• Jack Vita

Jay Starrett is the future of MTV's 'The Challenge'


For the last decade and a half, The Challenge, much like the NFL, has had three Hall of Fame talents that have stood the test of time. Johnny Bananas, Chris "CT" Tamburello' and Wes Bergmann are for better or worse, The Challenge's Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees.


Bananas is Tom Brady the league's golden boy with seven rings, not lacking controversy, or his fair share of detractors. Both have aged like fine wine. Seven months after Bananas won his seventh title, Brady stands just one win away from bringing home his seventh Lombardi Trophy.


CT is Roethlisberger the multi-champ and beast of a human that still has a bit left in the tank, but doesn't seem to know when he should hang it up. Wes is Brees a truly great competitor that left his mark on the game and is flirting with retirement. Unfortunately for fans of both the NFL and The Challenge, the era where these six stars shined brightest is dwindling before our eyes.


With Brady, Roethlisberger and Brees inevitably phasing out of the league, the NFL has already found its next batch of marketable stars. Next week, Patrick Mahomes could win his second Super Bowl before he turns 26. Even at age 37, Aaron Rodgers will likely win his third MVP, and is showing no signs of rust. Josh Allen, 24, made the Bills the most relevant they've been in over 25 years. But who can fill The Challenge's void of Bananas, CT and Wes?


Jordan Wiseley would be the logical pick to be the show's main male protagonist. Just 30, he's won three titles in only six tries. After he won Battle of the Exes II in 2015, he appeared to be a lock to be the next Bananas and receive an automatic invitation to compete on every season. Wiseley has instead taken a step back from reality television, taking on different acting roles and building his own business. He's treated The Challenge as his own personal fantasy camp, showing up when he wants to and winning at will each time. Wiseley will forever be one of the show's greats, but he doesn't appear to ever be an every-season regular.


Fan favorite Leroy Garrett would be another logical selection to take on the lead role, but he has stated that The Challenge: Double Agents will be his last run on reality TV. An era of The Challenge is seemingly coming to a close, and a new one is just beginning. It's time to replenish the pipeline.


Last week, Leroy jumped into an elimination and sent home Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X sixth-place finisher Jay Starrett. While it may not have seemed like it at the time, the elimination called "Operation Fire Escape" was the passing of the torch from one Challenge fan favorite to the next.


Holding back tears, Starrett received the bitter news from host TJ Lavin that his time on The Challenge had ended, but there was a silver lining. Lavin the tough-nut host best known for chewing out competitors that quit or don't perform well offered a rare compliment.


"Jay, you are a true competitor," Lavin said. "And I am positive that we will see you in the future, my friend."


Just ten minutes earlier, Lavin announced that he was so disgusted with the male contestants that had been disqualified from the daily challenge, that he had restricted them from participating in the house vote. Earlier in the episode, the majority of the men refused to compete in the daily challenge, opting to strategically throw it. Not Jay, however. Jay gave it his all, as he always does, as he and his partner Theresa came within one second of winning.


The episode highlighted a growing trend with The Challenge's cast members. In recent seasons, the show has attracted a large number of contestants that appear to be less interested in competing, and more interested in using the show as a vehicle to extend their 15 minutes of fame, nickname themselves, build a brand, and become a social media influencer. The old school challengers that come onto the show for the love of competition are a dying breed.


In his first two seasons, Jay who grew up obsessed with The Challenge has been a breath of fresh air. As one of the smaller men in the house, he's a crafty bulldog akin to Derrick Kosinski and Alton Williams, two Challenge legends that maximized on their raw athleticism and crafty smarts to outshine the roided-up superheroes that stood across from them. In just the third episode of The Challenge: Total Madness, Jay shockingly sent the reigning champ, CT, packing.


Unhappy with challengers that have scurried away from eliminations and ridden their social relationships to the end, Lavin pushed to implement a new twist where contestants must win an elimination in order to compete in the final, beginning last season. The twist has yielded mixed results thus far. Even with his back to the wall, Starrett has yet to run from an elimination. Perhaps this is partly because Survivor doesn't give those that are voted out a chance to save themselves through competition, and Starrett sees each elimination as an opportunity to earn his stripes. More so, Starrett is cut from a different cloth from that of other competitors the show has recently introduced to the audience.


"I love competing", Starrett said with tears in his eyes, after being eliminated. "I've got to take care of my family at home, because that's all I ever think about. I just want to get the money and provide a good life to my people. Hopefully I get a call back next season and get to battle it out again."


On top of his athleticism and fiery competitive nature, Jay has proven to be a great character and excellent confessional-giver. He's the full package: funny, likable, compelling, interesting, unique, and easy to root for.


If The Challenge's production team is unhappy with contestants opting not to compete, perhaps they should cast more Jays. Survivor has plenty of them. Natalie Anderson instantly became one of this season's most popular challengers, before having to leave early in episode five.

As Survivor's first alum to crossover to the world of MTV, Starrett has laid a blueprint for other castaways to follow, and showed production where it can find a number of worthy characters and competitors.


Things haven't shaken out in Jay's favor in his first two attempts on The Challenge, but Jay is just getting started. Say hello to The Challenge's Trevor Lawrence, the next face of the franchise.



For more sports and entertainment analysis, follow me on Twitter @JackVitaShow, and subscribe to the Jack Vita Show on iTunes or wherever podcasts are found.


(Image via MTV)

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