Does MTV’s The Challenge Have An Age Problem
Last week, Darrell Taylor got eliminated from the Challenge Double Agents. Darrell set the record this season for being the oldest player to ever compete on the Challenge at 41 years old. Despite the oldest player getting eliminated from the show, the Double Agents environment still feels remarkably old for a reality television show on MTV. I want to clarify that the people on the show are currently not old human beings; however, compared to the Golden Days (whatever era you think that is), the players in contention in recent seasons are much older than they used to be.
Fans of this show’s drama aspect have been complaining about the last couple of seasons completely lacking drama, and production casting not only older veterans but older rookies likely lead to less conflict, or at the very least, less authentic drama. I want to delve into some of the issues/non-issues that have been created by the cast skewing older in age. Let’s get into it:
(Also, here is a video breaking down one of the worst eliminations ever if you are looking for more Challenge content to consume).
THE CASTS HAVE GOTTEN WAY OLDER. IT IS STATISTICALLY UNDENIABLE.
Reddit User: u/SoyMilk17 made this awesome Infographic that shows the disparity in age between the oldest and youngest cast member on every season of the Challenge. The dots in the middle denote the average cast member age. From a glance, you can see that both Total Madness and Double Agents consecutively set records for the oldest average cast age in Challenge history.
As of Episode 14 of the Double Agents, our remaining cast members, from oldest to youngest, are:
Chris Tamburello (40 Years Old): He is now a dad. CT is now 3–5 years older than Beth when he was calling her too old to do these shows.
Aneesa Ferreira (38 Years Old): Being only 38 despite being on the network for twenty years is a bit wild.
Leroy Garrett (35 Years Old): Leroy has acknowledged his age (he still looks young) by announcing that he is retiring after this season.
Kaycee Clark (33 Years Old): Phenomenal game player, brings zero entertainment to the show.
Amber Borzotra (33 Years Old): She debuted this season and is older than Jonna Mannion (who appears on the OG show).
Nany Gonzalez (32 Years Old): Technically, being on the younger half of females even though she’s been on TV for 10 years is crazy.
Cory Wharton (30 Years Old): Cory being in his 30’s now feels weird. Then again, he has matured a ton since becoming a father to two kids.
Fessy Shafaat (29 Years Old): Acts like a 19-year-old, though!
Big T (29 Years Old): Big T being 29 is shocking since she has an exuberant and youthful vibe.
Kyle Christie (28 Years Old): We may see a more mature Kyle in the future as he becomes a father.
Kam Williams (26 Years Old): In all honesty, Kam might be the most mature person left in the game.
The average age of the Double Agents players remaining is 32.2 years old, which isn’t far off from the overall cast average of roughly 31 years old. Now, in comparison, the ages of the final eleven players of Season 20 Cutthroat:
Brad 30 Years Old
Tori 24 Years Old
Dunbar 26 Years Old
Tyler 30 Years Old
Abram 28 Years Old
Cara 24 Years Old
Laurel 25 Years Old
Sarah 25 Years Old
Jenn 26 Years Old
Emily 22 Years Old
The average age of the final 11 on Cutthroat is 26 years old. Meanwhile, the youngest remaining Double Agent player (Kam) is 26. Even going back to a season like Dirty 30, if you take the six finalists (Derrick, CT, Jordan, Cara, Camila, Tori), in which 2/3 had been on a minimum of nine seasons prior, the average age of that group is only 30.3 — almost two years younger than the current crop. Go through those old seasons, and the ages of some players is bonkers. Darrell was the oldest player on a season that happened 11 years ago. Coral was the oldest person on Fresh Meat 1 at 27!!!!
IS AN OLDER CAST A BAD THING?
Covering the Challenge over the years has taught me that this fanbase loves nostalgia. Both articles I put out covering the Challenge All Stars have gotten more views than any piece regarding Double Agents. That can mean many things; mostly, veteran cast members’ age is not an issue to the franchise’s older fans. As much as people complain about MTV’s over-reliance on Wes, CT, and Bananas, my player previews/content surrounding them is often guaranteed to get a high amount of traffic.
The overall ratings for Double Agents have been good and stable, not as good as Total Madness. Still, Total Madness occurred at the beginning of the pandemic when the only sport getting played was Korean Baseball (which I watched and bet money on like an idiot). While the quality has not been there with Double Agents, it has not been a bottom-tier season either. There are some real parallels right now between the Challenge and the WWE. Both products have an overreliance on old-time players who maybe cannot be the full-package they used to be, yet, those older stars bring in the long-time viewers/rating boosts.
I will note, while veterans do bring in long-time viewers, when you cast a majority of them, the politics and drama take a massive dip in quality as the vets often play a safe game among themselves. Lack of drama leads to the show not being the must-see, and we potentially lose out on gaining new Challenge fans.
