One of the most common discussions in The Challenge universe is about who had the best Rookie season. It’s gotten talked about to death, and I’m here to tell you that this blog is not about the best Rookie seasons. This blog is about the best and most exciting DEBUTS The Challenge has ever seen.
We are talking about the players who came in and, within the first few episodes of their first season, made a crazy impact that caught viewers’ attention, whether it be through drama, hookups, or competitively. If you could do it all, then you’ll top the list. I’ll be open in saying this list was highly subjective, and you could scatter some of these names in different places. The only general rule was that I mostly looked at players’ first 3–4 episodes and occasionally stretched to Episode 5 if it made sense. In many great rookie seasons, players didn’t hit their stride till mid-way/later in the game. Writing this was a good stroll down memory lane, and hopefully, you’ll have fun looking back at some explosive Challenge debuts.
Before we jump into the Top 10, here are the Honorable Mentions:
Frank Sweeney (Battle of the Seasons): Was in control from Day 1.
Georgia Harrison (War of the Worlds 1): Beat Ashley Mitchell in the season’s first elimination, killed the opening dailies, and was a big personality.
Adam Royer (Rivals 1): Won the first daily of the season as a Rookie, then got DQ’d for fighting before the episode ended, never seen again.
Casey Cooper (Fresh Meat 1): Won a lot of eliminations with Wes.
Kyle Christie (Vendettas): He had a fun love triangle with Cara Maria and Marie.
Let’s jump into the Top 10 now.
10 Laurel Stucky on Fresh Meat 2
LeBron James with the Cavs in 2003, Cam Newton at Auburn in 2010, and Laurel Stucky on Fresh Meat in 2009. All athletes where the first moment I saw them — I knew they were built differently. Laurel immediately stood out on Fresh Meat 2 after being the second female taken in the Draft as she was an imposing figure at roughly 6 feet tall. Going into the game, she and Kenny had massive targets on their back; if they didn’t win, they were going into elimination. So what did they do? Laurel and Kenny won 4 out of the first 5 dailies. When they came in 2nd in one daily, they got thrown into elimination and sent Sarah Rice packing (1 of only 2 elimination losses in Sarah’s 9-season career).
Laurel didn’t only stand out because she was tall — it was because she was strong, athletic, and had a natural instinct when it came to the weirder parts of challenges and eliminations. She was an inherent problem-solver. When other players were afraid of the moment, Laurel was thinking, what does it take to win? And also, she did all this while being tall as fuck. Within 3 or 4 episodes, viewers knew Laurel would be one of the greatest to compete.
9 Jordan Wiseley and Marlon Williams on Rivals 2
This rookie pair on Rivals 2 had a hot fucking start to their Challenge career. Night one, Marlon is getting into a shoving match with CT in a pool. Meanwhile, the two men are killing it in the challenges where they don’t get thrown into the first two eliminations because people didn’t think they were ordinary rookies; Marlon and Jordan got seen as physical threats. Then on the hookup side, Jordan hooked up with Sarah Rice and Jonna Mannion, while Marlon went at it with Derek Chavez and Nany Gonzalez. Marlon openly acknowledged his bisexual identity and had a heated fight/drama with Ryan Knight as well (Knight was being a homophobic dickhead).
Their elimination wins and Finals appearance don’t even get added into the equation of the debut!
8 LaToya Jackson on Free Agents
Some of the people on this list, their immediate debuts were better than their Challenge careers, and LaToya is one of them. During the Free Agents premiere episode, she looked weak at first when passing out in the opening daily challenge, then shocked the crowd when she beat Jemmye in an epic and heated Balls In elimination. I’m not being hyperbolic either; LaToya vs. Jemmye is one of the best eliminations I’ve ever watched because it was two legitimately even-matched competitors fighting hard for their stake in the game.
LaToya pulled off the elimination win and showed a lot of charisma and character. Later in the season, LaToya had some drama with Jordan where she had one of my favorite lines following a voting deliberation: “Don’t share a bag of chips with me and then turn around and throw my name out like it’s all good. No, Bitch!” LaToya’s confessionals were always excellent — it saddens me that she wasn’t a better player to where she’d get a featured role in a season because her debut was super promising and fun.
7 Wes Bergmann & Evan Starkman on Fresh Meat 1
Double-dipping for the #7 spot. Fresh Meat 1 was the beginning of a new era for The Challenge, and from the jump, Wes and Evan took the mantle as the generation’s new top competitors. Evan was the standout of the Fresh Meat Combine, got drafted first overall among men by Coral, and the two won 5 out of the first 6 missions during the season. Then Evan ruptures his hernia, tries to play through it, only for his season to end when Coral dislocates her knee. Evan looked like a prime contender to take over the show (which he did for a few seasons). On the other side, you had Wes winning the first four exiles of the season (later picking up a 5th elimination win). Wes was all over the place; his showmance with Johanna was up and down, he was a dickhead to Casey multiple times, even shouting at her. In spite of it all, Wes proved he was a damn good physical competitor and had a star presence.
