The Challenge veteran Jordan Wiseley was named No. 1 all-time among male competitors on the show by Sporting News on the same day as the premiere of its most recent season, The Challenge: Total Madness. He called it “crazy” and acknowledged how cool it was, though fans of the MTV reality competition series could easily have expected his reaction to be more along the lines of “tell me something I don’t know.”
When it comes to the cast of The Challenge, Wiseley is as confident as they come, and he’d have no problem telling anyone that he believes he’s the best; with three wins under his belt and having made it to the final four times in five seasons, it’s hard to build any kind of argument against his record. And there’s a certain authenticity to his seemingly brash nature and unapologetic candor; Wiseley goes all the way in every aspect of the game and never holds back, be it in the physical challenges or when speaking his mind. At times, that could be to his detriment, which he’d likely admit without reservation; he’s even said he should take notes on the social game from fiancee Tori Deal.
Wiseley describes this latest incarnation of The Challenge as a season like no other. The cast was stacked, the accommodations were “legit prison,” the production value was higher and the game itself was “flipped on its head.” And that’s without addressing the biggest twist in the show’s history — with which, in his words, “a lot of players were now held ransom” — or his alter ego, Babushka (seriously, just keep reading).
See what else Jordan Wiseley had to say about The Challenge: Total Madness after last week’s premiere.
Kevin Tall: What’s that phrase? ‘The champ is here!’
Jordan Wiseley: [Laughs]
KT: I appreciate you taking some time to speak with me today. How is quarantine life treating you?
JW: You know what? It’s not too bad. We haven’t really lost our heads, as far as like, ‘The world’s ending.’ The grocery stores are very different and we’re not working, but we’re honestly trying to use it as a time to focus on music and focus on all the other things that we don’t get to focus on when away on challenges or at the gym. We haven’t lost our minds yet, so that’s good.
KT: I’m sure Miso appreciates you being able to focus on her as well.
JW: Aw, man, she’s going to be so spoiled. So spoiled! Like, any time we have to leave, she’s like ‘Nah, you ain’t leavin’.’
KT: So, that was quite the premiere the other night. It looks like the producers aren’t messing around this season.
JW: No, I think that there’s a lot of fan disapproval of the massive alliance and everyone just kind of skating by and they put a stop to that real quick.
KT: Well, I was going to ask, do you think that was in direct response to the previous season, where we saw the numbers game play out probably more than ever before?
JW: Yeah. I don’t think it’s a coincidence, or much of one. The way I look at this thing is it’s a sport for me, and any of the top competitors that are there — and we know who they are — they treat it the same.
We’re out there working hard to get this — that’s what the fans want to see — and when an entire season is kind of hijacked by a group of people who don’t really want to play the game…
It’s kind of like they figured out this weird glitch in the game like ‘Well, we can control everything’ and it’s not fun, it’s not entertaining and I think that definitely got to the producers a little bit.
KT: Given how many times you got thrown in during ‘War of the Worlds 2,’ I’m sure you’re a big fan of this new stipulation.
JW: [Laughs] Yeah! I looked at Tori, I go, ‘So, nothing changes.’ I think I’m averaging like two eliminations per season, so nothing changes.
KT: I mean, you’ve thrown yourself in before.
JW: Yeah. It’s part of the game. You can’t fear it and a lot of people do, so it was really cool to just see everyone’s expressions up there, eyes wide, when T.J. said ‘You have to get a red skull to get to the final; you’ve got to win an elimination to get a red skull.’
KT: Which of the competitors do you think that announcement shook the most?
JW: Wes [laughs]. Wes. That’s his game, pull the strings and get everybody else to do his dirty work. Bananas too. That’s why Bananas really didn’t take too well to me calling him out, because they’ve been in this game and they know you do not want to be in eliminations.
It does not matter how tough you are, I learned my lesson the hard way. It doesn’t matter how good you think you are, so what? You do not get paid for winning eliminations, you know? But now, you DO get paid for winning eliminations, so it’s a big flip.
KT: So Wes might be the king of eliminations, but that doesn’t mean he wants to do them.
JW: Right. That’s why, I think, he’s so good at getting everyone else to do his dirty work, ’cause he knows how crappy it is in there. If you’re going in, you hold that record for most eliminations… he didn’t want to be in there for those eliminations.
KT: What do you think was more shocking, the red-skull twist or the fact that Johnny ‘Bananas’ and Wes Bergmann are actually working together? Maybe we really are living in the end times.
JW: You know what? I felt it was coming. Yeah, Wes did well on ‘War of the Worlds 1’ but it was a season with 50 percent rookies. Other than that, it’s been since ‘Rivals 2,’ my first one, that he’s really done any damage. So those two, I think they figured out that, ‘Hey, we are much stronger together.’ I kind of expected it, but now to see it and to see that it happened so early… We figured it out, but not for a while. To see that it happened so early, now, it’s like ‘Wow, man, there were some moves being made.’
KT: I saw it coming, I even told my girlfriend it was going to happen this offseason. But I was definitely surprised. I assumed they would slow play it, as the masters of manipulation.
