At the end of Rivals, it was fair to call Kenny Santucci and Evan Starkman two of the greatest players in Challenge history.
It’s still a fair statement today, but of course 10 seasons have passed since either of them have appeared on the show.
Even mentioning Kenny and Evan is controversial. For those who are unaware of why Kenny and Evan no longer appear on the show, I’ve linked an article detailing the situation. Basically, Kenny and Evan were accused of sexually assaulting Tonya Cooley on The Ruins. Due to costs of insuring them to be on the show, they haven’t been brought back since the lawsuit was settled.
I’m not going to go into much more detail about the allegation because that’s not what this article is about, but it can’t be ignored.
So here’s my quick take: I don’t know what happened with Tonya, and neither do you. We weren’t there, and there hasn’t been a consensus among the cast whether Kenny and Evan are guilty or not nearly a decade later.
If Tonya’s allegations are true, then it’s obviously horrific. Tonya was a drunken mess the whole season, but Kenny and Evan (along with Johnny) pretty clearly treated her like shit the whole season, even aside from the allegation.
Basically my thoughts are this: we don’t know what happpened, and we probably never will.
But you can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Kenny and Evan had continued to be on the show.
By the end of their run, they weren’t just stars — they were kingpins. Starting with their introduction to the series on Fresh Meat, they reached 12 out of 15 finals on seasons they were on (not counting Evan and Coral going home due to injuries on Fresh Meat). They completely dominated the game politically, with neither of them coming even close to going into elimination on The Ruins, and they only went into elimination on Rivals when they placed last (Evan threw the sixth mission to go against CT).
They also proved themselves as individuals, as Evan won three eliminations en route to his first win on Duel II, while Kenny and Laurel completely dominated Fresh Meat II despite having the entire house against them (before ultimately falling short in the final against Landon and Carley). Kenny and Evan were almost like Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant — they could definitely win a title by themselves, and if they’re together…good fucking luck.
They were also huge characters, as Mr. Beautiful had a legendary rivalry with Wes that spanned three seasons, while Evan was a confessional king and the vocal leader of every team or alliance he was on starting with Gauntlet 3.
To many, their dominance (along with Johnny Bananas) was getting old.
The JEK era of the show is still hated by many fans, largely because people always hate dynasties. It’s a major reason why the New England Patriots are despised (along with the fact they’ve been caught cheating multiple times) Their dominance did cause some boring competition, most notably on The Ruins.
Some people didn’t like their constant pranking and antagonization of women on the show, particularly on The Ruins. While some of it is cringe-worthy to re-watch, it’s also not like they’re the only people to have done bad things on the show before.
They both came back for seasons after The Ruins and were much more mature. The same thing happened with Bananas after The Ruins and has happened to many other people on this show before (CT, Wes, Derrick, Tony, Brad, Zach, ect.) who have mellowed out dramatically since their earlier seasons.
Personally, I was a big fan of Kenny and Evan, even while acknowledging their faults. I think they’re two of the funniest people to ever be on the show, and they were both incredible players.
Who knows how many more seasons Kenny and Evan would have done if they weren’t banned. Evan was already starting to fade away from The Challenge — he took Fresh Meat II and Cutthroat off before coming on Rivals out of shape and disinterested.
Kenny, on the other hand, was about as big of a mainstay as you could get. He did eight out of 10 seasons, and basically had his last two seasons built around him and Wes.
I think it’s reasonable to presume Kenny would have done more seasons had they not been banned, and it’s not hard to imagine Kenny being right there with Bananas on every season to this day. Evan, on the other hand, might have either retired completely or only shown up every once and awhile.
Battle of the Seasons and Rivals II brought in many promising new males that looked like they could potentially fill the void Kenny and Evan left. Zach Nichols, Frank Sweeney, Dustin Zito, Jordan Wiseley, Marlon Williams and Ryan Knight all looked like potential stars, but for various reasons only Zach became a mainstay (and he never became a star on Kenny and Evan’s level).
It’s not like the show’s quality dramatically decreased after Kenny and Evan left — the stretch of Rivals II, Free Agents and Exes II might be my favorite three-season run in the history of the series.
But to me Kenny and Evan elevated every season they were on. Throwing them on some of the recent seasons, especially some of the duller ones like Bloodlines and Rivals III, would have given it a nice boost. Obviously this all depends on whether you thought Kenny and Evan were douches or funny (to me it was the latter), but I don’t think you can say they were dull.
I would have liked to see a power struggle between the strong new castmembers (had they all stuck around) rather than just joining up with the vets like many of them did.
Perhaps the most interesting thing to think about is how Bananas’ career would have gone if Kenny and Evan had continued to be on the show.
It’s a misconception that Bananas was some scrub before Kenny and Evan left — he already had racked up three wins.
Still, it’s hard to envision him becoming the face of the franchise that he is today with Kenny and Evan still around.
However, I think if Kenny and Evan had continued to come on, it could have endeared the fans more to Johnny. He certainly wouldn’t have been brought on eight consecutive seasons (10 if you count Champs vs. Pros and Champs vs. Stars), so there wouldn’t have been as much Bananas fatigue.
It’s also fun to think about whether or not Bananas still would have six wins. Maybe Kenny gets paired with Sarah for Exes, or Jodi gets brought back to be with Evan. What if Kenny and Sarah are partners on Exes 2 — do they still throw in Bananas and Nany to the final elimination? Is Bananas still randomly partnered with Frank on Rivals 2 if Kenny was there, or would he get a different parter like Wes or CT?
I would have loved to see the dynamic of just Bananas and Evan on a season without the glue of Kenny holding the three-headed monster together. It seemed like on The Ruins they could barely tolerate each other at times, so maybe their styles would have clashed without Kenny around.
The game overall likely would have been easier for Bananas if he had his buddies with him, and he likely wouldn’t have had to scrap his way through seasons like Free Agents. But who knows how it would affect his win total.
If you combine political prowess and athletic ability, Kenny and Evan are probably top-5 players all-time. In my humble opinion, Kenny is the best political player of all time (although Bananas might have surpassed him purely due to longevity), and Evan is the most well-rounded player ever.
The Challenge obviously survived without them, and them going away after Rivals was in theory a perfect way to start a new era of the show. But I don’t feel like the new era of male competitors ever totally panned out, despite several great seasons without Kenny and Evan.
Ideally, Kenny and Evan would have stayed around to form new rivalries with the younger kids, and taken off some of the necessity for Bananas to be on every season. Maybe one day the torch would be passed to the next crop of challengers, like it was passed to them from guys like Mark and the Miz. Or maybe they’d continue to dominate, and the JEK dynasty would become more powerful than the Lannister dynasty.
Maybe they would have faded away from the show naturally, or maybe they would have continued to be major faces of the franchise.
But their reign was never usurped by the up and comers, it just ended abruptly and anticlimactically.