Most Controversial Production Decisions of Challenge History

The recent finale episode of The Challenge USA was without a doubt one of the most controversial episodes the show has had in recent memory (and potentially ever). There was Ben’s DQ which made it so one woman was forced to run each leg individually, followed by Enzo quitting seconds into the final which screwed over Desi. Then there were the inconsistencies with Justine and (allegedly) Sarah being allowed to time out on portions of the final but not Angela, and then the unpreparedness of production not being able to provide gloves or boots to all players. The most notorious controversy of the finale, however, is four of the final six players quitting. Challenge USA wasn’t close to the first time that there has been controversy surrounding the decisions production has made which affected the game. Here are many of the other most controversial production decisions on The Challenge over the years.

These are specific moments that are controversial for game reasons. I will not be addressing controversial moments outside of the gameplay, such as those having to do with inappropriate language, nonconsensual touching, or violence.

Honorable Mentions:

Now On to My Top Ten Controversial Production Decisions:

10. The Introduction of Heavy Hitters During Cutthroat

Did bringing in the “Heavy Hitters” on Cutthroat result in one of the best moments in the history of the show? Yes, The Banana’s Backpack is a moment I will never forget. But regardless of that, bringing in players from outside of the game to compete against the contestants was a big twist and there was controversy about its fairness at the time. First off, at the time Bananas claimed that if it had been a regular elimination between him and Tyler like it was supposed to be, he would have won and that he believed Tyler only won because he was heavier. On the women’s side, it was also a questionable decision to have a worn-out Tina go up against Tori after going for over twenty minutes against Theresa. This problem specifically has been fixed by bringing on a fresh mercenary for each contestant to face instead now, but that does not change that it was a controversial production decision at the time.

9. The Many Pregnancies of Cast Members from 2020–2022

The lack of proper safety precautions in casting pregnant women on The Challenge could have resulted in serious harm or injury. I am in no way trying to advocate that anyone’s privacy should be violated and their medical information shared if they do not wish to share. The issue is with the sheer physical toll competing on The Challenge takes on its competitors. It is potentially dangerous to both the player and the fetus. If this was an isolated incident it would be understandable, but there has been a pregnant player on Total Madness (Melissa), Double Agents (Natalie Anderson), All Stars 2 (Casey), and Spies, Lies & Allies (Bettina). This has twice affected the game play, resulting in players leaving the game early. Many fans were frustrated by that and have been up in arms about the producers' negligence. Having the women in the cast potentially take a pregnancy test for their own safety may be a beneficial precaution going forward.

8. The Teams of Mercenaries entering the game later than the other competitors on Final Reckoning

As I talked about earlier, on Cutthroat, way back in the twentieth season of The Challenge, we were first introduced to the concept of having players from outside of the game coming in to compete in eliminations against the competitors. Mercenaries or “Heavy Hitters,” were then brought back for Battle of the Bloodlines & Vendettas, each time coming in only to go up against the players in the game and then leaving, win, lose or draw. However, that was not the case for the mercenaries of Final Reckoning. Hunter & Ashley and Devin & Cory both entered the game after winning as mercenaries, with Hunter & Ashley going on to win the season. Many fans argued that this was unfair since Ashley & Hunter were able to enter the game with only nine teams active in the game, and Cory & Devin when there were just six teams active in the game.

7. Bringing on Contestants from Big Brother and other non-MTV Shows

There have been several instances over the years when The Challenge has expanded who they invite to compete on to seasons. After Road Rules was canceled, Fresh Meat brought on brand new people who had never been on a reality show before. Later on, when Real World was nearing cancelation MTV brought on contestants from their new show, Are You the One. Fans eventually got over having those players join the show and many have become fan favorites like Kam, Nelson & Tori. Then in 2018 on The Challenge Vendettas producers brought on new contestants from Big Brother, Ex on the Beach UK, and Geordie Shore. This decision lead to the opening up of Challenge casting to almost anybody, including WWE wrestlers, reality stars and contestants from The Amazing Race, The 12 Dates of Christmas, Vanderpump Rules, and Survivor Turkey & Romania. Many fans are still not happy with the decision to expand the casting pool, with many still particularly pointing to the Big Brother cast members as the problem with how they tend to play game. In my own opinion, there is no going back, and whether fans like it or not this will be how it is going forward.

6. Not bringing on a replacement partner for Sarah Rice on Rivals II

There has been a significant amount of inconsistencies from season to season regarding whether contestants were given replacement partners. During the first Rivals season, Leroy’s partner Adam was disqualified and Michael was brought on as his new “Rival,” even though he was, in reality, Leroy’s good friend and not his rival at all. Earlier in that very season, CaraMaria was brought in as a replacement for Naomi to be “rivals” with Cooke who she had never even met. But when Sarah’s partner, Trishelle, quit in episode three, she was disqualified along with her. To make matters worse Sarah also had the misfortune of being disqualified due to her partner two seasons earlier when Vinny ripped off Mandi’s dress in public. Many people were frustrated both by the fact that one player got a new partner but another did not and were upset that fan-favorite Sarah was screwed over and disqualified from a second season by no fault of her own.

