The 25 Greatest Male Players in Challenge History
To me, succeeding in The Challenge has always roughly been a 50–50 split between competition and politics. Unless you’re just a freak like Landon Lueck or Jordan Wiseley, you can’t survive on the show without a solid political game. But even the best social players like Kenny Santucci couldn’t get to the end of the game purely on politics without having to prove themselves on the field every now and then.
Attempting to rank the players on this show is an arbitrary and subjective exercise. First of all, just like in professional sports, it’s hard to compare players across different eras. Winning a season like Extreme Challenge is radically different than winning a season like War of the Worlds.
It’s also difficult to compare people with varying experience. Landon is an absolute stud, but he only did four seasons. How do you compare their careers to Johnny Bananas, who has been on approximately 97 seasons at this point?
So let’s set the ground rules of what my criteria in my rankings are.
Competition: I believe competition and politics are roughly equal in importance, but if I had to choose one or the other I think competition is more important. You can politic all you want, but every now and then you’re going to have to go into an elimination to prove yourself.
Daily challenges, eliminations and finals performances will all be judged. In most seasons, you have to perform well in daily challenges to stay out of eliminations, you have to win eliminations to stay in the game, and you have to perform well in finals to win the damn game.
Politics: This is a bit harder to judge because politics weren’t as vital in some of the older seasons where there were big team challenges. Still, it’s always been an important part of the game to varying degrees. Someone like Wes Bergmann is the king of eliminations, but there’s also a reason why he was thrown into a lot of those eliminations.
Longevity Matters: People like Alton, Landon, Theo Von and Dan Setzler were some of the best competitors the show has ever seen. But combined they have less seasons than Bananas.
You can’t just say that since Landon won three out of four seasons that he would have 12 wins if he did 16 seasons. It doesn’t work that way. This is an assessment of their overall bodies of work throughout their careers, not just how good they were at their peak.
Having said that, to qualify for these rankings, a Challenger must have been on at least three seasons.
Era Matters: It was objectively much easier to win some of the earlier seasons than the newer seasons. There were some seasons that had eight or nine winners, compared to the seasons now that almost always have just one male winner.
The competition of the seasons will also be taken into consideration. Winning The Gauntlet was a hell of a lot easier than winning Dirty XXX.
Shane Landrum (Road Rules: Campus Crawl): Shane is the most underrated player in Challenge history, one of the best swimmers in the history of the show and certainly the best male to never make a final.
On Battle of the Sexes, he was the fifth-best performer on a team of 18 (or at least tied for fifth with James, who was voted out instead of Shane for being a d-bag). On Sexes 2 Shane finished sixth, beating guys like Miz, Derrick K and Abe.
Shane and Linette were the third-best team in dailies on Fresh Meat, only behind Evan/Coral and Theo/Chanda.
In his return on Invasion he was the leader of the Underdog team and was arguably their best performer. On Final Reckoning, his Lavender Ladies alliance completely controlled the game, and he and Nelson beat arguably the best team in Brad/Kyle as well as Cara/Marie. Shane and Nelson only lost because Nelson got them purged and they had to face Tony/Bananas in a physical elimination, which is Shane’s only real weakness and what has prevented him from ever making a final.
Fessy Shafaat (Big Brother 20): He is definitely on my radar to crack the top 25 after becoming the first man since Frank Sweeney to make two finals in a row to start his career. With a 3–0 elimination record and six daily challenge wins in his first three seasons, he might have made this list if he had a full season on Spies, Lies & Allies. But since he got kicked off midway through the season and still has a small sample size, he remains an honorable mention for now.
Kyle Christie (Geordie Shore): With three finals in seven appearances, Kyle is almost the definition of a good-but-not-great player in the modern era. With a 7–6 elimination record and 11 daily wins, he is a threat to make the final every season, and came dangerously close to winning Spies, Lies & Allies.
His tremendous social game has helped him get deep in nearly every season he’s been on, but it hasn’t helped him stay out of elimination much, as he’s averaging nearly two eliminations per season.
A fourth final would put Kyle in rarified air and would almost certainly get him into the top 25.
Rogan O’Connor (Ex on the Beach UK 2): Rogan has had an extremely impressive turnaround to his career after being purged in the first episode of Vendettas.
He was somehow able to completely run the show on Team UK, skating his way to the final without ever seeing an elimination. He was the last Brit standing, and was able to take home $250,000 with the victory.
He followed that up on Total Madness by winning a pair of eliminations against Jay and Nelson, before getting beat in the final by Bananas.
Although he’s only really been on two seasons, there’s a strong argument to be made that he should already be in the top 25. He’s the only man (who’s been on three seasons) that has won a season after Gauntlet 2 to not make the list other than Dunbar, Nehemiah and Turbo.
There’s a decent chance Rogan cracks the top 25 after the next season he’s on, but the loss on Vendettas is enough for me to keep him off for now.
Nelson Thomas (AYTO? Season 3): Tied for the second-most elimination wins by a man in Challenge history, the 2018th century man dropped out of my top 25 after losing early to Fessy on Double Agents, the fifth consecutive season he failed to make the final.
Nelson was nearly a champion with his finals performance on Invasion of the Champions, but he came up short to CT. He finally made his second final on Spies, Lies & Allies, going the whole season without seeing an elimination, but lost an elimination in the final to Kyle. While he has remained impressive in the elimination ring, he’s not a great daily challenge performer, and he’s had some horrible political moments.
With just two finals in eight seasons, Nelson will need to at least make another one to get back into the top 25.
MJ Garrett (Real World: Philadelphia): MJ is the only man who has won two seasons and is not in the top 25. He won his rookie season, Gauntlet 2, without seeing an elimination and not even having to compete in the ridiculous final. He failed to make the final coming in as a replacement on Gauntlet III and Duel II.
MJ returned on All Stars 2, winning the hardest mission of the season and pulling out the championship with Jonna.
He was a marked man on All Stars 3 (especially by Brad), beating Syrus in elimination before falling to Derrick.
MJ is just one of 16 men to have won the show multiple times, but his individual accomplishments aren’t all that impressive, so he remains out of the top 25.
Nehemiah Clark (Real World: Austin)- With one win and three finals appearances, Nehemiah has had a solid Challenge career that has been aided by the All Stars seasons. Out of his four seasons on the flagship franchise, the only standout campaign was on Gauntlet III (although he does hold the distinction of being the only person to ever eliminate Kenny Santucci on The Duel). Nehemiah won two eliminations and was able to win the final thanks to Big Easy’s collapse.
He returned on All Stars, beating Teck in elimination before him and Kendal lost to Easy/Jisela right before the final.
Nehemiah had the best season of his career on All Stars 2. He beat Derek C in elimination, him and Melinda took out LT/Jasmine and he won two daily challenges (including a huge victory in the final Make the Connection mission). Nehemiah and Melinda had an excellent first stage in the grueling final, but came up short in the last stage to Jonna/MJ.
Nehemiah floated through most of All Stars 3 before being called out by Derrick K in the final elimination, where he slayed his arch rival. Nehemiah was in second place after the first day of the final (thanks to the stars twist), but got held up on the eating challenge and finished third.
If Nehemiah makes a fourth final he’d be in rarified air, as the only other men with that distinction are CT, Bananas, Mark, Jordan, Wes, Kenny, Darrell, Brad, Derrick, Abram, Zach, Alton, The Miz, Leroy and Cory.
But for now, he remains just short of the top 25.
Yes Duffy (Road Rules: Semester at Sea)- The Challenge 2000 champion was basically a forgotten castmember until his return on All Stars, where he shocked everyone and won the season.
While he deserves a lot of credit for that win, the case for Yes is almost entirely based on one finals performance. He was voted out first on Battle of the Seasons and was voted out early due to performance on Battle of the Sexes.
He made the Authority twice on All Stars 3, but was eliminated by his rival Wes. If Yes makes another final and continues to build his résumé, he’ll crack the top 25.
25. Paulie Calafiore (Big Brother 18)
3 Seasons: Final Reckoning (3rd place), War of the Worlds, War of the Worlds 2 (Final)
3–3 Elimination Record
20 Challenge Wins
Daily Challenges: 9/10
Regardless of whether you love him or hate him (and let’s be real, you probably hate him), there’s no denying what Paulie has accomplished in his first three seasons.
It’s kind of amazing Paulie cracks my list after how bad his career started.
On his rookie season of Final Reckoning, Paulie was partnered with Natalie, a solid competitor who is awful in eliminations.
The duo lost three consecutive eliminations to Kam/Kayleigh and Jozea/Da’Vonne (twice), only staying in the game due to the season’s horrible format.
But they were finally able to get out of the Redemption House by beating Brad/Kyle, then won a pair of missions and an elimination against Bananas/Tony to reach the final.
Paulie and Natalie could have won, but Natalie getting lost during the final set them back and they finished third.
Paulie’s best season as a competitor came on War of the Worlds. He was aided by a strong partner in Ninja, as they made three tribunals together and defeated Kam/Ashley in Wheel of Death.
In the individual portion, Paulie made three more tribunals, making it to the final purge. That’s when he had one of the most epic failures in Challenge history, completely bombing the Judgment Day mission and getting sent home.
Paulie played one of the most impressive political games ever on War of the Worlds 2. After Wes and Bananas went home, Paulie not only gained control of the US team, but he also was pulling the strings for Team UK.
Paulie’s trustworthiness has been questionable in some situations (most notably breaking his word to Joss in the Final Reckoning final and essentially costing him the win, not to mention his life outside of the show), but Paulie protected everyone in his alliance and got almost all of them to the final.
It was a dominant political performance, as he was able to skate to the final without ever seeing an elimination.
But Paulie had another meltdown in the final, nearly pulling a Big Easy and collapsing. He was able to recover and make it to the second portion, but Team US came up short in the end, leaving Paulie winless.
Although he’s had a few memorably terrible performances, there’s no questioning Paulie is one of the best competitors currently on the show. He really hasn’t shown any weaknesses thus far, other than coming up short in big moments.
Before Paulie, the last two males to make two finals in their first three seasons were Jordan Wiseley and Cory Wharton.
I think Paulie has a trajectory much more similar to Jordan than Cory, and if he continues to be a mainstay on the show he will likely get the win he covets so badly.
24. Jamie Murray (Real World: New Orleans)
3 Seasons: Extreme Challenge (Win), Battle of the Sexes (Win), The Gauntlet 2 (Win)
0–0 Elimination Record
30 Challenge Wins
Daily Challenges: 8/10
Finals: 10/10 (the guy has a perfect record)
One of only three men on this list who has an unblemished record, the fun-loving Real World: New Orleans castmember won every season he appeared on.
In his first appearance on Extreme Challenge, Jamie helped team Real World dominate Road Rules and win the final challenge.
Jamie was one of the most consistent performers on Battle of the Sexes, winning two daily challenges and staying in the Inner Circle for all but one round to help the men defeat the women.
On Gauntlet 2, he returned after spending time at a Buddhist monastery and was mistakenly cast on the rookies team despite having already appeared on two seasons. It was a fortunate miscue for Jamie, as he was able to stay out of elimination for the entire season and pick up his third win in the embarrassingly dumb final.
Although he was overshadowed by his teammates Alton and Landon on Gauntlet 2, he was a solid performer and was right there with MJ as the next best competitor on the team.
Like a few more of the old schoolers on this list, Jamie is extremely hard to judge because of his small track record. Politically, he really never had to do anything on any of his seasons. There were no elimination on Extreme Challenge, on Battle of the Sexes the guys voted strictly based on performance, and on Gauntlet 2 Alton picked who he thought was the weakest link on the rookies team to face him in elimination.
Jamie definitely benefited from fortunate circumstances in his career, but he was also an extremely well-rounded competitor. But with only three seasons and no eliminations, it’s hard to put him any higher.
