The Challenge: All Stars 2 recap: And the winners are ...
Another season of The Challenge: All Stars is in the books and based on how grueling it looked, the All Stars 2 final was actually harder to complete than the Spies, Lies, and Allies final. So trust me when I say I could not be more proud of who crossed the finish line first. The two new champions more than deserve that title — despite what the editing may make you believe. (For more information on that, check out what the winners told EW about what you didn't see in the episode and how a few production errors almost cost them the win.) Let's recap!
Night one of All Stars 2 final begins immediately after last week's elimination. On a candlelit beach, TJ reveals it starts with a classic overnight endurance challenge, where one partner can sleep in a hammock while the other has to stand on a log by the fire. We've seen this multiple times and it always leads to some hilariously delirious conversations, but this is the first time it's the kickoff to the final rather than after a day of grueling physical exertion. I'm intrigued to see how this changes things by making the players start off the final already exhausted.
It's interesting to see how these older adults, most of whom are parents who are used to staying up all night in real life, handle an overnight challenge compared to the younger competitors on the flagship series. Janelle reveals she's given birth to two babies prematurely and spent weeks not sleeping while they were in the NICU, so 12 hours on a log sounds like a cakewalk to her.
The four women start off on the log while the four men get in the hammocks to catch some Z's. MJ falls asleep and starts snoring immediately, and then the skies open up with a thunderstorm to really make it even more difficult to get any sleep. Teck is the first to swap with Ayanna, and thus begins a long night of swapping back and forth between the hammocks and logs. TJ returns at sunrise with everyone's uniforms and helmets, and they all have a couple of minutes to prepare for the next leg.
Everyone's tired, sore, damp from the rain, but they're all ready to begin the race. TJ says the final has two phases, and phase one is a long run from the beach to the "nucleus" which will have instructions for three checkpoints located in different sections of the jungle. They can choose the order of the checkpoints they complete, but they must eventually complete them all to advance to phase two — and the last place team will be purged by the end of phase one. I've got my money on Teck and Ayanna getting purged but you never know what can happen in a final.
TJ brings a horn out from behind his back, hits the button, and everyone races off. They're all keeping pace with each other in the beginning, but Nehemiah and Melinda veer off course and end up on a path to a checkpoint rather than the nucleus while Teck and Ayanna are the first to arrive at the nucleus. They choose the checkpoint where they ride bikes that are tethered together back and forth, collecting puzzle pieces one at a time. Once they collect all the pieces, they assemble the puzzle to move on. Darrell and Janelle are next to arrive and they also choose the bikes.
Meanwhile, Nehemiah and Melinda are winded as they continue on into a cave and Melinda knows they're wasting time but doesn't think to go back until they're basically at the checkpoint. Now they're really behind, more exhausted and frustrated, knowing they're in last place, while Jonna and MJ think they're in last place but are really in third as they reach the nucleus. MJ and Jonna choose the checkpoint that takes them to the cave where Nehemiah and Melinda accidentally found, and they must use flashlights to illuminate symbols and numbers, memorize what they see, and then use what they remember to decode a phrase back at the nucleus to move on.
MJ and Jonna pass Nehemiah and Melinda on the way to the cave, and Nehemiah and Melinda finally reach the nucleus. They choose the red checkpoint where they must run to a giant puzzle key, memorize where pairs are located, return back to the nucleus, and replicate where the pairs are on a giant board. If they get any wrong, they have to return to the key and try again, and each leg is multiple miles.
MJ and Jonna are shocked to see how many symbols are hidden throughout the cave, and that they have to memorize them all. But they get to work, deciding to tackle it in smaller sections and do the run multiple times. Meanwhile, Teck and Ayanna are overwhelmed with now many miles they have to ride back and forth on the bikes, so they decide to walk it. And when they pass Darrell and Janelle on the path, Ayanna doesn't move so it forces Janelle to ride her bike into Darrell's. "She is guerilla warfare, she knows what she's doing," Darrell says.
