Top 10 MTV Challenge Competitors Better Than You Remember

This is not a top 10 most underrated list. These aren’t players who are quietly elite or lost to time. This list is about the unheralded players who get viewed under a certain light or get stereotyped with a label because of bad losses, insignificance to the show’s history, or simply entering the show at the wrong time in time. I noticed back in March when I helped Challenge Mania create their player brackets that there were many players who people would never even consider voting for in a poll. It was because they had a general image of a player, and sometimes it wasn’t fair for the player. I don’t blame them fans for not knowing either because it takes someone obsessing and over-projecting like me to see the little details. Likewise, some of these opinions of mine are idiotic. The casual view is often the right opinion because it’s safe and easy to defend.

The best part about writing this article is a majority of the people I wrote about; I’ve literally never gotten a legitimate shot to talk about as real individual competitors. I also included a couple of current players (one who is on Total Madness) because fan criticism becomes so loud that we don’t see many positives in them.

Sidenote: this article is way too long. Part of the fact is I have to explain some of these weird figures and why they were better than you remember.

10 Mandi Moyer

Mandi was on a whopping four seasons of the Challenge. She seems like a character who was only on for a season or two, but she was on FOUR seasons. Mandi has been on as many seasons as Landon, Alton, and Susie, and more than any of the Emily’s and Frank’s. Nonetheless, Mandi was a solid competitor. She wasn’t anything special, not great puzzles, and not a fantastic athlete. However, she was competent and only had one straight up loss you can blame her for. During Fresh Meat 2, Wes overestimated his abilities and underestimated Mandi’s, often making her play with suboptimal strategies and not empowering her. The one that comes to mind the most is when Wes tried to traverse a set of ropes with Mandi on his back. Yet, when they had to compete in an Exile on Fresh Meat 2, Mandi was trucking it and cursing at Wes to keep up, almost like Wes was Casey.

On Exes 1, Wes got them thrown into the first two eliminations of the season based on his actions from prior seasons. She and Wes won the first elimination where Mandi could have theoretically beaten Nate and Priscilla single-handedly. Then in the second elimination, Mandi decisively took out Naomi 2–0 in Pole Wrestle, and it was Wes who lost 0–3 to Leroy. She had a tough loss to Cara on Cutthroat, and while it was far from Prime Cara — eliminations have always been Cara’s forte. During Rivals 1, she and Jenn played a tremendous social and political game where they never saw an elimination as they had the votes on their side. They also won 1 of the 4 immunity challenges, which is enormous considering three of the pairs on the season were Evelyn/Paula, Laurel/Cara, and Theresa/Camila. While not all of those players were in their primes, that’s six of the top twenty females in Challenge history, and four of the top eight (maybe even top 5 or 6). Their final performance was awful, except they get a pass because the doctor told Jenn not to compete before the final.

9 Cory Wharton

If you decided to close the article and throw the nearest box of pasta out a window, I GET IT. Cory’s name has almost become a joke when it comes to the Challenge. The No Quitters Podcast often referred to him as “Popcorn Muscles.” He embarrassed himself multiple times with some of the worst losses in Challenge history. Along with that, I’m a massive hypocrite, because I’ve made fun of Cory Ad-naseum over the years. As a competitor, Cory has a defined ceiling. He cannot win an individual or paired final based on his cardiovascular ability and his total lack of skill in puzzles.

Does that make him a terrible competitor? No. Many people can’t win a final. Leroy, Kyle, Nelson, and Tony are in the same boat as him, but they don’t get clowned as hard as them. Yet, Cory is probably the best out of all of them in daily challenges. Of competitors who have played in 30 or more daily challenges, Cory is 4th all-time in daily challenge win ratio percentage. Is Cory the 4th best player ever daily challenges? Of course not. That statistic gets inflated from Battle of the Bloodlines and Invasion of the Champions team challenge wins. Regardless, looking at the sample size, it is undeniable that Cory is good at daily challenges. He is fast on his feet and excellent with heights. The guy is a natural athlete who probably could take out elite players in a Hall Brawl. Since Cory’s debut on Battle of the Bloodlines, he’s made it to two finals! That’s more than Tony, Kyle, Joss, Devin, AND JOHNNY BANANAS. Am I still going to make fun of Cory Cheesy Pasta Wharton? Of course, those tweets do great numbers. Is he better than he gets credit for? Yes.

