America's Fifth Sport is back!
The Challenge returns on Wednesday, December 9, with Double Agents. While wrestling fans are focused on the Wednesday Night Wars between AEW and NXT, The Challenge just casually dominates the 18-49 demo each and every week when new episodes air.
This season, former WWE superstar and current Independent wrestler Lio Rush joins the cast as a rookie.
As someone who has been begging Sean Ross Sapp and Jimmy Van to turn this site into Challengeful, I cannot express my excitement over The Challenge having a wrestling tie-in so I can write about this show and call it "work."
The Challenge is not only America's Fifth Sport, it's the greatest reality show known to man and more sports entertainment than any wrestling company could pretend to be. Long-term storytelling, swerves that rip at your heartstrings, mental and physical competitions, over the top characters. Eat your heart out, Tony and Vince.
Lio Rush might have been in WWE for three years. He may have traveled and wrestled all around the world. But he's never been in an environment like The Challenge.
Unquestionably, Lio Rush is athletically gifted. He's one of the most graceful performers to ever step foot in a wrestling ring. In an athletic competition, very few Challengers in the show's history can touch him.
The Challenge is not about athletic competitions. At least, not traditional athletic competitions.
Lio will have to do things like retrieve puzzle pieces in ice water and then have the mental capacity to put the puzzle together, get lubed up and jump across cars suspended 50 feet in the air, trust your partner to guide you while blindfolded across a small platform maze. The Challenge is a mix of athletic competition, puzzles, stunts and carnival games that test the all-around physical and mental fortitude of the Challengers. And trivia. There's always a trivia competition.
Size matters, too. Lio certainly won't be the biggest or strongest challenger on the season. If he gets caught in a Hall Brawl against the likes of CT or Darrell or Fessy, his size will be a disadvantage. On the flip side, being small will be an advantage in certain challenges if Challengers have to squeeze through small places. Lio also has good cardio, though wrestling cardio and Challenge cardio are two different worlds.
Being an elite athlete will certainly serve Lio well in many challenges, which does give him an advantage over a lot of rookies who come on the show. But anyone new to The Challenge who believes Lio will walk through the competition because of his athleticism will be in for a rude awakening.
You've read all the "LIO RUSH HAS HEAT IN WWE!" stories by now. He brought his wife backstage, he didn't carry water, he wanted more money, etc.... Lio has openly talked about those stories. How bad you believe they were or the justification of things is up to you.
Here's the thing about The Challenge; some of those same "unwritten rules" apply. Rookies are expected to respect the veterans. If they don't, the veterans will make their lives hell and they will be easy targets. Rookies are already easy targets because most of the time they enter the house with no allies -- unless Wes has slid in the DMs -- and veterans just tend to stick together, making rookies prove themselves in this environment.
Lio isn't a guy who is going to stay quiet and keep to himself. He's brash and confident. That's going to rub certain people the wrong way. Some will love it, seeing Lio as a good ally to have on their side, even if they're just using him as a shield.
As a rookie, Lio would be wise to lay low to start. Let his competition skill speak for itself rather than cause any waves early by getting into trouble in the house and being seen as an easy target.
Unless he's a late/secret addition, reigning champion and Challenge GOAT Johnny Bananas is not competing this season. That's the good news. The bad news is that legends Wes, Darrell, and CT are all in the game. They're older, but they know how the game is played and have a social game that can carry them through.
Leroy, Nelson, Cory, Kyle and Devin are veterans searching for their first win.
Jay and Fessy proved a lot in different ways in their first and only season last season.
Josh will cry a lot.
Meechie, Joseph, and Nam are fellow rookies. Nam is from Ultimate Beastmaster, so I'm just going to assume he's going to be looked at as a competitive threat.
As the format is unknown as of this writing, it's difficult for me to predict how the female side comes into play. There is a chance that Lio will be partnered with a female and the social aspect could certainly come into play when it comes to voting. There are plenty of veterans this season and infiltrating the core group is always a challenge unless you go the hook-up route, which can be ruled out with Lio given that he's married.
I'm going into this show blind. I never read spoilers or watch previews because I don't want to know anything. The title is Double Agents, which makes me believe a select group of people will be actively trying to sabotage the game. The format also changes from season to season when it comes to things like voting process and qualifying.
Winning The Challenge requires skill and personality, but it also requires a lot of luck as well. The format has to do with luck and The Challenge Gods can intervene at any time.
It's tough for rookies. The best rookies in recent challenge seasons have either been carried by a hook-up partner or remained silent and flown under the radar. One is off the table, the other seems fairly unlikely given Lio's personality.
Where does that leave him?
He should perform well in challenges. That's either going to make him a target or make him a strong ally for someone. My guess is that if he can play a strong enough social game, it'll make him more of an ally. But if he doesn't shake hands with Wes, CT, and Darrell upon entering the house, he could be in some serious trouble.
Fightful will have a recap of Lio's gameplay on The Challenge each Thursday during his time on the show.