In 2008, The Challenge entered its Survivor era and went to The Island — a polarizing season that omitted daily challenges for a drama-fest. At the time, the season felt like a blip on the show’s legacy, and over a decade laster, that feeling hasn’t changed. But there are some people who will defend the season, while other still view it as a misstep.
But more recent seasons have shown us one thing: the keys were done well this season.
And it’s really not that complicated. There were only 8 keys: 8 chances to be in TJ’s final. With seasons like Total Madness, Double Agents, and The Challenge USA competitors were given qualifiers to run the final, but everyone gets to participate.
On episode 9 of The Challenge USA we saw Danny win the daily challenge (with assistance) and Sarah win in The Arena. Now, everyone on the show has the $5,000 to run TJ’s final. Similarly, the cast worked together to ensure everyone had the chance to get skulls to fin the final on Total Madness and Double Agents. The twists actually make the show less interesting because people use them as excuses to make the game “fair” rather than make the game competitive.
On The Island, the keys forced drama and competition. Johnny and Evelyn went back-and-forth while others were just scared they’d lose their keys.
But the twist wasn’t perfect. Some people were just handed keys, like Kenny who lost the first competition but wasn’t voted out of the game. He then floated through the season, but used that key to compete in the final and win his share of the prize. There weren’t a lot of opportunities to steal keys, but the ones that existed were a lot of fun.
Unexpectedly, these recent seasons have made The Island look good. It was never great, but at least is wasn’t super predictable. On The Challenge: USA, there was not doubt in my mind that everyone would be able to run TJ’s final. It’s not competitive, and people just hand over opportunities. No one gets left behind, and people just pick the easiest possible elimination opponent to get their money/skulls.
At least we’re at the point in The Challenge: USA were everyone has their money. Now, the remaining weeks before the final will be competitive because no one wants to get sent home. But it was a long, boring road to get to this point.