Two of MTV’s reality TV competitions, The Challenge and Are You The One, have both shut down production, for two very different reasons: a positive C0VID-19 test and a sexual assault allegation from a previous season.
The Challenge season 37 is filming in Croatia, and one of the cast members tested positive days after filming began, according to a report. Details about that—and the new season’s cast, which includes several new Survivor cast members—in a moment.
First, this comes the week after Are You The One? stopped production on season 9 and MTV removed season 5 from streaming options after a sexual assault allegation. (AYTO hasn’t aired a new season since the “Come One, Come All” season in 2019.)
On April 18, in a must-read story, The Daily Beast reported that season five contestant Gianna Hammer said she “was ‘drugged’ by production and ‘sexually assaulted’ by a fellow cast member” during filming for the show, which aired in 2017.
Hammer has made references to the incident on social media, and said Corinne Olympios’s experience on Bachelor in Paradise kept her from coming forward with details earlier: “Her story was so similar to mine. She was super drunk and blacked out and she was sexually assaulted, and production filmed it all. No one pulled her out. No one helped her. No one stopped the situation. But ABC shut her down, she was treated so badly.” (ABC did an internal investigation and then resumed production with new rules.)
Hammer detailed the incident to The Daily Beast, saying it began when producers insisted she take a second dose of Zoloft—which she began taking before filming and continued during production—even though she was drunk. (Zoloft says “Drinking alcohol while taking ZOLOFT is not recommended”; Drugs.com says that “can increase the nervous system side effects of sertraline such as dizziness, drowsiness, and difficulty concentrating.”)
She says doesn’t remember what happened next, but was told by other contestants that she got into bed with a male cast member, and those other contestants heard her saying “no” so they removed him from bed with her. The next day, Hammer said the producers told her, “nothing happened” but asked her, “Do you want him kicked out, kicked off the show? … They made this comment, saying, ‘He flew all the way out here, we did all this testing for him, he has a perfect match in this house, it would be a lot to send him back, he’d have to spend the rest of the time in a hotel by himself.'”
Hammer said producers made her sign an NDA to not discuss the incident, but the production company denies any of this happened. Lighthearted Entertainment said in a statement,
“We are confident that any review will confirm the safety procotols [sic] that we have long had in place on the sets of Are You The One? … We deny the allegations made by the former contestant; throughout the eight seasons of the show, no contestant has reported an incident of sexual assault to Lighthearted.”
That seems pretty carefully worded, doesn’t it? “No contestant has reported” is very different than, say, “no sexual assault has ever occurred while we filmed our TV show.”
Five other contestants confirmed details of Hammer’s story to The Daily Beast. One of those cast members, Hayden Weaver, e-mailed Lauren Zins, who’s now MTV’s Vice President of Talent and Casting at MTV, saying they didn’t want to film a reunion because producers “just wanted us to forget it ever happened. And that’s now what we are trying to do. I am speaking up because Gianna is too scared and ashamed about the situation to talk in depth.”
Zins’ response seems to confirm that the incidents occurred:
“I am not a magician, I can’t erase the past. What I can do (and what I’ve done already) is make the higher ups at MTV aware of the situation and put in place a call to action to make sure these serious issues do not happen again. That said, after you and Gianna had mapped out everything that had happened, you assured me that you would participate. I’m past the point of hashing this out. Unless there are new details, I should be made privy to, this doesn’t affect the reunion or the fact that you’re now going back on your word. You may feel that this reunion is a reminder of all the negative experiences, but I’m more of a glass half full person who would take the opportunity to remember that if it weren’t for this show, you never would have met Gianna.
… “I feel terribly about the unfortunate things that happened to you both, but as I said earlier, I can’t undo those things. All I can do is try my best to make future experiences better. But if you’re unwilling to participate, then that’s the end of it.”
Deadline reported that “MTV had done two internal reviews, the latest of which was in February 2021. Now the network will now be bringing an independent third party to probe the incident.
On April 18, MTV said in a statement:
“We take these issues very seriously and have paused production/casting to conduct an independent investigation into the allegations, the third party production company and further review our internal safety protocols.”
Considering it took Hammer coming forward publicly to inspire MTV to actually do something, that seems like way too little, way too late.
Challenge season 37’s cast, one of whom tested positive
The new cast of The Challenge, which is about half rookies and half returning veterans, traveled to Croatia starting April 11, according to a Vevmo post by the reliable MTV spoiler PinkRose, who also identified the contestants.
PinkRose wrote yesterday that “production has been temporarily Shut Down.”
The Ashley then reported that a cast member “tested positive after [he/she] had already been in the Challenge House and had completed and filmed the first daily challenge. That’s especially problematic because [that person] was in close contact with many other cast members and crew.”
You may recall that The Challenge was the subject of one of many trade press stories that have touted how perfectly safe and wonderful production is now. (I’ve yet to read a trade story that actually reported on this; instead, they seem to just be taking networks’ and productions’ word for it. That would be helpful, especially considering actual reporting like Vulture‘s story about what a joke C0VID compliance can be, in part because there’s no regulation about compliance officers, who can be people who received absolutely “no training beyond a two-hour online course.)
Anyway, back in December, Variety insisted “‘The Challenge’ Safely Filmed ‘Double Agents’,” and The Challenge: Double Agents showrunner Emer Harkin said this:
“Now that we’ve done it we’re in such a privileged position to know how to do it. We know how to travel crew and how to travel cast and how to quarantine; we know the types of countries we should shoot in; we know the types of properties and vendors we want to work with, right down to catering providers and cleaners. Now that we’ve got that framework in place the sky’s the limit, really.”
Variety explained the plan “if someone had tested positive in the middle of filming, production would have had to shut down, send that person home and address their exit in the show.”
It’s not clear yet if that’s happened.
Prior to the shutdown, Vevmo’s PinkRose posted a list of 27 cast members, but noted it “is subject to change,” in part because some of them are alternates:
- Emanuel Neagu, Survivor Romania
- Emy Alupei, X-Factor and Survivor Romania
- Gábor “Gabo” Szabó, Warsaw Shore
- Jeremiah White, Love Island season 2
- Kelechi “Kelz” Dyke, Too Hot To Handle
- Lauren Coogan, Love Island season 2
- Mark Byron, Big Brother UK, Shipwrecked, and The X Factor
- Michaela Bradshaw, Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X and Survivor: Game Changers
- Michelle Fitzgerald, Survivor: Kaoh Rong winner and Survivor: Winners at War
- Priscilla Anyabu, Love Island UK
- Tommy Sheehan, Survivor: Island of the Idols winner
- Amanda Garcia
- Aneesa Ferreira
- Ashley Mitchell
- Christopher “CT” Tamburello
- Cory Wharton
- Devin Walker
- Josh Martinez
- Kaycee Clark
- Kyle Christie
- Faysal “Fessy” Shafaat
- Nam Vo
- Nany Gonzalez
- Nelson Thomas
- Tula “Big T” Fazakerley
- Victoria “Tori Deal” Dehal