The Challenge: Total Madness female winner speaks: 'I'm still feeling shocked'
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Wednesday's season finale of The Challenge: Total Madness.
The first female to earn a red skull on The Challenge: Total Madness ended up taking the whole game. In only her second season, Jenny West went on to not just become the top female competitor, earning half a million dollars, but she also beat the most decorated Challenge winner of all time, Johnny "Bananas" Devenanzio, to the finish line during the final (check out EW's recap).
She slogged through the freezing, knee-deep snow, trekked 12 miles while climbing a mountain and doing math equations, and she always kept a lead on her fellow female competitors. By the end of the final, only two females remained, and Kaycee Clark botching the math equation gave Jenny the path to the win. "It's so weird because you want it to happen but you never really think it's going to," Jenny tells EW of becoming a Challenge champ. "And then every time you survive another a week, you think, 'Oh, okay, maybe it could happen.' But you never think it will. I was shocked for ages. I'm still feeling shocked now, really."
Below, Jenny dives deep on her hard-fought win, beating top male finisher Bananas to the end, why her pre-final elimination win against Dee Nguyen was so sweet, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congratulations on your first win! What was going through your mind when you touched that red skull at the end of the final and TJ told you that you won?
JENNY WEST: It was absolute relief that I could get off the side of the mountain because it was so cold. I remember thinking, "Oh my God, it's over! I can get off the mountain, go and get a hot shower," and then the realization that I'd done it hit, that I'd done something that loads of people have tried to do so many times and haven't. It's a really weird feeling to think that I have done it because as much as you can believe in yourself, you never really think things like that happen to you. As much as you kind of keep putting one foot in front of the other, it's like, "Wow, did I just do that?" It was quite emotional, really.
Not only did you win but you also beat Bananas. That must have felt incredible.
It's amazing to think that out of everybody there I finished first. It's pretty cool that I was able to do that. I mean, he was right on my tail, he was like two minutes behind me. [Laughs] But yeah, it's a nice feeling to think that I've got the ability to perform that well because I'd never run a final before, I've never even seen what a final looks like, I've just heard about it from other people. And obviously Johnny has won so many times before, so I seemed to beat one of the best competitors on The Challenge. Everything fell into place and I managed to cross the finish line first somehow. I remember passing him at the final checkpoint. And I was like waiting for him, and I was like, wait, why am I waiting? Just go! So I just started carrying on hiking. [Laughs] And that was the last bit.
Wait, why were you waiting?!
I don't know why I waited. I think it's just because we'd hiked the last section together. He was like just in front of me. So I think I was waiting for him to egg me on. And he was like, "Go!" And I was like, "Oh yeah, go! [Laughs] I should probably go."
It’s a good thing you didn’t wait because it was so great to see a female finish first.
It's definitely difficult winning as girls because we are the physically weaker sex. And I hate to say that but you know, our ancestors didn't run around trying to catch food and kill animals, the males did. Females sat, waited for them to bring back food, and we just birthed children. Whereas the men had to go around, run, catch, kill, so they are just better equipped to deal with those types of situations generally. But obviously I know I'm stronger and fitter than a lot of guys I know, but there's a reason why we don't compete against males in the Olympics. [Laughs] I used to hate finals where it would be men against women because the women wouldn't really stand a chance and the last individual final a few seasons ago, the first, second, and third was male, and then Ninja Natalie came fourth. I was like, if it's a situation like that, I'd hate playing. And now, I'm kind of like maybe I wish it was like that because then I would have had all the money! [Laughs]
We have seen so many previous seasons only award prize money to the solo top finisher, so did you think about how you could have gotten all the money if the season structure worked out that way?
Hindsight is a beautiful thing, isn't it? It takes the pressure off a little bit because Johnny and I are friends and it's the final. At one point I was going the wrong way, all night it was blizzarding and with the snow, you couldn't see a few meters in front of you. We're hiking and I was ahead because I had a time advantage. You have to follow the black flags in the snow, and there were black flags going left and right but I didn't realize you had to go to the left to do a puzzle, turn back around, and go right. I just started going right and Johnny called me back. If it was winner takes all, one winner, I'm assuming he wouldn't have done that because it would be each person for themselves, isn't it? So I've got him to thank him for that. Luckily, I was a good 20-25 minutes ahead of the second female so I would have taken it home for the females anyway. But maybe I wouldn't have won out of everybody if it was each man for themselves. He probably wouldn't have told me I was going the wrong way. I wonder how long it would have taken me to notice before I realized no one was behind me. [Laughs] I’d like to think I would have noticed eventually.
