So I am about 5.5k into my NaNo novel and starting to hit my stride. I've discovered that it's impossible to load the thing down with jokes and still keep the plot moving in a way that a reader will care about, so I've pulled back on the frequency a bit. I've tried to keep odd, bizarre and other amusing phrasing and comments as a continuous factor, while the outright jokes come more widely spaced. It's working out, I think. I can already tell, though I've only hit a few of them thus far, that there are going be some mythology "in-jokes" - I've lampooned some divine tendencies and myths where you have to be familiar with the inspiring material to get the humor.
Names - ah, names. Honestly, I can't work with a character in any extended fashion without naming them, so I am going to take a risk and name each competitor as they first appear. (This will actually be less crazy than it appears, as a few of them were already named in the Casting Call "chapter.") However, I am also going to give them a descriptive label - the diminutive thief, the holy assassin - that will appear every time they come back onto stage for the first few episodes.
This should help people get a handle on them, and it fits perfectly within both genres: reality televisions always have visual labels when they show the characters talking (Greg Sommers -- Pastry Chef, Creme De La Creme), and to go back further, the Greek epics (which is my primary inspiration for the definition of hero, though there's also a shameless sprinkling of thought-line from RPGs such as D&D - I mean, I've got a dungeon-crawl, for pity's sakes) use that kind of phrasing as a poetic beat.