Frank Sweeney, an MTV Challenge Villain, Anti-Hero, and Trailblazer
When I started binge-watching through the Challenge a few years ago, no competitor got a more significant reaction out of me than Frank Sweeney. It was not a good reaction, more or less a vitriol dislike, bordering on hate. As a fan of Challenge veterans, I did not enjoy the fact he had the most experienced players thrown into all the early eliminations. His fight with Nany and Dustin made my blood boil. The way he treated Sam made me detest him, and the fact he consistently went for low blows in verbal alterations irked me. However, once time passed, and I began researching the show and watching interviews with Frank, I started to have a better understanding of him. In my brain, Frank was a crazy person. When I re-watched, I saw a much more calculated and intelligent individual.
As fans, we are superficial viewers, at the very least on the first watch. Our culture predisposes us to react immediately to what is in front of us. Hundreds of thousands of people live-tweet every night when watching their favorite show(s). We are so often committed to our immediate reactions. My immediate conception of Frank was negative, so when I heard his voice, I could feel the hair on my body twitching.
It reminded me of one of my favorite TV shows, the Walking Dead. We watch a group of survivors who are the stars of the show. When they face any rival group, we are cheering for our group because they are almost like family to us. They are the heroes, and the other side is the villains. In the Walking Dead, we occasionally get an episode through the enemies point of view. The leader of the villains is often a hero to his side. They are a person who is willing to do anything to save his group of survivors, even if it means cutting the throats of the side we love.
Watching Frank challenge Wes, Alton, and CT troubles Challenge fans because we love them, or at the very least feel familiar with them. It is difficult accepting change, especially if the change is so drastic. Throwing Frank into the mix is like throwing four shots in a cup without a chaser and telling us to down it. Challenge fans saw his game moves as an affront to their world. They tune in every season for their favorites, not for Frank. In reality, Frank was fighting for himself and what he believes in. Not only that, but others held the same thoughts as him, Frank was just willing to be the leader and thus the villain.
Most seasons, rookies are the minority and are forced to prove themselves against one another while the veterans coast. On Battle of the Seasons, Frank saw that most of the rookies/inexperienced players made up the majority, and he worked to align them all immediately. It was a genius move which tore at the insides of Challenge Fans because they had to watch unfamiliar faces completely control the game. It angered me as I cheered against San Diego and they succeeded week after week, even with some turbulence in-between. What Frank did was unparalleled as a rookie and a gay male. While rookies often get targeted due to their status in the social hierarchy; gay males have close to the same rank. It gets multiplied when the two are combined.
Frank did shitty things and said awful stuff while on the Challenge. However, he was villainized a bit too much when Bananas, Kenny, Zach, Wes, CT, Jordan, and many others have done the same. They are called “dicks” or “douchebags” because that is what they acted like. In the end, people championed them as they were able to separate them as competitors and as humans. They also maybe related too close to home with some of their actions. Frank got bashed, but in a different way, where I’d often see slurs and derogatory statements in comments. People treat him like this worse creature when he’s overcoming much more than his fellow top competitors. He was not only trying to win the Challenge, but Frank had to overcome a game which could have devoured him in a second.
If you want a full history of how gay males have been targeted early on the show, here’s a quick full recap of every ELIMINATION based season. Skip that part if you’re not interested in seeing how gay males have had it rough. I will note, a reasonable amount of these are out of coincidence. A decent amount is occasions where other viable options were available, and it went the poorly for the gay males more often than not. In the end, it doesn’t add up well.
Gauntlet 1/Inferno 1: Nothing out of the ordinary.
Inferno 2 — Dan Renzi gets voted into the first elimination from the Bad Asses Team, despite being a champion. He goes on to be a strong competitor the rest of the season, only to get eliminated by Landon in a climbing elimination.
Gauntlet 2 — Danny Dias gets voted into the first male elimination for the Rookie Team. He loses to Alton.
Fresh Meat 1 — Ryan Kehoe gets voted into the second elimination, and that’s due to his connection to the Austin cast. Shane makes it far into the game with Linette, and they perform well.
Duel 1 — Tyler Duckworth is the only player not picked in the callout for the first elimination. He ends up eliminating Johnny Bananas but loses the following elimination to Derrick.
Inferno 3 — Davis Mallory is picked to go into the first elimination. He ends being saved by Alton with the lifesheild. He goes on to be a reliable team contributor and wins an elimination later in the season, only to get eliminated by Derrick right before the final.
Gauntlet 3 — Ryan Kehoe is protected via the team save due to perceived weakness from the other side. He gets saved two additional times. Tyler is voted into the second male elimination and loses to Frank Roessler. Tyler goes on to win back to back seasons and three eliminations against Bananas, Derrick, and CT.