8 Trey Weatherholtz

He competed on two seasons of the Challenge, and overall is lost in history. On Rivals 2, Zach and Trey were the best team to start the season. They won the first two daily challenges and were in contention in the next two as well. Considering the stacked male cast of Rivals 2, the fact they were outpacing pairs like Jordan/Marlon, Frank/Bananas, and Wes/CT says a lot. They lost because they slipped up bad and finished in last during a daily challenge, and followed it up with Zach cheating in an elimination that they did not need to cheat in. Zach broke the first level board that Trey was supposed to do, and it didn’t make sense. It was the easiest floor to break, and Trey would have had zero problems with it.

Trey was a great athlete, quick on his feet, and is reminiscent of the athletic competitor Paulie is now. If Zach and Trey win that elimination, it’s hard to envision them losing from there. The next elimination was Double Hall Brawl, and if you have Trey, a college wide-receiver as the runner and Gigantor Zach blocking, they probably beat any team. They probably finish third in the final, but a final is much better than an early exit! Trey never got asked back because he wasn’t that interesting to watch, though it should be known that he was a good competitor.

7 Natalie Negrotti

When people think of Natalie, they think about her losing multiple eliminations to Jozea. They think about her fake-ish showmance with Johnny Bananas. And they think about her “almost getting eaten by Lions” during the Final Reckoning Final. Or they think about how she is smoking hot, or I do at least.

What doesn’t get noted is that Natalie is fantastic in daily challenges. The girl has cardio for days, has the balance of a gymnast, and can lift her body weight. I realized how impressive Natalie was an athlete during the incredibly dangerous car jumping challenge from Vendettas. Natalie was one of only two girls to make the jump to the second car successively, and when she tried to make the giant leap to the third, Natalie took a standing two-foot jump for the car and got excellent height and hangtime. It’s just … the leap isn’t realistic for most women, hell it’s difficult for most men. Maybe Louise Hazel or Lolo Jones can make that jump. Natalie gave it the best try possible. When she got eliminated on Vendettas, Natalie had the most money out of anyone in the game!

During the Final Reckoning final, she and Paulie were physically impressive and running at a fast pace. Sadly, Paulie wanted to run faster than Natalie to prove he was an alpha male, Natalie got lost, and in the end, it cost them. When Natalie does poorly, she loses badly. She gets anxious and freaks out. An ugly loss glosses over quiet success.

6 Chet Cannon

Gosh, I fucking hate Chet Cannon. Make sure you mute this guy on Twitter, so you never have to hear his condescending voice in text form ever. Now, is he better than you remember? 100% Chet was on four seasons of the Challenge and was first boot twice. Once, was his rookie season (The Ruins), and he got taken out by Wes. No harm, a typical rookie season. Then on Free Agents, he lost Balls In against Frank after cutting his chin and quitting. I don’t blame for leaving because he was bleeding quite a bit, and it was going to be an uphill battle regardless. Chet had also been injured on a Challenge before.

On Cutthroat, Chet got taken out by a massive concussion from hitting the water falling from a high distance with no body control. Chet still out-swam a majority of his teammates even with the head trauma that would take him out of the game. His real impressive season was as part of Team Brooklyn on Battle of the Seasons. He and Sarah led their team and fought from the bottom throughout the season to make it to the final. They won two eliminations, one against a solid duo of Brandon and Cara Maria in Knot So Fast. Chet was good with puzzles, cardio, swimming, and was taller/lengthier than you’d expect. Had Sarah and Chet gone through with their plan to get JD/Devyn thrown into the final elimination, they likely win the final. Chet was good as a competitor. As a person? Terrible.

