Every show, every year claims their upcoming season will be its best ever — and MTV’s no exception every year before the new cycle of “The Challenge.”
But on Tuesday night (Feb. 7), the network’s long-running series enters its 29th season, an impressive feat very few shows ever reach, and this will truly be its greatest cycle yet.
The 2-hour premiere takes it time introducing the 18 contestants known as the “Underdogs.” Some are first timers, for others this is their fourth “Challenge,” but none of these competitors ever won a season. For viewers who’ve stopped watching “The Real World,” and have never seen an episode of “Are You the One?,” the extended premiere helps get us past that nagging frustration longtime “Challenge” fans can feel — being inundated with so many new faces, none of them worth getting to know because they physically can’t hold a candle to the returning players.
There are very few weak competitors this season — and with the new rules, they also won’t last long. Certain newbies stick out like Nicole, whom aside from challenging CT for Most Ridiculous Boston Accent quickly establishes herself as the female player to beat. Kailah has the strength and drive to back up her smack talk, but her mouth is going to get her into trouble. Half this game takes place outside the competition arena. Alliances are everything, but so is the ability to play both sides. When it comes to the men, Theo, a former Division I football player who lost his scholarship after getting caught with weed in his dorm, seems like he could still jump on any NFL field and blend right in.
Host TJ Lavin is back, explaining what makes this “the hardest season ever.” First of all, everyone is living in what looks to be a glorified outdoor camp, known as The Shelter — a far cry from the usual mansion the contestants usually stay in while filming — with a much nicer abode available to those who earn it. And herein lies one of the best new twists: Only those who win a challenge or elimination solidify their place in The Oasis. This means no one can hide, or ride anyone else’s coat tails to the finish line: The 13 contestants that get into The Oasis have to prove themselves as individual performers.
This cast, along with these new rules, would’ve been enough for a solid season. We’ve got the familiar faces of Tony, Jenna, Nelson, Ashley and Dario, and a solid new slew of competitors. But this cycle is called “Invasion,” and viewers have yet to see the biggest surprise yet: The return of 8 former champions in Johnny Bananas, Laurel, Camila, CT, Darrell, Ashley, Cara Maria, and Zach.
We know they’re heading to Thailand at some point, but we don’t know when, and we don’t know if they are competing against the Underdogs for a piece of the $350,000 grand prize, or just there to make things more difficult, like the pros on “American Gladiators.”
Sidenote: The best part of The Champs’ return is knowing we’re going to see the reunion of exes Jenna and Zach. That man did her dirty and he’s doing himself no favors by returning to TV with a gnarly beard, announcing that he’s “gonna Make ‘The Challenge’ Great Again.” Gross.
During “Invasion,” the weak will quickly get quickly eliminated: Bruno’s the first male to go, stupidly giving up during the very first challenge and then getting schooled by Tony in the elimination round. Marie was the first woman packing her bags, and herself admitted she didn’t work out at all before arriving.
If you haven’t been watching, that’s interesting because: The girls on this series now are jacked. This isn’t like the old days, where contestants showed up just to get drink, party and hook-up. They want to parlay this opportunity into a full-time career. People show up fit, and train ridiculously hard, before arriving. Take one glance at The Champs, they all look like Soul Cycle or Cross Fit instructors. Some of them actually are…
Last but not least, what makes this season so wonderful are those little blink-and-you-might-miss them hilarious moments. Like CT pushing a stroller and revealing a son named Christopher… You know, after himself. Or Bananas thanking Sara for the new house he recently bought. Jenna can’t locate Thailand on a map, Tony claims he’s going to be sober this season, and Nelson admits he’s been working real hard on his puzzle game… It’s a great balance and there’s new energy everywhere you look.
Season 29 is going to be a wild ride, and we still don’t know half of what’s to come. Bravo, MTV — it’s nice to feel like we’re watching this show because we like it, and not just because we can’t stop.
“The Challenge” airs on Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. ET/PT on MTV.