Duel 2 — Nick Brown calls out Ryan Kehoe for the first elimination. Ryan wins. Ryan is also in the second elimination as nobody in the line-up call names him. Davis Mallory is in the third elimination. Both of them get eliminated, yet they each take their shot at big names in MJ and Evan.
The Ruins — No gay males are on the cast.
Fresh Meat 2 — Nothing terrible, Ryan Kehoe plays a great floater game, loses right before the final.
Cutthroat — Derek Chavez gets voted into the first elimination, and JD Ordonez gets voted into the second one (first time eligible). They end up losing to Brandon Nelson. Derek loses right before the final in his next season, and JD makes the final of his next appearance. Tyler wins the season!
Rivals 1 — Davis is voted into the first elimination, though Tyrie being his partner was probably a more significant reason. Tyler wins the season.
Exes 1 — No gay males are on the cast.
Battle of the Seasons — Frank wins the season! JD makes the final and finishes in 3rd, while Derek has a strong performance as a member of Team Cancun.
Rivals 2 — Derek gets voted into elimination, despite there being a rookie team in Jordan/Marlon available. Derek and Robb defeat Dunbar and Tyrie, then got voted into the second elimination where they lose a blind stick fight to Knight and Preston. Frank finishes in 2nd place with Johnny.
Marlon finished in 3rd place as a Bi Male.
Free Agents — Preston performs well in most daily challenges, yet is consistently picked last. Frank wins the first two eliminations after bad luck in the draw. Unfortunately, he has to leave due to illness, and we don’t see him as a legit cast member again.
Exes 2 — No gay males are on the cast.
Bloodlines — Shane Raines is the only gay male on the cast, and he gets eliminated due to his brother’s injury. They did make it past the first elimination!
Rivals 3 — No gay males are on the cast.
Invasion — Shane Landrum returns after ten years and proves himself as one of the top competitors in daily challenges while making great game moves. He is thrown into the first underdog elimination after the merge due to perceived weakness. He comes up short right before the final.
Dirty 30 — Ammo gets voted in the second elimination after performing adequately in the challenges. Ammo eliminates Tony, then is voted in via double cross in the subsequent elimination and loses to Jordan.
Vendettas — Shane loses pretty early, but it’s more due to his feud with Bananas.
Final Reckoning — Jozea is voted straight out of the game by Zach and Amanda, though it was more a Big Brother thing. Shane and his alliance go far into the game, and he comes up short in a physical elimination.
War of the Worlds — No gay males are on the cast.
War of the Worlds 2 — Sean gets voted into the first elimination.
Tyler Duckworth proved a gay male could be a top competitor, and Ryan Kehoe showed they could socially float to the end. In recent seasons, we saw Shane Landrum make legitimate social and political moves as part of the Lavender Ladies, and get absolutely eviscerated online for his style of play. They NEVER controlled the game. Frank Sweeney did that. While you can attribute some of the alliance power on BOTS to Zach and CJ, and you could say he played a bad game because his team went into three eliminations; he STILL made it out on top. He won daily challenges, he made political moves, won an elimination, and he still won the season. It wasn’t a fluke either because Frank managed to go through all of Rivals 2 with Bananas without ever seeing an elimination. Frank then earned extra stripes as he won two eliminations on Free Agents before being removed due to illness. 3–0 in eliminations, a two-time finalist in virtually only two appearances, and a Challenge Champion is Frank Sweeney’s resume.
I’m not trying to completely separate the poor actions of Frank from his time on the show and his feats as a competitor. I don’t think Frank does either. Since leaving the show, Frank distanced himself from the Challenge to find some inner peace and pursue his education. He has earned a Ph.D. in Physical Therapy, gotten engaged, traveled the world, and is in the best shape of his life. Considering Frank is in a great situation where he is in better shape than when he dominated, I feel safe saying he has changed. Or at least he does not want to be the person he was on the show in the past. Based on his interviews with different sites (even back after Rivals 2), it seems as though Frank is a legitimately chill dude.
Episode 46.5: Frank Sweeney Interview by Smashing Heads Podcast
We had such a fun time with Frank. He is a unique person in the Challenge world and might be the only past challenge…
If you don’t like Frank still, that’s fine. I hope someone reads this and realizes Frank was unique and played a game as good as the CT and Wes’s. His performance should have opened doors for gay competitors, rather than MTV not casting a single gay competitor on seasons 26 or 33. As well as often holding them to a maximum of two (more often only one).