Nehemiah and Melinda make it to their puzzle key and back to the nucleus and get some pairs but make a mistake, forcing them to go back. Janelle and Darrell catch up to Teck and Ayanna, but Ayanna doesn't let them get in front of her on the path even though they're moving faster. Darrell starts yelling at Ayanna, warning them he's going to run into them like Ayanna did earlier, while Ayanna just keeps mumbling to herself that if they want to get in front of her, they have to "earn it."
At the nucleus, Jonna figures out the key to the decoder wheel is the dots, which helps them crack the code on their first run. They finish the checkpoint and take first place. They move on to the bike checkpoint. Meanwhile, Nehemiah and Melinda make another mistake and have to run the path again. They're starting to feel the pressure now, while Janelle is feeling the burn from all the miles they've had to bike back and forth.
Nehemiah and Melinda finally finish the memory checkpoint and move on to the cave they've already been to. At this point, it's clear that the bike checkpoint is the longest/most exhausting, and the fact that Nehemiah and Melinda are the only team that's going to do it last is not a good sign for them.
MJ is starting to buckle under the heat, and he's only on his first leg of the bike checkpoint. It's too early to be gassing out! And then on one of the runs, Melinda falls and screams — she twisted her ankle and is clearly in a lot of pain. She starts to freak out but Nehemiah knows he has to remain calm and even offers to carry her on his back. But she draws on the strength she found throughout the past year when she lost her child and pushes on, and I'm so impressed and moved to see her power through like this.
Then Ayanna starts to break down and cry while on the second to last bike ride of the first checkpoint and she yells at Teck that she's about to pass out. He's worried that she's about to quit but she continues. Darrell and Janelle "earn" their way past Teck and Ayanna, finishing the bike ride and solving their puzzle. They move onto the cave next, but Darrell accidentally follows the wrong path to the memory answer key. He's confused as to why his flashlight isn't working and realizes they're at the wrong place.
Nehemiah is impressed with how Melinda keeps running on her twisted ankle without complaint, and they decode the phrase and are the first team to finish two checkpoints. But again, they left the longest one for last. They decide to walk the bikes to give Melinda's ankle more of a rest.
Darrell and Janelle get back to the nucleus, figure out their mistake, but decide to continue on with the memory checkpoint since they basically already started it. And finally, Teck and Ayanna finish their first checkpoint and realize they're in last place. They move on to the cave but Ayanna is feeling defeated.
MJ and Jonna finish the bike checkpoint and move on to their final checkpoint — the memory key — while Teck and Ayanna get into a fight in the cave because he wants to try and find a way to write down what they have to memorize and Ayanna says that's against the rules. So Teck decides he's "going to let" Ayanna "handle this one," and leaves the cave while Ayanna works on memorizing.
Back at the nucleus, Janelle basically crushes the memory checkpoint all on her own and I am impressed. Darrell sat back while she revealed all the pairs, and it looks like she did it all in one go. That helped them decrease the lead Nehemiah/Melinda and MJ/Jonna had on them, and the race for first is officially on. And at this point, I'll be shocked if any other teams fall in last place behind Teck and Ayanna. They are the only team to have to run back to the cave a second time to decode the phrase — they probably could have solved it in one go if Teck had helped Ayanna. But I also cannot imagine what it was like for him having to work with Ayanna this entire time.
Darrell and Janelle finally make it to the cave for their last checkpoint, while Jonna and MJ make a mistake on their memory board and have to run back to the key. Jonna worries that this one mistake will cost them the game and she's pissed at herself. Darrell and Janelle start to panic, not understanding how to decode their phrase, while Nehemiah and Melinda arrive at the nucleus, having completed their final bike ride. So it's actually a real race now between the top three teams, with Darrell/Janelle and Nehemiah/Melinda vying for first.
But Nehemiah and Melinda, against all odds and injury, solve their puzzle and finish phase one in first place. Darrell is pissed, especially since he finally decodes the phrase and finishes phase one right after them.
Teck and Ayanna finally decode their phrase and finish their second checkpoint, so they move on to begin the memory checkpoint — a.k.a. the one that MJ and Jonna are already halfway through. Jonna is frustrated that she's now fighting for third place rather than first and is feeling defeated, so she and MJ start bickering. She says she wants to quit because she doesn't care anymore. But Ayanna is so exhausted that she also wants to quit. The heat and exhaustion are getting to both of these teams.