23. Cory Wharton (Real World: Ex-Plosion)
10 Seasons: Battle of the Bloodlines (2nd place), Rivals III, Invasion of the Champions (3rd place), Dirty 30, Champs vs. Stars, Vendettas, Final Reckoning, Total Madness (3rd place), Double Agents (2nd place), Spies, Lies & Allies
8–5 Elimination Record
20 Challenge Wins
Daily Challenges: 8/10
If somebody from the future told me after Final Reckoning that Cory would be in the top 25 of my all-time rankings within 2.5 years, I would A) wonder why someone would waste the use of time travel technology to tell me something so unimportant, and B) be very surprised that he was even still on the show.
I thought Cory’s Challenge career was pretty much over after he got kicked off for body slamming Tony.
After making two finals in his first three seasons, he was hyped as the next big star of the show. But he completely crashed and burned on Dirty 30, targeting the big dogs right away, which got him sent in twice. He beat Derrick Henry in Balls to the Wall but lost to Hunter in Deadweight, then lost to Hunter again in the Redemption House challenge.
On Vendettas, Cory was targeted by Bananas right off the bats, as he was sent in by the troika against Nelson. In one of the worst eliminations in Challenge history, Nelson outkicked Cory in Balls of Fire.
Cory and Devin were brought in as mercenaries* late in the game on Final Reckoning.
(He was originally supposed to be partnered with Darrell, which would have likely gotten Cory to a fifth final and given him his best chance ever to win.)
Cory and Devin were able to get back into the game by beating Zach/Amanda and Da’Vonne/Jozea in the extremely dubious Shake it Off elimination. But they only competed in one mission before getting DQ’d.
When I saw he was coming back for Total Madness after a two-season break, I figured he’d have yet another early exit and then he’d be relegated back to Teen Mom OG.
But he had an excellent performance, both physically and politically. He made four tribunals (tied for second-most out of the guys) and wisely waited toward the end to go into elimination, where he got a tasty matchup against Swaggy C in Launch Button. He finished in first place overall after day one, but ended up placing third behind Bananas and Kyle.
Cory came back on Double Agents and had another strong season. He was the cursed agent, having six different partners get eliminated. At certain times, he actively tried to get his partners to go home, most notably to get rid of “Toxic” Theresa and to get Amber M eliminated so he could become the rogue agent.
In his elimination win over Darrell, Cory showed once again that he arguably has the best fast-twitch muscles in Challenge history (it’s either him or Theo Campbell for me), as he destroyed the 4-time champion.
Getting partnered with Kam near the end of the game helped him get to the final and gave him his best chance of finally winning. But they came up short against CT/Amber B, taking second place.
Cory turned into an excellent political player — I rated him as the best political player on Total Madness and he was certainly in the discussion for Double Agents. However, that reputation took a hit on Spies, Lies & Allies, when he found himself on the outs of the veteran alliance midway through the season.
Cory has three distinct chunks of his career.
There’s the first three seasons where he made two finals sandwiched between a fairly weak Rivals III season where he got caught playing both sides between Bananas and Wes, resulting in a retroactively shocking result of Cory/Ashley losing in elimination to Nate/Christina.
He made the final in his first season on Bloodlines, winning a Challenge record nine missions in a row, including him and his cousin Mitch winning the final two partner challenges. They ended up losing in the final to Cara Maria/Jamie.
Cory got caught up on the wrong side of the numbers with Tony, Kailah and Jenna on Invasion, but was able to skate through to the end. He technically scored his first elimination win, as Theo King-Bradley bitched out in the Who’s Got Balls elimination. Cory also beat Shane in the Bloodbath to make the final, where his terrible first day caused him to finish third.
Cory bonded with Nelson and Hunter on Invasion, which led to the TYB era of his career on Dirty 30, Vendettas and Final Reckoning where his star power faded fast.
And now we have the renaissance, where he’s completely turned his game (and his life) around. Cory constantly talking so much about his kids is a running joke at this point, but it’s obvious that becoming a father has caused a lot of growth for Cory over the last few years.
Not only has he become a better person, but he’s turned into one of the best players on the show today.
22. Frank Sweeney (Real World: San Diego)
3 Seasons: Battle of the Seasons (Win), Rivals II (2nd place), Free Agents
3–0 Elimination Record
6 Challenge Wins
Daily Challenges: 8.5/10
One of just three men in my rankings to never be properly eliminated, Frank accomplished more in three seasons than most do in their entire careers.
In his rookie campaign on Battle of the Seasons, he was able to help San Diego win four missions, and he and Ashley took out Derek/Jonna in Knot So Fast before the final. San Diego was able to defeat Vegas and Brooklyn to win the final.
On Rivals II, he was partnered with Bananas over Twitter beef, and the duo never had to go into an elimination. They won two missions throughout the season, but they came up short against CT/Wes in the final.
Frank had bad luck to start Free Agents, pulling the kill card twice and having to take out Chet in Balls in and Dustin in Wrecking Wall. His illness got him pulled from the game, and he never returned to the show again (other than a brief stint as a mercenary on Vendettas, where he lost to Brad).
Frank had the potential to be an elite competitor, as he really didn’t have any holes in his game (other than not being the biggest guy in the world). However, the show clearly wasn’t good for him mentally, and he decided to step away.
Instead of going down as one of the very best players in the history of the show, he goes down as one of the biggest what-ifs.
21. Tyler Duckworth (Real World: Key West)
6 Seasons: The Duel, Gauntlet III, Cutthroat (Won), Rivals (Won), All Stars 2, All Stars 3
4–4 Elimination Record
6 Challenge Wins
Daily Challenges: 7/10
Tyler is one of the hardest players in the history of The Challenge to rank. At his peak, he’s one of the best competitors the show has ever seen. But what do you do when that peak is only for two seasons?
On his first two seasons, Tyler was basically an afterthought. Although he beat his eventual Rivals partner Johnny Bananas in the first elimination (I Can, one of the dumbest eliminations of all time) on The Duel, he was taken out on the next guy’s day by Derrick. He was the second male eliminated again on Gauntlet III, this time by Frank Roessler.
After that he disappeared for awhile, and returned on Cutthroat as an entirely different competitor. Bigger and stronger, Tyler was arguably the best competitor on the red team, taking out his pal Bananas again (this time via CT) and Derrick to essentially destroy the blue team single-handedly.
After earning his first victory on Cutthroat, he came back on Rivals with Johnny and defended his title. Johnny and Tyler were the most consistent team all season, winning three daily challenges, never finishing last and defeating CT and Adam in the final elimination.
Yes, they got extremely lucky that Adam messed up the elimination and that Kenny and Wes’ huge lead after the first day was erased to a mere two-minute head start on day two, but other than CT/Adam they were the best team of the season. When you factor in that Tyler was very sick for the final, it makes his victory even more impressive.
Tyler’s Rivals victory makes him one of just four men (Darrell, Evan and Johnny) to have won back-to-back seasons. He also holds the distinction of being (probably) the best swimmer in the history of the show.
Tyler’s return in the All Stars series didn’t help his career — as he lost to Laterrian on All Stars 2 and Syrus on All Stars 3 — but I won’t hold it against him since he was clearly out of shape.
Politically, it’s tough to gauge Tyler. He was clearly third on the totem pole on the red team, as he had to go into elimination twice while Brad never went in and Dunbar only went in once. On Rivals, he benefited from being partnered with Bananas at the height of JEK’s dominance.
Had Tyler done more seasons after Rivals (he was supposedly going to be partnered with Leroy on Rivals II but was swapped out for Ty), he could have moved up the rankings, but after his first two seasons nobody would have ever imagined he would one day be considered as one of the top males of all time.
20. Timmy Beggy (Road Rules: Second Adventure)
4 Seasons: Battle of the Seasons (Final), The Inferno (Win), The Gauntlet II (Final), The Inferno III
1–1 Elimination Record
27 Challenge Wins
Daily Challenges: 8/10
Perhaps the funniest man in the history of The Challenge (seriously, try watching this clip without laughing), Timmy was an excellent leader and was one of the few real adults in a house full of maniacs.
A Road Rules OG who appeared on the show’s second season, Timmy was partnered with castmate Emily Bailey on Battle of the Seasons, where the duo were in the Inner Circle the entire game, won two prizes and finished third among the Road Rules teams.
Timmy and Emily were in the center of a very testy beginning of the game for the Road Rules team politically. After the couple of Chadwick and Holly teamed up to vote out Veronica/Yes at the first vote, Timmy/Emily turned the tables with Dan/Tara to vote out Chadwick.
It was an interesting balance for Timmy, one of the true good guys on The Challenge, being partnered with Emily, one of the most cutthroat females in the history of the show, but they were able to work together well and make it to the end.
On The Inferno, Timmy was arguably the best male competitor on Team Road Rules that included Abram and Darrell, winning a life shield to keep himself out of the first Inferno. He was able to stay out of elimination for the entire season to pick up the only victory in his career.
Timmy was the only man to take out Derrick on his epic run on Gauntlet II, eliminating him in Reverse Tug-O-War to reach the finals. The veterans ended up losing the final due to putting all but two of their doubloons on the eating challenge, but Timmy once again was a key cog for his team both as a leader and as a competitor.
His career came to a sad end on Inferno III, as he appeared to beat Abram in Smash House, but a section of his glass hadn’t shattered. The elimination left him with long-term damage to his knees.
Timmy is an absolute legend of The Challenge, and his likability and challenge prowess caused him to only go into two eliminations in his career. His only loss was an epic elimination to Abe that was basically a fluke, but while he was a very good competitor he was never quite elite.
19. Dan Setzler (Road Rules: Northern Trail)
3 Seasons: Challenge 2000 (Win), Battle of the Seasons (Final), Battle of the Sexes II (Win)
0–0 Elimination Record
24 Challenge Wins
Daily Challenges: 9/10
Another guy who’s extremely difficult to judge for being on just three seasons with no elimination rounds, Setzler is no doubt one of the best competitors in the history of the show.
The Road Rules: Northern Trail alum helped the Road Rulers win Challenge 2000, as Road Rules won six out of nine challenges, including the final.
On Battle of the Seasons he was saddled with a bad partner in Tara and still reached the finals, winning one prize and finishing second within the Road Rules team. Dan and Tara were in power for most of the non-final six portion of the game, being in the Inner Circle for all but the first round.
But his greatest accomplishment was on Battle of the Sexes 2, as he was one of the top two performing males in one of the most stacked male casts in the history of the show, which included Mark Long, Abe, The Miz, Derrick, and Brad among others.
Even though Dan played in early seasons, he was always on the right side of the politics. He was in tight with Timmy and Theo on Battle of the Seasons, and on Sexes 2 his OG alliance with Theo, Mark and Eric Nies helped him get to the finals.
Setzler is pretty much an unknown for non-OG fans (it’s hard just to find a good picture of him on the Internet), but there’s no question that he’s one of the best competitors of all time. But with just three seasons (and one with no eliminations), he doesn’t have the body of work of the players ranked ahead of him.
18. Hunter Barfield (Are You the One? Season 3)
4 Seasons: Invasion of the Champions, Dirty XXX, Final Reckoning (Win), War of the Worlds (6th place)
4–1 Elimination Record
13 Challenge Wins
Daily Challenges: 8/10
One of the most physically imposing competitors in Challenge history, Hunter has turned in strong campaigns in all four of his seasons.
Having at least reached the final purge of every season he’s been on, Hunter is someone who is extremely difficult to take out of the game.
On Invasion, he earned his way into the Oasis by winning the Shell Shocked mission with Ashley. One of the top competitors on the Underdogs, Hunter won the Curry Up mission to earn safety, and stayed out of elimination for the entire season in part due to his alliance with the Lavender Ladies.