5 Derek Chavez

He was good. Flat out. Derek was a track star in high school, and he did well in the daily challenges. Even though CJ was the leader of Team Cancun, Derek held his own and was a major reason they were so successful. He’s going to get his ass kicked in a Pole Wrestle or a Balls In, but you put him in a situation where he is climbing, or there is cardio involved, and Derek will thrive. During the daily challenge from Battle of the Seasons when players had to hike up and down a mountain, Jasmine started gassing out, and Derek carried her on his back! Meanwhile, 250 lb Zach was cursing out Sam when he was strong enough to carry Derek and Sam.

Derek is not a big guy, but that’s a great teammate and a good player. You don’t see that often, let alone from someone Derek’s size. On Rivals 2, he and Robb had strong showings in the daily challenges, won a Hall Brawl elimination together, and then got knocked out in a blind stick fight. The bad part about his game is he is socially on the outside of most casts. As an athlete, he is much better than a considerable amount of cast members.

4 Ashley Kelsey

Easily the most boring Challenge Champion of the 2010s. Ashley did incredibly well during the Battle of the Seasons. Nothing about her jumped out in terms of abilities in the game. Zach and Frank had overbearing personalities, and Sam was the one getting picked on by the males. As good as Zach and Frank were, their partners needed to be able to keep up, and Ashley did precisely that. She and Frank also won the final elimination, beating Jonna and Derek in Knot So Fast. Ashley was in great shape, an able swimmer, and had cardio for days. The girl works out hard to maintain her body for her work as a model.

When she returned for Invasion of the Champions, she had to play in a format where Champs would have to face Champs in elimination. A huge jump for a girl who hadn’t been on the show in five years. She was only there for two daily challenges, potentially getting concussed in the second challenge from a hard hit to the water. Ashley held herself for a long time against Cara Maria with the injury, and it showed her first win wasn’t entirely undeserved. She’s not an elite player, but in a regular season, she’d likely go far. There’s no reason to think Ashley Kelsey is worse than someone like Jenna.

3 Christina LeBlanc

If you remember, the reason Christina and Emily got thrown into the first elimination of Battle of the Bloodlines was that not only were they rookies, but they performed well physically in the daily challenge. Christina was doing well in her elimination against Jenna at first, and in the end, the Barbie Beast came out, put her weight into it, and won. Imagine if Christina wins that elimination by the way? Jenna was an alternate added last minute due to multiple dropouts/disinvites (Marie, Nia, Mandi). If Christina wins their elimination, then we maybe never see Jenna again.

The next season Christina was on, she got saddled with Nate Siebenmark as a partner. What’s crazy is they won a daily challenge, won an elimination, and only finished in last place because of Nate. I remember Sarah Rice talking in detail about Christina being intelligent and sneakily athletic, and when I watch the show back, I see it. I see Sarah-like qualities in Christina. At the moment, I didn’t think anything of her. Rewatching the show, she had potential.

2 Thomas Buell

Think about this. When did Thomas Buell every disappoint as a competitor? He and Hailey almost won the first daily challenge of Battle of the Exes 2, and then got thrown in the second episode because they were rookies. They lost to a solid Johnny Reilly and Averey duo, where Hailey’s inability to complete her part didn’t allow for Thomas even to compete. His next season, Thomas won a physical elimination against Cohutta and was on the Red Team that dominated the daily challenges. Thomas proved his intelligence by succeeding in the trivia challenge. In the end, he went out because his brother lost to Abram’s brother.

Then on Rivals 3, even while paired with Simone, one of the worst challengers ever, he did better than you’d expect. In the mini final of Rivals 3 (the one where players had to get naked), they finished in THIRD out of 11 teams. Thomas also held himself with confidence and could play the mental part of the game. He baited Vince into getting physical with him. If you watch, Vince performed a shitty tackle and didn’t hurt Thomas, but it should have disqualified Vince, especially considering someone like Tina got DQed for a non-landed punch, and Nelson got DQed for a smoosh. When Bananas went to defend his Cousin, Thomas clapped back with sharpness. I’m sad he never came back because he got in much better shape after the show ended, and he had potential. As an athlete, he wasn’t a top guy, but he certainly could beat most players in mental competitions. I’m not saying Thomas was better than his friend Cory; if your goal is to win the game, then a person with Thomas’s more balanced skill-set is more likely to succeed than Cory.

