The Top 10 Worst All-Time Challenge Seasons
Buckle up and get ready for some scorching takes. If one of your favorite seasons is on here, I apologize. Well, no, I don’t, you may have favorite seasons but it can still be bad because fans pick their favorite seasons due to varying reasons. I know people whose favorite seasons are the first ones they saw or they love a certain season because their favorite player won. For Bananas fans, Free Agents and Rivals 3 are their seasons.
Or maybe you love any season Cara Zavaleta was on because she was a mega babe (still is, actually).
While creating this list, I concluded that just because a season of the Challenge is one of the worst, does not necessarily mean I think the season itself is bad, some are simply just not as good as the best seasons. Likewise, I gave the first six seasons of the Challenge an exemption from the list. MTV was still figuring out what they were doing when creating these seasons, they were beta tests for what the Challenge would eventually become.
Now, get ready because I am going to bring you the ten worst seasons in Challenge history.
Just kidding, first are the “honorable mentions” AKA the seasons which were too good to make the list.
Battle of the Seasons 2012: People complain about the lack of veterans on this cast, but the daily challenges, eliminations, and overall competition were awesome this season. The San Diego vs Brooklyn storyline was fantastic, the Dustin & Nany vs Frank fight was iconic, and good guy CJ Koegel brought a smile to our faces.
Vendettas: A fun season. Though there’s nothing quite special about Vendettas, it’s a solid season. Most people were soured by the final, which I admit was lacking. The ending overshadowed a fun season with fresh faces.
Inferno 1: A great cast, however the Road Rules team was a bit too dominant.
Invasion: The Underdogs competing with extra numbers in daily challenges while avoiding Champions in elimination was a bit bogus. However, I think this season rocked and allowed young competitors to make a name for themselves.
Duel 2: Just a bit too predictable.
BAD GOOD SEASONS
10 Battle of the Sexes 2
This season was much lower on my list until I re-watched it in preparation for this article. If you aren’t familiar with Sexes 2, it is the ninth season of the Challenge and is the last of its kind. Early seasons of the Challenge were lighthearted and about having a good time while also competing for money. The Challenge escalated exponentially around the Inferno 2 — and then another few levels around the Duel.
Battle of the Sexes 2 is enjoyable because of the fun cast. Seriously, the cast was star-studded: Coral, The Miz, Veronica, Mark Long, Rachel, Theo Von, Ruthie, Brad, Aneesa, Derrick, Tina, Abram, Tonya, Shane, Robin, Ace, and whole lot more names of significance in Challenge history.
Why is this season so low?
Well, the men’s team dominated the season by winning 12/15 challenges and the final. One of the female team wins was due to the male side purposefully throwing the final challenge in order to guarantee Arissa would be in the final. Mark Long literally threw away his spot in the final and cut a deal with his alliance to share the winnings with him in order to get Arissa in the final. I love Battle of the Sexes 2, but from a team versus team standpoint, the game had little competition.
The inter-team politics were fascinating.
9 Battle of the Exes 1
When fans list their best seasons of the Challenge, they often lump in Battle of the Exes 1 with better seasons. Fans group Rivals 1 and Exes 1 together despite them being vastly different. Overall, Rivals 1 is an overrated season, but the format breathed a ton of life into the franchise and helped form what the show is today for better or worse. Exes 1 was a watered down version of Rivals 1.
One of the reasons Exes 1 is put on a pedestal is due to the relationship between CT and Diem this season. However, they have a poor edit until late into the season where their storyline is pushed harder than Paulie and Cara on War of the Worlds. And while those final few episodes are strong, the season,start to finish, is very lacking.
What set back this season was the Wes’ early elimination and Sarah/Vinny’s disqualification. This season was a snoozefest competitively most of the time, with poor and repetitive daily challenges and eliminations to boot.
So much of this season also looks worse following the test of time — Camila’s drunken antics, Emily’s blackface incident, Cara and Abram’s relationship, and Dunbar as a human being.
8 Inferno 3
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with Inferno 3. It is an OKAY season, however, it lacks oomph. Production phoned it in with Inferno 3. The jerseys were low quality, the video quality is poor, and the Inferno itself was a downgrade from the Inferno 2. MTV put together a solid cast with creative challenges. Unfortunately, the competition was lacking compared to the preceding seasons (Fresh Meat 1 and Duel 1).
