Long is one of the true OG challengers, having appeared on six seasons of MTV’s The Challenge in addition to the very first season of Road Rules. He took some time to talk to TLW and dish about what really goes down inside the house, his experience living in a Winnebago, and the chances of him making the ultimate comeback.
Nick Caruso: So the big question: What do we have to do to get you back on The Challenge!?
Mark Long: I still get stopped every other day and asked, “When are you gonna get on The Challenge?” and I’m like “Look at me, I’m fucking ready right now. Let’s do it.” There’s been a regime change at Bunim/Murray [Productions] and one of my favorites, Julie Pizzi, is the new president. She was there during early Challenges like The Gauntlet and The Inferno—she left to start a company, but they brought her back. I have always been a huge fan of hers. I had a conversation with her probably a few weeks ago…I’ll tell you what, I still watch this shitshow every year and I guarantee you I can go up against the youngest, fittest guys in that house and whoop their asses, hands down. Every time I’m watching I’m like, “I wish I could go head to head against these youngsters,” because it wouldn’t be pretty, man.
I’ve seen your Instagram photos. I’m 215 pounds and positive you can bench press me.
A lot of these cats party when they’re not shooting and go completely nuts, because obviously they’re younger, but I’m competition ready 24/7, 365. You can call and say “Mark, you’ve got to be on a plane tomorrow” and I will be in just as good of shape now as I would be if I trained for six weeks, because that’s my lifestyle. I love exercising and I love keeping in shape. It’s part of who I am. I literally can grab my speedo and sunblock and be out the door in two minutes ready to rock.
Everyone’s always like “Well, you retired!” but everyone loves a great comeback. Take Derrick for instance—people love that Derrick is back. He’s a true veteran Road Ruler. What a storyline me coming back now would be after all these years. We’ll see what happens, I’m definitely open for it. I still talk to Derrick a lot, I was pumped when he got the call.
I’m excited for him, too! Darrell had an amazing showing on Invasion of the Champions and Champs vs. Pros…
Yeah, Darrell’s another one! He’s great.
What’s your take on these Are You the One? jokers?
Everyone always wants me to shit on these Are You the One? people, but they were cast for drama and relationships. They were never cast for pure unadulterated competition. It’s not their fault, but that’s why you‘ve never seen those guys or girls win. You have to not only play the social game, but you have to the physical game down as well. The true Challenge vets always find a way and rise to the top.
Having someone come in from, say, a Fresh Meat season is a completely different thing because at least they were cast to go on The Challenge instead of a dating show.
Exactly. You might as well start putting people on from Love Connection. It is what it is. I get it. They want to have new faces.
I’m in my 30’s and I know a lot of fans my age want to see the OGs—but then again, I’m not the target audience for MTV anymore.
The thing is, you’re not the target audience, but your audience is a big audience. It’s a double-edged sword. You want the new kids, but I feel like you and I are “old school”—and those fans are 10 times as passionate as new fans. There might not be as many, but they’re fucking lunatics over it, it’s awesome.
What else goes down in a Challenge house? Susie Meister talks a lot on The Brain Candy Podcast about how production banned books, crossword puzzles and any other form of stimulation from the house.
I remember on Battle of the Exes, just because we had nothing to do, I started reading a Harry Potter book aloud to the room before we went to bed. I did it for like three nights, and on the fourth night, the Harry Potter book disappeared from under my pillow forever. They don’t want you to focus on anything but the game and the people, and hey, hats off to them. They want to create the perfect scenario, so that’s a good production move right there.
I’ve heard stories that people smuggle things in too.
Oh yeah, they try to smuggle in phones, food, you name it. They try to smuggle in Adderall pills…
Yea, I’ve heard some stories about that recently…
Not that I’m saying that I’m an advocate of Adderall, but if you have Adderall in the Challenge house you might as well be an A-list drug dealer! They’re fiending over that! I think I’ve snuck in stuff…I snuck in a lot of clothes that you’re not supposed to have. They really check your branding. I was helping a company with their brand one time, so I wore a couple shirts underneath my jacket so they couldn’t actually remove them from my body when I got there.
I would imagine you just have to get more creative with how you smuggle things in.
Exactly! Nowadays, when you check in with production, you might as well be going into a maximum security prison. They’re checking your luggage with a fine-tooth comb. I’m surprised they don’t strip search people now and make them spread their butt cheeks open…I’m not even kidding! I will say this, in their defense, they want to manage things and don’t want things to get out of hand. They monitor the alcohol now, too; they dye the vodka blue so you’re not stealing vodka and pouring it into your water bottles. They want people to have a good time, but don’t want you to be a sloppy, dangerous mess.
Yet the Camilanator still finds a way…
You know, every year they show that clip of her throwing the chair. The next time you watch that clip look at the right side of the frame, I’m sitting at the dinner table in a green collared shirt eating a bowl of ice cream. And I just couldn’t be bothered.
Say you go back out for Challenge 31, which cast members do you want on your team?
Derrick for sure. Bananas because I’ve been so close to him lately. I’d love to do another with CT: the calm, dad CT rather than the crazy CT. Camilla, I’ve always gotten along with. I’m really good friends with Cara Maria. I think Jenna and Zach would be cool to do it with. I think Leroy is always awesome. Darrell, for sure. Those are the kind of people I’d want. Oh, you know who else is cool, Tony Raines. I haven’t even named one Are You the One? person, I apologize.
