Diem & Knight's 'Challenge' Season Is Tough: 5 Ways MTV Is Doing It Right
I can't imagine producing a season of The Challenge is easy... twenty four twenty-to-thirty-somethings with Crossfit addictions and alcohol tolerances built up from years of living in MTV-sponsored housing is a lot to wrangle. On top of that, this season brings together pairs of exes to compete together, ranging from lost loves, to theoretical hook-ups, to can't even stand to look at each other anymore. And yet, Battle of the Exes II isn't exactly as fun as the rest; it can't be. The loss of cast members, Diem Brown and Ryan Knight, who both died shortly after filming the Challenge in Panama is inescapably sad.
Yes, there are still eye-popping challenge moments, emotional meltdowns over Power Couples, and brownie eating contests (OK, that one was knew), but as everyone knew it would be, this season is clouded by an unavoidable sadness. Real World/Challenge creator Jonathan Murray told E! that it never really occurred to anyone not to air this season, and that he is "pretty convinced that Diem and Knight would want this [ Challenge ] season to air." With the decision to air, and Diem and Knight as integral part of this season's cast, Challenge producers were faced with a delicate challenge of their own.
Shortly before this season premiered, there were a few ways MTV could handle the editing of a season with such heavy undertones: they could give Diem and Knight a minimal or totally positive edit, or they could be truthful to the legacy that Knight and Diem had established for themselves within the franchise thus far. My hope was for some perfect combination: that the show would be respectful while giving fans an opportunity to remember the competitive players that they had gotten to know. All told, especially after airing the episode that featured Diem's early exit, I think they're doing a pretty good job by doing these things:
Not Ignoring Knight & Diem
It would have been pretty easy to not really feature Diem and Knight... to avoid their confessionals, and leave their complicated relationships with exes, Chris "CT" Tamburello and Jemmye Carrol, mostly on the cutting room floor. But Diem and Knight both have big personalities and had become two of the key players in a sprawling MTV family; featuring them for the players that they were has been healing for fans and castmates.
By Not Going For Tears
MTV also hasn't gone for the jugular on tears either. Diem loved to laugh and Knight was a jokester, so it's hard to imagine that either of them would have wanted the season to become centered on the sadness of their deaths, but a celebration of the lives they lived.
Featuring Diem's Exit
There was no avoiding the overwhelming sadness of Diem's early exit from Panama that aired last week, however. After seeing Diem excel and beat the odds in so many challenges with true passion and endurance, watching her leave at the hands of her illness was heartbreaking. But cancer should be heartbreaking. And for MTV to show her illness for what it was honors Diem's memory and all the work and effort she put into supporting other people with chronic illnesses. That is not a legacy to be pushed under the editing room rug.
MTV announced in December that they would be dedicating this season of The Challenge to Diem and Knight, and they have followed through. At first a title card at the end of the premiere seemed like not enough, but as it's popped up at the end of each episode of this season, the dedication and inclusion of a side-by-side photo of Diem and Knight has proven to be a simple way to remember the people we lost each week.
Showing the Love
Mostly, this season has made it abundantly clear that Diem and Knight were loved by the cast, crew, and fans of the show. Knight could be a handful, but showing the prickly relationship between he and his ex, Jemmye, is giving his fans the Knight they knew, and not some glorified version of him.
And it's always been easy to love Diem. In the short time she was on Battle of the Exes II, fans were able to see the sincere devotion that CT has to her, the care with which the crew handled her illness in the house, and I was especially moved to see that two women who had only known her for a short time, Nia and Avery, were the ones helping CT pack her things once it was announced she would have to return to the U.S. Diem touched everyone who knew her and MTV has made sure that is not forgotten.