While the two-time champion isn't competing for the grand prize on season 39's Battle For a New Champion, she does appear for a special elimination appearance as the cast of contenders vie for their first win and have to beat the best to be the best. So even though Cara Maria isn't officially on the cast this season, she's just happy to be back in the franchise for the first time since her devastating loss on 2019's War of the Worlds 2.
"It's time to give the fans what they want," Cara Maria tells EW. "They've been yelling for a long time, man. It's good to be missed, so at least we gave them a chance to miss me, and the Challenge gods have heard their call. This is just a quick cameo of me in the arena, but it's really good to be here. The elimination arena feels like home to me."
MTV Cara Maria Sorbello on 'The Challenge'
After four years of not getting called to be cast on each season, Cara Maria didn't hesitate when MTV finally invited her back for season 39. "I was like, 'Whatever you want, the answer is yes. It doesn't matter the date, the time, the location, the answer is yes,'" she says with a laugh. "I want to have fun. I want to cause some chaos. I'm so ready. Put me in a Hall Brawl. It's showtime. Just don't give me math."
While she can't reveal which episode she appears in, who her opponent will be, or what the elimination is, she does tease that she has a ton of fun in the episode. "I will do a little bit of roasting upon these people to welcome them to The Challenge," she promises. "You're not going to be bored with me in the arena, I promise you."
Cara Maria is one of 10 legendary champs who come in for a surprise elimination appearance, and she reveals she actually crossed paths with a lot of them while she was on location in Croatia even though they don't appear onscreen together. "I don't know if I am allowed to talk about this but I did run into Laurel, which was hilarious," Cara Maria says of her former friend. "I totally weirded her out at the hotel — I saw her sitting there doodling in her notebook, as Laurel does, and I hide behind a podium, and I made weird noises and peeked around at her, just because I'm running into Laurel, so what am I going to do? We don't talk or anything, but I might as well keep it weird."
She laughs as she continues, "I remember her being so confused, and she's like, 'Oh my god, I thought you were some creep lurking on me.' I was like, 'Yeah, I am, actually! Great description.' So we caught up a little bit. I also ran into Brad on my way out, caught up with him for a second, and then actually spent CT's birthday with him in Venice afterward."
While the champs don't actually compete together, Cara Maria still felt like they were all on the same team against the contenders. "It's like, 'F--- them up. I don't care who's out there, who you've got to go against, you have to win. Send them home,'" she says. "I'm watching it for the champions, I'm rooting for every champion to take it home, man. I don't know too much about all these new kids, so we'll see what they do."
As for why it took four years to see Cara Maria — one of the best to ever play the game — return to The Challenge, she struggles to pinpoint an exact reason. "The real answer is it's not up to me, it was up to everybody else," she says. "I would've been back four years ago, but that wasn't my choice. It's really hard to see other people doing the things that you love, it's hard not to be able to be back and defend my spot, it's hard to see new champions happen without me being there to fight for it, you know what I mean? It's hard to hear the fans ask for me back all the time and me knowing the way that I left things is not who I am, so that's just really tough."
She'll be the first one to admit her actions on War of the Worlds 2 were ... well, not her best showing, to put it lightly. "Last time people saw me I was too lost, I really couldn't separate real life from reality TV, and it was burning me out," she says. "In this rest I have been able to dive into the things that fuel my creativity, my art, my passion, my photography." During the past for years, she's grown closer to her boyfriend Paulie Calafiore and praises him for being a supportive partner during that entire time, adding that they're both stronger than ever now. "The time off has just been really good for me mentally to separate away from the reality TV, because when you film, you're in it, you leave, people are talking about it and you're still in it, you watch it on TV, you're still in it, and there's not really an escape."
She says that taking this break, while involuntary, turned out to be the best thing for her. "I was Cara Maria from MTV for so long, who am I in the time off?" she says. "There's been a lot of ups and downs and finding the root of me again and then remembering why I loved competing as much as I did, and it just showed me how really important The Challenge was to me. There's no more 'woe is me,' you're not going to see that Cara Maria again."
She's now ready to just put her money where her mouth is and let her game speak for itself in future seasons. "I don't politic, I perform. I work really hard," she says. "I'm never going to take any of the drama or the game moves or anything to heart again." She also says doesn't care about making alliances to get to the end — she wants to win or lose by her own merits. "I'm never going to be fake. I'm never going to be best friends with anybody. I'm never going to go on vacations with these people. If I have to do an elimination [to stay in the game], hell yeah, let's play."
And she also thinks a lot of other Challenge mainstays can benefit from the kind of soul-searching she's done recently. "I can definitely see some personalities that are there now that should probably go on the break that I did," she says. "But I'm ready to come back now. Get me off the bench, put me in, I'm ready to play."
The Challenge: Battle for a New Champion premieres Wednesday, Oct. 25, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on MTV.