To succeed on The Challenge a competitor must be smart, strong, politically savvy, or at the very least, lucky. Most competitors are average talents, and an unfortunate few perform poorly enough to earn a dubious honor (enter the Hall of Shame). But these competitors, the Hall of Fame class, have conquered The Challenge in one form or another, and they all share the most important quality: they know how to win.
Dan Setzler is perhaps the most unassuming leader The Challenge has ever seen. He’s got a runner’s frame, he’s drama-free, and he’s never chased camera time. Even if he would be out of place with the current generation of challengers, people rallied around Dan, and for good reason.
Challenge 2000, Dan’s introduction to the series, didn’t feature any eliminations and felt more like a Road Rules season with the Real World and Road Rules teams competing out of their own RVs. Dan became the de facto head of the Road Rules team, and they trounced the Real World team throughout Challenge 2000 and won the final. It’s somewhat surprising that Dan even made it past elimination on his next season, Battle of the Seasons. His partner Tara McDaniel was an average if not below-average competitor in most regards, but Dan used positive encouragement to get the best performance out of her (similar to Landon Lueck’s treatment of Carley Johnson on Fresh Meat II). Dan’s best moment of the season came in an early episode when he stood against the dominant alliance and voted off Chadwick Pelletier. Chadwick instigated a voting system in which the top three teams eliminated any team threatening to break into the top three, and Dan used the same system against a bitter Chadwick. Poetic justice rarely pays off so well on The Challenge.
Dan’s last season, Battle of the Sexes II, is his most impressive. Dan outlasted legends like Abram Boise, Mike “The Miz” Mizanin, and Brad Fiorenza in a truly stacked cast of male challengers. Though the voting did come down to popularity and politics in some cases, Dan played a nearly flawless game, avoiding disqualifications and helping the men win just about every single daily challenge. During the final Dan took charge of the GPS and helped navigate his team to victory, leading from the front once again.
All told Dan competed in three seasons, won two, and never felt the sensation of leaving a game early. Dan’s role in Challenge history is mostly forgotten now, but it shouldn’t be. He represents a fun era of The Challenge, and he proved that good guys can finish first.