Hunter was eliminated in the first Bloodbath challenge, where he was defeated by his biggest rival, a puzzle.
He returned on Dirty XXX and quickly formed his Young Buck alliance with Cory and Nelson. That alliance was doomed from the start, however, as they were targeted by the vets almost immediately.
Hunter was pitted against Cory in the Deadweight elimination, where he won, but lost to Nelson in Rampage in the next elimination.
But Hunter wasn’t done, as he earned his way back into the game by defeating Cory in the second Redemption House challenge.
He was still a target, however, and was thrown in once again against Leroy, where he won the physical Body Check elimination. The elimination was Hunter’s downfall, as he badly hurt his wrist.
The injury would hamper him for the rest of the season, and he was ultimately taken out in the final purge by Derrick. Despite not making the final, Dirty XXX is pretty clearly Hunter’s best season. He won three missions (including the individual Backstabber mission, where he sent Jordan to the Redemption House), two eliminations and a Redemption House challenge, while fighting his way through a brutal injury at the end of the game.
Ironically, Hunter’s winning season is arguably his least impressive campaign. He and Ashley came into Final Reckoning as mercenaries after four missions, and narrowly defeated Faith/Angela to get into the game.
From there, they rode their Lavender Lady/Young Buck alliance to the final, never seeing an elimination despite only winning one mission. In one of the easiest finals of recent years, Hunter/Ashley were able to barely defeat Joss/Sylvia thanks to the grenade thrown by Paulie/Natalie.
Of course, Hunter’s elation of earning his first championship was short-lived, as Ashley defeated him in the individual portion of the final and chose to steal his half of the million dollars.
Hunter got revenge on Ashley in the first elimination of War of the Worlds, as he and Georgia took taking her and Chase out in Drone Ball Drop.
Hunter never saw an elimination the rest of the season, profiting off his alliance with Wes and making the tribunal three times.
Hunter gassed out early in the final, finishing last on the first day (of the competitors who didn’t get disqualified). He was thrown in by the tribunal to the elimination, where he ultimately lost to Ninja Natalie.
Hunter is one of the best physical competitors in the show’s history. Nobody wants to see him in a knock down, drag out elimination due to his size and speed.
But he has three major weaknesses. His biggest flaw is that he is one of the least intelligent people on the show, which has caused him tons of issues with puzzles and mental challenges.
The second is that he is a massive hothead, which often hurts his political game.
Ashley was probably going to steal the money from Hunter no matter what on Final Reckoning, but Hunter made the decision easier for her by being an asshole to her throughout the season. He has gotten into a fight with almost everyone on the show at this point, and can really only count Nelson, Cory and Wes as his true allies in the game.
His third flaw is that there’s a tradeoff for his physique. Being huge is helpful in eliminations, but it’s terrible for finals. A big reason Hunter lost the individual portion of the final to Ashley on Final Reckoning is because she was able to beat him in the running portion. He also had no chance of finishing a final as difficult as the one on War of the Worlds.
I’d be surprised if Hunter ever wins another season purely because of how fatal I think those flaws are to his game, but the guy is always a strong contender to make the final.
17. Leroy Garrett (Real World: Las Vegas)
12 Seasons: Rivals (3rd place), Battle of the Exes, Rivals II, Free Agents, Battle of the Exes II (2nd place), Battle of the Bloodlines, Rivals III, Dirty 30, Vendettas (5th place), War of the Worlds, War of the Worlds 2 (Final), Double Agents (3rd place)
9–5 Elimination Record
25 Challenge Wins
Daily Challenges: 6.5/10
With his retirement after Double Agents, Leroy goes down as the best male to never win the show.
Only three men in Challenge history have made more finals than Leroy (Bananas, CT and Kenny) and only one male has more elimination wins (Wes).
In terms of pure physicality, Leroy is one of the best competitors in Challenge history.
A beast in one-on-one headbangers, Leroy has used his brawn and under the radar political game to make four finals.
But of course, the biggest stain on Leroy’s career is his lack of a championship.
There’s no one reason that Leroy continually fell short. In his rookie season on Rivals, he and Mike were kept around as a layup team until the end, when Leroy had arguably his best performance in a daily challenge in his entire career, winning the Bomb’s Away mission.
Leroy and Mike Mike came up short in the final, quitting at the beginning of the second day.
Leroy had an excellent season on Battle of the Exes II, where he won four eliminations — taking out Bananas/Nany (twice), Johnny/Averey and Wes/Theresa.
After Nia got ejected, Leroy got a better partner in Theresa before the final, but Leroy’s ineptitude in swimming and puzzles prevented them from beating Jordan and Sarah in the final.
He made his third final appearance on Vendettas, skating for most of the game until the end, where he took out Brad in the elimination Head Banger. He wasn’t able to make it to the second phase of the final, finishing behind Zach and Kyle.
His best shot to win a final came on War of the Worlds 2. Leroy aligned with Paulie and Cara’s alliance after Bananas went out, riding with them all the way until the final. After beasting the first day of the final for Team US, he couldn’t solve the puzzle and didn’t make it to the second portion.
Leroy finished his career with the best season of his career. Him and Kaycee dominated Double Agents, winning five daily challenges together, while no other duo won more than twice.
It was really the first time Leroy had ever done well in daily challenges, as he only had six total wins in individual/partner missions before Double Agents.
He also had a dominant elimination performance against Jay in Fire Escape. As TJ said, there might not be another human on Earth who could beat Leroy in that elimination.
Unfortunately for Leroy, Kaycee was stolen from him by Fessy right at the end, and him and Nany just couldn’t keep up with CT and Amber B in the final.
Politically, Leroy mostly played the role of a lackey for Bananas, riding behind him and other veterans. But he also showed an ability to change up his game without Johnny, teaming up with Wes on Exes II and switching to the Cult of Cara on War of the Worlds 2.
And on Double Agents, him and Kam were the biggest power players of the season, teaming with the Big Brother alliance to dominate politically.
When you look at Leroy’s career, he was consistently solid the whole way through. He really doesn’t have a bad elimination loss to his name — Ty/Emily on Exes, Jordan/Marlon on Rivals II, CT on Free Agents, Hunter on Dirty 30 and Bear/Da’Vonne on War of the Worlds, when he was paired with the legendary Shaleen.
He wasn’t a great daily challenge competitor until his last season, and his lack of puzzle and swimming ability made him not that well suited for finals.
Leroy’s legacy goes down as a very good, but not great challenger, who just ultimately couldn’t get the victory he so desperately sought after.
16. Mike Mizanin (Real World: Back to New York)
5 Seasons: Battle of the Seasons (Win), The Gauntlet (Final), The Inferno (Final), Battle of the Sexes 2, Inferno II (Win)
29 Challenge Wins
2–0 Elimination Record
Daily Challenges: 8/10
Everyone knows The Miz now for being a famous WWE wrestler, and he was clearly the face of The Challenge in its early years, but I don’t know if he gets proper credit as a player.
The Miz was one of the best combinations of competition and character the game has ever seen. His dynamic personality made him a leader of every team he was on, and he had the athletic chops to back up his bark.
Mike first appeared on Battle of the Seasons with his Real World castmate Coral, and the duo stayed in the inner circle the entire season. Mike and Coral finished second in the final Real World rankings (behind Sean and Elka) and helped win the finals over Road Rules.
After his first victory, Mike became a bit snake-bitten (no pun intended, Coral). He defeated Abram in the first real heavyweight elimination of all-time on The Gauntlet, but Coral’s snake bite in the finals prevented the Real World team from winning. Mike went into the Gauntlet after not performing up to his own standards, volunteering to go in and prove himself.
The Miz again reached the finals on The Inferno and was the second-best guy on the Real World team behind CT, picking up an elimination win over Jeremy along the way. But again, the Real World team fell short to Road Rules in the final.
An early disqualification on Battle of the Sexes II caused Mike to go home early, as his alliance with Mark, Eric, Dan and Theo couldn’t save him because he had the lowest amount of points for the guys.
But he was able to ride off into the sunset after Inferno II, as his last season was arguably his best. Despite being thrown in by the Bad Asses three times, Mike won two lifesavers and was saved by Landon once to reach the finals. The Good Guys beat the bickering Bad Asses in the final, allowing the Miz to retire with his second victory.
The Miz didn’t play a subtle political game — he was too brash of a personality for that — but he was always friends with the top dogs and made it to the end all but one time.
Mike is another guy who’s really tough to rank. He was clearly one of the best competitors of his era, but politically he’s tough to judge because he only really played in one season where politics was a big factor (The Gauntlet).
Had he continued doing the show, there’s not much doubt in my mind that he would have remained one of the top alpha males, both politically and competitively, and be one of the top players of all time.
15. Alton Williams (Real World: Las Vegas)
5 Seasons: The Gauntlet (Final), Gauntlet II (Win), Inferno III (Final), Battle of the Seasons, All Stars (6th place)
6–1 Elimination Record
23 Challenge Wins
Daily Challenges: 9.5/10
There’s no denying that Alton was an absolute supernova of a competitor, in the discussion for the GOAT at his peak. But due to his small sample size, it’s hard to judge just how great he really was.
Alton was the top performing male on the Real World team on his first season, The Gauntlet, and only had to go into elimination once, where he dominated Latterian in Pole Climb. Coral’s spider bite in the final kept Real World from winning the season.
He truly established himself as one of the all-time greats on Gauntlet II. Alton won the opening Royal Rumble challenge, making him the team captain of the rookies and forcing him to go into the Gauntlet every time the rookies lost on guys elimination days.
His singular brilliance in daily challenges on Gauntlet II helped the rookies win nine out of 15 missions over the more-proven vets, and the rookies ultimately won the season (in probably the dumbest final of all time).
He went into elimination three times, and although his competition (Danny Dias, Adam King and Jeremy Blossom) wasn’t exactly the cream of the crop, he absolutely demolished them. There wasn’t time to blink before he scaled the cargo net on Capture the Flag against Adam and Jeremy, and he threw Danny around like a rag doll in Beach Brawl.
He returned on Inferno III and reached his third consecutive final, joining The Miz, Darrell, Timmy and Theo Von as the only men in Challenge history to start their careers 3/3. However, he was outclassed by Abram on the season, and the Good Guys fell short in the finals to the Bad Asses.
The less mentioned about Alton on Battle of the Seasons, the better. It’s not like he came on the show out of shape, but he clearly was not enjoying himself among a nearly brand new cast. He openly talked about wanting to throw his elimination, and although it didn’t seem like he quit in his and Nany’s elimination with Robb/Marie (there’s always been conflicting reports about whether or not he threw it), his heart just clearly wasn’t in the season.
His political game also was atrocious on Battle of the Seasons, as he feuded with Team San Diego and literally told Team New Orleans to throw his team into elimination, then when they did he made Dustin go in for him.
Battle of the Seasons doesn’t take away anything from what Alton did in the past, but when you only have four seasons and one of them doesn’t come close to living up to his own lofty standards, it has to affect where he ranks.
Alton didn’t necessarily make people forget about his shortcomings on All Stars either, as he got gassed in the mini-final and finished fourth among the guys in the final (sixth overall).
Alton is an absolute virtuoso of a competitor. The guy was good at pretty much everything, not just things that involved physicality and climbing, but he was also a proven swimmer and could solve puzzles.
But Alton’s lack of longevity, the fact that all his success came in team seasons (whereas someone like Jordan won an individual and a partners season), and his lack of interest in playing the political game is what keeps him out of my top 10. Also, while his elimination wins were dominant, he never really beat a good competitor.
Alton would probably be near the top if he hadn’t come back after Inferno III, but he did and it has to be dampen his résumé.
