Top 10 Greatest Co-Ed Pairs in Challenge History
A few years ago, I did this same article, and since then, Final Reckoning and War of the Worlds 1 have come out. It’s been something I wanted to update as I wasn’t satisfied with the original article, and a decent amount of rankings have shuffled once looking deeper into the stats and historical relevance. A couple of teams got added to the list, a couple came off, and as I bonus, I’m going to give you a Top 20 with the honorable mentions!
Also, to complement the article, I dropped a video naming the Top 10 Male Pairs in Challenge history, with a deeper look at the Top 5. Drop a like and subscribe if you can!
Onto the Honorable Mentions:
20 Hunter Barfield & Ashley Mitchell (Final Reckoning) — They kind of did nothing all season, then win the final, and Ashley steals the money. A bit iconic.
19 Kyle Christie & Mattie Lynn Breaux (WOTW 1) — A slept on duo. Kyle did his best ever in daily challenges, and even though Mattie didn’t live up to expectations, she was still solid, and more than anything, nobody wanted to see them in elimination due to her size.
18 Hunter Barfield & Georgia Harrison (WOTW 1) — 3 Tribunals, 1 elimination win, and a tribunal they handed to Wes since they had the relic. Excellent pair in daily challenges and both players made the final as individuals.
17 Ty Ruff & Emily Schromm (Exes 1) — Strong in eliminations, not so great in daily challenges. Third place in a final against two teams on the top 10 list.
16 Jamie Banks & Cara Maria Sorbello (Bloodlines) — Won against weak competition; nonetheless, 3 combined elimination wins, including a huge one against Bananas. I wish they did better in daily challenges.
15 Leroy Garrett & Nia Moore (Exes 2) — Two 6' tall heavyweights that nobody wants to face in elimination.
14 Pete Conolly & Jill Zoboroski (Fresh Meat 2) — A strong duo, first pair to eliminate Darrell ever, and 3rd place against Landon/Carley and Laurel/Kenny is respectable.
13 Wes Bergmann & Dee Nguyen (WOTW 1) — Tied for the most tribunals as a pair (4), got an elimination win together and killed every mental comp during the season.
12 Paulie Calafiore & Ninja Natalie (WOTW 1) — 3 Tribunals together, 5 daily wins each individually, 1 elimination win, and were built for a final. Ninja was the top female finisher of WOTW 1.
11 Landon Lueck & Carley Johnson (Fresh Meat 2) — Landon pushing Carley up that mountain in the final and their night-time elimination is maybe the greatest single performance ever. However, in a season with classic eliminations, I think they get eliminated much earlier.
Onto the Top 10!
10 Darrell Taylor & Aviv Melmed — Fresh Meat 1(Previously 8th)
The first winners of a fully co-ed pairs season. Darrell is one of the greatest players in Challenge history, and Aviv is the main reason they won the Final itself since she is sneakily one of the best puzzle competitors in Challenge history. It’s difficult to rank this duo since they mostly coasted throughout the season, didn’t win a single daily challenge, yet, when their asses were on the line during the Final 5 Lifeshield Challenge, the Final 4 Eliminations, and the Final itself, they demolished their fellow competitors. With their cardio and Aviv’s puzzle-solving ability, they are built as well as any team to win a Final; the problem is, in a season with other outstanding teams, would they able to stack up in a classic elimination?
9 Joss Mooney & Sylvia Elsrode — Final Reckoning (Previously Not Ranked)
On paper, they are probably the worst duo in the Top 10 as neither player gets regarded as a Top 20 male or Top 20 female. However, as a pair, their performance speaks for itself as they were the only duo to enter the game on Day 1 of Final Reckoning and then make it to the final without ever hitting the Redemption House. Considering what a clusterfuck Final Reckoning with all its eliminations, mercenaries, and purges, that in itself is impressive, and then you include that they won two elimination, one against the dual-male pair of Tony and Bananas, won the crucial final two daily challenges and finished second overall in a final where to this day, there’s still hoopla in the air over whether or not they actually came in first.
