The Challenge Hall of Fame · TV

The Challenge Hall of Fame: Laurel Stucky

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.

Laurel Stucky is the Wonder Woman of The Challenge. She’s imposing, elegant in appearance, and she easily pushes around most other competitors. For a long time she remained undefeated in eliminations (her current record is 9-2), and she holds the record for most consecutive elimination victories by a woman. Laurel is the last person anyone wants to face one-on-one.

Despite her impressive ability to remain in the game – reaching three final challenges in a row – Laurel’s only win is Free Agents. That’s understandable, considering the obstacles in her way during those first three seasons. On Fresh Meat II Landon Lueck became an unstoppable force during the final, Laurel’s team imploded on Cutthroat, and the Rivals winners were Evelyn Smith and Paula Meronek, one of the better duos in the show’s history.

All of those second place finishes prepared Laurel for Free Agents. She defeated Aneesa Ferreira in a straight-up physical elimination, won the last puzzle elimination, and ran the politics of the house with Jordan Wiseley. It’s fitting, considering Laurel and Jordan are so much alike. They’re both dominating players who don’t hold their tongues. They believe in playing a straight up game and are quick to call people out, including and especially people on their own teams. During the Free Agents season Laurel learned that Theresa Gonzalez tricked other competitors into an elimination vote (while keeping the blood off her own hands), so Laurel adjusted her game to target Theresa. She can be arrogant and even mean spirited, but Laurel doesn’t tolerate snakes.

Laurel’s long anticipated return on Invasion of the Champions showed she still had a robot-like drive to destroy anything in her way. Then Camila Nakagawa shocked everyone by sending Laurel home in the final elimination, a rope tangling contest that involved strategy and stamina. It’s a well-deserved win for Camilla. Conversely, Laurel’s exit from War of the Worlds 2 is shameful. The controversial elimination ended with “Ninja” Natalie Duran winning even though T. J. Lavin had already sounded the airhorn. I’m not trying to take anything away from Ninja, but the producers should have reset the game to allow a fair conclusion. The competitors and the viewers deserve better.

Though she hasn’t seen much recent success, it’s always safe to bet on Laurel. Odds are good she’ll win her eliminations and verbally decimate those who oppose her. She’s great TV, and she’s possibly the one female competitor I’m most excited to see on the cast list when a new season is announced.

The Challenge Hall of Fame · TV

The Challenge Hall of Fame: Chris “CT” Tamburello

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.

CT must be the most dynamic player in the history of The Challenge. He’s grown from being a physically fit hothead with no political prowess to a manipulator with puzzle skills, and now he’s a rotund veteran who regularly destroys younger competitors in both physical and mental competitions. It’s simply amazing that CT had trouble winning early seasons of the show due to anger issues (and weak teammates), but now that winning is extremely difficult, he achieves victories due to his freakish physical abilities and keen mind.

There are so many powerhouse CT moments that can be highlighted, so I’ll mention a few. First there’s the classic Bananas backpack moment on Cutthroat, when CT stomped like a Transformer with a helpless Bananas hanging on his back. He choo-choo’d through both Bananas and Tyler Duckworth on Rivals, sending them flying through the air with one charging blow. There’s also the wrecking wall elimination on Free Agents, when he punched through drywall so quickly that slow motion is required to fully appreciate his win over Leroy. But my favorite has to be the “flying leap” daily challenge on The Duel, which featured two platforms raised over water and separated by a considerable gap. Other competitors leapt forward and sprawled out on their chests, like baseball players diving for home. CT, and CT alone, hopped across the platforms as easily as a kid playing hopscotch, landing on both feet. Go back and watch that episode.

I won’t make a list of CT’s puzzle achievements, but suffice to say CT crushed every puzzle put before him on the most recent season, Double Agents. The producers tried to give other teams a chance to catch up to CT and Amber Borzotra, but those teams never stood a chance. Also, let’s not forget the guy dominates eating challenges, whether it’s drinking down fish soup or chugging blood like a parched Viking (see photo above).

There’s so much more about CT I could mention. His relationship with Diem Brown, specifically on The Duel, is reality TV gold. He’s a proud papa now and has the bod to prove it. But let’s wrap this up. As of now he’s tied for most final challenge appearances alongside Johnny “Bananas” Devenanzio and Cara Maria Sorbello, and given the choice, I’d rather watch CT’s story continue than either of those two. Back in 2016 I wrote, “Love him or hate him, CT is The Challenge.” I stand by that statement.

