By Sydney Bucksbaum
April 01, 2020 at 09:30 PM EDT
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The Challenge

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Warning: This article contains spoilers from the season premiere of The Challenge: Total Madness.

Jay Starrett has survived another day on The Challenge.

The Survivor alum was thrown into the first elimination on The Challenge: Total Madness in the season premiere due to everyone relying on the old "throw in the rookies first to prove their stripes" strategy (since no one was aware of this season's big elimination twist yet). Going against his friend and fellow rookie Asaf, Jay completely smoked his opponent in the Air Strike elimination, outlasting Asaf twice in a row by hanging onto a bar high above the Purgatory ground longer, thanks to his rock-climbing skills and grip strength.

And not only did Jay prove his stripes by winning elimination, he also earned the very first red skull brand on his helmet, which host T.J. Lavin revealed meant he was now eligible to run the final. It also meant that as the sole player with a red skull, Jay is the only competitor who can run the final at this point, putting him in a very good place when it comes to making alliances with the vets who wouldn't work with him earlier.

Below, Jay breaks down that first elimination, how his win changed the game moving forward for not only him but also everyone else in the cast, and more.

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ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was your reaction when you realized you were getting thrown into the first elimination?

JAY STARRETT: When everyone in the house is setting it up and just discussing, I know how it works in Survivor: Once you're the target, people just stop talking to you. I know I'm the only Survivor in the house. I know no one knows where the f— I come from because most of those dudes don't watch Survivor, and I'm like, "Oh sh—, I feel it, I'm going into the first elimination. I cannot lose. I cannot be the first crossover from Survivor to lose and go home. And on top of that, I can't lose first on my favorite show." So the pressure was so on, and my adrenaline was pumping from the night before. Oh my God, I'm so addicted. Honestly, just give me back that drug and send me back. [Laughs]

When you walked into Purgatory and saw the elimination challenge was one you had an edge for because of your background as a rock climber, what went through your mind?

I'm walking into Purgatory, everyone's looking around, and it's like a stadium — you feel like you're about to be Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator. "I'm going to war right now, this is sick! I'm so ready. Do we get swords and sh—? What do we get to f—ing fight?!" Instead of a sword, I get a massive advantage because I see the two hanging bars and I'm like, "I'm the rock climber. Asaf, I'm sorry, dude, you're going home. I'm about to crush this sh— because I know exactly what to do in this situation." And as TJ describes, "You've got to hang and then you've got to kick the glass towards each other," in my mind I'm like, "All right, I'm just going to hang, play defense, and my grip strength is going to outlast his, and I don't have to do anything. He's going to lose to himself." And it worked. It was perfect. This first elimination was a blessing from The Challenge gods above. If there was anybody out there looking out for me, he was there and he was like, "Jay, you ain't going home first. Don't worry, bud. The Survivor is going to last at least two eliminations." So we'll see what happens next.

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What was it like during the elimination? Did you ever doubt your strategy?

Even Bear was yelling at me like, "Jay, just f—ing do something! Kick! Do something, you’re so boring!" And I was like, "No." Because I’m not an idiot! I think people are going to be surprised to see how the game is changing now that people who actually have a brain are playing. It’s not just meatheads anymore.

When TJ announced after your win that now you’re technically the only player eligible to run a final, how did that feel?

My f—ing heart stopped. It was awesome. First of all, I've got to say, Asaf was my best friend in the house, straight from the get-go. It was like two peas in a pod of stupidity. We just got along so well with ridiculous humor, and going up against him, I was so upset at the same time as my adrenaline was pumping, and I was like, "I have to beat him, but at the same time I'm so upset." So the moment that Asaf walked away, I was like, "Damn bro." This is the second time in my life that I've had to eliminate one of my best friends, because on Survivor my best friend was Michaela. So nothing but love for Asaf. You just got the disadvantage because I know exactly what I'm doing. But as soon as TJ said, "Jay, you're the only one capable to run the final right now," I was on cloud nine. Like, "Wait a minute. Holy sh—, I just made it to the final? I'm good to go! I don't need to do anything else! Does this mean I'm immune to any more eliminations?" I was thinking of all these different rules that could happen because you don't stop thinking in these games. I got my ticket. It was like getting the golden ticket to Willy Wonka's factory, except it was TJ's factory of hell.

How did winning that first elimination change how people treated you moving forward in the season?

Winning that first elimination, coming back into the house, everyone congratulated me. I don't know if they were impressed because some people did their homework on me, I guess, and knew I was a rock climber. So they were like, "Well, Jay's going to win this one." Even walking in, some of the people were like, "Thank God I'm not going against Jay on this one." But we just went straight back into it. I'm the new guy, I'm the rookie, and no one knows me. So they kind of just went back to how they figured me out, but at this point I gained respect so I could get friendships started and strategizing and start getting things going because I am the only one with the golden ticket. So other people were like, "Oh, I definitely want to get on the red skull gang." It opened up the game for me.

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Did winning that first elimination and getting the first red skull brand affect how you made alliances?

It definitely affects the alliances because now I'm a number that they could use to put onto their team, or if they wanted to build a team of winners to get to the end, which they have to do because everyone in the final is a winner of elimination. So they have to learn how to strategize and get the numbers for the people that they want to run it with, so if anyone needed an extra number, I was a free agent because I'm from Survivor and I'm brand-new to the game, so I'm a rookie so you can pick me up for your team. They just needed to use their brains, and we'll find out if they did or if they didn't.

Based on the trailers, it seems like this season is going to have a lot of showmances. What can you tease about any flings you had this season?

You guys didn't see enough relationship time on Ex on the Beach? [Laughs] It's gonna be a f—ing sh—show. [Laughs] Ex on the Beach don't stop, the relation-sh—show continues. It's basically like season 2, watch Jay f—ing lose it. Again.

What is going to surprise fans the most about this season?

The biggest surprise of the season would have to be the bunker. I felt like Oscar the Grouch, I was living in a f—ing trash can. It looks cool but once one, two, three days kicks in, there's no light, there's no sunshine, there's no windows to look out of, there's no nature. There's just 27 other psychopaths sitting, sleeping, and eating across from you. And you're all breathing the same air that's getting recycled in and out and it's just, my God. I'm a nature boy, so being in a bunker was miserable. If I had a villa and a pool like every other season, I don't know why my season was any different… They're like, "Oh, Survivor's coming? Let's just really f— with everyone, and the Survivor too. Let's go ham!" If we would have had an ocean, my God I would have been in heaven.

The Challenge: Total Madness airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on MTV.

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The Challenge

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