How MTV and The Challenge Butchered the Dee Nguyen Situation

Michael Alvey
10 min readJun 11, 2020

I haven’t been writing articles about The Challenge this season, not because I haven’t been enjoying the season, but rather due to having other priorities in my life.

I was almost compelled to write about the Dee Nguyen situation when the show severed ties with her Monday (check out this r/MtvChallenge thread if you missed out on anything that happened). But after watching last night’s episode, I feel the need to write about my feelings on this.

Let’s start with Dee’s tweets and how MTV subsequently handled them.

Banning Dee

These are the main tweets that got Dee fired from the show. She also responded to Bayleigh calling her out on those tweets, saying that she was spending her day “investing” in Bayleigh’s city (Kansas City), and, “Don’t fucking talk to me about BLM. If you want a conversation you have my number.”

I want to be clear — I think Dee’s tweets were wrong. While I think her original tweet wasn’t much more than a distasteful joke, she downplayed the severity of police brutality against African Americans in her response to the fan, more or less chalking it up to a shoulder shrug and “shit happens.” And telling Bayleigh, a black woman, that she’s not allowed to tell her about Black Lives Matter is clearly not a good look.

Do I think Dee’s tweets were racist? No, but they were incredibly insensitive and frankly dumb, especially given the current social climate.

Do I think she deserved to be fired for them?

I’ll say it again: Dee’s comments were bad, straight up. But were they as bad as Camila’s racist tirade on Dirty 30, after which she was still invited to be on Champs vs. Stars?

Were they as bad as the horrible bullying of Tonya Cooley on The Ruins (not to mention the subsequent sexual assault allegations from that season, in which Kenny and Evan weren’t brought back on the show only because their insurance rates became too costly due to the lawsuit filed against them)?

Were they as bad as CT cold-cocking Davis and trying to murder Adam?

Were they as bad as Bananas and Vince mockingly calling Cheyenne “Chantel” on Rivals III?

Were they as bad as Ashley telling Jamie and Cory that her family could own their families on their Real World season?

Were they as bad as allowing Mattie to be on the show despite her having three DUIs?

Were they as bad as Zach Nichols, just in general as a human being?

Were they as bad as Jordan saying women were created to be inferior during Zach’s infamous “swamp donkey” rant?

I could write thousands of words of all the fucked up things people from The Challenge have gotten away with over the years. But I’m just going to throw in one more fucked up thing that happened very recently.

Stephen Bear, who I’ll admit is one of my favorite castmembers on the show, was arrested just two weeks ago on suspicion of actual bodily harm to his girlfriend.

How did the show respond? Without even a peep.

Will he be on next season? Probably.

My point here isn’t that all the people I named above should be banned from the show (and in Bear’s case, I believe in due process before actually deeming him guilty of his accusations). My point is how ridiculous it is that they banned Dee for her tweets when there are so many castmembers who have done worse things and haven’t been punished.

Firing Dee was a bad decision by MTV on several levels. The first is that the network is setting a precedent in how they deal with indiscretions by their cast that they almost certainly won’t maintain.

As wrong as Dee’s tweets were, they were ultimately fairly mild in the grand scheme of things. If she had made those same tweets a month ago, she wouldn’t have been fired. But since they were made during the height of the BLM movement, MTV canned her.

But let’s be clear here — MTV didn’t ban Dee because it’s all of a sudden a beacon of racial and social justice. This is the same network that’s most popular shows have been accused of stereotyping Italian Americans and glamorizing teen pregnancies.

MTV banned Dee because of social media backlash and because it wanted to appear as though it takes issues like racism seriously. But history tells us it doesn’t.

The network and The Challenge have had so many chances in the past to take a stand against bad behavior from their cast, but time and time again they’ve done nothing.

This week they had a chance to make a real impact after Dee’s tweets and change the show for the better.

Instead of firing Dee, here is what my statement would have looked like if I were in control of Bunim/Murray or MTV or Viacom or whoever ultimately made the decision to fire Dee:

“Racially intolerant remarks from our cast will not be accepted, which is why we are suspending Dee Nguyen from The Challenge indefinitely. Dee will not be allowed to return to the show until she has undergone education and training on systemic racism and cultural awareness, which MTV will provide the resources for her to complete. We will only allow Dee back if we feel confident she has learned from her mistakes and is genuinely remorseful.”

Instead, we got this:

I believe the solution for most mistakes is reform and education, not writing people off and throwing them away.

The American prison system is one of the least effective in the world at reforming its inmates. 76 percent of American inmates wind up back in jail five years after they get out.

Seventy fucking six.

That ridiculously high rate of recidivism can’t be attributed solely to the low quality of prisoner reform, and I understand that comparing the American prison system to The Challenge is apples and oranges. But it does show that if you don’t give people proper education and training, they’re much less likely to actually learn from their mistakes.

(If you’re interested in this topic and have some time, watch this awesome 60 Minutes piece about how Germany does prison reform and this Bloomberg video on how Norwegian prison reform compares to the US.)

The Challenge didn’t even put Dee in prison. They just straight up gave her the death penalty.

Firing Dee was literally the easiest, laziest way to deal with her. But it could have been a teachable moment for both her and the fans.

The network could have used its resources to help educate Dee and make a positive change in her life, rather than just kicking her to the curb. Then if she actually did change, she could come back in a season or two and talk on the show about what she has learned and the mistakes she has made.