Don’t apologize to me for that! I’m cool with it. How do you feel about the evolution of the show over the years? Any old elements you miss?
The production value of these shows is great now! I really like how it’s shot, and the editing is really slick. But you know what they’re missing? We used to have those really fun costume parties or theme nights. They tried to do it last year…those kinds of moments are always so cool. When we used to do them, production had no idea we were doing them. We just said, “Hey, we’re having a party tonight, this is what it’s going to be.” We used to organically do that stuff and it’s just fucking hilarious. We’d have fake VIP lines, fake door guys, fake DJs. They’d be like, “OK, you guys can play music for half an hour,” and we’d be like “that’s all we need!”
What was the scariest challenge or mission you’ve done?
When we were doing Battle of the Sexes 2 in New Mexico, one of the challenges…we laid in a coffin while they poured in all these bugs, worms and insects…they covered us in them. One group had to take a bite [of bugs] out of the coffin, chew it up and go spit it into this jar, and as soon as it filled up they could get the person out of the coffin. First, they dipped us in honey, and these bugs started to sting and attack me, going after the sweetness. About three quarters of the way through, I actually felt like my throat was starting to close from being bit so many times. I think we won a Tempur-Pedic bed, so it was worth it. But I remember them ripping us out of there. We were in bad shape. They rushed me to the medic truck and gave me a Benadryl shot and a B-12 shot in my ass. Then, the bugs were still on me and—I remember this and I’ll love him forever–The Miz took me in the shower, I was buck naked, and he was literally washing bugs out of my butt crack and all of my extremities. That was one challenge where I was like, “Wow, this is out of my control right now.”
Yeah, that’s scary! Let’s go back and talk about your original Road Rules season. The first seven seasons are some of my favorite Reality seasons ever.
Yeah! Dude, you know what’s crazy? They just released that MTV Classic channel and they re-aired the entire Road Rules, every episode, for like 10 weeks. It was so hilarious. It was just so vanilla and not edgy.
I’ve been re-watching on YouTube. The editing is so different, bizarre almost. Can you tell me about your original casting process, first for The Real World and later for Road Rules?
I was almost on The Real World Los Angeles. It was between me and Aaron, the accountant. I was in the final 12. They asked me what I was going to do out there. I was like, “Well shit, I’m not going to be an accountant, I’m going to do all the Hollywood stuff. Maybe I’ll get an agent?” They picked Aaron because he was a little more normal and didn’t want to be flashy.
They called me for the replacement position [for The Real World San Francisco] and that didn’t happen, which turned out to be a blessing because two months later they called and asked if I wanted to do the Road Rules pilot. We flew out to Los Angeles for that and went over to Catalina Island. A lot of people don’t know I shot the Road Rules pilot with four other cast members who didn’t make the show. After, I was coming out here and was going to get a part-time job, but my phone rang and it was Jon Murray and Mary-Ellis Bunim, and they said, “Hey, the pilot got picked up, we wanted to thank you so much.” I was ready for them to hang up, but they said the guy they picked didn’t get approved by New York, so New York said, why don’t you just use Mark again and tell him to keep his mouth shut for the first couple weeks? I said sign me the fuck up!
What were some of your favorite or most challenging parts of the trip?
We got to do some cool stuff. There was an episode where my parachute didn’t come out [while skydiving]. The reserve chute didn’t pull either, and the CO2 cartridge fired it out when we hit a certain altitude, so that was fucking terrible. I wasn’t panicked until I landed and realized I jumped out of the plane last and landed on the ground first. I flew by everyone else because their parachutes worked. We also got to be clowns in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus and go on The Today Show. We got interviewed by Matt Lauer, that was awesome.
I was bummed when they started the whole vote-off rule. I feel like that was against the spirit of Road Rules.
Yeah, one of the beautiful things about our cast and the few after us—you learn and grow with these people, and you identify with who’s your favorite and who you hate. When they vote people off, you don’t really know who they are yet and they get their ass booted.
As a viewer, we want to see the relationships the cast forms with each other.
I agree, man. Everyone always asks me when Road Rules is coming back, but I feel like it’s never. The Challenge gets the same audience as a Road Rules-type show because of the competition. They don’t need the headache of moving and traveling all over the world. They’re in one location, they set it up and it’s a lot cheaper, I’m sure, and they get the same viewer.
Out of your original cast, who do you still talk to?
I just went on Access Hollywood Live—it was Road Rules’ 20th anniversary and they brought me on to surprise Kit. It was this past year. Honestly, she’s the only one I’ve talked with. Not in a spiteful way, we just didn’t keep in touch, unfortunately. I see Kit every once in a while. We’ll cross paths or she’ll send me a tweet or text.
What are you working on now?
I’ve been trying to produce programming. Right now, I have four production deals with four different shows. At this stage, they’re going out to the networks to sell them. Hopefully one of them goes. They’re all different and they’re all interesting, I think you’ll dig them.
Thanks for taking the time, Mark. I hope we see you on the show soon!
I don’t know how or when, but I just have a feeling deep down in my gut that myself and The Challenge—whether it’s competing or hosting—my story is not over.