Who's Who This Season on MTV's The Challenge

"Total Madness" once again brings together vets and rookies from the wide, wild world of reality TV.
  • Jay Starrett, Kailah Casillas and Cory Wharton are among the 28 competitors in The Challenge: Total Madness. (MTV)
    Jay Starrett, Kailah Casillas and Cory Wharton are among the 28 competitors in The Challenge: Total Madness. (MTV)

    The 35th season of MTV's The Challenge kicks off this week, pitting 21 of the show's most notorious veterans against seven newbies plucked from the world of reality television. While previous seasons have concentrated their outsourced contestant searches on in-house shows like Are You the One? and British imports like Geordie Shore, this time the bulk of the imports are from Big Brother. The "War of the Worlds" concept of the past two seasons set aside, "Total Madness" promises an everyone-for-themselves free-for-all competition, with $1 million as the grand prize.

    From the looks of the trailer, the most salient new rule of the new season is that to make it to the finals, you have to win a duel (the one-on-one elimination challenges at the end of every episode). So no more skating by and using your connections to keep you safe until the end. It's a good thing this year's cast is heavy on the warriors. Here's who will be battling it out as"Total Madness" brings The Challenge back to Prague:

    Johnny "Bananas" Devenanzio

    Previous Challenges: 19

    No discussion of The Challenge can truly begin without addressing the show's every-season player (he hasn't missed an installment since 2012's Battle of the Seasons). While Johnny was a dominant force for years, more recently his powers have been significantly diminished. Physically, he's been outmatched by younger, hungrier players, and even his famously vise-like grip on the show's social game has been slipping. He's been eliminated in the first 5 episodes on the last two Challenges, and hasn't made a final since he snaked the prize money out from under his partner Sarah Rice on Rivals III (a whopping seven seasons ago), bringing whispers of a curse.

    Chris "CT" Tamburello

    Previous Challenges: 16

    Once upon a time, there was no one more frighteningly rageful, nor more of a physical specimen, than CT. Recent years have seen a mellower, more dad-bodied CT, a transformation that hasn't robbed him of one ounce of watchability. He's not always fighting on the side of the angels, but when he is, there are few players who are more fun to root for.

    Wes Bergmann

    Previous Challenges: 12

    After a disappointing episode-three exit on War of the Worlds 2, Wes has returned with a Yukon Cornelius beard and (one imagines) a plan to smite his enemies. Presumably that involves Wes exercising the strongest tool in his arsenal: a near-sociopathic self-confidence combined with a rare (for this show) gift for deductive reasoning. Look for the resumption of what has been The Challenge's greatest rivalry, Wes versus Bananas.

    Aneesa Ferreira

    Previous Challenges: 12

    For anyone who watched a 20-year-old Aneesa frolic topless and start fights on The Real World: Chicago , it's hard to believe that she's now nearly 40 and the elder stateswoman of The Challenge, but here we are. Mellowed out (for the most part), Aneesa is still looking for her first win. After 13 seasons, she's the most tenured cast member to have never won.

    Nany Gonzalez

    Previous Challenges: 8

    Nany's on her ninth challenge with zero wins to show for it, placing her second to only Aneesa among this year's cast in terms of Challenge futility. Look for this narrative to emerge if Nany starts to make it close to the end. Her historical close ties to Johnny Bananas often put her on the unpopular side of house divides, which creates plenty of opportunities for drama.

    Jenna Compono

    Previous Challenges: 7

    Jenna's an interesting character in that she seems to mostly keep getting cast because of her tumultuous on-again, off-again relationship with veteran Challenge competitor Zach Nichols has made for great TV. Zach's not on this season, but as the trailer indicates, he's only a FaceTime call away, and that's all he needs to execute yet another "will Zach and Jenna break up?" storyline.

    Ashley Mitchell

    Previous Challenges: 6

    If you're wondering who's won more money on The Challenge, you're going to need to look past the CTs and Johnny Bananases, and right to Ashley, a most unlikely cast member to have won over $1.1 million on the show. She's won the grand prize twice -- once on Invasion of the Champions, and once, infamously, when she snaked her partner Hunter at the last minute and took the Final Reckoning million-dollar prize all for herself. Scrappy, temperamental, and unpredictable, Ashley is the definition of a wild card.

    Cory Wharton

    Previous Challenges: 6

    It always seems like Cory should perform better than he does. The bulk of his screen time across his previous six seasons has focused on his myriad romantic dalliances rather than performances in the competitions. Which is bad news for him in a season when you have to win duels to make the finals.

    Jordan Wiseley

    Previous Challenges: 5

    If there's anybody who is as formidable a rival to Johnny Bananas as Wes, it's Jordan, who triumphed on the most recent challenge, along with CT, Rogan, and Dee. Jordan's interpersonal shortcomings don't win him a ton of friends, although he was able to ensnare Tori and ask her to be his wife.

    Nelson Thomas

    Previous Challenges: 5

    Nelson is an Are You the One? alumnus whose hotheaded nature has landed him in plenty of hot water over his five Challenge seasons. He's one in a generation of Challenge upstarts who've made it their business to challenge Bananas and his ruling class, which makes Nelson good casting even if he's not personally all that likable.

    Kyle Christie

    Previous Challenges: 4

    Of all the Brits who've been added to the Challenge regulars over the past few seasons, Kyle has caused the most optimal drama with the veterans. This season, he won't have his onetime hookup turned mortal enemy Cara Maria nor her boyfriend Paulie to rage against. We'll see if he manages to make new friends/enemies.

    Kailah Casillas

    Previous Challenges: 4

    The one constant throughout Kailah's four previous seasons is that she hasn't been very popular among her castmates. Which has landed her a string of mid-tier exits. That said, she's never afraid to buck whichever authority is in place on a given season, which is good news for viewers.

