[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for The Challenge: USA series premiere.]
If you’ve watched at least one episode of The Challenge since it premiered in 1998, you probably have a good idea of the format: daily challenges, house drama, and an elimination. While The Challenge: USA brings in players new to the franchise — from CBS’ The Amazing Race, Big Brother, Love Island, and Survivor — that remains the same.
From the moment the 28 players arrive, we hear about the drama from their past shows (Cashay and Cinco on Love Island, betrayals on Big Brother), player advantages (dealing with the elements on Survivor, strategy and gameplay on Big Brother, building relationships on Love Island), cast disadvantages (only three from The Amazing Race), wins already under their belts (Tyson on Survivor), and who’s a fan of The Challenge (Cayla from The Amazing Race, Kyland from Big Brother). But while they’ve all played games before, as host TJ Lavin notes, this is much harder.
The format is the same, and even the new rule fits right in with what fans know of the franchise and TJ’s finals: in order to qualify to compete for that $500,000 grand prize (and then a spot in the international global championship tournament), players must have $5,000 in their personal Challenge accounts. (There have been seasons where players have had to win an elimination in order to qualify.) Everyone starts with $1,000, and in order to earn more, they must win a challenge or an elimination.
The first daily challenge sees them competing in pairs in Down to Do the Math, in which, while rappelling down a 22-story building, they must do math equations based on an assigned color. They have three chances of guessing the correct answer, and if they don’t, they have to run up the stairs to start at the top and do it again. The winning pair is safe from elimination and each receives $5,000 for their accounts. The losers go straight into the arena for elimination, against the team of the winners’ choosing. While it’s easy to figure out who loses — Big Brother‘s Azah and Kyland are the only ones who must run to the top — the top three teams are separated by only 17 seconds: Survivor‘s Danny and Shan (his wife told him not to partner with her!), Tyson and Big Brother‘s Angela, and Survivor‘s Desi and Cinco.
Tyson and Angela are the winners, and the others immediately figure that it’s too soon to ruffle feathers by choosing someone from their shows, so they’ll choose The Amazing Race or Love Island players. James and Shannon are the only duo from both, Shannon has come across as the one who least wants to be there, and both Azah and Kyland name them when Tyson and Angela ask who they want to go against, so they seem like a sure bet. However, Shannon insists she’s changed her attitude and James uses his knowledge of reality TV to work the system. And so when it’s time for the elimination, Love Island‘s Cely and Javonny are blindsided when Tyson and Angela send them in.
The elimination itself is one that fans of The Challenge will recognize: Knot So Fast. Each team must knot 250 feet of rope in, out, and around a pyramid, making it as hard as they can for the other one to unravel. The first to unravel their opponents’ rope and place it in the circle wins the elimination — and the others’ challenge accounts. The losers go home empty-handed. Despite Cely’s determination to show that people shouldn’t mess with Love Island, she and Javonny are eliminated. Azah and Kyland now each have $2,000.
But before the premiere ends, TJ has a twist to unveil: the algorithm that will randomly select their new teammates after every elimination. That means that Tyson has to kiss his plan to keep working with Angela goodbye.
So all in all, the series is about what you’d expect from a Challenge, minus any familiar MTV faces competing (which, granted, is part of the fun of the franchise). The premiere did leave us wondering how the personal accounts will factor in once the players are in the final. Will only the winners keep what they’ve banked? Or will those who come in second and third as well? Let us know what you thought of the premiere in the poll below.
The Challenge: USA, Wednesdays, 9/8c, CBS