Brian Batty 12/1/14
MTV’s The Challenge is a one hour entertainment extravaganza that comes into our lives like Russell Westbrook in the open floor once a week for two and a half months out of the year. On a certain level, after years of watching the same group of misfits gallivant around paradise drinking every ounce of wine available and never passing up an opportunity to go ballistic, you feel like you know these people. Sure, I’m well aware that I don’t really truly know any of them. Cameras can make people do some pretty outlandish things they might not do, and as the old adage goes “put a camera on somebody long enough you’re bound to see them do something stupid”. But at the level of seeing them in a high stress, anxiety ridden, moscato-fueled environment you feel like you get to know at least a little part of them.
That’s what makes the deaths of Ryan Knight and Danielle Michelle Brown (better known to us as Diem) such an odd emotional paradox for me. On one hand these two are complete strangers. I know as much about them as I do any character on any TV show. On the other, I watched them, especially Diem, at their highest and lowest points on television. They invited us into their lives for whatever their reason may have been to go on reality television. I wasn’t going to write anything about Diem when I heard the news of her passing, I didn’t think it was my place. Then the story about Knight I saw on Thanksgiving morning punched me in the gut, and I realized these people mean more to me than I initially thought.
When I heard the news about Diem I was devastated. My mother is a breast cancer conqueror, so anyone with big enough cajones to take a disease like cancer head on gets two thumbs up and four gold stars in my book. Diem did it a little different, she did it in our living rooms. Sure we didn’t see all the day to day grind of hospital visits and chemo treatments, but we saw her perform pretty incredible feats of athleticism in between all of it. And most importantly we saw her do it with a smile. The biggest smile of anyone I’ve ever seen on one of those shows, she was in a class of her own. Her star shone brighter and stronger than anyone else that’s come through The Challenge. So instead of celebrating the life of hers that I don’t know at all, I’m going to celebrate the life that I did know. Challenge Diem; strong, stubborn, a little bit of a control freak at times, but most importantly full of life and laughter, with the constant rhythm of music in her heart (the last two of which I admire the most of them all). Let’s take a look back through the years at the Diem we’ve all grown to adore so much.
(Also, I shit you not, after I typed all of that out I put on the “Hip Hop Chill Nights” playlist on shuffle, and the first song that came up was “Crossroads” by Bone Thugs N Harmony. I’m assuming that was my boy Knight hooking me up with that. I appreciate it bud.)
Diem first popped off our television screens in 2006 on Fresh Meat. She came to us as a wide eyed, blonde, much-too-beautiful-for-reality-television 25 year old from Georgia. Despite her good looks, she actually turned out to be a decent competitor. We all remember her walk with Derrick when she spilled the beans about being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I do remember at the time wondering how you could want to put yourself in that situation, while also being diagnosed with that nasty disease. I was also 16 and naive about the world, so that may have had something to do with it. Along with Derrick, she finished in fourth place, just barely missing out on the Final. Her jovial spunk throughout The Challenge (italics), despite the real life challenge she was facing, always stuck with me
The next season we see Diem on The Duel, but it wasn’t the Diem we were accustomed to. Gone was the long blonde hair bouncing around to the beat of whatever song was playing, in her mind or otherwise. In was the wig/sparkly bandanna/hat combination that many a chemotherapy patient has hid behind. Diem did her best to use an assortment of headgear as her shield from insecurity, but knowing full well she would eventually need to let her guard down and show off her new doo. If you’re reading this, then you already are well aware of what followed. Slow motion montage of bandanna removal, tears, victory, more tears, beauty tamed beast, CT and Diem kiss like they’re in the movie adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel, and end scene.
Hey I wonder if there’s a cheesy, picture slide-show/video montage with a sappy soft alt-rock song to match on Youtube somewhere?!
In her best chance for a win, during 2008s Gauntlet 3, but again had a championship taken from her when Big Easy almost died during the Final Challenge
The rest of her Challenge career has been littered with all sorts of highs and lows. All the way from her overcoming all obstacles life has thrown at her literally and metaphorically by climbing a glacier before ANYONE ELSE did in Iceland, to her having what amounted to a full mental break-down aided by CT blindsiding her at the end of a Challenge in which she was undergoing chemo-freaking-therapy treatments off camera. I’ll always hate the way they edited her story during Rivals 2 , turning her into a caricature of the crazy ex we’ve all had to deal with at some point. Only this crazy ex was taking steroids to fight off a disease that would eventually become fatal.
As I said earlier, we don’t really know these people. We know the characters MTV decides to show us. Regardless of how much I do, or do not know, I’m going to miss Diem. She was never the most entertaining or the best at any of these competitions, but she was just such a force of nature and personality that she was always relevant to the main story line. Even if MTV milked the CT/Diem thing for all it was worth. Rest in peace Diem, I hope there’s goofy competitions for angels up in heaven for you to shine in. We’ll sure miss you down here.