WHY ARE THE VETS NOT RETIRING?
One of the key differences between the Challenge and real sports is that as long as you can stay in shape, being older is beneficial on the Challenge. The veteran players are often able to stay out of the drama and can coast on both their status and the plethora of connections they have created over the years. Yes, in some cases, like the Darrell/Cory elimination recently, father time caught up to Darrell as he lost a dead sprint. However, if it were a final or pole wrestle, most people would predict Darrell to win since he has experienced those situations. The nature of the Challenge has allowed their key figures to have extended primes, and the increase of both appearance fees and the prize money has given them no reason to retire either. Many of the older players make more money appearing on the show for a few weeks than their day jobs pay for 6–12 months (if they even have them).
OLDER ROOKIES ARE AN ISSUE
In the last two seasons, MTV has cast the following rookies who are already 30+ years old: Lolo Jones, Amber Borzotra, Jay Starrett, Natalie Anderson, Kaycee Clark.
MTV casting established characters from reality shows outside of their network is them playing with a fire bit. Back when they would put someone on the Real World or Road Rules at 18–24 years old and then drop them on the Challenge, that person felt like a malleable piece of clay. Different people came in more developed or in better quality than others, as a though whole it felt like you were watching them grow into something, whether that something was good or bad is irrelevant because it was the process that was intriguing. Watching them make bad choices because they were young and dumb is something we can relate to, you might not feel old at 29, but you know the 19 year old version of you was probably dumber and messier; which is what you want to see on a reality television show.
Casting people in their late 20’s to mid 30’s who have success and fanbases in other competition shows feels as though you are buying a famous painting to put in your museum/collection to attract fans of their franchise. The problem is, that piece of art may or may not groove with the Challenge environment. Fans of this show love good messy drama that occurs when drunk or when two players become heated over actual game moves. What they don’t love is fake drama and storylines. Obviously, reality television attracts fame whores of all ages, but when you bring in this generation of people whose goal is to extend their fifteen minutes of fame as long as possible, the show feels embarrassing at times. Big Brother fans are constantly complaining about how their show quality has dipped because of the casting people who just want fame and don’t have personalities/know how to play the game. And now the Challenge is funneling as many of them onto the show as possible.
Either they are too mature to get into good messy drama or are fame whores creating fake storylines drama. Some special characters subvert these categories — they are the outliers.
WHAT NOW? POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS? DO WE NEED A SOLUTION?
MTV did cast some younger people on Double Agents: Mechie, Liv, and Amber M. Apparently, the three were a bit messy, got into some drama, and hooked up (Amber and Mechie specifically). For some reason, the Challenge chose not to feature this. On the one hand, none of them were super relevant to the season, except maybe Amber M; them getting edited out in favor of higher priority cast members make sense. The sad part about editing out content like this alienates the show’s fans who enjoy the reality television side more than the competition/sport-side, and the Challenge has always been a beautiful mix of the two. With the Gold Skull twist already mucking up the politics, why do we have to lose out on drama and hookups?
The active veterans existing in this franchise make it difficult for new players to become true stars in their own right. It does not help that we recently had a lost generation of players (the WAW generation). Theo Campbell would be my pick to win Double Agents right now if a champagne cork does not hit his eye and partially blind him in a freak accident. Dee Nguyen was Total Madness’s female face until she made some racist/insensitive tweets on top of other poor life decisions. Georgia Harrison had the potential to be a franchise face, and then the photos of her blackface incident show up all across social media. Mattie Lynn Breaux doesn’t know what a designated driver is, Turbo is a flight risk, and Stephen Bear might be going to prison. Many players with the potential to be on the show for a long time are already out of the casting pool.
Filling the cast with loads of younger people does not mean you will existing fix problems. They did that with Battle of the Bloodlines and Rivals 3 without care for quality, and the ratings took a massive dip. At the same time, in the past, production has bet on itself by investing in younger cast members, and it has worked out great for the long-term sake of the show: Fresh Meat 1, Battle of the Seasons 2012, and Invasion of the Champions.
Does the Challenge have an age problem? Yes and no. If the goal is to gain new fans, the lack of younger stars to attract fans of the same age is an issue. If they want to retain their current fans, then it’s not that big of a problem; I mean, the first thing people started doing after they dropped the trailer for Challenge All Stars was fan-casting for a potential second season. New blood is necessary, but the show’s long-running history is why it is so special and why I have been able to cover it in such detail over the years.
At the end of the day, the real issue is why the fuck is Ridiculousness on non-stop when the Challenge is beating out actual sports and Billion/Million dollar Wrestling companies in the key demographics on Wednesdays. Give us some goddamn re-runs, MTV.