After a war’s worth of explosions, enough tears to flood a frigate and a mountaintop sojourn that’d leave Edmund Hillary breathless, the Challenge Season 35 declared two brand-new winners on Wednesday’s Total Madness finale. But when you look back at the season as a whole, were the top man and top woman worthy of $500,000 each?
With nine people — five men and four women — left in the game, TJ Lavin welcomed the group to the base of a mountain to begin the game’s final race. He told Kyle, Fessy, Bananas, Cory, Rogan, Kaycee, Jenny, Melissa and Bayleigh that the journey ahead would find them climbing to nearly 10,000 feet altitudes across a 12-mile trek in freezing-cold temperatures.
One man and one woman would be deemed champions, he added, while the remaining seven players would go home with nothing. Kyle, for one, wasn’t thrilled with the prospect.
“We’re not only battling against each other in this final, we’re also battling the biggest element of all: snow,” he said. “This is going to be hell.”
And Kyle wasn’t wrong. To begin, TJ explained that each player would have to travel on cross-country skis between two checkpoints: They’d pick up a collection of logs at one and deposit them at the second. Once a player had moved 12 logs, he or she would spark a campfire that would illuminate a monument. Then players would race to the game’s next leg.
And though rookie Fessy had relatively little experience in the game, he — a former NFL prospect — shot out into the lead. Meanwhile, the group struggled to stay upright on their skis. At one point, Bayleigh was sure she’d torn a ligament in her knee, while Melissa became discouraged.
“I’m exhausted already — it’s so difficult getting up and down this mountain,” she said. “Everyone else is already miles ahead of me. I’m so tempted to jump off one of them cliffs.”
Melissa hung tough, though, placing fourth in the first part of the women’s leg behind Jenny, Kaycee, and Bayleigh.
On the men’s side, Kyle felt Melissa’s pain as the last man to complete the first checkpoint but only just missed out on passing fourth-place Rogan. Bananas stayed steady to secure a third-place standing, and though Fessy had begun as the one to beat, Cory dug deep and finished the game’s first leg in first place.
“Nobody wants this as bad as me, so now it’s time for me to prove it,” he said.
But the group still had miles to go before they slept — or, at least, one last elimination round. Because Cory and Jenny finished in first place for the day, TJ told them they’d constitute a final Tribunal that’d choose a man and a woman to square off against Melissa and Kyle, the group’s nominees for the final Purgatory matchup. The two men and two women would play two games of “Knock Out,” a race to ring a bell in the middle of a snow-covered path.
Jenny and Cory picked Kaycee and Bananas, respectively, as secondary Purgatory nominees, but ultimately, only the men would compete. Melissa, who felt her chances at first-place dwindling, decided to bow out of the competition and let the remaining three women duke it out.
“I’ve just got no chance against Jenny or Kaycee,” she said despondently. “They’re just so physically fit and strong, and I’m never going to win.”
And, it turned out, neither would Rogan. The reigning champ simply couldn’t get to the bell as quickly as Johnny in the elimination round and was bounced from the game.
“I lost to the GOAT, so it’s all good,” Rogan said.
But just as the cast prepared to hunker down for the night, the final mission claimed a third casualty. Bayleigh, whose knee had been worsening, finally said the pain was too much to bear and bowed out.
After a night of sleep, TJ informed the group that only one leg and one checkpoint puzzle stood between the remaining six cast members — four men and two women — and the big money.
In the thick of a snowstorm, players would have to follow a trail across a glacier to a final finish line. Along the way, they’d have to solve a math equation with different segments scattered across a snow drift, and the first man and woman to finish would finally be named ultimate Total Madness winners.
And while Cory and Jenny got the advantage of a head start for their Day One performances, Fessy once again usurped the lead, solving the math equation first. Bananas was close behind, though, and when Jenny and Kyle also finished the puzzle before Cory, the Real World: Ex-Plosion export began to watch his chances at his first Challenge win slip away.
Kaycee, too, struggled to get her numbers right and ultimately got the signal to proceed only after exhausting a time limit.
“I’m so disappointed with myself,” she said, “but I have to keep going.”
But where, exactly, the finalists were going was tough to tell. In increasingly whiteout conditions, Jenny, Bananas, Fessy and Kyle continued to pass each other as the finish line finally came in to view.
And for Bananas, who sought his seventh win as part of his 20th Challenge season, there was more than money on the line.
“This has been my first final in six seasons,” he said. “Ever since I made my controversial decision to steal money from Sarah [on Rivals III], there’s been this curse hanging over my head that I have not been able to get rid of. This is my entire legacy on the line."
But where legacies were concerned, it was Jenny who’d set a brand-new one into motion. With a few final steps, she became the first person to claim her $500,000 prize. Not only had she beaten Kaycee, she’d beaten every remaining man in the game too, a feat only Cara Maria on Vendettas and Rachel on Duel II had previously managed as solo woman winners.
“I’ve won?” Jenny shouted, incredulous. “F*ck off!...I’ve only ever won two pounds in Vegas!”
And for the first time in seven seasons, Bananas managed a lucky day too, eventually coming out on top.
“Crossing this finish line, it’s just complete and utter disbelief,” he said. “I never thought I would see my seventh win. This means more to me than my other six wins combined.”
But did Bananas’ and Jenny’s wins move you too? Were you rooting for them or other Challenge finalists? Share your thoughts, and if you’ve got a favorite moment from the season, be sure to leave it in the comments.