All-Time MTV Challenge Debates: Cara Maria or Sarah Rice, Who’s Better?
Cara Maria Sorbello and Sarah Rice are two of the best players in Challenge history. They debuted around the same time, Sarah appearing first on The Ruins (Season 18) and Cara on Fresh Meat 2 (Season 19). They appeared on six consecutive seasons together (Fresh Meat 2 — Rivals 2). Ironically, both competitors achieved the most success of their careers to that point once they stopped doing seasons together. Sarah won Exes 2 and Rivals 3 (Seasons 26 & 28), and Cara became America’s Favorite Underdog on Free Agents (Season 25), followed by a win on Battle of the Bloodlines (Season 27). Sarah and Cara, in consecutive seasons, had the same arc of finally pulling off their first championship after 8 seasons and 4 finals. However, their careers and how they get perceived as both players and human beings are wildly different and similar in some instances.
In this article, I want to put these two players head to head and break down their stats, accomplishments, how well they do in every significant facet of the challenge (heights, puzzles, eating, etc.), and their impact on the franchise as a whole. At the end, I’m going to leave a Poll for fans to vote on whom they think the better player is, and I’m going to be polling some Challenge experts on who they think is the better player.
Strap in; let’s get going!
Accomplishments and Counting Stats
Sarah — 9 Seasons, 2x Champion, 5x Finalist, 6–2 Elimination Record, 207.2% Career Win Ratio, 174.1% Career Final Ratio
Cara Maria — 14 Seasons, 2x Champion, 9x Finalist, 13–6 Elimination Record, 170% Career Win Ratio, 217.6% Career Final Ratio
(Note: Win/Final Ratio accounts for how many wins a player achieves divided by their expected wins based on the field they were competing against).
Cara did not achieve her second win till her 11th season, whereas it only took Sarah 9 seasons to get there. Sarah was also at 5 finals appearance after 9 seasons, compared to Cara’s 4. Still, that doesn’t mean we can asterisk Cara’s additional title and five finals appearances after her 9th season. Cara holds the record for most elimination wins by a female and is tied for most final appearances, regardless of gender. Based on the difficulty of seasons they have played in, Sarah’s win rate carries a bit more weight. In contrast, Cara’s yielded a more impressive ratio of finals appearances.
Sarah’s stats become more impressive when you realize two of her seasons were ended due to partners quitting/DQing.
Sarah — 121.51% Daily Challenge Win Ratio, 176.43% Daily Challenge Win Ratio (Individual/Small Team/Pair Challenges)
Cara Maria — 123.19% Daily Challenge Win Ratio, 87.88% Daily Challenge Win Ratio (Individual/Small Team/Pair Challenges)
Sarah (9th Place Female All-Time) and Cara (7th Place Female All-Time) have essentially identical career stats for daily challenge win ratio in the aggregate. Cara leads Sarah by a little under 2%. However, when they compete either as individuals, pairs, or in teams of 4 or less (BOTS), Sarah’s win ratio is more than double that of Cara’s, which is especially shocking considering Cara’s had mostly fantastic teammates: Darrell, Laurel, Abram, Camila, Cooke, Jamie, and Theo. Cara’s worst male teammates have been Brandon and Big Easy, and she got them the same season. She also had Marie on Final Reckoning, but Marie’s friendships allowed them to coast politically through the game for a significant amount of time.
While Sarah got to compete with Jordan and Bananas her final two seasons, she had to deal with Vinny twice, Katelynn, Devyn, JD, and Trishelle. Arguably, Sarah has elevated both good and bad players. Her performance leading Team Brooklyn on Battle of the Seasons is one of the more underrated seasons ever by a competitor, and she even won a daily challenge on Exes 1 with a fat Vinny before he ripped Mandi’s top and got them DQ’d. When partnered with Jordan and Bananas, Sarah won the most daily challenges of each season, especially dominating Rivals 3 by winning 4 out of 8 daily challenges.
Cara has had some stellar daily challenge seasons; she was vital to the Red Team’s dominance on Battle of the Bloodlines, made it to the most Tribunals on War of the Worlds 1, and had a stellar run alongside CT on Dirty 30.War of the Worlds 2 inflated the stats of basically all United States players as well. It took Cara about 7 seasons till she hit her stride in daily challenges, and even then, she had a rough go of it in the dailies on Vendettas.
Sarah — 6–2 Elimination Record,
Wins Against: Katie, Johanna, Cara & Brandon (w Chet as a partner), Preston & Mackenzie (w Chet), Zach & Jonna (w Jordan), Dario & Nicole (w Bananas).
