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Challenge USA 2’s winners won an individual race that ended a fantastic season

Challenge USA 2’s winners won an individual race that ended a fantastic season
The Challenge USA 2 finalists and eventual winner—Chanelle Howell, Faysal Shafaat, Michaela Bradshaw, Chris Underwood, Desi Williams, Johnny "Bananas" Devenanzio, Tori Deal, and Cory Wharton—learn about the final from host T.J. Lavin (Photo by Jonne Roriz/Paramount)

The Challenge USA’s finale took a disappointing season into full unmitigated disaster territory—and that was before we learned about what happened behind the scenes.

Season one set a pathetically low bar that season two’s producers could have set up a game of Chutes and Ladders as the final, and it would have been far more fair, coherent, and entertaining.

Thankfully, producers approached the final far more thoughtfully. That’s no surprise because, The Challenge USA season 2 has been a considerably better show, thanks to its new showrunner. (Read my interview with Kevin Lee.)

The secret votes plus the element of randomness introduced by the hopper paid off spectacularly in the penultimate episode, and kept the cast more on edge than they were last season. At times, the players didn’t take risks, but there was plenty of drama between the nominations, votes, and the hopper.

While there were a few challenges that could have used tweaking, overall, they were a huge improvement over the pathetic season-one challenges.

At the end, eight players remained: four Survivor alum, and three Challenge OGs.

Since the beginning, we’ve known there are two $250,000 prizes available, for the top man and woman—a considerable difference from season one, where the winners were shocked to learn they had to split the prize.

T.J. described the $250,000 as “life-changing money,” which we know because Josh really wanted to win this despite previously winning $500,000, so I guess this $250,000 is worth more? I joke, of course, but the win and prize did end up being a symbolic victory for both of the winners.

The Challenge USA 2’s final

People pull colorfully painted boxes through a grassy field
The Challenge USA 2’s first stage of its final, which tested physical strength (Photo by Jonne Roriz/Paramount)

The Challenge USA 2’s producers split the final across two days, making one a grueling race, and the other a series of challenges. I like this split, but what I liked even better was that the players were not paired as men and women, so it was a completely individual challenge from start to finish.

Day one was “The Trials: Strength, Smarts, Skill, and Steel Stomach,” as T.J. described it. The winner in each stage got a one-minute advantage; the loser lost one minute. They also had the option of doubling down once: winning or losing two minutes.

Those time credits or penalties were applied on day two: a 10-mile race.

Strength was dragging a sled up a rocky hill, adding four boxes, all mysteriously proportional to each player’s body weight. Cory doubled down.

While others did one at a time or three at a time, Chris decided to leave two boxes on the hill, and come back for his third and fourth, coming in first. Chris and Michaela won; Cory and Tori lost.

For Smarts, they had to spell five words: ALLIANCES, SCHMOOZING, DECEITFUL, VENGEANCE, and ASCENDING.

I thought five words wouldn’t be enough to give us a clear winner and loser, but there were many misspellings! As Desi said, “The words aren’t super-hard, but people are really bad spellers—like, really bad.” For example Chris spelled “shmoozing” and Cory wrote “smoushing.”

Bananas and Desi (who doubled-down) won; Cory and Tori lost. “Oh my god, that’s so annoying,” Tori said when she didn’t hear the plural part of of “alliances.”

For Skills, they had to assemble a giant Connect Four board, dropping in yellow and black tiles that covered two spaces. The test, however, was to not connect any four spaces. The men, except for Fessy, really struggled.

Fessy and Tori (who doubled-down) won; Desi and Cory lost.

For Steel Stomach, they had to eat four things: a tofu and sauerkraut smoothie, something with worms, a couple wasabi crackers, and loaded chili truffles. Michaela did not listen to TJ’s descriptions, telling us, “the less I know, the better.” Smart!

No one doubled down. The gagging, retching, and puking—and accompanying soundtrack—were quite dramatic, and rather nauseating for me.

“Who knows who’s puking at this point?” Desi asked, calling it a “constant symphony”—and the editors had fun with that, and I was about to press mute when it ended.

While it’s easy to judge who finishes first, I am genuinely curious how the puking factors in. Can you just puke everything up and that counts because you got it down? Is that fair? Why am I thinking so much about vomit?

Anyway, Tori and Bananas won; Cory and Chanelle lost.

After those first four stages, the time advantages and disadvantages were:

  • Bananas: +2
  • Chanelle: -1
  • Chris: +1
  • Cory: -5
  • Desi: +1
  • Faysal: +1
  • Michaela: +1
  • Tori: +1

The 10-mile race—which began on a gorgeous, cliffside field—was not just a foot race. Along the way were three challenges.

The first two “risk station” challenges were optional, and had possible advantages and penalties; the third was mandatory.

The last man and woman to arrive at the second risk station would be eliminated.

The first risk challenge was five chances to make an axe stick in a target. Successfully doing meant they could take a 1.2 mile shortcut. That’s a heck of an advantage! Everyone attempted it; not everyone stuck an axe.

Fessy was penalized because he missed his axe throw and went the wrong way. His penalty was going back a half mile and then returning—oddly, slightly less than the 1.2 mile shortcut he took.

