Mark Long On The Challenge All-Stars And His OG Show Memories - Exclusive Interview

Mark Long is often referred to as the "Godfather" of "The Challenge." He first appeared in "The Challenge" series in 1998. Since then, he's become a fixture in "The Challenge" universe, also appearing in "Road Rules Challenge" and "Real World." Perhaps one of the biggest things he's done for "The Challenge" franchise was pushing to create "The Challenge: All Stars," a Paramount+ spinoff series that has become a huge hit with fans, as it brings back some of their favorite competitors from years past.


Long not only helped to pitch the series, but he also competed in Season 1 and is an executive producer. After taking a break to go on Food Networks' "Worst Cooks," Long returned to compete in Season 3. Although he's been part of "The Challenge" for years, he's shown that at 51, he is still a force to be reckoned with. During an exclusive interview with The List, Long shared his experience helping to create "All Stars." He also opened up about how the series has grown and how he's stayed one of the top competitors on the show.

Mark Long's evolution and embracing of his mentor role

You've been part of "The Challenge" since the beginning. Do you feel like the competition has changed at all throughout the years?

I don't necessarily think the competition has changed. It's definitely evolved because I remember when we first started doing the challenges people didn't train so hard for it. It was more of a summer vacation with some cool stuff that we get to do rather than how it's now evolved into this well-rounded fitness, mental strategy type of competition. I don't know that the competition has changed, or the people have changed, [but] the show has evolved with technology as well as with, back in the day, we're competing for a couple bucks, now you're competing for a half million or a million dollars. It's definitely taken more seriously.


You've been called the godfather of "The Challenge" because you've been with it the whole time, and now you're an executive producer on the Paramount+ spinoff. What was that like going and being more on the creative side of bringing the show to life?

It was funny because I had always been a respected cast member even throughout my peers and other cast members that were there because I started so early in "The Challenge." I was on, if not the first "Challenge," one of the first true "Challenges" in the late '90s. Seeing my evolution as not only a cast member, but me growing into a man and having real life experiences, I've always been looked at as a mentor for other cast members, male and female. A lot of them come to me and ask me for opinions on certain things outside of "The Challenge," whether it's life or business-related.


I've always had an older brother, godfather hat on throughout the years. It's really taken shape when I pitched the "All Star" show, and it got picked up. It's been such a huge success, people know that I'm attached as executive producer, and they saw real-time with social media the steps it took for me to get this thing done. For all of the hype that I built on social media, there was so much stuff that people didn't see about phone calls, putting together packages, negotiating my deal with Bunim Murray [Productions], and making sure everything was right and everyone was going to be treated fairly.

As I've aged into producing more — not that I'm looked at with any more respect, because I always feel like I had that growing up, being one of the older cast members from the very beginning — but it's nice to get rewarded, for all of the work I've done over the past 25, 30 years.

It's nice to see that all of the entertainment outlets love "All Stars," and all the fans love "All Stars," and they want 10 more seasons. It's amazing for me how much cooler it is that I'm involved, not only as an E.P., but also as a cast member. I thought I'd be done competing at this point, but I just finished Season 3. I've made it to all the finals in "All Stars." I'm undefeated in my elimination. I feel like I'm just getting warmed up. I feel like I could go another 10 years.


How the fans helped push All Stars

Like you said, the fans have really supported the idea of the "All Stars" series. What made you want to go from this thing that fans were wanting to pick that up yourself, push for it, and make it a reality?


I knew from the temperature. I'm a big social media guy, so I see what people are tweeting about or Instagramming about. It's all about timing, and I knew that timing was perfect for this. It's been talked about for years, but no one ever proactively got a bunch of people together. I reached out to dozens of people before I went to Bunim-Murray and said, "Hey, would you be interested in doing something like this?" Most of them [said] "Yes." 

The fact that it was so well received by the fans wasn't a surprise for me, to be honest. I knew people wanted it. What was a surprise is how overwhelmingly successful it has been, not only with fans, but with some of these entertainment outlets, like US Weekly, Variety, People Magazine, and even Barstool Sports who sometimes doesn't like anything, they love "All Stars." It's nice to see a different degree from top-tier entertainment publications to those fun Barstool Sports entertainment outlets as well. We're doing something right.


