‘The Challenge: All Stars’ EP Breaks Down Controversial Casting, Previews ‘Amped Up’ Season 3

·6-min read

The Challenge: All Stars” Season 3 is about to be bigger than ever — and that’s coming from someone who’s been part of the franchise from the start.

“The Challenge” has had such staying power that it’s expanded internationally, with the recent announcement of seasons in Argentina, Australia and U.K. and for the first time ever, a season on CBS, set for this summer — and Bunim-Murray Productions president Julie Pizzi, who has worked on “The Challenge” as a producer since 2000, knows just how much work goes into creating it.

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The winners from all four shows will come together to compete on “The Challenge: Global Championship” (working title, previously “War of the Worlds”) — something that’s never been done before. “The concept around it is that we’re really bringing all of the best together to really compete for a super-sized ‘Challenge’ that will probably be that fiercest competition yet,” the executive producer tells Variety.

For now, however, she’s getting ready for the launch of “All Stars” Season 3.

“We really amped up both the challenges and the eliminations. Every single cast member has been to a finale. So they’ve made a final, which means it’s almost the all stars of the all stars. They are all heavy competitors and really capable of doing hard competition,” says Pizzi.

While Seasons 1 and 2 leaned into comedy and nostalgia, she notes that production has “found our rhythm” with the new season — and the house is one of the nicest they’ve ever shot in.

“It feels elegant. It feels like they’ve arrived and I think we really wanted them to really feel like this was invitational,” Pizzi adds. “If you made it to this ‘All Stars,’ you have street credibility in ‘The Challenge.'”

The Challenge: All Stars 3 - Credit: MTV Entertainment/P+
The Challenge: All Stars 3 - Credit: MTV Entertainment/P+

MTV Entertainment/P+

Read the full interview with Pizzi below.

What was the process of casting only competitors who had qualified for a final? Or did that come after casting began?

It was intentional. Obviously a lot of our themes come with a casting lens, and we really wanted to keep the theme the same, but what could we do to raise the stakes? I think there’s a real craving for the competition being clever and hard and for the audience to watch something that could make them cringe a little. We wanted to amplify that, and we wanted a population of cast that could handle it.

“All Stars” originally really zoned in on the audience catching up with competitors we haven’t seen — but this cast is mostly people we have seen recently. How did you decide to cast this group?

There are people that come into the game, that love the experience and really want to keep doing it. That enthusiasm is really important to us because it drives some of the competition. So we often invite back people that really play the game or had a missed opportunity. You have certain challengers that have made it to a final so many times but never won. There’s this idea that you want to bring people back for another chance. But it also has to do with the timing. We really looked at who was available. We looked at who had made the final because that was a lens and then really selected people based on that.

Jordan Wiseley and Nia Moore are part of this season after a tumultuous past, which included a racial controversy. What was the conversation around deciding to bring them back? We see “The Real World Homecoming” cast really opening up about those past events — will that happen on “All Stars,” too?

I think that their situation was pretty unique, because they have had a friendship for a really long time, but the audience has never really seen that. They had never really seen the peace that they had made. What we sort of realized is that they were actually quite close, so certainly, we acknowledge it in the show, but for the most part, we don’t do the deep dive in the series that we would in a “Real World.” We don’t we don’t usually unpack a lot of the past that doesn’t relate to “The Challenge.” Occasionally, it comes up. What I will say is that, obviously, every single person who is participating in this particular cycle has been on a “Challenge” before and the history and the rivalry is very much embedded in this show. What’s most fascinating is particularly the players that know each other, it’s not just that they know their history, they actually know what their strengths and weaknesses are.

We haven’t seen Cynthia Roberts or Roni Martin since 2004. What goes into getting people like that onto the show?

Well Mark Long is one of our EPs on this. When the season is airing, a lot of people will reach out to him on social media and say, “I would totally do this!” Mark lets us know if people are interested. We never tell him who we’re casting because he’s so close to the cast. But also, we knew we were bringing Mark on board for this one, so we had to really keep that division. We were so excited to get Roni. She did one of the first Challenges. It was really fun to get them back.

So what’s the intensity level for this one?

It’s so much more extreme than our last season. The games on this particular cycle look like a regular “Challenge.” They are hard and they are physical. We have all levels — strength, puzzles, heights, fear. I think it’s as hard of a “Challenge” as any that we’ve put out. It’s so good, and it looks so good. We brought back [executive producer] Lisa Fletcher; she’s been embedded in the series since back when I was producing it and she just did such a great job.

I have to congratulate you on the growth of “The Challenge” universe since you’ve been part of this world now for 20 years. Now, it’s airing all over the world and you have spinoffs coming in different countries.

It’s so wild. Often we would have people from other countries on and they had never seen the show. Now, all because of Paramount+, the cast members all over the globe are able to watch it and study it. They’re going in knowing who Wes Bergmann is or knowing who Johnny Bananas is, which is really fascinating.

The first two episodes of “The Challenge: All Stars” debut on Paramount+ Wednesday, May 11. This interview has been edited and condensed.

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