Within the first few episodes, these men felt like franchise staples, and Wes would become one of if not the most important player in Challenge history.
6 Jay Starrett on Total Madness
Whereas Laurel was an obvious Goliath the moment she stepped on The Challenge, Jay Starrett was a total David. Jay got immediately thrown into the fighter’s pit and looked like he would be dinner for a bigger opponent. Even though he defeated Asaf Goren in the first elimination of the season, Jay again got thrown into the second elimination as CT, Rogan, and others saw him as their opportunity to get a Red Skull and cruise to the Final. In Episode 3, once seeing the elimination would be similar to Knot So Fast, CT voluntarily threw himself in — as he thought Jay was his lay-up.
Fast-forward 10–15 minutes, and Jay pulls off one of if not the biggest elimination upset in Challenge history and instantly becomes a legend to most Challenge fans.
5 Amanda Garcia on Rivals 3
The craziest part about Amanda Garcia’s debut on Rivals 3 is that she came in as an alternate/replacement in Episode 3 following the injury/DQ of Leroy & Averey. Coming on The Challenge as a rookie alternate is tough where the target is going to be on you from the jump, especially at this point in time where Are You The One? competitors were still new to The Challenge and got looked at lowly. For many, it would be a death sentence; Amanda saw it as her getting the green light to swing at whatever and whoever.
In one of the weirder Challenge moments, they let the new entrants into the house and have a Tequila Bar dinner with two other teams (one of which ended up being Bananas & Sarah). During this dinner, Amanda says she’ll slice Bananas banana in half if she has to, which is a wild way to kick off your first episode on The Challenge. Throughout her opening episodes, we see Amanda get into it with multiple people, including Tony, Johnny Reilly, and of course, Camila. Amanda’s fights with Camila were so heated. Looking back, it was the first signal of the end, where if you watch the Rivals 3 Aftershow they did, Amanda (and Nicole Ramos) saw Camila for what she was/becoming before many people. Fans and players had gotten so wrapped in the Camilanator stuff that it took a completely new person to be like: “Wait, this person is more than TV character terrible.”
The problem with Amanda is she did it in an audacious fashion and just looked reckless. Then again, prior to Amanda, AYTO players looked soft, goofy, and spineless. It took a loud 5’3 105 lb girl who was unafraid to pop off on anyone to shake the table and put them on the map. To add on, Amanda also pulled off an elimination win alongside Nelson against Johnny Reilly & Jessica and then had a fun second elimination match-up against Cousin Jamie & KellyAnne. Amanda felt like an NBA player who came into a game and scored 20 points in 10 minutes before somehow fouling out. It was an out-of-nowhere experience where she went from unknown to stealing the show for a couple of episodes.
4 Melissa Reeves on Vendettas
Just like Amanda put AYTO on the map, Melissa Reeves’s debut on Vendettas immediately helped solidify UK representation on The Challenge. In the first two episodes, it was Joss & Kyle at the forefront as they won the opening challenges, and Kyle had a love triangle with Cara & Marie. Episodes 3–5 were the Melissa show, and it was a crazy arc where she had a season full of moments contained in three episodes.
To kick off Episode 3, Melissa gets to a hot start where she goes skinny dipping with Britni Thornton, then asks Nicole Zanatta to join her in the pool, followed by a bathroom hookup between the two. Melissa saw Nicole as the strongest female player in the game, so she put her Polidicking hat on and decided if there’s some decent sex thrown in, that’s a plus. Already iconic. She then ends up going directly into elimination because she couldn’t participate in the daily challenge due to a foot injury. Melissa goes into elimination and beats Alicia Wright, putting in a solid performance. In the following episode, we have another female elimination where Sylvia is going into elimination, and Melissa gets nominated to face her among three candidates.
Melissa gets into a spat with Kayleigh, where Kayleigh accuses Melissa of trying to flirt her way to the top (though Kayleigh uses meaner words and tone). After a night at the club, multiple girls rally against her, including Kam and Jemmye, where Melissa gets into a HEATED fight with them. It all culminates in Melissa going into elimination with Sylvia, where they genuinely have one of/if not the best female vs. female headbanger elimination in Challenge history. Melissa plays dirty throughout the elimination! In all honesty, it was kind of badass to see how much Melissa was willing to throw herself into the game after knowing nothing about The Challenge when she got off the airplane to film this show.
