasn’t much better. Most of the cast was filled with rookies from Are You the One while veterans were the minority. Then, Invasion happened. Viewership climbed by hundreds of thousands of people once the Champs arrived.
Not only did viewers want twists; they wanted veterans.
Flashforward to Dirty Thirty and we’re seeing people like Veronica and Jordan crawl out of the woodwork. The “Champs” spin-offs also served a purpose in this mix. It encouraged older cast members to dip their toes back into the competition.
Admittedly, production did go a bit overkill with the twists. There were grenades, redemptions, double-crosses, mercenaries, and money theft. All of their tricks manifested themselves in the three seasons following Invasion. But they also upped the money and gave competitors a reason to be hungry again. Suddenly, people were taking swings at veterans like Darrell, Bananas, and CT, people who coasted by in the past.
It’s interesting to see how different the show has become over the course of five years. While it’s now far removed from Invasion, that season was the turning point. Production messed it up in many regards, but they did learn a lot from it, and that probably kept the show from getting canceled.