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Who won The Challenge USA? Who quit? Who got screwed?

Who won The Challenge USA? Who quit? Who got screwed?
The Challenge flag at the finish line of its final. Those who made it there would win their money. (Photo by Jonne Roriz/Paramount)

The Challenge: USA began with “28 elite players” from Survivor, Big Brother, The Amazing Race, and Love Island, and ended with two winners after a two-day series of challenges and a two-hour finale that was really two back-to-back episodes.

That actual final had its challenges, and in a rather surprising turn, every single player quit, except for the two winners who reached the flag at the summit of the mountain, though: Survivor 41 hero Danny McCray and Survivor Game Changers winner Sarah Lacina.

Despite that dramatic end, it was also an incredibly frustrating final challenge: a series of individual challenges done in pairs, except not for everyone, as the producers and/or network made several decisions that made it completely unfair.

Why are they so bad at this?

Before that “brutal odyssey of mind and body that will push them to their absolute limits,” as TJ described it, there was another episode, i.e. one more elimination.

Something actually did a thing!

The Challenge: USA host T.J.Lavin during the two-episode finale
The Challenge: USA host T.J.Lavin during the two-episode finale. (Photo by Jonne Roriz/Paramount)

As usual, the stakes reset to zero at the start of the first episode, with no real tension after last week’s elimination.

But there was a surprise ahead: Angela’s “worst-case scenario” came true.

The final challenge was a night challenge, reminiscent of Survivor’s first-ever nighttime challenge, which took place in abandoned barracks, too.

The players were taken to the location in a box truck, perhaps because the show’s budget ran out, or someone spent too much on the jet that sent them to Patagonia. The cast did have fun pretending to be scared, and Tyson had fun pretending to be evil: “People’s panic just, like, soothes me,” he said.

It was actually because the producers tried to give the challenge a scary theme, but that was just dumb, and didn’t work at all. Mannequin parts and spray-painted words don’t even count as interesting set decoration, and definitely weren’t scary. And while it was nighttime, the players were mostly in very well-lit areas.

The challenge was titled “Getting Tired” because, as TJ explained to blank faces, they’d be “getting tired while getting tires.” After swimming 500 meters across a lake in the dark to an abandoned military complex, they had to gather tires and tokens, running one kilometer to and from the drop zone each time.

Each tire had little puzzles to complete first, puzzles that’d make the Survivor puzzle-makers weep with sadness. After two hours, the players with the most points would win.

Angela Rummans spends way too much time on a puzzle in the final challenge on The Challenge: USA
Angela Rummans spends way too much time on a puzzle in the final challenge on The Challenge: USA. (Photo by Jonne Roriz, courtesy of Paramount

Angela spent 30 minutes on one puzzle as Tyson and Alyssa and others ran past repeatedly. “I am terrified at this point,” Angela said, but there was no consequence because she’s in the large alliance that would protect her.

Angela lost with 24 points, and went into elimination automatically.

Sarah won among women with 42 points, while Tyson and Dom won with 52 points, tying because the producers didn’t think to have a tie-breaker.

Dom said he thought his win “really, really shook” Tyson, and Tyson said “whatever.” He advocated for Cayla to go into the final elimination, thereby protecting his alliance member, Alyssa, who Sarah wanted to send into elimination, as payback.

Tyson’s argument was mostly just making a big deal of Cayla not being able to compete in the challenge without Sarah’s gentle butt-push, which sounded like Sarah tore down a small forest with her bare hands, shredded them into planks with her teeth, and then built a staircase that Cayla walked up.

Sarah pitched Dom on pairing up to give the finger to Tyson, and found an ally in that. “I just straight-up want to make this decision without him influencing it,” Dom told Sarah, and I honestly did not expect him to go along with her.

At the elimination, they voted: Tyson for Cayla, Sarah for Alyssa, and then Dom for Alyssa. Wow! A thing happened on The Challenge: USA! A player made a move!

The final arena challenge was “a Challenge staple,” Pole Wrestle. Despite a montage of women saying how great it’d be for Angela to go home, Angela quickly won the first two rounds.

T.J. mocked Angela’s distress at having to send her BFF home: “She’s gone, for good.”

Meanwhile, an emotional Alyssa predicted an Angela win: “She was overlooked on Big Brother. Angela’s definitely winning; she’s better than every man or woman here combined.” Well, we’ll see.

The final challenge was a bunch of little challenges

T.J.Lavin introduces the final challenge on The Challenge: USA, and the return of the algorithm
T.J.Lavin introduces the final challenge on The Challenge: USA, and the return of the algorithm. (Photo by Jonne Roriz/Paramount)

T.J. Lavin greeted the final 10 with some shade (“I knew you played games, but could you play my game?”) and with some shitty news for Ben: he was being medically removed from the game because of the shoulder injury he got when he fell while running with a tire.

