The Challenge: All Stars 2 winners reveal everything you didn't see in the grueling 2-day final
Warning: This article contains spoilers for the finale of The Challenge: All Stars 2.
The Challenge: All Stars 2 has crowned two new winners. At the end of the grueling two-day final,Jonna Mannion earned her first championship and her partner, M.J. Garrett, won his second, crossing the finish line with half a million dollars and earning a victory lap on a private plane with host T.J. Lavin.
"It's crazy because coming back for All Stars, the first season I just wanted to make a final because after doing five seasons I'd never been there," Mannion tells EW. "So now there was one thing left to do, and that's win, so it was a pretty big accomplishment. I'm so happy."
Garrett says winning was "awesome" but stresses how hard that final was, and Mannion agrees, adding, "It was even harder than it looked."
Below, the two winners break down just how difficult the final was and reveal everything you didn't see, including a few production errors that almost cost them the win.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was it like the moment you knew you won?
JONNA MANNION: It was pretty surreal. We were dying because a two-day race, being sleep-deprived, I mean they've never started a final at nighttime so we were so tired, but as soon as that safe opened I just had a huge smile on my face. I couldn't believe it. Once we were actually on the plane, it just all hit me.
MJ GARRETT: What they really don't show of that final run is truly how exhausted we were. You can kind of tell that we had been running all day and logged anywhere I think between 50 and 60 miles before that last little sprint.
MANNION: I wish they would have shown how far it was, because I have no idea how long it was but it was really long.
GARRETT: And I'm telling you, $500,000 weighs a lot. Jonna and I were literally having to hand the bag back and forth to one another just to make it down to the jet where T.J. was at. We were both cramping up, my legs were gone. Jonna had just been in a final the season before and had that experience, and I really think that's what helped us so much in this final. The season that I did win was so many years ago, 15 or 16 years ago, and it was more of a team final. I had never done one solo or with one other person. We were very, very fortunate that we worked well together and it just developed over the season.
MANNION: I remember I told you this is going to be the hardest thing you ever do in your life.
GARRETT: And I've done some hard stuff. I was a Division I athlete and played college football in the SEC, and I thought that I had put my body through just about the hardest training ever. But coming into this final and really the whole season, it's just next-level. It was truly All Stars s---.
You two were paired up for the very first challenge of the season, and you finished the season as a pair. How did you two bond and become closer as a result of sticking together all season?
GARRETT: It was pretty wild. Jonna and I did not even know that we both live in Nashville, and the first time that we ever met was actually getting on the airplane to fly to Mexico for filming. We recognized each other and introduced ourselves, and on that first flight we both made a pact right there. That was the first alliance that we both made.
MANNION: You literally said, "I'm just going to go ahead and say it: Don't vote me in and I won't vote for you." And I looked at you and I was like, "Well, I'm going to win." And you're like, "Well, I'm going to win." And I was like, "You can just let me win." And you're like, "Uh, well, no." We didn't know how the game was set up; the first season there was only one winner, so at this point we didn't know if there's going to be a male and female winner, or that we'd even end up being partners. It's pretty crazy to look back at that moment.
GARRETT: Everything just really lined up. I truly feel like it's destiny. We had just decided that we would try to work together. And there was one moment where we thought about switching up partners.
MANNION: It was the challenge where T.J. said the twist where we were permanently paired with that partner. We knew it was going to be some sort of water challenge, and I'm not the strongest swimmer and I kind of get nervous in water. But that day we did end up being partners, and it ended up obviously working out for the best.
GARRETT: That was the best decision that the two of us could have ever made. Where it really came together and I think there was some serious foreshadowing going on was in the mini-final because we smoked that. I'm not even going to act like it was even close. When you watch it, it looks like we won by a little bit, but we ended up winning that challenge by almost 30 or 45 minutes before anybody else had finished. And with the puzzle, we got it on the first go. And that's really when it clicked and we're like, "Damn, we really have a chance at this." And we just embraced it and knew that we had what it takes to at least be competitive in a final. I know that we both felt like we could win the final, but it was a long day.
MANNION: And there were really strong teams in the final. And we were working with the strongest teams too, so it was kind of a really ballsy thing to work with the strongest teams knowing you have to go against them in the final. In my mind that's not really a good idea, but it ended up working out.
GARRETT: And what was so cool, as much junk as I talked about the Kings Palace and everything, it was really neat to see how they had two teams in the final and then we were calling ourselves the Silent Six, we had two teams. Janelle coined that — it never came out on the show, but that's what she called us. But it was definitely a battle when we got there [to the final]. We weren't too silent about it, but we sure as hell weren't chanting and singing.