The argument against them is they benefited from their alliances, and the overall Final Reckoning pairings weren’t necessarily the strongest pairs. From a performance standpoint, they deserve a spot on this list, hands down.
8 Chris Tamburello & Diem Brown — Exes 1 (Previously 7th)
They are a tough team to rank because their relationship chemistry elevated them in such a way that it gives us rose-colored glasses when it comes to evaluating their abilities. CT and Diem came on strong at the end of Exes 1, winning the final two daily challenges and then crushing 85–90% of the final until CT’s body gave out on him. If you go back and watch the first challenge of Exes 1, it’s clear CT is a bit chonkier than he is throughout the rest of his Challenge career before Invasion. He still has loads of muscle, abs, and athleticism; it’s just that extra weight in the snow ultimately took them down in the end. Then again, without CT, Diem probably never gets close to winning a duos season. Eight feels like a solid spot for them. They made one of the dumbest choices in Challenge history by not putting Bananas/Camila against Emily/Ty for either of the final two eliminations. If they do that, they likely rank multiple spots higher on this list.
7 Theo Campbell & Cara Maria Sorbello — War of the Worlds 1 (Previously Not Ranked)
Cara/Theo and Georgia/Hunter were the only WOTW duos where both players made it to the final. Since Cara and Theo made it to Day 2 of the final and were top two in their gender brackets each, it’s fair to project that they’d have either won the season or been the runner-ups together. They tied for the most tribunal wins as a pair (4 out of 7), were in the tribunal for two of the most intense physical challenges, and each player had all-around skill-sets. Both of them had the cardio to run a final, the physicality for a headbanger elimination, were adept puzzle solves, and even when one another wasn’t the strongest in a particular category, the other made up for it (i.e., Cara’s a better eater, Theo’s length gives them more wiggle room in heights challenges).
One of the crazy things is in Theo’s first few daily challenges, he was a bit hesitant when it came to the heights/carnival games, and then as the game progressed, you saw him improve leaps and bounds. On paper, this pair could contend as one of the best ever, and it’s only seventh because of the twist to split pairs up and the fact we didn’t get to see them run a final/end-game together.
6 Evan Starkman & Coral Smith — Fresh Meat 1 (Previously 4th)
Similar to Cara and Theo, we didn’t get to see this duo play the end-game or run a final together due to injuries. To open the season, Evan and Coral the first 5 of 6 challenges (dailies + lifesavers), with the one lifesaver them not winning was due to them throwing the challenge to look more likable/humble. That level of dominance by a co-ed duo early into a season is almost unfounded. Once Evan ruptured his hernia, their performance went from the top of the pack to the middle tier, and then Coral’s knee injury is what ultimately got them sent home.
From a talent standpoint, they were on another level. They had zero fear in the heights challenges, each had upper-body strength and speed, both were highly intelligent social players and adept at puzzle-solving. What separated them is they both had the intangible skill of seeing a daily challenge and immediately understanding what the right strategy was. Had injuries not taken them out, who made the final for that season would have been completely different, and potentially, Darrell/Aviv don’t make this list because of it.
5 Wes Bergmann & Theresa Gonzalez — Exes 2 (Previously 5th)
Their duo won three daily challenges (along with three second-place finishes), including the mini-final, where they left every other team in the dust. Their combined cardio was the best on their cast. They were the best swimmers that season as well, and mentally, Theresa’s near-photographic memory mixed with Wes’s communication skills made them one of the deadliest pairs in Challenge history. On paper, this is a perfect duo for daily challenges/finals. Even the little details about this team mattered, where them being around the same height made the challenges where you and your partner have to work closely or perform something in unison.
Wes had set up the game-well politically, and they had a great shot of pulling off one of the masterful wins ever, up until the exile twist. Then they get put in a daily challenge where teams are allowed to team up on them, and then they get a Hall Brawl against Leroy/Nia where they had zero shot of winning. Their big flaw as a duo was that Wes was at his skinniest; he would make them a liability in a Hall Brawl, Pole Wrestle, Balls In. Them coming up short and not getting to run the final is why they aren’t higher on this list.