JW: I know! I know. I’m going to have to go with the alliance; that’s the biggest twist.
KT: In addition to the mandatory elimination, it looks like the accommodations were a bit more sparse than previous seasons.
JW: Ooh! It was terrible. It really was. I don’t want to complain, it wasn’t that bad. It just… was prison. We always described it as prison, but this was legit prison. Porta Potties. There’s no way to get to a bathroom. There’s no way to get to a bathroom without going outside. It’s freezing cold, so you wake up in the morning. I wake up early, you go out there. Everything’s frozen. It was a lot… on people, mentally, the living conditions.
KT: Who do you think that affected the most?
JW: I don’t know. I found sanctuary; I created an alter ego named Babushka. I would tie a scarf around my head and I would just walk around like I was a 97-year-old babushka, just clean and take care of my flock. You could look at it two ways; I either went crazy early or I found a way to stay sane.
KT: [Laughs] Is Babushka going to get her own Instagram?
JW: You know what, Babushka doesn’t even know what Instagram is.
KT: Without spoiling anything, not that you would, how do you think fans will like the rest of the ‘Total Madness’ season?
JW: I think, especially where the producers are going with it, knowing what we went through, it’s going to be so cool. It is going to be mad. The game is so flipped on its head because you now want to go into eliminations.
It’s going to be the weirdest thing ever when you see something happen and people are like ‘Yo, man. Yo, I’ll go. I’ll go. Hey, maybe it’s my turn.’ Normally it’s like ‘No way!’ and you see fights happening. People don’t want to go in.
In essence, whenever T.J. revealed that for the rest of the season, you could say that a lot of players were now held ransom. ‘Cause ain’t no way they’re going to let me into an elimination knowing that, as long as I don’t go to an elimination, I don’t go to a final, right? CT, Bananas, Wes, you think we’re going to let these guys into an elimination and potentially into a final? Just keep them out of an elimination. So, the game is so flipped, it’s going to be mental. So I think the fans are going to be excited.
KT: It sounds like it lives up to its title, ‘Total Madness.’ Instead of fighting to stay out of an elimination, you have to fight to get in one.
JW: So weird, it was very weird. Our nominations were… all of us would just look at each other like ‘What is happening?’
KT: How did it compare to your previous seasons in terms of intensity?
JW: You can tell that they’re stepping it up every year. The equipment that we’re using… we’re on helicopters, planes, tanks, this massive military equipment. They made it happen. The intensity was there from the start, as you guys could see from Challenge 1. That whole gauntlet was no joke, those barrels were heavy. And you see, like, the dudes that made it through were all like 6-foot-2 and above. These huge guys. So it was no joke, they got us in it right away and it stayed intense the entire time.
KT: Even production-wise, in one of the very early shots in the intro, you’ve got T.J. waving down the helicopter with two flares, like ‘What the hell is happening?’
JW: Yeah, that actually happened. We’re seeing everything as you guys are. In that moment, they’re revealing that to us just the same. Our bus is blacked out, so imagine you’re taken to a location, you’re like black ops.
You’re taken to a location, you’ve been on this bus, you’re like ‘where the hell are we?’ And then all you hear is a chopper is coming in and you’re like ‘Alright, well, we’re done.’ Cause we know we’re in Eastern Europe. ‘Yup, this is it. The Russians are coming, terrible timing, and thanks a lot, MTV.’ Then T.J. opens the door and is like ‘What’s up f*ckers?’
So they’re bringing it and I think the fans responded to the last couple of trilogies. We’ve just been stepping it up. From the competition, look at these new guys. You’ve got Jay coming in from ‘Survivor’ and ‘Survivor’ is no joke. Look at Turbo. Turbo came in, won his first one. He’s a ‘Survivor’ guy… Fessy, he’s a f*cking monster. He’s like 6-foot-5, 240-plus… Where do they find these guys? Everyone is huge! So the competition is leveling up, the production value is leveling up. You can even tell with the crew. You can see in the shots, the shots are way more cinematic, the shots that they’re getting; they’re getting creative. It’s fun, they’re trying stuff. So, it’s cool.
KT: Yeah, I thought Jay was a bit of a sleeper in the first episode. I didn’t think he stood a chance in that elimination, then it turns out, ‘Oh, he’s a rock climber and playing it smart.’ So of course he comes out ahead.
JW: Yeah. Oh, man. The house was split on that. We all start making bets on that once we know that we’re safe and the house was pretty split. Asaf is a specimen, Jesus Christ. He has abs on his back.
KT: He’s an Israeli Tarzan.
JW: Yeah! And an amazing dancer, I hope he gets another shot. It’s so hard for people to grasp how intense this is. Jay is coming from ‘Survivor,’ so he gets it, I think. You’re facing the elements there, so you understand that power of will thing. But when you don’t come…
When you’re on ‘Love Island’ or one of these dating shows or ‘Geordie Shore’ or any of these shows that aren’t competition-based, I don’t think they understand that this is a competition first and foremost.
