In truly epic Challenge fashion, the two brand-new All Stars winners signaled their victory like no other champions before them: aboard a luxury jet that tore off into the night. But which of the eight finalists snatched the crown away from reigning All Stars king Yes and became $500,000 richer?
Well, whoever it was, they knew they’d be sleep-deprived. Immediately after Brad and Jodi’s shocking elimination from the game, TJ told the competition’s remaining four partnerships that the final would begin immediately. Players spent the night alternating between taking posts atop tree trunks and getting little sleep atop flimsy hammocks.
Melinda, who spent the first shift upright alongside Jonna, Ayanna and Janelle, could only marvel at the strength of the female finalists beside her.
“We’re all badass women,” she said. “We’re all moms and we’re like: You know what? We’re gonna do the hard part first.”
And Ayanna, for one, kept the badass approach in motion. TJ told the players at sunrise that only three teams would advance to the game’s second leg, and they’d have to first complete a series of three tasks to secure spots. One checkpoint challenged players to complete a puzzle while traveling back and forth on tandem bikes, another dared them to solve a puzzle with clues hidden inside a cave and a final mission boiled down to a memory brain teaser with a demoralizing run between the answer key and the game board.
“My life changed the day I said yes to this,” Ayanna said. “The last 17 years, I’ve been missing this aspect of who I am…I’ve had a chance to remember that I’m a full person.”
As the day dragged on, though, and temperatures began to exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit, several players toyed with the idea of quitting. And when Jonna got the sense that she and MJ would finish the first leg last — thereby ousting them from the game — she begged him to quit. But MJ, who knew Jonna had more to give, wouldn’t allow it.
“Redemption and perseverance — that’s what this whole Challenge is about,” MJ said.
And his encouragement proved to be worth it: MJ and Jonna took the third spot behind first-place team Nehemiah and Melinda and second-place team Janelle and Darrell after Ayanna was forced to withdraw from the game on account of fatigue.
Still, if Ayanna knew what was coming next, she’d have probably been content with her choice.
Once the three remaining teams arrived at a second location — a runway — TJ explained that to win the big money, the final six would have to complete a buffet of fish-eye tostadas, cricket burritos and cockroach nachos (with a goblet of blood to wash it all down). Only then could they sprint to the game’s final puzzle, which would unlock a safe containing the prize money.
And though they were nearly eliminated from the game only minutes earlier, Jonna and MJ, with one final push, completed their meal, tore open their safe and barreled toward the jet that signaled Jonna’s very first Challenge victory and MJ’s second.
“All I can think about is Jonna,” MJ said. “So much of it is emotional.”
For Darrell, watching the jet take off meant suffering yet another heartbreaker. “To lose again, two years in a row, is a hard pill to swallow,” he said.
Nehemiah and Melinda, friends of 15 years, saw their performance — contrastingly — as something encouraging. “Nehemiah, we have come such a long way since Real World: Austin,” Melinda said. “I would not have wanted to run this Final with anyone else.”
And Jonna, $250,000 richer, could only think one thing as the jet achieved liftoff: I finally did it. “I never thought this would happen,” she said. “Not very many people get the chance to say that they are the winner and they are the champion. But here we are.”
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