MTV's 29th season of 'The Challenge' offers athletic feats and full-blown drama

Will the champs wreak havoc on the underdogs? MTV

For 29 seasons, MTV's "The Challenge" has pitted former cast members of "The Real World," "Road Rules" and "Are You the One?" against one another in athletic competitions with cold, hard cash being awarded to the winners. This year the total prize package is $350,000.

And typically, the cast members get to stay in a glorious mansion during the show.

But, that's not what happened this time.

Instead, "The Challenge" participants slept on the ground at The Shelter, which is a bare-necessities hut. You see, they have to earn their way into the standard-reality-show style house, dubbed the Oasis, by winning their respective challenges. This season's theme is the "Invasion of Champions," but none of the participants knew that going in.

Telling the underdogs (those who have been in the competition before but lost) that the champs (those who triumphed) were on their way would spoil the big reveal.

"I thought maybe [MTV] had changed the theme, and [the champions] were going home." underdog Jenna Compono noted. "I was kind of relieved that I didn't have to go against them, but then they showed up and ruined everything."

So, that meant 18 winless contestants -- 10 of whom have already competed in at least one game -- would be taking on eight previous winners in challenges that range from cliff-jumping to wall-climbing and more.

Let the drama begin.

At the end of the fourth episode which aired last Tuesday, the eight champs had arrived, stepping out in all of their glory presumably to terrorize anyone in their path. The women of this motley crew being: Ashley Kelsey, Laurel Stucky, Cara Maria Sorbello, and Camila Nakagawa.

"We looked at our [underdog] competition and thought we could take every single one of them," Kelsey noted. "There was no one we were intimated by."

However, their confidence was not unwarranted. Many, of them trained long and hard for this very moment.

Champ Sorbello teaches kickboxing at a studio in Montana and does CrossFit. She got into CrossFit training after season 24 ("Rivals II") winner and fellow CrossFitter Emily Schromm throttled her in an elimination round in season 22 ("Battle of the Exes"). Infamous for struggling at swimming, Sorbello focused on her water workout as well.

"I've extended my doggy paddle," noted Sorbello. "It's a little better."

Kelsey has also been doing CrossFit for six years, and took Nakagawa to her gym while they waited to be dropped in Thailand. Before her first challenge, she did not really train, and only started CrossFit after season 23 ("Battle of the Seasons"), which she won as a member of Team San Diego.

"I was more toned and looked really good in a bikini," Kelsey said with a laugh. "CrossFit completely changed my body, and now I'm actually athletic and can do things that I could not do back then."

Most of the champ agree that mental toughness also goes a long way in the challenge.

"Even if you're physically strong, if you show that you're not 100 percent confident in yourself, people will run with that," Sorbello added.

What makes "The Challenge" unique is the randomness of it all. There is no guarantee that an elimination round will be fair to both parties. Someone like Stucky can be matched up against a much smaller competitor like Sorbello or Nakagawa in a physical elimination.

"In MMA, there are weight classes. There are no weight classes on 'The Challenge,'" Sorbello said. "Here it's like 'good luck, don't die'."

"The Challenge: Invasion of the Champions" airs on MTV Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. ET.