I'm hoping for many more seasons, and it's so good. There's no one that's talked to me and said, "You know that 'All Stars,' it's not really that good." No one's ever said that. They're always like, "When are you doing more? Give me more episodes. Bring these people back." I love hearing that, especially when I keep my finger on the pulse of everything. I'll go on the flagship show site, and some people are hating on this or that, or [they're saying] "it's changed," or "the challenges changed from the beginning." We haven't gotten that yet.

How All Stars has acted as a catalyst

That's the void that I wanted to fill, [to] bring back those old school characters [so] you don't have to Google who they are. We're not taking people from "Ninja Warrior," Yugoslavia, or whatever. There's definitely something to be said about growing up with these cast members from when I was in my 20s, and the cast members were [the same age]. 


Now, some of us are [in our] late 30s, 40s. I'm 51, and I still feel like at 51, with this franchise, I feel like I've never been more popular than right now. I've been doing it since I was 22, and I see that from walking around on a daily basis — people screaming out "Godfather!" or "Hey, so glad you brought 'All Stars' back." I deal with it all the time, and I love it. It's nice that I finally got ... not that I'm getting payback for all my work, but I put in a lot of time. It's nice to feel rewarded for that.

It's nice to see what's going on with Paramount, even the CBS Challenge. I feel like "All Stars" was a catalyst for all of these other shows to become not only green-lit but to be successful, because I guarantee you if we did "All Stars" Season 1 and it was a flop, Paramount+ would probably be like, "Maybe this challenge thing, isn't the best thing we should do." Now, they're doing an Argentina version. They're going to do a universal championship. Bunim-Murray takes a ton of credit, which they should, but I feel like I got a little something in there that helped to push that forward.


Bringing together old friends for All Stars

What's it been like for you with people coming back who haven't been on "The Challenge" for years, to film with them again?

You know what's funny? You think there'd be this awkwardness because time has passed for so long, but even with Roni or Cynthia or Nia, who's been gone for a while, or Veronica, there's really no awkwardness, especially for me. I've known these people forever, and we get to go play these crazy games that we once did at summer camp, and it's like a summer camp reunion but on a real different, higher level. 


You have favorites growing up, and you got close with people growing up, but we just spent last weekend in Kansas City doing a reunion for us. From Roni to Wes to Nia, they're all thanking me for bringing this back because Wes has done these for years. He said, "I usually leave these challenges and need a few weeks to decompress because it's a lot." When I left 'All Stars,' it was such a breath of fresh air." His wife even told me he was a totally different guy leaving an "All Stars" cast than a regular cast.

They're nasty [on the original "Challenge"]. We're very competitive and strategic, but I don't think we get as viscerally negative ... That's probably our age too. We're all a little older and a little bit more mature. We don't care about social media numbers. We don't care about how many Instagram followers this show is going to get us. I don't think any of us, when we were down there, talked about social media, which is great because on the other flagship show, a lot of them do talk about social media numbers or their brand. We go down there to have a good time, kick some ass, and they have the best soundtrack ever during "All Stars." The music is phenomenal. I love that as well.


Long's decision to compete in Season 3

You mentioned you weren't sure you were going to be competing again. What made you want to actually be in the competition yourself?

I did Season 1, and I was like, "Wow, I'm very competitive and still have that fire in me." I took Season 2 off, and I did "Worst Cooks" for Food Network .... which was a great experience for me. That's a whole other conversation, by the way. That was awesome, but coming back, I heard a rumor that there was going to be some big dogs coming, guys and girls. I consider myself in that elite group, believe it or not, but I felt like it was the right time. I've made it to both finals. I'm undefeated in eliminations. I sent Laterrian home twice, and the wonder boy, Jordan, I sent him home this year. That was a huge feather in my cap.


The rematch is always open for Jordan. If he wants to run it back, I'm always open for that, to let him know that it wasn't a fluke. I'll send him home again, all in good fun. It's nice. I feel like there are so many things going on with "The Challenge" franchise, I would love to pop on other formats of it, whether it's the flagship show again, or this international thing, or whatever they come up with, I'm always down, and ... I always say this. Every time I wake up, I'm always [6 feet, 3 inches tall], 230 pounds of twisted steel, ready to go at any moment. If they want to deal with that, then they're going to have to, so we'll see.

Long's experience on Worst Cooks

You mentioned being on "Worst Cooks." What was it like going from ["The Challenge" to Food Network when it's so different?]

