‘The Challenge’ Showrunner Explains Exactly What It Took to Safely Film ‘Double Agents’ Amid the Pandemic

The Challenge: Double Agents is the first season of the MTV reality competition show to be shot amid the pandemic. Of course, new protocols meant that the cast and crew would have to take extra steps to keep everyone safe while making a show that features full-contact competitions. In a new interview, showrunner Emer Harkin has revealed exactly what it took to film the series in 2020.

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Stars of MTV’s ‘The Challenge’ | Lars Niki/Getty Images for MTV

‘Double Agents’ will look like every other season of ‘The Challenge’

Harkin recently told Variety that most of the COVID protocols for Double Agents took place before the contestants were in the house. He explained that they had to make sure all of the cast members quarantined in advance and had tested negative for the virus.

“For everybody [in the cast], it was about getting [their] head wrapped around [the new] steps that would get us to the show, and then once they were in the house they could proceed as normal,” Harkin explained. “By ensuring they were all in quarantine and all had negative [COVID test] results, it meant we could afford ourselves that position. There was really no way we could execute our show otherwise.”

Viewers won’t notice any difference between The Challenge: Double Agents and other seasons because it will play out on-screen as normal. They even carried over one important gameplay from the previous season, Total Madness.

Double Agents will include the idea that a challenger has to earn a skull by competing in an elimination round to make it to the finals.

Harkin says that the skull addition is something that “totally turned our game and the format on its head.” He thinks that both the cast and audience “really liked it.” But, that doesn’t mean they will use it in every season going forward.

No one in the ‘Double Agents’ cast and crew tested positive for COVID-19

The cast and crew of The Challenge: Double Agents shot the season over nine weeks this fall. Harkin revealed that everyone was tested every three days. After 3,000 tests, no one tested positive for COVID-19.

In a typical season, the challengers are able to go out on the town and night followed by a camera crew. But for Double Agents, they had to stay inside their bubble. To accommodate the contestants, the show created a club space separate from the house where they lived. This allowed the contestants to stay safe, but at the same time have some fun and aid their mental health.

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“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 says. “I think that’s definitely diluted if you’re just partying in your living room, or where you ate your breakfast that morning.”

Finalists on ‘The Challenge’ will not switch locations this season

The cast and crew of The Challenge: Double Agents filmed the season in Iceland. They chose the location because it offered interesting challenge backdrops, like black sand beaches, glaciers, and volcanos.

Because of travel restrictions, the finalists on the new season of The Challenge will not switch locations at the end. Harkin explained that the pandemic forced them to scout locations virtually. She also noted that when everyone arrived in Iceland, there was a 24-hour quarantine before they could move freely.

The production also took over an entire hotel so the international crew would have a “bubble” to live in. Locals who worked on the show were allowed to go home at night, but those workers couldn’t interact with bubble workers and had to wear colored bands.

“The bands dictated where you could be on set,” Harkin explained. “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 says that they essentially treated the cast as “one person.” Everyone quarantined and were “rigorously tested.” This way, they knew that once the contestants entered the cast house, they were healthy and well. All they had to do for the remainder of the season was “preserve them.”

The Challenge: Double Agents premieres December 9 on MTV.