The second season of MTV and Paramount+'s The Challenge: All-Stars wrapped up Thursday, so if you haven't watched and don't want to be spoiled, now's your chance to bail.
After an arduous two-part finale that included distance running, cave paintings, word puzzles, and the scariest opponent of all — math — The Challenge: All-Stars crowned The Real World: Cancun's Jonna and The Real World: Philadelphia's M.J. as its newest champions. Who else walked out of this latest season a winner and who emerged as a frustrated loser? You've come to the right place.
Only two players made it to the finals of All-Stars 1 and All-Stars 2, and that's Darrell and Jonna, and although you'd expect it of the former, it was a big surprise from Jonna, who' hadn't previously been a Challenge powerhouse. She played a near-perfect game this season, performing well in the daily challenges (collecting one win) and playing the best politics of anyone considering she and her partner M.J. were the only players to never face an elimination. She managed to keep a cool head in the finals when it looked like she and M.J. had messed up the memory puzzle, and in the final phase, when she was able to collect herself and read the instructions to unlock the safe, she was the difference that helped her team win $500,000.
For the second straight season, the male winner of The Challenge: All-Stars had one of the most unassuming storylines of the whole season, with M.J. taking a Yes Duffy-like road to his championship. His share of the $500k is just as good, though, so I can't imagine he's complaining.
For the second straight season, Darrell entered the finals as the odds-on favorite, his reputation as a four-time Challenge champion preceding him. And for the second straight season, Darrell finished as the runner-up. He's not exactly a slouch when it comes to this show, but some of that shine comes off now that he's lost consecutive finals.
The thing about Nehemiah's history with The Challenge is that he's always been physically capable, but he's been terrible at the social game, leaving him almost always eliminated before the finals. This season, he realized he was outside the season's major power structure and built a counter-alliance. IS THAT SO HARD, OTHER CHALLENGE PLAYERS? The "King's Palace" was a small band of roommates initially, dwarfed by the numbers in the rest of the house, but they stuck together, won eliminations, and ended up with four members (or three — Nehemiah, Melinda, and Teck — plus Ayanna) in the finals. After all these seasons of Nehemiah bucking the system, he finally made good on all his barking and boasting.
The Challenge doesn't hand out end-of-season superlatives, but if they did, Melinda would probably take home the Iron Man award for season two, after fighting through multiple injuries — including busting up her ankle in phase one of the finals — and making it to the end anyway. There were moments in the finale where it seemed like we were being set up for an ultimate Melinda victory, but in the end the fact that she would have seemed more than worthy of that win was a victory in its own right, considering that Melinda never had a reputation as a Challenge badass. Until now.
The Challenge: All-Stars has been incredibly good to Road Rules: Semester at Sea. After Yes Duffy took the championship in Season 1, Ayanna was able to break her streak of early exits on The Challenge. She made the finals, dominated in two elimination challenges, and established herself as a physical force among the season's women. True, she also proved to be just as interpersonally unpredictable as ever, turning on Sophia with a quickness and eating Jodi's Greek salad that had been sitting out for too long, but she was also incredibly entertaining in her own unhinged way and, in so doing, pretty much booked herself a ticket for a future season.
On the flip side of that coin, it was a rough season for Sophia, who returned for her second ever Challenge only to be triggered by getting her hair braided and the cruelly thrown to the wolves by Ayanna. Still not sure what exactly was going on with the braids reaction, but hopefully Sophia got some time to decompress after her elimination.
Finding out you're pregnant on The Challenge ranks pretty high on the list of ways to be eliminated the competition and not feel too bad about it. And Casey had a cute little moment on FaceTime moment with her husband, showing him the multiple tests she took to confirm. Up until that point, Casey had been showing up pretty well for herself, too, rehabbing a reputation as a Challenge weakling and playing a fearless strategic game early on that actually got a major competitor in Derrick eliminated. Good season for Casey. On the other hand…
What a bum way for your season to end, tethered to a partner who has to drop out of the competition for reasons that have nothing to do with you. Cohutta couldn't even get mad about it; how are you gonna get mad at a pregnant lady? Who he should have been mad at is production, who made the seemingly arbitrary decision that Cohutta would have to leave along with Casey. There was no reason why they couldn't have run a men's elimination and just have Cohutta inherit the partner of the losing player. The Challenge has always played it fast and loose with their rules, but this felt particularly cruel to Cohutta for no good reason.
If you watched the pre-show promos or the first few episodes of the season, you'd be forgiven for assuming that Derrick Kosinski would be a favorite to win The Challenge All-Stars 2. He was as seasoned a veteran as they come, with great relationships, formidable athletic prowess, and a close bond with Jodi, one of the strongest women. He was also all over the edit, essentially narrating the first few episodes. Which is why it was such a shocker when he lost to Brad in an elimination after unlikely winners Casey and Steve. This coming one season after Derrick made the finals but was surprisingly ousted at the first checkpoint. Derrick should be winning these old-timer seasons. What's going on?
It's always the worst to be the team that's eliminated right before the finals, especially a team that had so much going for them on paper as Brad and Jodi did. And yet … they didn't really function very well as a team, did they? Certainly not enough to live up to their reputations as individuals. That they missed the finals but people like Teck and Janelle made it? Not great.
Going into All-Stars 2, Steve was by far the most "huh?" inclusion in the cast. A forgettable cast member from Road Rules: The Quest who'd only been on one previous Challenge a billion years ago, it wasn't clear what Steve was bringing to the table. But while he only made it halfway through the season, Steve established more character beats for himself than he did in his previous shows. Now we know that Steve a) looks like Jason Momoa, b) is a hand model, and c) has beef with his former King's Palace after trying to target Teck for elimination. Bring him back!
Steve's gain was Katie's loss, as their longstanding friendship took a hit when Steve (unintentionally?) screwed Katie over by sending Ayanna into elimination to face her. Katie was pissed, as you might expect, but while she's always been a fave, it's hard to see why she keeps coming back if she's going to keep bailing on heights challenges (of which there are very many).
The Challenge never had a great history of queer contestants — especially queer male contestants — making it far in the competition. The alpha-male posturing that happens on this show almost always, consciously or not, marks the gay guys for early elimination because they're either weak or they don't have as tight bonds with the straight men in power. One might have hoped that by 2022, this dynamic would have changed, but sadly no. Derek Chavez was the first male sent into elimination and lost, Ryan followed him out the very next week (at the same time as lesbian competitor Sophia also was eliminated), and although Tyler lasted a couple more weeks, it still meant that all three gay guys were out by mid-season.
One of the biggest disappointments this season was when Tina rolled over in her elimination challenge against Melinda, opting to bow out of the show because it was turning her into a bad person (or something). Hey, three cheers for personal growth; we can't blame Tina for wanting to evolve far past the girl who punched out Beth oh those many years ago. It's just too bad she couldn't have found a happy medium, because she was one of the top players this season, and she fizzled out in a hugely disappointing way.
The Challenge: All-Stars killed it all season with needle drops from the early Aughts heyday of The Challenge. The finale itself managed to feature both O-Town and Des'ree, not to mention a reprise of the slowed-down, ultra-dramatic version of Smash Mouth's "All-Star" that played over the season's trailer. But they really outdid themselves in the season's penultimate episode when the Baywatch theme song was deployed over a training montage. Just absolute chef's-kiss stuff, and a big reason why the show was so fun to watch.
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+