MTV Challenge Competitors Production Didn’t Expect to Be Stars

When the Challenge casts certain people, you can tell how MTV thinks of someone based on how they’re featured in confessionals, social media promos, or who they get partnered with on certain seasons. For example, Cory Wharton is someone MTV has always loved, they put him at the forefront of Invasion as a face of a new generation, gave him awards for hooking up, put him on Champ vs Stars before he was a Champ, and then put him on a Time Square billboard for a season he was the second player eliminated. Tori Deal was getting hyped to high as a rookie of the year and was doing Barstool interviews before Dirty 30’s premiere. You get what I’m saying.

Then you have people who get brought in to fill a specific role, whether it be as a comedic relief, hot eye candy whose meant to be seen but not heard from, or a warm body for Johnny Bananas to roll-over. This article is highlighting these players who broke out of their niche role into becoming legitimate impactful characters and competitors on the Challenge.

Also, before I get into the list, I made this video breaking down 5 of the most unlucky players in Challenge history. You might be surprised by some of the names on the list considering they’re a few of the best players the show has ever seen. If you could, drop a Subscribe on the page!

Onto the list! Sidenote: there are some people omitted from this list as I’m not quite sure if they hit the main character/star role, or it was more difficult to find inclinations towards how production views them via dirt sheets/inconsistent promotion on the show/social media.

Jenna Compono

The Bunim-Murray Production Team, Casting Team, Editing Team, and MTV producers are not always on the same page. When it came to Jenna, there were two different-minds of thinking; on the one hand, they saw her as someone boring, doesn’t bring a ton of drama, and most of the time isn’t a good confessional. The other half saw her as a hot marketable generic blonde whose confessionals they could turn into a joke by playing up how “ditzy” she was. Jenna was originally an alternate for her breakout season, Battle of the Bloodlines. She got added after MTV decided to drop Nia Moore following the backlash from her Exes 2 DQ and after Marie Roda and her sister dropped out a few weeks before filming. Those drop-outs were huge since Jenna became the Barbie Beast that season, which was a stark difference from being the lay-up who quit the final on Exes 2.

She was an alternate again for Invasion of the Champions until a couple of days before departure when production chose to drop Averey Tressler. Jenna went from alternate to the most veteran woman on the underdog cast and stacked up more elimination wins along with a newfound friendship with Kailah Casillas. Her rivalry with Amanda and the Lavender Ladies elevated her as simple Jenna looked like a saint compared to the “villains”. Jenna also wasn’t supposed to be on Dirty 30 and wasn’t even the first alternate choice. Alicia Wright, who was on the cast, ruptured her appendix the night before departure, forcing MTV to bring someone in. They called Briana LaCuesta, who did not see the call while working, forcing MTV to bring Jenna in. Alicia’s ruptured appendix led to one of Jenna’s most relevant seasons as she got embroiled in the Cara/Camila feud with Kailah and herself. For a two-three year period, Jenna was one of the most popular competitors on the Challenge and was never a top priority for some MTV people. Jenna was a late-addition to Total Madness as well, getting confirmed after Cara declined multiple times; she seems to be back at the end of the rotation.

Nelson Thomas

When Nelson got brought on as a Rivals 3 alternate alongside Amanda, it felt as though he was a small cup of mixed veggies on the side of a sirloin steak. His casting for Invasion was even more shocking, and ultimately, what it came down to is the fact that Nelson was cheap to cast (he would have paid money to be on the show), and you have more room to feature people with bigger/better personalities. MTV commonly casts these cheap 1–2 season players (Joseph Allen) to ensure that their star players they’re paying hefty appearance fees stay in the game as long as possible. Nelson was in that archetype, and he broke the glass ceiling and kept soaring. On Invasion, he made alliances, had hookups, won three eliminations, and was two minutes away from beating CT in the final. Nelson forced MTV’s hand by performing in such a way that you could not deny him screentime.

