By Sydney Bucksbaum
May 13, 2020 at 09:30 PM EDT
The Challenge
Credit: MTV

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Wednesday's episode of The Challenge: Total Madness, "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"

You know what happens when you assume? Tori Deal was smacked in the face with a reminder of that this week on The Challenge: Total Madness.

All season long she had been itching to go into elimination for the chance to earn her red skull, thereby qualifying her to run the final. After being on the winning team last season but getting purged out right before the last leg of the final (and being the only member of the winning team who didn't get any prize money), she was hungrier than ever for her first win. And Jenna Compono was dealing with drama back home after her boyfriend Zach Nichols found two-year-old DMs that convinced him she cheated on him (when they weren't even together), and he gave her an ultimatum to come home or their relationship was over. So Tori thought going into elimination against Jenna this week was her path to earning a red skull, but you know what they say about people who assume...

In a shocking upset, Jenna beat Tori in a long, physically draining Purgatory elimination challenge in episode 7, proving not only to Tori but to every other player that she wasn't checked out and she was here to compete as only one of three women (and one man) with a red skull. And for Tori (and a shell-shocked Jordan who had been screaming in frustration on the sidelines the entire time), it was the end of the road for her on season 35.

"It was devastating, for sure," Tori tells EW. "But it was definitely a cool one, you know? It's something that I get to look back on and be like, 'Wow, I f---ing did that.' And that was a hard-ass workout, so I am proud of it."

Below, EW got Tori to break down exactly what happened during that elimination, those emotional moments after the loss with both Jordan and Jenna, what she learned from this season, and more.

The Challenge
Credit: MTV

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How are you feeling about your elimination now that you’ve had some time to reflect on it?

TORI DEAL: It just took me a long time to really grapple with the thoughts and the whys and why not, what could have I done, what did I do wrong? What I've come to in my mind is that you can't force a game to work for you. You can't try to outsmart the game. And I think that's what I was trying to do this season. I knew I had to go into an elimination, but I was trying to play God in a sense. I wanted to put myself in against somebody who I thought was checked out and I honestly think I got what I deserved. Like, who am I to think that somebody's going to hand me an elimination win when we're all fighting for a million dollars?! So it was a huge blow to my ego, and it really set me back. I deleted Instagram off my phone for like five days and for me that's a long time. But once I sat with it all and, obviously, a lot of time has passed, I've just been working on making myself stronger so that way when I come back, I will be more humble, and I will be stronger, and I just have to keep working for it.

I’m surprised to hear you say you thought you were being handed an elimination win. While everyone was convinced you were going to come back against Jenna, in your interviews on the show you seemed to be keeping a good attitude about it. Was that just a front or did you really not know if you were coming back?

When I'm doing my interviews, I have to be realistic because you don't know when your interviews are going to happen. Sometimes they're before the event occurs and sometimes they're after. You're just talking about things and hoping that your words don't bite yourself in the butt. I definitely wanted to be aware of the fact that, yeah, of course this is a risk, and from conversations I had with Jenna, I really thought she was checked out. But at the same time, that feeling of going into an elimination, it's almost unbearable. You're like, "What the f--- am I getting myself into?" So you don't want to get your hopes up. But I really did think when I was out there that she was not going to perform. I really did. And so when I started to see her running and slamming those bricks and not stopping, and 35 minutes later, she's still doing it, I was like, "Oh wow." I didn't believe her when she told me before, "Yeah, I'm going to try." I really thought she wasn't going to, so it definitely caught me by surprise.

During the elimination, you struggled with the strategy of how to smash the bricks at first, giving Jenna an early lead. What was going through your mind then?

When I first got my brick, I didn't know that they were going to shatter like that. There's just so much that you learn on the spot. I've never smashed bricks before, so I didn't know how they were going to shatter, I didn't know which ones were the best ones to pick up. It just took a little bit of time, but when Jenna figured it out before me, and then I heard Jordan screaming at me, it completely frazzled me. I was like, "Holy s---. No. 1, I thought that this was going to be easy. No. 2, I'm behind now. And No. 3, I'm just completely taken off guard." So I went into it with my guard down and that's what really bit me in the butt.

The Challenge
Credit: MTV

Jordan was shouting at you so much during the elimination, and you did get visibly flustered. Was Jordan’s yelling ever helpful at all or was it just a distraction?

It totally distracted me, but I don't think it was his fault. Ultimately, in that situation, he was trying to give me the best advice, but I'm one of those people under pressure, if I hear somebody yelling at me or trying to give me advice, I'm not going to be like, "Okay, great advice!" I'm going to get frazzled. That's one of my weaknesses being a competitor and it's something that I really have to work on, and just strategize better from the start. I put a lot of weight on my athletic abilities. but The Challenge is so much more than athletic ability. That's why you have people like Jordan who are triple champs because they come with both strategy and athletic ability. That is something that, after this season, I realized I really have to work on.

The way that the episode is edited, it looks like it comes down to a split-second difference with Jenna unloading her final wheelbarrow right before you did. Was it that close in real life?

