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The Challenge: All Stars 2: Who's Poised To Go All the Way?

Separating the contenders from the pretenders.
  • Photos: Paramount+
    Photos: Paramount+

    Less than six months after crowning Road Rules: Semester at Sea alum Yes Duffy the winner of the first-ever Challenge All Stars, Paramount+ is giving us a second season. A spinoff/ancestor to MTV's flagship The Challenge series, All Stars reunites old-school competitors from the show's early seasons and puts these old timers — fortysomethings, parents, still with something to prove — through the rigors of a modern-day challenge season. This setup has its many pleasures, including but the thrill of seeing familiar faces again (even the ones we didn't much like the first time around), as well as watching those who appeared on the show back when the competitions included "hang from this bar" and "eat way too much ice cream" now have to compete in modern-day Challenge tasks, which are more like "do the 747 stunt that Tom Cruise did in Mission: Impossible."

    Last season, old faves (and non-faves) like Beth Stolarczyk, Ruthie Alcaide, Syrus Yarbrough, and Mark Long were among the returnees; some are back for another round this season, while other All Stars 2 cast members are back for the first time in a very long time. After watching the trailer — below, a tremendously hype-inducing 96 seconds that features perhaps the zenith of the modern-day "slowed down pop song in a trailer" trend — we've got some ideas about who could a real threat to win. We're basing this on a few factors, including past Challenge performance, how well-maintained/dialed in they seem today, and how heavily they're featured in the trailer. These are not foolproof criteria, of course — Yes triumphed last season after being practically invisible in not only the trailer but also several episodes during the season — but we're taking it all into acccount.

    The Contenders

    Let's start this year's list of contenders with the carry-overs from last season. Three of Season 1's finalists are back for Season 2, including runner-up Darrell Taylor, who reminds us in the trailer that All Stars 1 was the first time he'd ever lost in a final. That, my friends, is a narrative. He's a four-time Challenge winner and is in as peak physical condition as anyone in this cast. The other two returning finalists from last season are Derrick Kosinski, who's always fun to root for, and one of last year's big surprises, Jonna Mannion. Last season, Jonna had just given birth to her second kid, but she still managed to finish tied for third place overall, the highest finishing woman (tied with Kellyanne). Clearly she enters season two a frontrunner.

    Of the All-Star newbies, we've got more than a few Challenge champions in play. Brad Fiorenza was part of the team that won on Cutthroat, and he's always presented as a big physical threat, even if he hasn't always lived up to that billing. Brad (and his insane beard) are the first things we see in the All Stars 2 trailer, in case you think that means anything (it probably doesn't).

    MJ Garrett only appeared on a few Challenge seasons, but he was part of the team that won Gauntlet 2, he's super tall with a background as an athlete, and he's in the trailer a bunch. Also heavily featured in the trailer is Jodi Weatherton, who hasn't been on a Challenge since 2007. Jodi has won twice: she was on the winning Gauntlet 2 team with MJ, and she won The Duel, making her the only person in this cast to have won a solo championship. Another two-time champion is Tyler Duckworth, who was on the winning team with Brad in Cutthroat and who paired with Johnny Bananas to win the first Rivals season.

    Finally, among the winners, there's Kendal Darnell, who won the only Challenge she ever competed on (as part of the team in Inferno), before showing up last season and being kind of a beast in elimination challenges, winning two before succumbing just before the finals. Having experience from last season should be a pretty big advantage since the intensity level of competition from the old seasons to now is pretty major.

    Among the contenders who have never won before, we'll start with Cohutta Grindstaff, a likeable good-old-boy type who always performs well even if he's not the most musclebound of competitors. Sophia Pasquis only ever competed in one Challenge, back in 2004's Battle of the Sexes 2, in which she was a runner-up. It's a whole new game now of course, but she's shown some ability before. And one could certainly say the same about Tina Barta, whose Challenge resume includes two runner-up finishes (Inferno 2 and Fresh Meat), a whole bunch of arguments, one appearance as a gladiatorial mercenary, and one disqualification for punching Beth out.

    The Pretenders

    There is a "Fool me once" aspect to some of these guys, and at the top of that list are Laterrian Wallace and Nehemiah Clark, both of whom present as physical specimens but who've never seemed to live up to expectations. Laterrian's intensity hasn't translated to all that much winning, historically, and Nehemiah's problem, not to put too fine a point on it, is that people don't ever seem to like him very much. Both managed to win one elimination contest last season before succumbing. We'll see how it goes this time. (It should be noted that Nehemiah was on the winning team in Gauntlet 3, although that was the season where Big Easy nearly died and his whole team DQ'd, so there's a bit of an asterisk there.)

    A few Challenge vets are back not necessarily because they have a great tradition of winning, but because they are very fun to watch on TV. We all love watching Katie Cooley (formerly Doyle) pop off and deliver funny interview clips and freak out at heights challenges (one such incident making an appearance in the trailer, like the return of an old friend), but despite having won once on The Inferno, she's probably not going to make it to the end, and that's okay. Casey Cooper played on a few Challenges, actually finishing third on a team with Wes in her first season, Fresh Meat. But subsequent seasons saw her as a perennial early sacrifice for her teams. Leah Gillingwater's reputation on her season of The Real World (in Paris) was that she was spoiled and snobby, and she didn't do a ton to changetthat in her one Challenge season, although she's another one who can deliver a good sound bite when called upon. She is nowhere to be found in the trailer, which either means she's going home first or she's winning like Yes did.

    Melinda Collins has gone home early in every Challenge she's ever competed in, and she never seems all that upset to leave. Finally in this group there's Steve Meinke. "Who?" you ask. Exactly. Steve was a good, if boring, guy on his original Road Rules season, and he was a good, if boring, guy on the one Challenge season he did (The Gauntlet). It's a good bet that he'll be a good, if boring, guy this year.

    The Hopefuls

    These are the people who could finish anywhere in the pack — from a surprise finalist to a first-week elimination — but we're really hoping it's the former, because they're great fun and great TV. First of all, it's amazing to have Ayanna Mackins back for her first Challenge since 2005. Her Challenge history has shown her to be a good competitor who tends to make her dissatisfaction felt at perceived injustices (and lord knows there will be no shortage of those). Similarly given to making a scene is a returning Jasmine Fougere, last seen on Free Agents in 2014. As one of the more recent Challenge alumni, she should suffer less of a culture shock than a lot of her competitors. That served someone like Jemmye well last season.

    Teck Holmes should also get a little boost from having appeared on last season's All Stars, although his early exit would suggest he's not really cut out for the competition aspects of this show. Janelle Casanave is a two-time former Challenge participant who didn't make much of an impression, even on the season she won (Inferno 3), so she's a complete blank slate this season.

    Finally, one of our complaints about the early seasons of The Challenge was that they rarely cast enough gay guys to really queer up the partying/hookup parts of the show. This season's cast features a few of the rare exceptions to that rule. In addition to the aforementioned Tyler, we get Ryan Kehoe (who made out in the pool with Tyler in Gauntlet 3), and Derek Chavez (who hooked up with bisexual Marlon on Rivals 2). We're rooting for both to make it to the end and to really go to town on each other at some point.

    The Challenge: All Stars 2 premieres on Paramount+ November 11th, with new episodes dropping Thursdays through mid January.

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    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: The Challenge: All Stars, MTV, Paramount+, The Challenge