MTV Challenge Retrospective: How Good Was Cutthroat?
A few years ago, I used to do a series where I went through a past season of the Challenge and would awards “MVPs” or “All Challenge Teams,” similar to how most sports award players. Those articles gained me a ton of new loyal readers, and looking back; they were an absolute dumpster fire. In the years since then, I like to believe my brain has gained some extra knowledge and wisdom, and the writing/formatting has improved a bit. Thus, I am starting a new series to break down why certain Challenge seasons are good, bad, awesome, or irrelevant while also dropping some awards and superlatives based on overall impact (competition + drama).
Also, as a bonus for before, after, or while reading, here is a Video I posted today breaking down why the Challenge Dirty 30 failed, despite MTV hyping it up as one of the most epic seasons ever.
Let’s have some fun strolling down memory lane!
Preseason Cast Grade: C+ 78.5/100
Above I list the “Preseason” grades for the Cutthroat cast based on the players’ context entering the season. Cutthroat had an exceptionally weak cast. A casual fan will see certain names like Bananas or Cara and think, “oh yeah, two Challenge Legends,” and they did go on to be legends, but they were nowhere near that level during this time. Bananas was a 2x Champion who rode Kenny and Evan’s coattails; I think a fair comparison in the modern era is probably someone like Rogan. Cara was just the first boot on Fresh Meat who got into a relationship with Abram. That relationship was her defining characteristic until about Rivals 2; her comparison would be a Kayleigh-type. You also had Camila get cast off the Spring Break Challenge spin-off, which was from out of nowhere; that was the original Jenn Lee/Jospeh Allen casting, except she went on to become one of the best to ever competed on the show.
Even players such as Brad and Derrick were at their low points in terms of entertainment because they were married and had less zest than in years prior. If you’re a fan of below-average to average male competitors, this was their season to thrive (Dan, Brandon, Chet, Dunbar, Luke, etc.). Cutthroat is evidence that a good format can elevate a bad cast.
Format: A+ 100/100
The three-team format was simultaneously simple and brilliant. For literally a decade, MTV had beat the two-team format to death in different iterations (Real World v Road Rules, Men v Women, Blood v Water, Vets v Rookies, Polygamists v Habitual Cheaters, etc.). Two-team seasons would generally devolve into a battle of how the men can treat the women of their team as poorly as possible under the guise of “trimming the fat” before the final. Similar conversations were had on Cutthroat, but there was also an element of politics and internal competition that had teams making boneheaded based on perceived values of strength, or individual social/political game won out. Cutthroat is an incredible blend of modern and traditional Challenge formats, giving a healthy medium for both old and new school viewers.
Each episode having both a male and female elimination forces everyone to put it an effort where if their team does not win immunity, they can be up elimination. Even a player with a good social standing has to care about winning since there are only 5 men and women per team, meaning a 20% chance they could eliminate. That rate rises to 25–33–50–100 percent if more and more of their teammates get eliminated. This happened to the Blue Team on Cutthroat, where Derrick and Bananas probably expected never to go in, and each had to by the end (Derrick twice). Every daily Challenge having a 20k dollar bounty on the line upped the anti because that’s an actual significant amount, especially during an era where the total prize pool was 300k dollars (literally 6.6% of the prize pool was eligible with each daily challenge). Back in 2010, 20k dollars could buy you a Tesla.
Most fans enjoyed the secret voting aspect. I’m indifferent towards the twist; I generally prefer players having to look their teammates in the eye when they vote for them; although secret ballots lead to fewer peer pressure bandwagon votes.
Eliminations: C 74/100
I know that on the elimination average grade, I give it a 6.4/10, but for the overall grade, I curved it to drop the bottom two male and female eliminations to account for spillage.
Cutthroat is host to the most iconic Challenge elimination ever, the CT Backpack. CT had been banned/suspended from the Challenge because of his actions on Duel 2, so to reintegrate him into the franchise in that way was the perfect way to have fans salivating for his return. The “Die Hard” elimination is super underrated and needs to be brought back because all three times it got played, we got entertaining eliminations. Players had to stand/kneel on and roll an oversized dice without any body parts touching the ground while getting the desired number into the “zone.”
One fault of this season is having both the Pole Push and the Back Up Off Me eliminations in the rotation were favored towards heavier players. Having one of them is excusable both is ill-advised.
Daily Challenges: B- 82/100
Most big-team daily challenges are terrible. All there is to watch out for is when one player out of nowhere puts on a crazy elite performance, or more likely when one player completely drags their team down. Cutthroat is much of the same, with the only added element of excitement is that there are three teams instead of two.