14. Zach Nichols (Real World: San Diego)
10 Seasons: Battle of the Seasons (Win), Rivals II, Free Agents (3rd place), Exes II, Invasion of the Champions, Champs vs. Stars, Vendettas (2nd place), Final Reckoning, War of the Worlds, War of the Worlds 2 (Final)
4–5 Elimination Record
39 Challenge Wins
Daily Challenges: 9.5/10
Despite making four finals through nine seasons, I think it’s fair to say Zach’s career has been slightly disappointing.
He’s a freak athlete and one of the best competitors to ever be on the show, but he’s fallen short time and time again since winning on his rookie campaign, Battle of the Seasons.
I cut him some slack because in reality he should be a two-time champion, as he was screwed by Vendettas being the first season in the show’s history to have a solo winner and having the final come down to a puzzle.
But even taking that into account, Zach has had his fair share of moments where he came up short.
A mental mistake by Zach on Rivals II disqualified him and Trey, although they had been performing well with two daily challenge wins early in the game.
His performance in the Free Agents final was horrendous, as he completely broke down after the first stage and couldn’t even beat Johnny Reilly.
His one win, Battle of the Seasons (2012), was against one of the least competitive cast in the history of the show.
And other than his and Zahida’s win against Bananas/Morgan on War of the Worlds, Zach doesn’t really have any elimination wins against top competitors, as his other victories were against Jemmye/Knight and CJ/Jasmine (which Zach lost 3/5 times in Hall Brawl) on Battle of the Seasons and against Brandon Nelson on Free Agents.
The Thor-lookalike lost an elimination involving swinging a sledgehammer to Jordan. You know, the guy who only has one hand. He also lost to Darrell in Pole Wrestle on Invasion, to Cory/Devin in Shake it Off on Final Reckoning (an elimination that looked rigged against him), and to Wes/Dee on War of the Worlds (whether or not he threw that elimination is up for debate).
He’s also proven to be a terrible partner to his teammates, most notably to Sam, Jonna, Amanda and Ninja.
Despite his flaws, Zach is an absolute beast in daily challenges. He was by far the best male on Vendettas, and was the best in missions on Free Agents as well.
He‘s won nine individual or partner missions through his career, including four with Amanda on Final Reckoning.
Politically he has never been known as a mastermind, but he’s never been atrocious either. He’s had strong alliances with people like Tony, Jordan, Tori, Kyle, Laurel, Knight, Cara, and has worked with Bananas, CT and Wes at certain points.
Zach completely dominated Vendettas from a political standpoint (along with Tony), as he was in the troika four times, blindsiding Britni and Natalie along the way.
He and Amanda were in the best position in the house politically to play both sides of the house on Final Reckoning, but their stubbornness caused them to go into elimination and get sent home.
And on War of the Worlds II, he stayed in the background and didn’t make waves against Paulie and Cara, going the whole season without seeing an elimination.
Maybe I’m grading too much on a curve because of how good it looks like he should be. But as great as a competitor as he’s been, with just one win to his name (a weak win, at that), I don’t think Zach has lived up to the lofty expectations he had at the start of his career.
13. Abram Boise (Road Rules: South Pacific)
9 Seasons: The Gauntlet, The Inferno (Win), Battle of the Sexes 2, The Inferno II (Final), The Inferno 3 (Win), The Island, Cutthroat (2nd place), Battle of the Exes, Battle of the Bloodlines
3–3 Elimination Record
49 Challenge Wins
Daily Challenges: 8.5/10
If this was a ranking of the biggest psychos in the history of The Challenge, Abram would be the clear cut number one. Alas, we’re ranking the best players here, and while Abe was always elite he was never quite transcendent.
The vast majority of his seasons have come in team seasons — all but The Island, Exes and Bloodlines (which technically Abe was only in during the team portion) — which makes him a bit harder to judge as an individual competitor.
Still, he was always seen as one of the best competitors and leaders on his teams, in particular on The Infernos (in which he is the only male to make the finals on all three seasons in a trilogy other than Bananas in Rivals seasons). His finest campaign came on Inferno 3, where he was neck-and-neck with Alton for best competitor of the season and helped the Bad Asses take home the championship.
On Cutthroat he led the Grey team to five out of nine mission victories before having to get pulled from the final, and he helped the red team go undefeated on Bloodlines, only getting eliminated because of his brother (who allegedly threw his elimination for Jamie/Cara).
The marks against Abe are that he was often disinterested in the political game, especially late in his career. He made an extremely dubious move on Cutthroat to send Laurel in over Cara Maria, which could have torpedoed the Grey team’s chances if Laurel hadn’t narrowly beat Camila.
On Exes he and Cara Maria were the veteran team that was lowest on the totem pole (other than Rachel/Aneesa), and on Bloodlines he (understandably) blew up what should have been a strong alliance with Tom.
However, he was almost always liked, case in point being when he asked to get voted off on The Island and was still almost kept over Bananas.
Abe has defeated both Brad and Timmy in heavyweight eliminations (although his victory over Timmy was a fluke), and his losses to The Miz and Ty in physical eliminations are completely understandable.
But he has a couple of dud seasons like The Gauntlet, Battle of the Sexes II and Exes. We’ve never seen what he could really do in an individual season, and we’ve never seen how he handles politics in an individual or partner season (besides Exes).
So despite being a consistently strong competitor for a long period of time, Abram lands at number 14.
12. Theo Vonkurnatowski (Road Rules: Maximum Velocity Tour)
4 Seasons: Battle of the Seasons (Final), The Gauntlet (Win), Battle of the Sexes 2 (Win), Fresh Meat
28 Challenge Wins
0–1 Elimination Record
Daily Challenges: 9.5/10
Before he was a well-known stand up comedian, Theo was one of the most consistent competitors on The Challenge.
From his first season on the show, Theo proved himself to be a standout competitor. He was the top male on Battle of the Seasons with partner Holly Brenston, staying in the Inner Circle the entire game, winning three prizes and finishing first among the Road Rulers.
He was able to stay out of elimination for the entire season on The Gauntlet, earning his first victory with Road Rules and earning two Eyesavers along the way.
Like Dan Setzler, Theo was on the top of the leaderboard in the guys’ dominance on Battle of the Sexes II, where he earned his second straight victory competing against one of the most stacked male casts ever.
Theo’s lone blemish came on Fresh Meat. Although he and Chanda were one of the top teams of the season with two daily challenge wins, he was thrown in by his ally Derrick on the second-to-last elimination, where he lost to Kenny/Tina (who had 22 less pounds to carry).
Politically, Theo was always well-liked and always ran with the top dogs. He never could have been voted out on Seasons because he was always in the Inner Circle, but his team never threw him in on The Gauntlet, he had a tight alliance with Mark, Dan and Eric on Sexes 2, and he was aligned with Darrell and Derrick on Fresh Meat for most of the game.
Those who haven’t watched the older seasons might think I’m overrating Theo because he played in an era where the competition wasn’t as intense, but there’s no argument that he was one of the top male competitors of the first 12 seasons.
Not only is Theo one of the funniest men to ever be on the show, he’s also one of the best players.
11. Derrick Kosinski (Road Rules: X-Treme)
13 Seasons: Battle of the Sexes 2, Inferno II (Final), Gauntlet II, Fresh Meat, The Duel, Inferno III (Win), The Island (Win), The Ruins (Win), Cutthroat, Dirty XXX (2nd place), All Stars (Final), All Stars 2, All Stars 3
10–7 Elimination Record
48 Challenge Wins
Daily Challenges: 8.5/10
Perhaps pound-for-pound the greatest male competitor of all time, Derrick has been proving people who underestimate him wrong his entire career.
Although he had a relatively early exit on his first season, Battle of the Sexes II (despite performing well), Derrick made it to at least the final elimination in eight of his next nine seasons.
He made his first final with the Bad Asses on Inferno II, but Derrick established himself as a legend on Gauntlet II. After running his mouth got him thrown in to the first elimination, Derrick became the new Veterans’ captain by taking out Adam Larson in Name That Coconut. He proceeded to go on one of the most epic runs in Challenge history, knocking out Ace, Syrus and Brad — all in physical eliminations.
But he couldn’t tie Sarah Greyson’s (and eventually Wes/Casey’s) record of five elimination wins in one season, falling to Timmy right before the final.
His streak of heartbreaking losses continued on Fresh Meat and The Duel. Derrick and Diem won three daily challenges on Fresh Meat, but they were sent into the last elimination by Tina/Kenny to face Darrell/Aviv, where they lost with 75 more pounds of weight than their opponents.
Derrick competed well on The Duel, including winning the tough Push Over challenge, but he again lost in heartbreaking fashion to Wes in my personal pick for the greatest elimination of all time.
He finally earned his first victory on his sixth season, The Inferno III, where he was brought in as a replacement for CT. He then won his next two seasons, joining the winning boat of Kenny, Evelyn and Johnny on The Island, then aligning with JEK to stay out of elimination throughout The Ruins.
On Cutthroat, Derrick and Johnny were essentially co-captains of the top-heavy blue team, which won just two missions. Nobody could argue Derrick’s performance was the reason for blue team’s lack of success, however, as he again was one of the best players on his team and delivered another classic highlight in his performance in the Riot Act challenge.
Derrick ended Brandon’s three-elimination winning streak in Handcuffs, but lost Pole Me Over to Tyler due to his huge size disadvantage. It was the third time in his career Derrick went home right before the final.
After not competing for seven years, Derrick returned on Dirty 30 and didn’t miss a beat.
Once again he was one of the top competitors and stayed out of elimination for most of the game, until he was sent in by Hunter and faced Bananas in The Reel World, where he pulled out a victory. He took out Hunter and Tony in the final purge challenge, before finishing second in the final behind Jordan.
He was the only man to not go to the Redemption House the entire season (besides Nelson, who was ejected for hitting Derrick).
Derrick returned on All Stars, flying through to the final without seeing an elimination. He and Jisela couldn’t operate the canoe and got purged at the first checkpoint.
He had a great start to the season on All Stars 2, winning the opening mission with Jodi, but he was pitted against Brad and went out in episode four, the earliest he’s ever gone home.
On All Stars 3, Derrick made the Authority twice (including an improbable win in trivia) and took out MJ in elimination. But he lost right before the final to Nehemiah.
Despite his size, Derrick is one of the most tenacious competitors in the show’s history and has elimination wins over strong competition like Adam Larson, Syrus, Brad, Tyler, and Bananas (not to mention his epic victory over Joss on Vendettas), with his only losses coming against Timmy, Darrell/Aviv, Wes and Tyler.
Politically, I think Derrick is extremely underrated. He is sometimes called a lapdog for the JEK alliance, but since aligning with them on The Island he has been in just three eliminations, including earning a free pass to the finals on The Ruins. Even earlier in his career he was aligned with the big dogs, partnering with Darrell and Theo on Fresh Meat and Evan, CT and Brad on The Duel.
However, he had some bad moments early in his career, like blowing up in the first veteran’s deliberation on Gauntlet II which got him sent in against Adam L, and his decision to throw in Theo/Chanda blew up in his face on Fresh Meat.
Derrick’s championships aren’t super impressive since they were all in team formats and he only went into a one-on-one elimination once against Davis on Inferno 3, (although he did earn his key by beating Bananas and Abe on The Island), but he has other strong seasons like Inferno II, Gauntlet II, Fresh Meat, Cutthroat and Dirty XXX to compensate.
Derrick is the most tenacious competitor in Challenge history, and with a track record that includes a three-peat in the middle of his career, he earns his spot at number 11.
10. Brad Fiorenza (Real World: San Diego)
12 Seasons: Battle of the Sexes 2, Inferno II, Gauntlet II, The Duel (2nd place), Gauntlet III (Final), Duel II (2nd place), The Ruins, Cutthroat (Win), Vendettas, Final Reckoning, All Stars 2, All Stars 3 (Final)
7–7 Elimination Record
48 Challenge Wins
Daily Challenges: 8.5/10
Consistency is the key to Brad’s career. Ever since his first appearance on Battle of the Sexes II, Brad has been one of the top competitors every season he’s been on.