A season that was supposed to be a dogfight between Alton and Abram as captains of their respective teams ended up being a dud as both players calmed down pretty quickly after the first couple of episodes. The highlight of the season was Tonya stepping up as a competitor and proving herself after her final debacle on Inferno 2 final. Susie dominating life-shield challenges for her team is also an underrated aspect of the season.
There’s nothing wrong with Inferno 3, it is just EHHHH.
GOOD BAD SEASONS
7 Battle of the Bloodlines
Bloodlines is a guilty pleasure of mine. This season has either the worst or second worst cast in Challenge history. Following a banger Exes 2 season, Bloodlines was a weird transitional season that had too many fresh faced players to pair with their fresher faced relatives. Most fans were did not know who Dario, Thomas, Cory, Tony, or Christina were, and now they had to learn who their relatives were as well. Dario had the biggest uphill battle, coming from AYTO with a twin brother. If he didn’t hook-up with KellyAnne, nothing would have set the twins apart.
Most of these “Bloodlines” sucked. Nicole Ramos is the only Bloodline casted multiple times after this season and she’s not even a strong competitor. Personally, I found Bloodlines’ low quality endearing and I imagine this is how a Challengers vs Fans season would play out.
Bloodlines is the Cara Maria season. As a fan, this season was a wild ride of ups and downs where, after eight seasons, I got to see one of my favorite competitors finally get her first win. While the season comes up short compared to an actual good season, it all builds up to that moment where Cara wins alongside her cousin Jaimie after taking out enemies Bananas (ironic) and Aneesa to get to the final.
6 The Ruins
Conceptually, The Ruins is an awesome season. The overall male and female cast is stacked, the jerseys were pristine, the eliminations were fun and creative, the Ruins setting itself was cool, and the concept of stealing an opponent’s bank account by beating them in elimination was revolutionary.
So why does it suck? Unfortunately, production stacked the game in favor of the Evan and Kenny MOB Squad. With Johnny and Derrick also part of their alliance, the male champions had 4/7 of the males on their team and were able to control everything. The worst players on their own team were still champions, while the challengers had multiple flat tires including Shauvon, Casey, and Danny.
Up until his elimination, Wes carried this season when it came to drama. Sadly, that was only five episodes. This season is also mired in controversy regarding the toothbrush allegations.
5 Rivals 3
Weirdly, I find myself re-watching Rivals 3 quite a bit. The drama this season is top notch. We got to see Devin, Amanda, and Ashley light the house up during their debuts. There were fun and creative daily challenges. As dangerous as the soap bar challenge from Rivals 3 was, I will never forget how messy and iconic it was. Watching Ashley and Cory basically fuck on top of a bar of soap is a great challenge moment.
So why does it rate so low? It just has such a weak cast. Even worse, they put the two best players on the same team. Rivals 3 felt like a predetermined season. All MTV cared about was the Sarah/Bananas rivalry and they wanted to put them at odds any way they could.
From a competitive standpoint, Rivals 3 forced MTV to revamp the show and was one of the reasons Invasion had a fresh format that attempted to create stars from the new generation, which I ultimately believe was super beneficial for the franchise.
Rivals 3 kind of started that, except with too many hold-over castings. There is no reason for Vince, Jamie, Thomas, Jessica, and Simone to be on this season if we’re being real. On top of that, they cast Nate and Brandon from AYTO 2. Casting the two least intimidating guys from AYTO and then expecting fans to like them is one of the most mind-boggling decisions ever. Putting Camila on Champs vs Stars 2 after the Leroy incident made more sense than casting Nate and Brandon.
4 Dirty 30
On paper, Dirty 30 should have been one of the best seasons ever. Over half the Dirty 30 cast had made a final prior and it contained nine established champions. Why did this season suck?
Well, the twists that were meant to make this season better, ruined it instead. Purges and Redemption Houses were fun concepts, but the execution and results of each made the season worse. To this day, fans are devastated to have lost Darrell after the first challenge of the season. Amanda, who has proven to be a major character on all of her seasons, was taken out of the game during the opening purge as well. The late game purges which led to the Kailah/Cara rift was interesting at first, though the payoff was ultimately lacking.
The divide between the veteran alliance and the Young Bucks hurt the season the most. CT had the largest voice in the house when it came to voting (he also kept winning). He and the veteran males made the easy choice of voting in Cory, Hunter, and Nelson over and over again, while also choosing to put the weaker females into eliminations as they were people he did not want to run the final with. This dichotomy was boring and predictable. Arguably, the five best females on the cast, not including Ashley (Cara, Camila, Tori, Jenna, Kailah), all made the final five.