They had two of the most dangerous competitions in Challenge history. The Riot Shield daily challenge visually was cool to watch, but it left half the cast bruised and cut up before the final (Derrick’s face was extremely scratched up in particular). Then there was a challenge where two players had to jump off a clip in synchronization onto a moving board that would descend them down into the water where they would swim to a finish line. However, if you slipped (which multiple people did), you’d have nobody control while falling like a bowling ball into the water. Chet got taken out of the game with his fall, which if it were a real human being that it happened to, I’d actually feel bad.
Aesthetic: A 94/100
The Cutthroat house felt massive and is the type of house they should have every season. Players had a massive outdoor area to work out, tan, or even sneak off for a hook-up (Cara and Abram). This season also had a legitimate hot tub, which, when you mix with alcohol, leads to some hot moments.
The teams’ jerseys were a bit too basic for my liking and were an actual step-down from Fresh Meat 2 and the Ruins. For the eliminations and challenges, the Gulag itself had one of the coolest set-ups. The arena’s size limited what type of games could actually get played inside the Gulag, yet it was a fair trade-off for a dope-ass look.
MVPs: Abram Boise and Laurel Stucky
Abram and Laurel carried a pretty meh Grey Team to 5 out of 9 daily challenge wins. Their feud was an ongoing storyline with Laurel actively trying to get Cara Maria off their team, and Abram, who was hooking up with Cara, did his best to protect her, including putting Laurel into elimination. If the co-ed Rivals format existed back then, they would have been perfect partners. Their continued hatred for one another after Laurel and Cara became best friends is hilarious.
First Team All Challenge: Abram Boise, Laurel Stucky, Tyler Duckworth, Chris Tamburello, Jenn Grijalva
Tyler performed well in the challenges. He won the final two eliminations of the season against Johnny Bananas and Derrick Kosinski. It is crazy impressive considering Bananas was coming off back-to-back wins, and Derrick had just finished up a 3-peat. He went from Early Boot on two seasons in a row to Challenge Champion.
CT was on for one episode as a mercenary, but he achieved the most memorable moment in Challenge history in that episode. Jenn’s performance is slept on (even by me when I did this originally years ago). While her team sucked in the challenges, she excelled physically, and from the political side of the game, there was no chance of her ever going into elimination. Jenn is so much better than people remember.
Second Team All Challenge: Cara Maria Sorbello, Brad Fiorenza, Paula Meronek, Brandon Nelson, Camila Nakagawa
Brad finally getting the win after eight seasons was huge. He would retire from the show after this season living happily ever after with Tori. Brandon and Cara both made names for themselves after underwhelming Fresh Meat Debuts — Brandon won three eliminations, and Cara made it to the final while in a prominent showmance with Abram. Paula continued to be a major figure in the show by having the most overall confessionals for the season; meanwhile, Camila brought chaotic energy to the show, killing the challenges and eliminations, losing her virginity to Johnny Bananas, and laying the foundation for her eventual collapse that would be seven years in the making.
Best Moment: CT Backpack
When I tell people I write about the Challenge; I bring up the Bananas Backpack clip on my phone to pretend the show has some legitimacy. They caught lightning in a bottle with this moment.
Best Hook Up: Cara and Abram’s Night Vision Hook Up
Cara and Abram had many great hook-ups, whether it be an audibly loud encounter in the house bathroom or on top of a piano while Abram is playing the instrument. My personal favorite is them hooking up in night vision in the woods/outdoors area away from everyone. The cameramen deserve a raise for that footage.
However, the winner is Paula and Emily’s steamy hot tub makeout. Two gorgeous who obviously look like they know what they are doing just going at it. The funniest part about it is that during the infamous Laurel/Big Easy fight where she tears into him, you can see Paula/Emily still kissing in the background.
How Good Was Cutthroat?
Personally, Cutthroat is not my favorite season of the Challenge. As someone who fell in love with the show during the “Rivals” era, I always prefer a solo-paired game over anything with a large team. Nonetheless, I regard Cutthroat as one of the ten best Challenge seasons ever because the season is an excellent balance of both old and new school formatting. Have both male and female eliminations every episode and giving only team immunity along with a daily challenge prize purse made the entirety of episodes must-watch television. In modern Challenge seasons, it feels as though you can miss weeks at a time or simply check-in at the end of an episode, whereas with Cutthroat, it runs at such a solid, fast pace that you have to watch first and think about the quality second.
Cutthroat is at the very least a good Challenge season that you can feel safe recommending to friends and family as a starting point.