MANNION: But it's because of the Palace though, that last selection, Nehemiah ended up saving us. They don't really show the relationship that I had with Nehemiah the whole season, but we were on the opposite alliance, and then in the end he ends up not putting us in, which he very well could have.
GARRETT: And what they also don't show is there was a lot of bad blood between Nehemiah and I. As soon as we got done filming, I was thinking that's going to be a huge story line. They're going to show how we didn't agree on anything and how I wasn't fond of him and he wasn't fond of me. There were a lot of conversations that Jonna and I were having about that.
MANNION: Because I was right in the middle.
GARRETT: I kept asking her, "Why do you like this guy? He's so high, he's so low, he's so cocky, then the next day he's Mr. Zen."
MANNION: Because I've known him for like 11 years or something.
GARRETT: So there was a lot of tension going into that last selection process, and there was some serious political game going on that they really didn't show. What we were really trying to make clear is that if Darrell and Janelle made it to the final, they were going to have a lot better chance of winning because Darrell is one of the greatest to ever play the game and he's also known for making his partners even better than they really are. But thank goodness Jonna kept that relationship and never truly got her feelings hurt even when they didn't let her in the Palace that one night after they won. [Laughs] It was an amazing thing to watch the way that Jonna's political game really blossomed this season. She would scurry around that house and get so much information, but not in a sneaky way, just in a genuine and organic and natural way.
MANNION: For the first time I figured out how to be myself but still have it help me also in the game. I figured it out, guys!
GARRETT: What also helped us is we won one daily challenge and we never finished low, so we stayed right in the middle and never risked going straight into elimination. And people knew we were good, but no one knew just how good we really were.
MANNION: And if anybody saw the first season who was on season 2, I barely crossed the finish line. I was seven months postpartum and I had no idea how physically challenging a final would be. Also I had like two weeks' notice, so I couldn't prepare the first season. But I tell you, I came home [from season 1], rested for like a day or two, and then I was like, if they do another season I'm going to be ready. And so that's what I did. Between the gym and doing CrossFit and running every other day, I actually trained for this season.
GARRETT: The girl can run forever.
You've both been in finals before — Jonna as recent as last season — so how does this one compare to the ones you've done in the past?
GARRETT: The game has evolved so much since I was on it way back in the day. The finals back in the day were tough, but they were not quite as physically demanding or mentally demanding. What really differentiated this final from any of the ones I've been in or the ones I've seen in the past is the sleep deprivation the night before it started. We were up at 7:30 the morning of the last elimination, went through that whole day of stress and worry about are we going to be voted in and then we weren't, so then you're on this high, then you had the rest of the day and we had the final elimination. It was probably 11 o'clock or so when you see T.J. going, "The final begins now." You've been up since 7, if not earlier for some people, you've gone all through this emotional day, you get to the end of that, then T.J. says it and then all of a sudden they throw us in a van and drive us to the location and then we have to stay up all night. We were on the hammock or on that stump from about 12 in the morning until 9, whenever T.J. showed back up. We were already so exhausted mentally, physically.
MANNION: And then they're like, "Go ahead and do a 50-mile race. And don't eat any food."
GARRETT: They told us that we were going to have food during the final and we could have little snacks, but I know Jonna and I didn't. Until we had to eat that nasty food in the eating part of the final.
MANNION: I will say that the food part the first season was definitely harder because it was just pounds and pounds of animal parts. At least on season 2 it was kind of disguised in a burrito. I could pretend that it wasn't what it was. But in Argentina, it was freezing at nighttime and the weather was nice during the day, but in Mexico it was so humid and it had to be at least 100 degrees. We were dying. And then the sleep deprivation before and all of it, I think that season 2's final was harder overall. They only showed me being like, "I just want to quit, I hate this," once, but…
GARRETT: But you weren't going to quit.
MANNION: Yeah, I was at my wit's end. I was just talking s---. I was so mad.
GARRETT: I would have thrown you on my back and ran the rest of the final like that.
I was curious while watching: Did you two have to finish the last checkpoint after Teck and Ayanna quit, or did them quitting mean you automatically moved on?
GARRETT: That's a great question, and I'm so glad that you asked it because I'm sure people are going to be asking that a lot. Even the people that we ran the final against were very confused by it, and there was a little bit of animosity.
