Who was sent home and who took home the ultimate prize in the season finale, "Home of the Brave?"

With the last two episodes of The Challenge: USA combined into one supersized finale, there's a lot to unpack. And since this final made Challenge history for, well, some not-so-great reasons, let's not waste any time and just get right into recapping it all!

At the start of the episode, Tyson, Dom, Danny, Ben, and Enzo have locked in their spots in the final, but with six women still left, that means one still has to be eliminated. Everyone is thrown for a loop when they're told they need to get ready for a challenge... tonight. It's the first nighttime challenge of the season and no one knew it was coming — except for me, because I was on set for this episode!

Credit: Jonne Roriz/CBS

The Challenge: Getting Tired

What a perfect time for a mini-final! Players start on the shore, jump in the water, and swim 500 meters across the lake. Once they climb out of the lake using a rope, they run into a creepy abandoned military complex and search for tires and tokens. Different colored tires have different point values, and the red and pink are worth the most points, so there are puzzles to solve to get them free. Players can only retrieve one tire or token per trip (and each trip back is over 1 kilometer), and can make as many trips as possible during the two-hour time limit. Whoever has the most points at the end of the two hours wins.

The horn blows and Tyson of course makes it to shore first. Cayla struggles with climbing the rope to get on shore, but Sarah pulls a Landon Lueck and pushes her butt up using her head. Now that's a classic Challenge move! The competitors start grabbing tires and working on puzzles, and several make it back with their first tires while Tyson and Angela are still working on the slide puzzles, since those two tires are worth the most. Tyson finally finishes, and tells Angela use his as a guide when she keeps falling more and more behind.

Credit: Jonne Roriz/CBS

But Angela is still stuck even as others continue getting lower-point tires. Tyson makes another lap and gives her more encouragement that if she can solve this puzzle, she'll still be in the lead. But the other women slowly start to surpass 20 points, and Angela starts to panic.

Halfway through the challenge, Dom and Tyson pull ahead into the lead and start battling for first place for the men. But then Justine and Ben find hidden orange tires that are actually worth more than yellows. And with only 30 minutes remaining, Angela... is still not done with the slide puzzle. Yikes. This is starting to get bleak for her — despite how well she's done in every daily challenge, this mini-final is more indicative of what players can expect in the actual final. If she can't solve a slide puzzle in an hour and a half, she might not be the threat she's seemed to be all season.

Credit: Jonne Roriz/CBS

Finally, finally, finally, right before the challenge ends, Angela finishes the slide puzzle and gets 20 points. But there's only 15 minutes left, and there's barely any tires left to be claimed — except for where Ben keeps finding hidden high-point tires in places no one else thought to look. He's so excited when he's running back after solving a tangram puzzle that he trips and falls on an elevated concrete surface and lands on his shoulder wrong, but he continues on.

Tyson soon realizes that Ben and Dom keep finding more high-point tires, even though he thought there weren't any left, and he gets frustrated that he can only find tokens now even though he's made more trips than anyone. Angela manages to get a second trip completed with a blue tire, but on her third trip, the clock runs out and TJ blows the horn.

TJ reveals that Tyson and Dom tied for first place — but there's no tiebreaker. Seriously?! That makes no sense, especially since The Challenge has set the precedent for tiebreakers in many previous seasons. Tyson is pissed that he didn't get first on his own, but Dom is feeling energized that he was able to tie with Tyson on an endurance challenge. For the women, Sarah won — it's her first individual win ever, after all three seasons of Survivor and all this season of The Challenge, so she's feeling great.

And of course, due to her slide puzzle failure, Angela came in last for the women, so she's going straight into elimination. Right before the final! That is a twist no one saw coming. Angela is feeling confident that with Tyson (and Dom) in the winners circle, he'll make sure she gets the opponent she wants. But Sarah's also making that decision, so Angela shouldn't feel too comfortable.

Credit: Jonne Roriz/CBS


Walking into the Arena for the final elimination, there's a circle in the sand with nothing else there, so we all know what's coming: Pole Wrestle. TJ finally confirms this is the last elimination, and it's ironic that Angela, who's been dominating all season, landed herself in this battle. She walks in, barely breaking a sweat.

For the vote, Tyson votes for Cayla. Fun fact: while I was sitting with the producers watching this vote unfold, they were all betting on who Sarah was going to vote for... because she had actually been considering throwing herself into elimination against Angela. She was thinking of maybe taking out her biggest competition before the final even began, but ultimately decided it was too big of a risk, so she went with Alyssa instead. Dom gets the deciding vote, and he sides with Sarah and votes for Alyssa, officially sending her in against her BFF Angela.

Elimination challenge: Pole Wrestle. Another Challenge classic headbanger, first player to wrestle the pole away from their opponent two out of three times wins. With Angela's size and strength, this one's in the bag for her. Honestly, as I was watching this elimination be set up, I knew not to expect it to go down in Challenge history as an epic battle. The best hope was that Alyssa holds on long enough just to simply make it a battle.