Although it took him four seasons to make his first final, he was screwed by the veterans on his team to save Eric Nies on Sexes II, having outperformed guys like Abe, Derrick and The Miz among others on that season. He was again a strong contributor on his next two seasons, but lost physical eliminations to Abe and Derrick.
From The Duel to Cutthroat, Brad went on an unbelievable run without being eliminated (not counting his fight with Darrell on the The Ruins), making four finals and earning elimination wins over Big Easy, CT (on a technicality), MJ and Landon.
Politically, Brad has almost always been in dominant alliances, including being in the top four guys on both of The Duel seasons and running the show on the red team on Cutthroat, staying out of elimination the whole season.
After taking 10 seasons off, he returned on Vendettas and took out Victor and Frank S before losing a horribly constructed elimination to Leroy right before the final.
Truthfully, other than Final Reckoning when he and Kyle lost three eliminations, Brad really doesn’t have a bad season on his record. And even on Final Reckoning he won two daily challenges.
His work in the All Stars series has only helped his resume, as he won three missions and beat Derrick in elimination on All Stars 2, and on All Stars 3 he made four Authorities (most out of any male) and aligned with Wes, Nehemiah, Mark and Derrick to make the final. But once again he came up short in the final.
While he has just one win, he could easily have four. Wes’ soccer kicks on The Duel, Big Easy dying on Gauntlet III and his cramps on Duel II had him narrowly miss out on wins those seasons.
A jack of all trade but a master of none, Brad finds a way to make it deep every season.
9. Darrell Taylor (Road Rules: Campus Crawl)
13 Seasons: The Gauntlet (Win), The Inferno (Win), The Inferno II (Win), Fresh Meat (Win), The Ruins, Fresh Meat II, Invasion of the Champions, Champs vs. Pros (Win), Dirty 30, Double Agents, All Stars (2nd place), All Stars 2 (Final), All Stars 3
7–4 Elimination Record
46 Challenge Wins
Daily Challenges: 7/10
For a long time the only person in Challenge history with four wins, Darrell is a bonafide legend. So why is he only number eight?
Four wins in his first four seasons seems remarkable, but when you look under the hood his record is a little less impressive.
He didn’t go into any eliminations in his first three seasons, and while that sounds impressive I think it was more lucky than political mastery. Although Darrell has a knack for flying under the radar, he benefited from being on seasons with big teams early in his career (however on The Inferno Real World was afraid of one of their guys facing Darrell in elimination so they nominated Timmy instead, and Darrell going for the life shield in the last guy’s day on Inferno II was a super smart move).
On his first three seasons, he was never considered higher than the third-most important guy on his team, behind Theo and Adam Larson on The Gauntlet, Timmy and Abe on The Inferno, and The Miz and Landon on Inferno II.
Frankly, Darrell’s first three wins just don’t mean a ton to me. He was a solid contributor on his teams (especially in finals, where he always excels with his cardio), but he was never super impressive in daily challenges.
You can call it great politics to avoid an elimination round on his first three seasons, but he benefited from playing in two Inferno seasons where the other team selected who went in (although to be fair he was only nominated once by his team in the first Inferno, which was less than Abe and Timmy).
His first real impressive feat was on Fresh Meat. He and Aviv won two daily challenges, won the only pardon of the season, beat the strong Derrick/Diem team in exile (they had the advantage of having 75 pounds less of weight) and defeated Kenny/Tina and Wes/Casey in the final.
If Darrell had just retired then, he might be higher on this list. Although he had an extremely impressive run on Invasion of the Champions (arguably his best season) with elimination wins over Zach and Bananas, and a solid season on The Ruins where he beat Danny and Cohutta and probably would have picked up his fifth victory had he not fought Brad, Darrell has two major blemishes on his record.
He was eliminated first on Fresh Meat II, where he and Cara Maria were thrown in by Kenny and lost to Pete/Jill. And on Dirty 30, Darrell was in the bottom four of the initial purge challenge and was sent to the Redemption House by Cory, and then he lost the Redemption House challenge to Tony.
He also has a neutral season on Double Agents, where he won the trivia challenge and beat Devin in a puzzle elimination, but got smoked by Cory in Snapping Point.
The spinoff seasons have helped bolstered Darrell’s résumé.
He and his Fresh Meat II partner Cara Maria got redemption by winning Champs vs. Pros. He lost his first-ever final on All Stars, but still had a solid second-place finish. He and Janelle beat Brad/Jodi in the final elimination on All Stars 2, but the Bay area duo came up short in the final to Jonna/MJ.
Darrell is an elite competitor and a very solid political player. He’s one of the best competitors in finals of all time, and overall he’s just extremely well-rounded.
But he didn’t truly become an elite competitor until around Fresh Meat, and there aren’t many seasons where you can definitively say he was the best guy (although I do rate him as the top male on Champs vs. Pros and All Stars 2).
He has a few some blunders later in his career, which knocks down a peg or two, but he remains a top-tier player on The Challenge.
8. Kenny Santucci (Fresh Meat)
8 Seasons: Fresh Meat (2nd place), The Duel, Inferno III (Win), Gauntlet III (Final), The Island (Win), The Ruins (Win), Fresh Meat II (2nd place), Rivals (2nd place)
5–2 Elimination Record
36 Challenge Wins
Daily Challenges: 7.5/10
Kenny might not even be a top-20 competitor of The Challenge, so how the hell is he ahead of guys like Darrell, Alton, Zach and Derrick? Because the man was in my opinion the greatest politician the show has ever seen.
Kenny really didn’t become a kingpin until the back half of his career, but he was still solid in his first four seasons, reaching three finals. On Fresh Meat he and Tina had two exile wins over Eric/Katie and Theo/Chanda, and they won the final daily to reach the final, where they placed second behind Darrell/Aviv.
The only time Kenny ever failed to reach the finals came on The Duel, when he lost in Ascender to Nehemiah. But he rebounded by winning Inferno III, winning the last two guys life shields to save himself, then going through Gauntlet III without having to see an elimination.
Kenny’s political mastery began on The Island. Having strong relationships with basically the entire cast — including his powerful alliance of Johnny, Derrick, Dunbar, Johanna and Paula — there was no way Kenny was ever going to have to sweat making the finals after beating Tonya in the first vote off.
But not only was he able to get himself to the final, he was able to thread the needle to somehow get Bananas into the final as well, convincing Evelyn to take Dunbar’s key instead of her rival Johnny.
It was a dominant political game for Kenny in a very noncompetitive season, but he proved he could do it again playing against the best of the best on The Ruins.
Other than Syrus, Kenny was probably the worst male competitor on the Champs team. But politically, he and Evan were in total control of one of the greatest teams ever assembled on The Challenge.
Those two, along with Derrick, Johnny and most of the girls on the team (namely Susie and Johanna) controlled who would be going into elimination at every vote. Wes went in three times, Darrell and Syrus both went in twice. Kenny never saw the Ruins, once again skating into the finals.
Things were different on Fresh Meat II, however. After working with Wes for the first vote, their feud reared its head again, as Wes got Landon to throw him and Laurel in against Sarah/Vinny.
After his two closest friends in the house went out (Sarah and Paula), Kenny and Laurel had their backs against the wall with just one real ally (Pete/Jill). But they won the next three missions (and allowed Pete/Jill to win the next one), methodically destroying Wes and Evelyn’s alliance.
Fresh Meat II was Kenny’s best game, and it remains one of the greatest performances in Challenge history.
Not only did Kenny/Laurel dominate physically, but he was also able to coax Jenn and Ryan back to his side and capitalize on the majority alliance’s mistakes, culminating in Wes facing Evelyn in elimination.
Yes, Kenny fell short in the finals due to Landon’s Herculean effort, but any doubts about Kenny as a competitor were squashed on Fresh Meat II.
Of course, he was bad on his final season, Rivals, and was carried by Wes for most of the season. Still, his relationships helped keep him out of the final two eliminations, as Paula even chose to send her Real World: Key West roommates Johnny/Tyler into the final elimination against CT/Adam rather than Kenny/Wes.
In the finals, Kenny made up for his poor performance throughout the season, at one point literally carrying Wes. Kenny/Wes had a huge lead after the first day, but it was cut to just a minute the next day, costing Kenny his fourth win.
When you factor in Big Easy going down on Gauntlet III, Kenny could have easily been a 5-time champion.
Kenny wasn’t a beast in daily challenges (other than on Fresh Meat II), and wasn’t anyone to be feared in an elimination, but he was excellent in finals, as he had great cardio and could put down food like a garbage disposal.
Politically, I think Kenny is better than his boys Evan and Johnny because they at times got into trouble from their strong personalities (Evan on Duel II, Bananas on The Island and The Ruins), whereas Kenny was the most calm and didn’t paint a target on his back.
I’m not sure anyone has run a game as well as Kenny did on The Island and The Ruins — it felt at times that his friends were just handing him wins.
And while Fresh Meat II Kenny is praised more for his physical game, his political game also was excellent, as he never wavered from his allies (even Ryan and Jenn who weren’t being totally loyal to him), and eventually got them and Landon to come to his side.
Kenny had a truly remarkable career, and had he not been “banned” there’s no telling how many more wins and finals appearances he would have racked up.
Mr. Beautiful made seven finals in eight seasons, a feat that almost certainly won’t be repeated by a male on this show.
7. Mark Long (Road Rules: First Adventure)
8 Seasons: Real World vs. Road Rules (Win), Battle of the Sexes (Win), Battle of the Sexes 2, Gauntlet II (Final), Duel II (3rd place), Battle of the Exes, All Stars (5th place), All Stars 3 (4th place)
3–1 Elimination Record
40 Challenge Wins
Daily Challenges: 9.5/10
The Godfather. The OG. The First Avenger.
Mark Long isn’t just a legend for being one of the show’s pioneers — he’s one of the most complete players in Challenge history.
Mark appeared on the first real season of The Challenge back in 1999. To put that in perspective, Kam Williams was just five years old.
Mark started his career with a win, leading the Road Rulers in a season that had no eliminations and everyone made the finals.
While his next two seasons, Battle of the Sexes and Battle of the Sexes II also didn’t have eliminations, the guys voted based off performance in both seasons.
In the first incarnation, Mark was constantly in the inner circle (from the fifth mission on) and finished the season first in points, as the guys defeated the girls in the end.
On Sexes II, Mark again was one of the top-performing men, only outshined by Theo and Dan in an absolutely stacked cast. He also was in the dominant veteran alliance with Dan, Theo and Eric that finagled its way to the final four, throwing people like Brad under the bus along the way.
At the end, the men threw the final daily challenge to keep the girls’ weak link Arissa in the game, and Mark bowed out to allow his pal Eric to reach the final for the first time. But Mark Long always leaves a show with money, as the four men agreed to split their winnings.
In the first season with eliminations Mark was on, Gauntlet II, he again was one of the leaders on the Veterans team and stayed out of elimination, as Derrick would have had to been delusional to want to face Mark in an elimination.
After hanging up his bandana (or rather giving it to Derrick as a passing of the torch), he returned from his retirement at 37 years old on The Duel II, and again proved to be one of the best males, both physically and politically.
Mark was in the dominant male alliance of Evan, Landon and Brad, again staying out elimination for the entire season and winning a pair of daily challenges. He was the only man to not go into an elimination that season.
Mark finished third in the final, in part due to having to wait for Aneesa to start the partner portion of the final.
The old man came back again at age 40 on Battle of the Exes, and didn’t miss a beat both physically and politically.
