How 'War of the Worlds' Reinvigorated 'The Challenge' Franchise
All is fair in love, war, and The Challenge.
That remains constant, even as the theme changes from season to season. The contestants on the MTV reality competition series will do whatever it takes to emerge victorious at the end of each final. They'll lie and cheat. They'll romance each other to gain a better standing in the house. They'll form alliances and then maybe turn their backs on those who have helped them all season. They'll give it their all in an elimination round. They'll run a final until they're about to pass out and then still keep going.
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Viewers tune in expecting to see all of that, but it can get exhausting after a while to watch every week, especially when a season lasts as long as Final Reckoning did (July 10-December 4, 2018). Daily challenges and elimination rounds were drawn out over multiple episodes. The drama seemed to reach an all-time high. There appeared to be no end in sight, especially with the redemption house. And then it all ended with a somewhat lackluster finale.
War of the Worlds fixed all those problems, and The Challenge is better for it.
The season only aired from February 6 to May 22, with the reunion on May 29. There were only a couple "cliffhanger" endings, with most episodes featuring a daily challenge, house drama, and an elimination on the "Killing Floor" all wrapped up by the time the credits rolled. Gone were the days of fans having to wait a week to see how the final moments of a daily played out or who would be going home or to redemption.
And that was another plus of Season 33. There was no redemption house. There were no second chances, no way for a contestant to fight his or her way back into the game, thereby extending the season as more rounds had to be played to whittle the field down to the final eight. Once a player was eliminated, that was it.
War of the Worlds was also harder than Final Reckoning, both in the daily challenges and the final. After watching players walk over hot coals like it was nothing in Season 32's final, the two-day run in the desert was a return to form for what a last challenge should be on this show.
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Seeing contestants given IVs — with only Cara Maria turning one down due to a fear of needles — emphasized just how difficult the final was in Season 33. They had to run miles over sand, climb dunes, solve puzzles, and paddle in kayaks to the finish line. You know it's a tough road when the eating challenge doesn't consist of anything gross; the course was brutal enough to induce vomiting without that. Two players even had to quit due to their health.
War of the Worlds also added an international element to the series, and it was the addition of the U.K. contestants (and their alliance) as well as those from non-MTV reality franchises that changed the weight that being a veteran carries in the game.
Rookies don't necessarily see returning players as threats just because of their names, and it showed more than ever this season. Veterans and champions Ashley M., Johnny Bananas, CT, and Zach were among the first eliminated on the Killing Floor — JP even called out CT — and that changed the game. The prospects played to win, and suddenly, it wasn't a guarantee that at least the majority of the people running the final would be veterans.
And they weren't. Of the eight players who started the final, only three were veterans (Wes, Cara Maria, and Hunter), and only one of them walked away with any money (Wes, in third place).
That happened because the U.K. alliance dominated the season. While the veterans entered the game with past vendettas and seasons attached — just look at Kyle and Paulie — the U.K. alliance picked off players one by one.
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Maybe none of them stood a chance against Turbo, who won Survivor Turkey twice, but other than some drama with American Ninja Warrior's Natalie Duran and Geordie Shore's Dee Nguyen, he mostly stayed out of house shenanigans, and it was a pleasant surprise to have a contestant like him not only on the show, but also come out on top.
So, for the most part, The Challenge should consider War of the Worlds a success (though we don't know what might happen at the reunion). The drama surrounding Cara Maria's relationships with Paulie and Kyle dragged it down, especially since the two men just kept voting each other in and seemingly fighting just to continue their rivalry — perhaps a good pairing for a future Rivals season?
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But now we know that the series can continue even without some of the veterans who have appeared in most of the recent seasons. Some of those big names were out early, but even after, we still got gritty performances in challenges and over-the-top drama (see Bear and Georgia) from the prospects.