I’ve been waiting a while to do this interview if we’re being totally honest. I asked Challenge Mania’s Scott Yager all about his plans for the podcast, his dream roster of guests and got the inside scoop on Challenge Mania Live’s upcoming shows. Lets get to ittttttt!
1. I’ve been a Challenge fan since Road Rules was shown on MTV. What was the first season of The Challenge that got you hooked?
Hard to say EXACTLY which one hooked me. But back then (when I was a teenager, when MTV used to re-run everything) it was easy to sort of just be an “MTV KID”, which I was. I remember sort of just becoming interested in The Challenge because it became an extension of The Real World / Road Rules and an opportunity to continue watching those people I liked. To me, the stunts, the crazy competitions, the cranes, the bugs etc, that was all gravy. I think when it really became about game/format and really started to hit it’s first glory period was around Battle of the Seasons / Battle of the Sexes. They worked out some kinks there with those and then from The Gauntlet through The Island, it really became appointment television while I was in college. It was rare I missed it on the night it was actually on.
2. As a podcast host, do you listen to other podcasts?
Yes. Dozens. However, rarely other Challenge podcasts.
Nothing against them, many are great and I will occasionally check one out for a specific guest or issue…it’s just that since I have to live in it for such a large portion of the week, my podcast time is typically spent listening to anything BUT Challenge content. I am a big wrestling nerd. So I listen to a bunch of those. I am a junkie for anything about film and television, particularly put out by The Ringer or Vanity Fair. When Game of Thrones was on, I was listening to 3-4 Game of Thrones podcasts a week. Now I am really into Succession, so I listen to 2-3 of those. Then toss in the Fantasy Football advice shows I try to get in, your Bill Simmons, Joe Rogans, Marc Marons and other fantastic interviewers out there and all the RHAP stuff on Survivor and Big Brother, and my Podcasts app is almost never void of something left to consume. I almost always have an earbud in, at the gym, walking down the street, on the subway or even while I am trying to fall asleep.
3. Since today in #TMITuesday is there anything you can tell the fans that they may not already know about you?
Hmmm…sometimes info does trickle out on the show and it’s hard to grasp what people retain and what they don’t. I have about 10 years under my belt of working behind the scenes in Reality/Docu-Series Television. My first job out of college was as a PA on America’s Next Top Model and I never looked back, working in Production in various capacities from then up until 2018, when I started this podcast venture w/ Derrick.
I am also a working Voiceover Actor. You’ve likely heard me during TV commercials and not even known. I went to Syracuse University and studied Film/Drama. Fun stuff..I proposed to my now wife in front of an Otter Exhibit at the Stamford Nature Center, since she loves otters and they have always been our thing.
4. Is there a reality show you would like to see cast members from on a season of The Challenge? I’ve sort of been excited to see a cast member from Jersey Shore, or Teen Mom
.I have never gotten the Teen Mom thing. I know people love it. So I am not knocking it. But you already know they’re a Teen Mom and now you’re asking them to leave their kid to go to summer cramp for 2-3 months? Would might even be considered irresponsible to present them with the opportunity. I say that in jest. As for Jersey Shore, I totally appreciate how beloved those characters are and think that could be cool, even to just see them once. Those folks are paid very well so it would be a bit dicey there in regards to how they worked all that stuff out. But I could definitely see that. I love that people are coming over from Big Brother. For those of us who watch Big Brother, we see A LOT of these people over the course of the summer. The show is on 3x a week. Some people even watch the Live Feeds. So it really is the best “audition process” for The Challenge you could ask for. I also think a lot of the social game play transfers very nicely to The Challenge. I think a lot of people who do Big Brother and never truly get to show their competitive side from a physical standpoint have an opportunity to thrive even further in The Challenge environment. I think overall, that project has been a success. Paulie, Josh, Da’Vonne and Natalie have all done really well on The Challenge and all become welcome additions to that world, if you ask me.
Survivor, selfishly, being another show of mine, could be good for that too. Cast-members end up with a lot less camera time on that show, so sometimes you really don’t get to know people too well over the course of their time on that show, but the elements and nature of the competitions is certainly similar to The Challenge in some regards.