MJ gives Jonna a hug and makes her stop and take a second to rest and calm down. And after she takes that second to just breathe, she knows she can't quit, and she finds her second wind. But back at the nucleus, Ayanna doesn't find that same winning spirit. She tells TJ she's quitting because she thinks if she takes one more step, her toes will fall off. So TJ blows the horn and eliminates Ayanna, which eliminates Teck as well.
I'm so disappointed for Teck, but there was no way they were going to catch up to MJ and Jonna at this point so they'd likely be purged anyway. But to be eliminated because your partner quit on you? That's the most brutal way to lose a final. And this is not the energy I saw from Ayanna in that first elimination (and every other elimination after that). She's all over the place when it comes to competing on The Challenge — she's been an entertaining presence this season and an elimination beast, but quitting in a final is unforgivable, especially when you have a partner or team that will suffer the consequences. If Brad and Jodi were in the final, they would have never quit.
Because Ayanna and Teck quit, that means MJ and Jonna don't even have to complete the third checkpoint, I guess? I'm kind of shocked they weren't forced to still finish the memory board regardless. But they move on to phase two with the other teams.
Phase two begins … and it's eating! But this is no ordinary Mexican food feast — the tostada is made out of fish eyes, the burrito is stuffed with crickets, and the nachos are topped with roaches, with a large glass of blood to wash it down. After they stuff down all the food, they will then race to the end of a runway to solve multiple equations to get multiple numbers. They must then memorize the numbers, race to a safe, and use those numbers as the combination to unlock the safe. The first team to unlock their safe wins. So the order in which they finished the first phase doesn't matter! This evens the playing field for everyone.
Everyone starts chowing down on the food and Darrell is going mind over matter, thinking the crickets are just crunchy beans, and averting his eyes from the food while he eats. Meanwhile, Melinda is puking up the burrito and picking up the chunks she puked out and eats it again. Nehemiah is proud while I'm trying not to gag myself! MJ is projectile vomiting on his own partner and she's yelling at him to keep going. Out of the two of them, I did not expect Jonna to be the stronger one in this leg!
Darrell and Janelle are the first ones to finish eating so they race off, much to the shock and despair of everyone else. But MJ and Jonna are not far behind, finishing their food and running after Darell and Janelle. Darrell doesn't really understand the equations but Janelle is figuring it out quickly. Melinda and Nehemiah finally finish eating and continue on but she's struggling with her twisted ankle. Jonna starts cracking the code while Melinda and Nehemiah don't even know where to start.
Darrell and Janelle think they've solved it and race towards the safe, and MJ and Jonna are hot on their heels. Now it all comes down to who actually solved it or remembers the numbers better than the other team, and it looks like Nehemiah and Melinda are locked out of this but they eventually race towards the safe as well.
All the teams are at the safes, trying to use their combinations to unlock it, and Darrell and Janelle realize they once again didn't fully read the directions on how to correctly rotate the lock. And then Jonna and MJ realize the same thing. After reading the directions, both teams try again. And it's MJ and Jonna who get theirs open first! They put all the money into their bag and race to the plane, securing their first-place finish. Darrell and Janelle congratulate them as they run off while Melinda starts crying as she and Nehemiah realize they lost.
This means Jonna just won her first Challenge! And MJ won his second. This epic cover of Smash Mouth's "All Star" is giving me chills as they run up the stairs into the private plane where TJ is waiting, and he tells them with a smile that they just won The Challenge: All Stars 2. Jonna is practically in tears and thinking of her journey, I'm right there with her. During her run on the flagship show, she was always an impressive underdog but never had a solid partner who was a good competitor who also supported her, and seeing her finally have that experience with MJ is incredible. Meanwhile she proved she's a strong competitor in her own right last season on All Stars, finishing the final so close to first place by herself. She's a big social and political player and now she's got a championship to back that up. And we always knew MJ was a strong champ and now he's got another title in his pocket. What an amazing end to the season.
And just when you think it's over, there's more — TJ slowly walks through the empty All Stars house and with a "coming soon" banner, meaning All Stars 3 is heading our way. Let's go!
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