The new, special season of the long-running MTV reality competition series reunites all the OG players from the earliest seasons of the game to see if they still have what it takes to win in the more intense/difficult challenges of today's seasons. But Long is already looking ahead and setting his sights on battling some of the newer players who have debuted in recent seasons. "I don't know if it's because I'm crazy but I still watch today and think, 'Man, I think I could do that. I think I can be very competitive in there,'" Long tells EW. "Even though I'm 49, I think I could whoop Fessy's ass in a Hall Brawl. [Laughs] I say that to myself all the time."
While Long is going up against his fellow, older veterans in the debut season of All Stars, he's already got a plan in mind to take this new format in an epic direction with the younger, newer Challenge stars. "My perfect dream of this, if I could script the future for the OG All Stars, would be that we probably do multiple seasons and then at some point have the biggest moment of reality television when the OGs go up against the new kids that's airing now," he says. "It's like the Super Bowl of The Challenge and it'll be the biggest thing that you've ever seen from The Challenge, that is that for damn sure."
Long wants to see all the OGs return for "seven or eight seasons" of All Stars before going head-to-head with the younger Double Agents players. "Could you not see that already? It culminates into an OG vs. new school in an epic Challenge that's full length, 10 weeks?" Long says. "If that isn't going to bust some records, man, I don't know what would. That's my vision, and I could see it happening. Fans would love it, they would lose their s--- if that happens! And we'll get there."
Long says he's been inspired by the countless tweets he gets from fans who want to see him take on Challenge newcomer Faysal "Fessy" Shafaat. "He's kind of like the physical big dog these days in terms of height and weight so I'd like to see him go against me rather than Nelson who is half his size," Long adds. "That's me being an egomaniac too, thinking I'm still 25 and can kick anyone's ass. But only time will tell and we'll see, baby!"
Below, EW got Long to preview what fans can expect from The Challenge: All Stars, what it was like for him bringing the season to life as a producer before stepping back to compete, and more.
Juan Cruz Rabaglia/Paramount+
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congrats on seeing your "We Want OGs" vision come to life, that's got to feel really satisfying.
MARK LONG: Oh yeah, and the quickness of it all! I mean, my first tweet was in like July or something, and in eight months it's pitched, sold, shot; it's pretty crazy but I'm thrilled.
Back when you first started the campaign, did you ever expect it to become a full-fledged season of The Challenge, with TJ Lavin as host and everything?
I knew there was the audience for it. Literally, and I'm not even kidding, there hasn't been a day or two that went by since my last Challenge which was 10 years ago that someone's not come up to me saying, "When are you guys going to go back?" And to have TJ, since he's the staple of the show now, it made everything real. Packing to leave was insane, to go do the thing that I've been trying to get off the ground. I think especially in times now with the pandemic and just people being home, everyone is yearning for that nostalgic thing that makes them feel good or think back in time when times were easier or more fun or less heavy and this is one of those things. Like when I hear the original 90210 theme music, it fires me the f--- up! It brings me back to where I was happier back then. And people grew up with us. So if you're a Challenge fan, either new or old, you're going to love this.
You mentioned packing so I have to ask — did you bring any of your old signature bandanas?
Of course! I had to pack that basic bandana that I wore that signifies who I am! It's actually funny, we all packed '90s outfits to have a little '90s party like we used to back in the day. We were there to compete and go after a big purse — and $500,000 makes people really get serious quick — but I wanted to still have that nostalgia of things we used to do back in the day like the parties and dress ups. On paper the cast is great; in reality, once you see it, it's above and beyond what I ever could dream up. Everyone came to play and be their best personalities.
At what point did you step back from campaign organizer/producer to be just a competitor?
I was pretty involved producing early on. I had like 78 OG names that reached out to me and I submitted to them and was going through them all because we did this through a pandemic, and people had to have passports, and you'd be surprised how many people don't have passports! I was like, "Jesus, guys, come on." It sometimes was simple as that, or it was, "You're leaving too soon, I need another couple weeks." But it happened so fast. And MTV and Paramount+ [were like], "Since you've kind of been known as the face to get this thing going, we'd much rather see you in there competing. How weird is it going to be when it comes out and you're not on it?" Through that conversation, we decided I was going to be a cast member, and I ducked out more on my day-to-day producer roles, so I didn't know the format, I didn't know the challenges we were going to be doing, I didn't know the final cast. In terms of me having a competitive advantage, that went out the window. When I showed up and TJ gave us the lowdown, everything was news to me. It was cool to go back into that Challenger mentality. And you'll see throughout the season, they do not take it easy on us because of our age or how active or athletic we are or aren't. We earn every dollar we make down there.
