The Challenge: Double Agents will be the first season of the popular reality competition series that had to be filmed during the COVID-19 pandemic. That involved some unique challenges and changes for those involved in producing the latest season.
Many other movie and television productions were forced to shut down due to having workers come back with positive tests or being unable to find a way to ensure everyone’s safety while creating a movie or show.
In a recent interview, a Challenge showrunner discussed some of the difficulties and unique aspects of filming the Double Agents season during the pandemic.
The Challenge: Double Agents location, first-time club
Double Agents will feature a cast of 30 competitors, including rookies and veterans, once again battling it out for big prize money. It also involved competitors needing to agree to be part of the show and the show having potential replacement competitors on hand just in case someone tested positive for COVID-19.
If a competitor tested positive on Double Agents, they would need to send someone home from The Challenge and explain why on the show.
The Challenge showrunner Emer Harkin spoke to Variety about how they ensured the health and safety of everyone involved in making Double Agents happen. Basically, filming took place over nine weeks with no positive COVID-19 tests during that time.
To find the best location, they first used virtual tours rather than traveling to different places. Ultimately, the people putting the show together opted for Iceland due to the great scenery for various parts of the show. Harkin first traveled there in July of this year, with others from production arriving in September.
Based on Variety’s report, The Challenge Season 36 will take place only in that location, rather than moving the competitors to a new island or country for the finale.
In addition, they constructed a first-time club that is part of the house the competitors are living at. Viewers saw some of that revealed in the Double Agents Super Trailer, which dropped earlier this week. It gives competitors something fun since traveling out to a nearby bar at night wasn’t a safe option.
“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 of building a club for the competitors. “I think that’s definitely diluted if you’re just partying in your living room, or where you ate your breakfast that morning.”
Production used colored bands, regular COVID-19 testing
In addition to finding a safe location and providing a club environment, there were many other steps to ensure competitors’ health and safety. That included testing everyone regularly for COVID-19. Per the Variety report, over 3,000 COVID-19 tests were used during filming as competitors were tested every three days.
The Challenge production also “owned” a hotel that they used for all of the international crew members. They would basically travel from the hotel to the filming locations in their own sort of bubbles.
However, there were also some locals the show employed to help with Double Agents. These locals were going back to their homes at the end of each day. The production used a colored band system with different colors specifying where someone could be on the set, so certain staff wouldn’t come in contact with the cast.
“If we had a caterer who was local to Reykjavik and not part of our home bubble, they would never be near the cast; we would have a conduit person who would take the meals and bring them to the cast,” Harkin said.
“We basically treated our cast as one person: We had them all in quarantine and rigorously tested so we knew when they entered the cast house they were all healthy and well. So we just needed to preserve them,” Harkin added.
All of that helped keep things safe, along with the crew keeping a safe distance from competitors on set, wearing PPE, and using different lenses or techniques for filming. Oftentimes, cast members might even put on microphones to record their audio.
“The way they used the camera, the way they used the audio gear, the way they interacted with the cast — everything changed,” Harkin said with regards to the crew working on Double Agents.
Due to all of the changes they made to film and produce Season 36 of MTV’s competition series, Harkin also said the “sky’s the limit” with regards to filming any future seasons. That likely means fans could expect to see a Season 37 arrive sooner rather than later in 2021.
The Challenge: Double Agents premieres on Wednesday, December 9 at 8/7c on MTV.