The Challenge season 38 showrunner reveals how Ride or Dies is like Rivals and Exes — with a twist

·5 min read

When the time came to start thinking about The Challenge season 38, showrunner Emer Harkin decided to take it back to the classics.

"We've been talking about it for a while — we've done Rivals, we've done Exes, and those are some of our most beloved and well-known franchises," she tells EW. "We thought, why don't we flip Rivals and Exes on its head. There's something sort of classic Challenge about this in a way, but rather than bringing people into an environment that they're going to really be awkward and uncomfortable in, why not give them the best chance to win and bring them in with the person they love the most and see how they do? It was really interesting to look at it in that way for a change, because it was a really positive, loving, beautiful entry point."

The Challenge: Ride or Dies brings back a group of vets who were allowed to pick their own partner for the season, and in the same vein as Bloodlines, their partners are their loved ones — but they don't have to be blood relations this time. From best friends to spouses to family, all kinds of seemingly unbreakable bonds will be put to the ultimate test as they fight for their share of a million dollars. And EW has your exclusive sneak peek at the new season with photos from the first five episodes.

The Challenge
The Challenge

LAURA BARISONZI/MTV

"This is something we've never done before, where we've got every single cast member entering the game with their best friend, their ride or die, the person that they've been through a lot with, and they're going to navigate our crazy world with," Harkin says. "There are a couple of twists throughout the season — there are times where you're not going to know if your ride or die still has your back or if they're actually working against you. They might separate and come back together. The game constantly will keep everybody guessing and there are massive surprises and bombshells along the way that will shock fans, because we do a couple of things that we've never done on The Challenge."

One of the biggest differences from recent seasons? The spy theme is finally gone. "It's been very, very heavily themed recently, very stylish and cinematic, and we just felt for this season, it was time to dive back into those relationships that are the reason that we've all grown up loving The Challenge and keep coming back for more," Harkin says. "It's time to celebrate the cast and everything we love about the show. This is just a colorful, energetic, effervescent celebration of The Challenge and the relationships, old and new, that hearkens back to old school seasons in that way and feels a little bit more authentic. It's not trying to be anything else. We all love a great cast, a bunch of great challenges, and lots of drama, lots of hooking up, lots of fighting, and you can expect all the hallmarks of a great Challenge season."

When it came to filling up the cast roster, Harkin still can't believe she was able to get some of most iconic Challenge legends back. "We've got the return of Laurel [Stucky], Darrell [Taylor], Veronica [Portillo]," she says. "Johnny Bananas [Devenanzio] is back, Nany [Gonzalez] is back. We've got Jordan [Wiseley], it's amazing. And then we've got a whole group of newbies who are awesome and really bring it. And we've got a reappearance from Nam [Vo] that's going to shock you all. Oh my God, poor Nam, I won't say more than that."

The Challenge
The Challenge

LAURA BARISONZI/MTV

Watching all these vets and rookies adapt to this format and realize they have someone in the game they can rely on and trust completely gave this season a positive spin that Harkin loves. "The best part about these pairs is there is patience, care, love, and compassion expressed in a way that maybe we don't see as often on The Challenge," she says. "The world could do with a bit more of that right now."

But that doesn't mean The Challenge has gone soft. Quite the opposite, in fact — Harkin just got home from filming the final and warns that it's going to be a "curveball," not only for the competitors but also for the fans watching. "It is not like anything that we've done in the past," she says. "It's time to throw out everything you think you know about a final and just buckle up and enjoy the ride, because it's different and it's pretty gnarly. Every finalist said that it was the most brutal experience of their lives."

She adds that it's physically comparable to the War of the Worlds final, widely regarded as one of the hardest finals of all time. "Not everybody makes it," she says. "They're ragged, and torn, and worn by the end of it, and it'll keep you guessing right up until the last second. It was a total nail biter for us and a really unorthodox finale that I really hope people enjoy."

Check out more exclusive photos from the first five episodes below:

The Challenge
The Challenge

LAURA BARISONZI/MTV

The Challenge
The Challenge

MTV

The Challenge
The Challenge

MTV

The Challenge
The Challenge

MTV

The Challenge
The Challenge

LAURA BARISONZI/MTV

The Challenge
The Challenge

LAURA BARISONZI/MTV

The Challenge
The Challenge

LAURA BARISONZI/MTV

The Challenge
The Challenge

Jonne Roriz/MTV

The Challenge
The Challenge

Jonne Roriz/MTV

The Challenge
The Challenge

Jonne Roriz/MTV

The Challenge
The Challenge

Jonne Roriz/MTV

The Challenge
The Challenge

Jonne Roriz/MTV

The Challenge
The Challenge

Jonne Roriz/MTV

The Challenge
The Challenge

Jonne Roriz/MTV

The Challenge: Ride or Dies premieres Wednesday, Oct. 12 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on MTV. Before that, check out the first-ever documentary series The Challenge: Untold History, premiering Sept. 21 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on MTV.

Make sure to check out EW's Fall TV Preview cover story — as well as all of our 2022 Fall TV Preview content, releasing over 22 days through Sept. 29.

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