If you’re a fan of MTV’s The Challenge, you may want to tune into The Challenge: USA, CBS’ own iteration of the series, as longtime host T.J. Lavin says they are “very similar” and you can expect a lot of the competitions fans know and love.
The new version brings together players from Survivor, Big Brother, The Amazing Race and Love Island to compete for $500,000 in addition to a chance to play in The Challenge: Global Championship (working title).
“I like having fresh faces. I loved it,” T.J., 45, exclusively tells Us Weekly in an interview, which you can watch above. “It was awesome ‘cause they’re all wide-eyed and everything’s new to them. And it’s so fun to have new people that appreciate the new and what is going on on this little challenge show that we have is insane.”
He gives the leg up to Survivor players – “‘cause they’re hard,” he says – and also admits that while he’s not involved in casting the show, fans might see a “couple of disappointments” this season. “I can’t say names ‘cause I’m not that guy, but you’ll know who they are,” he tells Us.
As for the format of the competition, T.J. explains, “There’s a very interesting thing called an algorithm and that is something that has changed the game. So that’s something I’ll just tell you, that this is something that’s very cool and a game-changer.”
In addition, each player has a bank account to start “except the catch is you have to finish to get any money,” he explains. “So if you get eliminated, it’s slid to the next person. … It means the elimination is worth however much money plus that, you know, so it’s pretty cool.”
Watch our interview with T.J. above or scroll down to read.
The Challenge: USA premieres on CBS Wednesday, July 6, at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT.
Us Weekly: Hi, T.J. So when did this idea start floating around and what were your thoughts about doing this version of The Challenge?
T.J. Lavin: Well, the idea started floating around last year and I thought it was really good, like, that’s awesome. And because the rising tide floats all boats, right? So I said, “That would be awesome,” you know, for the whole crew and for everyone. It would be great. And then it happened and it was cooler than I could have ever expected. It was really a great experience and everybody to work with was amazing and it was awesome.
Us: Format-wise, what can you tell us about how it compares to the original Challenge or the all-star version?
TL: Very similar. Those are both very similar. I mean, Justin Booth is the guy that put it together, you know? So he is the godfather of The Challenge for real. I know Mark [Long] says he’s the godfather and all that. He is for the challengers, but Justin Booth is actually, he’s the showrunner that makes it all go together and happen. [He] basically took The Challenge from circus games and little cute, little tricycle games to the massive scale that it is today, like huge tanks and tankers and helicopters and you name it. And that’s all out of his brain, thinking about what we can do to make the show cooler. And he did.
Us: Can you talk about how the eliminations work and the voting?
TL: There’s a very interesting thing called an algorithm and that is something that has changed the game. So that’s something I’ll just tell you, that this is something that’s very cool and a game-changer.
Us: So how does it work? And I know everyone starts with a bank account this season, how does that fit into it?
TL: Yeah. Yeah. Everyone has a bank account except the catch is you have to finish to get any money. So if you get eliminated, it’s slid to the next person, you know? So that’s interesting. It changes people’s perspective a little bit, you know? Cause if even if you’re walking around with $50,000, then if you don’t make it to the end and you don’t qualify, you don’t make it. Then that 50 goes right back into the pot. So that’s a very heavy situation. It means the elimination is worth however much money plus that, you know, so it’s pretty cool.
Us: Were you expecting to see anyone wanting to go into elimination to take some of this money?
TL: Yes. Yes. I was. I mean, I know I would, I would do that. Yeah, let’s do it ‘cause otherwise, why are you there? Right? You’re not there to spin your wheels, you’re there to make some money. So let’s make some money.
Us: Sometimes people get to the end without going into eliminations. Do you think going into eliminations is good because you’re maybe more prepared for the final?
TL: They’re battle tested, right? They’re battle tested. If you go into a meet or a contest or big race or whatever, and you never took a slam or you never crashed, then you’re scared to crash because you don’t know, you know what I mean? And if you never got punched in the face and you’re a fighter, that’s not a good idea. So you have to almost desensitize yourself to the competition, and you know that you’re gonna win.
Us: Can you say anything about how eliminations work? Do people vote someone in? Does the loser pick?
TL: If I told you I’d have to kill you, I don’t know (laughs). Here’s the thing, Sharon. I have no idea what it was. I can’t remember. I can’t remember (laughs).
Us: You’re filming so many of these at this point. You’re like, “I don’t know which one’s which.”
TL: I swear. I swear to you. That is so crazy. Like, when you told me, “Can you tell me anything about this or that?” I was like, “I mean, maybe I can, but I can’t.” I really have no idea. If you said “I give you a million dollars right now and tell me what, what it was.” I have no idea who picked who, what went down, who went where, ‘cause it all blends together. It really does. There’s been all-star after challenge, after all-star after challenge, after CBS. It’s been insane the last couple years. And I’m pretty sure it was called … I don’t even know what it was so called. It’s so crazy (laughs).
Us: Well, let me ask you this. When you were filming, these are no vets, right? These are all fresh players. It had to feel a little different filming, right?