The Derrick Kosinski comeback was not interesting because MTV treated him like wallpaper for most of his run. Nelson’s disqualification hurt the one person versus the entire house storyline. Camila’s racist tirade was an ugly moment.
Hunter was Dirty 30’s only bright spot, and if Hunter is the person carrying a season, it’s hard to love a season.
3 Gauntlet 3
Had Gauntlet 3 been the Duel 2, then this would have been one of the greatest seasons in Challenge history. This season had some of the best male and female competitors at their peaks and would have elevated the franchise’s competitive nature even more than the original Duel did.
Instead, we got a season where the Veterans team beat the shit out of a Rookie team that had no chance to compete in daily challenges. To make matters worse, the Rookie team won due to Big Easy’s death in the final. While it was funny and shocking in the moment, it made the overall season a complete joke and waste of time.
The format also portrayed why team formats can ruin the spirit of competition. The male competitors become so obsessed with “trimming the fat” of female competitors, it leads to an overall sexist/misogynist tone. Men focus on putting in the women they inherently believe are weak, leading the “stronger” women to also throw their teammates under the bus. As much as fans get tired of individual or paired seasons, those formats allow individuals to care about and play the game for themselves, rather than have a somewhat predetermined fate. I’m not a fan of Jemmye, but her ability to get deep into a normal season due to her social game is impressive. In a team season, the men would just throw her in. Aneesa has won six eliminations in two Duel seasons, whereas in team seasons, she’s been thrown in multiple times due to her perceived weakness.
Gauntlet 3 was a precursor to the awful misogyny seen on the Island. CT’s lack of respect for his female teammates was atrocious. If he had to take a bad season back, Duel 2 is #1, but this is probably #2.
One could argue the rookie team winning was karma for the way the veteran men treated the women, yet there is still something so lacking about the way the season ended.
I will concede this is an iconic season when it came to hookups. There’s more hookups (on and off-screen) on the Gauntlet 3 than in the Playboy Mansion.
2 Final Reckoning
This is total recency bias. As a person who has written about the Challenge for over two years now, I have grown a great amount of appreciation for the game and production of seasons. I love when a season has well-thought out ideas for challenges and eliminations, good editing and pacing, and a clearly thought out format.
Final Reckoning had a good cast, cute jerseys, and NOTHING ELSE.
The season had thirty-four people on the cast, which is about six to eight too many. With such a large cast, it becomes difficult to distribute screen-time to everyone. Not only that, but there were four sets of Redemption Houses. This forced MTV to give weekly screentime to eliminated cast members.
The Redemption House completely devalues eliminations and purges. For most fans, the eliminations are the best part of the show. People forget who did well in daily challenges, but they remember when two people go one on one to stay in the game. Fans love watching upsets happen in front of their eyes and they hate when the person they despise wins. Redemption Houses ruin the game because it turns the day to day game into monopoly. Paulie and Natalie were in the main house for only five daily challenges and got to the final. And yes, they saw five eliminations, but they lost three of them… in a row.
To add insult to injury, MTV added purges at random moments, randomly changed how many teams could come back from Redemption, had multiple gender equalizers in eliminations which sometimes were completely unbalanced, and allowed mercenary teams to enter the game at the two-thirds mark. I love Devin, but allowing him and Cory to enter the game twelve episodes in was utter horseshit.
I am so happy MTV has thus far righted the ship with War of the Worlds. Final Reckoning is a season that killed my enthusiasm for the show. If MTV had continued to go down the same path, I think fans would have just given up.
ERASE IT FROM HISTORY SEASON
1 The Island
It’s not even a debate for me. The Island is the WORST season of the Challenge ever. In 2008, MTV saw Survivor’s success and decided to create their own hybrid season of the Challenge/Survivor. I am generally excited when MTV tries something new because it could freshen up the game and give the franchise a different taste from what we are accustomed to.
However, MTV had no idea what they were doing when planning the season. Essentially, the Island was a house built without a roof or a foundation. Twists are fun when they are well-thought out and mean something. Twists are awful when they are done for the sake of just having them. The Island was created with the idea that leaving the cast in the dark would result in a more dramatic game. Instead it led to players being clueless of how to play the game and having an overall misunderstanding of the use of keys and face-offs.
To make matters worse, the Island was filled with rampant sexism and misogyny. Whether it was Johnny, Kenny, or Dunbar, the men treated the women poorly this season. Johnny and Kenny not only got away with it, but they also won this fake season.
The only good thing to come from it was KellyAnne’s drunken performance during the reunion.