Of all of MTV’s The Challenge seasons, there perhaps has been no harrowing injury as Olivia Kaiser’s. In Season 38’s Ride Or Dies, the 31-year-old and her partner, Horacio Gutierrez Jr., emerged victorious elimination after elimination and defied the odds to make it to the coveted finals. But then an accident with a slingshot left Kaiser with a sliced finger, a broken face, and the disappointment of being medically unable to continue.
Despite her injuries, not only is Kaiser back in The Challenge: Battle For A New Champion, she’s quite literally become one of the faces of the new season. In the weeks leading up to Wednesday’s premiere, her image has been splashed across billboards from coast to coast. “Little Olivia would just be like, how did this happen?” Kaiser tells Refinery29.
Any show entering its 39th season faces a daunting task of staying fresh, but The Challenge has evolved from drunken hookups and dramatic altercations during the Real World/Road Rules days to an elite global competition that has spawned an All-Star roster made up of cast members of yesteryears, international spinoffs in the UK, Australia, and Argentina (and another USA edition), and a World Championship. The flagship show also continues to reinvent itself with new twists and turns that leaves host TJ Lavin and fans salivating and a young cast eager to win the six-figure prize and more importantly, for some, the title of Champion. Battle For A New Champion promises just that: Every person this season has never won a Final, meaning fans can expect a first-time Champion to secure their place in Challenge history.
The new format seems to be a nod to a changing of the guard as longstanding fan favorites and decorated champions like Wes Bergmann, who announced his retirement after a heartbreaking elimination in The Challenge: USA Season 2, publicly contemplate on life outside and after the physically and mentally demanding competition.
That’s where the new generation of Challengers, led by Kaiser, comes in. As much as Kaiser would love for the OGs to stick around, these new competitors are hungry, fit, and ready for drama, she says.
Ahead of the premiere, Kaiser shares how the show and injuries helped her work through her insecurities, whether she’s ready for a new generation of Challengers, and who would be her dream Challenge partner.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Refinery29: You were originally on Season 3 of Love Island USA. What made you want to join The Challenge?
Olivia Kaiser: I kind of got on Love Island by accident, and although I do love love, and I definitely learned a lot of that on that show, I didn’t feel like it was for me. I know I won or whatever, but I feel like it was a little bit out of my wheelhouse. With The Challenge, I grew up playing sports, I was kind of being raised as a tomboy, which is why I'm hyper feminine and hyper girly now because I never really got to express myself like that. The Challenge is more for me.
When I got invited on The Challenge, I questioned myself a lot. ‘Am I strong enough? Am I smart enough? Am I good enough?’ That all stemmed from just really not knowing myself fully. I thought it was a good way for me to just dive in and be like, okay, let's see what I got. I never had myself pushed to those limits necessarily, and I wanted to see if I could do it not only for myself, but for everyone that has always thought I was weak because the relationship I was in was really abusive.
Last season, you and Horacio had an uphill battle as a rookie-rookie pair, and I think it's fair to say that you both fully earned the respect not only of your fellow competitors, but also fans in terms of not just getting to the final but the journey of getting there. Did you expect to be in the Final?
I never was gonna count us out just because if I did that, we're already losing. But I do think that I was just happy to be there at the beginning because I was an alternate at first. It wasn't until maybe halfway through the season where I was like wait, we could do this. Horacio was an insane competitor, and he pushes me and pushed me to be the best version of myself in certain moments. So I am grateful for him for believing in me. I didn't believe in myself.
I want to touch on last season’s final. It was one for the books for many reasons, but one of which is you suffered a devastating injury to your face. What was the hardest thing about having to bow out?
There were so many things rushing through my head. One was, ‘Oh my god, my face broke. What's happening? My nose is on the side of my face. What am I gonna look like?’ I hurt my finger before that too so I was like, ‘There's no way that my karma is this bad where I'm getting hurt twice.’
