All hail Bananas and Jenny!
We have come to the end of a strange, sometimes tame, sometimes outrageous, mostly entertaining season of The Challenge. After a grueling final in the snow-covered mountains of Austria, the winningest person in Challenge history and the heavy female favorite walked away with half a million dollars added to their bank accounts.
The final itself was very straightforward, albeit a bitch of a final to get through.
To begin, the finalists strapped on some skis and had to cross-country ski up and down a hill, transporting firewood to their individual pile. Once they had 12 logs, they had to start a fire, and once they did that they could take off towards the next checkpoint.
Cory and Jenny were the first to reach the checkpoint, and once everyone made it T.J. hit us with one last surprise for the season: there was going to be another elimination!
Cory and Jenny pick Bananas and Kaycee to go into elimination. Rogan volunteers, claiming he was going to get voted in anyway and… was he? I don’t know, man, I think Rogan boned himself on this one, trying to prove himself because last season’s win is seen as weak. If you want to prove yourself in a final, how about just try and win the damn thing?
Anyway, Bananas wins elimination, sending Rogan home. On the ladies’ side, Melissa decides she’s had enough and quits. Sucks to see that, but cold weather does that to you if you ain’t about that life. I fucking hate the cold, and I grew up playing ice hockey and snowboarding. I moved to the South for many reasons, but a big one was “fuck cold weather.” I suspect we’ll see Melissa again, and maybe a final in a hotter climate might be for her.
We also lost Bayleigh early due to injury. She self-diagnosed it as a “pulled MCL” and clearly couldn’t keep climbing a mountain, so she bowed out after the first day. That left poor Fessy and Kyle to sit outside in the cold with only a fire to warm them, as Cory, Jenny, Bananas and Kaycee got to sleep inside. They eventually let Fessy and Kyle inside, but not before a wonderful bit of television. Kyle is the kind of person that just can’t handle silence, and he talked poor Fessy’s ear clean off while the two were standing around the fire.
The juxtaposition of Kyle saying, “Fessy has just gone completely silent, he’s like, broken,” followed by Fessy’s, “This dude won’t shut up, and I’m just trying to make it through the night,” was just beautiful. Every quiet person watching who has a talkative spouse had the heartiest laugh at that scene.
Day 2 was basically a straightforward race, with one small stop. As the players approached the first checkpoint, they came across signs that spelled out a math equation. The answer the equation was the combination to the lock the players had to unlock to continue the race.
Fessy completed the checkpoint first, and it was then that the greatest rookie season ever seemed within arms reach. Bananas was second, followed by Jenny, who quickly realized her chance to put some distance between herself and Kaycee. Kyle and Cory followed.
But oh, the woeful tale of poor Kaycee. She messed up her math, and couldn’t solve the equation. She even trekked back down the hill to get a second look. Eventually, she ran out of time, and by then it was too late. She was sooooo close on a couple of occasions, too. The combo was 1136, and Kaycee had both 1138 and 1126. Tough deal, but that’s the final. She’s a strong competitor and I hope to see her again.
As we closed in on the finish line, Fessy lost his lead. Be it the distance, the snow, the altitude, whatever it was overcame Fessy and he just ran out of steam. Bananas passed him first, and the Cory and Kyle overtook him as well. Fessy was phenomenal this season, and has boatloads of potential to be a CT-like figure on The Challenge for years to come. And now he knows what the final is like, and can train accordingly.
Jenny was the first to finish, much to her surprise. Although a relatively new cast member, she’s at least conditioned enough to expect never-ending twists, so when T.J. told her she was a champion, her response was “I won? Fuck off!” That was so genuine and so appropriate a reaction for Jenny. Just a great moment to watch, perhaps only topped by her rolling around in the snow proclaiming “I’ve only ever won two pounds in Vegas!” This is Jenny’s first title, and there’s almost certainly more in her future if she continues to appear on the show.
Bananas was first across the finish line for the guys, winning his seventh title. He was emotional in his confessional, bringing up the fact he hadn’t won since double-crossing Sarah. As we discussed on the podcast, Bananas was a bit of an emotional favorite this season. He’s still the ultimate shit-stirrer and king of all Challenge antagonists, but he earned this win and it was good to see him do it.
Kyle finished second for the guys, and I’m interested to see what that does for his mental state going forward. That’s gotta give a lot of confidence to a guy who seemingly has lacked it at crucial times in the past. He even says in his last confessional, “I will not rest until I am Challenge champion.”
Cory followed after, and took one more chance to whip out his kid’s picture.
