This week CBS premieres its corporate parent's latest attempt to mashup its massive stable of reality TV brands as The Challenge: USA imports one of MTV's most venerable reality hits, The Challenge, and populates it with the casts of some of CBS's highest profile reality series: Survivor, Big Brother, The Amazing Race, and Love Island.
Anyone who's watched The Challenge in recent years will know that being on any one of these other shows will in NO WAY prepare these players for what's to come. The modern version of The Challenge is basically a series of bungee-strapped tasks that should really only be attempted by professional stunt performers.
Solving a Survivor slide puzzle is not sufficient preparation for running atop the length of a moving tanker truck in order to retrieve a flag. Answering Julie Chen's trivia questions in a booth is not sufficient preparation for plowing full speed through a rock wall. Lying in a swimsuit is not sufficient preparation for dangling over open water and hoping you don't die.
Still, these 28 contestants have all willingly signed up to see what they can prove in the intense competitive atmosphere of The Challenge. We can pray for their safety and also attempt to glean hints as to how well they'll perform based on their past reality TV experience.
The most veteran of all the Survivor contestants participating in The Challenge: USA is Tyson Apostol, the 43-year-old four-time castaway who won the show's 27th season ("Blood vs. Water"). Over the course of four seasons, he won 6 team reward challenges 17 team immunity challenges, 4 individual immunity challenges, and one Edge of Extinction challenge. But more than the threat he poses in competitions, it's his wildly unpredictable social game that might make him The Challenge: USA's chaos agent. While Tyson has played disciplined games in the past (like in the season he won), he also seems pathologically averse to sentiment and is prone to make unpredictable moves just for fun. He's one to be feared.
In terms of competition threats, the Survivor players have to be considered the favorites, if only because they participated in the most physical competitions on their original show. This is true even of the players who may not seem like powerhouses, like Tasha Fox, who racked up 8 team challenge wins across her two seasons and impressive three individual immunity challenge wins. Danny McCray is a former NFL player who racked up five team challenge wins and an individual immunity challenge win in Season 41. He was allied with Shan Smith that season, who was a strong social player but actually didn't win very many challenges. Domenick Abbate nearly won his season, one on which he won ten team challenges and three individual immunity challenges.
Two players who could align themselves closely together are Ben Driebergen and Sarah Lacina, who were previously allied on Survivor's "Winners at War" season, where Ben essentially volunteered to get voted out in order to advance Sarah's game. (It didn't do much good, she was eliminated next.)
And then there's Desi Williams, perhaps the least known quantity of the Survivor players. She competed on Ben's first season (she even voted for him to win the million), but they weren't aligned. She doesn't have any natural allies beyond the overall Survivor fraternity. That said, she won four team challenges and one individual immunity in her half a season on the show, so maybe she's more of a threat than we think.
With a total of nine alums set to compete, Big Brother is the best represented of all shows in The Challenge: USA. On top of that, within this group lies a ready-made alliance of Big Brother 23 players poised to either put a chokehold on the game or make themselves a massive target. SIX of last summer's BB houseguests are here, including the season's winner Xavier Prather, his "Cookout" allies Azah Awasum, Tiffany Mitchell, and Kyland Young, as well as Derex Xiao and Alyssa Lopez.
Whether these six will work with the three other Big Brother alums — Season 22 runner-up Enzo Palumbo, Season 20 third-placer Angela Rummans, and zero-time competition winner David Alexander is an open question — but each of these three would be wise to either seek out a pact with the BB23 squad or latch onto an alliance that wants to target them.
There are only three Amazing Race alums on The Challenge: USA, making them the smallest contingent on the season. Maybe this is a bit of cosmic retribution for the fact that the last time CBS crossed the streams of its big reality competition shows, it was on an Amazing Race reality-stars season where the Race alums wiped the floor with teams from Big Brother and Survivor.
The most accomplished of the three Racers is James Wallington, who along with his boyfriend Will Jardell won The Amazing Race 32 (the pair got engaged at the finish line and were married in December of 2021). Then there's Leo Temory, who competed in two seasons of The Amazing Race, finishing fourth and third, respectively, with his cousin Jamal, who dubbed themselves the "Afghanimals." Together, they combined for five first-place finishes along the way. Cayla Platt competed in the COVID-interrupted Race season and finished in second place, alongside her fellow flight attendant and friend Raquel. It should be noted that Cayla competed in fewer Roadblocks (tasks that only one team member competes in) than anyone else in the top four that season, which gives her a bit of an underdog status on The Challenge.
Perhaps the least predictable outcomes among this entire cast are for the eight Love Island alums, for fairly obvious reasons. There is no real competition aspect to that show, and while The Challenge did coin the odious term "polidicking" to describe politicking done via flirting and hooking up on the show, that has taken a back seat to brute force in more recent seasons. Whether the Love Island alums can bring back this kind of social strategy remains to be seen.
From Season 1 we have former couple Kyra Green and Cashel Barnett. Kyra and Cash coupled up in their first week on the show and dominated the early part of their season. Although Cash was eliminated in the third week and Kyra was chopped by the fan vote right before the finale, their season ended with Cash flying back out to Fiji and the glimmer of a reunion.
The show's two season two alums are Justine Ndiba and Cely Vazquez. Justine has to be considered the biggest contender of the Love Island group if only because she's a proven winner and a huge fan favorite. Cely finished in second place, so maybe there's a revenge storyline in the works?
The season three alums — Cinco Holland, Javonny Vega, Cashay Proudfoot and Shannon St. Clair — didn't do nearly as well on Love Island as the Justines and Celys, but who knows how much that matters.
We'll find out for sure when The Challenge: USA premieres July 6th at 9:30 PM ET on CBS.
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Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.