Takin' On 'The Challenge: All Stars': "Live Free or Die Starred"

There is a method to make The Challenge: All Stars intriguing while keeping most of the games at a level for an older player. This week’s episode “Live Free or Die Starred” did it perfectly and the balance made for the best episode of the season. 

There isn’t a lot of chatter to begin and what there is mostly consists of Adam still grumbling about Steve stealing his star last week and giving it to Ace. Plus a bit of foreshadowing as Flora, who surprisingly has made it this far by doing [checks notes] jack shit, debates how much more her sore body can take. 

Now, ostensibly it’s one more daily challenge for all competing, which garners questions and complaints: Steve’s worried that he’ll have to go to one more elimination, and after winning three already this season, it feels unfair. I see his point. Others without stars are hoping it’s a last ditch effort. 

It is. T.J. allows the current star owners (Steve. Leroy, Ace, Veronica, Nicole, and Cara Maria) the chance to chill in the shade of the ol’ Winnebago because they’re in the final.  No worries, no problems. Some even partake of a cold beer or glass of wine whilst tossing a fishing rod or kicking back in a lawn chair. (Ace claims it’s the best daily challenge ever for him. Well, hell yeah!)

Which gives me an opportunity to say that Veronica making a final – or getting this far at all – tells me two things: she’s not winning this season, and perhaps the challenges and eliminations were a bit too pared down for an All Star cast. 

The remainders without a star – Laurel, Averey, Flora, Derek, Adam, and Ryan – line up for a multi-checkpoint mini-final where they race to a tree, untie a circular (and small) raft, paddle said raft to the middle of a lake where rests a large star, dive into middle of the star and into the water to retrieve a key, row back to shore as quickly as possible, unlock a box full of sludge, climb in, and search wildly for the last two stars, guarantees to the final. 

Before any of this begins, Flora limps to the starting line, stops T.J. before he blows his air horn, and tells him she’s done. You can see it in T.J.’s face — he’s itching to let her have it, and he should’ve! Come on! You made it this far! Just jog a bit and come in last! Thanks to some wise choices in editing, we see as T.J. scornfully stares at Flora and she shambles away. 

There are three clear players in this mini-final who are head and shoulders above the other two: Laurel, Derek, and Adam, in that order. Derek doesn’t ever lose his lead over Adam, but it’s close at times. In the end, the remaining two stars go to Laurel and Derek, which puts Nicole on Cloud Nine. Bleh. More of her ass accent. And it also means we get more of their weird romance. 

There’s a debate to be had on whether they should’ve offered two extra stars. Starting a final with players to weed out along the way makes the game better. But shouldn’t these players have to face someone one-on-one when everything is on the line? Or, had T.J. wished them goodbye right then, It would’ve made Laurel’s continuing nonchalance hilarious.

The daily challenge is done and they get back home. It isn’t long in the house – again, a credit to production and editing – and none other than T.J. himself pulls up in the Winnebago to drive the competitors to the beginning of the final. It was corny at times, but having the cast bicker like family while T.J., the dad, drove them on “vacation,” was fun. . 

At some form of abandoned factory, the cast unloads; the final begins: the first competition win will be for an advantage; the second will eliminate a player. 

The first game has the players strapped on top of a speedy lil’ car in order to shoot a paint gun at various stars positioned to the wall along the track —  some obvious, some hidden. It’s a great competition, except for one, major issue. Shouldn’t the players have used different colors of paint balls? Every game this season has them in various colors of reds, pinks, purples, blues, you name it. But here? Every shot is in orange? Isn’t that more difficult to count for the judges? Or is that to serve a purpose? Regardless, it’s Leroy, who went first, getting the win and gaining the advantage in the next round, one he certainly wants. 

Another excellent competition idea. In a style which harkens back to the old board game Operation, the players must move a metal rod around a metal star which has an electric current. If the star touches the metal? It’s a shock to the system. Literally. Leroy’s leg up is that he gets to begin with a fourth of it completed already. Carefully maneuvering, Leroy never gets a shock, but not without some screams to strike fear in those seated out of sight but not out of earshot. Ben Frankin would be disappointed, but not during Nicole’s turn. She’s the first to get shocked, and I have to admit that when it hit her, I jumped. I was on edge! Getting shocked is not fun. 

Which is why hats off to Ace. He moves the son of a bitch willy nilly as fast as he can whether it shocks him or not. He just tajes it, electricity and all. A few more get the bolt of lightning, but nothing like Ace, who knows what it feels like from being in Georgia and raising cattle. Good for you, Ace. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins this one round. 

But for that winner announcement, we’ll have to wait. We do get the confirmation that either Laurel or Derek will be going home since they came within seconds of one another for last place. Interesting that they chose to show Laurel’s time but no one else’s. That’s The Challenge for you. 

My money’s on Derek being the first player out. If so, it leaves seven players with the ladies having a slight, one-player benefit of getting the champion’s belt. There will only be one champ even if others get some prize money. 

If the final plays like this episode and manages to build up tension and interest, it should prove great. 


  • Ace is a vibe. 
  • Lots of fear about Laurel being bandied about from other players this episode, guys and girls. Sure, I get it, she’s excellent, and maybe she’s stepping it up now. But she hasn’t done much this season, a performance I blame on Nicole. I suppsose she did well when she had to. 
  • Steve’s forty-five-years-old, y’all. I’ll not say my age, but that does make me root for him a little more. 
  • Having the players go with T.J. one at at time to get shocked was a nice move. 
  • Veronica cannot athletically hang with anyone, but she doesn’t mind being electrocuted. Odd. 
  • Look, Ace deserves a win after braving all that electricity. Fuck it! I love that attitude!  
  • T.J. only drives fast. One speed only. Sorry. 

Blaine Duncan
Blaine Duncan
Editor-In-Chief, Host of Taking It Down