Nowadays, The Challenge is allegedly America’s fifth sport. Years ago, it was nothing more than a reality competition. The evolution has brought a lot of changes to the game, and many of them would never happen on today’s shows.
All of these things were perfectly acceptable, and sometimes encouraged, on old seasons. I’m going to limit myself to things that happened 10+ years ago, so if it became the norm after Battle of the Exes 1, it’s too modern for this list.
1. Challenges Filmed In Front of Live Audiences
If you look at super early seasons of The Challenge, many of the missions took place in highly public settings. When we watch at The Redneck Games on Challenge 2000 or Fisherman’s Wharf from the Extreme Challenge, there were huge crowds watching the competitions. Spoilers weren’t a concern, and the general public was just watching as the episodes were being filmed.
2. Risking Your Life for Minor Prizes
We all remember Julie playing with Veronica’s safety harness during Grope the Rope on the Inferno. Ultimately, she was doing it for $10,000, and she’d only get a portion of that if she made it to the final. But people did similarly dangerous stunts for smaller prizes. On Battle of the Sexes, contestant didn’t even get money. They got prizes from the sponsor of the week.
3. Hooking Up Off Camera
Now, everything seems to get caught on camera because this is a TV shown. Sometimes production leaves footage on the cutting room floor, but that’s a choice. On earlier seasons, the cast would go out for the night and have a lot of freedom. In fact, they even had off-days when production wouldn’t film (usually on Sundays) and they could go wild.
4. Sneaking to the End
The Challenge has become a much more cutthroat game, but in early days, nearly half of the cast (sometimes more) would get to the end. Look at seasons like The Inferno 3, where infamous flop Ace got to the final without much effort. Now, he’d be sent into one of the early eliminations and likely go home (like on All Stars, maybe).
5. Losing Because of a Pool Floatie
Now, it feels like challenges are scenes from an action movie. In the early days of The Challenge, equipment was much less elaborate. A lot of missions were designed using pool floats and foam. It was easy for people to lose because equipment was flimsy and fell apart during the competition.
6. Judge Cast Members From Their Original Show
There was a time when Challengers would watch The Real World to familiarize themselves with their potential competition. As time progressed, this became less important because veterans would band together to flush out the rookies. Now, you’d need an international cable subscription to even try to get to know the rookies, but good luck guessing production’s casting direction.
7. Watch a Mission, Drama, and Elimination in 30 Minutes
Episodes are now 90 minutes and we’re lucky if we get a mission and an elimination in that time. Meanwhile, drama is watered down and cliffhangers are super common. At lease the explosion budget is through the roof.
8. Bully Someone for Being Old
Poor Beth. She was made fun of for being 35 and on The Challenge by people who grew up to be 35-year-old Challengers. Now, 25-year-olds are getting sacked for 38-year-old rookies.
9. Become Seasoned After 2 Seasons
Thanks to Gauntlet sequels, 2+ seasons on the show earned you “veteran” status. On The Gauntlet 3, it’s hard to deny that people felt familiar with faces like Paula, Evan, or Diem even though it was only their third seasons on the show. Meanwhile, Katie felt like a super vet on her fifth appearance. When Nelson hit his fifth appearance (Final Reckoning), he was still a “Young Buck” and felt relatively new to the show.
10. Take a Break, Then Return
When Rivals debuted, people made a huge deal about CT coming back after being gone since The Duel 2 (meaning, he was absent for 3 seasons). Meanwhile, Aneesa, Robin, and Davis took the same break and Tyrie was gone for a longer period of time. That was just normal then, but now, if you take more than one season off you’re as good as retired in most cases.