The Challenge Ride or Dies Newest Twist Sucks, But It’s Part Of a Bigger Issue
Last week on The Challenge Ride or Dies, we saw a twist implemented that disbanded the Ride or Die pairings into two separate teams. It’s a twist for the sake of twists.
Why did they do this?
The simple reason is to create drama, build new potential storylines, and pop the ratings with a surprise that will get viewers to tune in the following week to see how things play out.
That all sounds good in theory, except most of it will not play out that way, and even if it does, it will not play out to the best possible effect. I hate this twist so much, both in the short-term sense of this individual season and the long-term as a widespread problem these modern MTV Challenge seasons have. Let’s jump into the short-term issues:
THINGS WERE BARELY HEATING UP
Until this point, the most significant issue of this season is that so many players weren’t giving 100% in the daily challenges because there was no punishment for losing, and they didn’t want the blood on their hands for winning. Then you had the “vacation’ alliance, where all these recurring vets play the most boring style of game, and it is incredibly frustrating and boring to watch, so the fact there is no ill-effect to them losing daily challenge is mind-numbing.
Except…after all these weeks of easy votes, at least we finally got to a point where some strong bonds and alliances were going to have to turn on one another for self-preservation, or we would have seen some power players pitted against each other. One of the best parts of old Challenge seasons like Free Agents and Exes 2 was when we got to the end game, and players made big moves to give themselves the best chance to win.
We made all this progress in getting to that point, and now production pulls the football on the cast members and viewers. Imagine if Messy Fessy had to nominate 4 out of 7 teams for eliminations? It would have been fun and chaos. Now, we are back to square one. And the worst part about this is that it will lead to even more boring gameplay. I know this because…
IT HAPPENED LAST SEASON
On Spies, Lies & Allies, one of the best episodes of that terrible season was when Cory & Bettina got thrown in to face Amber & Jeremiah, where finally, two vets had to face off in elimination. Cory was pissed; after the win, he was going to steal Kaycee as a partner, and Bettina was going to take CT. From then on, the eliminations were about to get real where we would’ve seen people actually play strategically. We could have seen Tori or Ashley thrown into elimination with a lay-up like Josh as their partner or seen CT or Kyle get tossed in with Big T as a partner. What did they do? They audibled to a team format where the Vets continued to steamroll the rookies and those outside the main alliance. It was a painful, slow, agonizing end to an already lousy season.
Why did they switch that format, and why are they doing something similar again?
MTV WANTS TO PROTECT THEIR INVESTMENTS
The people on this show get an appearance fee based on the number of seasons they have done before. For fans, War of the Worlds 1 was an all-time season. War of the Worlds 2 was decent. From a production standpoint, they were nightmares.
On WOTW 1, they saw Ashley Mitchell, Johnny Bananas, and CT get taken out in the first three eliminations of the season. The rumors are that Bananas & CT get close to six-figure appearance checks. In three episodes, Challenge producers saw 200k+ dollars invested in the season immediately knocked off the board. WOTW 2 was similar, with Wes, Bananas, and Laurel all making early exits. While there’s always been a focus on setting up their most prominent assets/cast members to go far into seasons, since Total Madness, it feels as though there’s been a clearer directive to keep those big names on the board as long as possible.
Sidenote: it’s also part of why we see so many rookies these days, especially from random corners of the world/social media. Most of these rookies are penny stocks that production will be okay with never seeing again after their first season or the rare occurrence where they’re actually good, and suddenly the penny stock becomes a blue-chipper. Except it can go wrong when the Australian you paid 12 dollars to go on War of the Worlds 1 becomes one of your show’s main characters, the fame goes to their head, they get hooked on cocaine and then tweet out they’ve been BLM since they lost their virginity. But I digress.
These rookies get used as sheep for the slaughter to ensure that those vets they’re paying good money to stay in as long as possible. This leads us to the next part of why they switched the format.
