'The Challenge is the hardest thing that I've ever done in my life, by far,' the Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X player tells EW.

By Sydney Bucksbaum
April 01, 2020 at 04:22 PM EDT
Riccardo Giardina/MTV

The Challenge

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It took 35 seasons, but an American Survivor player is finally competing on The Challenge.

Jay Starrett, who finished in sixth place on Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X, makes his Challenge debut on this season's The Challenge: Total Madness, and no one is more excited than he is about being the first official U.S. Survivor to make the jump from one competition reality series to the other.

"I wanted to be the first too, so when I went on Ex on the Beach I was like, 'Oh my god, please lord, I need to get on The Challenge before any other American Survivor does,'" Jay tells EW. "And then [Survivor Turkey's] Turbo made it and I was like, 'F--k, but he's still not American so I'm okay!'"

Since Survivor and The Challenge have so much in common when it comes to strategy and gameplay, there's a lot of crossover in the fandom for both shows. But Jay has a theory for why it's taken 35 seasons for an American Survivor to make it onto The Challenge. "In all honesty, they were just waiting for me so it's like perfect timing," he deadpans before breaking out in a big laugh.

Since he's in the unique position of having competed on both The Challenge and U.S. Survivor, Jay is the only person who can accurately compare what it's like playing both games. "The strategy of Survivor I would say is way harder than the strategy of The Challenge," he says. "Because the good thing about The Challenge is you get a second chance. So if you get voted out, you can fight your way back into the house and try to find another loophole into it whereas Survivor is kind of just, 'Well, you didn't make it, you're out of here. Goodbye!'"

But Jay is quick to point out that he doesn't mean competing on The Challenge was easier than Survivor. In fact, it's actually the opposite. "On the other hand, The Challenge is the hardest thing that I've ever done in my life, by far," he says. "It's way harder than Survivor, and it literally wrecked me."

The reality star goes on to explain that "the only reason that the strategy was harder in Survivor is because I was strategizing with smarter people, whereas on The Challenge it's like a bunch of f--king dumbasses."

Jay laughs again before adding, "So I was like how do I convince this dumbass to let me stay in the house when they keep throwing in the smallest dude saying, 'Oh, I'm gonna save my biggest enemy for the final.' I'm like, 'You're an idiot, why wouldn't you take the weakest dude? If you think I'm the weakest dude take me to the final with you! That would be the smartest thing to do.' But no, they don't think like that. They think like meatheads."

Another way that competing on The Challenge differed from Survivor was the level of athleticism required. "The Challenge was definitely an amazing experience and way more difficult because, unlike Survivor, in The Challenge I'm going against other athletes that are around my same age and that are actually fit and actually were like ready to go," Jay says. "Whereas Survivor was like, my biggest threat was an out of shape cop from Boston. Not saying any names, Bret LaBelle, sorry buddy!"

While Jay can't reveal how he fared on The Challenge: Total Madness, he was shocked at how the other players underestimated his abilities after he was considered to be one of the top physical competitors on Survivor.

"It was such a different experience because on Survivor everyone was like, 'We gotta get Jay out, he's an ultimate threat,'" he says. "Adam [Scott Klein] would talk about getting me out every day, like, 'He can win the next elimination!' Whereas, the first challenge walking into The Challenge I'm like, 'Oh s--t. It's time to really go for it. I hope this isn't a purge.' I just didn't want to go home."

That's the competitive side of Jay talking, but he's also the first to admit that because he's a superfan of The Challenge and getting to play in season 35 was "indescribable," he just wanted to be there as long as he could.

"I was getting dressed, I'm looking at TJ who is across from me — I used to play Pro BMX on PlayStation 2, and I used to play with his character as one of the riders on the game, so I'm like, 'This is f--king insane,'" Jay says with a laugh. "TJ Lavin is sitting in front of me! I'm actually on The Challenge. I actually crossed over from Survivor and did everything that I had to do considering Ex on the Beach was a s--t show, and I'm like, 'Oh my god, I did it. This is a dream come true.'"

And not only was he psyched to be the first U.S. Survivor on The Challenge and got to compete on his favorite show, he was also pinching himself to get to play alongside Challenge legends. "I'm standing next to CT and I'm looking at Wes and I'm like, 'I used to watch these dudes fight people in past seasons and now I have the opportunity if they want to fight me. This is great!'" he says with a laugh. "It’s going to be so weird watching this season because I’m going to be like a fan cheering, ‘F--k yes, go Jay! Do it!’ And then remember, oh yeah, that’s me."

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

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