1 Jonna Mannion

Jonna is the embodiment of a B- Challenge competitor. Certain players are allowed to grumble and be upset if you get a specific player as a partner. If you get Jonna as a partner, you aren’t allowed to be mad. She’s not going to carry you in daily challenges, dominate eliminations, or be a political powerhouse. But she’s going to be stable across the board, surprise you at times physically, and will put out whatever you’re putting out as a partner. She matches whatever energy you exude. Jonna keeps up and is willing to do what you want, as long as you’re not an awful person (Zach).

On Rivals 1, Jonna eliminated Sarah Rice by beating her in a puzzle! Her and Jasmine were the underdogs and were one elimination short of the final. Throughout the Battle of the Seasons, she competed at a high level. Sadly, it hit a point where Cancun had to face San Diego in Hall Brawl against Zach and Sam. Jonna refused to go in because she desperately needed $ at the time, and Jasmine played with CJ. In all honesty, Derek and Jasmine not volunteering themselves and cutting a deal where if CJ/Jonna won the season, they’d throw some money their way never made sense to me. It sucks CJ was an honorable man who was keeping to his word that he’d play the physical eliminations, except his team wasn’t winning the season without him. During the early stretch of Rivals 2, Jonna and Nany kept his finishing runners up to Paula and Emily (a dominant duo).

Zach verbally assaulted Jonna throughout Exes 2, and she was a loyal partner who wanted to do well. What’s crazy is you watch back the daily challenges, and Jonna does pretty well in most of the challenges, even with Zach taking his insecurities out on her. They win the daily challenge where players have to cover a pole with paint because Jonna has fantastic cardio and busted her ass. When he cursed her out after daily challenge when players jumped from one semi-truck to another, she had done exceptionally well. Zach cursed her out because he thought she broke a rule when, in reality, she was just trying her best. Even when Jonna struggled, she knew it was something she wasn’t good at and was open to getting help. She wasn’t a good swimmer and wanted a teammate to stay by her so she could keep a better pace. During the challenge where players had to memorize a large color pattern, most females tasked their partners with learning some colors to make things easier for both of them. Zach never did that for Jonna; he only cursed her out more.

Jonna played in the worst era of the Challenge for her. You put her in the team formats, and she thrives as a fun social presence and is an asset in the daily challenges. She probably wins a season and makes a final or two. In the modern era, you need to be good at physical eliminations, and you need luck on your side. If the ping-pong balls fall a different way in Jonna’s carer, she maybe becomes a Challenge Champion. If CJ doesn’t compete in that elimination, he and CJ are a stout duo. Jonna lasted till the final elimination season with Derek, so it’s not a stretch that she and CJ make the final and win. Likewise, if there’s no exile twist on Exes 2 and if Leroy doesn’t get fooled by Wes, and if Zach/Jonna pull out the final daily challenge, then there’s a world where the final three of the season somehow becomes Leroy/Nia, Zach/Jonna, and Jay/Jenna. Yeah, that’s a HUGE STRETCH, but when you consider that the actual final outcome was Leroy and Theresa finishing in second place, it’s not that wild. Is it hyperbole to talk about someone who had a 2–4 Elimination Record and never made a final this way? Yeah, but that’s what this article is about. It’s about creating something out of what we perceive as nothing. There are so many competitors where 1 little moment drastically altered their entire Challenge careers and how they get viewed. Some of these players listed above needed a bit more luck and never got it.

25 years old. I blog about MTV's the Challenge and will dabble into other subjects occasionally. Follow me on Twitter for the occasional bad joke.