Every season Nelson has been on, he’s made an impact in some way. What’s so funny about his ascension on the Challenge is the fact that as he continued to set elimination records and consistently make it far into seasons while getting into fights, MTV still put his best-friend Cory on the billboard and featured him as a star. Nelson had to fight and work to get similar treatment, and now as time passes, his impact on the show will be more fondly remembered.

Camila Nakagawa and Dee Nguyen

Again, MTV loves to cast people from out of nowhere for cheap. Camila was on the forgotten but hilarious Spring Break Challenge spin-off that involved college students getting coached by MTV Challenge All-Stars like Wes, Kenny, Landon, Evelyn, and Susie. Dee was on a knock-off Australian version of the Geordie shore. Each of them was penny stocks who, on paper, hit big.

They both became Champions early into their careers, got into loads of drama, had hookups and toxic relationships, and got banned from the Challenge. Camila’s was a more gradual build-up; however, you could argue she had more dysfunction and malice in her actions that got brushed to the side more or less because her actions were viewed as messy reality television versus a human with obvious issues. Likewise, Dee got a spotlight that Camila had to work years to get; before MTV banned her on Total Madness, she had the most confessionals/storylines. In the original episode, the week she got banned, she was set to break the all-time confessional record for a non-final episode. Dee and Camila’s stock rose so quickly and plummeted faster than you can say TJ’s Final.

Shane Landrum

Shane’s second-run on the show is one of the more inexplicable things in Challenge history. In his original-run, he was an underrated competitor with a fair amount of snark in confessionals, yet, even he admitted in Podcasts during his comeback that he was wallpaper. While going through a divorce, Shane reached out to a casting director, stating he’d do whatever to get a shot back on the show and a chance to have his mind elsewhere for a bit. Some people buy motorcycles or grow beards after a divorce; Shane went on the Challenge.

What a return it was indeed. Shane started slow on Invasion, and as he began killing the daily challenges, he began to get into the political and drama aspects of the game. The guy was dominating screentime and was the MVP of the season. He’d come back for Vendettas, Champs vs. Stars 3, and Final Reckoning. Even though he never replicated the physical performance he had on Invasion, Shane got into drama with many individuals and had the 3rd most confessionals on Final Reckoning behind Cara and Bananas (franchise faces). He was also the strategic brain of the Lavender Lady’s alliance; without him, it’s unlikely they would’ve been as successful as they were. After a whole decade, his coming out of obscurity to become one of the most impactful players on the show was on nobody’s bingo card.

Cara Maria Sorbello

MTV always liked Cara. They brought her back for Cutthroat after being the first boot of Fresh Meat 1 and then gave her Laurel as a partner for Rivals 1. Like Jenna, you could see that the way producers/casting directors/editing team viewed her differently as for a while, she was never a top casting priority, but she was a key supporting character when on the show. After Rivals 1, Cara was in the perpetual alternate role three seasons in a row. MTV’s goal was to partner Abram and Coral for Exes 1 and settled for Cara. She was a double alternate for Battle of the Seasons 2012 as their team got added after a Real World Sydney Team was removed after flying to Turkey. Cara wasn’t even supposed to be on that team; her jersey literally says “Carley,” and they had to put tape over it (Carley Johnson, Fresh Meat 2 Winner). As we all know, she came in as an alternate for Rivals 2 as Cooke’s partner. That Rivals 2 season was integral for Cara as she jumped up a tier in fan support/and as a competitor.

Cara would continue to push more and more, from supporting character to legit championship contender (FA-Dirty 30) to female face of the franchise (Vendettas-FR) and overall face of the franchise (WOTW’s). Each time Cara kept pushing up a tier, MTV was a bit hesitant. During Dirty 30, before Camila’s racist tirade, she was getting put in front of Cara when it came to promotional work, etc. Nonetheless, she hit a point nobody expected and should be proud of it.



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Allan Aguirre

Allan Aguirre


26 years old. I blog about MTV's the Challenge and will dabble into other subjects occasionally. Follow me on Twitter for the occasional bad joke.