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It has gone from being an average, competent reality-adventure show to a heavily serialized, reality-based workplace drama.The Challenge technically premiered in June 1998, but its earliest incarnation couldn’t be more different than what the show is now.The debut season didn’t even have the word “challenge” in its title.
For 17 years and 26 seasons, reality pioneer Bunim-Murray has been rounding up cast members from its Road Rules and The Real World franchises and pitting them against each other for cash and prizes, often with the same faces returning again and again.
Although the lack of cast churn makes The Challenge seem static, the show has evolved more dramatically than any reality competition on the dial.
Shows like Big Brother and Top Chef remain more or less identical to how they began.
Meanwhile, The Challenge has changed its format, its host, and even its genre.
For most of the history of television, the barrier to syndication—and to profitability—has been 100 episodes. Still others just hung on as best they could and never posted numbers quite low enough to be canceled.
The shows that have made it to that mark are an unusual group. In 100 Episodes, we examine the shows that made it to that number, considering both how they advanced and reflected the medium and what contributed to their popularity.
This entry covers MTV’s The Challenge, which started in 1998 and completed its 26th season this year.
MTV’s long-running reality competition The Challenge has earned a reputation for stasis due to the frequency with which the same cohort of Bunim-Murray Productions alumni participates.
All Stars followed Road Rules’ standard format except that instead of a group of collegiate unknowns, an assorted quintet of former Real World housemates teamed up for an action-packed road trip with the promise of a “handsome reward” awaiting them at the final destination.
All Stars had no eliminations, duels, or cash prizes, and the primary draw was watching Real World’s spoiled homebodies in more taxing, goal-focused scenarios.
The show didn’t feature bone-crushing physical challenges, and was instead fueled by Amazing Race-style travel excursions such as sheep shearing and spending the night in a purportedly haunted mental hospital.