The Challenge Hall of Fame · TV

The Challenge Hall of Fame: Ashley Mitchell

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.

Back in 2016 Paula Meronek and Sarah Rice were the only two women to ever win two seasons of The Challenge. Since then, winning The Challenge has become increasingly difficult. So, it’s amazing that undersized, unassuming Ashley Mitchell is the third female two-time champion (and the richest by far).

Ashley is a volatile competitor, either winning big or flaming out in dramatic fashion. Her elimination record of 3-3 reflects that perfectly. She shocked Camila Nakagawa by beating her on Invasion of the Champions. She walked off Dirty 30 after the airline lost her luggage. She won Final Reckoning and stole Hunter Barfield’s money to become the first millionaire winner. Most recently, she lost in a Total Madness elimination after being called out as a snake.

I don’t think of Ashley as a snake. She’s more of a chameleon. When surrounded by her friends on Final Reckoning she immediately assumed the leadership role (despite joining the competition late), staying clear of late game eliminations before playing a cutthroat game in the final. On War of the Worlds 2 she recognized her weak position and aligned herself with the dominant alliance. She played the role of loyal follower and almost pulled off another win using a smart strategy.

Ashley is a political powerhouse. She can be a figurehead or an afterthought, whichever suits her. She’s also smarter than most competitors, solving puzzles with time to spare. And when it’s time to run a final, she has a winner’s mentality. During one final Ashley damn near killed Hunter by helping him fall off a helicopter ladder, and during another final she berated Cara Maria Sorbello for crying while trying to eat a worm. When money is on the line, Ashely has no sympathy.

It would be remiss of me to not also mention that Ashley “Millionaire” Mitchell is downright entertaining. She hooks up, she steals money, she’s loud, she’s funny, and she sums herself up best with a quote from the Total Madness reunion: “Some people like to make a storyline before they walk in the door, and honey, I am a storyline. I don’t need to make one up.”

The Challenge Hall of Fame · TV

The Challenge Hall of Fame: Darrell Taylor

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.

Darrell Taylor is the OG Challenge champion. He’s the only player in the history of the show to win four seasons in a row, and longtime viewers still show him his due respect. Darrell is also a Golden Gloves champion (more on that in a bit) and is more fit at 40-years-old than many of the individuals chasing a challenge championship today.

The two qualities that propelled Darrell to his four championships are endurance and his ability to fly under the radar politically. Darrell is a competent competitor, but he’s never dominated a season (like Mike “The Miz” Mizanin or Landon Lueck), so he’s often able to slide to a final without making himself a target. That may not sound too impressive, but remaining out of elimination is most definitely an admirable skill. And when Darrell does find himself in a final, he pushes his team to win because he knows second place doesn’t count for anything. Darrell should have won five finals in a row, but when confronted by a drunk Brad Fiorenza on The Ruins, Darrell put his boxing training to use by beating the hell out of Brad. Production kicked them both off the show and Darrell lost his chance at an easy victory.

After The Ruins, the secret on Darrell was out. Wes and Kenny booted him off Fresh Meat II in the first elimination, and Cory Wharton purged him from Dirty 30 right when the game started. Darrell came close to a final again with Invasion of the Champions when he manhandled Zach Nichols and eliminated Johnny “Bananas” Devenanzio, but Chris “CT” Tamburello got the better of him in the final elimination.

There’s no way Darrell will ever catch up to Bananas’s seven championships (I wish he had the chance, but the casting department ignores too many old timers). If we’re fortunate, we’ll see Darrell kick ass in a final one last time. During Invasion of the Champions TJ Lavin asked Darrell about his motivation. Some people would say they’re fighting for their family or trying hard to be the best. Darrell said, “I’m here to win the money… ’cause I like winning money.” Did I also mention the dude is funny?

The Challenge Hall of Fame · TV

The Challenge Hall of Fame: Rachel Robinson

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.

I’m somewhat surprised by Rachel Robinson’s Challenge resume, because on paper her dominance isn’t well documented. She has a 1-2 elimination record (counting a three-way “face-off” on The Island), and she found herself voted off early in both Battle of the Sexes seasons. Most competitors had an easier time winning on earlier seasons that featured teams. Rachel, meanwhile, seemed to be waiting for an opportunity to go solo and win it all herself.