The remaining nine players learned their task: effectively walking up a mountain, Cerro Lopez, with challenges along the way.

They were competing in pairs, but would switch teammates at each checkpoint. Guess which network TV reality competition’s producers didn’t think to create a contingency if one of the players wasn’t able to compete? Yes, The Challenge: USA.

The producers’ solution to having an odd number of players: making one female player run each leg alone.

I can’t even begin to describe how patently unfair that was, making the final task unbalanced before it even began. That’s because the single women either had a considerable advantage (they did not have to wait for a partner to run or finish an individual task, for example) or disadvantage (such as tasks involving memorization or moving heavy stuff).

The other obnoxious thing about the pairs—besides the return of the faux algorithm—was that quitting mid-leg meant that your partner was out, too, even though partners would switch at the next checkpoint, and even though there were an uneven number of players which could have evened things up after the very first quit.

And the very first quit came very very fast. After jumping off a raft into slightly choppy water, Enzo, wearing a life preserver, screamed, “Help me! I can’t breathe. Help!” while Desi tried to calm him down: “Please, Enzo.”

No one helped him, because this is The Challenge, so instead he swam to the camera boat and quit.

That meant Desi was out too, before doing anything. “Devastated feels like too light of a word for what I’m feeling,” she said. “For all of that to be crushed by another person? He’s literally ruined my entire game.”

Sure, Enzo did that, but the producers decided to DQ her, too. Why? It’s not like she chose him, nor were they teammates all season long.

Also, had Enzo just floated to shore, they would have been fine, because just finishing the challenge meant they’d earn their banked money.

Yes, after teams finished a stage, they just sat down or stood around, because the stages were basically individual challenges. I’m sure they were exhausted after two days of this, but they moved locations several times, so it was not a marathon situation.

The legs:

  1. Swimming to shore and doing a puzzle
  2. Walking up the mountain and:
    • Eating an onion and garlic cloves, while drinking lemon juice, which resulted in a montage of puking that had audio that was clearer than most strategy sessions.
    • Remembering numbers and completing equations, which of course was the very first challenge
  3. Memorizing a list of 10 numbers, and then decoding it into a word.
  4. Moving dirt from a pile in a wheelbarrow.
  5. A 10-mile individual hike to the top of a snowy mountain with puzzle checkpoints—and double points, making it anyone’s game.

Angela was alone for the dirt challenge, and decided she’d just take last place. I completely understand that: She was almost guaranteed to come in last, having to do all the work herself, while everyone else had two people.

As Cayla said, “You’re giving up. You’re not doing it.” Cayla wished she’d done that at the eating challenge, where she told us she was “honestly begging for maggot cheese at this point,” because her body was “shutting down.”

T.J. disqualified her, thankfully, draining her $33,500 bank account because she didn’t even try. But I also feel for her, because after dominating all season, she was screwed by the producers’ inability to plan.

Also, we learned that Justine “timed out” on the math stage, which meant she didn’t finish in time—but she wasn’t eliminated. So if Angela had just attempted one handful of dirt, would she have stayed in the game? Are there actual rules for this or do the producers just make it up as they go?

After the fourth stage, everyone slept in a tent. T.J. woke them up and, upon looking into the tent, discovered something that made him laugh hysterically, which was one of the highlights of this final hour. “I’m 45 years old, and I never smelled something like that in my entire life,” he said.

Tyson Apostol running the final pre-final challenge, which he won, though he ended up quitting the final challenge
Tyson Apostol running the final pre-final challenge, which he won, though he ended up quitting the final challenge. (Photo by Jonne Roriz/Paramount)

As this unfolded, Tyson’s confident and cocky confessionals seemed to predict his victory, since they were filmed after the challenge. “I am the clear favorite to win the final,” he said. “I’m feeling very confident I’m going to crush these people’s soul.”

But no: Tyson quit! “I don’t want to do it any more,” he said. “The challenge is crazy; I’ve had enough.”

That happened after Danny caught up to Tyson at the sudoku puzzle, and passed Tyson. Danny told us that, while in Survivor quarantine, he did a whole book of sudoku puzzles.

Justine, Dom, and Cayla also quit, their bare hands frozen.

In addition to the cold, Tyson tweeted that the players were not given the rules of sudoko, just the direction to “finish the pattern,” which is just insane. He also said that this was a “force quit” for all of them.

Sarah seemed like she was going to quit at a puzzle where she was in last place, shivering in the cold rain that had not yet turned to snow.

