In 2006, MTV introduced a fresh new batch of Challenge competitors known as Fresh Meat. The Fresh Meat definitely added a spark to the franchise as it ushered in multiple players who would go on to define different eras of the Challenge. They would have a second Fresh Meat season in 2010. In total, 25 Fresh Meat have competed on the Challenge, and I am here to rank them based on both Impact and Performance.
Before we jump into the rankings, above I created a video telling the story of one of the worst eliminations in Challenge history if you want to go down memory lane. Let’s rank these Fresh Meat!
25 Jesse Stark
24 Sydney Walker
She originally applied for Bad Girls Club, and Bunim-Murray funneled her onto the Challenge for Fresh Meat 2. Sydney was athletic but was in CJ’s shadow, who already didn’t get much of an edit.
23 Jeff Barr
A forgettable character. He was Paula’s partner on FM 2; they lost their elimination to Evelyn and Luke. Most notably, he had a flirtmance with Mandi that ended because they were on opposite sides of the veteran alliances.
22 Johnnie McBride
The guy was athletic but acted like a total asshole to Tonya for seemingly no legitimate reason other than preconceived bias. He had no patience and was an awful partner.
21 Sandy Kang
I really enjoyed Sandy during her brief period on FM 2. She mentioned that if she won, she’s used the money to get implants (fun fact, she did get implants since then). When Danny picked her as a partner, the girl was instantly upset. They actually performed well in their elimination against Jill and Pete due to Sandy’s puzzle prowess. This was her only Challenge appearance.
20 Chanda Sneed
She actually had the second quickest overall 40-yard dash regardless of gender of the FM 1 cast. Chanda was athletic. She and Theo were a favorite to win FM 1 once Evan/Coral got medically removed. Instead, Kenny and Tina pulled off within the time period’s context, a massive upset win. I will say, back in the late ’00s, Evelyn, in an interview, talked about wanting a Duel 3 with all the strongest women on it, and Chanda’s name got dropped!
19 Linette Gallo
She and Shane won two daily challenges in a row and were a formidable pair, especially impressive as she was the last pick in the draft. Linette also had a showmance with Theo Von. Despite this, she didn’t get much of an edit, and it’s the only season she appeared on. Coral also adored Linette, which is one of the best recommendations you can get.
18 Vinny Foti
A scumbag. He was on three seasons. On FM 2, he timed out on the puzzle, and Sarah Rice picked him because she thought she could do the puzzles for them and because she was attracted to him (they hooked up). They were the second team eliminated. He lost an elimination to Big Easy on Cutthroat and proceeded to take a jab at Big Easy’s weight after losing, even though the elimination itself did benefit smaller players. Hilariously, he then comes onto Exes 1, having gained the weight that Big Easy lost during that time. Vinny then gets disqualified for ripping off Mandi’s top at the bar. Three seasons, seven episodes, 0–2 elimination record.
17 Noor Jehangir
He was the most athletic male Fresh Meat 2 prospect and brought chill vibes. Noor made it to the final with Jenn on FM 2, and we never saw him again. The guy had loads of potential.
16 Luke Wolfe
He competed on Fresh Meat 2 and Cutthroat, making it far on both seasons by being part of strong teams/partnerships. Luke wasn’t a bad competitor; he had excellent cardio and statistically owns a 3–1 elimination record with a finals appearance. That’s nothing to scoff at. The guy didn’t bring much of an on-screen presence.
15 Ryan Kehoe
A sneaky 3–4 elimination record. He was on 5 seasons, was on both Fresh Meat 1 and Fresh Meat 2, and generally was a solid social player. His social game on the Island and Fresh Meat 2 got him to the end, though he was never a serious contender either season. Ryan wasn’t good enough to be underrated; he isn’t bad enough to be considered a complete lay-up either.
14 Pete Connolly
Like Noor, Pete was a top Fresh Meat 2 male who, in most simulations, is a multi-season player and probably becomes a champion. He had an impressive third-place finish on FM 2 that included eliminating Darrell. The guy cooks a mean potato. Pete dated Jenn Grijalva on and off the show.
13 Casey Cooper
One of the funniest competitors in Challenge history. There was something so relatable about Casey being absolutely terrible at every single daily challenge that I didn’t mind her getting cast. Casey appeared on 4 seasons, holds a 5–3 elimination record, 1 final, and is tied for the most eliminations wins in one season with Wes and Sarah Greyson. She famously got a boob job with her Fresh Meat 1 winnings. Her social game is underrated, and the girl sneaky had a bunch of hookups, most notably Darrell and Bananas.
12 Mandi Moyer
Mandi was a pretty average competitor and personality who consistently punched above her weight. She played on four seasons and went to one final. Twice she lost eliminations due to Wes. In terms of hookups, Mandi racked up Wes and CT, along with a weird showmance with Chet on Cutthroat, where he voted her into elimination secretly. I always enjoyed Mandi, yet I can’t deny that she was someone who was on 4 seasons who felt like they were only on 2 seasons.