It was terrifying. Elisa Donovan, from "Clueless," was on my team. I turned to her one time in the very beginning, [and] I was like, "Elisa, I've jumped out of planes, drove race cars, and bungee jumped into a fire circle. I've never been more terrified showing up every morning to do this show," because I was [such a] fish out of water. I'm not a cook. Up until that point, I didn't even have a full set of pots and pans. It was Chipotle, [and] maybe every once in a while, I tried to do something very basic. Because I'm so competitive, I wanted to do so well, and I was so not prepared that it made me work even harder.


I was amazed that I stayed as long as I did on that show. I was one day away from making the final, [and] if I look back, I lost my elimination to Matthew Lawrence on Italian day, and he's full-blood Italian. I can't complain too much because the kid grew up cooking Italian, but it was really great. Chef Jeff Mauro and Chef Anne Burrell were super phenomenal. They were so fun to work with. I thought I shot long days in "The Challenge." [On "Worst Cooks"], we shot 14, 15 hours a day, but it was fun, and I would do it all over again.

Would he ever do a Road Rules reunion?

We had an interview earlier this year with Kit Hoover.

Oh yeah, my girl.

She said she'd be up for a "Road Rules" reunion. Would that be something you'd ever consider?

Absolutely. I just did Access Hollywood about a month ago and got to see her and Mario, and we talked about it. It has to happen because people really enjoyed the homecoming for "Real World," and I think it would be a shame not to give the viewers that same feel, whether it's the entire cast of my season or whether we can do an "All Stars" reunion of "Road Rules," where it's me, Kit, Timmy, Tina, Derek, even an "All Stars" version of that would work, because what we did was all about the adventure and the bonding. 


"Real World" was all about those seven people in that house. I feel like they needed those seven people to make it really work, but with us, it was more about the adventure. That's why widening it out to an "All Stars" cast might work even better. I will pitch that, for sure. I had this conversation with Tina, and I'm like, "This is getting pitched. I'm doing that." 

I just did a pilot called "Retro Road Trip," which is basically me going back to my "Road Rules" roots in a Winnebago, and I travel around the world and pop into some of your favorite '90s pop culture icons and check in with them. We talk about never before seen stuff that happened in their movies that they did or TV shows in the '90s, and at the end of the show, I surprised them with a little challenge. 


I had Elisa Donovan from "Clueless," and we talked about the "Clueless" movie and how it was such a pop culture grenade that hit America, and some never before heard stories of that, and some of the actors that she dated during that time, which I didn't know. She gave me that little secret, but at the end of that show I took her skydiving. It's super fun, eclectic — the same feel you get watching an "All Stars" with the music, you get watching "Retro Road Trip." It's natural, it's organic, and it's super fun. We're shopping that right now, but we've had some great meetings so far, so I will definitely keep you posted on that.

His thoughts on The Challenge: USA

CBS just premiered "The Challenge: USA." Have you gotten the chance to see that, and what were your thoughts on it?

I'm an OG, right? It's like asking someone which is better, the original "90210" or the remake in the 2000s. I always go for the original, but I will say this, the product looks great. I know a lot of the cast members, they come to my charity every year, but the cast members are really great, from Xavier to Kyland to Tiffany to Tyson. I love that it's expanded. 


When I look at it again, "All Stars" was the fan favorite from the MTV product of "Real World," "Road Rules," and "Fresh Meat." The CBS version is the same format, but they go from "Survivor," to "Big Brother," to "Amazing Race," to "Love Island," which, to me,  is a happy nod to "All Stars." I don't want to [take] full credit, but I feel like I started something, and it's really catching on, you know what I mean?

I hope it's successful, and I hope it goes on for many seasons because I'm a big company man, I'm a big team player, and any type of success with "The Challenge" is a success for me, unlike some of the real gritty fans that hate the "Big Brother" people on these shows, and "Survivors." I'm the opposite, because I get to meet a lot of [them] every year. I love seeing new faces. 


Do I wish there was more OGs and veterans of MTV on those shows? Of course, but I'm a fan of the product. T.J. and I have a great relationship, so if anything else, I'm supporting whatever T.J.'s doing. I'm a huge fan of that guy. He is so awesome, and I love that guy.

All three seasons of "The Challenge: All Stars" are now streaming on Paramount+.

This interview has been edited for clarity.