5. Allowing the Boys Team to Copy the Women’s Puzzle in The Battle of the Sexes Finale

One of the first major controversial moments in The Challenge happened in the final of Battle of the Sexes, the sixth season of the show. This season saw the top men & women cumulatively after each daily challenge vote off one player until there were only three players remaining on each team. The men mostly were dominant and the heavy favorites going into the final but the women actually jumped out to the initial lead as the men were stuck on a puzzle. The men were completely stumped and they went over to the women’s finished puzzle and copied it. Later on, they caught up to and ultimately passed the women and won the season. This caused a large amount of controversy, with fans and especially the final women’s team complaining that it was not fair for the boys to copy their puzzle. It also started the tradition, which contestants often do still to this day, where players knock down their puzzles after getting them right to prevent their work being copied.

4. Cohutta being DQed because of Casey’s Pregnancy

Poor Cohutta, he is one of the biggest fan favorites and got absolutely screwed over on All Stars 2. In another example of production inconsistencies, on the very same season Laterrian had the opportunity to beat Tyler and take Jasmine as a partner after his initial partner left the game. But Cohutta was not given the same opportunity and instead sent home alongside Casey when her pregnancy lead to her being disqualified from the game. Not only was that inconsistent with what happened just one episode earlier, but also the game started individually and Cohutta only got paired with Casey one episode earlier. This even inspired me to make my list of The Unluckiest Competitors in The Challenge History. It makes no sense to do one thing in week six and the very opposite in week seven.

3. The Terrible Execution of the Push Me Elimination on The Duel

I covered a bit about the disaster that was the Push Me elimination from The Duel a while ago when I wrote about the Elimination Rounds that Should be Brought Back. It is genuinely a very good concept for an elimination round; where two players are placed on opposite sides of a pole and have to push through each other and then unclip a flag from a carabiner to win. The issue comes from the last part about unclipping the flag. This game was played three times and twice the player that performed the best at pushing their opponent and getting to the flag actually lost. This was due to the fact that when trying to unclip the flag it was actually significantly easier to rip it out of the ground, which both Beth & CT did by mistake. It was ridiculous that two of the physically strongest players that season lost the strength-based elimination that they completely dominated.

2. The Introduction of Stealing Money from Your Partner at the End of Rivals III

These top two controversial production decisions were incredibly close for me, with them both being some of the most notorious finishes in the show's history. But I ended up putting production’s decision to allow contestants to steal the full grand prize money from their partners as the second most controversial, originating on Rivals III and also being used for Final Reckoning. This twist definitely provided great tv moments but it was also an incredibly controversial choice. The controversy is obvious in that the contestants who did the work and won the final did not get any of the prize for it. Many can argue that ‘All is fair in Love, War & Challenges’ but the introduction of a twist that powerful which invalidated the work a contestant (in this instance, Sarah) did all season to win only to be screwed over at the last second felt brutal. Although no one will argue that Bananas stealing the money from Sarah is one of the top moments in Challenge history, it does not change the fact that many fans now and at the time were outraged at the level of unfairness.

My pick for the most controversial production decision was also a moment that caused the biggest uproar among fans of the show. The choice to crown The Rookies team as the winners of The Gauntlet III instead of The Veterans (who finished first) has been debated and gripped about ever since. The Veterans team was one of the most dominant teams ever seen on The Challenge, losing only a handful of daily challenges and also dominating the final challenge, finishing the course a lot faster than the Rookies with just one hiccup, albeit a major one. Big Easy could not keep up with the pace the other Veterans wanted to set and burnt through his energy quickly leading to his collapse. He was unable to finish the final, needing to be taken to the hospital instead. The Veterans team was informed when they got to the finish line they couldn’t win since their entire team did not finish the course.

The controversial part of this yet again leads back to inconsistencies from production. In a prior season, Coral was DQed from a final due to an allergic reaction to a spider bite which only cost her team a ten-minute penalty. Then in a future season, both Abram & Sarah fell really ill and were DQed, but the rest of the Gray Team was allowed to finish (and get awarded second place out of three). Therefore, the Veterans team being essentially disqualified for a player not being able to finish the final was seen as a very controversial decision. Many fans were upset as this decision cost many fan-favorite contestants the win including Brad, CT, Diem, Paula & more. Additionally, The Veterans team and many fans were outraged about the fairness of this decision and it is for me the most controversial production decision in Challenge history.

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Henry L DiMaria

I blog primarily about The Challenge but occasionally stretch into other reality TV @HenryLDiMaria