Fessy and Kaycee brought up the rear, with Fessy lamenting his blown lead. He views this as a chance to make up for him not making the NFL, and you can tell the loss hurt, particularly how he lost. Again, Fessy is a beast and champion in the making. Kaycee, too, will be a champion someday. For two rookies to finish the final is impressive, and these two could be part of the foundation of the Challenge for years to come.
Jenny just couldn’t contain her happiness, and the ending montage celebrating her win was perfect. Just a bunch of clips of her being the beast she is, set to 10,000 Maniacs and cut with her interview where all she can do is be grateful and happy and cry tears of joy. Jenny may be the least toxic reality TV star ever.
Bananas got emotional, too, talking about how he took the competition for granted for a few years and it resulted in a dry spell. This win clearly meant a lot to him, as it proves to himself he can still go and compete with the younger guys. It was a rare scene of vulnerability from the veteran.
But, the most fitting moment of the end came after Fessy crossed the finish line, tackled Bananas and playfully exclaimed, “I can’t get one win?” Bananas, quick-witted as always, had the perfect reply: “Fuck no! Hell no! You think I’m gonna let a fucking rookie come in the game and beat me?!”
He’s back. Curse be damned, aging muscles and connective tissue be damned, haters be damned. John Banana is back on top! And I love it. He loved it, too, so much so that he was moved to tears. I think we discovered while doing this week’s Taking It Down podcast that most folks are MTV homers. We pull for our folks, our vets. Maybe that’s partially because we don’t want our own adolescence or younger days to totally disappear into memory quite yet. It’s hard to dispute how much Bananas has meant to this show over 20 seasons, good and bad. He has mellowed into a great TV character, and I’m glad he got another win. On the opposite end of the experience spectrum, it was fantastic to see Jenny shred her competition. No matter what, we were guaranteed to see a first time champ from the ladies, and I’m so glad it was Jenny. Kaycee gave it a hell of a go, and I’m sure we’ll see her take one home sooner rather than later if she keeps coming back. I was also deeply impressed with Melissa’s effort, despite her committing TJ’s Challenge cardinal sin: she quit. But she was something like 17 weeks pregnant, so, hopefully she gets a pass and we see her compete in the future. Bayleigh? Get out of here. She quit to avoid sleeping outside. After hearing her trash talk other ladies all season while doing relatively little, I really enjoyed her demise. For the guys, our everyman Kyle managed second. That didn’t come with any money (one of a handful of structural issues with the final, maybe?), but I’m sure he’ll take the bragging rights of beating folks like Fessy and Cory. His scene beside the fire with Fessy was an all timer, and if that was a tactical move by Kyle, what a genius. He embraced the hangover theory! He may not be stronger or faster, but he can out suffer. That matters in a final! I’m not sure what happened to Cory, except that this looked brutal. We know he’s had knee problems in the past, maybe that flared up? You’ve gotta think they had a lot more planned that was crushed by that blizzard, turning it into a footrace with one “puzzle.” Regardless, Fessy did what I expected him to do all season: he gassed. That’s a big boy. I didn’t expect Rogan to mess up the first day as much as he did, but I’ve gotta hand it to him: he lost the surprise elimination with grace, and over the course of the season I’ve had a shift of opinion on the guy. I’m sad to see this season end. Even though I don’t think its one of the show’s best, it came right on time during this crazy time in history and brought me a lot of joy every Wednesday night.
It’s already being said by plenty online that this season of The Challenge was a weak, boring one. Not for me. I was intrigued the whole time what with the “don’t put me into elimination” to a quick “I better get in elimination, dammit!” Granted, I was back into the show after years of being away (that line has become for me what Cory’s pictures are for him: I’m going to bring that up every time this season). What happened is almost what I would draw up: Bananas wins, Jenny wins. There is nothing wrong with those two, at least not any more. I really didn’t want Bayleigh to have the excuse of a leg injury to fall back on. I wanted to watch her suffer in the cold. But it did give us one of the greatest television moments of the year: Kyle repeatedly talking and talking and talking edited for hilarity. I’ll say this in response to TD’s thoughts above: Fessy is definitely going to be a dominant force for years, but I’m banking on Rogan to be a champion multiple times before his run is over. That leaves us with what’s honestly the biggest surprise of this season and that is Kyle finishing second. He and Bayleigh had similar seasons, yet both of them finished high. The difference? I see Kyle building off of this and Bayleigh unable to compete when the eliminations are much more political. Alas, that’s the end. Bananas, Jenny, we hope to see you later.