'I'm still not taking any sh—, but I'm playing to win,' she says.

By Sydney Bucksbaum
March 31, 2020 at 06:30 PM EDT
Riccardo Giardina/MTV

The Challenge

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It's been a minute since fans last saw Aneesa Ferreira compete on The Challenge, but she's back and hungrier than ever to clinch her first win in season 35.

Last seen on The Challenge's charitable spin-off Champs vs. Stars in 2018, when an ankle injury resulted in her leaving early, Aneesa hasn't competed on an official Challenge season since 2017's Dirty 30. A lot has changed about the long-running reality competition series since then, but despite all that, Aneesa — who made her MTV debut on Real World: Chicago back in 2002 — promises that fans are still going to get "the classic Aneesa" for her big return.

"I may be a little bit more open, emotionally. There is maybe an element of more growth," she tells EW. "But you're going to get the same person that you've known. I'm still not taking any sh—, but I'm playing to win. Old girl's still got it!"

The Challenge: Total Madness will be Aneesa's lucky 13th season, so EW got her to reveal why she's returned after so many seasons away, what she thinks of this season's big twist, and more.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What inspired you to come back to The Challenge now, after four seasons off?

ANEESA FERREIRA: That check, girl! And that I had two functional ankles. I've been going to physical therapy for a while, like five days a week. I started CrossFit, was feeling good. And I was like, wow, I would love to stop bartending and then having to wake up for class in the morning, so what better way than to go on a Challenge? It was perfect timing. I was excited to come back and meet all the U.K. people that I talked to outside of the show.

When you say you had "two functional ankles," are you talking about recovering from your onscreen injury in Champs vs. Stars season 3?

Yes it was! It was awful for me. At first you're just kind of in shock. I was in the house for so long waiting to get back out there, and I didn’t want people to forget about me, especially new viewers. So I just wanted to come back and be like, I’m still here!

What have you learned from how your recent seasons ended up that changed how you played this season?

Being older, I think I have a different perspective of life and the game, and the ability to separate them and not really put your feelings in it was good for me. Having friends in the game that I actually talked to outside that I trust definitely made things a little bit different. Living in a bunker really put things into perspective too, because it just sucks. It was just so sh—y that I just didn't really care. If you went home you were like, oh yes, I get a toilet. And if you stayed you were like, okay, now I can play for this money. But I played it like I always do. I listen to everything that's going on. I say what I have to do to get to where I need to be, and take it day by day because things can change in The Challenge on the drop of a dime — like the minute something happens, it can change everything. So I just keep that in mind when I play.

Have you been watching the seasons you haven’t played?

Yes, I try to familiarize myself with the new kids on the show and try to get to know their personalities. But it’s really hard to not be a judgy viewer. I feel like I got a pretty good grasp of who’s going to be an a—hole, who I can have fun with, who’s going to have a beer with me, who’s going to be annoying. There were a lot of new people, so that threw me off a little bit. I’m always wary of new people coming in an infiltrating this family we have; there’s not a lot of us original people left.

So which of the newcomers surprised you the most, based on your initial assumptions at the start of this season?

Oh my God, Melissa, 1,000 percent. I came into that game being more friends with Kailah [who was disqualified from Final Reckoning in the season premiere after getting into a physical fight with Melissa]. The first couple of nights, Melissa and I talked, so she definitely changed my whole opinion of who she was. And I try not to be a bitch, you know, but I'm usually right with my judge of character and she blew me out of the water. We still talk. I'm really happy that I got that time to spend with her. I really am grateful that she could change my mind about her. [Laughs] Without telling you too much!

What was your reaction when you found out Total Madness' new twist of requiring an elimination win to run a final this season?

About time! About time people get scared. You don't understand, I cried inside. I also totally, totally expressed that on the outside. I was so happy. See, I've been in like 18 eliminations. And yeah, sometimes I deserve it. Other times I feel like they should have just left me out. I was just really happy that people had to go in and stop being scared to go in and, like, really show what you got. And if you lose, you lose, if you don't, you don't, but nobody gets to skate by. Nobody gets these freebies. You're going to have to prove yourself. I feel like I still have to do that at 38, the same way I had to do when I was 21. So it was really nice to have other people feel like what it feels like to have to deal with that kind of stuff, because it's not fun, believe me. It's not fun to have to go in and over and over again. But I thrive in stressful situations, and in situations where I have to show people I'm here for a reason, and you probably shouldn't mess with me.

What were your preseason alliances you had going into this season?

I went in with Nany. I knew Jenna was going to be there. But Nany was like my number-one girl. I knew that was somebody who, regardless of anything, I was going to have her back. And I knew she would have mine. But then you throw Kailah and Jenna in the mix, and then it's like, uh oh, you can't have everybody's back. I was excited, though, to have her there. That was awesome. She's like my sister and we haven't seen each other in like so long, we haven't played this game in so long, so I just felt really good about it.

You and Cory had a showmance in the past, and he also returned this season after taking a break. What was it like reuniting with him in the game?

It was awesome. I love Cory. We have come such, such, such a long way in our friendship. We really respect each other. That's what it comes down to. I think this show really shows that time can heal anything. I've seen him grow up before my eyes, which has been really nice. He's about to have his next baby, and I'm very proud of him and the man that he has become. I was happy he was there because he knows me, and he knows who I am at my core. It's definitely easier to be in a house where you have somebody who knows you like that.

What can you tease about some of the relationships we’ll see causing drama this season?

Well, I would never call them relationships. [Laughs] They’re interesting, I’ll say that. It makes for some really interesting television. There’s a lot of unexpected stuff and cringeworthy moments. It makes for a good season. I had my work cut out for me when I went in there. I didn’t think I’d be helping so many people through their stuff, but I ended up doing that anyway because that’s just how I am. Things are going to surprise people.

The Challenge: Total Madness premieres Wednesday, April 1, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on MTV.

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