Originally airing in Australia, the U.K. and Argentina, reality competition show “The Challenge” was finally brought to the United States this summer on CBS. The goal of “The Challenge” is to get enough money in your “Challenge Bank Account” to compete in the finale, after which a winner is crowned and receives a cash prize of $500,000. After competing in 10 challenges, all players with $5,000 in their “Challenge Bank Account” are eligible to compete in the finale. The grand prize is split between whoever is able to conquer this last challenge. To earn the $5,000 necessary to compete, players can either win weekly competitions or win an elimination round and take their opponent’s money.
“The Challenge” is unlike any other reality show. It is a mix between “The Amazing Race,” “Big Brother” and “American Ninja Warrior.” Like “The Amazing Race,” players are initially paired up and share victories and losses with their randomly-selected partner of the week. However, the game turns individual after the first eight challenges. Similar to “Big Brother,” winners get to select one pairing or player to take part in the week’s elimination round and potentially send them home. Like “American Ninja Warrior,” the show is highly physical, and the challenges are incredibly exhausting. Challenges include descending the outside of a 22-story building while solving math problems, jumping onto giant buoys dangling over the water while completing a crossword puzzle and scaling the side of a fast-moving semi-truck. Pretty intense.
“The Challenge” also strikes a medium between strictly individual gameplay and social alliances to move forward. While alliances play a role each week, as the winner chooses someone to compete in the elimination round, their competitor is whoever lost the week’s competition. What makes season one interesting from a social perspective is that all cast members were formerly on a variety of reality shows: either “Survivor,” “Big Brother,” “The Amazing Race” or “Love Island.” This makes the original alliances and game plan for many players clear from the start and puts some groups at an early disadvantage. With only three contestants from “The Amazing Race,” the players in that group are easy targets in early eliminations. “Survivor,” with eight former castaways, and “Big Brother,” with nine former houseguests, easily dominate the season since there is a high chance one or both of the partners in the winning pair will be from those shows and keep their group safe.
Having watched many seasons of the aforementioned shows, it was fun to have the extra layer of background context. For example, two sets of exes from “Love Island” are on the show, the drama of which is entertaining in itself. More entertaining still are the reactions and commentary from other players who had wildly different experiences on their respective shows. It was also fun to watch cross-show alliances form and see strong competitors from different shows team up. Tyson Apostol (a 43-year-old cyclist and ultra-marathon runner, four-time “Survivor” player, one-time “Survivor” winner and major fan favorite) and Angela Rummans (a 30-year-old Olympically-trained track-and-field athlete and former “Big Brother” houseguest) quickly formed an alliance and traded back-to-back wins for the first five weeks. The pair is fun to watch, and Tyson’s commentary (which borders on being egotistical but is ultimately funny) is something to look forward to every episode.
Overall, “The Challenge” has a strong first season in the U.S., and I will definitely be returning to watch next year. While a large part of its success is due to the cast, seeing how future players navigate the strategic elements of the show without pre-existing alliances is something to look forward to. “The Challenge” is a good time every week, and I only wish it had come to the U.S. sooner.
Daily Arts Writer Jenna Jaehnig can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.