"The elimination that we got was more of an equalizer, and anyone could have won it."
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Warning: This article contains spoilers for Wednesday's episode of The Challenge: Spies, Lies and Allies.

As the last remaining double-rookie team on The Challenge: Spies, Lies and Allies, Survivor winner Michele Fitzgerald and 12 Dates of Christmas alum Corey Lay knew they had a tough road ahead, fighting against the veteran alliance. But when they were once again put into elimination in this week's episode, this time they lost.

"It's disappointing," Fitzgerald tells EW. "We anticipated that vets would go for rookie-rookie pairs and as soon as that would end, the game would break open and we'd have an opportunity to actually start playing. We saw this as the cusp of having an actual opportunity to play, so going out at this point hurt worse because we felt so close to that."

Lay reveals that if he and Fitzgerald had won this elimination, they both would have picked veteran partners to make sure there were no more double-rookie teams, forcing the vets to finally turn on themselves. "We were going to be able to start making moves," he adds. "At that point in the game, I had made a deal with Fessy and I was getting ready to be aligned with Big Brother. I was looking forward to actually being able to play the game, and it's really heartbreaking how it went." Lay also regrets how this elimination wasn't physical like the first one he and Fitzgerald won. "I knew that I could dominate and do very well at that, but the elimination that we got was more of an equalizer, and anyone could have won it. Amber and Hughie did what needed to be done, and unfortunately they beat us."

Below, Fitzgerald and Lay unpack that elimination loss, how all the drama during the elimination affected them, and more.

The Challenge
Michele Fitzgerald and Corey Lay on 'The Challenge: Spies, Lies and Allies'
| Credit: MTV

Did you two have any hope that you could escape the elimination this week?

MICHELE FITZGERALD: When you saw the tension between Devin and Kyle, there was definitely conversation from rookies about weaponizing that. But I was nervous knowing how close they are that that could be almost a tactic for us fall into a trap to put a bigger target on our back. I never really saw a way out of it.

COREY LAY: Me and Michele agreed we weren't going to fight the house vote, because the longer we stay as a double-rookie pair, the longer that we're just going to keep getting thrown in. We were so happy and ready to go in there, switch partners, and get some power. We were fine with it.

If you had won, who would you have picked as your new partners?

LAY: For me it was between Amber and Nany. I don't know exactly who I would have chosen in that moment, but those were two people that I knew would solidify me with the Big Brother alliance since I made the deal with Fessy.

FITZGERALD: My pick was Cory Wharton, which I actually wanted before choosing Devin [my first time], except Cory was basically giving me a signal that he did not want me to choose him. But also I had this sense that vets wanted us to choose a vet with a rookie in order to create another rookie-rookie pair. But I was like, is that something that I want to do? If I don't do it, then maybe they'll target me more because I went against it. If I chose a vet pair like Kyle and Amanda, maybe the next elimination a vet puts me in again.

LAY: We were in a very difficult position because no matter who our partners would be, the Agency could put us down there no matter what. It's just the way the cards were dealt this time. We were in a tough position literally every single day.

You really had an uphill battle more than anyone else so far this season.

LAY: We tried to bring that up in deliberation too. There's people coasting and doing nothing, and that was so frustrating for me to see. Certain people, like Ashley and Hughie, got last place in the first mission and guess what? Nobody even cared or thought about throwing them into the Lair. It's just funny to compare the different journeys the rookies went on, which is why it was hard for us to come together and build a rookie alliance. There wasn't a reason for other rookies to work with us if they felt so safe with their veteran partners. Gabo said, "I'm never going to go into elimination. I'm with Nany." But at the end of this episode he's no longer with Nany. Now he's with Emy, a rookie. A lot of people were not thinking of long term, they were thinking very momentarily, "I feel safe right now, I'm not going to make a move, and I'm just going to wait until the vets decide to pick me off." We'll see how that works out for the rookies this season. People didn't learn that until it was too late for them. We saw what was happening in the game, and we just didn't have the numbers to do anything about it.

Did you trust that Fessy and Esther would give you the opponents you asked for?

LAY: Fessy gave me the first olive branch I felt from a male vet in the game. I definitely was not expecting Amber to be in there, so that kind of threw a wrench in the plan that I proposed to him, but he did give me the opponent I wanted in Hughie.

FITZGERALD: I pitched Hughie and Bettina, and my main reason was that Hughie was so frantic in the challenges, I thought he'd be frantic in the elimination. I wasn't coming from a place of thinking that Hughie would be easy to beat, but I did think his own chaos energy is going to get the best of him. And for Bettina, I didn't really know where she sat, I didn't really know where her connections were. But everyone surprises you in this game, and that's the beauty of it. I'm so proud of Hughie for pulling that out.

LAY: He was yelling at me but he still pulled it together, he did the splits to get the key, and he did what he needed to do. He shows up when he needs to show up, and that's something that I really admire about Hughie. He proved me wrong. I underestimated him, and he won. You can't ever downplay someone. You don't know what they bring to the table, and that's a lesson that I've learned that I'm going to keep with me going forward.

The Challenge
Fessy Shafaat and Corey Lay on 'The Challenge: Spies, Lies and Allies'
| Credit: MTV

What was it like seeing that massive fight between Josh, Fessy, and Amber before the elimination started?

