The cast and crew of The Challenge: Double Agents were the first to film the MTV reality competition series amid a global pandemic. To keep everyone safe, the production team added one thing to The Challenge house that no other has had before in the show’s first 35 seasons.
Now that they know how to safely shoot a season in a COVID world, showrunner Emer Harkin says “the sky’s the limit.”
Production of ‘The Challenge’ season 36 began with quarantine
Harkin recently told Variety that the first thing they had to do was figure out how to safely scout locations and how to film full-contact competitions in the middle of a pandemic. They also had to make sure the cast and crew could travel safely.
The showrunner explained that for everyone in the cast, the most important thing was to get their heads wrapped around the new steps that would get them to the show. Once the cast was in The Challenge house, then they could “proceed as normal.”
“By ensuring they were all in quarantine and all had negative [COVID test] results, it meant we could afford ourselves that position. There was really no way we could execute our show otherwise,” Harkin explained.
Throughout the nine-week shoot, everyone in the cast and crew received COVID tests every three days. This added up to more than 3,000 tests during production, but no one ever tested positive.
The cast and crew had their own production bubble, with local workers kept separate
Harkin chose Iceland as the location for season 36 because it is a “stunning backdrop” for competition. She also chose it because they were able to make it safe for the cast and crew, who were flying in from around the globe.
She first arrived in Iceland in July with members of her team and they started production in September. Harkin says that when they first arrived, the country required a 24-hour quarantine when they arrived at the airport. They went through a COVID booth to get a test and downloaded a special app for notifications.
“You download an app and they alert you on the app when you’re cleared and then you can start moving freely,” Harkin explained.
The Challenge production crew that flew in took over an entire hotel during filming to create their own bubble. Local workers were kept separate from the cast and wore colored bands that represented a special tier system that the show created. This allowed the local workers to go home every night instead of staying in the bubble.
“The bands dictated where you could be on set,” Harkin explained. “If we had a caterer who was local to Reykjavik and not part of our home bubble, they would never be near the cast.”
‘The Challenge’ house in season 36 has 1 new addition
During a regular season, the challengers are allowed to go out on the town at night after a day of competition. They will get in a van and camera crews will follow them to a location that producers had previously scouted. But in season 36, that wasn’t an option.
In order to keep the cast in a bubble, the show created a separate “club” space away from The Challenge house. This area was specifically for the cast to let loose and have fun.
“It’s something we deemed important because it’s really good for them to be able to let loose, let their hair down, and relax after a challenge,” Harkin said. “I think that’s definitely diluted if you’re just partying in your living room, or where you ate your breakfast that morning.”
The cast was able to interact with each other everywhere in the bubble – from The Challenge field to the house. But the crew had to follow COVID protocols, which meant staying six feet away from the contestants and filming in full PPE.
“The way they used the camera, the way they used the audio gear, the way they interacted with the cast — everything changed,” Harkin explained.
Now that they know how to film a full season of The Challenge amid a pandemic and have the framework in place, Harkin says “the sky’s the limit.”
The Challenge: Double Agents premieres December 9 on MTV.