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Top 5 Best Challenge Formats

Over the course of its 37 seasons, The Challenge has found many ways to keep us coming back every season. Of course, its soap opera-like format of having people return season after season is a big draw. But another aspect that breathes new life into the show every season is its rotation of formats.

Unlike Survivor or Big Brother, where each season is the same general game with some twists thrown in, The Challenge is completely new every time. The cast theme, the game format, the voting methods, etc. can never be planned for. These unknown variables make each season exciting in their own way.

To make matters even more interesting, when certain formats do return, the show often tweaks them a bit so that the players don’t have the game figured out as soon as TJ tells them what they are playing.

There have been some formats over the years that have really brought out the best in the show. Either because of how players are teamed up or how the political side of the game works. We hope that the producers of our favorite reality show will bring back some of these fan favorite formats in the future.

These are the Top 5 Best Challenge Formats!

5. Battle of the Exes

The Challenge: Battle of the Exes

it would be easy to guess just by its name – Battle of the Exes is one of the best Challenge formats the show has ever had. There will be some formats on this list that are notable for the game mechanics and some that are notable for how the cast is determined. This is definitely one of the latter.

The game itself is pretty simple. Players compete in teams of two. Whichever pairing wins the daily challenge becomes the Power Couple. The Power Couple gets to pick one team to go against the last place team from the daily challenge in elimination. It is a very straightforward concept that allows room for big moves from underdogs if they win the daily.

Where Battle of the Exes really shines, though, is obvious. Having cast members paired up with one of their exes is genius for several reasons. For one, it forces people who would likely avoid one another to not only interact but to work together. Number two, doing so will likely cause the flame to reignite or it will be a reminder of why they are exes in the first place.

It is a format that is immediately understood by fans and viewers as uncomfortable for all involved. As long as everyone’s safe, who doesn’t want to see how that plays out? Will their differences get the best of them like Johnny and Averey? Or will their pairing cause them to work through some of their issues like CT and Diem?

It is an incredibly compelling format with endless possibilities.

4. Free Agents

The Challenge: Free Agents

Free Agents is one of the very few individual seasons in the first fifteen years of the show.

Each daily challenge is played in a different format – individual, pairs, or teams. The winners of the daily are safe from elimination and get to select one man and one woman to compete in elimination.

Their opponents are then determined by The Draw. Right before the elimination round, the losers for that day’s challenge will flip over one card each. One has a skeleton symbol, while all the other cards are blank. Whoever flips over the skeleton symbol goes into elimination.

The random element of The Draw makes this one of the best Challenge formats. It not only evens the playing field a bit, but it adds an element of surprise to both people competing in elimination. The person voted on cannot prepare for their challenger, while the person who pulls the Kill card cannot prepare to compete.

It’s a really fun way to determine the players in elimination and I am shocked this format has not returned. Without a specific cast theme, it also opens up the possibility of just about anyone to return to the show. Hopefully we see Free Agents 2 in the near future!

You can now watch Free Agents on Netflix!

3. Rivals

Rivals is similar to Battle of the Exes in a lot of ways. Like Exes, it is an inherently compelling format that viewers can imagine the difficulty of. What would YOU do if you had to be paired with someone you can’t stand?

It has an immediately enticing hook for new fans of the show. Even before I started watching The Challenge, I knew that there was a season called Rivals that paired enemies up to work together. It’s a simple, yet clever way to cast your season and has built-in drama.

Like Exes, there are so many ways that the pairings can go. Will their individual strengths be overshadowed by their egos like Wes and Kenny? Will they have newfound respect for one another like Cara Maria and Laurel? Maybe they will let their guards down around one another like CT and Adam? There are so many directions that Rivals can go and it makes each version interesting.

Similar to Exes, the one thing that can drag the format down is the pairing of people who aren’t REALLY Rivals. Pairing Bananas and Frank together over a Twitter feud is not the same as pairing Adam and CT together, who had been in several verbal and physical altercations over the course of almost a decade.

At its best, Rivals has more potential for captivating pairings than any other format.

Make sure to check out our ideas for Same-Sex and Opposite-Sex Rivals Pairings!

2. Cutthroat

The Challenge: Cutthroat

Cutthroat is a sneaky good format.

It does not have the immediate draw that Rivals and Exes have and it doesn’t have the random element that Free Agents has. What it does have is unlike any other format in the franchise.

For starters, Cutthroat is the first and only time that the cast has been divided into three teams. These teams were chosen by a schoolyard pick. Already an interesting twist. The three teams compete in the daily challenges. The winning team is safe from elimination, while the other two teams have to each vote for one man and one woman from their own teams to face off in elimination.

Remember how I mentioned that Cutthroat is unlike any other format in the franchise? The teams cast their votes in secret. While I LOVE a good nomination blow-up, there is something different about players being able to betray their teammates with the added benefit of anonymity. This can encourage people who wouldn’t make a big move to do so and can make for some big moments.

The show has mostly gone away from the big-teams-all-season format. But if they do it again in the future, they should take a page out of their own book and make a sequel to this season.

Cutthroat is such a unique format, when compared to all others in the franchise and one of the best formats ever on The Challenge. We would love to see it return!

1. The Duel

The Challenge: The Duel II

Maybe this was too obvious.

The Duel is easily the best Challenge format of all time.

For starters, it was the very first format in the show’s history to be an individual game. That right there sets it apart from most formats. The way in which its played is fascinating. After each daily challenge, there is a male and female winner. If it is a male elimination day, the male winner selects one female who then selects one male to be safe. This process repeats until the cast is left with one male. That player is sent to The Duel for elimination.

The format is already interesting based on this process. More so than ever, politics and social acumen plays a huge role in being successful in a Duel season. Not only that, but you have to be strategic about who you pick in the selection process to ensure that your allies also remain safe.

And of course, what makes an already great format even better is how the second Duel player is determined. The person selected by the house gets their pick of every other player of the same sex except the daily challenge’s winner. This means that even if you have a firm handle on the social and strategic game, you may have to prove yourself in elimination.

This format ensures that nobody is safe. It takes a nearly perfect social/physical/strategic game to get to the end without seeing elimination. Not only that but if someone wants you out badly enough, they may have to do it themselves.

The Duel is as close to a perfect Challenge format as you can get and we are BEGGING MTV to bring it back!

Which Format is Best?

Which format on our list is your favorite? Are there any that didn’t make the list that you hope to see come back in the future? What are some of the WORST Challenge formats? Let us know in the comments below!


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