FITZGERALD: It was a crazy experience. A lot of the conversation was around Fessy saying, "Who do you want to protect?" to Josh. I had a good relationship with Josh, I knew he was advocating for me from the sidelines, and I was a little bit nervous that that was going to get amplified and if I was to come back in the house that I would reap the repercussions of potentially Fessy outing that. I was sad that Amber got thrown in, it just created this entire fracture between the Big Brother alliance, which they need each other now more than ever. So it was not great for my nerves watching all that go down from the bottom.

LAY: I actually thought maybe Josh would volunteer himself and I'd be safe for another day. There was a lot of chaotic energy in there. It was very emotional. I think that's what fed into me and Hughie's moment. I got frustrated that I was wrapped up in the rope, and then Hughie starts yelling at me, and then if you yell at me I'm just going to yell back even louder, that's just my personality. It just spiraled from there. Immediately though after losing and after pushing Hughie, I thought to myself, "Corey, what are you doing?" I quickly wanted to de-escalate that and just let him know that he did well, because I didn't want to take away from what he had just accomplished. I obviously didn't handle it very well.

What happened you got stuck halfway through the elimination?

LAY: That was completely my fault. As me and Michele were maneuvering through —

FITZGERALD: No, that's not true. It's not just your fault.

LAY: No, I —

FITZGERALD: It's not.

LAY: Okay. I appreciate that.

FITZGERALD: It's just the way were navigating the poles, but it's not Corey's fault. It was nobody's fault. We just tangled ourselves up in a place that we actually couldn't get out. And we needed help getting out, we truly did. We mentally had lost control, and that made it really hard. When they lost their key, we had regrouped ourselves and started moving at a different pace, but that point of being stuck in the carabiner, we both looked at each other with fear in our eyes.

LAY: Yeah, and we lost that momentum. But once we got to the other side and got the key, Michele and I were actually moving pretty fast. But they were just so far ahead of us at that point. If we had gotten it together sooner, who knows what could have happened? That's something I need to remember for the future: Don't let external factors like people yelling at you distract you from what you need to do. We did our best, and I'm proud of the game we played. I'm looking forward to the next round now that I understand how this all works and how important it is to solidify yourself early on with some of these alliances and friendships.

Speaking of future seasons, how are you taking what you learned and using it to train or prepare for the next time?

FITZGERALD: I'm in Spain right now, drinking red wine and enjoying my life. [Laughs] These vets come back time and time again and they focus right away on the next season. They start training and they obsess. But if you don't give yourself time to decompress and actually enjoy life and remind yourself why you chose to do it? It's about getting your head in the right space, first and foremost. And sure, I'm working out. But I'm focused on me and my personal life journey right now.

LAY: There are a lot of people in the offseason that are still basically playing the game. They're coming up with their alliances. I am, like Michele, trying to just decompress and enjoy life. I'm going to Costa Rica this weekend. But on the physical side, though, I am still training very hard. When I was in Croatia, I was probably 10 or 15 pounds heavier than I wanted to be because I was coming straight out of COVID. So I'm getting myself back in the shape I want to be in. I didn't know what to expect when I showed up since my first show was a dating show, and now that I have a taste of what The Challenge is, I'm a little bit addicted. I can't wait to go back in there now that I know how this game actually works.

The Challenge
Michele Fitzgerald and Corey Lay on 'The Challenge: Spies, Lies and Allies'
| Credit: MTV

Michele, what has your relationship with Emanuel been like since the season ended?

FITZGERALD: Well, Emanuel is dating somebody else right now. I have to say, when I found out about it, I was a little hurt. I was upset. We didn't have much opportunity to really say goodbye. It's complicated because we were out there for 30-something days, living with each other, so you obviously catch feelings. So I would have liked to have heard about the relationship that he's now in upfront. It happens, that's life. And at the end of the day, I'm not sure we would have worked out, him in Romania, me at home. And I don't know if I'd bring him home to Dad. This is what we call a blessing in disguise.

Is there anything that happened this season that wasn't shown that you think is important for fans to know about?

LAY: There's the whole drama between Tacha and Tori, but little-known fact, Berna was only in that elimination because of me. Tori comes to me and says, "Me and Ed are probably going to put you in the elimination. What woman do you want with you?" I said, "Do not put Michele in there, Emy's already gone in there and proved herself, give me another strong woman competitor so I can come back. Give me Berna." Tori was weighing between doing what Tacha wanted or what I wanted, and in that moment she wanted me to win and come back. It seemed to Tacha that Tori had just went behind her back, but I just wanted a strong partner. It just so happened that I didn't have to compete at all, so it was just Tacha vs. Berna.

FITZGERALD: Also me, Tori, and Aneesa struck a deal prior to that elimination that if she didn't put me in, the next time that I won, which I expected would be soon, I will not target you. I had a great relationship with Aneesa, Tori is tight with Aneesa, and so for me I was just trying to hedge my bets.

LAY: Michele, I didn't know you had made that deal. I guess me asking for Berna and begging for Tori not to put you in was useless because you already took care of it yourself.

FITZGERALD: I think potentially you had that conversation with her prior to me having that conversation, which means she wasn't going to put me in anyways but she still secured that IOU from me.

LAY: And on the opposite end, I tried to make an alliance with Aneesa, I tried to make an alliance with Tori, and then they just threw me into eliminations without any care in the world. The only vet in that house who tried to work with me was Fessy. It was just weird some of the decisions they made.

You both still did great with the hand you were dealt this season.

FITZGERALD: And a little messy, let's be real.

LAY: Some messier than others. You weren't yelling at anybody during the elimination, so at least you have that.

FITZGERALD: [Laughs] Honey, I was making out with a man with face tattoos.

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