Leave it to a Turkish man named Turbo to rocket past a collection of seasoned Challenge competitors and claim victory on his very first try.
The former Survivor: Turkey champ, who spent the War of the Worlds season picking up wins like Easter eggs, made series history by becoming the first individual man to win the game (Cara Maria’s Vendettas victory made her the first-ever player to claim solo gold), the first non-Challenge bred competitor to win, the first international player to win and the first rookie to win alone. Not bad for someone who started off the finale’s first leg in a distant third place.
And Turbo’s victory was all the more impressive considering the 50-mile finale race, which wound through an impossibly difficult Namibian desert course, defeated two veteran players en route to the finish line (Wes was the only former Challenge contestant to complete the trek, while Hunter and Cara Maria failed to complete the game).
There’s a case to be made that Turbo’s War of the Worlds showing is not only the most impressive rookie performance of all time, but perhaps the single greatest showing of any player across 33 Challenge seasons. Still, Turbo’s certainly not the first rookie to stand out.
Check out the 10 most masterful Challenge rookie performances below, tell us if you agree with our picks (or if we made any glaring omissions) and hang tight for the War of the Worlds reunion!
Team San Diego (Battle of the Seasons)
Their path to victory was paved with perpetual, nearly game-ending implosions, and their expansive list of internal arguments bested their impressive number of wins. Still, there’s no denying that Zach, Ashley, Frank and Sam absolutely dominated their collective first season on the series — each offering critical contributions to multiple elimination- and mission-wins — and won the final mission handily.
CT (The Inferno)
Before The Inferno officially got underway, legendary vet and Road Rules teammate Veronica pointed out that Team Real World was likely at a huge disadvantage because they had four Real World: Paris rookies on their roster. Still, where CT was concerned, you’d have never known he was a first-timer. CT routinely won the Life Saver as his team’s first-place finisher, volunteered for elimination to spare his cousin David from being booted and even dressed in a thong bikini to help his team win a mission. The only blemish on his rookie season was that his team couldn’t pull out the final win, and the Real World crew had to settle for second place.
Sarah Rice (The Ruins)
By the end of The Ruins, the 14 original members of the Challengers team — a collection of misfit toys that had 0 Challenge wins among them — had been reduced to two. Sarah Rice, a Real World: Brooklyn export, stood among them after battling through a pair of elimination rounds, some borderline-bullying from the Champions team and team infighting that left several fellow cast members literally bruised and battered. Still, first-timer Sarah weathered the storm, and, let’s just say it: If fellow team member KellyAnne hadn’t bungled a certain obstacle in the final mission (you know the one), it’s very likely that Sarah would have been a Challenge champ on her very first try. Thankfully, she’d get her well-deserved blue-ribbon cash later on in the series.
Coral (Battle of the Seasons)
It wasn’t Coral’s physical prowess that made her inaugural 2002 season such a master class (though she and partner Mike “The Miz” Mizanin certainly held their own) — it was the fact that she constantly outmaneuvered her nemeses and usually came out on top. Just consider this: Though, ahead of the Battle of the Seasons finale, 10 Team Road Rules finalists and 10 Team Real World finalists agreed to split the championship money no matter who won, Road Ruler Holly refused to split her potential winnings with Coral, chalking up the impulse to go halfsies as a cowardly one. So when Coral and Team Real World did eventually win, Coral’s paycheck was especially delicious, as she wound up winning more money than anyone on the show’s cast. Holly, on the other hand, got nothing.
Svetlana (The Duel)Jason Campbell
Coming into a game as a rookie is tough in a team or duo format, but in an individual competition like The Duel, it’s nearly impossible for a first-timer to survive. And that’s likely why Svetlana was the only non-veteran to make it all the way to the final mission. Though the cast’s roster was stacked with dominant women like Jodi, Aneesa, Diem and Robin, Svetlana’s fellow Real World: Key West cast mates were eliminated almost immediately, Svetty continuously defied expectations, winning a pair of missions and elimination rounds against the hulking Beth and the feisty Kina. And though Svetlana ultimately took second place in the finals (who among us could beat Jodi, anyway?), her Duel performance was definitely one for the books.
Laurel (Fresh Meat II)
Yes, where the crop of Season 19’s newbies were concerned, Fresh Meat II was ultimately Carley’s Cinderella story — she, a last-round draft pick, pulled out one of the unlikeliest wins by Landon’s side. Still, over the course of the season, it was Laurel who proved she was fearless in the face of veteran competition. While some veteran competitors felt like they had to constantly hold their partners’ hands (*cough* Evelyn, *cough* Luke), Laurel was on a tear from the very beginning of the game and often left her partner Kenny struggling to keep up with her. Still, even though Laurel and Kenny won five out of the game’s nine regular-season missions, they failed to get their hands on the championship prize.
Wes (Fresh Meat)
Considering that the collective Fresh Meat cast was aiming to eliminate Wes’ crop of rookie allies straight out of the gate (Danny, Melinda and Johanna — Wes’ fellow Real World: Austin cast mates — were the first three players sent home from Fresh Meat), and considering that Wes’ partner Casey rarely completed missions (though she was strangely adept in Exile, where she and Wes were victors five times over), third place was a Herculean feat for Wes in Season 12. Under different circumstances, he likely could have won the whole thing, and it’s no wonder he’s won The Challenge multiple times since.
Landon (Inferno II)
Having won three out of his four Challenge seasons (he likely would have won the fourth, too, if he hadn’t been blindsided at the last second), Landon is no doubt one of the strongest competitors to have ever played the game. Still, there was little indication when he showed up as a rookie on Inferno II that he’d be such a dominant force — most viewers only knew him as the sloppy Real World: Philadelphia cast mate who drunkenly stumbled on staircases and started arguments on street corners. But Landon quickly proved he was more than an unreliable frat boy, earning four first-place finishes on his team (that was more than The Miz did, for the record) and handily knocking out two of Team Bad Asses’ competitors (he even sacrificed himself to an elimination round once to spare Mike). So, by the season’s end, it came as no surprise that Landon was one of Inferno II’s ultimate four victors.
Sarah Greyson (The Gauntlet)
Not only did Sarah enter her rookie season with no allies, her fellow former Road Rules: Campus Crawl cast mates actively campaigned to vote her out immediately upon arrival in Colorado. But for all of Team Road Rules’ efforts to oust Sarah — and in spite of their tactless treatment of her — The Gauntlet Queen never said die and set a series record with five single-season elimination-round wins that STILL HAS NOT BEEN BEATEN. Sarah’s ultimate Gauntlet victory is still probably the game’s most memorable underdog story, made all the more legendary by the fact that Sarah took her money, slipped into her prize Saturn Ion and drove off into the sunset, never to return.
Turbo (War of the Worlds)
Words would complicate the simple fact that Turbo’s win was, without question, the most impressive in the history of the game: As a rookie, he not only survived the game’s toughest season and its toughest final, but he came out on top. It’s a feat, it’s unforgettable and it’s silencing proof that he’s perhaps the strongest player to ever compete in the game.