It’s been long held by the Ringer staff that MTV’s The Challenge is America’s unofficial fifth sport, and finally that stance will be either confirmed or debunked. On Monday, the network announced a special event series spun off from The Challenge called Champs vs. Pros, which will pit winners of Challenge seasons past against elite athletes, from Olympian Lolo Jones to former pro wrestler and UFC fighter CM Punk to former NFL All-Pro linebacker Shawne Merriman. (The Challenge champions who are competing will be announced on May 9.) It’s an intriguing premise — imagine Kobe Bryant suiting up for an MLS game — with boundless potential in the deft hands of longtime Challenge producers Bunim/Murray. Will Johnny Bananas’s workout regimen prove to be stringent enough to compete with high-level athletes? Will the Challenge stars “show the athletes how to party,” when actually they’re “getting them so hungover they won’t be able to compete”? Champs vs. Pros could go a million ways. We at The Ringer have a few specific fantasies, though.
Andrew Gruttadaro: Best-case scenario? Maybe we should first address that Champs vs. Pros is starting out as a WORST-case scenario because of this line from MTV’s announcement: “NFL star Victor Cruz will host the special six-week event, which premieres on Tuesday, May 16. Some salsa touchdown dances are in our future!” First of all: no, no, no to that last sentence. But more importantly, how is it possible that a season of The Challenge (even a mini-spinoff such as this) is not going to be hosted by T.J. Lavin? That is heresy. Who’s going to shame professional surfer Tia Blanco when she refuses to plummet 300 feet into a dark cave?! So, very simply, my best-case scenario is that in the third episode, T.J. interrupts an elimination showdown to challenge Victor Cruz to a host-off. Cruz accepts, but after hearing Miller’s perfect elocution of the phrase “You killed it,” he forfeits. Then T.J. mercilessly shames him for quitting and says, “Hosting The Challenge isn’t like making a soup commercial, bro. You gotta want it.”
Sean Yoo: It’s safe to say this six-week special event will be amazing television. The one thing I ask for — the thing that will make this the greatest event in television history — is that producers bring back Mike “The Miz” Mizanin and allow him to go one-on-one with CM Punk. It’d essentially turn The Challenge into a better WrestleMania, which is the show’s ultimate destiny anyway.
Julie Kliegman: Once you embarrass yourself on international TV, there’s only one place left to go: MTV’s The Challenge. This side of an NBC reporter bringing a grieving Bode Miller to tears, the most heartbreaking moment I can vividly picture from recent Olympics history is Lolo Jones hitting the penultimate 100-meter hurdle in Beijing and finishing out of contention. Jones, who’s also a competitive bobsledder, is still shooting for an Olympic medal. That’s a noble goal and all, but a Challenge win against some marginally strong, definitely meatheaded men and women is the wiser route, and what I most want to see her pull off. Surely, Lolo Jones can redeem her 2008 slip-up and redefine her brand by debasing herself in horrifying eating competitions, drunken pool escapades, uninspired pranks, and, oh yeah, the occasional quasi-athletic feat of strength. It remains to be seen if Victor Cruz hates quitters as much as Teej does (or if that’s even possible), but rest assured, Lolo won’t quit — not before she proves herself in the most important and dignified sporting competition of all.
Jason Concepcion: One of the seminal trash television watches of the last decade (or so) was Pros vs. Joes, which pitted thoroughly washed and occasionally ruined former professional athletes against the workaday schmoes who never made the big show. It was hosted by Michael Strahan, before he made it as this generation’s Regis Philbin, and human thumb wearing a suit Jay Glazer, and it let you witness the sublime spectacle of a pre-obese Xavier McDaniel putting in work against a gym teacher; a broken-down and debauched Wade Boggs going yard on a construction worker; and similar sad displays of past-your-prime nostalgia porn involving the likes of Dave Winfield, Muggsy Bogues, Rik Smits, Will Clark, and many more. You get the picture.
My best-case scenario for this: Just make a new Pros vs. Joes. Don’t debauch The Challenge. Why are we giving CT, Johnny Bananas, Laurel, and crew even more incentive to slather parking-lot-bought cream and clear on themselves? I smell desperation.
Ben Glicksman: Upon seeing the news of this spinoff, my reaction was twofold: (1) How is MTV gonna do T.J. Lavin like that?, and (2) Oh my God, one of the Challenge contestants might die. Envision Wes taking on Shawne Merriman in a hall-brawl-style elimination. There are few ways that it could end well. But what if the opposite happens? What if Johnny Bananas, Cara Maria, and Co. defend their turf and improbably dominate the pros? What if in addition to providing a variety of tropical locations for Tony to have sex in and facilitate the occasional popped breast implant, The Challenge has been a display of world-class athleticism all this time?
Here’s the best-case scenario: Camila outruns and outjumps Lolo Jones; Abram carries a 100-pound sack up a mountain faster than Kamerion Wimbley; someone hooks up with Ashley K. (regardless of whether she’s on the season), because this is still The Challenge, and that’s what happens. Also, Derrick comes out of retirement, beasts Merriman like CT did Bananas, and gets picked up by the Patriots to be their starting tailback in 2017. I don’t care if he’ll be 34 in August and weighs only 161 pounds. Tell me Bill Belichick can’t use this guy.
Gruttadaro: OR, if I may suggest a second ideal scenario: How great would it be if CT got kicked off in the first episode for punching Shawne Merriman after he made a snipe about sacking Tom Brady?