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More than 20 years after premiering on MTV, The Challenge is now in its 36th season and is a staple in the world of reality television. But what does it take to join the cast and compete on the show? A lot of rule-following. From everything challengers can't take into the house to the harsh fines for leaking spoilers, we broke down all of the rules The Challenge contestants have to follow, ahead.
Contestants can't bring prohibited items into the house.
Production provides a list of items that are considered contraband before filming starts. Radios, books, and televisions all make the list. Contestant Johnny "Bananas" Devenanzio told Us Weekly (opens in new tab) that people have been caught hiding contraband in protein containers, so all workout supplements must be factory-sealed.
Cell phones are strictly off-limits.
The Challenge doesn’t mess around with potential leaks from contestants, which is why sneaking in a cell phone is met with a $25,000 fine (opens in new tab). Yep, you read that right: $25,000!
Contestants are searched before entering the house.
Why? Past contestants snuck in phones. "They literally try to hide phones in everything," Julie Pizzi, president of entertainment and development for Bunim/Murray Productions, told E! News (opens in new tab). "Like, they'll cut the side of a jacket and put a phone in there. It's very funny."
Performance enhancers are confiscated too.
The show is a physical competition between athletes, so producers have to make sure no one gets an advantage over others. "We have to know what's in everything," Julie Pizzi told E! News. "So if they have protein pills, if we don't know what it is, we won't let them take it in the house. We basically take almost everything unless it's a very familiar brand."
Contestants don't always get a heads up before filming starts.
Sure, some know months in advance, but others don't get that luxury. "Some people get the call a week before. Some people will get the call while we're filming," contestant Chris "C.T." Tamburello told Rolling Stone (opens in new tab).
Contestants are filmed 24/7.
That means at the house, at the competition, you name it. How else would all the juicy drama get captured (opens in new tab) for the show?
Contestants don't have to cook their own food.
The show sometimes takes place in remote locations and, due to the secrecy of the competition, all of the cast's meals are covered by production. Season 36, for example, was catered by a local service (opens in new tab).
Contestants have to buy their own alcohol.
While food is taken care of, if they want to drink when they go out to the bar, they have to pick up their own tab (opens in new tab).
Contestants can only call home once a week...
So while contestants are allowed to communicate with their friends and family, they only get two 10-minute phone calls (opens in new tab) per week.
...But all phone calls are monitored.
Production screens all of the contestants' calls (opens in new tab) to ensure they aren't divulging any information about the competition.
Contestants have to be on location for months.
Contestants should expect to be away from home for anywhere from six to eight weeks (opens in new tab)—and that's all before they make it to the finals.
Contestants aren't allowed to leave 'The Challenge' house property.
While hanging in a mansion might sound fun, remember that there's no internet or television. "There's very little escape," C.T told Rolling Stone (opens in new tab).
Contestants have access to a gym at the house.
The top priority for most contestants is training for competitions, so there's always a gym at the house. "It just such a strong device for them to go and work out and to become physically fit so they can continue to compete and win," producer Dan Caster told E! News (opens in new tab).
Contestants have to travel to different locations every season.
From Mexico to Iceland, the show changes its location every season. Contestants who make it to the finals also travel to a new location every season.
Contestants get a cash prize if they win...
The size of the prize varies, but in recent years it's been in the $1 million range! Hence the reason everyone has their eye on the prize.
...But they *may* have to split the money with teammates.
Every season is different. Sometime there's one winner, other times there are two. In season 34 (opens in new tab), C.T., Dee Nguyen, Jordan Wiseley, and Rogan O'Connor split the prize money and each took home $250,000.
Contestants are paid per episode.
Whether they take home the prize money or not, the competitors are paid per episode for appearing on the reality show. If you're lucky enough to stick it out all season, you'll end up taking home more cash.
Not all contestants are paid equally.
It literally pays to be a fan-favorite on The Challenge. According to Us Weekly (opens in new tab), the "elite" veteran contestants can earn up to $80,000 just for showing up. Meanwhile, the less popular veterans bring in $3,000 to $5,000 per week and newcomers are paid around $1,000 per episode.
Contestants are sometimes rewarded for having long-standing rivalries.
Having a bitter rivalry with another vet gives you a better chance of returning for a future season. But don't for a second think those feuds are fake—according to Johnny Bananas (opens in new tab), they're 100 percent real.
