Each of the four teams starts the competition with six players. The 15 week contest — each week referred to as an "Evolution" — is split into three sections. During each evolution two teams are chosen to go head to head, first in a training exercise and then in a combat mission. Training exercises are usually physical challenges, including climbing, swimming, running and shooting. The team who completes the exercise quickest receives extra points towards that week's mission.
The combat mission pits those two same teams into separate but identical situations against the "Shadow Force" in a combat-like scenario, some military in nature, some SWAT-related. Both teams start out with 1000 points, plus whatever point bonus was earned by the winner of the training mission. Points are then deducted for team members killed and time taken in the mission itself. Failure to complete all objectives, or the death of all team members results in a "total mission failure." Whichever team has the most points after both teams have run the mission wins.
For the first twelve evolutions, the team with the lower score was obligated to discharge a teammate. The choice for discharge would be selected either by vote or, in case of a tie or refusal, drawing swords until one man pulls one with a red tip; that man would be dismissed. For the first six evolutions, after discharging a teammate, the rest of the team headed into the dossier room to select a replacement. From evolution 7-12, lost players were no longer replaced, severely weakening the losing teams. During the last phase, the entire losing team was kicked off in order to determine the overall winning team. After that team (Bravo) was selected, it was split into two teams of 3 who faced off. From those 3 remaining players one was eliminated in a Training Exercise, and the final two faced off in a mission in order to select the Combat Missions individual champion.
Alpha lost 250 points for cheating. They used a poncho to cover the hostage and defeat the purpose of the MILES laser gear which was against the rules. Then they lied when asked why they did it, offering the excuse that they were "treating for shock". Daniel Patrick O'Shea (team leader for Alpha) later admitted that it was his decision to use the poncho.