Mark Long has been on my radar since his iconic stint on the first Road Rules in MTV history, but the adventure seeker reached crush-worthy status during his appearance on Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Duel II, when instead of joining his cantankerous cohorts who were screaming at their female partners to perform better, Mark sat down, waited patiently, and seemed perfectly comfortable with the idea that a win was no longer within his grasp. When asked for a lens into this memorable moment and his always-respectful temperament, Long said he has his parents to thank for his admirable character. He was simply happy for a physical challenge among his friends and grateful for the opportunity to compete at all. So what does the reality television veteran have to say about the show that made him famous over two decades ago and his subsequent journey as a Challenge competitor? Read below to find out more about the last true reality-television gentleman.
Take me through your journey from the beginning. What was your original goal when you joined the first season Road Rules?
I have a degree in broadcast journalism, so I always liked hosting. I even thought of becoming a weatherman because I always felt they were less stuffy than the news people. My aunt and uncle live in Huntington Beach, and I visited them one time and then drove up to Los Angeles. It just kind of felt like this is where I was supposed to be.
How did your parents feel about your move?
My parents are great. I could’ve said I was moving to Alaska to work on a fishing boat and they would’ve said, “Oh, that’s great.” They support me no matter what. I’m sure they would want me to have a more structured lifestyle, but I’m hoping that the time I’ve invested in this city will pay through what I really enjoy doing, which is producing, hosting, etc . . .
When you look back at your time on MTV’s Road Rules, can you process that it was truly one of the first reality television shows? In retrospect, it was revolutionary.
No one knew what it was about or what to expect. I actually did the Road Rules pilot with four other people that didn’t make the show. I have no idea [why they didn’t make it], but I remember that we shot the pilot in Catalina Island. I flew out from Florida and I was up to be the new roommate when Puck got kicked out of the Real World: San Francisco house. They called me back months later and mentioned the Road Rules pilot and how it would be better for my active lifestyle. I later got a call from Bunim/Murray Productions and they said, “I know we told you that the [people who shot the pilot] weren’t going to make it to the series, but the guy we had in mind that fit your personality didn’t get approved by MTV so we suggested using you again.” That’s how I snuck through. I don’t know what happened to that other poor bastard [who didn’t make it].
Why didn’t you make it in the Real World house?
The house wanted a girl. They thought, “We had a guy, let’s try a girl out.”
I read about how your parachute didn’t open when you were on Road Rules. It seems like you were not aware until you hit the ground.
I was aware that we were having problems in the air because when we were getting prepped, they said, “We’ll never reach for your equipment.” When I realized he was reaching for my stuff, I knew we were having a problem. We were supposed to pull at 5000 feet, and we just flew by that height. I jumped out of the plane fifth and landed on the ground first. My parachute finally popped out via a CO2 cartridge that serves as a last resort. That night I was laying there trying to go to bed and thought, “I almost fucking died today, and that would’ve been a terrible day.” Then, in true MTV fashion, Eric Nies and I hosted Real World/Road Rules Challenge: Battle of the Seasons, and they asked us to skydive in tuxedos. I thought, “lighting can’t strike twice. Let’s do it!”
Do you ever feel like some of what they ask you to do is unsafe? Are there points where you want to say, “No way.”
They’re not “unsafe,” but I don’t think they truly test how a cast member would actually perform. For instance, we did Real World/Road Rules Challenge: Battle of the Sexes in Jamaica, and they had these roller coasters that were taken off the track and set in the grass. Instead of seats they had huge ice blocks, and you had to wear speedos and bikini bottoms and sit with your hands raised above your head for time. While someone who isn’t playing for a cash prize might last 15 minutes before they hop off, I was on there for an hour and a half. I want to say that one of the girls got frostbite. It was terrible, but it’s part of the allure of being on the show. You want to do stuff that you can’t set up in your backyard.
Just to be slightly sexist, is there a point to having the men compete against women?
No, and what a perfect day to talk about that [given the current climate]. Some girls are phenomenal, but not all of them will be able to perform in a challenge that requires the same skill as men. But line us up in a trivia competition and the girls will crush us.
I think Battle of the Sexes could be better produced for that reason. There are challenges where a woman would succeed that aren’t these high-powered challenges of endurance, such as flexibility or balance.
Balance is great. I think we were hanging upside down from our legs, and the guys dropped like flies, and I remember Ruthie hanging up there like she wasn’t even in pain.