The crew is here, they’re all refs. They take it very seriously, face masks up, they’re not helping you, talking to you. If you’re lost in the forest, you’re lost. They’re not helping you until finally they’re like ‘Well this is wrapped up, just go that way.’ I hope he gets to come back because now he understands the intensity. I think he is a competitor, but it just goes to show: it’s the power of the mind as well. Jay knew what to do, he executed it perfectly and you’re exactly right, he is a sleeper.
KT: It kind of reminded me of one of the eliminations from ‘War of the Worlds 2’ when you took out Josh. Obviously, you just played it smart and realized ‘This guy is bigger than me’ and you have this kind of natural disadvantage, you just suckered him three times in a row.
JW: Yeah. The long game, you know? I think Jay knows that. Jay is a smaller guy — he’s probably 5 pounds lighter than I am. He knows; he’s smart, he calculated it. I think it will serve him well here. And he’s likable too, so I think that helps him.
KT: Got to have the social game too, I guess.
JW: Yeah, man! I mean, I need to take some notes from my fiancee on the social game, but I’m learning. It’s a season-by-season process, Kevin.
KT: So, after spending weeks in a Chernobyl broom closet, you emerge to see the rise of a global pandemic. Good times, huh?
JW: Tell me… tell me this is not all going together, right? We have zombies, our pets’ heads are falling off, we can’t leave our home…
KT: I think it all started when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series personally, but that’s just my theory.
JW: That’s exactly what it was.
KT: Has the coronavirus craziness had any effect on the wedding plans?
JW: No, because we were looking at 2021 already, so hopefully we’re still OK. The short answer is ‘No.’
KT: How are the plans coming along?
JW: We are actually trying to decide, ‘Do we do a destination or…’ If we have this thing here, she has so. much. family. So we’re playing with the thought that a destination wedding kind of [weeds] that out, right? That’s when you know who is serious about you, if you’re going to show up, out of the country, to celebrate. So we’re playing with that, I think that’s our big decision. We have ideas of what we want to do, it could go either way. I think we need to decide if we’re going to do it here or go somewhere and then we kind of use that as a jumpstart to the honeymoon and we would continue on traveling. We love traveling and we’re really good travel buddies too. Her head just fits in my shoulder really well. So, I think we’re going to use that then jumpstart traveling.
KT: In the promo that came out the other day, you and Tori talk about who from the ‘Challenge’ world you’d have there. Is there anyone specifically not welcome?
JW: No way! I don’t think we would ever tell anyone ‘No way, you’re not coming.’ No, we’re all-inclusive.
KT: Leave the game in the game and everything is fine after?
JW: That’s right! That’s right.
KT: I see ‘Sporting News’ ranked you No. 1 all-time among competitors on ‘The Challenge.’
JW: I saw that too. That’s pretty crazy. I’m not going to lie, that was pretty cool. I’m a sports guy and most of my early life up through college was all about athletics. It’s cool to still get to compete on a stage… I feel grateful that I get to play, that they keep inviting me back. I was looking at the ratings and it really got me thinking, ‘This is Season 35 of a show, there’s not many shows that could say that.’ We’re still popular in the world, we’re still changing the game a little bit. So to be No. 1 in something like that, it’s pretty cool. I feel pretty humbled.
KT: There’s no denying, three wins and four finals in five appearances, that’s incredible. But that did get me wondering how frequently the world’s oldest sports publication covered reality competitions prior to the shutdown of all major sports leagues.
JW: Maybe this is exactly what ‘The Challenge’ needed to get it on the radar. We’ve got Bill Simmons, he’s an advocate. Jimmy Fallon, he’s an advocate. We can get a couple of people and get this thing going. We’re on FanDuel now, so people can set their fantasy lineups. I think the more we incorporate it into life, we can grow this thing, man. I want better competition. I want it to grow, I want it to get bigger. I want it to get harder.
KT: I think, ratings-wise, this was the exact perfect time for the premiere, this week. People have been locked in their houses for about a month, they’re looking at another month and they’re going to be five episodes deep by the end of it. I think you’re right, this could be the thing that puts it over the top.
JW: Yeah. I can’t really speak because I don’t know what all goes into if they stream it and all the platforms that it’s on. I know it’s just cable right now and that makes it hard since so much of the world is going streaming. But if we can just get more eyeballs… Cable is a hard market to survive in right now and we’re doing really well. If we can get some new people over, let’s keep growing.
KT: Alright Jordan, I appreciate you taking some time to speak with me, man. I don’t have any more questions for you; is there anything you want to say to ‘The Challenge’ universe before we wrap?
JW: Just that I hope everyone liked Episode 1. This season is crazy; it really is. That was a great name for it that they settled on. So, everybody enjoy and it’s going to be a wild ride.
KT: Alrighty. Well, like I said, man, thanks so much for talking to me and stay safe. It’s weird how ‘Stay safe’ became the new ‘Have a good one.’
JW: I know. Hope you’re safe and healthy. It was wonderful to talk to you, man.