Hero To Zero: Challenge Front Runners Who Were Eliminated At the Last Second

Paulie’s just the latest seemingly sure thing who barely missed the big prize

In the Challenge world, underdogs can come out on top — but, inversely, likely champions can also choke at the last second and get their asses sent home.

On the latest installment of War of the Worlds, the episode that finally named the official collection of finalists, TJ told the remaining 10 competitors that the penultimate mission — “Judgment Day” — would be a sudden-death elimination. In other words, the last-place man and last-place woman would both be eliminated from the game, no Killing Floor, no questions asked.

And while anything can — and has — happened on the series, a betting man would have likely said that Paulie, who’d been killing the competition all season (his five wins only trailed Wes’ six), would take one of final men’s spots. But Paulie drew the short straw and had to traverse the day’s high-flying obstacle course first, without any frame of reference.

And, man, did that throw him off.

Though Paulie tore through the game’s first leg, he struggled to find his footing on an obstacle that challenged players to swing from one suspended storage locker to another. Ultimately, he couldn’t finish the whole challenge within the allotted time, and, one by one, the game’s other men — who each saw where Paulie had failed — corrected his errors and passed him by.

Finally, when all was said and done, Paulie went down in flames and became the game’s final male casualty. Still, he certainly wasn’t the first sure thing to fall from grace. Below, we’ve collected all the players who were favorites to win their respective seasons but were eliminated at the last second instead. Check 'em out, tell us if there are any that are particularly memorable and be sure to keep watching War of the Worlds to see who takes home the grand prize!

  1. Laurel, Invasion of the Champions

    Like Landon, Laurel has only ever been eliminated from a game once, and it happened when viewers least expected it. Though she barely broke a sweat eliminating Cara Maria from the Champions team on Invasion, the playing field was leveled when she squared off against Camila in the strategy-heavy “Knot So Fast.” Camila, who entered the game with what seemed to be a clearer plan, totally upset Laurel and sent the Challenge legend packing. And watching Laurel lose for the first and only time was like watching [redacted] go down in Avengers: Endgame.

  2. Nany and Bananas, Exes II

    It was the betrayal that started one of the most enduring rivalries in Challenge history — with only four teams remaining on Exes II, and Leroy and Nia already sentenced to the final elimination round, “Don’t Let Me Down” winners Jordan and Sarah had to choose either Bananas/Nany or Jay/Jenna to round out the last Dome matchup. Though Bananas and Sarah were pals, Sarah ultimately decided that she had the best chance of winning with Bananas out of the picture, so she sent him and Nany into The Dome. And though Bananas and Nany had fought their way back into the game from Ex-ile with some impressive losers’ bracket wins, Leroy and Nia sent 'em home just before the game’s last leg.

  3. Derrick, Gauntlet II

    If anyone’s known for his heart across The Challenge circuit, it’s Road Rules: X-Treme cast member Derrick, who put up a particularly strong showing on Gauntlet II. As captain of his team, Derrick — who was forced into The Gauntlet any time his team lost — sent home a number of men who were twice his size (or, in Syrus’ case, maybe three times as big). Still, Derrick encountered a bit of bad luck at the last second when he found himself facing off against Timmy in “Reverse Tug of War.” As much as he tried, his size finally got the best of him, and Timmy sent him packing.

  4. CT, The Duel

    It’s tough to nail down CT’s strongest Challenge showing — he’s been playing the game since 2004 and has become the stuff of series legend. But he was especially favored to win The Duel, during which he won three missions and an elimination round. Still, when Wes became the first man to secure a spot in the final round, and CT was forced to square off against Brad in “Push Me,” the Real World: Paris export got a little too pumped up and disqualified himself by ripping — instead of unhooking — a flag from its latch. It was the same way Beth had been eliminated from the game, and CT was none too pleased when the final verdict was revealed.

  5. Darrell, Invasion of the Champions

    Invasion of the Champions featured some of the game’s heaviest hitters, but even the likes of Zach and Johnny Bananas couldn’t stack up to Darrell, one of the game’s most feared players (he went four-for-four to start out his Challenge career). When it came down to a final elimination round on the Champions side, though, Darrell was outmaneuvered by CT in the strategy game “Knot So Fast,” and even though he’d single-handedly eliminated half of his team, it was he who’d have to suffer the game’s final loss.

  6. Landon, Duel II

    If there’s one particularly painful blemish on the Challenge scorecard, it’s Landon’s 11th-hour loss against Brad in The Duel. Landon, who’d won his first two Challenge seasons handily, seemed very much poised to win his third on Duel II, during which he won FIVE missions (the next most-winning guys had earned only two victories each). At the last second, though, Brad, Mark and Evan conspired to throw Landon into the final elimination round, and thanks to Brad’s sneaky move in “Back Off,” Landon suffered his first and only elimination in four seasons (though he won his third Challenge Fresh Meat II — not long after).

  7. Bananas and Tony, Final Reckoning

    In a season that featured a constant revolving door of cast members (only one of the four finalist teams — Joss and Sylvia — competed in every mission), Bananas and Tony were nevertheless favored to win. And though Tony and Bananas had come back from the Redemption House after being eliminated by Joss and Sylvia, they were once again cut down — for good, this time — after an incredible Armageddon showing by Natalie.

  8. Derrick and Diem, Fresh Meat

    Team Blue came out swinging in the final leg of Fresh Meat, winning three missions in a row leading up to the finale. Unfortunately, when it came down to four teams and only three spots for finalists, Tina and Kenny earned an unlikely win and sent the season’s two strongest teams — Derrick/Diem and Darrell/Aviv — into Exile against each other. D&D, sadly, did not come back.