MTV's The Challenge: The Biggest Controversies On and Off the Screen

As one of the longest running reality series in TV history, the MTV competition show has weathered scandals, infidelity, Twitter wars and more since it premiered in 1998

By Tierney Bricker Sep 11, 2019 11:00 AMTags
Watch: Why MTV's "The Challenge" Stars Keep Coming Back

A cheating scandal is about to rock The Challenge.

OK, romantic cheating controversies have definitely happened on the longrunning MTV reality competition series before. But in the upcoming installment on War of the Worlds 2, it looks like some cheating will go down during a competition, leading to a shocking elimination. 

While the show is about to have a controversy go down on-air, there's also some scandal happening off-camera, as Georgia Harrison, one of the franchise's newest stars, has come under fire after fans accused her of wearing black face paint in a photo from 2014. 

A rep for the 24-year-old Love Island vet defended the reality star, telling People in a statement, "The claim that Georgia is a racist is disgusting and really worrying." After explaining that the photo was from a children's birthday party where she had her face painted black and silver at a little boy's request, the rep said, "At no point did Georgia at the time think it would be offensive. Of course now she understands the situation differently and would be horrified to know she'd upset people."

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Georgia's team is "in the process of taking legal action for defamation against parties that have labeled [Georgia] racist," possibly including some of her fellow Challengers as the rep said "a couple of angry castmates" had launched a "bullying campaign" against her since the photo resurfaced. 


While MTV has yet to respond to our request for comment, the network has had its fair share of dealing with on-and-off-screen controversies since the hit series debuted in 1998.

The biggest Challenge controversy is also one of the biggest controversies in reality TV history: In 2011, Tony Cooley, who had competed on eight Challenges after making her debut on RW: Chicago, filed a lawsuit against the network, production company and two of her cast members (Evan Stark and Kenny Santucci), alleging she was sexually assaulted by them during the taping of The Ruins when she was passed out. (Among her other claims were wrongful termination and intentional infliction of emotional distress). 

Ultimately, the case never went to trial after it was settled privately and closed on Oct. 18, 2012. 

While all the parties involved are legally unable to discuss the alleged incident or anything related to the case, Tonya opened up about her struggles on the show in a 2016  interview with Buzzfeed, admitting she became "an alcoholic" during her run on the franchise. 

"I was drinking too much and it...stopped being a game of sport for me and I [made] some unhealthy choices," Tonya, who had since gotten sober, said. 

In a recent Entertainment Weekly interview, current showrunner Justin Booth revealed the contestants' alcohol consumption is regulated and monitored. 

"When I first started some 15 years ago, the cast was allowed to drink as much as they wanted," he said. "But after one too many fights, we did away with tequila shots, and brown liquor was eradicated."

Star Chris "C.T." Tamburello added, "The Challenge in the past was more about a party. Now, it's evolved to an action movie. You can't screw around or someone could get seriously hurt."

Never formally charged, Kenny, who would go on to appear on following seasons of the show after The Ruins after denying any wrongdoing (along with Evan), talked about the impact it had on his life in the same article. 

"I don't think people realize how much it's affected my life in a negative way," he told Buzzfeed. "It's really cost me a lot of opportunity and money and time and everything else you could possibly imagine. I've never been a negative guy—yes, I can say mean shit, but I've always kept my nose clean. For that to have happened and for everything to have gone down the way it did, it's kind of like, f--k this. I don't need it, it doesn't define me."

While cast members can sometimes get away with some dramatic behavior in the name of making good reality TV, producers will send someone packing should things go too far, which has happened multiple times throughout The Challenge's 30-plus seasons on-air, as contestants such as Nelson Thomas, Cory Wharton, Kailah Casillas, Zach Nichols and Ayanna Mackins have all been disqualified for physical altercations. 