11 Big Easy
He was on 6 seasons of the Challenge! It’s even crazier when you know he did 3 seasons after dying in the Gauntlet 3 finals. Big Easy filled the role of chonky dude on the Challenge that fans could somewhat relate to. His career elimination record was 4–5, with his only final being the Gauntlet 3, where he infamously died, causing his entire team to lose the final. What’s hilarious about him dying during the final is that it’s one of the easiest finals in Challenge history. Big Easy did have some highlights, including demolishing Wes in Hall Brawl and getting the first daily challenge win of Duel 1. As a whole, there were more lowlights, including his BOTS run, where he kept dragging his team down in the dailies.
10 Brandon Nelson
Brandon appeared on five seasons of the Challenge; however, he only gets remembered for Cutthroat, really. The guy won three eliminations, all of which were physical/headbangers. Most fans liked Brandon due to his calm demeanor and the fact he was an underdog you could root for. Sadly, he was a background character on most seasons.
9 Carley Johnson
The winner of Fresh Meat 2. Carley was supposed to appear on Battle of the Seasons 2012, except backed out at the last minute (Cara Maria’s jersey says Carley, except has black tape over it). She was a likable sidekick to Landon and tried her absolute hardest. In the end, she became a Challenge champion in her one season, which is remarkably impressive as she was the female last pick in the draft.
8 Aviv Melmed
Ahead of Carley is Aviv, and while Carley got more confessionals/opportunities to show a personality, Aviv was flat-out a better competitor. While it was a small sample size, Aviv was one of the best puzzle competitors in Challenge history, dominating the FM 1 mental draft portion and then solving the puzzles during the FM final. She was the ultimate difference-maker in the final. Aviv would have won that final with any of the final seven males in the game; then again, she maybe doesn’t make the final if Darrell isn’t her partner. She has a spotless record.
7 Theresa Gonzalez (Jones)
Theresa appeared on six seasons of the Challenge before Double Agents. While Theresa’s stats are 1 finals appearance and a 2–7 elimination record, it doesn’t tell a full story. She had awful luck with partners, formats, and twists. By the end of Theresa’s original run on the Challenge (Free Agents and Exes 2), she had come into her own and was one of the top overall females on the show. Theresa became one of the best swimmers, runners, and mental competitors. An added layer to her is she became a competent villain. It was hilarious as Theresa acted like an elite top dog towards those she knew she was better than and then as a chicken-shit heel against Laurel. It’s fair to say Theresa is an overrated player when looking at her overall career; however, as someone who has hyper-analyzed this show, I fully believe Theresa on Exes 2 is one of the great all-time female competitors. Her overall skill-set mixed with training and drive to win after all her losses was something special. In terms of drama, she had a massive rivalry with Nany and hook-ups with Wes and Leroy.
6 and 5 Evan Starkman and Kenny Santucci
God, I hate having to write about these two because some would not even rank them. Most who would rank them would put them at the top since they undeniably dominated the Challenge when they were on. At the same time, can you truly say they helped the show? In the era they dominated, the Challenge’s quality was at a low-point. Along with that, the seasons that proceeded JEK dominating the franchise (Inferno 1 to Duel 1) were all elite seasons, and the seasons that followed (Exes 1 to Exes 2) were again a massive rise in overall quality. Coincidence?
From an objective standpoint, Evan maybe has the greatest individual skill-set of a Challenger when you consider he had big man physicality, small guy agility/cardio, a fantastic swimmer, intelligent, and adept in both the political and social spheres. As a player, his only physical fault was that he sucked 1 on 1 against CT, and most people do. Kenny made it to 7 out of 8 finals (including 6 in a row), which is statistically bonkers. They were undeniably the faces of the Challenge, and because of that, this ranking does seem low, yet, any ranking of them feels awkward because they got banned from the franchise.
4 Diem Brown
It’s the opposite of Evan/Kenny, where their actions got them lowered on the list; Diem being an absolute hero-like figure completely elevates her. Her competing and coming back after multiple fights with Cancer seems unreal. Diem loved competing on this show and went 110% at all times. She loved both the physical and political aspects and tried her best to control as much of it as possible. This, at times, was her downfall, yet, at least, she would try, compared to some others.
Many Challenge fans regard her relationship with CT as the greatest showmance in Challenge history. Their link-up on the Duel 1 is heartwarming, and the nostalgia of that shines exceptionally bright during their reconciliation on Exes 1. She competed on eight seasons, made it to two finals, notably finishing second on Exes 1 after CT’s body gave out in the snow.