We could have seen some real character growth, which continues to be more and more rare on this show.

It also needs to be mentioned that there was possibly some correlation between Dee’s tweets and her mental health. After Dee was fired and was no longer welcome to stay in Kansas City with Wes, she has apparently been moved into a “mental health lodge.”

The Challenge puts its cast through hell, then sends them on a plane home to let their mental scars heal up for next season.

Well as it turns out, living in a bunker for two months playing a stressful game for a million dollars might not be the best thing for a person’s psychological well-being. Who could have guessed?

The show needs to take action to help the cast deal with life off-screen, not just when they’re in the Challenge house.

The Episode

Now we get to what drove me to stay up all night writing: Total Madness episode 11.

I’ve seen every episode of The Challenge, most multiple times. I’m really having a tough time thinking of many instances where I finished an episode and had a worst taste in my mouth than I do right now.

The episode opened with a disclaimer that The Challenge has severed ties with Dee, but that the season will air as planned. Um, that’s not what happened at all.

The show completely took a butcher knife to this episode in an attempt to show Dee as little as possible, giving her zero confessionals (which I don’t think has ever happened in the history of the show for someone who went into elimination).

And I’m just wondering…why did they do this? Does MTV really think the audience couldn’t handle seeing a girl who had some stupid tweets? Are we really that brittle?

One thing that was removed from this episode was Bayleigh getting into a fight during the challenge with…you guessed it…Dee.

I get that it’s not the best look to have an episode showing Bayleigh and Dee fighting after Dee tried to silence Bayleigh earlier in the week. And the fact that Dee ended up winning the elimination against Mattie meant that she ended up being somewhat heroic to overcome getting blindsided.

But The Challenge doesn’t have a responsibility to edit the show in a way that makes everyone look the least bad. It’s responsibility is to edit the show in a way that’s accurate to what really happened.

They didn’t do that at all this week, and they sacrificed a coherent narrative to make sure no one’s feelings got hurt.

Seriously, what the fuck was this episode?

Here was the description of the episode on the guide: “Bananas, Rogan, and Jenny hatch a plot to blindside Dee, but one emotional player might foil their plans. Josh calls out Swaggy for working with Wes. Two players get heated during the explosive “Flagged Down” challenge.”

We literally saw none of that happen. The blindside of throwing Dee in at least made some sense because we had seen the build up to it in recent weeks after she plotted against Jenny, but we barely saw any of the scheming against Dee this week. When Bananas asked Rogan at Purgatory if he had his blessing to send in Dee, it’s clear there had been extensive conversations about it beforehand. But we saw none of it in the episode.

The editors clearly decided to remove Dee from the show as much as they possibly could, which is why we only saw her in the interrogation and at the elimination. That decision resulted in a completely disjointed, horrible episode of the show (to watch some of what was cut, check out these deleted scenes).

I give episode grades each week either in my Reddit posts or in my Medium articles. I don’t think I’ve ever given anything below a C- (which is still a passing grade). This week was an F.

What Now?

At some point, all this will probably blow over. Everything does eventually, whether it’s for the better or worse (although with Dee possibly planning to sue the show, this might stay relevant longer than just until the end of this season).

The show will likely cut Dee out from the rest of the season as much as they can. Hopefully with more time to edit, they can put together more cohesive episodes than the albatross they put out last night.

I’m really interested to see how the show handles not only the rest of this season, but how they deal with the cast going forward.

MTV didn’t just ban Dee this week, they also fired Taylor Selfridge and cancelled her and Cory’s Teen Mom OG special because of tweets the 25-year-old made eight years ago. I guess the cast better start checking their MySpace pages from middle school to make sure they didn’t post anything offensive, because at this point it seems like any past remark can get you cancelled.

If MTV is going to continue to arbitrarily pick and choose who they ban, then in theory anyone could get the axe.

I just hope MTV and The Challenge takes a deep breath for a minute, steps back and thinks about what kind of network and show they want to be, instead of being reactive and making rash decisions based on ideological principles that won’t be maintained going forward.

If they want to be the network and show that doesn’t stand for any notion of offensive speech from their castmembers then fine, do that.

Personally, I don’t want that. Call me crazy, but I don’t look at the characters on my favorite trashy reality TV show to be pillars of social and moral righteousness.

But if this really is the road that MTV and The Challenge wants to go down, then they need to enforce their cast fairly and consistently. Any tweet or comment that crosses the same line that they drew in the sand when they fired Dee, that person now has to be canned, no questions asked.

To me though, it’s blatantly obvious that MTV and The Challenge reacted the way they did solely because of the turmoil going on in the world right now, not because they really care about the issues.

Let’s go back to the Bear incident for a minute. Imagine if this same arrest had happened at the height of the Me Too movement. I don’t care how many Instagram followers or how many fans he has — Bear’s ass would have been gone.

So why is there a good chance he’ll continue to be on the show? Did domestic violence all of a sudden become less bad?

Of course not, but since it’s not a hot button issue in the news right now, there’s less public outrage about it.

This is the pickle The Challenge has gotten itself into.

The show has now put itself in the position of either having to be the moral arbiter of their castmembers from here on out, or turning out to be total hypocrites when they fail to hold the cast to the same standards they set with Dee.

I don’t see either result being a good outcome for the franchise.