The Challenge has featured hundreds of competitors since its inception in 1998. One of its main draws is it features recurring cast members growing up together in a real-life soap opera. It’s rewarding to watch young bucks like Chris “CT” Tamburello and Derrick Kosinski change and mature over time.
But what about the flash in the pan competitors? Some competitors are too entertaining, too athletic, and way too fun to just disappear after one season. In this feature I’m counting down my favorite one-and-done competitors featured on The Challenge. For purposes of historic diversity, I limited myself to choosing only two competitors per season, one man and one woman (it still bums me out to leave Kelly Limp off the list). I gave preference to competitors who lasted through to the final, showed a strong desire to win, had a personality, and otherwise stood out from the pack in some meaningful way. It’s been difficult cutting out competitors like Heather B. Gardner, Mitch Reid, Brittini Sherrod, and Antoine de Bouverie, but I’m happy with my picks. We should have had more time with all of them.
Note: This list originally featured Teck Holmes, but he’s since been featured on The Challenge: All Stars. Adam Kuhn, welcome to the list!
10. Adam Kuhn (Battle of the Exes II, 2015)
Does anyone else remember Adam? Alongside his partner/ex-girlfriend Brittany Baldassari he won three eliminations on Battle of the Exes II before getting sent to Exile (where Johnny “Bananas” Devenanzio eliminated him for good). Adam looks like Superman, but he doesn’t act at all like a shy Clark Kent. During his time on Battle of the Exes II he performed a stripping routine, flipped Brittany upside down for a 69 style dance move, and overall gave off the stench of a type-A asshole. And that’s great. He could easily fill a Wes Bergmann type role, being the obnoxious young gun that brags about his good looks and penchant for winning. Apparently, Adam’s been spending time in Thailand doing some sort of fighting, and he looks lean and mean. Let’s get him back on TV so he can fight for a million bucks.
09. Ellen Cho (Battle of the Sexes, 2003)
I’m tired of fake drama and Twitter battles. Ellen brought none of that back in the early 2000s. In episode one of Battle of the Sexes she said “fuck you guys” to the inner circle and she later told David “Puck” Rainey his televised wedding was “just for show” and called him immature. Ellen never shied away from a fight. She also clawed her way into the inner circle and finished the season second in points behind superwoman Ruthie Alcaide. Ellen’s aggressive cheerleader personality sometimes rubbed people wrong, but she tried to act in her team’s best interest, even when her actions made waves. She’s a tough competitor, and I bet no one else in history has told Coral Smith “kiss my baby ass.” Puck told Ellen he would kick her ass, and Ellen told Coral to kiss hers. That’s legend status.
08. Johnnie McBride (Fresh Meat, 2006)
Johnnie only made if halfway through Fresh Meat with his partner Tonya Cooley. He wasn’t the best partner to Tonya, shouting at her in frustration when she struggled or moved too slowly during challenges. So why is he on this list? For one thing, the guy is an investment banker, so he’s already much smarter than the average competitor. More importantly, it’s a shame the Fresh Meat eliminations didn’t feature physical eliminations like x-battle, because I think Johnnie would dominate his opponents in a fight. While other competitors crawled along a rope suspended high over water, Johnnie swung using only arm strength. I don’t know if Johnnie could match the physical prowess of someone like Alton Williams, but I would have liked to see him try.
07. Heather Cooke (Rivals II, 2013)
Less than two percent of NCAA student-athletes become professional athletes. Heather – a professional soccer player – is part of that two percent. Cooke is a beast, and she probably hates losing more than she loves winning. Unfortunately for her, she and her replacement partner Cara Maria Sorbello only managed a second place finish on Rivals II. Cooke pushed Cara Maria throughout the season, and she didn’t take shit from vets. She actually had an argument with Diem Brown, which doesn’t seem like a great look, but it’s always cool to see someone (especially a rookie) unafraid of taking on a Challenge darling. Cooke is an intimating force, and it’s embarrassing to find out MTV only used her as an alternative on All-Stars.
