The Marvel Cinematic Universe has nothing on “The Challenge.” The MTV reality competition series dates back to 1998 when it first featured “Real World” stars on a “Road Rules”-style game before pitting alums from both shows against each other. The universe has since expanded to include stars from all sorts of reality shows across the globe with lots of repeat cast members, making casting director Skye Topic‘s job even more of a, well, challenge.
“‘The Challenge’ is a cinematic world. It’s very like the Marvel universe. We need to rotate our villains, our heroes, our underdogs from season to season. Obviously that does begin with casting,” Topic tells Gold Derby at our Meet the Experts: Casting Directors panel (watch the exclusive video interview above). “Now it’s such a unique landscape because it’s casting from outside franchises across the global TV landscape. It’s including ‘Big Brother,’ ‘Survivor,’ ‘The Amazing Race,’ ‘Love Island,’ ‘Warsaw Shore,’ so the result is that audiences can see contestants change over so many years and it adds that depth that you often don’t see in reality TV in the same way that I believe you see on our show.”
Topic, who’s been working at Bunim/Murray Productions, the production company behind the show, since 2008, says it’s “overwhelming” but “exciting” to cast from such a vast array of shows now. Last year’s “Spies, Lies & Allies” pulled from 14 other franchises — and that’s not counting the different iterations within them (e.g. “Love Island” U.S., U.K. and Germany).
“You really have to reach out to those [vets] that are going to be able to onboard these new rookies from these other shows. If English is their second language, do we have someone there who can help them navigate the politics of the game?” she explains. “It is a ginormous job, especially at the beginning when we’re trying to look at what shows we can pull from, but it makes it really exciting. It is a giant jigsaw because you don’t wanna throw someone in the house who really doesn’t have any vet to help them navigate the beginning of the game.”
Like any long-running show with returning stars, fans have become attached to certain vets and cast members. Not to mention, there are ongoing storylines involving those returnees. These are all things Topic has to keep in mind when deciding which vets to bring back or not. “If I know that there is a story that feels unfinished from the previous and I feel like the audience really needs to see that settled, I definitely wanna lean into that. That’s not something I’m gonna jump away from,” she shares. “And then sometimes, a big name that may have been on multiple season, like a Wes, we may just want to put off a season… so there’s some sort of excitement of seeing those really big-name vets come back into the franchise.”
And speaking of vets, Topic wants to see another vet/rookie season. “Obviously we explored that in [‘Invasion] of the Champions,’ the season that CT and Ashley won, but I think that would be a good one to revisit,” she states. “It wasn’t an amazing season, ‘Bloodlines,’ but I feel like exploring that family aspect of things is really fun. I’d love to see that where like rookies are sort of onboarded with a vet the audience knows and maybe root for because of that and I always think that’s a really fun thing.”
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