Partnered with a past-her-prime Robin, who was at best was the sixth-best girl on the season (definitely behind Emily, Camila, Diem, Rachel and Paula, while arguably Cara Maria and Mandi would have been better partners as well), the duo still performed solidly and even won a tough daily challenge (Don’t Rock the Boat).
But it was Mark’s relationship with Bananas that allowed them to make it all the way to the final four. Despite never having done a season together, Mark was able to make himself Johnny’s top ally.
The only real reason Mark went into the final elimination was because of dumb decisions by Diem and CT. They chose not to throw in Bananas/Camila against Ty/Emily, then spared Ty/Emily in the final elimination and instead threw in Mark/Robin because they hadn’t gone in yet.
Mark probably would have defeated Bananas in X Battle, but he reportedly cut a deal with Johnny to suffer his first elimination loss because Johnny/Camila had a much better chance of winning the final than he did with Robin.
Mark returned at 49 on All Stars and once again dominated politically and physically. He won the tough Rib Cage Path mission, won the Life Saver in the On the Ropes mission and used it to save Katie, beat Laterrian/Katie in elimination with Kendal, and finished third among the guys in the final (fifth overall).
He had an even more impressive season on All Stars 3, making the Authority three times, taking out Laterrian and Jordan in elimination, and making the final yet again.
Mark is often called the greatest political player in the history of The Challenge, and while I agree he’s one of the best, he never really had to play the political game much until Battle of the Exes because he was always one of the top competitors, although his strong social game certainly helped him in seasons like Sexes II and Duel II.
But Derrick was never going to risk facing him on Gauntlet II, and on Duel II he was still a feared competitor. On All Stars he only went into elimination because he was the captain and his team lost, although he was shockingly voted in by the Authority against LT on All Stars 3, and he was called out by Jordan.
Still, even if he’s at worst the third-best male political player of all-time (behind Kenny and Bananas), he also was a dominant force physically, which makes him one of the most well-rounded players of all time.
The main reason he isn’t higher for me is because of the era he played in, him “only” doing six seasons of the flagship show, and his lackluster performances in individual finals on Duel II, All Stars and All Stars 3.
Regardless, there’s no question that Mark is one of the greatest players in Challenge history.
6. Wes Bergmann (Real World: Austin)
18 Seasons: Fresh Meat (3rd place), The Duel (Win), The Ruins, Fresh Meat II, Rivals (2nd place), Battle of the Exes, Battle of the Seasons, Rivals II (Win), Battle of the Exes II, Rivals III, Champs vs. Pros (3rd place), Champs vs. Stars, Champs vs. Stars 2 (3rd place), War of the Worlds (3rd place), War of the Worlds 2, Total Madness, Double Agents, All Stars 3 (Win)
20–9 Elimination Record
40 Challenge Wins
Daily Challenges- 8/10
Nobody in Challenge history has had a more up-and-down career than Wes.
While the highs of Wes’ career have been very high, the lows have also been very low, which makes him one of the hardest players to assess in these rankings.
Wes is the elimination king with 20 career victories, including dragging Casey to five exile wins on Fresh Meat, an excruciating victory over Derrick in Pole Wrestle on The Duel (which in my opinion is the greatest elimination of all-time), and a perfect 5-o record in the Champs vs. series.
But there’s also a reason he was in so many eliminations.
I don’t fault him for going in five times on Fresh Meat because he was an easy scapegoat for being from the Real World: Austin cast, or for being targeted first on Battle of the Seasons in a game full of rookies, but his political games on The Ruins, Fresh Meat II and Exes were downright horrendous.
Although he was never going to be high on the totem pole with JEK and Derrick around on The Ruins, he didn’t make it any easier on himself by not telling anyone he was coming on the show, trying to throw the first mission and constantly blowing up on people in the house.
On Fresh Meat II he and Evelyn had an army of followers, but a series of miscues (including sacrificing Danny and protecting Jenn and Ryan over the people solidly in his alliance) coupled with Kenny and Laurel’s dominance caused his game to implode.
And on Exes he bizarrely declared war on Bananas when he and Camila were the power couple, leading to Wes/Mandi going into the first two eliminations.
But at its peak, Wes’ political game has been downright diabolical. His Exes II political game is one of the best in the history of the show, as he had nearly every team thinking he was their tight ally.
He had strong alliances with Sarah, Zach and the rookies, and his move to mindfuck Leroy by convincing him to send in Zach was an absolute thing of beauty.
His next best political game came on War of the Worlds, where he was able to get his nemesis Bananas eliminated second, tried (mostly in vain) to break up the UK alliance, and only saw one elimination the entire season.
On The Duel he smartly aligned with the people at the bottom of the totem pole (Nehemiah, Beth, Svetlana and Aneesa) and convinced Evan to agree to face CT, guaranteeing one of the two best competitors would go home. On Rivals II his relationship with the girls helped keep him and CT out of elimination for the entire season.
As a competitor, Wes is clearly the elimination king of The Challenge and is one of the best swimmers of all time, but for the most part he hasn’t been elite in daily challenges and has had some bad cardio performances, most notably in his Fresh Meat II exile and in the Rivals final (although he and Kenny were screwed out of a championship by having their huge lead after the first day get whittled down to just a minute on the second day).
Even some of his best competitive seasons are easy to nitpick. Carrying Casey to five elimination wins on Fresh Meat looks incredibly impressive, until you realize they had by far the least amount of weight to carry in the exiles.
He was the first solo male champion on The Duel, but he was either the third or fourth-best guy that season in dailies behind Evan, CT and arguably Brad.
He only made the Authority once in his All Stars 3 victory and was fortunate not to have to face some the premiere finals threats like Jordan, Darrell and Yes.
Wes has never dominated daily challenges, with the exception of War of the Worlds, where he made six tribunals, making four with Dee and two as an individual (plus he made the tribunal in the final). He also had solid showings on Rivals II and Exes II, where he won three missions apiece with CT and Theresa, and on Total Madness when he won three dailies in a row.
Wes’ 20 elimination wins are most for any person in Challenge history. But if you assess them, how many of his victories other than against Derrick are that impressive?
His flagship wins: Danny/Evelyn, Melinda/Ryan, Johanna/Jesse, Tonya/Jonnie, Shane/Linette, Chet, Nick Brown (it’s a movement), Tyrie/Davis, Ty/Brandon, Nate/Priscilla, Jamie/Kelly Anne, Nate/Christina and Zach/Zahida.
He won three eliminations on Champs vs. Pros, but it was in a blindfolded stick fighting match with Bananas, a puzzle against Jordan where he was heavily aided by CT, and a Knot So Fast-style win over the munchkin Louie Vito. He also beat Lil Romeo on Champs vs. Stars and was barely able to edge Devin in the physical Popping Tags elimination on Champs vs. Stars 2.
You could easily argue that his All Stars 3 win against Yes in Knock Off is his second-best victory, but even that was a somewhat lame elimination.
The only decent teams/competitors out of other victories are Tonya/Jonnie (who had an insane 140 more pounds of weight), Shane/Linette (who had 58 more pounds of weight), Ty/Brandon (Wes beat Brandon in the second rope climb), Jamie/Kelly Anne and Zach/Zahida, and none of those teams were even close to elite.
Meanwhile, his losses are to Cohutta, Ev/Luke, Leroy/Naomi, Big Easy, Leroy/Nia,Dario/Nicole, Bear, Bananas and Devin. Leroy is a beast in physical eliminations, Bananas is a legend and losing to Big Easy in Hall Brawl is nothing to be embarrassed about, but the other five losses were squarely on him.
Wes got beat straight up by Cohutta on The Ruins (although he had his team trying to mess him up), he gassed out in the exile on Fresh Meat II, he was slower in the Tunnel Vision elimination than Dario and he got outworked by Devin on Double Agents.
He gets a bit of a pass for me losing to Bear, given he was sick and he had no idea that he would be going in, but still a loss is a loss.
Going through Wes’ career, in my estimation he has nine above-average seasons (Fresh Meat, The Duel, Rivals, Rivals II, Exes II, Champs vs. Pros, Champs vs. Stars 2 War of the Worlds and All Stars 3), four average seasons (The Ruins, Fresh Meat II, Rivals III, Champs vs. Stars and Total Madness) and four duds (Exes, Battle of the Seasons, War of the Worlds 2 and Double Agents). That’s basically an even split of good versus not-so-good seasons, and nobody in my rankings has as spotty of a track record.
But his highs — seasons like The Duel, Rivals II, Exes II, War of the Worlds and All Stars 3 — are so much higher than everyone else’s, so I’m willing to mostly disregard some of his poor showings and focus more on his achievements.
I don’t know if Wes can ever crack the top five.
I value consistency in a challenger, and that just hasn’t been Wes’ strong suit, especially politically. While he’s a threat to win any season he’s on whether he’s in shape or not, he’s also liable to get himself thrown into the first elimination and go home early.
Wes’ career has been an absolute roller coaster, but there’s no denying it’s been one of the greatest in Challenge history.
5. Jordan Wiseley (Real World: Portland)
8 Seasons: Rivals II (3rd place), Free Agents, Battle of the Exes II (Win), Champs vs. Pros, Dirty XXX (Win), War of the Worlds 2 (Win), Total Madness, All Stars 3
8–4 Elimination Record
23 Challenge Wins
Daily Challenges: 9/10
Playing in one of the toughest eras in Challenge history, Jordan has proven himself to be one of the top competitors of all-time.
With three consecutive wins and another final, Jordan has rapidly moved up the all-time rankings.
Only the fourth competitor ever to pull of three wins in a row (along with Jamie M, Darrell and Derrick K), Jordan’s hat trick is different in that he did it in every possible format, with victories in individual, partner and team seasons.
And all three wins were so impressive, it’s hard to even say which one was the best.
On Exes II he and Sarah were the best team throughout the season on a stacked cast, winning three daily challenges, beating Zach/Jonna in elimination and defeating Leroy/Theresa and Jay/Jenna in the final.
In an absolutely loaded cast on Dirty 30 that featured CT, Derrick, Bananas, Darrell, Hunter, Nelson and Leroy, Jordan still stood out as the best overall competitor.
Jordan won three daily challenges, came back from the Redemption House (it should be noted that he was second in that challenge and probably would have been eliminated had Nelson not been kicked off previously, but it’s not like Jordan lost an elimination to get sent to the Redemption House, he was just picked by Hunter) and defeated Derrick and CT in the final to earn what was at the time the largest winnings in the history of the show.
And on War of the Worlds 2, he and Tori had their backs up against the wall the last half of the season, but Jordan was able to beat Theo and Josh in eliminations and then win the final.
Jordan has been impressive since the beginning of his career. He and his Real World: Portland castmate Marlon were one of the best teams on Rivals II, winning a daily challenge and two eliminations, including an impressive victory over the bigger Leroy/Ty in Last Chance. They finished third in the final behind CT/Wes and Bananas/Frank.
The only blemish in his career physically is his performance in Free Agents, as he underperformed in the daily challenges and lost to Bananas in the Wrecking Wall elimination (where he was at a major disadvantage, given he only has one functional hand).
His loss to Fessy in Pole Wrestle on Total Madness is completely forgivable, considering he was facing a monster with just one hand.
His record in spinoffs don’t really help or hurt his legacy. He went out early in a puzzle to Wes on Champs vs. Pros. He had a solid campaign on All Stars 3, making the Authority twice and pulling off an incredible win over Darrell in Steamroller, but ultimately falling to Mark in Pull Your Own Weight.
The best comparison with Jordan is probably Landon. Competitively I think they’re almost even, but while Landon was never a master politician, he usually just kept his mouth shut and didn’t make waves.
That’s the opposite of what Jordan does. He’s gotten himself into trouble on pretty much every season he’s been on.