Camila Nakagawa (aka the Camilinator) won The Challenge XXX: Dirty 30…but wasn't on hand at the reunion to claim her $450,000 prize after a season filled with controversial behavior leading up to the finale, most notably her altercation with LeRoy Garrett, during which she used racial slurs. (She had previously been disqualified during Rivals III during a drunken almost-physical fight with Tony Raines, which also resulted in his early ousting.)

"You are f--king an idiot. Guess how many wins you've had? Zero. You're a fucking black motherf–-king p--sy," a drunk Camila yelled in his face, before hitting him with a pillow. "It's all about black mother--kers like that piece of s--t!"

But it wasn't that racist tirade that was the final straw, as MTV still cast her on the spinoff Champs vs. Stars in 2017, which would end up being her final appearance on the competition series after she was disqualified for physically attacking a crew member and destroying property.

The producers have reportedly banned her from any future seasons, though Camila vowed to improve herself on social media at the time, tweeting, "Strength grows in the moments when you think you can't go on, but you keep going anyways."


Before coming back as the new cool, calm and collected-dad version viewers know and (still) love today, C.T. was arguably The Challenge's most volatile contestant. Quick to react and get physical, C.T. had actually been sent home twice before the competition had even technically started for getting into fights (The Duel II and The Inferno 3).

"What an asshole," CT said of his old ways during an interview with Rolling Stone, before going on to explain how things have changed over the years.

"These kids now run around all night, chasing each other with knives, throwing stuff over balconies, falling through glass windows," he said. "They just get a slap on the wrist and a night in a hotel room. They come back in the morning. They used to carry me out of there like I was Hannibal Lecter."

And it's true, as several contestants have opted to leave the show of their own accord after enduring what they believed to be bullying.

During Vendettas, U.K. reality star Kayleigh Morris quit the competition after several of the other female competitors threw all of her belongings (as well as her mattress) over the balcony after hearing a rumor she had hooked up with Johnny Bananas, who was hooking up with their friend, Natalie Negrotti. While the trio of women involved were given a stern lecture from host T.J. Lavin and had to pay damages, they were allowed to remain in the competition.

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But the Kayleigh and Natalie drama didn't end there, as Natalie, a Big Brother alum, alleged the Ex on the Beach UK star "outed" her on social media after she called her a "lesbian" in an Instagram post. Natalie, who would later come out publicly as "pansexual," 

"Kaleigh outted me on social media," she said on the following season. "I wasn't ready, and I haven't even got the opportunity to tell my whole family. She just did it in a really malicious way, and that's not fair to me. But I know that I'll never forget and I'll never be her friend."

While Amanda Garcia didn't choose to go home after the incident, viewers learned she had been duct-taped by several cast members, including Johnny "Bananas" Devenanzio, Kyle Christie and Theo Campbell, during War of the Worlds after Da'Vonne Rogers recounted the story during her YouTube recap. 

After the episode aired without the footage included, Amanda then tweeted, "Looks like they didn't wanna show the guys tying me up against my will either. Hmmmm. I guess if you don't constantlyyyyy play the victim on tv they don't wanna show that s–t." She then followed up her initial tweet, noting her co-stars "went too far" but knew "their intentions were never to hurt me." 

And at the reunion taping for that season, Amanda down-played the maliciousness of the incident, which resulted in her hair ripping out after the duct tape got stuck, explaining, "I was drunk, I was on one. I was starting s–t."


Johnny said Da'Vonne owed the three men an apology for talking about it in her video as she wasn't in the room when it happened, saying she "caused a lot of drama, unnecessarily, because you mischaracterized a situation that happened for your YouTube channel." 

He continued, "We got accused of assaulting women. We got accused of mummifying and duct-taping Amanda to a wall. We got accused of having her hair pulled out and her bleeding."

Da'Vonne did apologize, though she noted she helped console an upset Amanda after the incident. 

And in the season currently airing, War of the Worlds 2, Vanderpump Rules star Faith Stowers' abrupt decision to leave the show baffled viewers, after only a small portion of her argument with Kyle Christie, Bear and Theo Campbell were shown.

