Most of Hollywood shut down at least temporarily in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but by the fall many TV series and films had developed protocols allowing them back in production. The Challenge, MTV's current longest running reality show, is one of those series. The new season, Double Agents, was shot entirely during the pandemic and the production crew went through great pains not only to keep the cast safe from catching the novel coronavirus, but also to make it look like COVID wasn't a factor.
"Not only did they innovate in production quality, game creativity, and casting creativity and all that stuff that they innovated on -- then they had to innovate on a whole new model, which was how do you create a bubble in another country?," veteran contestant Wes Bergmann told TV Guide ahead of the new season, which premieres on Wednesday. "It's not like there's Barnes and Noble, where you can read and explain how to go through this. They're meeting with a bunch of lawyers, and doctors, and executives, [to] figure out answers to this. I think that they nailed it. I felt safe the entire time. I didn't one time question whether or not they were making risks... You would think they would have to sacrifice on some of the game quality and they didn't."
Most production sets across the globe have had to undertake protocols like wearing masks and limiting physical interaction between scenes, but Bergmann says the latest season won't cheat fans out of the parts of the show they love the most.
"They don't make any sacrifices. The club scene is, in fact, an incredibly important part of our show. So they're not going to sacrifice it, but they're not going to unnecessarily put [us] in a risky situation... I'm not gonna spoil it because I thought it was pretty freakin cool," he teased, promising that the cast will still find a way to drink and voice their frustrations about the game in a casual group setting. In fact, he thinks the new method may become a permanent fixture of the show, along with some other COVID-inspired changes to the show.
"Let's say that they do 20 different things that are to keep us safe and to follow these new guidelines. I bet five of the 20 things stay as normal, long-term practices," he explained. "You know, you see it from a different angle, and you're like, 'Oh, okay, interesting. That really worked well.' [The bar situation] is one of those ones that I personally think is going to stay."
Filming techniques are not the only thing shaking up this season. As with every new iteration of The Challenge, there's a good chunk of rookies who show up and try to make names for themselves in the hall of Challenge legends. Bergmann said that Double Agents might have a few of those rookies this season, but they'll be coming from the female side of the house. There have been some great female competitors added in recent years like Tori, Georgia, and Jenny, but Double Agents is bringing in multiple females ready to compete in all aspects of the game.
"I think the most commendable and tangible kind of step in the right direction is on the female casting side. They went out of their way to bring in three or four either close to brand new or brand new women who are forces to be reckoned with in every area that matters," Bergmann said. "The Challenge is not just strength, but just like everything. I'm really impressed with [the producers] for [the casting]. It just makes it a lot more fun to play when both genders are cutthroat."
The Challenge: Double Agents premieres Wednesday, Dec. 9 at 8/7c on MTV.