Despite my dramatics, I had survived Real World/Road Rules Challenge: Battle Of The Sexes. I took things too seriously, devoted more time to the recaps than I probably needed, and wound up going after people it never would have occurred to me to blast. However, without any objections from the staff at Reality News Online, I would cover my second season: The Gauntlet.
I don't remember much about 2003. I vaguely recall keeping my ear close to the ground, listening to casting spoilers. That summer, I traveled to San Diego for my second trip to Comic-Con International. I met Judd Winick once again . .. I had interviewed the self-professed "bed-wetting liberal" from Real World: San Francisco years ago in a failed effort to get published. I joked to him about how I didn't have to consider him a part of the cast of the latest Challenge. The format was back to "Real World vs. Road Rules," with fourteen players per side. The season was filmed in Telluride, Colorado, a year after Battle Of The Sexes, but MTV would run it at the tail end of 2003.
For me, the biggest "gets" on the RW side were Coral Smith and Mike Mizanin (a.k.a. "The Miz," a nickname he has kept for some time), the enemies-turned-friends from Back to New York that managed to last through Battle Of The Seasons to win the big prize. Also hailing from that season: Rachel Braband, the ingenue who paled after we had seen Julie Stoffer. Norman Korpi was part of the original RW season and had more brain cells than Eric Nies. Elka Walker had won a car with future Congressman Sean Duffy in Battle Of The Seasons, and she would come back for her second Challenge stint. And much to my delight, not only was David Broom returning after his four-mission stint on Battle Of The Sexes, but his roommate would make his rookie appearannce: Matt Smith, who probably goes down as the whitest guy in the history of Bunim-Murray Productions. Whiter than Judd, whiter than Justin, whiter than "Mike-Mike," Andrew and Chet. Shit, he was whiter than the Matt Smith that would take the lead in Doctor Who years later.
Over on the Road Rules side, I was happy about Roni Martin's second appearance. Thanks to MTV's constant reruns, I wound up digging her season (Northern Trail), and I felt she was the best thing about it after Dan Setzler (whom I would "cover" in Battle Of The Sexes 2). Theo Vonkurnatowski (better known as Theo Von these days) was the swamp rat from Maximum Velocity Tour that was entertaining whether he made you laugh or got on your nerves. I also found Steve Meinke to be a funny guy, though he didn't get as much camera time on The Quest as the other Roadies.
The Gauntlet would also serve as the proving grounds for seven rookies, hailing from Real World: Las Vegas and Road Rules: South Pacific. It would be the only Challenge for Irulan Wilson and Dave Giutoli, who has made a name for himself in Grimm, which is a lot further than most BMP alumni have lasted in show business. Alton Williams would prove to be a strong competitor, though I reckon he was a little overpowered in Gauntlet 2 which aired a few years later. Trishelle Canatella . .. wound up being herself, which was painful to watch. Abram Boise didn't punch anybody here, but I still thought he was a psycho, though he proved not to be my biggest headache. Cara Zavaleta was looking to rebound from being the third person voted off Road Rules. Tina Barta? For years, I have stated that she was a scrub, and this season would be a good indicator that she would be little more that a bargain-basement version of the more popular Coral.
The one person I was concerned about was Sarah Greyson, formerly of RR: Campus Crawl. From what I heard, she had applied to Real World, but that was for the Las Vegas-based season where she would be underaged. She flagged her team down in missions, and proved to be a bit of a downer. For somebody like me, I could relate to her. After she was voted off by the rest of the cast, she posted a few times on the forums of Television Without Pity, an that made me like her more. She would return on South Pacific, reunited with the bulk of her team and her replacement (Raquel Duran, who handcuffed Steven Hill to a Jacuzzi railing when the cast visited Las Vegas), engaged in a marathon contest with the current cast. Sadly, Sarah was caught covering her eyes, and she was eliminated from the game, which Campus Crawl wound end up winning. Going into The Gauntlet, I was hoping for the best for her. If a power runs the universe and all things related, it probably heard me and went, "Your girl Melissa lasted through most of the previous season, and now you want Sarah to be okay? Oh, she's gonna last, but not without cost. Heh heh heh."
But the biggest innovation of The Gauntlet would prove to be the Gauntlet itself. After two seasons, BMP seemed okay with the elimination format, but having people voted out wasn't as epic as it was on Survivor. In Battle Of The Sexes, most of the men were okay with leaving once they hit the bottom of the leaderboard. The points system was junked. Teams would compete for $10,000 per mission, with a finale worth $150,000. However, after each mission, each team would select one of their own to face off in the Gauntlet, which consisted of one of six games determined by a die roll. In the event of male/female battles, there would be three games available. It was a simple tweak, but it was very important.
Here's a comparison if you're a Seinfeld fan: remember the episode where Jerry was stuck with a girlfriend that didn't find him funny, and he wanted to dump her for her roommate? Jerry and George wound up putting their heads together to find a way to make "the switch." Eventually, George came up with a plan: suggest a menage a trois with the girlfriend. She would be offended, the girlfriend would be flattered, and Jerry would get his way. But then both women expressed interest in the idea. As George put it, "It's like discovering plutonium by accident!!" Thus, the era of what I refer to as the Endgame Era. I know, TJ Lavin refers to those as "elimination rounds," but I think "endgame" is shorter. I'm also partial to WOGH: Win Or Go Home. In the span of 23 seasons, ranging from The Gauntlet to Invasion Of The Champions, we would see people voted off the show only twice more: Battle Of The Sexes 2 and The Island. For better or for worse, the new format would prolong the life of The Challenge.
Like Battle Of The Seasons, it was the best of times, and it was the worst of times. The Gauntlet would wind up as a memorable season, even thirteen years later. Throw in an ending that was heart-warming and heart-breaking, and I would be amped up for more seasons. Then came The Inferno and Battle Of The Sexes 2. Very disappointing. In the weeks to come, I will be bringing back my recaps from 2003-2004. Feedback would be appreciated, though I'm not counting on it.