TL: It was cool. Yeah. I actually liked it. I like having fresh faces. I loved it. It was awesome. ‘Cause they’re all wide-eyed and everything’s new to them. And it’s so fun to have new people that appreciate the new and what is going on on this little challenge show that we have is insane. It’s crazy when you show up and there’s so many moving parts and so many people putting it all together, and then working and making it the best that they can at their job. And that all different people coordinating together to make one cool thing. And so that was pretty damn cool. And having them appreciate that to the next level was awesome.
Us: Had you seen any Big Brother, Survivor, any of the shows before filming this?
TL: Uh, no. I didn’t even know Love Island was a show. I really didn’t. I had no idea. I did see one thing of Amazing Race. I saw that show once. I thought that was really cool. I was like, “Man, me and my wife could do this. That’d be cool.” You know? And then I saw Big Brother a lot of years ago. I saw Big Brother once and I didn’t think much of it. I was like, “OK, I don’t know if I could do that. I don’t wanna do that show. That doesn’t sound fun.” But, Survivor doesn’t sound fun to me either. I don’t wanna sound like I have to have a fancy hotel because I don’t, but I don’t wanna live in the woods either.
Us: Did you think any of the players from certain shows might have an advantage over others?
TL: Survivor, for sure. I think ‘cause they’re hard. They’re really hard individuals. Like, they do this. They’re awesome. And they can push themselves to the next level, and then just a little bit further, which is what you need.
Us: Do you think we could see any of these players eventually cross over to the other challenge or we keeping this separate?
TL: I really hope so. I would love to see a Danny [McCray] or a Tyson [Apostol] or a Ben [Driebergen] or Sarah [Lacina], Alyssa [Lopez]. They’re all awesome. They’re really great individuals. And not only are they awesome, but they’re interesting people as well, you know? They’re challengers.
Us: Did you guys consider bringing anyone from Big Brother or Survivor who competed on The Challenge to this one, or did they want all newbies?
TL: I think we were going for the all new people thing. ‘Cause it would be way different if you had a Josh [Martinez] or a Kaycee [Clark], in there ‘cause they’ve already done it. They know what time it is every season. They’ve done a lot of seasons too.
Us: You’re not involved in casting, right? You just show up and see who’s there?
TL: I just show up and I’m like, “All right, let’s see who’s here.” That’s straight up what happens. I have no idea. And so it’s a big surprise for me too. I’m like, “Oh, he’s here too. Cool. Oh, He’s here too. Awesome.” You know? It’s fun every season for me. I have no idea. I don’t even know what the theme is until I come. And then when I show, [they tell me] whatever the season would be. It’s like, “OK, what is it?” And then they tell me and I’m like, “OK, let’s do it.”
Us: Are there any challenges or eliminations that you can tease that will be familiar to viewers?
TL: I think we might have had a Hall Brawl. We might have had something like that there somewhere, I think, but I’m not sure.
Us: What about trivia? Do you remember that?
TL: Oh, you know what? I can’t (laughs). I get asked that a lot, but I’m not sure. I’m not positive. I can’t say if it was on there or not.
Us: So after watching these competitors, are you any more intrigued to watch their original shows?
TL: Well, I don’t really watch TV too much, so it’s not their fault. I’m not a big TV guy. I do watch Netflix here and there whenever I’m trying to go to bed. That’s it. And I have no idea what I just watched either. So it’s not any reflection on the challengers, it’s me. So it’s not them. It’s me.
Us: I know on the regular Challenge, there’s tons of drama, fights, hookups. Do you think we’ll see that on this show or do you think it was a different vibe?
TL: I think it probably was a little bit of a different vibe. I’m not sure what level of hookups and fights and stuff there was. I’m not really involved with that, to be honest. I don’t even know what those are here on the MTV show. So it is what it is, but I do know that the competition is great. It’s awesome. And there’s also a professional athlete, you know, Danny McCray. I watched him run in one of the challenges and it was a thing of magic. Like, when you see somebody do something they were born to do and they were supposed to do, it’s really awesome. That was what I saw of him. I saw him the first 10 yards of his run looked like a thoroughbred. It was so amazing. I was, like, this is beautiful.
Us: Are you ever disappointed by casting choices? I know you don’t like quitters. Are you ever wondering why they cast someone?
TL: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I can say that I’ve been disappointed here and there. There’s a couple of disappointments, maybe there might be two. I don’t know. But there’s been some disappointments for sure. And I can’t say names ‘cause I’m not that guy, but you’ll know who they are.
Us: Are you still having fun filming how many seasons a year now?
TL: It is a blast. I love it. The only thing is I miss my dogs and my wife, of course, She’s holding the fort like crazy. So I miss her, but she comes out and sees me. So it’s all good. But the dogs, I don’t get to see them.
Us: Anything else you can tease about The Challenge: USA? Will we see a season 2 or just the world championship?
TL: The world championship is gonna be awesome. I’m really hoping that we integrate everything and somehow make that happen. I don’t know what exactly is gonna go down, but something is gonna happen. Something has got to give and it’s gonna be incredible.