The Challenge: All Stars winner speaks: 'I didn't come there to lose'
"Second place is losing. That's last place in my mind," [SPOILER] says of finishing first and taking home half a million dollars.
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Thursday's finale of The Challenge: All Stars.
Slow and steady won the race on The Challenge: All Stars.
Throughout the entire first half of the final, when players were partnered up, Challenge 2000 winner Yes Duffy consistently came in first place, with a few second-place finishes and only one-third place. And in the second half of the grueling two-day final, when it was an individual hike up a steep mountain, Duffy deliberately set a slower pace than his main competition, Darrell Taylor, knowing that Taylor would tire out faster. At one point, Duffy even took a break to shed some layers so he wouldn't overheat in the hot Argentinian sun, letting Mark Long pass him. But once he took off some clothes, Duffy quickly passed Long and eventually Taylor, crossing the finish line first and securing his title as winner of The Challenge: All Stars.
"I worked hard for that thing," Duffy tells EW. "I didn't come there to lose. Man, second place is losing. That's last place in my mind. I'm not leaving my kids for 30 days and dealing with all of the issues around having been gone to just not grind 'til the wheels fall off."
Below, EW got Duffy to break down what it was like returning to The Challenge after almost two decades away, getting his long-awaited second title, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congratulations on dominating that final! You came in first almost every time on the first day. Were you surprised at how well you were doing?
YES DUFFY: I was constantly surprised at everything. Not just what we had to do, but the fact that I was still there. [Laughs] The win was an enormous surprise, but not because I was unprepared. I worked hard at it every day. And nobody can win this alone, and I didn't do it alone. I had that mentorship and help from Darrell and Aneesa and Ruthie, and others who've been through the gauntlet many times, so I just listened and learned a lot. But I had a good time. It was grueling and long and unpredictable and anxiety-inducing, but I enjoy that uncertainty. It's kind of a strike zone of mine to be thinking on my feet, troubleshooting, problem-solving, team-building; that's my happy place. Parenting really gave me all the tools I needed to get through. It's funny, the things I'm teaching my children are the things that were required to win The Challenge: how to paddle a kayak, how to do long division math, how to do puzzles. [Laughs] These are the things I do with my kids. But if you had asked me before The Challenge, I would have told you that I'm not going to eat anything gross. There's no way I'm going to eat that wiggly maggot; there's no way. But we learn a lot about ourselves in these finals.
At what point during the final did you know that you had won the whole thing?
When I passed Darrell. [Laughs] I was catching him, I was chasing him, man. And he was sprinting. I thought, "Oh my God, he probably has won." I prepared my brain for seeing him holding some trophy up or something, and I'd like, give him a hug and say congrats. And I kept on just grinding, and then when I passed him, and I saw him struggling, and I was like, "Dude, take that hat off, you're overheating." I tried to help him. Anyone I passed, I tried to help them out. But he was like, "I'm all right, man. I'm fine, I'm fine. I like to wear my hat." So I was like, "All right then, see you later!" and I was gone. I just never looked back. It's just surreal. It was surreal then; it's surreal now. I can't believe it. There's so many rolls of the dice that happened, despite all the preparation, that you never know who's going to win, and it's anybody's game.
During the hike, you deliberately set a slower pace for yourself than Darrell, and as a result you eventually passed him. Did you know that was going to happen?
Yeah, that's the gamble I have to take right there and say, "Is this something where I change course right now and start sprinting and run?" Anytime we're running a leg of a challenge, you never know where the end is. So you don't know how much gas to use up. And in this case, I did see that mountain peak; it peaks through in the woods a little bit, you could see it now and then. I thought that was it, but I wasn't totally sure. So I just trusted my gut and said, "I'm going to take this at the right pace that I understand, and hopefully, I'm going to catch Darrell." But I thought he knew something I didn't know. I thought he knew it was like half the distance because he was gone. I thought I might be toast. I got to the top, and I just didn't believe TJ. "Really? We're done?" Once I was in the helicopter — they flew me down from the top — I knew that this is real, and this was a new chapter in my life.
I was laughing so hard when you passed Darrell and decided to talk s--- to him. What was that moment like?
[Laughs] We are so mentally bankrupt by this time. The amount of uncertainty in our lives in the previous 30 days has taxed us to our final penny. So by the time we're in that mindset like passing Darrell, anything could come out of my mouth, I don't even know. I'm just trying to go. I don't even remember what I said! I remember trying to help him and say, you should take that hat off, but other than that, I don't remember. I know I yelled stuff. Especially given what we ate and had no sleep, my memory was foggy.