And then I was like, ‘What is Horacio gonna do? We're gonna be disqualified.’ I wasn't sure how the fans were gonna respond. Am I gonna be a failure? Everyone’s gonna think I let Horacio down. That triggered a lot of insecurities, and those insecurities have followed me even up to this day. But maybe they're the insecurities I needed to be brought out so I could work on them. I can't hide them forever.
What was your recovery like?
My recovery was long. Getting hit that hard, if it were anywhere else, whatever, but your face is right here. That triggered some insecurities. ‘Wow, I'm never gonna look the same. Was it all worth the stress?’ I did break my face and it fractured in five places. I could have gotten my nose fixed, but I felt like it looked fine enough and I really didn't really want to do surgery because my face was just healing.
The only thing I got done was Morpheus8, a deep intense laser, just to bring that scar tissue down because it was a huge keloid. I couldn't see out of my eye for two months because it was so swollen behind my optical bone. It was pressing my eyes so I had double vision. That was the scariest part.
I think a lot of people can understand freaking out about injuring your face.
After the season, of course the number one thing being talked about was my face breaking so I also felt immense guilt for Tori [Deal] and Devin [Walker] because they won, and I felt like they weren’t being talked about enough. I felt like I was taking away from that. It was just ‘The Olivia Show,’ and although I understand why and I'm grateful for the support, it definitely was a little bit of an isolating feeling too.
On that note though, in a way this season feels like it’s gearing up to be The Olivia Show just because of the fact you and Horacio are front and center as the faces of the new season.
Yeah. That was crazy.
What was your reaction when you saw that?
Listen, I'm happy about it. I'm sure some people aren't happy to see me blown up that big, but I think it's well-deserving for both of us. We really put our heart and soul into last season, and although I don't know why I have this path, this is my journey. It is what it is and I'm grateful for everything, even the injury.
OGs like Wes and Johnny Bananas have previously talked about the fact that they're in their 40s and how they can't realistically see themselves continue with the show soon. Can you talk about this next generation and where the future of the franchise is going?
I think that the franchise is always gonna do well. I feel like the next generation is about to be really messy. Also, the next generation’s very physically fit. And I feel like people know how to get a camera on them. Some people do some things that are more extreme. The next generation is gonna be amazing, but the OGs are always gonna be the OGs.
Do you think The Challenge is ready for new faces, or do you want to still see the OGs come around?
I personally would always like to see the OGs come around. I think it's nostalgic and it's cool. Now that I'm friends with some of them, they're just really down to earth people. They know it's a game. No matter what happens, they leave it on the field. Whereas other people who are newer in the world, they take things to heart. They take things really personally. They will hold grudges so it's just a different mindset. Now when people are on it, it’s their entire life, and they eat, breathe, sleep it. In my opinion, when you're filming, put everything you have into it. Go kill it. But when you come home, you have to let stuff go and actually leave it on the field.
Obviously no spoilers, but what can you tease in terms of what fans will be surprised to see this upcoming season?
I stay single this whole season! That's new. I'm flirting and doing me but it doesn't mean I'm wifed up. Every single show, and even in my real life, I'm definitely a lover girl and I always end up in a relationship. I really wanted to make this season ‘Choose Me,’ and there's definitely some bumps along the way, but I really do think at the end of the day, I chose myself, and whether I was right or wrong in certain moments, I really have no regrets.
Of all the Challenge Legends, who would be your dream partner?
For a guy, I would probably say [Johnny] Bananas. Last season, we were partnered up for one challenge, and he was really a great partner. He walks you through it, makes you feel comfortable. He lets you know that he's just as scared as you are, but we're gonna do it anyways, and he's honestly a champ many times for a reason. For girls, I would probably say Laurel [Stucky]. She's such a badass and I would love to have someone that's a dog in my corner. I'm more the sweet, outgoing, fun, bubbly kind of person, but I need someone to be able to bark sometimes and have my back.
Anything else that you want to add?
I can't say too much, which is a bummer, because I have so much to say. But, like, buckle up.
The Challenge airs Wednesdays on MTV.