Losses Against: Laurel & Kenny (w Vinny), Jasmine & Jonna (w Katelynn),
Cara Maria — 13–6 Elimination Record
Wins Against: Mandi, Camila & Theresa (w Laurel), Jasmine & Jonna (w Laurel), Wes & Lacey (w Big Easy), Jessica & Anastasia (w Cooke), Jonna & Nany (w Cooke), Nia, LaToya, Jessica, Bananas & Vince (w Jamie) Aneesa, Ashley K, Kam & Kayleigh (w Marie)
Losses Against: Jill & Pete (w Darrell), Emily & Ty (w Abram), Chet & Sarah (w Brandon), Laurel (twice), Nelson & Shane (w Marie)
Since Cara Maria has held the female elimination record for over half a decade, the immediate response is to give her the edge in eliminations. Although Sarah’s quietly stacked up a solid 6–2 record of her own, and between the two, Sarah has beaten Cara in elimination. They played in Knot So Fast on Battle of the Seasons (2012) with partners of the same skill level (Brandon & Chet), and while many Cara fans are quick to point out that it wasn’t Cara in her “prime” in this elimination, it is not like they were playing a brute strength elimination.
Due to Cara’s 13 win resume, I do give her the edge in eliminations by a hair.
How a player can operate politically and socially is often impacted by how they are performing physically or at least their perception. For example, due to Sarah killing it immediately on the Ruins, she was able to make alliances and coast based on the idea that she was not a cupcake competitor. In contrast, Cara was the first boot of Fresh Meat 2 and a late draft pick on Cutthroat, thus labeling her a potential liability (or, as Laurel and Sarah called her on Cutthroat, a JV player). In addition, Sarah would often try to fit in with the cool kids, resulting in her eventually getting targeted because of her allegiances. Meanwhile, Cara would embrace being the outsider who would get thrown into multiple eliminations.
A somewhat crazy stat is that Cara got VOTED into elimination in 9 consecutive seasons (to start her career no less), a stat that will likely never get replicated. That does not account for eliminations where she got thrown in for coming in last place in a daily challenge or pulling a kill card (which happened multiple times). With Sarah, we essentially look at 7 seasons (not counting the two abbreviated seasons where he partners quit/DQ’d), and of those, she managed to not get voted into elimination on four seasons, three of which she went to the final to (Cutthroat, Exes 2, Rivals 3).
In terms of actual execution of political and strategic moves, Sarah played an absolutely perfect game on Exes 2; she straddled the middle of the Wes/Bananas rivalry perfectly, and when the opportunity arose, she executed a fantastic blindside on both of them right before the final. As Bananas’ partner on Rivals 3, they made smart plays throughout the game and managed to broker deals to save themselves when not in power. Cara is a very basic political player; she will align with fellow strong players and long-time veterans/allies with the assurance of no backstabbing. It did backfire on Dirty 30 when Kailah made a move against her, but as a whole, it’s been successful as a way to get her to finals, not necessarily the best strategy to give her the best chance to win finals. Cara was part of the “Royal Family” or “Cara’s Cult” on War of the Worlds 2, a mega UK/US hybrid alliance that controlled the game, except she has said that Paulie/Kam controlled most of the plays with her being basically a figurehead for people to hate.
Both players cardio significantly improved over their time on the show. Sarah’s cardio was often looked at as her weakness, even by herself at times. Despite this, Sarah won 2 finals and won the mini finals on both Rivals 3 and Battle of the Seasons 2012. Her only major blunder was a dehydration DQ on Cutthroat (in which she was on Cara’s team). From a cardio standpoint, Cara has never truly died in a final, and she has faced some of the hardest ones in Challenge history (Rivals, Dirty 30, War of the Worlds 1, etc.).
Based on Cara’s last few seasons after Sarah “retired,” it feels easier to give Cara the edge.
Sarah is one of the best swimmers in Challenge history. She and Jordan were neck and neck with Wes/Theresa during the Exes 2 swims. Sarah swam in high school, and its always been one of her greatest strengths. Cara improved throughout her career, going from being a bottom-tier swimmer to so slightly above average. Unfortunately, even after improving as a swimmer, Cara still can’t swim underwater much, which is a fatal flaw in challenges where players have to dive in and untie a package or unlock an item.
When Cara first competed, she was not a heights person. It still pops up here and there in the more extreme challenges, most notably her freak out before the sky-dive on Dirty 30. Considering Jordan would go on to fracture his leg during the sky-dive, maybe she had a point. Over time, Cara has become an above-average competitor in heights challenges. Sarah is a thrill-seeker who flips and dismounts during heights challenges and has an excellent sense of balance. She notably won the nighttime skyscraper challenge to send Bananas into the final elimination of Exes 2. The best version of Cara trails Sarah by a tiny bit in heights challenge; the aggregate of the two is Cara trailing by a decent margin.