5. What would you say is your current ‘theme song’ is?
Our theme song for Challenge Mania was composed by Ryan Nach of Knock it Out Productions. He is a friend of the show and produces music for film and television. Our first episode had a different song and ever since episode 2, we have gone with the track that has become synonymous with our show and opens up every podcast and live show. If you meant what MY theme song is…hmmm…that’s more of a complex question. I think “Don’t Stop Me” by Queen is just the most uplifting song ever. I play it before every one of our shows, a few minutes before we start. Any time it comes on, it makes me happy. It makes you feel like you can do anything and it has this rare quality that it doesn’t ware off the second the song is over. It stays with you for a bit too. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. So I guess I would go with that at the moment. But it’s a really hard question. I love music. I go to at least 10 concerts a year. I’ve probably been to over 300 or so in my life. Any song you ever hear at a Challenge Mania Live show, even if it’s during the Meet N Greet Playlist or while the room is being seated, I personally selected myself.
6. How do you and Derek prepare for an episode of Challenge Mania?
We figure out who we are having on, and schedule based on their and our availability. Most of the time it’s through Derrick but since I have developed relationships with people over the last 2 years too, it will often be me who sets it up. Once we have our guest, we open it up for questions from the listeners. Those tell us what people want to hear about and act as a framework for the interview. I try to get to as many as we can. Sometimes we naturally cover the subjects in conversation as well. I would say our podcasts are lighter on prep than would be the case if Derrick and I didn’t know a lot of these people well (even if not personally) and if it wasn’t such a specific subject matter (The Challenge and their life). We don’t “wing it” per say, but it’s about as close to it as you’re going to get.
7. Your Challenge Mania Live events are a fan-favorite. I’ve tweeted about wanting a Toronto event, but is there any city you’re most interested in?
I am actually talking about Canada with someone. There are just added logistics that come with working internationally. If those hurdles aren’t too much to overcome, we will get to Canada. I really want to. Toronto is a likely stop if we do ever make it happen. But like I said, there are a few things we need to iron out first. As for MOST interested in, Toronto is up there. London would be great, especially with all the UK cast these days, however similar issues are presented there and the cost of getting there would be high. If we got a grant from some millionaire tycoon to where the costs and profit margins on these things didn’t matter…we would come to a lot more cities than we already do. Because it is our job and our business, we need to put thought and care into where we go, how much we spend and whether a specific city is likely to give us a return on that investment. It is not as easy as people think. We get a lot of requests to come to a lot of different cities. I genuinely wish we could come to all of them. We currently have 4 shows on the calendar. We are coming to Philly for the first time on Sunday, October 13th. We are returning to Chicago, Derrick’s hometown, on Saturday November 23rd. We are coming to Miami for the first time on Saturday December 21st and we already have the day before Wrestlemania booked in Tampa on Saturday, April 4th the weekend that Wrestlemania is in town in 2020. Other than that, our likely next stops are Nashville and New Orleans. I would like to eventually get to places like Seattle, Portland, San Diego, Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, Cleveland, St. Louis, Syracuse even. Goal is to do around 8 shows in 2020. Two of those will likely be returns to New York and Chicago, our two strongest markets. Plus Tampa on April 4th. As I mentioned, Nashville and New Orleans will likely be getting 1 too. That leaves about 3-4 slots. This is for the big Challenge Mania Live show with multiple guests. I am also toying with an idea that would send me and Derrick for smaller shows (with a local guest when possible) that could potentially help service some of those smaller markets and give them something, maybe on a Wednesday night where we watch the episode with the crowd and do a live War Room taping after. Again, still something I am playing with. But to answer your question about Toronto, if it is feasible to pull off, we would love to. Tickets and info for all our shows is always available at http://www.ChallengeMania.Live and goes up shortly after anything is announced. Definitely a good site to bookmark.
8. What is the best advice for rookies on this season/upcoming season?
Best advice on Season 34? Well, that’s tricky because the only rookies are on Team UK. Team US has no full-blown rookies on it. Some with little experience, but no true rookies. For the rookies on Team UK, I would say it is probably best to prove your worth to your team. It’s not a team with a ton of experience. Kyle is the defacto veteran on that team and he’s only done 3 seasons. Even guys like Joss and Theo and Bear who stand out, seem to be getting targeted early. So I look at someone like Jenny as someone who is in a good spot. Her own team fears her. She looks like a definite asset to the team in general as far as performance goes. She is a physical specimen. Even though she’s a rookie. she seems to be getting veteran-like treatment because no one wants to go against her or play without her. So although you can’t wake up tomorrow and look like her, figure out what you’re good at (swimming? puzzles?) and show your team you’re not expendable. Now…if you mean rookies going into Season 35…my advice would be not to live out on rookie island, to form some alliances early…but maybe don’t look to do with with a Johnny or a Wes or someone who could end up being an early target. These polarizing cast-members are legends of the game for a reason. They have won, many times. They know how to manipulate the game. Sometimes, you can use that to your advantage. Look at Hunter (who wasn’t a rookie, I know), who aligned with Wes on War of the Worlds and rode it all the way to the final. But look at Morgan, last season. She shacks up with Bananas and ends up going home very early. Other rookies, like Mattie and Georgia, who became very well liked among veteran cast-members, made it all the way to the end because they chose the right ones to cozy up to.