    Tori Deal

    Previous Challenges: 3

    This is only Tori's fourth Challenge, but she's already established herself as a solid veteran, mostly due to her excellent finishes and her recent engagement to Jordan, solidifying the game's biggest power couple. Jordan's the off-putting one, while Tori is the nice one, a dynamic that makes their social game fairly interesting.

    Rogan O'Connor

    Previous Challenges: 2

    Rogan rebounded from his episode 1 exit on "Vendettas" to cross the finish line with his first-place team last season (and as the only actual Brit on the British team to do so). Along the way he carried on a rather rocky romantic relationship with Dee, who is back this year, so expect more fireworks there. This season has also cast his two main rivals, Kyle and Bear, so there should be no shortage of Brit bro drama.

    Stephen Bear

    Previous Challenges: 2

    Having only appeared in two previous challenges, Bear has made the most of them, acting as a supreme agent of chaos in all facets of the game: competitions, voting, and hooking up. His chaotic main squeeze Georgia — the Harley Quinn to his Joker — isn't around this season, so he's going to have to find a new girl to lead around on a string; the trailer suggests that girl is Kailah.

    Dee Nguyen

    Previous Challenges: 2

    Dee established herself in her first season as a physically capable partner for Wes, and last year, after Wes got dumped early and Dee was often left adrift and bullied, she still managed to survive to the final challenge and win. We'll see if she enters this season with a bit more respect.

    Josh Martinez

    Previous Challenges: 2

    A Big Brother alum with a big frame and bigger feelings, Josh is a real enigma on The Challenge. He's managed to make some good friends and close allies — Nany, for one — but his willingness to mix it up with the alpha-est of alpha males constantly gets him put on the chopping block. Will he align with the four new Big Brother alums, or has he fully crossed over into being a Challenge vet now?

    Melissa Reeves

    Previous Challenges: 2

    Melissa's two previous Challenges have been heavy on the girl-on-girl drama and light on any kind of progress past the first few weeks. Is she just canon fodder for these formidable veterans, or might she surprise us?

    Jennifer West

    Previous Challenges: 1

    We didn't get a ton of Jen's personality on her debut season last year. All we knew was that she was a physical force to be reckoned with. That ought to give her a great chance to earn her way into the finals this year.

    Mattie Lynn Breaux

    Previous Challenges: 1

    Mattie partnered with Kyle on the first "War of the Worlds," and though Kyle was a frequent target, she stood by him, and they managed to make it pretty far. The Party Down South was a good, low-drama competitor her first time around, which can be a double-edged sword on this show where drama equals popularity.

    Tula “Big T” Fazakerley

    Previous Challenges: 1

    Big T only lasted two episodes on "War of the Worlds 2," so we really haven't seen all that she can do. In a season with some serious veterans — and a block of newbies who will probably stick together — she may be in trouble.

    Kaycee Clark

    Previous Reality Series: Big Brother

    Of all the newbies, Kaycee is the one who's tasted victory, winning 2018's Big Brother 20 and its $500,000 grand prize. On her season, she was aligned against the three other BB20 alums joining her this season, though there wasn't much on-air animosity for her. Kaycee's athletic ability could be what helps her survive "Total Madness."

    Bayleigh Dayton

    Previous Reality Series: Big Brother

    Bayleigh went through a LOT on BB20, and not just the usual strategic misfires and screaming matches with rival players, though both of those things definitely happened. She also started a relationship with Swaggy C and actually ended up pregnant, only to miscarry at Jury House. Swaggy proposed at the finale, and they enter "Total Madness" as a couple, which could lead to them being early targets.

    Christopher Jordan "Swaggy C" Williams

    Previous Reality Series: Big Brother

    Swaggy's extreme confidence but so-so skills at judging people made him an early BB20 exit. But he walked out of the show with a fiancé, so maybe that's not so bad. He's going to have to deal with some serious testosterone among the male veterans, and Swaggy is not some meathead, so it remains to be seen how he'll fare.

    Faysal Shawn "Fessy" Shafaat

    Previous Reality Series: Big Brother

    The problem with the BB20 alums who were cast on "Total Madness" is that, with the exception of Kaycee, they were all VERY bad at strategy, with Fessy perhaps the worst offender. It's veasy to see him getting bounced early.

    Jay Starrett

    Previous Reality Series: Survivor

    Jay marks the first time a Survivor alum has entered the Challenge sphere, although he does have some connections, as his ex-girlfriend Morgan (as chronicled on Ex on the Beach) is reportedly now dating Johnny Bananas. This could make him a natural early target or perhaps a natural ally for someone like Wes looking to take Johnny out. Jay's time on Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen-X was well spent: he made big strategic moves, made great social connections, and enjoyed the experience in a way that felt genuinely infectious. He's a fun-loving free spirit who is maybe too pure for something as ugly as The Challenge, but we'll see.

    Asaf Goren

    Previous Reality Series: So You Think You Can Dance; Are You the One?

    Asaf was fairly notorious on his season of So You Think You Can Dance for advancing despite being a markedly worse dancer than his fellow competitors. He went on to compete on the fourth season of Are You the One?, alongside Tori Deal, so that may be an "in" for him, alliance-wise.

    Jennifer Lee

    Previous Reality Series: The Amazing Race

    Jennifer didn't last very long on The Amazing Race, getting eliminated first in Season 29. Without much in the way of natural allies, it's hard to imagine her having much of a chance on "Total Madness" either.

    The Challenge: Total Madness premieres Wednesday April 1 at 8:00 PM ET on MTV

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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, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: The Challenge, MTV, Reality TV