The Challenge has always been a heavily edited show—the main thing that keeps it from feeling like an actual sport is the fact that every elimination challenge comes with about 600 camera cuts—but we can’t remember it ever being this boosted in post-production. Total Madness is flying through camera filters and low-grade graphics; it’s taking HUGE swings from the editing room. It’s, quite simply, astonishing. So, every week, we’ll collect the best moments of each episode in screenshots, sometimes adding context, sometimes letting the image itself speak a thousand words.
Before the Final, One Last Trip to an Underground Bar
All apologies to Nebe and Pekelnej, but Hangar Bar was the true champion of underground bars this season. It was also the only place that served a seemingly endless amount of chicken wings. These two things are definitely related.
Nope, Absolutely Not
Even worse, Kyle did this out of a sneaker. I do not approve of this behavior. Also: What did these guys do after this? Just plopped their feet back into a beer-dampened shoe?
A Power Ranking of Reasons People Wanna Win
A big part of any final episode of The Challenge is when each competitor emotionally submits their reasoning for why they deserve to win more than everyone else. And it really is true that some have better motivations than others, so I ranked them all:
9. Bayleigh: Because weddings are expensive? I’m sorry but you do not need $500,000 to put on an enjoyable ceremony.
8. Rogan: He is very wrapped up in this idea that everyone perceives his final win in War of the Worlds 2 as a fluke. It’s really all he talks about. And it’s the reason that he threw himself into elimination in both the penultimate episode and the finale. As a motivator, it just comes off super desperate and insecure.
3e. Kyle: This starts a long group of people who say they want to win for their families and/or parents. As a reason, it’s fine. Some of the arguments are more compelling than others.
3d. Melissa: Specifically her dad. (OK.)
3c. Fessy: Fessy’s doing it for his family, too, but he’s also under the impression that winning The Challenge will be redemption for not making it to the NFL. I understand the reasoning, but I’m really not sure a victory will fill that void the way Fessy thinks it will.
3b. Kaycee: Her reason is her general family, with a slight hint of wanting to represent the LGBT community.
3a. Jenny: The reason is family, but, like, it’s a lot of family:
2. Johnny Bananas: Forget family—Johnny wants to win to solidify his standing as the greatest Challenge competitor in history. To be clear, he already has the most total wins, but this is more of a legacy thing—proof that he can do it as an old guy, too. (Think Tom Brady with the Buccaneers this year.) You might not take this as a serious enough reason, but record books and legacy are what sports are built on, so if we want to treat The Challenge like a sport, we have to cherish its history.
1. Cory: Maybe I’m ranking him this high only because MTV spent the last half of this season drilling into me how badly Cory wanted to win for his family. But at the same time, Cory’s the only one with a family of his own—wanting to set up a college fund for your children is more important than wanting to buy your dad a cool car.
The Most Crucial Moments of the Final
Because the final is just one long sequence of events, it makes more sense to cover the highlights in one section. So here they are!
Melissa eating a bag of chips and drinking a soda at 6:45 a.m. on the morning of the final.
More on this in a second.
Cory’s decision to pick up the skis.
Usually, swimming is the thing that competitors shockingly don’t know how to do in a final. This year, it was cross-country skiing. Lotta asses gonna be bruised after this:
Cory, though—a man who grew up on the snowy tundra of Grand Rapids, Michigan—figured out immediately that carrying the skis through the course was a more efficient strategy, one that most everyone eventually adopted. If only he could figure out how to start a fire. (Or do math.)
When TJ drove by on a snowmobile.
Just a hilarious juxtaposition after watching people break their tailbones for hours on cross-country skis.
When Melissa quit.
So you’re telling me the soda and potato chips were not an effective pregame meal?!
Melissa was absolutely broken by the first stage of TJ’s final; she got smoked by everyone. And that quote above is a very good encapsulation of what happened: Some people go on The Challenge for the exposure or the experience, but the final is a truly grueling affair that demands supreme athletic ability, endurance, and willpower. Only certain people are cut out for it. But Melissa upset Nany in an elimination and snuck into the final, where she obviously realized that her goal was not to win, but to get off that mountain as quickly as possible.
With one more elimination set between Day One and Day Two of the final, Melissa gladly threw herself in. Then about five minutes later she was like, “Why would I even try to win this thing?” and DQ’ed herself instead. Kaycee’s slight smirk in reaction to this was perfect:
“You have seen the show before, right?” TJ asked her. But by that point Melissa was basically already headed back to warmer climes.
When Bayleigh quit.
Early into the first stage of the final, Bayleigh twisted her knee … and then spent the rest of the day telling everyone how messed up her knee was. To her credit, though, she didn’t bail—until it was announced that she’d be spending six hours of the night outside, in the freezing wilderness. Seconds after hearing that, Bayleigh was like, “Oh yeah, I definitely pulled my MCL and definitely need to go home ASAP.” (I’m not sure you can pull an MCL? But I totally get it.) Guess that $500,000 wedding ceremony will have to wait!
The final elimination, which was [checks notes] running and jumping and hitting a bell.
This was such a hilariously simple—but shockingly cruel—setup. It really doesn’t sound like much, but trying to run in deep snow is deceptively impossible, especially after spending a day climbing a mountain. For the final elimination, you’re expecting something truly badass; instead, we got to see Johnny and Rogan, dead tired, awkwardly flailing around at a bell suspended 8 feet in the air. I mean that in the best way possible.
When the final was decided by easy math.
For the last leg of the final, I was expecting something super tough—like a mind-bending puzzle or an absurd endurance competition. Instead, we got math. And not even calculus. Or trigonometry. More like simple, fourth-grade-level math:
Now yes, I will concede that doing math is probably harder while trying to run in the snow as fast as possible, and after spending two days in high altitude. But still, the equation never even demanded that they use PEMDAS! (That said, more than one person seriously struggled with this.) Considering the puzzles that past winners have had to complete—or, for that matter, the food some of them have had to digest—it’s hilarious that this season was partially decided by people being able to do simple multiplication and addition.
When Johnny and Jenny won.
From day one, Jenny was unstoppable. And in a season that heavily prioritized athletic ability over scheming, it’s not shocking that she won by a huge margin.
Johnny’s victory, on the other hand, is a bit surprising—even if he’s the most successful guy to ever compete on this show. He hadn’t won since Rivals III; six seasons had gone by without even a final appearance. His abilities seemed to be falling off, and the influx of new players made it harder for him to control the game’s politics. But this season was a master class of strategy and timely performance. Outnumbered by The Challenge’s new guard, he ingratiated himself to the right players and was consistently able to sway a house vote or finagle his way onto the tribunal. And he won when it counted—in an elimination versus Wes, and in this final. Over the last few years he became less of a threat, but he smartly used that to his advantage, lulling everyone else to sleep as he waltzed to the finish line. Now he joins Ashley Mitchell as the only Challengers in the Million Dollar Club. Repeating next year will be even harder than winning this one was.
A parting shot (literally).
I like to think this is what Michael Jordan said to Karl Malone in ’98.