It was 100 percent that close. I literally thought before she dropped her last barrel in, I had this split second, and in my mind I was like, maybe I should just scream at her, "Jenna! F---ing stop!" If I would have had that split second, and she would have actually stopped at that, then I would have won because it literally was a second. Forty-five minutes of working so hard to lose by a second, a literal second! It was that close. I was completely devastated. On the plane ride home, I think that people probably thought one of my family members passed away because I was crying. "If anybody recognizes me right now, it's just going to look so bad." [Laughs] I was so thankful because one of the producers, when they were driving me to the airport, had a beer in the car for me and I was like, "Thank God. I don't even really like beer, but right now it just seems like the perfect time to have one."

That's brutal, I'm so sorry.

Thank you. You know what, you really do live and you learn. I've found things that I'm thankful for within that loss. I really do think it was a humbling experience, and I can't get ahead of myself. I'm just going to have to keep working for that win, and that's just where it's at and I have to accept that, instead of assuming somebody's going to give me a win because I think I deserve one. I'm just going to have to work for it.

After you lost, Jordan came down on the floor and you ended up comforting him — talk to me about that moment. It almost felt like the roles were reversed and he had lost instead of you.

I'll never get the look of devastation out of my mind that I saw on his face that night. I felt like I had lost for him, you know? I felt like I failed him. I didn't even feel like I failed me because I knew how hard I tried when I went out there. I gave it my absolute all; I couldn't have given any more. The only thing I could have done differently was go into it thinking that Jenna wasn't going to throw it. That maybe would have changed something, but I gave it my all. I really did. And so when he came down onto the ground and we talked, I just felt immediately like I needed to calm him down. He wanted to be like, "What the f---? What were you doing?!" And this was just not the time for that talk because I knew I was going to be pulled away from him. I didn't know how long we were going to go without talking and I didn't want that to be the last thing on his mind. I needed him to know that I was going to be okay, even though I f---ing wasn't. I lied! [Laughs] I needed him to stay strong and keep his head in the game because he's the only one in there right now fighting for us. It just kind of like was survival mode, like how any parent would talk to their kid if something bad happened. I went immediately into nurture mode.

The Challenge
Credit: MTV

And then when you hugged Jenna goodbye, she asked you to reach out to Zach and talk to him for her — did you end up doing that?

I did. I [didn't want to], I'm not going to lie. I was like, "F---ing asshole, you beat me! And then you want me to go fix your relationship?!" I was really upset about that. But I put myself in her shoes and I was like, if it was the other way around, I would really hope that she would do it for me. I would hope she would reach out to Jordan. So I did. I definitely kept him calm. We were texting back and forth for a while and I was helping him to just chill out because he was not doing well during that time. I think he really needed somebody to talk to that knew what was going on in Jenna's head because he really didn't have that type of connection to her at that time.

Do you have any regrets about the way you played this season as a whole?

If I could change anything in any regrets that I have, I would have just played a more quiet, humble game. And I wouldn't have tried to outsmart the game. I wouldn't have tried to go in against somebody that I thought I could beat. I would have just taken what I was meant to have instead of forcing the issue and seeing where it took me. With every single Challenge you go on, it's going to be chancy. Last season, after losing in the final but right before my team won, it just left this taste in my mouth of, I'm starving for a win now because I was so close. I just pushed that too far to the limit this season. So the next time I go back on the show, I am going to work my ass off and not try to outsmart it and just let whatever is supposed to be mine, be mine.

What are you doing in your time off to better prepare for your next season?

Oh, girl! [Laughs] I have been running, doing a lot of long-distance running, incline long-distance running. I live in California, so I run the hills which can go up to 500 feet in elevation at some points, and I just run for eight miles. I just f---ing do it. I've been training on my puzzles and working on math. When I come back, I'm not going to speak about how much effort I've been putting into being a great Challenge competitor. And I think people are really going to see it.

Is there anything that didn’t see air this season that you think is important for fans to know?

If there is something, it would be that Jordan may be the one that's involved in some of the drama and some of the bulls--- with people, but he is so much more supportive to me when I'm emotionally needy than he comes off. You can kind of see it, but they don't ever show moments when I'm fighting with him or blowing up or crying if it's not in relation to a story, if it's just kind of in relation to my mental space. And those moments happen more often than you think. I definitely have anxiety attacks when I'm in the house and he is so there for me, it's not even funny. The one thing that I wish people would see more of is the bad sides of my personality so that they could really see the good of his — and people would stop being mean to him on social media! He gets a pretty bad rep, but he's a really good person.

The Challenge
Credit: MTV

Looking back on this season, did anyone surprise you with how you got along with them?

It's more about people that I thought I could work with and then now I just absolutely don't think I ever could. After watching back this season and seeing how many times Dee basically said Jordan and I were disposable to her... in the house, it was not like that to my face! It's interesting to really get to see everybody's personality once the time comes around to show it. That was one person that has really surprised me. Everybody else, I really do genuinely get along with. I love everybody for their differences, but it's a game. So if we work together well, then we work together, and if not, there's no hard feelings. When people are acting shady, that's what really bothers me.

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

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