A TOP 3 CONUNDRUM
Ok, I hit a wall. When it came to this Top 3, I could not rank them. Well, that’s not true. I did rank them. Then I switched the order. Then I switched it again and again and again. There are valid arguments for all three of these players to be #1. Evelyn Smith is the greatest female competitor ever. Laurel Stucky is the most dominant player ever regardless of gender. Cara Maria Sorbello reached a level of fame and status in the franchise as one of the show’s cornerstones, on top of being a record- breaking competitor.
Thus, I would prefer the readers and fans to vote and decide:
In 7 seasons, Evelyn won 3 titles and made it to 4 finals, and somehow she is still one of the most unlucky competitors in Challenge history. Two of the seasons she missed out on the final, she got Danny Jamieson (maybe the worst player in Challenge history) as a partner, was on Big Easy’s team for the Gauntlet 3, and in the other, the last male FM 2 pick, Luke Wolfe. Evelyn did everything she could with Luke, including carrying the male bag during their eliminations, winning two of them, and then setting a record-time in her third-run that Landon/Carley only eclipsed by only a couple of minutes. Literal super-human Landon is the only thing that kept her from that final.
She threw her elimination on the Ruins because she was tired of helping Kenny and Johnny win money, and they pitted her against her best-friend KellyAnne (if you include the Island, she was on Kenny’s team four fucking times). Looking back, even if Evelyn went into every elimination on the Ruins, I can’t imagine her losing in any of the games played in the Ruins to anyone on that cast. Statistically, she’s still one of only two females to win three times, and you could argue she should have won more. Her winning with Paula on Rivals 1 was like the Red Sox winning back in 04. Her win on the Island is crazily underrated since she had to beat males both times she earned a key and then had to cut a deal with the devils themselves to win. Evelyn is one of the best to ever compete on the Challenge, and even then, I think she is underrated.
Cara Maria Sorbello
Debating where Cara ranks a competitor is tough. She holds the record for most final appearances by a female (9) and is tied with Johnny Bananas for the overall record. Cara has the most elimination wins by a female competitor with 13 and is a 2x Challenge Champion after 14 seasons. While the accomplishments are impressive and make her a multi record-holder, it creates a conversation of whether she is truly a dominant/elite player or simply a compiler. It’s a little of both. If Cara were truly a Top 5 female to compete on the Challenge, she would likely be a 4 or 5x Champ after competing in 9 Finals. Her 13 elimination wins have less weight than Laurel’s 9 because Laurel’s beaten better competition, including Cara herself twice.
Yet, when discussing impact, it is Cara’s longevity that sticks out. We went on a ride with Cara throughout the entire 2010s. Watching her rise from being viewed as a weak link on her teams to being the female face of the franchise and her last two seasons, as an overall face of the show. Cara has been awesome to root for and against. She improved tremendously throughout the years, and although she might never get recognized as the greatest competitor ever, her impact on the franchise and other players is unimpeachable.
During the JEK era, so much of the Challenge became male-oriented. Women got put in a drama/hookup role where if they happened to be good competitors, it was a bonus. Oftentimes, it felt as though many of the strongest women would get labeled as “bitchy” or “arrogant” by the men as they were afraid of strong women, and in tow, casual fans would follow whatever the male stars were peddling. Cara Maria dealt with all the social media troubles of fans inundating with her hate. While she would exacerbate the issues by causing her own petty drama and empowering a Cult-like fan base, she forced MTV producers to care about women on the show again. From Bloodlines to War of the Worlds 2, feuding, dating, or aligning with Cara was the most relevant time of their Challenge careers for a decent number of players. Playing the role that Cara did for a few years is exceedingly difficult. We saw Dee crumbled under the pressure of it in ten weeks of Twitter on Total Madness. Cara Maria might be a slightly overrated competitor but is massively underrated as a personality.
While I think Evelyn is the best female player ever, Laurel is the most dominant. She is the NBA center where you almost have to change the rules of the game because of their dominance. On FM 2, she and Kenny should have been out early since the numbers were completely stacked against them. Instead, from day one, Laurel was simply on another level, as they won a staggering 5 out 9 daily challenges, including 4 of the first 5 (winning the elimination of the day they didn’t win). Laurel had to be flawless for literally five weeks to flip the numbers (which they did). She put up a similar performance on Cutthroat by elevating an awful Grey Team alongside Abram to win the most daily challenges. She would make the final of her next two seasons, ultimately getting her championship on Free Agents. On Free Agents, Laurel joined the short-list of people to win 4 eliminations in one season.
Laurel went 4.85 seasons deep before getting eliminated, and in that period, accumulated a 9–0 elimination record before getting beat. I’ll go out on a limb to say nobody will ever win 9 eliminations in a row again, let alone the quality of wins Laurel had (Camila 2x, Cara 2x, Sarah, Aneesa, Theresa). She brought an aura of power and dominance to the show. Laurel also had multiple showmances: Kenny, CT, Bear, Nicole Z, and Jordan. Even without training, the concept of Laurel coming back strikes fear and terror into people.