On Rivals II he feuded with Frank, and he and Marlon were voted into the final two jungles. Free Agents he was squarely against Bananas, and it blew up in his face when he threw himself into elimination against him.
On Dirty 30, he was thrown in because of his rap battle gone wrong against Jemmye.
On War of the Worlds 2, he was adamantly against Paulie and Cara, getting thrown in by them even though they were on the same team. Jordan was even thrown in before Josh, someone who also was completely against Para and clearly an inferior competitor to Jordan.
And on Total Madness, he tried to strong arm Dee into helping Tori get a red skull, and he had a blowup with Wes, throwing a drink in his face and dangling a sausage in his face.
Jordan is a prick, but he makes my top five for being an undeniably incredible competitor.
I think maybe the biggest testament to his greatness is how little people talk about the fact that he only has one hand. It’s unbelievable what Jordan’s been able to accomplish, regardless of his “disability.”
If he continues doing the show he’s going to continue to rack up accolades, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he challenges for GOAT status.
But he’s going to need a few great seasons for me to put him on the same level as CT and Bananas.
4. Evan Starkman (Fresh Meat)
6 Seasons: Fresh Meat, The Duel, Gauntlet III (Final), Duel II (Win), The Ruins (Win), Rivals
4–2 Elimination Record
31 Challenge Wins
Daily Challenges: 10/10
There might not be a player with a better combination of competitive ability and political dominance than Evan.
Evan was almost the new age, Canadian version of The Miz. Right off the bat on Fresh Meat, he proved himself to be one of the show’s biggest personalities and one of the best competitors in the game.
Evan was the first guy off the board in the Fresh Meat draft, and he and Coral dominated the early part of Fresh Meat, winning five of the first six missions. But their injuries forced them to go home early.
Evan again was the top male in dailies on The Duel, racking up six daily challenge victories. He was in an alliance with the other top three males — CT, Brad and Derrick, and the four girls — Kina, Diem, Jodi and Robin.
But Evan failed to reach the final when he agreed to a deal with Wes to try and take out CT before the final. His attempt to cheat on the puzzle in Ascender was snuffed out, and he lost at the final four.
After taking off Inferno III, Evan came back on Gauntlet III and established himself as the leader of the vets, on a team with more seasoned guys like CT and Brad.
Viewed as one of the best competitors on the vets, Evan was thrown into the Gauntlet by the rookies, where he agreed to face Bananas. It’s hard to pin the vets failure to eliminate Big Easy on one player in particular, but Evan certainly deserves some blame. He was the biggest guy on the team other than Eric, and could have stepped up to take him out (even though it was still early in the game).
Evan took out Johnny in Sliders, but the vets not taking out Eric came back to haunt them, as he collapsed in the finals and cost them a win.
It’s pretty shocking that Kenny had two wins before Evan even had one, but Evan finally got his first win on Duel II. It wasn’t easy, as he had to take out Davis, Nehemiah and Derek M. in elimination and was constantly targeted for being the head of the snake in his alliance with Landon, Mark and Brad.
Evan also took heat from Paula changing up the order on the second vote to save Dunbar, and he had to dump her to get back in his allies’ good graces.
Evan didn’t dominate Duel II nearly as much as he did in the first incarnation, as he won just two daily challenges (and the first one was essentially handed to him), but in the final he was able to beat Mark and barely squeak by Brad at the very last second to pick up his first victory.
Winning Duel II earned him a spot on the Champions team on The Ruins, and once again he was the vocal leader of the team. Evan was not only the best competitor on the Champions team, but he also was the ringleader politically with Kenny. However, unlike Kenny I think Evan wasn’t flawless politically on The Ruins.
Evan got chummy with Veronica, who wasn’t really in the main alliance (Susie, Johanna and Ibis were all ahead of her in the pecking order). When it was time for Veronica to be sent in, there was a debate about whether she should go in against KellyAnne (the strongest female on the Challengers) or if she should be given her choice of who to face (Veronica wanted to go against Kim).
Evan changed his vote to having Veronica face Kim, resulting in a tie and causing the entire Champions team to have to vote. Madness ensued, and it resulted in a completely new matchup, with Ibis facing Kim. The move really didn’t affect Evan in the long run, but it did make him appear untrustworthy to his allies.
Still, Evan went the entire season without having to see an elimination, and the stacked Champs team defeated KellyAnne and Sarah in the finals.
The JEK dynasty’s last stand was on Rivals, and again they had total control politically. Having all the numbers, none of the JEK members would have to go into elimination unless they lost.
Evan was out of shape on Rivals and had by far his worst physical performance, but he still was in complete control politically.
He didn’t have to go into the jungle on the third guys day, but just like on The Duel, Evan felt that he needed to get CT out before the finals (he also was rumored to have to go home anyway to start grad school). And just like on The Duel, his attempt was unsuccessful.
It was only the second time in his career that Evan was eliminated, and when both of your losses are against CT, there’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Evan’s combination of leadership, physical prowess in daily challenges, eliminations and finals, and political influence make him one of the most well-rounded players in the history of the show despite only competing on six seasons.
3. Landon Lueck (Real World: Philadelphia)
4 Seasons: Inferno II (Win), Gauntlet II (Win), Duel II, Fresh Meat II (Win)
5–1 Elimination Record
24 Challenge Wins
Daily Challenges: 10/10
Arguably the greatest competitor in the history of the show, Landon was one of the few players who didn’t need politics to thrive.
He dominated every season he was on physically, leaving one of the most enduring legacies in the history of The Challenge despite appearing on just four seasons.
His first two seasons were big team competitions, where he helped the Good Guys win Inferno II and the rookies take home the grand prize on Gauntlet II. He was at the very least the second-best guy on his team on both of those seasons, with the Miz on Inferno II and Alton on Gauntlet II.
Defeating Karamo and Dan in Infernos isn’t anything to brag much about (although Dan was an underrated competitor) but he proved himself from the beginning of his career that he was one of the best competitors on the show.
Even with three wins under his belt, his most impressive season was the one he didn’t win — The Duel II.
In a cast of guys that included Mark, Evan and Brad, Landon completely dominated, winning five daily challenges, not to mention an elimination win over Isaac (never clip another man’s toenails, Landon).
Of course, Landon fell short of making the finals by losing the epic final elimination against Brad. Landon was thrown in by the other guys when he left the deliberation room to get a hat, and he chose to face Brad. In the Back Off elimination, Landon got flustered when Brad threw his hook, resulting in Landon’s only defeat.
He came back on Fresh Meat II and turned in another legendary performance. Saddled with Carley as his partner and being in a house that had Kenny and Laurel partnered together, he was never going to have much of a chance to dominate in dailies (although they did win twice and were the only other team besides Kenny/Laurel to win multiple missions).
But his dominance was truly on display in both the exiles and the final. They took out CJ/Sydney (although to be fair they’d still be trying to solve that puzzle today nearly a decade later, and later it came out that CJ threw the exile), but defeating Evelyn/Luke when Carley was nearly dead in the exile brought Landon’s status to another level.
And to top it off, he ended his career (at least to this date) with his most impressive feat, taking down the Goliath duo of Kenny and Laurel in the finals, literally putting his head between her butt cheeks and pushing her up the final mountain.
There’s no denying Landon’s greatness as a competitor, but he is out of my top two for a few reasons. First of all, his sample size is small. He has just four seasons, and two were big team challenges. He also wasn’t much of a politician.
He wouldn’t have gone for the final life shield on Inferno II even if Darrell hadn’t dug himself out first, he made the mistake of leaving the room on Duel II, and he was thrown under the bus by Wes and Evelyn on Fresh Meat II, and he found himself in no-man’s land the rest of the game.
Landon had a major aversion to playing the political game, and I think that could have hurt him tremendously if he had continued to do more seasons.
But Landon is one of those guys who really doesn’t need politics to succeed. He’s one of the greatest competitors of all-time, he just doesn’t have the longevity of the next two guys in these rankings.
2. Johnny Devenanzio (Real World: Key West)
22 Seasons: The Duel, Inferno III (Final), Gauntlet III, The Island (Win), The Ruins (Win), Cutthroat, Rivals (Win), Battle of the Exes (Win), Rivals II (2nd place), Free Agents (Win), Battle of the Exes II, Battle of the Bloodlines, Rivals III (Win), Invasion of the Champions, Champs vs. Pros, Dirty XXX, Champs vs. Stars (Win), Vendettas, Final Reckoning, War of the Worlds, War of the Worlds 2, Total Madness (Win)
16–15 Elimination Record
70 Challenge Wins
Daily Challenges: 10/10
You could write an entire book on the career of Johnny Bananas. With 22 seasons under his belt the man has made himself synonymous with The Challenge.
With seven flagship championships (not to mention a win on Champs vs. Stars), it’s easy to call him the Tom Brady of The Challenge.
There’s more to talk about with Bananas’ career than anyone else, so instead of doing a season-by-season breakdown, I think it’s best to go over the pros and cons of his career. Let’s start with the bad, shall we?
Bananas has to be by far the luckiest person in Challenge history. It all starts with The Island, where he first became a star. Johnny behaved terribly that season, and was almost voted out over Abram, who was asking to be sent home.
Now, it has to be mentioned that Abe probably wouldn’t have put himself into the second face-off because he already had a key, but had Bananas been voted out (it was a 9–6 vote), there’s no way his career is the same.
He wouldn’t have been on the Champs team on The Ruins, which means he probably wouldn’t have gotten his first win until Rivals (if he was even deemed relevant enough to be on that season in the first place), so at a maximum he would have had five wins.
The next big thing is the departures of Kenny and Evan from the show. Johnny already had three wins when they left after Rivals, but at the time they were clearly bigger faces of the show than he was.
It’s impossible to say what would have happened if Kenny and Evan had remained on the show, and while he was always aligned with those guys and it might have made it even easier for him to make it to the end, they were also big competition. It’s also likely that Bananas wouldn’t have been cast as much with Kenny and Evan around, and he almost certainly wouldn’t be the face of the franchise that he is today.
The last major luck factor for Bananas is his partners. In his career, he has been paired with Tyler, Camila, Frank, Nany, Vince, Sarah, Tony and Morgan. When your worst partners are Morgan and Vince, you have to consider yourself extremely lucky (or, more likely, favored by production).
Even the circumstances of him getting those partners are extremely lucky. He was originally supposed to be with Casey on Battle of the Exes, but she was replaced for Camila, who didn’t hook up with Bananas on screen. He was partnered with Frank over Twitter beef when they had never even met. Again, he was partnered with Nany without an on-screen hookup. And he was originally slated to be paired with Devin, but got Tony after Devin’s dad died.
Some of his wins are also extremely lucky.
He was carried to the end by Kenny on The Island.
On Rivals, he and Tyler won the final elimination because Adam messed up, and then they were behind 45 minutes to Kenny/Wes after the first day, but it was erased to a minute deficit on day two.
On Exes, Mark threw the final elimination because he felt Bananas/Camila would have a better shot in the final than he and Robin.
And on Rivals III he got partnered with by far the best girl in Sarah, although he was also the best guy on the season.
I’ll address another one of his perceived cons, which I don’t really view as that huge of a deal — his elimination record. He’s 16–15 in eliminations, holding the title of most elimination losses of all time.
That looks bad, and eliminations definitely aren’t his strong suit, but when you really break it down I don’t think any of his losses are embarrassing.
He lost to Tyler in I Can (arguably the dumbest elimination ever), Evan in a puzzle, Tyler (via CT), Leroy/Nia (where Bananas didn’t even get to compete because Nany got stuck), Leroy/Theresa in X-Battle, Cara/Jamie in a puzzle, Darrell, Wes in a blindfolded stickfighting elimination, Derrick, Devin in a memory elimination, Joss/Sylvia in a card stacking elimination, Paulie/Natalie in a contest to see who could hold their arms up the longest, and Zach/Zahida in a climbing/geography elimination.