9. Speaking of Challenge Mania Live, who is your dream roster of guests?
We honestly just had my dream roster of guests in San Francisco. Or close to it. It was this magical blend of past, present and future. We had Cohutta and Abram who might have their Challenge days behind them, Derrick and Darrell who are legends of the game but still very much active (we think and hope) and then Dee and Turbo who could not be more relevant to the current game on Season 34 and 35. Would have been nice to have another lady up there, to even it out a bit more. But it was a pretty jam-packed panel already. Now, don’t think I am going to dodge your question and give you an easy answer only. I will give you a hypothetical dream panel as well. How about this…I’ll set some parameters. I will choose only from people we have not had on a live show yet. And I will keep it to five. Five is a bit high, but we’ve pulled it off, like in San Francisco. Keeping with that formula of having guests from multiple eras…I would love to have Mike “The Miz” up there, because he is definitely done playing on The Challenge but has hosted Champs vs Stars and multiple reunions lately so he is very much still plugged into the world and gets these newer cast-members very much. From Mike’s Real World season I would throw Coral up there. She hasn’t even done our PODCAST yet. She is one of our “white whales” and when you add their dynamic and history, those two would be great to have together. I would couple them with a Laurel, to bridge that gap. She is someone who still plays today and is as good as ever (just see last week’s episode) but got her start on Fresh Meat II and represents that middle era of the show as well. She is another white whale. Never done the podcast. Most blame me for that. Both she and Coral are dream guests for live shows but also just for the podcast in general. They have been evasive thus far. Mike did our podcast last year and it’s one of my favorite episodes. From there, I would toss on 2 newer cast-members. Da’Vonne is one of my favorite commentators on the show. She is so great in her interviews and all the content she puts out online. A hell of a competitor too but I would love to see her on stage talking shop with the vets. From there, I would add Josh Martinez. You would get a fun dynamic of he and Laurel up there, getting to discuss working together on blindsiding Wes and working together this season. There is that commonality there between him and Da’Vonne with Big Brother, which Josh actually won. Does this mean I wouldn’t love to see CT, Rachel Robinson, Johnny Bananas or Trishelle on our show? Absolutely, I would. Those are ALL dream guests, and guests who haven’t appeared yet but whom I hope appear sometime really soon. But I really do enjoy having guests that span generations and providing someone for both older and newer fans who come out. It would be easy to pick 5 vets. Or 10 vets. I also think the sweet spot for guests is 3-5 tops. It is a 2 hour show but the most guests there are, the less time you get with each of them.
10. What’s next for you?
I have ideas. Sure. But for now my main goal is to see how far we can take Challenge Mania, the podcast, the brand and the live shows. In podcast terms, our show is very successful, both in the general listener-ship with the free shows and also with our subscribers/patrons who pay for that extra content each week. Those two things combined are what keep us afloat. Now, I do not say that because it is a humble brag…I say it because when you take our (still solid) numbers and compare them with the million or so viewers that The Challengegets each week, it is clear we have a very tiny sliver of the fan-base tuning in each week. Our goal is to be content that any true Challenge fan would need, if not at least enjoy. We know there are folks out there who don’t like our style, think we go off topic and ramble too much, don’t like podcasts in general, etc…sure…but there are also hundreds of thousands out there who simply haven’t discovered us yet. Almost every day I see someone comment or post “what is Challenge Mania” or “I didn’t know about this show in my city” and that tells me that we have only scratched the surface. We want Challenge Mania to be as integral a part of The Challenge fan experience as anything other than the show itself. We hope to be able to provide an outlet for that fandom to express themselves; places to go to meet other people who watch their favorite show, events where they can meet the stars of that show, a shop where they can buy cool merch to represent their favorites. All of the stuff wrestling, sports, Marvel, Star Wars etc have had for years. Nerd culture came out of the sub-culture and into the pop-culture yars ago. Reality TV has always been the outcast of the TV world. People call it “guilty pleasure” and “junk TV” but those are all just people who are jealous at how much joy we get out of it. Our goal is to come up with more ways to make those very same people jealous. They already think we’re a bunch of Maniacs. Why not prove it? Thanks for all of the questions, these were great. Rock on!