06. Michael Ross (Rivals, 2011)
Look at that great photo of Mike Mike. He’s pissed off because the other guys in his room keep chucking cookies at him. We don’t see many folks like Mike on The Challenge, at least not anymore. He’s a big brain, and he looks more like a MTV viewer than a MTV reality star. But despite that, the guy always put in an honest effort during competitions, and he and his partner Leroy Garrett were one of the more competent teams of the season (they never fell to last place and thus didn’t see an elimination). The rookie team made it all the way to the final, though they didn’t come close to winning. Mike represents a time when The Challenge still held onto its goofiness, and he would have fit on the show much better back in the early days when it was all about the big team format and carnival games.
05. Svetlana Shusterman (The Duel, 2007)
Svetlana is the unicorn of The Challenge. The producers keep inviting her back, and she keeps refusing. I can see why she’s in high demand. She’s a bombshell, she provides the drama of a real housewife, and she’s much tougher than she looks. Svetlana latched onto Wes on The Duel, and their outnumbered alliance picked apart veteran players until both she and Wes made it to the final. Along the way she eliminated the legendary villain Beth Stolarczyk (albeit on a technicality), and she pushed Kina Dean over in an impressive elimination win. In Svetlana’s words, she “took that bitch for a ride.” Svetlana reminds me a bit of Jenna Compono. They’re both east coast girly girls who are extremely loyal to their friends/boyfriends and kick ass when they have to.
04. Noor Jehangir (Fresh Meat II, 2010)
Similar to Heather Cooke, Noor is one of the most athletic competitors the show has ever seen. Go back and watch him complete the 40-yard dash during the Fresh Meat II combine to witness an athlete in his element. His time of 4.84 seconds is comparable to an NFL defensive end (and Noor tackles like one). He wisely left the politics to his well-connected partner Jenn Grijalva and filled the role a college party boy. Apparently the show’s producers did not appreciate some of Noor’s antics, which included speaking directly to the camera outside of confessionals, which is a big no-no in reality TV. He also had some asthma issues, which never helps when running a final in high elevation. Regardless, Noor is abnormally fit, and he could have filled the role that champion Landon Lueck vacated.
03. Holly Brenston (Battle of the Seasons, 2002)
We have not had many competitors like Holly. She’s confident, strong, good looking, and unafraid of making enemies (even on her own team). She appeared on Battle of the Seasons alongside her awful husband Chadwick Pelletier who was voted out early by Dan Setzler in a great example of Challenge justice. Regardless of her husband’s exit, Holly persisted and formed a powerful duo with Theo Von. Holly’s attitude and religious fervor kept her isolated from other competitors, but you have to respect her competitive spirit. She refused to form a money pact with Coral for the final challenge, because she wanted to be 100% committed to winning it all. Holly reminds me of Susie Meister, except I believe Holly could have been better than Susie if she’d stuck around for more seasons.
02. Marlon Williams (Rivals II, 2013)
Let’s think about this. Marlon is a former Division I athlete, he participated in an epic hall brawl elimination versus Leroy Garrett and Ty Ruff, he put hands on CT in a swimming pool, he reached the final on his rookie season, he’s more fit today than he was in his Real World days (earning the nickname “Black Zeus”), and he’s bisexual, which creates vast hookup opportunities. So why are the show’s producers not tearing down his door to invite him back to The Challenge? I have no good answer. Marlon spent some time on Ex on the Beach, but really, who gives a shit about that show. MTV, please get your priorities in order and allow Black Zeus to fling lightning down on his enemies. I’d love to see him and Jordan Wiseley on the same season again.
01. Sarah Greyson (The Gauntlet, 2004)
Somehow when I first put this list together I forgot to include Sarah. I know, what a travesty. She’s the first contestant in MTV history to win an elimination. She’s the gauntlet queen, and against all odds she decimated the Real World team. It’s difficult enough to win one elimination – she singlehandedly won five in a row against both male and female challengers (which is unheard of nowadays). Best of all, she won the final challenge alongside the teammates that repeatedly sacrificed her to elimination. I’m actually glad that Sarah retired after one season. She suffered from nightmares after The Gauntlet due to the anxiety of the competition. And what else did she have to prove? She became the ultimate gladiator and won the final. There’s no better way to gracefully exit.