I just don’t see a bad loss in there. Yeah, you would have liked to see him win some of those, especially later in his career, but there’s nothing in there that’s embarrassing (other than the CT backpack incident). And while this section is about his good luck, I’ll mention his bad luck of having to go into the final elimination six times, which usually means facing a good competitor at the end.
When you factor in his wins — defeating Dunbar, CT/Adam, Mark/Robin, Isaac, Jordan, CT, Dario/Nicole, the legend Riff Raff, Shane/Nelson, Wes, plus his four wins to get back into the game on Exes II — I think Bananas is at least slightly above average in eliminations.
Now that we’ve gone through all the flaws in his game, let’s move on to his strengths.
Johnny’s run from The Island to Rivals III is by far the most impressive stretch by anyone in Challenge history. Six wins, another final, with his worst finishes being the second-to-last man eliminated on Cutthroat and Bloodlines…it’s just an unrivaled stretch of 10 seasons.
Competitively, Johnny might not even be a top-five competitor all time, but there’s no denying the guy has some tremendous performances. He and Tyler won three daily challenges in the stacked Rivals cast, he and Camila won three dailies on Exes, he won two individual/partner dailies on Free Agents, and he and Sarah won four dailies on Rivals III. I don’t think there’s much debate that Bananas was the best male competitor on Exes, Free Agents, Bloodlines and Rivals III (I have him as the best on Total Madness and Champs vs. Stars as well).
As Will Seamon noted, Bananas statistically is the greatest performer in daily challenges of all time. His numbers are bolstered by being on dominant teams like the Vets on Gauntlet III, the Champions on The Ruins and the Red team on Bloodlines, but nobody has more wins in individual or partner missions with 21 (CT is next at 19, although if you count Life Shields in The Inferno seasons CT moves up to 29).
And when Bananas gets to finals, he usually wins, as he’s finished first in seven of the nine finals he’s made it to.
One more thing about Johnny’s competitive abilities — he has to be considered one of the smartest, if not the smartest, competitors of all time. Things like seeing the markings in Giraffic Park on Inferno 3, coming up with the plan to put Wes at the bottom of the rope on The Ruins when he was trying to throw the first mission, talking his way into going a second time in the Roll With the Punches mission on Invasion, and solving the puzzle in Decontamination on Total Madness without going into the foam are underrated in his game.
But Bananas isn’t ranked this high just because of his competitive abilities, it’s also because of his politics.
From The Ruins to Rivals III, he was only sent in before the second-to-last elimination twice (Free Agents and Exes II). He was never sent in on Exes (only went in for getting last), Rivals II and Rivals III (only went in for drawing the black skull).
Johnny was obviously the third wheel to Kenny and Evan earlier in his career, but once they left he settled into being the clear best politician on the show, gaining loyal followers in people like Leroy, Camila and Nany, and working with basically every big name on the show in that era other than Wes.
Even on a season like Bloodlines, where most of Johnny’s allies were out of the game early and with a clear faction of young guys against him along with Abe and Cara, he was able to keep himself and his cousin out of elimination until the end.
I think Kenny and maybe Mark are better politically than Johnny, but I think there’s a valid argument that Bananas is the greatest politician of all time based on his longevity.
After Rivals III, Johnny had a six-season stretch of not making a final, but I think his demise from being a top player during that period was exaggerated. Losing to Darrell on Invasion and Derrick on Dirty XXX was nothing to be embarrassed about. He made the troika four times on Vendettas, and he was able to make it to the final elimination of Final Reckoning despite having almost the entire house against him.
He also had a pair of early exits on both War of the Worlds seasons, losing to Zach/Zahida and Theo.
But just when you thought his days of being able to make a final were finished, Bananas did the unthinkable and aligned with Wes on Total Madness, then took out his ginger nemesis in elimination en route to the final. There he was able to beat Rogan in elimination to stay in the final, and overtook Fessy near the end to pull off his seventh victory.
If this were a ranking of who was the best at their peak, Johnny probably doesn’t get placed this high. But his longevity of sustained excellence and only having a handful of dud seasons put him near the top for me.
To me it’s essentially a toss up between him and CT for the number one spot and it will probably be debated until the end of time.
It’s truly splitting hairs between CT and Bananas, but CT gets the edge to me because of his incredible consistency.
Still, it’s incredible that after all these years Johnny Bananas is still one of the top competitors on the show.
The guy has made The Challenge his career, and he’s damn good at it.
1. CT Tamburello (Real World: Paris)
21 Seasons: The Inferno (Final), Inferno II (Final), The Duel, Inferno 3, Gauntlet III (Final), Duel II, Rivals, Battle of the Exes (2nd place), Rivals II (Win), Free Agents, Battle of the Exes II, Invasion of the Champions (Win), Champs vs. Pros, Dirty XXX (3rd place), Champs vs. Stars (Win), Champs vs. Stars 2 (Win), Final Reckoning, War of the Worlds, War of the Worlds 2 (Win), Total Madness, Double Agents (Win), Spies, Lies & Allies (Win)
6–5 Elimination Record
67 Challenge Wins
Daily Challenges: 10/10
There’s no one in Challenge history who has been as successful for as long as Christopher Tamburello.
With seven total victories and 12 finals appearances, CT’s resume speaks for itself.
Not counting his exits on Inferno 3 and Duel II for fighting and having to leave due to Diem’s illness on Exes II (and to be clear I’m not factoring any of those early exits into these rankings) CT reached at least the final elimination in 10 straight seasons on the flagship franchise to start his career, an absolutely staggering accomplishment.
CT was an excellent competitor from the beginning. On The Inferno he won four life shields and beat Shane in elimination to make the finals, then on Inferno II he earned a ridiculous six life shields, even with studs like Abe and Derrick on his team.
It looked like he was more interested in wooing Diem on The Duel than actually winning, but he still won three dailies and beat Evan in Ascender before losing on a technicality in the final elimination Push Me.
On Gauntlet III, CT beat Derek in the first daily and breezed into the final with the dominant vets. But his posturing to get Bananas thrown into elimination against Evan instead of Big Easy came back to bite the Vets, as Eric’s collapse robbed CT of his first win.
CT was put into exile for his ugly fight with Adam on Duel II, and it was questionable whether he’d return to the show again. But after a brief cameo on Cutthroat where he turned Johnny Bananas into a human backpack, he became a mainstay again.
He made his official return on Rivals with the entire house against him, and he still dominated. CT and Adam won two dailies and took out Evan/Nehemiah before losing the final elimination to Johnny/Tyler.
On Exes, CT and Diem started slow but won the final two dailies to reach the final. They led for almost the entire final, until CT broke down in the mountain climb and Johnny/Camila passed them at the last minute.
CT finally captured his first victory on Rivals II, as he and Wes won three dailies, stayed out of elimination the entire season, and led from wire-to-wire to defeat Johnny/Frank and Jordan/Marlon in the final.
He had a low-key run on Free Agents, but still took out Leroy in Wrecking Wall and won four daily challenges.
After Diem’s death, CT returned on Invasion with a dad bod. But even in his worst shape, he still proved to be a freak of nature, having one of the most impressive elimination wins in Challenge history by destroying Darrell in Knot So Fast, then defeating Nelson and Cory in the final to earn his second victory.
Dad Bod CT again dominated Dirty XXX, winning all but one daily challenge and earning his way back from the Redemption House. The only reason he was in the Redemption House was a twist that allowed the winning team of the Blackout mission to send someone straight there, and CT was picked because he was the biggest threat.
CT’s cardio held him back from beating the more in shape Jordan and Derrick in the final, as he placed third.
Some people wrote off CT after a couple of early exits late in his career, as Veronica caused him to get purged on Final Reckoning, and on War of the Worlds he was called out by JP and lost the three-man Ring Tossed elimination round to Kyle.
But he came back on War of the Worlds 2 and was the only stabilizing force guiding Team UK, ultimately helping them win the final without ever having to go in.
After a shocking early loss to Jay on Total Madness, CT bounced back on Double Agents. He overcame a huge target on his back from day one and being saddled with a less-than-stellar partner in Big T for most of the season, winning a pair of daily challenges, beating Josh in elimination and winning the final with Amber B.
Despite being the reigning champion and clearly the best player on the show, he was still somehow able to skate through Spies, Lies & Allies, winning five daily challenges (two in the partner format) and single-handedly winning the Dead Drop mission for Sapphire.
He teamed up with Kaycee at the end of the final and was able to secure his fifth championship on the flagship franchise.
CT was also clearly the GOAT of the short-lived Champs vs. series. He won the spinoff twice, including a ridiculous comeback win on Champs vs. Stars season two where he overcame back pain to defeat two tough teams in Casper/Louise and Wes/Boobie. Fittingly, he never went into elimination in any of the three seasons.
CT’s 6–5 elimination record isn’t impressive, although the people he’s beat are impressive (Shane, Evan, Evan/Nehemiah, Leroy and Darrell, not to mention the Banana Backpack on Cutthroat).
His losses are mostly understandable.
He dominated Brad in Push Me on The Duel, but lost for ripping the flag. It’s on CT for making the mental mistake, but for all intents and purposes CT absolutely destroyed Brad in that elimination.
His other losses were because of Adam’s mistakes in the final elimination on Rivals, a puzzle loss to Bananas on Free Agents, the loss on War of the Worlds, and when he sent himself into elimination on Total Madness and lost to Jay. The Bananas and Jay losses are really the only times where he was beat straight up.
The Free Agents loss, his collapse in the Exes final, his bad cardio in the Dirty XXX and the loss to Jay on Total Madness are really the only times where you can totally blame him for not winning (you can throw The Duel loss in there too but that was more of a fluke loss, even though I don’t know if he beats Wes in the final because of the soccer advantage).
I have CT as the best male competitor on seven seasons — Inferno II, Rivals, Rivals II, Invasion, Double Agents, Spies Lies & Allies and Champs vs. Stars 2. And he’s squarely in the discussion for many other seasons, like The Inferno, Gauntlet III, Battle of the Exes, Dirty 30, Champs vs. Pros and Champs vs. Stars.
CT was initially seen as a hothead and far from a political mastermind, but he later became on the best political players the game has ever seen.
After having the whole house against him on Rivals, he was able to get himself in with the other vets on Exes (having Diem as his partner helped too). CT and Diem made horrible mistakes in throwing in Paula/Dunbar against Ty/Emily and Mark/Robin in against Johnny/Camila, but those were portrayed to be Diem’s decisions rather than CT’s.
On Rivals II, he employed the best polidicking strategy in Challenge history, hooking up with girls on four different teams (Diem, Anastasia, Nany and Cooke), which helped keep himself and Wes out of elimination the entire season.
On War of the Worlds 2, he was the puppet master pulling the strings on Rogan, staying out of elimination as his alliance maintained control the entire game.
And he was able to make it to the end on Double Agents with only one elimination against Josh (AKA The Goof) and he made the SLA without ever seeing an elimination.
Of the 12 finals he’s been to, he’s made a ridiculous nine of them without seeing an elimination.
Although CT usually never has a true number one ally (other than Cara Maria), he almost always works with the top dogs like Bananas, Leroy, Zach, Wes, Derrick, etc. After having more enemies than almost anyone in the history of the show early in his career, he really doesn’t have a legitimate vendetta anymore.
Even with as big of a target as he usually has due to always being a top competitor, he is able to downplay his threat level better than anyone.
Whether he’s in shape or has a dad bod, CT is a massive threat to make it to the end and win. He’s one of the best males ever in dailies and can destroy someone in an elimination, if he even has to see one at all.
And that’s what makes CT Tamburello the greatest player Challenge history.