Before we begin our long-awaited final, we get a celebratory cast moment once they return from the Arena. Everyone is discussing their finals history or lack thereof. It’ll be interesting to see how people’s records on All Stars will translate to the regular show. Can someone like Jonna, who’s only made it to a final on this series, go back to a regular season of The Challenge and use it as cred — even though the number of eliminations and opportunities for her to get sent home have been cut in half? I’m sure some overly confident rookie will make it seem like nothing on this show really counts. Frankly, if I was one of these vets, I would never go back to hanging out with a bunch of dry Big Brother contestants and British 20-somethings plucked out of a hat as long as Paramount+ decides to keep this show on the air.
Aneesa and Jisela resolve their nonissue: If Nehemiah had selected Aneesa for the elimination, she would’ve been so devastated that she would probably never compete again. (No one is buying that you would ever turn down an invitation to this show, Aneesa. But I appreciate you trying to convince us that you have other things happening in your life.) Jisela tells Aneesa that she has the right to make her own decisions, which is really the only takeaway from this argument that definitely didn’t need to happen in the first place!
The next day, everyone meets TJ in front of the lake, looking refreshingly optimistic. Usually, the hours right before a final are filled with intense dread. But it feels like everyone is getting ready to play some backyard games, not possibly die on one of the most grueling days of their lives, which makes this group all the more endearing to me.
So let’s get all the rules out of the way:
• Like usual, this final includes a series of checkpoints. The competitors have to compete in pairs, alternating partners after every checkpoint.
• No one can work with the same partner twice.
• At each checkpoint, there’s a mini-challenge worth five points for the team that comes in first, four points for the team that comes in second and so on.
• There’s 12 competitors starting out, which means that the team to come in last at the first checkpoint gets zero points and goes home.
• Also, if one teammate can’t finish a checkpoint for some reason, the entire team is eliminated.
Simple enough. I love straightforwardness and transparency. Whenever TJ is like, “You have to wait and see,” I assume the producers are scrambling between checkpoints to think of ways to sabotage whoever they’ve decided to hate that season.
Anyway, here are our first set of teams: Aneesa and Alton, Derrick and Jisela, Big Easy and Kellyanne, Darrell and Jonna, Mark and Ruthie, Yes and Jemmye. Alton says that he’s excited to team up with all the women, which is the first time I think a man has uttered that sentiment on this franchise. The mini-challenge is a puzzle that teammates have to solve individually. Once completed by both partners, they have to canoe down a river for what seems like an hour to their next checkpoint.
Everyone seems to complete their puzzles and start canoeing one after the other except for Kellyanne and Big Easy, who I would guess are at least a half an hour behind the team in first place. I immediately feel sympathy to Kellyanne, a person I typically feel nothing for, because you just know Big Easy is going to fuck up this up for at least one of his female partners. Eventually, Big Easy finishes his very basic puzzle, and the two begin canoeing. Aneesa and Alton maintain the lead for most of the trip … until water starts entering their canoe, and they eventually capsize.
Watching these finals, I’m realizing that flipping over in a boat is the funniest type of physical comedy — as long as no one drowns. Aneesa blames Alton for sitting in the front of the canoe, which is apparently the biggest canoeing no-no. (She also didn’t instruct him not to sit in the front of the canoe when they both got in it, so he can’t take all the blame here.) Everyone else is staying afloat.
The hardest part of this journey for most of the teams seems to be how long it’s taking. Derrick and Jisela start to lose control of the boat at the most crucial moment: when Kellyanne and Big Easy are sneaking up behind them. Derrick masterfully jumps over Jisela’s head so that he can sit in the front and try to take control of the boat. But they’re still struggling to turn. As much as canoeing and kayaking are featured on this show, I still don’t think the competitors understand that rowing is an actual skill that you should probably have some practice in before showing up.
Anyway, Big Easy and Kellyanne end up passing Jisela and Derrick, who are then disqualified. I’m curious what their fate would’ve been if Derrick didn’t spend several seconds jumping up and down and screaming “They said I couldn’t do puzzles!” at the camera after he completed his puzzle. (It wouldn’t have made a difference. I just want to remind you all that this man has been a little thirsty for screen time for my liking this season.) Had Jisela not been a jerk to Aneesa right before the final, maybe luck would’ve been on her side. Who knows?
The next checkpoint includes assembling a bicycle and riding a trail. The new teams are Jonna and Yes, Jemmye and Darrell, Aneesa and Mark, Ruthie and Big Easy, and Kellyanne and Alton. On paper, this sounds like the most boring thing you could watch in the middle of a race, but we know that people will lose tires, pedals, and the ability to steer. Because who the heck knows how to build a bicycle? All the men seem pretty confident in their bike-building skills, but maybe that just comes from basic handyman experience. Is this something that boys are just taught?
TJ also tells the teams that they’re going to be tethered to each other when they ride their bikes, and an embarrassing number of people respond: “What does that mean?” It’s hilarious that Jemmye is the only person with enough sense to bring along one of the tools in case something goes wrong. Mark ends up losing an entire pedal and has to push himself up the hill like he’s riding a scooter when he and Aneesa could’ve just shoved a screwdriver in their shorts. A few people fall, but no one’s so disoriented or tired that they can’t finish. Kellyanne and Alton are doing exceptionally well, but Jonna and Yes still arrive at the checkpoint first.
Then we have another puzzle that involves adding numbers — so we know at least two of these competitors are going to have a really hard time. Yes and Jonna finish first, which means that Yes gets first pick for his next partner. He goes with Kellyanne. (Side note: The way that Yes is feeling himself in his confessionals makes it very clear that he won or maybe almost won. I wish someone would have instructed him to take the self-satisfied smirking down a notch.) Jonna picks Mark. Darrell picks Ruthie because she’s small enough to carry. Jemmye takes Alton. And Big Easy and Aneesa are left with each other.
For the next phase, the competitors just walk or run through the woods until they see TJ at the bottom of a hill. Darrell is weirdly excited that he gets to carry Ruthie to the finish line. After a poor showing at the beginning, Kellyanne finally comes in first place. The best part about this basic points system, based on placement rather than time, is that the competitors can calculate where they and their competitors are in their head. This can either be super motivating if you’re Yes or Jonna and smoking everyone or extremely defeating if you’re doing as well as Big Easy and Aneesa.
Let me insert the scores right here:
• Yes - 14
• Darrell - 13
• Jonna - 12
• Jemmye - 11
• Mark, Ruthie, and Kellyanne - 8 each
• Alton - 7
• Aneesa - 6
• Big Easy - 3
The last checkpoint for this episode is eating four Carolina Reaper peppers and completing another puzzle. We know how much joy it brings these producers to watch people throw up, so of course we get a flashback of Nehemiah and Teck vomiting when they had to eat some Reapers during their elimination — in case that image wasn’t already seared into your brain. The teams for this checkpoint are Yes and Aneesa, Jonna and Big Easy, Jemmye and Mark, Alton and Ruthie, and Kellyanne and Darrell.
No one really seems to struggle completing this puzzle, but the trek to the next checkpoint with the peppers eating everyone’s insides is truly a sight to behold. Jemmye has to stop several times to throw up, and the look on Mark’s face is incredible. Darrell’s face is red, and you don’t need a close-up to see his entire head glistening with sweat and all the snot pouring down his nose. He eventually falls down and can barely ask for a medic. I’m assuming that he won’t be the only person who’s on the brink of disqualification when we return next week. So I’m nervous and sadistically excited.