I am now too old to get away with regularly watching MTV, which makes The Real World/Road Rules Challenge perfect for me. Let me explain.
As did most people my age, I grew up not only watching MTV but somehow really invested with the goings-on with its most prominent reality stars. My sister and I would discuss what happened on say, The Real World: Hawaii as if we actually knew these people, or at least cared what happened to them. The shows themselves were never objectively good, but the series' stupidity played a large part in their appeal. You can watch any episode of any season at any time and probably come away thinking, "I cannot believe that [he/she] did [sexual act] in [public location]."
But two things have happened: (1) MTV has started making reality shows for people younger than I am, starring, well, people younger than I am, while also (2) bringing back old and aging cast members for increasingly humiliating appearances on the sporadic Challenge shows, in which current and former stars of The Real World and Road Rules are taken to Mexico and forced to participate in a series of absurd physical games governed by Byzantine rules of elimination and reward. The first thing isn't surprising, because MTV is first and foremost a network of change. The network is only as old as its latest facelift.
But the second part is what's so weird, and almost subversive for the network, and part of what ultimately keeps me coming back. MTV defines itself by change, but Challenge is all about sameness. And not the theoretical sameness of The Real World , where, final casting decisions aside, you're basically going to wind up with seven undereducated assholes arguing about doing the dishes and the merits of moral relativism. No, Challenge actually brings back the same characters again and again, reveling in long-term grudges and pitting these young adults against each other repeatedly in hopes of seeing a reenactment of the exact same fights we've been watching the characters have for years now. For instance, the current Challenge (The Gauntlet III , a title which should tell you something) includes Coral and Beth among its female competitors, and these women have hated each other on air for several seasons, way beyond what any normal human would think is possible. There's even C.T., who must be a familiar presence to bail bondsmen throughout the Northeast; ever since he was introduced, he's been an angry drunk who takes the alpha-male concept to a terrifying extreme.
The point is that these people have been doing this for years , and will continue to do it every single time MTV asks them back, and that makes for a staggering amount of consistency in MTV's otherwise schizophrenic schedule. What's more, these people aren't exactly the fresh faces they were when they first appeared in their respective seasons; Beth turns 39 this year, which is no age to be running on the beach toward a giant piñata in the hopes of winning an iPod. But her enduring presence on the show is a reminder of how MTV is more than willing to do the same thing over and over again, to reach out to the mid- to late-twentysomethings in the audience, if it means keeping people my age—who have jobs and really shouldn't be thinking this much about these things—watching every week. And damned if it doesn't work.
airs on MTV Wednesdays at 10 pm.