4 Johnny Bananas & Sarah Rice — Rivals 3 (Previously 6th)
They went 4 for 9 in daily challenges (two second-place finishes as well), and more importantly, won the final two dailies along with a random elimination (a weird twist) to guarantee their spots in the final. The duo went on to win the final with each putting up strong performances, and of course, Bananas taking the money. It’s difficult ranking them because even though no team on Rivals 3 could even touch them, that’s still not saying much. The second-best team was Wes and Nany, and they made a cute late-season push with some elimination wins and a couple of second-place finishes in the daily challenges, but even then, they wouldn’t even be a top-five team on either Exes or Fresh Meats.
Sarah is in my opinion, one of the top five women to ever play the game as she’s at least a top-three female swimmer all-time, an elite heights competitor, a good eater, is underrated in terms of size and strength, and has that intangible ability in the carnival games. Even though people make fun of her burnout on Cutthroat, her cardio throughout her Challenge career still ranks above average. Of course, there’s also her puzzle ability, which she mentions now and then. Bananas is Bananas. They are a strong pair who did not get thoroughly tested.
3 Johnny Bananas & Camila Nakagawa — Exes 1 (Previously 3rd)
Bananas and Camila won 3 out of 8 daily challenges, came in second place in a couple more, and technically also racked up a Pole Wrestle elimination. They aren’t as well regarded as other pairs since Camila’s actions have tarnished any legacy. However, similar to Wes and Theresa, this duo was built to kill daily challenges and final. Whether it be heights, cardio, swimming, eating, or puzzles, the two were capable or elite in all of the above categories. Their only weakness is they are a tad undersized, and the fact that Camila murdering Bananas in jealous rage could potentially happen at any moment. They also won one of the hardest finals ever against two solid teams (CT/Diem and Emily/Ty), and the cast itself is stacked much stronger than Rivals 3.
2 Jordan Wiseley & Sarah Rice — Exes 2 (Previously 2nd)
On paper, this duo is stacked, and they performed at a super high level. Jordan and Sarah won three daily challenges, coming second in two more, defeating a formidable Zach/Jonna in elimination, and then crushed the final by beating Leroy/Theresa by almost an hour on Day 1, ultimately capping off their win on Day 2. When it comes to the physical aspect of the game, Jordan is slightly better than Bananas at most things, other than parts of the game where having not having ten fingers puts you at a mega disadvantage; thus, he is a better partner for Sarah. They also didn’t have real bad blood between them, a couple of disagreements, yes, and even then, those disagreements were frustrations that they weren’t playing to their potential. As noted above, I think the world of Sarah as a competitor.
Despite all their success, is it weird to say that I feel as though Jordan and Sarah underperformed, especially as I go on to rank them second? In the back of my head, I know Wes/Theresa beat them in the most demanding daily challenges, and the fact we didn’t get to see them in the elimination or the final against one another hurts my soul. Those two teams were built for that final, and the fact we didn’t get closure sucks.
1 Kenny Santucci & Laurel Stucky — Fresh Meat 2 (Previously 1st)
On Fresh Meat 2, Wes had an alliance that consisted of seven different pairs (out of 13), including his own, meaning they would have a more than 50% chance of winning the power team and then also controlled the house vote. Their #1 target was Kenny and Laurel, which meant the only way to stay in the game for them was to win the daily challenge or win elimination. They proceeded to win 5 out of the first 6 daily challenges, and the one they didn’t win got forced into elimination against Sarah and Vinny (their allies) and came out on top. In doing so, they were able to chip away at Wes’s alliance one by one to that point that they controlled the rest of the game, even throwing the Episode 7 daily challenge to protect their allies (Jill and Pete).
While all the duos on this list are elite, they excelled with the goal of winning, whereas Laurel and Kenny had to run the gauntlet to survive. Yes, they technically finished second, but when rewatching, it felt more as though Landon being a superhuman, rather than them losing. They still did well in the final. The main reason I put them at #1, is that if you put all these teams in one season and then had them compete in typical daily challenges/eliminations, I don’t think they’re getting beat. To have a game stacked so hard against you and to be able to thrive as they did is something special.