You mentioned Ruthie Alcaide, which brings me to my next question. There are people who used to do these challenges that were beasts, and now there’s a bunch of wusses on there that suck. What happened to the top dogs?
I’ve heard that as well, and I see it. There was a guy a couple seasons back from Are You The One that just quit because he missed his girlfriend. There’s thousands of people that will take your place, so why go?
I also feel like it has become the Johnny Bananas show.
Everyone has a love/hate relationship with Johnny, but he shows up and puts in the work. If you’re going to complain about him being on the show multiple seasons then rally a group to kick him off.
Are you friends with Johnny by the way?
I am very good friends with Johnny. We are actually in the process of doing another project outside of the challenge.
If you watched him on Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Island and the way he spoke to the women on the island, it’s sexist. The people he betrays are all women, and the people he insults are all women. There has to be an argument to be made there.
Johnny will admit that he’s grown up a little since those island days. I don’t think I would have approved of him talking to the women like that if I was on The Island, but I’ve seen him do stuff with the Special Olympics and I’ve seen him around fans that approach him. Cara Maria used to despise him, for example, but after the last challenge they’re now best friends, so something’s changing.
I saw you on Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Duel II, and I remember that you were paired up with a woman who was lagging behind, and you just kindly sat there, waiting for her. You didn’t seem angry at all, and you weren’t screaming at her or calling her a “dumb bitch,” like Johnny Bananas on The Island. It stuck with me. Do you remember this?
I don’t think I’ve ever called a girl a bitch. My parents raised a gentleman. People are different. I just choose to take a deep breath and comfort someone instead of put them down.
I thought from a viewing standpoint, it was fantastic. How do you not talk about that the next day at the water cooler?
What would you have done?
Come on! Do you even need to ask that? I would’ve split it right down the middle. But again, that’s why I’m me, and he’s him.
Can you analyze it? Do you think it’s an evil move or it’s just part of the game?
It would be a lot harder to analyze it if Sarah hadn’t previously [wronged him] on The Challenge: Battle of the Exes II. I’m not saying it’s the same but in terms of gamesmanship, let’s not forget that this is a game show and the object of any game show whether it’s Wheel of Fortune or The Challenge, is try to win as much money as possible within the time you’re allotted.
You have to take me inside the Chris “CT” Tamburello/Adam King fight on The Duel II where it looked like if CT got his hands on Adam, he’d have murdered him. Did you fear for Adam?
Of course! Production was looking at the cast members like, “Please jump in and help because we do not want to lose a cast member to fists.” I’ll give some credit to the editing as well. It made it look like a horror movie. But much like Johnny on The Island, you have to give people the benefit of growing up. CT is a different person now, and I know at that time he had some family issues. I think you could definitely leave your children alone with CT now and he would be the best babysitter ever.
It also seems like a bad idea to date people on The Challenge, but you again seem to avoid drama. Do you just sleep with saner women?
I have a different way of handling my showmances than these other guys. It’s with fucking padded mittens, because you have to be very, very delicate. But trust me, some of them have not been sane.
Speaking of showmances, what happened with you and Robin Hibbard?
We met on Real World/Road Rules Challenge: Battle of the Sexes 2 and then started dating off of the show. The problem with the challenges is that even if your relationship or showmance was three years prior, people identify you with each other [far into the future]. I could get stopped tomorrow by someone who says, “Where’s Robin?” It’s like, “Dude, she’s married with two kids in Florida. That’s where Robin is.” People still ask me about Kit [Hoover] from Road Rules, and she is also married with kids. I just went on Access Hollywood with her to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Road Rules.
I thought you were a really good host of the MTV Challenge Aftershows, and the hosts they have now are terrible.
Well, they are terrible. I did it for seven seasons but like anything else, they’re like, “Oh, we’re going to [change it up].” And I’m like, “good luck with that,” especially since they chose someone who wasn’t even on the show. At least if you see me pop up, there’s some sort of relevance there. “Oh, Mark’s from the show. Mark’s an OG. He knows the deal.”
Take me behind the scenes of the show. Are you just all sitting around the house bored with nothing else to do but drink and party?
Today, they really monitor what we drink. It’s very rationed, and they’re much more cognizant of what happens with the alcohol now. Back in the day, like anything else, it was the fucking wild west.
Did you announce your retirement as a shtick, or was that serious?
I’ve retired a few times now.
Would you ever return to the show?
I’d absolutely go back, but I never wanted to be the guy that goes on back-to-back on challenges. I like to let things breathe. If I fit their format, I’d definitely return.