At the second risk station, they could opt to try to balance rocks on a large scale, and if successful, drive an ATV for the next mile. Chris did that, and left in first place. Michaela bailed on the challenge and ran instead. Desi, Cory, and Chanelle all successfully balanced, taking the ATV.

Tori and Fessy were eliminated at the second station, leaving all Survivor players and two Challenge vets, Bananas and Cory.

Along the way, we saw a map with all the players on it, indicating what not just where they were, but what they were doing. How wonderful to be able to follow the action and the race!

For the final, mandatory challenge, which was at mile 7.8, they had to carry cement blocks with players’ names, and then stack them in elimination order. It’s like The Amazing Race’s final challenge!

Chris arrived and finished first, pretty much guaranteeing him the win. Desi arrived before Michaela, thanks to her ATV advantage, and finished just as Bananas and then Chanelle arrived.

During the last two miles, everyone was spread out, running by themselves. Michaela needed medical attention for being lightheaded, and dropped out.

The Challenge USA 2’s winners

Two people stand close together on a rock at the top of a mountain and hold their arms out in celebration
Desi and Chris celebrate winning The Challenge USA 2 (Photo by Jonne Roriz/Paramount)

Chris Underwood finished first, which T.J. Lavin described as “zero to hero,” which made me chortle. “A lot of people think I am the most un-deserving person to ever win Survivor,” he’d said earlier in the episode.

I do think Chris 1) deserved to win that garbage Survivor season, because anyone who plays by the rules wins, though he’s still among the worst winners because of that season’s twist, and 2) deserves a lot of credit for his Challenge USA success.

It wasn’t exactly social game success—Chris was nominated repeatedly! But his repeated wins in the elimination arena, and his performance in the finale, earned him the win.

Desi won, which was both an impressive performance and also well-deserved after how much she got screwed in season one.

It was also remarkable that the alliance of three Survivor women made it to the very end together. As Chanelle said earlier, “Black girls that will see this, and will think of themselves as powerful because they see us.”

When the cover of Duran Duran’s “Ordinary World” started after Chris’s victory, I rolled my eyes, but when Desi finished, I was swept into the emotion of the moment. Yay for them.

Two strong winners, two Survivor players dominating the game—Survivor > The Challenge?!—and a vastly improved season. I’m now ready for The Challenge USA season three!

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart

    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!


Sunday 22nd of October 2023

Amazing season - I absolutely loved the story arc for both of the winners! Chris and Desi were hands-down my favorites of the season, so this was a picture-perfect ending for me.

Bad Mitten

Sunday 22nd of October 2023

- Also worth noting that Michaela only skipped the rocks/atv task because there were only 2 stations and she was going to need to wait for Bananas or Desi to finish it for her to go. That calculated risk clearly didn’t pay off since she ended up gassing out needing medical.

Bad Mitten

Sunday 22nd of October 2023

“Can you just puke everything up and that counts because you got it down? Is that fair?” - Challengers have talked about this before, but they are definitely allowed to puke everything up. Is it fair, probably not since it kinda defeats the purpose but they clearly love themselves a puke montage.


Wednesday 25th of October 2023

@Bad Mitten, Ya, one of the many ways in which rookies are at a disadvantage with these finals is that they actually try to eat the food, instead of just chewing it and immediately gagging it back up. Probably part of why Fessy had such an improvement since the last time he had an eating challenge, cause someone actually clued him in on how to do it.


Friday 20th of October 2023

I was sure Bananas or Cory would win simply because the person I want to win never wins so I was expecting Cory to overtake Chris after Cory got into his ATV. I was clapping when Chris made it to the top. (I really need to stop investing so much in reality shows. :)

Chris has found his niche. It is going on reality shows and winning. That's some niche.

Congrats to Desi too after her infamous exit with Enzo last year.

I'm looking forward to the next season too, but I don't know if they can top this season. It was Great! YAY CHRIS!

Kurt S

Friday 20th of October 2023

This was an excellent season of The Challenge, although I would have liked a little more time in the finale. Not a two week cliffhanger episode, necessarily, but maybe 90 minutes? Felt a little rushed. As Andy noted above, the map showing contestant locations was very helpful.

I'm wondering if the reason Faysal only had to re-trace a mile instead of 1.2 miles was because 1) the short cut was exactly half a mile long, so that was easier for producers to track and 2) they knew he was going to get eliminated by the time he got back. Also possible it was 0.6 miles and TJ just rounded to a half-mile during dialogue.

I was pleasantly surprised with who won, as I actively was rooting for Desi and Chris' underdog story made him my default favorite. Desi's performance after last year's Enzo debacle makes me think there's a good chance she's a two time champ if Enzo doesn't quit. I know Kaycee has won BB and The Challenge before, but I think this makes Chris the first person to win both Survivor and another CBS show, doesn't it?

Production certainly cleaned up their act from The Challenge USA season 1; I'm wondering how much of that was introspective and how much of it was CBS bearing down on them and forcing their hand. Maybe a little of both.

Generally good challenges and eliminations (although the final elimination was disappointing), and I'm looking forward to Challenge USA Season 3 next year. As well as Challenge 39 here in a couple of weeks and hopefully eventually All-Stars 4, whenever they decide to air that.