THEY WANT MORE EPISODES
They are switching to a team format where we will get one elimination weekly, alternating gender days, just like last season. The reason for this is not only to protect certain assets for as long as possible but also to ensure we get more episodes. I understand that MTV probably wants 18–20 episode seasons to pretend for 90 minutes a week that it’s not The Ridiculousness network. However, it’s leading to an even more watered-down product.
It’s crazy to look back and realize Cutthroat, Rivals 1, and Exes were 10-episode seasons…and they were fucking bangers. The same goes for The Challenge All-Stars series; they’ve been 8–9–10 episodes and leave you wanting more rather than feeling like a slog. Quality over quantity.
Let’s move into some other issues.
CHANGING FORMATS LIKE THIS FUCKS WITH VIEWER INVESTMENT
A key with modern Challenge seasons is all the new cast members and different feeder shows getting thrown our way all at once; viewers need more familiarity. It’s partially why I didn’t hate the Ride or Dies format because it’s easier to digest some new faces when paired together. When you sell a format like Ride or Dies and run with it for nine episodes, fans become invested in certain pairs. By splitting them up, production is kind of telling fans to go fuck themselves for actually caring about the theme they created.
Even though I made fun of partnerships like Jordan & Aneesa and Nelson & Nurys before the season, I’ve seen enough of them to where I only see them competing together. They are a unit at this point. As I mentioned above, the game will get way more boring now that these pairs have split up. Kenny, Nurys, Chauncey, Olivia, Horacio, and Amber will be easy votes going forward because they’re the rookies/outsiders. It’ll likely be a repeat of SLA/Double Agents, and nobody wants that.
You have someone like Kaycee where even though she is boring, I was genuinely intrigued to watch how she would perform in an elimination while carrying the burden of competing alongside her brother whose name even she forgets. Instead, she likely coasts on her own as an individual, and her brother will get trounced by someone in elimination.
A good twist should make the game more exciting, not make it more uneventful than it already is. Which is essentially the core problem leading to my final points.
PLAYERS WILL RESORT TO THE SAFEST AND MOST BORING STYLE OF GAMEPLAY IF THEY AREN’T SURE WHAT THE FORMAT IS
In a confessional, Devin made a statement along the lines of: “It’s time for the midseason switch-up,” poking fun that, at this point, players are accustomed to production completely changing the game on them. It’s an issue, not just because it’s played out, but because these players aren’t able to properly strategize and think about the game long-term when they don’t know what the format will be the following week.
A format like Exes made perfect sense: last place goes directly into elimination, and the daily winner picks their opponent. Every competition had stakes, and when people made a big strategic move, they knew the risks they were taking. You could go for the big play in these newer seasons and call CT out for a partner elimination. Except out of nowhere, TJ says, it’s only going to be females competing. Or you toss in a Bananas or Cara into elimination, they get taken out, and then they’re right back because there’s a Redemption House.
While the “Vacation Alliance” is a problem, the recent game formats have exacerbated the issues where these friends aren’t willing to turn on one another if the incentive is not apparent. Kaycee and Tori won’t go after each other if they might potentially run the Final as a team/partners. The old Devin and Nelson would’ve been hellbent on taking out Bananas before the Final; these days, they take turns cuddling him like he’s a pillow pet.
On All Stars 3, you can see a blatant difference in how games get played when a format is straightforward and transparent to the competitors. Wes rallied people behind the concept of going after Yes, Jordan, Darrell, and MJ as the biggest Final threats/recent winners. He and others played boldly, knowing the risks/rewards.
People on Reality TV are not the brightest, but they are chaotic. If you give them a simple format where they can all understand the game, they will make crazy choices. If you leave them in the dark, they won’t step outside the shadows and will play safer games. Simple formats with clear stakes lead to more drama. A twist for the sake of twists means nothing.
The Challenge, in its simplest form, is a formula for great television, entertainment, and competition. What we’ve been getting recently on MTV has been missing on all marks.