Did you feel extra pressure to win because of how hard you worked to make this season a reality?
Yeah, I'd be lying if I said I didn't. Plus I had that extra pressure of getting everyone down there, and we had to quarantine for 10 days before we actually showed up to the house so getting everyone down there and staying healthy, I started thinking as a producer right when I got on the plane to go down to Argentina. And you would have thought some of these moms and dads have never f---ing been away from their kids at all. They were boozed up on the plane within an hour and the pilot actually announced, "You guys have to settle down in the back or we're going to land this plane in Houston." I was like, "Don't tell me we're going to get canceled before we even get there by being jackasses!"
What was it like competing in the daily challenges of today's franchise vs. what the challenges used to be when you were last on?
I remember doing this thing where you're playing for a Razor scooter or you're playing for a T-Mobile Sidekick. Once TJ mentioned that we're playing for half a million dollars, that's when everything got real. This is the big leagues and The Challenge equaled what that prize was. Everything we did was top notch and very, very hard. We had people at night bitching about how hard it was.
Who were you most surprised to see come back?
I was happy Teck came back because he's such a funny guy. Yes hadn't competed in 17 years, and the guy hasn't aged a bit but he's a father of two. It was great to see Ruthie, great to see Trishelle and Katie who I hadn't seen in a while, Big Easy, Syrus, and Beth. Everyone! I've been really close with Derrick over the years and Darrell. I knew we had something special with this cast and everyone delivered.
Who were you worried about reuniting due to any old feuds or rivalries or drama getting reignited?
I know that Trishelle had a really bad moment with Aneesa that she had spoken to me about outside of this Challenge that she was hoping to some day revisit with Aneesa and squash it. And throughout the season they do have a moment or two to do that which is a nice thing. Ruthie and Aneesa always had some sort of competitive sisterly love and hate which you'll see evolve. There's always been this undertone between Derrick and Nehemiah about who's better and who's badder so you'll see many moments of that come out. All in all, it's a regular Challenge; there's fights, there's hookups, there's laughing, there's crying, they bring back this thing we used to have in the game called a Life Saver where you can save someone from elimination, there's throwbacks. It's awesome.
Whose performance surprised you the most?
Jisela will admit right off the bat she's not the most in shape but she really surprised me in terms of how willing she is to do everything and not give up or quit. I'm glad that Big Easy is back, a lot of people remember him as just almost dying in one of the finals and I'm glad he got a chance to come back and show that he's healthier and in a better place and kicking ass on this Challenge. I know he's carried that monkey on his back for years. And Beth for instance, she's 52 years old, she looks great, and she'll do anything even though she cries through it, which you'll see. It's amazing that no matter how old you are, you could be 35, 45, or 52, and you still have that fight and that energy and the commitment to win and she's a perfect example of that.
Who was your biggest competition?
Alton was always a competitor that I would be excited to visit but have to put in some extra work for sure. Latterian is a big guy, played sports growing up, a lot of football, and we have a great moment in terms of competing that you guys will love. And Darrell's a physical beast, he's been doing this for a while. And Yes is very crafty and good at everything. So there's quite a few.
What can you tease about how well you do this season?
Everyone knew I got everyone down there so everyone was thanking me for making this opportunity happen, but there is definitely a time when I have to earn my way and I either prove myself or get sent home and pushed to the wayside. I did not get a free ride which is exactly how I wanted it. I earned every step of it. Whether I'm 29, 39, 49, or 59, I wake up every day 6'3", 230 pounds of twisted steel, ready to go. My speedo is always ready. And I hold my own for being the oldest guy. There are a few moments when I look at the other guys in the cast and said, "I can't believe you just let an old man whoop your ass."
The Challenge: All Stars premieres April 1 on Paramount+.