Strength and Upper Body
During Cara’s debut in the Fresh Meat combined, she let the world know she has killer upper body strength by being one of only two women to perform a pull-up and dropped 6 of them (compared to Laurel’s 2). As time went on, she became more muscular, her body fat % dropped, and she is pound for pound, one of the strongest players in the show’s history.
Don’t sleep on Sarah, though. While Sarah never had Cara’s arms, Sarah had a good build and knew how to use her size to her advantage when carrying weight or heavy objects. In a daily challenge on Battle of the Seasons, players had to bop their opponents off a platform while inside an inner tube; Sarah and Devyn murked people up using both their size and minds. Still, when it comes to competitions of muscular endurance and being able to lift one’s own body weight, Cara Maria has Sarah beat.
Both players are strong eaters. Cara will cry when eating the grossest substances (think War of the Worlds 2 Final) — although it is vital to note, she still eats the food. Sarah (and KellyAnne’s) eating gave her team a big lead during the Ruins final, she performed well at drinking the fish juice (that Jay and Jenna could not drink) in the Exes 2 final, and Team Brooklyn won the Hunger Games daily challenge.
Edge: PUSH (tie)
While Cara Maria’s name in the Challenge world is synonymous with eliminations, Sarah’s is the same with puzzles. As a person who does puzzles in their spare time, Sarah knocks out any sudoku or crossword they throw at her with ease, and similar to how she finds the best daily challenge strategies, Sarah understands how to take on puzzles. Sarah’s puzzle-solving makes her a massive threat in a final since she consistently has an edge on opponents at checkpoints. That means Sarah has the guaranteed advantage on Cara, right? Well, in actuality, Cara Maria has solved her fair share of puzzles.
Cara graduated from college with a 3.8 GPA and has a ridiculously strong short-term memory that allows her to lock down any codes/color patterns the players need to memorize. Her memorization skills were crucial for her and Cooke winning the final daily challenge of Rivals 2 that got them a spot in the Final, allowed her to re-enter the game from Redemption on Dirty 30, and was why she won the Vendettas final. Other notable puzzles Cara has solved have been: a 3D puzzle in Part 1 of the Rivals 2 final, a 3D puzzle that nobody else solved on Final Reckoning, a wild airplane puzzle on War of the Worlds 1 that allowed her to bypass straight to the final, and a significant win elimination against Bananas & Vince on Bloodlines.
Despite all these triumphs, Cara has had some utter wipeouts in puzzles where the pressure has gotten to her, and she’s crumbled. She and Darrell’s inability with puzzles was why they were the first boot of Fresh Meat 2. In the aggregate, Cara is an All-Star puzzle solver. Yet, when comparing with Sarah, even with all these achievements and praise, Cara is not consistent enough for me to give her the edge. If it were a pure memorization contest, I would take Cara.
Impact on the Franchise
You may be someone who only cares about pure competition and views the Challenge purely as a sport, and if so, skip this portion. However, as a Sports Fan, I will note, someone being relevant and entertaining to watch is essential. I always preferred Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki over Tim Duncan, knowing Tim Duncan was objectively the better player. Being engaging to watch matters for some people.
For Cara and Sarah, it’s two different tales. One is of consistency, and the other is of continuing escalating growth. From Day 1, Sarah established herself as a top player on the Ruins and was someone they could rely on for confessionals whenever she was on, even if not in a relevant storyline.
Meanwhile, Cara’s growth went from the underdog known by some for being Abram’s girlfriend to legit championship contender to a female face of the franchise to eventually becoming an overall face of the franchise (War of the Worlds era). Regardless of whether you liked either, each had a massive impact on the show. Arguably, the amount fans cared about Cara from Invasion to even in the present day (when she hasn’t been on the last couple of seasons) is greater than the impact of Sarah’s career.
Then again, Johnny Bananas stealing the money from Sarah on Rivals 3 is one of the show’s most infamous moments, to the point that if she ever returned to the show, it would have a massive ripple effect on all of Challenge social media. That moment has also inarguably hurt Sarah’s legacy as it is what she gets remembered for, rather than the fact she is one of the best competitors in those show’s history. Similarly, Cara’s relationship with Paulie Calafiore and her social media shenanigans has turned many people against Cara. Both players icons, and I’m happy to have spent many hours covering each of them for this article and over the years.
Impact Edge: Cara
Now, you decide who has your vote: