Top 10 Greatest Returns in MTV Challenge History
With Laurel returning this season, we could see her make one of the greatest Challenge returns/comebacks ever. She has dominated the game since day one of her career and it will be interesting to see if she can continue suit.
I decided to rank the greatest Challenge returns of all-time. Many different factors were considered when it came to the returns/comebacks: Performance, Total Season Difference, Surprise Factor, Legacy, and Misc. One thing I’m sad about is the list is dominated by males. I wanted to balance it out, however, there have been more great male comebacks. Part of it is the stigma given to older women on the show, and thus we see less returns from them.
One Rule: There has to be at least a 4 season difference, e.g appearing on Season 21 and returning in 26. Appearing in any season in-between disqualifies you. I figured four total seasons because there seems to be about two seasons a year, and it’s about every 3–4 seasons when a new era of cast members gets ushered in.
- Nany on War of the Worlds, 4 season break, good run with Turbo, didn’t make a big enough splash.
- Marie on Invasion, 5 season break, got eliminated on the first episode yet got into a little feud with Kailah, and sprung an additional 3 season run.
- Isaac on Free Agents, 7 season break, a weird re-appearance
- KellyAnne on Bloodlines, 8 season, easily the HARDEST OMISSION. She just didn’t perform well enough to break the top 10.
10 Derrick Kosinski — S30 Dirty 30, 9 season break (previous, S20 Cutthroat)
After appearing on Season 20 (Cutthroat), Derrick stayed in the loop with his podcast for a couple of seasons before falling off the map. However, after Johnny Bananas won Rivals 3, he appeared on the Bill Simmons podcast and announced Derrick had called him expressing interest to return. Fans were excited to see Derrick back; however, his comeback got delayed as he was made an alternate on Invasion.
Derrick finally got the call for season 30 and showed up big time as a competitor. Derrick won the first two daily challenges, avoided elimination in a game with multiple purges/twists, won an elimination against Bananas, and then finished in 2nd place in the final. Derrick killed it and put up his best season since the Gauntlet 2.
So why is Derrick only 10th? Unfortunately, Derrick did not receive much camera time. He only had 14 confessionals through the first 10 episodes, and his fight with Nelson was very abrupt, with zero build-up. He ended the season strong, but for most of it, MTV pushed him to the back in favor of Bananas, CT, Tony, and the Young Bucks.
9 Brad Fiorenza — S31 Vendettas, 10 season break (previous, S20 Cutthroat)
Like Derrick, Brad was off the Challenge radar following Cutthroat. He did appear on a Free Agents after-show, but aside from that, his return seemed like a pipe-dream. That is until he and his wife divorced.
A newly single and mega ripped Brad appeared on Vendettas and set the world on fire. He was killing daily challenges and killing it in the bedroom with Britni. Brad was able to be 22 again, having fun on reality TV with a hot young girl on his shoulders. Maybe his actions were not ideal for Tori, but for fans, it was great to see. Not to mention, his eyes doubled in size between Cutthroat and Vendettas. His elimination loss on Vendettas leaves a big what if and I wish we could have seen Brad participate in the final over Leroy.
8 Cohutta Grindstaff — S25 Free Agents, 6 season break (previous, S18 The Ruins)
I caught up with the Challenge by binge-watching Real World from New Orleans (2010) on and then from Rivals 1 on . When I got to Free Agents, there was this small southern guy named Cohutta, and I was in awe over how a human could talk with such elegance and heart. Cohutta is like a jukebox machine that only contains hits.
The best part about his return is that he never even mentions the fact that he has not been on the show for five years. Isaac (who also returns this season) does not either. They both live in the moment, and it makes for great reality TV. Cohutta and Nany’s relationship ranks amongst the weirdest in the show’s run.
The most underrated part of Cohutta’s return is his overall performance. Cohutta kills every single daily challenge. He gets the flag on the balance beam of the tallest building in South America. He wins the car/bike challenge with Laurel. Cohutta goes rope to rope on the upper body challenge and even calls Johnny a wet bananas. Cohutta is a great competitor who is probably the most underrated athlete in challenge history.
(Sidenote: if you want a recap of the most recent episode of the Challenge, here’s a great podcast:)
7 Abram — S27 Battle of the Bloodlines, 4 season break (previous, S22 Battle of the Exes 1)
If there was ever a season that needed saving, it was the Battle of the Bloodlines. Abram came in as a replacement with his brother, and they tore the game and house up. He entered the house like a psychopath and found out his girlfriend was cheating on him with a preppy tennis-playing dork. It’s safe to say he did not take the situation too well. Eh, Thomas didn’t die, so it wasn’t too bad.
Abram killed the daily challenges while out of shape. He called Bananas “John” much to Bananas dismay. He also hyped up his brother so much in an elimination that he literally began bleeding and then smeared the blood across his face. It was one of the most surreal appearances in Challenge history. Bloodlines will forever be known as the Abe and Cara season.
6 Veronica Portillo — S30 Dirty 30, 11 season break (previous, S18 The Ruins)
She had two returns which could end up on this list, both the Ruins and Dirty 30. I went with the Dirty 30 run over the Ruins simply because Veronica’s Dirty 30 game performance is one of her best. Whereas the Ruins run is a bit overrated.
On Dirty 30, Veronica won an elimination against Aneesa, won an obstacle course with Nelson, and solved the giant 3D puzzle which resulted in Cara Maria and CT getting purged. Her most significant moment was shaking up the game by voting Leroy into elimination instead of Hunter. Yes, Hunter still ended up in elimination, but Leroy going in drastically altered the game. Leroy likely coasts to final five if not for Veronica’s rogue move and Britni’s burn vote.
Veronica also caught the eyes of the Young Bucks as they all wanted to hook up with her. She revealed at Challenge Mania Live that the Derrick and Nelson fight happened as a result of Veronica rejecting Nelson’s romantic advances. She’s still throwing heat all these years later.
5 Trishelle Cannatella — S23 Battle of the Seasons, 14 season break (previous, S8 Inferno 1)
One of the most shocking returns in Challenge history. Trishelle went from the Real World Las Vegas to the Gauntlet and Inferno 1, then Playboy, then movies, then the lingerie football league … and then back to the Challenge. Trishelle’s return after a fifteen season absence is bonkers. If you look at Challenge social media, fans always create their “fantasy” seasons. They include people who would never come back to the show because they left so long ago. TRISHELLE ACTUALLY CAME BACK. Imagine if Svetlana finally showed up again after all these years?
Her return was great because of her absolute lack of self-awareness. Trishelle was in her own world and often fought with Dustin. When she was supposed to go into elimination with Alton, she refused to budge, and Nany went in and got eliminated due to an Alton throw. Watching Dustin mentally break due to her decision was one of the best moments. Ironically, they went on to win an elimination together and took home 25k each from a 2nd place finish.
They were easily the most dysfunctional pair to succeed as much as they did. I know Hunter/Ashley, and Bananas/Sarah exist, but their pairings had chemistry. Trishelle and Dustin were bad competitors who hated each other and excelled.
4 Darrell Taylor — S29 Invasion, 9 season break (previous, S19 Fresh Meat 2)
As I mentioned before, Derrick was expected to return for Season 29. However, they only took 4 male champions, one of which was Darrell. His appearance shook the internet because we didn’t even know he was a possibility.
If there were any worries Darrell would not be able to compete in today’s game, he completely assuaged them by demolishing Zach and Johnny in physical eliminations. After a 9 season lay-off, Darrell took out two champions in convincing fashion. Not to mention, Darrell was all-around hilarious during this run. His commentary was much needed and refreshing as the Challengers can be so insulated in their own world of clout chasing.
My favorite Darrell moment was when Amanda was flipping everyone off after winning the puzzle portion of the bloodbath on Invasion. Darrell mimicked her by throwing middle fingers back, and NOBODY noticed.
3 Frank Roessler — S15 Gauntlet 3, 5 season break (previous, S9 Battle of the Sexes 2)
Frank had a decent appearance on Battle of the Sexes 2 and then came back out of nowhere for the Gauntlet 3 and put up a shocking MVP level performance. On a team who was dead in the water, Frank went into three eliminations where he’d go on to take out two champions in MJ and Tyler (would win 2x in the future). Beating MJ in a physical elimination due to his superior endurance and gameplan is one of the greatest challenge upsets.
He also formed a real relationship with Jillian Zoboroski, the most underrated female competitor of all time. Sidenote: Jill deserves to be on this list for the Gauntlet 3. However, she was always more of a quiet figure, so even when she excelled, she didn’t have any camera time.
The best part of Frank’s comeback is he never came back. He was on the poster of the season. They put him against Kenny on the “billboard,” and he never came back. That’s baller. Sidenote: watch the video of him defending Jill, it’s great.
2 Wes Bergmann — S18 The Ruins, 4 season break (previous, S13 The Duel 1)
Wes probably deserves two spots on this list. His Ruins comeback and his War of the Worlds comeback. However, I decided to give him one to include more comebacks and because he was already a top finisher regardless. I chose the Ruins over War of the Worlds as Wes appeared on the Champs VS series beforehand, so it wasn’t as big of a comeback as the Ruins one.
Wes started his Challenge career by winning 6 eliminations, making two finals, and winning the first individual season in the show’s history. He then retired as he reached the mountain top. At the age of 20/21, Wes RETIRED. We don’t get competitors that young anymore, and Wes retired at that age.
It says a lot that Wes did not play for four whole seasons, but when he returned, the entire cast was against him. Kenny for personal matters, Evan and Derrick for the Duel 1, Darrell from Fresh Meat 1, and Bananas for being Kenny and Evan’s follower. People like to overuse the word “pressed” when discussing reality TV personalities, but Wes had an entire team of the best male players in Challenge history PRESSED.
Without Wes, the Ruins becomes one of the most tedious and lopsided seasons in Challenge history. With Wes, it becomes a lopsided season with some fantastic fights. Wes and Darrell’s fight was great. Wes and Evelyn’s tirade against their Champs team is iconic, and his eventual defeat is perhaps the biggest upset in Challenge history. He was a divisive figure who got everyone to care about him despite being a 5'8 190 lb ginger, simply remarkable.
1 Shane Landrum— S29 Invasion, 16 season break (previous, S12 Fresh Meat 1)
Remember how I mentioned that Trishelle’s return was so bizarre and that she would only appear in someone’s fantasy cast season? Well, Shane’s return is even more bizarre because nobody was putting him on their fantasy cast. Shane is self-admittedly a bit of a wallpaper character from his original run on the show. Fans who passionately follow daily challenge performances knew Shane was a great competitor. His lack of final appearances made him seem below average to casual fans.
His return on Invasion was due to him calling Lisa Fletcher and begging to get on following his divorce as he needed a fresh start and a fun experience. Initially, Shane was trying just to fit in and not be the first eliminated. Stuck on an island with Challenge rookies who were taking shots above their pay level, Shane figured out he could go far in the game. Shane established a relationship with most of the women on the cast and a special bond with a group who would later be known as the “Lavender Ladies.” Shane, Ashley, Amanda, and Sylvia used their brains and found a way to get the numbers on their side to run the game. The alpha males so often dominate the Challenge, and for once, it was the real underdogs running the game.
Shane excelled in almost every daily challenge, and when he wasn’t, he was taking one for the team by taking down Bananas and CT by himself in a kamikaze mission. The Underdog Bloodbath ruined Shane’s chance of winning as he likely would have been able to politic his way to the end. Instead, he had to face his worst nightmare, a pure physical elimination to get the spot. He was the most well-rounded talent on his team and likely could have destroyed CT in the final. Swimming, eating, endurance, and puzzles are his strong suits! A win is too good. Part of Shane’s legacy is he comes a bit short, and he keeps you wanting him to get it finally. And if you hate him, you can continue cheering for him to lose.
His return is even more prominent because it opened the door wider for older cast members to come back. He was integral to convincing Veronica to return. Overall, he ended up being the heart of the Lavender Ladies. Which, even if you hate them, you cannot deny their 2 for 2 wins when all of them are together, and in the second run, finished first and second.