Before moving onto her best season, Rachel became infamous for her relationship with Veronica Portilla, her best buddy and threesome partner. The two formed a strong bond, so it’s no surprise they won The Gauntlet together and made it to The Inferno II final. I wouldn’t say Rachel ever had the best political skills, but befriending someone like Veronica – a friend you can trust wholeheartedly – is a somewhat rare feat on The Challenge.

Forget about that Gauntlet win though. Rachel earns her place in the Hall of Fame based on The Duel II alone. Landon Lueck’s performance on The Duel II is often referenced, but people seem to forget Rachel’s superiority during the same season. Rachel and Mark “The Godfather” Long earned first or second place in almost all of the daily challenges, and no one dared to call Rachel out to battle in an elimination. Unlike other competitors who were carried by their male partners, Rachel was arguably a stronger partner than The Godfather. Not only did she win first place amongst her female competition during the final challenge, she beat every male competitor. No one expected that to happen.

Rachel didn’t come close to the final on her last season, Battle of the Exes, but with a partner like Aneesa Ferreira, you can’t expect too much. It’s unfortunate that Rachel didn’t compete in another solo season, because I would have liked to see her in a physical elimination against a top tier competitor like Laurel Stucky or Evelyn Smith. Even after seven seasons we didn’t get enough footage of Rachel showing us exactly why phrases like “send the girls home early ‘cause they’ll hold us back in the final” are complete bullshit.

The Challenge Hall of Fame · TV

The Challenge Hall of Fame: Dan Setzler

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.

The Challenge Hall of Fame · TV

The Challenge Hall of Fame: Emily Schromm

The Challenge HOF- Emily Schromm

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.

Emily Schromm is a physical specimen. Most competitors participate in some kind of physical training before and during The Challenge, but fitness is Emily’s life. She grew up an athlete, and over the years she has only increased in strength and endurance. Aneesa Ferreira is built for eliminations, Paula Meronek is built for finals, and Emily is built for anything.

Emily defied expectations during her debut on Cutthroat, surviving the destruction of her team until only she and Jenn Grijalva were left to run the final. Unfortunately Emily didn’t win her rookie season, and she didn’t win Battle of the Exes with her partner Ty Ruff. But along the way Emily destroyed Paula twice in eliminations, and she treated Cara Maria like a ragdoll in X-Battle, winning one of their rounds in a matter of seconds.

Paula shouted with joy when she found out she had been paired with Emily for Rivals II, but both competitors were lucky to be bound together. The pair won more than half of the season’s challenges, avoiding elimination completely and winning the final. All told, Emily has been in five eliminations and won five times. She may lack the impressive puzzle solving skills of, say, a Sarah Rice, but Emily can easily outperform just about anybody she faces off against (male or female). Emily also won a season of Champs vs. Stars, but I’m hoping she returns to the main Challenge for one more season. She’s already proven herself time and again, so at this point she’d only be strengthening her own legend.

The Challenge Hall of Fame · TV

The Challenge Hall of Fame: Johnny “Bananas” Devenanzio

The Challenge HOF: Johnny Bananas

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.

If you watched The Duel, the first Challenge season Johnny Bananas took part in, you might have guessed he was a one-and-done type of competitor. His Real World roommate Tyler pulled him into the initial elimination and sent young Johnny packing. There’s no shame in a rookie being sent home early their first go-round, but Johnny must have found the defeat motivating, because he performed well on his next Challenge, and he clawed his way to the top a couple seasons later on The Island.

My how far we’ve come. Johnny has competed in over a dozen seasons, he’s won six times (additionally he won a season of the spin-off Champs vs. Stars), and he’s earned almost $700,000. Johnny has lost more elimination rounds than he’s won, but when he makes it to a final, the odds are he’s taking home the gold. Also, two of the elimination rounds he’s won have been against CT. No one else can say he’s eliminated CT twice.

The key to Johnny’s success is his ability to “stir the pot” and draw viewers in with his personality and in-game moves. There’s a reason MTV keeps inviting this guy back: he makes for good TV. What’s most surprising is Johnny’s ability to win even after everyone in the house is well aware that he’s the guy to beat, that he’s the guy you don’t want to see in a final. Johnny plays the political game well, and his elevated status as the all-time champ makes others hesitate to rise up against him. Jordan Wiseley created an uprising against the champ on Free Agents, challenging Johnny to an elimination battle, after which Jordan found himself on the next plane home.

Though he’s hit a bit of a losing streak recently (some say he’s cursed because he took Sarah’s half of the money on Rivals III), it wouldn’t be safe to bet against the Banana man winning again.