In an interview after Us Weekly the episode aired, Faith alleged the editors left out crucial scenes, including when the three men came into her room to confront her over banging pots and pans in the middle of the night to wake them up after they had refused to lower their voices earlier in the evening.

"It was really freaking me out," she said, noting security remained in the room. "Why are people treating me like I'm a terrible person? It just really made me uncomfortable because I don't fight…I was so shaken up." She also claimed Kyle called her "a whore or something," and the morning after the altercation, she chose to leave the show.

"I started thinking and decided, I can't do the show like this," she reasoned. "I felt hurt and felt like I shouldn't be involved in this situation."

Kyle, Theo and Bear have yet to comment. 


Of course, some controversies are completely-show related, with cast members making ruthless decisions that go down in franchise history in the name of taking home the ultimate prize.

Johnny Bananas, a six-time champion, delivered an infamous reality TV moment when he pulled a fast one on partner Sara Rice after they won Rivals III as a team, choosing to steal all of the $275,000 rather than split it with his former friend. (Alas, he's yet to win a challenge since, with many saying he's been cursed.)

And Ashley Mitchell took that move to the next level at the end of Final Reckoning, deciding to keep the entirety of the $1 million rather than split it with her partner/ex-boyfriend Hunter Barfield

With no remorse, Ashley took the money, calling out Hunter for his treatment of her during the season, saying, "This guy's belittled me, put me down, slut-shamed me and also threatened my life and my family's lives." After Hunter lost his mind after losing out on any money at all after winning the season, Ashley breezily said, "This is nothing compared to what I went through all season. Walking through hell? I lived through hell."

Ashley and Hunter's previous relationship drama undoubtedly factored into the decision, and the complicated love lives of the competitors often leads to The Challenge's most dramatic moments--on and off screen. 


Several stars have been caught cheating on-camera, including Cara Maria Sorbello, who was infamously recorded by Johnny Bananas kissing Thomas Buell during Battle of the Bloodlines, which her beau and fellow Challenge vet Abe Biose had initially sat out of. Alas, the proverbial s--t hit the an when Abe came in as a last-minute substitute and Johnny was more than happy to stir the pot. (It's worth noting Cara Maria and Abe's relationship was on-and-off for years before finally calling it quits in 2015.)

"I knew how explosive that Cara Maria and Abram and Tom love triangle was going to be and how huge of a storyline it was going to be. Which is why when Tom and Cara were hooking up, I was the one who got the GoPro footage of that," Johnny would later boast to Buzzfeed, adding he should've gotten a producer credit for his work. "I knew it was going to be the biggest storyline of this season."

But Cara Maria's romance woes were far from over on the show after she became involved with Big Brother vet Paulie Calafiore during Final Reckoning, only for a cheating scandal to go down off-camera when it was revealed he was still in contact with Bachelor in Paradise star Danielle Maltby (who he was dating when he met Cara Maria).

While some questioned Cara Maria's decision to reconcile with Paulie, who was accused by Danielle and fellow Challengers of only being with Cara Maria for screen-time on The Challenge and social media fame, she defended their relationship on Instagram. 

"No one will fully know the lengths this man has gone (and the things he continues to do) on his own to prove his intentions and his feelings," she wrote. "So, with one foot out the door, and one foot in, I am moving forward with an open ear and an open heart."

The two are still dating and are competing together on War of the Worlds 2.

Another cheating scandal was inadvertently exposed during Battle of the Bloodlines, when Jenna Compono called her boyfriend/fellow Challenger Zach, who was sitting that season out, only to have him call her by another woman's name. While they initially broke up, they've since reconciled and are still together. 

Seeing as how there's still more than half of War of the Worlds 2 left to air and MTV has already renewed The Challenge for season 35, the controversies are likely far from over for the Challengers.

The Challenge airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on MTV.