When, in 1998, MTV aired its first Real World/Road Rules Challenge, a battle between castmates from different seasons of the network's most addictive shows, the moment was magical akin to baseball fanatics watching Roger Clemens pitch to Babe Ruth. Now, in the ninth such contest, assembling the alumni is hardly a superhuman feat: You could get 36 of these narcissexuals to come clean your garage if you promised there would be a camera crew.
The casts are divided by gender to fight for a $180,000 purse, competing in dull contests like hanging from punching bags over water and melting ice with their bodies...which, minus the soft-core appeal of seeing bikinied hardbodies gyrate on giant cubes, is a game about melting ice. It's all lazily augmented by confessionals narrating the obvious: The ice challenge had RW: San Diego lunkhead Brad reflecting, ''I'm thinking...how we gonna melt this ice?'' Careful with that subtext, Brad, you'll put an eye out!
But true fans don't care who wins the Challenge. They want to see combative participants at their most antagonistic. And this cast comes to play: ''Don't get up in my motherf---ing face about me being on the motherf---ing phone!'' RR: South Pacific hot-head Tina screamed at RW: Chicago's loner-turned-exhibitionist Tonya. Many old-timers project a professionalism about their consistency. The drawling Theo (RR: Maximum Velocity) is forever a fiercely competitive charmer, while RW: Back to New York's Coral remains an acid-tongued, charismatic drama stoker: She's Challenge's center square.
But the comfort of seeing that nobody has changed is tempered with the nagging question: Why not? Eric Nies, from the first RW (in '92!), and Mark, from '95's first RR (now a 32-year-old divorcé), are still eager to tap a keg with the newbies for more TV time. And that's the best reason to watch: to feel better about your own life's progress. If you were rubbing your ass on an ice block 10 years ago, be proud that you aren't doing it now.