3 Jonna Mannion & Jasmine Reynaud on Rivals 1
They were the only female pair of rookies on Rivals 1, and the two started strongly by winning the first daily challenge of the season to keep themselves out of elimination. Once in the house, Jasmine made a splash by acknowledging she had a boyfriend, then cheating on said boyfriend by hooking up with Tyrie Ballard. It was one of the weirdest hookups in Challenge history as she kept referring to him as an older brother, to which I thought Jasmine was from Texas and not Alabama.
Despite their immediate success, Jasmine and Jonna’s relationship as a pair remained dysfunctional early on, though they united once getting into a fight with Camila/Theresa. Camila insultingly calls Jonna “Jasmine,” to which Jasmine defends her partner against Camila. Theresa goes at Jasmine in defense of Camila, a move that would result in a Theresa/Jasmine Rivals 2 pairing. The Jasmine/Theresa spat leads to a famous Challenge trailer moment where Jasmine punches a mirror out.
It is a bit cheating to include this as part of their debut, as their elimination against Sarah/Katelynn was 5 episodes into a 10-episode season; nonetheless, Jonna’s puzzle performance in the elimination is to this day one of the biggest elimination upsets in Challenge history. Jasmine and Jonna were such a fun rag-tag duo, and they came in on a high note.
2 Kailah Casillas on Invasion of the Champions
Invasion kicked off with a two-episode premiere ushering in a new generation of competitors, and nobody has established themselves better in a premiere episode than Kailah Casillas did. From the jump, Kailah caught attention for running into the water in her bikini looking GOOD. She had a powerful yet polarizing confessional presence. Kailah forms an alliance with the “Vets” in Cory, Tony, and Jenna in the first daily challenge. She immediately bonds with Jenna, and the two become best friends creating the pair known as “Jailah.” Her looks and flair catch the eyes of Cory Wharton, and the two hook up and start a showmance. In less than an hour, Kailah had a showmance, a best friend, an alliance, and looked good in a bikini. Her premiere didn’t stop there.
After the outcome of the daily with the house splitting into two sides, Kailah is part of a big house fight where she and Nelson would yell back and forth (the first of their many heated interactions). The entire house is against Kailah, and Marie Roda asks to face her in the season’s first elimination. Kailah goes into a Hall Brawl-type elimination with an endurance aspect to it, and she puts up an impressive performance where she holds up against Marie physically when tackling one another and then completely outpaces her cardio-wise. She had a lot of confidence, and from Day 1, Kailah looked like a future star. It’s part of why her loss to Sylvia later in the season was so shocking. Kailah rose so quickly that she had many fans and haters from the jump. During this time, Kailah got the wheels moving on social media and used the momentum from this season. Going into Dirty 30, people already had Kailah pegged as a top contender while having a minimal competitive sample size. It was an insanely good debut.
1 Tony Raines on Bloodlines
It’s Tony Time. The messiest debut in Challenge history has to be Tony Raines on Bloodlines.
Tony comes on the show in a relationship with Madison from his Real World season, where she was pregnant at home. The first thing Tony does is cheat on her with the closest blonde in sight, Christina LeBlanc. The craziest detail about this indiscretion is that Christina went after Stephen Buell (twin brother of Thomas) first and settled for Tony after getting rejected. The affair on a pregnant girlfriend was a drunken second choice; let that sink in. Bonkers. Tony gets caught in the act by both production and friends trying to look out for him.
The train didn’t stop there; he drunkenly made a mean remark to Larissa Nakagawa, saying she is weak and likely to go home early. It brings the fire out in Camila and later both Nany Gonzalez and Nicole Ramos. Tony had four women angry and against him from the jump (Camila would be his partner the next season, which, as we know, ended great). After fighting with all the girls, Tony’s brother Shane confronts him. With the two drunk out of their minds, the brothers begin to fight one another physically and need to get separated by other cast members. Production ultimately lets them stay because they sum it up as “siblings fight.”
Tony somewhat cools down from there and actually has an outstanding performance during the bug-eating challenge in Episode 2. In Episode 3, when the players get split into two teams, Tony takes a fall during a daily challenge where he RUPTURED HIS SPLEEN. The guy tries to play it off, except later in the episode, Tony literally passes out on the ground during the walk to the elimination arena. Talk about a fucking mess. He cheated on his girlfriend, created no less than three potential Rivals partners, physically fought his brother, and then took on one of the worst injuries in Challenge History. Messy Fuckboi Tony was an otherworldly creature and someone you could not take your eyes off. It makes the fact he’s a committed dad now even more surreal.