Credit: Jonne Roriz/CBS

Looking at that pole, it appears to be a lot wider and thicker than normal, and as a result, Alyssa could barely get her fingers around it. Without a tight grip, this is even harder for her. But she gives a great fight as Angela throws her around in the sand. Angela ultimately gets the first point, and as the second round begins, all the other women on the sidelines are praying for a miracle because they don't want to see Angela in the final. But unfortunately for them (and Alyssa), Angela gets the second point and wins.

The ice queen finally cracks, and Angela breaks down in tears — for the second time in this episode, after an earlier phone call with her Big Brother fiancé — as she immediately pulls Alyssa off the ground to hug her and apologize for sending her home. Alyssa ends up consoling Angela in a weird dynamic shift, and walks out of the arena with a smile on her face. TJ gives Angela more s--- to try and get her to cry again, but also reveals she now has the most money in her bank account after taking Alyssa's cash.

Now everyone knows they're in the final, and they're all celebrating ... but they also know they're in for a world of hurt in the actual final. And Ben's already hurting from his fall during the mini-fall, so he gets his shoulder checked out to make sure he's all good to compete. Tyson and Angela think they're the favorites to win, but Sarah thinks she has what it takes to beat everyone. The next day, everyone packs up and leaves the compound to fly out to the mountains in Patagonia to start the race.

Credit: Jonne Roriz/CBS

The Final

As soon as the players line up at the start of the final, TJ drops a massive bomb: Ben's shoulder was not cleared by medical to continue competing, so he's DQed before it even begins. Whoa. That's a brutal hand to be dealt, and to wait to reveal it at the starting line of the final makes it even more tragic. Ben's got tears in his eyes as he walks off, and now only nine players are running the final.

But there's no time to wallow! TJ points out the finish line at the top of a mountain in the distance, and reveals the only way to keep all their individual bank account totals is to finish. And since the final is run in pairs, TJ brings back the beloved (hated) Algorithm to determine the partners for every leg. Everyone will get partnered with everyone, and no one will get the same teammate twice. If someone quits, their partner is DQed with them. But what about the uneven number of men and women now that Ben's gone? David's not coming back (could you imagine?!) so instead, every woman will end up running a leg of the final on their own. I have a feeling the way these pairs and solo legs shake out is going to determine the whole outcome of this final, which really sucks.

The first teams are: Danny and Cayla; Dom and Angela; Tyson and Justine; Enzo and Desi; with Sarah on her own. The first stage is a 500-meter swim and to solve a puzzle. The order in which teams finish each checkpoint gives them points, and the man and woman with the most points at the very end will be the ultimate winners — so it's not just a simple race.

Tyson and Justine reach shore first (of course), with Angela and Dom next. Angela is dismayed to see the first checkpoint is a slide puzzle (yikes) but at least she's got Dom with her this time. Sarah reaches shore third, Danny and Cayla arrive next, and Desi tries to help Enzo swim but he starts to panic and shout "help!" He doesn't even let her help him, shouting "get away!" and just quits immediately. Desi is frantically trying to convince him to keep going, but he doesn't even want to try. They get brought onto a safety boat and are officially DQed — and seeing how close they were to shore, it's heartbreaking to see Desi's game end like this. I will never forgive Enzo for ruining Desi's chances in this final because she had a real shot at winning and didn't even get to try. She breaks down in tears on shore while Enzo keeps apologizing, but she doesn't want to hear it. I wouldn't, either.

Credit: Jonne Roriz/CBS

Danny and Cayla finish their slide puzzle first, getting five points each. Sarah finishes hers next. Tyson and Justine are third, and Dom and Angela are fourth. The next checkpoint teams are: Danny and Angela; Tyson and Sarah; Dom and Justine; with Cayla on her own. They all race off on a trail, and Tyson is the first to arrive at the first stage of this checkpoint. He's horrified to see that it's an eating challenge: all teams must finish everything on their plates before continuing, so they have to force down an entire raw onion, a bunch of cloves of raw garlic, and a water bottle full of lemon juice each. Spicy.

As a vegan chef, Angela's like, "this is fine," and cuts up the onion and garlic and pours the lemon juice on top to cut down the acidity like she's at a fancy restaurant. Everyone else is eating the onion like an apple. Sarah's the first to spew vomit, with Danny not far behind. Pretty soon, everyone is puking everywhere, and the cacophony of vomit noises is, I hate to admit, yet another classic Challenge staple.

Danny finishes his plate first with Angela finishing next, so they continue on. Tyson has to wait for Sarah to finish, as Dom and Justine finish next. Sarah finally finishes so Tyson can move on, and Cayla starts to panic as she's the last one eating.

Danny and Angela continue on to see that they have to memorize and solve an equation written on a series of barrels spaced out along the trail. They're the first to finish the second checkpoint, solidifying Danny's lead and helping Angela climb up from last place.

Tyson and Sarah are the second to finish the checkpoint, followed by Justine and Dom and Cayla, who finally finished the eating stage, earning some cheers from her peers.