There was only a two-point difference in your final total between you and Darrell — was he always your biggest competition?
Jemmye told me that Darrell and I are going to be the ones. She told me that in like the first three days we were there. I didn't know Darrell, we were friends, but he also didn't show me all his cards. He didn't tell me that he runs marathons in short times. I didn't know how advanced his fitness career was as a trainer and a coach.
You're now the only person who has ever beat him in a final.
[Laughs] Well, also his vote for me was the first vote I ever had for me to go into elimination. So we both got firsts.
How did you feel about the partners you got at each checkpoint in the first half?
Oh, that was a serious advantage to be able to get to pick. I did very well. Jemmye and I knew we were going to do the first leg together; I made sure that we finished our puzzles at the same time. We put in our pieces together at the same time so we could roll together because I didn't want to get stuck with Jisela, frankly. And then, from there, being able to pick was great. Ruthie, I chose last because I know she doesn't gas out. When the going gets hard, she's smiling and laughing through it. I knew that Ruthie will never break; she's such a tough survivor soldier of a woman. When we all get sleepless and cuckoo, Ruthie's the one that I can trust to give it her all. But ironically, I get the smallest person for that eating leg. [Laughs] We had to eat unbelievable amounts of food! So that was a poor choice, but her mental tenacity was the good choice. She was amazing — she actually helped me through that whole thing. She coached me through it.
Wait, really? They didn't show that — they only show you finished first and had to wait for her to finish her plate.
Yeah, I finished before her and then waited for her. But I was like, "Ruthie you've got to talk me through this. I'm going to freak out." And she was so calm. She was enjoying herself. She was like, "Here's what you do. Mix the thing that you don't like with the thing that you do like." And that got it done.
What kind of food was it, exactly?
[Laughs] We don't know. I'm pretty sure it was all the private parts of multiple animals, at a minimum. From there, it was all the other internal pieces. Luckily we're in Argentina, where they know how to barbecue. It's not like it was fermented in some jar. They grilled it, at least. But man, that was unbelievable. KellyAnne, she was like a cacophony of barfing next to me for like an hour, which is funny once, and then it's just not. [Laughs] I might throw up when I watch it.
Going back a little bit, Aneesa changing her vote to Nehemiah saved you from going into the final elimination of the season — do you think that moment changed everything for you?
One hundred percent, Aneesa took a bullet for me. She went with her gut. I trust her, as a grown adult who's got more experience in this game than anybody there, to do what she thinks is right. She did what she felt, and I respect that 100 percent. I appreciate that because that was a major hinge point because rolling the dice in The Arena, although it looks like it might be fun, that s--- ain't fun. I ain't trying to roll the dice in The Arena, man. As much as my mind wants to put me in The Arena and have some fun and go against Derrick, like, "Let's go Pole Wrestle!" the smartest idea is to stay out while you can.
What do you think would have happened if you went into that elimination against Big Easy? Which female partner would you have picked?
I would have checked with all of the women to see who really wants to roll with me because I'm a big team player, and I want there to be a consensus. But the bigger thing is nobody was stopping Big Easy that night. We shared a room together, I helped him prep for 24 hours, kept him hydrated, kept his mind straight, and I watched him just get into battle mode. And that dude? Nobody's beating him. He would have sent me home. I guarantee it.
Are you interested in coming back to defend your title in a potential second season of All Stars?
Defend the title, I know! [Laughs] Well, you hear this chitter-chatter from Mark Long who's always stirring the pot like, "We're going to do some more, and now we're going to do the Super Bowl, OG's vs. the new school!" I am all ears; I'm fully open to the adventures ahead. I still feel that I'm 42 years young, I've got a lot to learn, and I've got a lot to grow. This feels like a beginning to me. So you want to throw me in with the rest of the crew, the new school cats too, whoever, I'm totally game to give it a shot.
That's amazing to hear because after you won, you made some comments about how you still have gas left in the tank, and you could take on "all those punks from the other show too." Does that mean you'd be interested in coming back to compete on a regular season of The Challenge?
[Laughs] I am a real competitive dude. I grew up as a wrestler. The competitor in me is alive and well and happy. I'll s--- talk anybody all the way to the end of the game, and then I'll hug them and high-five them when we're done! It's hella fun. I'll go up against anybody and just ride the ride until the wheels fall off.