Alcohol is limited on set.
Drinking is more controlled on The Challenge than you'd expect. Not only are the contestants only allowed beer, wine, and vodka, the producers dye all of the clear liquor blue (opens in new tab) so that contestants can't sneak it into water bottles.
Contestants can't show up to a competition drunk.
The producers have set up fines and penalties for anyone who does so. "You’ll probably get kicked off the show because that's a liability. We do these crazy stunts where we're hanging above a tall building on harnesses. You can't be doing that if you're drunk," C.T. told Rolling Stone (opens in new tab). Fair.
Contestants used to have to be MTV alums...
The Challenge was a spinoff of The Real World and Road Rules. In order to compete on the show, you had to appear on at least one season of either of those franchises—but that's no longer the case.
...But MTV made an exception in 2006.
Season 12 was Real World/Road Rules Challenge: Fresh Meat—a.k.a. a season that allowed unknown competitors to compete alongside MTV vets for the first time ever. Today, MTV recruits from other reality shows, like Vanderpump Rules and The Bachelor.
Contestants have to take challenges seriously if they want to win.
With $1 million on the line, most people take the competition seriously. But Johnny Bananas told Us Weekly (opens in new tab) it's easy to spot those who are serious about the competition from those who "are there strictly for camera time."
Contestants aren't told about daily competitions ahead of time.
That means there's no real way to prepare because you might be tested on your endurance, strength, or intelligence on any given day. "You know it's going to be long and grueling, but you don't know what it's going to be and you have minutes to try and figure it out," contestant Derrick Kosinski told Us Weekly (opens in new tab).
Contestants know that security is always on standby.
Due to the tension between contestants and the high pressure environment, production doesn't mess around with physical altercations. The show always has security around (opens in new tab) and ready to intervene if things get out of control.
Contestants are removed from the house after a physical altercation.
When production has to intervene, it typically means removing the instigator from the house for a night. "These kids now run around all night, chasing each other with knives, throwing stuff over balconies, falling through glass windows…They just get a slap on the wrist and a night in a hotel room," C.T. told Rolling Stone, "They come back in the morning. They used to carry me out of there like I was Hannibal Lecter."
Contestants have to be up for anything.
After 36 seasons, producers still come up with challenges that push the contestants to their limits. "I got my a** handed to me by a bunch of NFL football players last week. I was in a haunted house. I didn't believe in ghosts before going in. I most certainly do now," Johnny Bananas told PopSugar.
Contestants have to treat the show lilke a full-time job.
Well, if they want to become an elite veteran, that is. Personalities like C.T. and Johnny Bananas have turned their time on The Challenge into successful careers (opens in new tab).
Contestants are fined for leaking information.
Production takes spoilers and leaks very seriously. "The cast understands that [leaking spoilers] only hurts them because if the ratings go down, the show potentially won't come back," co-creator Jonathan Murray told Rolling Stone (opens in new tab). "But we do have fines and penalties that come into effect if they release information. And we have serious talks about it."
Contestants can be banned from the show.
There's a line when it comes to poor behavior—even for MTV. Contestants have been banned from the show, including Camila "Camilanator" Nakagawa, who appeared on the show 13 times (three of which she won), but was banned, according to fellow contestant Jemmye Carroll (opens in new tab), after too many drunken incidents.
Contestants were allowed to film during COVID-19.
Production figured out a way to film the show during a pandemic. The cast and crew succeeded in safely taping the show—with a few extra rules and guidelines, of course.
Contestants had to quarantine before season 36.
Production required the cast and crew to quarantine and receive a negative COVID-19 test before entering the house. "For everybody [in the cast], it was about getting [their] head wrapped around [the new] steps that would get us to the show, and then once they were in the house they could proceed as normal," showrunner Emer Harkin told Variety (opens in new tab).
Contestants had to get a COVID-19 test every three days.
Production developed a tier system, which kept the cast completely separate from the larger crew. Additionally, the entire international cast and crew was tested every three days—totaling 3,000 tests throughout (opens in new tab) filming.
Contestants couldn't leave the bubble.
Once cast members entered the Challenge bubble they weren't allowed to do anything that could possibly expose them to the virus—which clearly worked, since the show didn't have a single positive test during the nine weeks of filming. Instead of spending a night at the bar, as per a typical season, the contestants escaped to a custom built "nightclub" that was separate from the house.
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