Sarah Lacina (left) and Danny McCray (right) separately won The Challenge: USA
Sarah Lacina (left) and Danny McCray (right) separately won The Challenge: USA. (Composite of photos by Jonne Roriz/Paramount)

In the end, it was just Danny walking through the snow by himself to the top of the mountain. “It is absolutely miserable. But I have Zoe with me, I have Kiki with me,” he said, referencing his daughter and wife for the final time this season. (We did see them via FaceTime earlier, but I couldn’t see them through all the snow. Maybe he had them in his backpack?)

Sarah was surprised to see no one at the top of the mountain, knowing how far she’d fallen behind, but Danny surprised her with the news that she’d won.

I was surprised, too: We didn’t even get to see Sarah finish the puzzle that she was struggling with. She just sort of popped from pulling off its pieces to the end.

Why not give us a montage of the winner actually winning? Why are they so bad at this?

“For the first time in Challenge history, everyone else quit,” T.J. Lavin told them. That meant they split the remainder of the half-million pot, so Danny took home $245,500 and Sarah $254,500.

They’ll both go on to the Paramount+ The Challenge: Global Championship, and I’m curious if it’ll find a way to diverge from the missteps of this CBS version, which started strong and just tumbled from there.

In an interview with EW, showrunner Justin Booth said that these CBS reality stars:

“…have to prove to me that I can categorize them in the same space as the kids who oftentimes finish our finals. It’s not to say that they can’t, but most of them, 90 percent of them, haven’t shown me that they have what it takes to to be in the same conversation as our other [Challenge competitors]. But I’m looking forward to being proven wrong.”

Well, this season didn’t show me The Challenge belongs in the same conversation as other CBS reality shows, and the finale sure didn’t prove me wrong. It’s a different league altogether, and The Challenge: USA wasn’t cut out for it.

Challenge USA players’ shocking claims:
actual theft! unwritten rules! a wrong answer!

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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Happy discussing!

Kina

Sunday 18th of September 2022

This was so ridiculous. If the finalists didn't understand how to do sudoku they could of explained the game basics to them. You can explain sudoku or any puzzle to someone without solving it for them that's just stupid. Literally the dumbest thing I've ever heard. DQing someone because their partner that was picked for them is a coward is the only thing dumber in this final. Not to mention if you guys didn't have a plan for someone having an injury then you should of thrown the algorithm out and had it be everyone for themselves. I feel so sorry for Desi she didn't deserve that and neither did Angela. Sarah most definitely did NOT deserve the win because she didn't finish her puzzle. Danny did his stuff and did awesome he deserves it but Sarah doesn't. How hard is it to make rules that are fair and consider every scenario and then explain them to people?

Kyle

Friday 16th of September 2022

It honestly feels like they moved the show from MTV to CBS and cut the budget. The MTV and even Paramount+ versions seem better produced and with a bigger budget than this CBS version.

Brandon

Friday 16th of September 2022

Why do you say the remainder of the half million pot? Shouldn't it have been split down the middle plus their personal challenge bank account plus the rest of the competitors cash who didn't finish? Wasn't that supposed to be added and split too? I'm so confused.

Andy Dehnart

Friday 16th of September 2022

I'm confused too! But I think what happened was the producers took $500,000, subtracted Danny's bank and Sarah's bank, and then split the rest between them.

RedFairy

Friday 16th of September 2022

I agree, a lot of things in the finale rubbed me the wrong way. Having to drop out because the person you were randomly paired with dropped out seems really unfair, but then again for most of the season you were in danger of being eliminated if your randomly assigned partner screwed up so a part of me kind of accepts it. But maybe the final challenge should have just been all individual. Having one person go solo in each leg was also unfair. They could have kept Desi in and then had an even number but that would violate their rule of having opposite sex pairs.

Everyone was judging Angela for skipping the digging challenge. I again had mixed opinions. I kind of think yeah she shouldn't get to skip a challenge and continue but on the other hand how was it fair she had to do it solo while everyone else got to switch back and forth and sleep at least half the time. couldn't they have a group of three or do it all individually?

I didn't realize they didn't even explain the rules of Sudoku. So anyone who had never played before had to try and figure out what the "pattern" was. the rules aren't even hard to explain, each row and column must contain the numbers 1-9 and each of the marked off 3x3 squares must contain the numbers 1-9.

Corey

Thursday 15th of September 2022

I disagree on some of the points especially about partner getting DQ if one quits. There has been 37 Seasons of the Challenge. Majority of them have has stages with partners and the number one strategy is to make sure you have solid partners. EVERYONE called out Enzo as one of the weakest and if it came to swimming you were screwed with him. You failed at trying to get him eliminated. As far as the guys go its smart to keep people like Enzo and Dom in the final because they are weak (turns out everyone but Danny was weak on the mens side). Its sucks that happened to her but its part of the game. Producer was right that most of these wouldn't cut it VS actual Challenge vets imo and I do think some of the stronger competitors got knocked out early in the season.