MANNION: There's still tension because of what actually happened. A couple of people on the other teams were like, "Jonna and M.J. didn't even really finish the memory portion, so they don't deserve to move on." Well, what they didn't see is that there was a production error, and that ended up costing us a lot of time while we were doing the memory portion. I don't know how much we're allowed to say about it.
GARRETT: We were one trip away from finishing the memory portion. Our last run, that's when the head producer came up and said, "You guys don't have to finish. Somebody has quit."
MANNION: They told us, "We're losing daylight. We have to go. You guys have to come back." We had already run into the jungle and they're like, "You have to come back. We're going to move on to the next part." I argued with him. I was like, "No, I'm going to finish, I'm not quitting, I will finish this puzzle if it's the death of me." They were like, "No." You can see it at the very end when we're on the airstrip, the sun is setting and they wanted us to get on the plane before it set. So to answer your question, we did not finish; we tried to finish the memory portion of it but we were not allowed to.
GARRETT: But we were about to finish. We were not running the risk of not being able to finish that phase. But Jonna and I both agree, we wish that they would have let us just finish it so there was nobody [complaining].
MANNION: They didn't see what happened and how everything got messed up with our time, so they just assumed that we didn't finish.
GARRETT: But let's just put that to bed.
How close was it at the end when you were opening up the safe? It looked like it could have been anyone's game in that moment.
MANNION: It's funny you say that.
GARRETT: Another great question, because it was not nearly as close as what it looked because Jonna and I actually finished the algebra portion faster than anybody else.
MANNION: We got to our safe first. It shows Darrell and Janelle getting there first but we actually did.
GARRETT: And this is where it got absolutely insane: We were trying to open it up and we knew that we had the three right numbers that we needed to open up the safe. We're trying to put them in and it wouldn't open. We look back at production and we say, "Do we have the right numbers? Do we have the right code to open this?" And they said yes. We tried to put it in again. It still didn't work. All of a sudden production goes, "It must be broken. It's not working. Just start running down to the jet."
MANNION: They were like, "Just go. Run to the plane."
GARRETT: And this was before any of the other teams had gotten to the safe. No one else was there. So Jonna and I start running down to the jet. We get about halfway, so we're talking maybe five minutes have passed of us running. We were so confused because we don't have any money in our hands. Then all of a sudden a pickup truck comes flying up next to us and they go, "Jump in the back! You've got to go back to the safe! You weren't putting in the codes the right way!" And we're like, what the hell? So we jump in the back of the truck.
MANNION: By the time we get back, the other two teams are there and I was panicked. And apparently they also had the right numbers. And everybody was having trouble opening the safes. I just wonder what would have happened if we didn't open it first, like if somebody else opened their safe first, then it wouldn't have been fair if you think about it, because of the amount of time that passed after they told us it was okay, "Just go, you won." And then we had to come back and they're filming everybody opening the safes at the same time.
GARRETT: When that safe opened, I will never in my life forget that moment. To see that much cash in one place is amazing. The fact of the matter is there were instructions on how to open the safe and there was one extra step that we had to do that normally you don't do on a safe. Because everybody's opened up a safe before where you've got to twist it three times past zero then back past the number, that whole gag, but they added in a fourth step. So that's what everybody was struggling with. So if one of the other teams would have figured that out, then they could have taken it as well. So thank goodness that we finished the algebra portion as early as we did, because if we didn't have that good 10-minute buffer, then it could have been a whole different ballgame.
What are you planning to do with your winning checks?
MANNION: When I was gone the first season, it was hard. When I was leaving this season, my 5-year-old daughter didn't want me to leave again. I was like, "I'm going to try and go back and win this time. And if I win, what do you want?" And she's like, "I want a puppy." I was like, "Okay, when I win, I will get your puppy." Now it's like, oh my gosh, now I have to get her a puppy.
GARRETT: Well you're making out like a bandit just getting a puppy. I promised my kids I was getting them a swimming pool. So you're going to be keeping a lot more of the cash in your pocket with just a puppy.
Are you interested in coming back for another season after this, maybe even a season on the flagship show?
GARRETT: I'm ready to come back and do the big show.
MANNION: Count me out. No.
GARRETT: Well, count me in. Even with like C.T., he could be on All Stars but he's still there doing the regular Challenge and he's winning. He just won back-to-back. So it would be really interesting to see All Stars versus these current Challengers. And I can go ahead and tell you, there's no doubt in my mind that the All Stars would take that to the bank.
MANNION: [Laughs] Have fun.
Well, what about returning for another season of All Stars?
GARRETT: Just say yes.
MANNION: I'll guess we'll just have to see.
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