‘The Challenge’ Showrunner Responds to Fans’ Concerns About Franchise’s Direction

03/06/2024 10:46 pm EST

Another season of MTV's long-standing reality series, The Challenge, has come to an end. The Challenge has changed significantly since it first premiered in 1998 and featured Real World and Road Rules contestants hoping to win various prizes. The most recent season, subtitled Battle for a New Champion, didn't feature a single Real World or Road Rules alum as a contender and saw contestants from all around the world competing for a hefty chunk of change. With decades passed since the show first premiered, the tone of the series has, naturally, shifted. In recent seasons, fans have noted how competition-focused the show has become, much to the detriment of the dramatic overtones that longtime viewers have historically gravitated towards. Considering fans' concerns about this direction, PopCulture.com got the chance to ask The Challenge's showrunner Emer Harkin about this very topic, and they shared their take on what the series will deliver next. 

One of the biggest complaints from fans has been that The Challenge doesn't seem to be as fun or filled with drama as it has been in the past. While, of course, the show does highlight some of the more dramatic moments between cast members at times, viewers have also been treated to longer missions and even lengthier strategy talks. When asked about this significant tone shift, Harkin expressed that it comes down to the production team trying to "diversify" the different Challenge projects on at the moment, particularly the MTV flagship and the All Stars spinoff. She went on to say that they are attempting to "evolve" and follow what the "cast" and "audience" want.

"The cast has just naturally become... They really are professional athletes. You look at any of our big stars, they train, they are built, they are committed, they are absolutely competition-focused," Harkin said. "We've had Olympians on the show who really were like, 'Oh my God, these guys really are another level.' And so we're just evolving naturally as the show and the cast has. I think that if you look back on The Challenge over the years, there is just a constant moving with the times, and things ebb and flow. We would've had more fun and zany and the surreal, almost comical games way back when. And things have skewed into big stunts and big rigs and just something of a bigger high production value."

This comment sparked a discussion of whether it was actually the cast that has been pushing forward the "competition-focused" vibe or if they're simply trying to keep up with the show's production. Harkin said that it's "such a symbiotic relationship," adding, "It is a chicken and the egg thing, but I do know that we have one of the most passionate cast groups of any franchise on the planet. And I really think that they take our show seriously and they want to be the best and they want to be the most authentic winner, and they want to be the most true. They want to have battled through 19 episodes and be a worthy winner that can stand up and say, 'I won The Challenge.'"

While this seems to be the place that the flagship franchise is in today, Harkin did say that there's no telling whether it will always be this way. She said, "Our franchise evolves and it will continue to. And so who knows, maybe The Challenge [flagship], it'll become lighter and more frothy and frivolous and All Stars will suddenly become the heavy hitter. I can't really see that happening anytime soon, but stranger things have happened." 

Harkin made sure to stress that this is "just the phase" that the show is in "right now" and that it could change in the future, just as it has in the past. The producer continued, "I think The Challenge has shown us in 39 seasons that we have the ability to just be that chameleon and to just constantly change and adapt to the world and the broadcast climate. And so we're excited to see where the truck moves on to next."

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