Awards Daily talks to The Challenge/Real World Homecoming: Nola executive producer Julie Pizzi about how these MTV/Paramount+ properties have evolved and why they’re still important.
Julie Pizzi, executive producer of MTV’s The Challenge: Spies Lies and Allies, admits that Season 37 might be the most international season yet, pitting reality TV stars from all over the globe against each other in a battle of brawn, endurance, and social skills.
“It came to us from MTV,” says Pizzi. “They really said, let’s look at reality talent from all over the globe for this particular cycle. Now that we have so many shows playing in other countries, we really wanted to expand our talent pool, and we kept finding such great characters that are now in rotation. It was not a one and done thing.”
Spies Lies and Allies has a lot of new blood versus old blood, and with so many players retiring, could the show be ushering in a new era of CTs—as in multi-champ C.T. Tamburello?
“I’m not sure we can ever replace CT. I think that [older players] are retiring. Leroy retired last year. Johnny Bananas sort of softly retired. There have been characters that have come through the franchise that have done over a dozen seasons that have said, ‘I need a break.’ Stopping down your life for four months to go participate, you really have to have a profession that allows you to do that or this becomes your profession. Because The Real World and Road Rules aren’t on the air anymore as a new series, we’ve always been trying to grow the cast of The Challenge.”
But while The Real World and Road Rules relied on putting together a cast of strangers, that’s never been in The Challenge‘s wheelhouse. The more they all know each other, the better.
“It’s a soap opera. It’s not a mistake that Mary-Ellis Bunim was a soap opera creator. She created Santa Barbara. When you think about soap operas, the reason why people watch them over 20 and 30 years is because there’s a family story. And they bring in new characters that integrate with the characters that have always been there, and there’s the same thing with The Challenge except it’s real. And there’s something to that.”
And now The Challenge format will be hitting more mainstream audiences with The Challenge: USA on CBS, becoming a spin-off of a spin-off.
“For a minute, we were trying to figure out what The Challenge would look like on CBS and we were really discussing the casting. What we decided was that it would be all the all-stars from all the CBS series, which totally made sense. But then I realized, ‘Oh my god that means that our cast members are not gonna be there!’ That made me super anxious. But then we brought all these characters together from Love Island, The Amazing Race, Big Brother, and Survivor—and they all have relationships and some of them were on different seasons. I realized, ‘Oh, this is a spin-off, like Melrose Place and 90210.'”
In addition to working on The Challenge, Pizzi is also an EP on Real World Homecoming on Paramount+, which reunited the The Real World: New Orleans cast for its Season 3 cycle.
“We fast-forwarded to New Orleans, and the reason why was because that show was so popular. Around the time that New Orleans landed [for The Real World], the show was at its height. It really had such a following and also the stories were so captivating.”
Just as The Real World started as a social experiment, so did Real World Homecoming, and in Season 3 it really finds its groove. Unlike a lot of reunion shows with a host, this one allows the cast to refamiliarize themselves on their own, even if the series would include “incoming messages” to stimulate conversations around race and sex.
“New Orleans was the first place we weren’t able to get the house, the mansion they stayed in, but we used the original house as inspiration for decor in the house they were in to illicit those emotions and keep it familiar for them. By the time we got to New Orleans, I think we had figured out what was working and wasn’t working. The cast are the stars. Really just seeing them together, I think people would watch them no matter what they did, but we wanted to find things that could jump-start conversations and have emotional journeys attached to this experience.”
In the Season 3 Homecoming finale, Kelley Wolf leaves abruptly, and after the show, posted a message on her social media attributing the exit to friction between her and fellow cast member Julie Stoffer. Despite the chatter on social, Pizzi says that the experience was still a positive one for the cast.
“I’ve spoken to Kelley a lot recently, but I do think that what is always hard on a show like this is that not all stories have happy endings. People do change and people land on people differently. You can’t capture everything on camera that’s happening in the environment that the cast are in. We were careful not to wrap it all up with a pretty bow, but to have some finality to it, because the experience was coming to the end. There were some relationships that were re-bonded, and I can say some of the cast feel closer and are grateful for the experience. But I don’t think it was with every individual person. Not everybody walked away with what they were looking for. I would even say for Kelley, and I can’t speak for her, there was much more to this experience, and she had to respect who she is and how she felt. We respect her for doing what she needed to do in that experience. I wasn’t personally aware of the depth of how she felt about what was going on in the house.”
In the finale, Julie mentions wanting to be on The Challenge. Could these two worlds be once again merging in the future?
“Julie always wants to be on The Challenge,” says Pizzi with a laugh. “We’re always trying to figure out the casting lens of a Challenge. The Challenge cast that exists right now doesn’t really incorporate deep in the past. We really have used All-Stars to help with that. There’s a lot of players that want to be on that show.”
As for the future of Real World Homecoming, Pizzi hopes to explore more Real World seasons in the future.
“We are starting to look at other seasons. We’ve reached out to four sets of casts, and then sometimes you have a whole cast that’s willing to do it, and one can’t. What we’re doing is trying to figure out when the next cycle can shoot, and reach out again and see if we can get all seven together.”
The Challenge airs on MTV and Real World Homecoming airs on Paramount+.