Credit: Jonne Roriz/CBS

After two checkpoints, Danny and Sarah are in the lead with 10 and eight points respectively; Tyson, Angela, and Cayla all have seven; Justine has six; and Dom has five. The third pairings are: Dom and Cayla; Angela and Tyson; Sarah and Danny; with Justine solo. They each have to remember a long series of numbers and carry a decoder wheel to the next stage, using the wheel and the numbers they memorized to solve a code. If they can't remember the numbers, they have to run back and memorize the numbers again. Justine is at a real disadvantage here, having to memorize 10 double-digit numbers while everyone else splits those up into two groups of five.

Tyson and Angela are the first to arrive at the decoder stage, with Danny and Sarah not far behind. Dom and Cayla arrive next, but Tyson and Angela solve their code first. Sarah and Danny finish in second place, and Cayla and Dom finish third. Justine finally arrives at the checkpoint but is told that she's timed out, so she didn't even have to memorize any of the numbers. At least she gets to continue on without wasting energy and time!

At this point, Danny is still in first place with 14 points; Sarah, Tyson, and Angela all have 12; Cayla has 10; and Dom and Justine have eight. The new pairings are: Danny and Justine; Tyson and Cayla; Dom and Sarah; and Angela on her own. This one is overnight, and one partner can rest while the other uses a wheelbarrow to move a large pile of dirt to another area. This is straight from Rivals, and Angela has a huge disadvantage here — she might not get any sleep, which could ruin her chances at winning in day two. So she decides to accept last place "timing out" like Justine did in favor of getting some rest.

In the morning, TJ arrives and asks Angela what happened. She explains her "strategy" of getting rest instead of completing the checkpoint... but it turns out that it was actually giving up. TJ says she's done, and she's officially DQed.

Credit: Jonne Roriz/CBS

Now let's be clear: I don't disagree with this ruling, because Angela did give up on an entire checkpoint. But the rules were murky in the moment for her, and it was a mistake that a producer or TJ didn't say anything to Angela that night to warn her that if she gave up, that's officially quitting. Justine was in last place and was told to not even attempt to solve her code in the leg before this, so Angela was working on the assumption she would also "time out" in last place since the precedent was set. I have a feeling that if she knew it would turn out this way, she would have continued on. It was a bad judgement call on her end to quit the checkpoint, of course, but her DQ could have been avoided through production, too. It sucks to see her game end this way and I've got mixed feelings about who to blame.

It's an individual game now: no more Algorithm, no more teams, just one race 10 miles up a mountain, with a few checkpoints along the way. The order in which they finish is double points for this leg.

Tyson's barely struggling six miles in, even as the rain turns to sleet and snow. Danny is pushing forward on pure will alone, and he doesn't know how he's going to catch Tyson. Tyson makes it to the second checkpoint — a sudoku puzzle — and Danny catches up. He's excited to see a sudoku puzzle because that's exactly what he trained to do before Survivor. Tyson's fingers are shaking from the cold, and he's shocked when Danny finishes the sudoku first and moves on. At this point, others have arrived as well, and Dom declares, "This is not doable." Tyson agrees when he realizes his puzzle is wrong with only two pieces left, meaning he has to start over. "F--- this s---," he says. "The Challenge is crazy. I've had enough."

Out of everyone who started this season, Tyson is the last person I would expect to quit, especially on a puzzle. And Tyson and Dom have endured much worse weather for much longer on Survivor, so I never thought the conditions on The Challenge would be too much for them! But here they are, throwing temper tantrums like rookies who are in over their heads. Tyson, Dom, and Justine officially quit the final as Cayla arrives to start on the sudoku. She actually loves sudoku and is somehow now the clear favorite to win for the women, but she eventually quits when she can't feel her fingers anymore. What a disappointment.

Credit: Jonne Roriz/CBS

Back at the first checkpoint, Sarah takes a break, huddling under trees from the rain, but she refuses to quit. She's now the only woman left in the game, so all she has to do is finish — but she has no idea that everyone else quit, so if she gives up too, what happens? We've never seen a final where everyone quits.

At the top of the mountain, Danny finally reaches the flag at the finish line and collapses, realizing that he just won. He has no idea that every other guy behind him quit, but that doesn't take away from what he just accomplished. He absolutely smashed this entire final from beginning to end, and he deserves this win, no asterisk next to it. He's a Challenge champion!

Sarah finally arrives at the sudoku and actually solves it. She continues on, thinking she has no chance to win, but just has the goal to finish and not quit. She makes it to the top and touches the flag, but she's not celebrating. She knows she was in last place and doesn't see anyone else at the top, so she thinks she finished far behind everyone else. She's "defeated and devastated." She literally has no idea she won.

It's not until the weather clears up and she reunites with Danny that she learns that they were the only two to finish. For the first time in Challenge history, everyone quit except the winners. That is absolutely wild. I really expected more from almost every other player. This also means Danny and Sarah get to split everyone else's bank accounts, making their total winnings $245,500 for Danny and $254,50 for Sarah.

And with that, the first season of The Challenge: USA has come to a close. Two new Challenge champs have been crowned, and a record has been set for the number of DQs in a final — not at all how I saw this season ending up!

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