What was your reaction when both Melissa and Bayleigh didn’t finish, and it was just between you and Kaycee by the end of the final?
I don't blame them because you can see visibly how much pain they were in. Bayleigh was crying because of her knee, a lot. And then [producers] really broke us, because at the end of the first day we hiked up this mountain and it was just starting to get dark and production just like drifted off and just left us. I guess they don't tell you any timeframe for how long we're going to be there or what's going to happen next because that's part of how they break you. You don't know when it's going to end. I have never felt cold like it in my life and I hope I never do again. We all just hobbled together on top of a peak in the Austrian Alps freezing our butts off. We stood there for over five hours with nothing to eat, nothing to drink, nothing to keep us warm, the sweat dried on our bodies, just stinking, freezing cold. I never would quit, I would have never given it up, but the feeling of just wanting it to end, I can't imagine that compared with a knee that's absolutely killing you and then Melissa as well, now obviously we know she was pregnant. She had no clue and she just kept saying, "I don't understand, I'm better than this!" And now it's like, we know, you're growing a baby girl inside you, but you obviously had no idea! I don't know what that must have felt like for her, feeling that physically exhausted. So when she found out she was going to go into elimination against Kaycee, I don't blame her [for quitting]. I don't blame both of them.
You were sent into elimination right before the final and won in Hall Brawl against Dee. How did that affect your thoughts on your win knowing you could have been sent home so close to the end?
When I went into that final elimination, I knew I was going to win because I knew I was going to have to go against Dee, I knew that the Tribunal was going to give me what I wanted, and I knew that I had so much vengeance. I had to avenge myself. I had so much determination for that. There was no way I was going to let her beat me. So when I did beat her, it was such an overwhelming sense of achievement. And then to win on top of that, it was very overwhelming. I didn't really believe TJ when he told me I had won. I could see that I had won because I could see that he was there at the top of the mountain, I've hit the red skull, he told me I just won, but I couldn't even cry. I always thought if I won a Challenge I would cry. And I didn't! And other people cried who didn't win. Maybe I would have cried if I didn't win. My teeth were frozen shut. But I liked the fact that I did that elimination because now it meant even more to win when I potentially could have gone home so close to the final.
And what was it like winning in Hall Brawl against Dee after you lost your previous Hall Brawl elimination against Tori?
Most people would never find themselves in two Hall Brawls, particularly in two seasons back to back. [Laughs] I don't know how that happened, I'm going to be the Hall Brawl queen if I keep doing them. Tori completely owned that one last season. I've never done contact sports in my life. So when I went home after that one, which I had no idea what I was doing, I'm pretty sure I ran at Tori standing up, I didn't even bend down. [Laughs] When I got back to the U.K., I remember being annoyed at myself for going out on something that was physical because I see myself as someone who's quite good at physical stuff. I went and hired a coach to help me with stuff like that. And obviously it paid off because I learned so much from him. So how funny that that's the one thing I practiced and that's the thing that I've had to go and do again. The chances of me even doing that elimination again is so slim. It was nice to go back and know that I could do it, I just didn't know what I was doing before. There's always room for improvement and you can never stop learning. I need to keep continuing to expose myself to things like puzzles and math on a regular basis because I want to make sure that if I go home, I don't want it to be on something that I could have practiced at home. It would really irritate me if it was something that I could have improved on and I went home because I didn't take it seriously.
Now that you’ve been through an entire season and won a final, how are you going to prepare for future seasons? Are you doing anything different?
I just need to keep making sure that I'm expanding my knowledge as much as I can, especially with trivia. I always work on my fitness, it's something I do daily. I'll always do it, whether I'm on The Challenge or not. But things like puzzles and math, you can never stop working on general knowledge, I'll never stop working on it. And once lockdown eases up a little bit, I'm going to get a body contact coach because I’ve not been able to practice that for ages.
What are the chances we’ll see you in the just-announced season 36?
I don't know yet myself. [Laughs] If MTV asks me, I will do it. It fills me with dread as well as excitement at the same time. You can have such a good time with everybody and I've got so many cherished memories, but then also I've got so many memories I'm happy to just leave in the past. I’ll find out soon hopefully!