The Challenge: All Stars - Mo Money Mo Problems

It's finally here. The Final, or, finale, as Mark called it, or, Grand Finale, as it has also been referred to. The thing at the end that no one is totally sure about because it has been a decade plus since they were involved in one. Except Derrick, of course. He understands a modern Final. That bodes well for him, right?

Before getting into the nitty gritty, I have to say, this season has lived up to any hype I personally brought to it, and I hope Paramount+ embraces what they've got. I know we are at the end relatively quickly because these are people with running clocks; kids that need their parents, careers that need tending to. But the pacing has felt just right in a "leave them wanting more" sense, something that the main show has at times gotten away from in its current era. I loved that each episode started with the elimination victor rolling back into the house, and we were guaranteed to have a neat daily-deliberation-elimination format every week. Would I have watched longer episodes? Sure. But I can't say enough good things about a return to this format. On to the matter at hand: $500k.

I had a fair amount of questions going into this week's episode, and they were all some version of absolute disbelief that Big Easy and Jisela survived the last elimination, and wondering how a Final with this many folks could possibly work. Would they do one more daily that would serve as a purge? Remember when the show loved purges for a few years? Would Jisela even be medically fit to run a final after her tumble in the elimination? Did Kendal go home for nothing?!? And perhaps most importantly, is there a way to have a truly fair single champion between a cast of men and women? These questions have mostly been answered.

TJ starts things off with information of his own: they will be working in constantly changing pairs, and they will be at this for two days. This isn't beach games for $20k anymore. He also lets them know that there is indeed a purge element after checkpoint two. This triggers a deep stress in me, as I continue to recover from Big Easy anxiety and deep doubts about Aneesa's endurance work, and recall Bananas' triumph in Free Agents, or CT's in Invasion. Who can time their partners best?

The Challenge All Stars Credit: MTV

Let's get it out of the way: Derrick could not. At the puzzle checkpoint before the canoe, the contestants were shuffled beyond choice and control, and he came up short. Jisela was not the partner for the moment, they couldn't even get into their canoe the right way; it was a total mess. I hated to see Derrick go. Jisela had an amazing comeback story, she was a light of the season, but I had my doubts about her in a final and am less heartbroken. However, KellyAnne and Big Easy's come from behind victory on the remarkably choppy lake water was good stuff. These are two people who deserved to come back from the brink. Their performance on the lake may also be turning point for things to come.

Because having seen only half of the final, I am a big fan of the points system being used. It has, so far, removed some of the advantages that the dudes usually enjoy, and made it a scrappy, fair race for everyone. But KellyAnne getting Easy in the boat sets her up well from there on out; there is no liability barring a medical emergency. She is the strongest girl left, and the guys will have to share points based on that partnership, meaning she could take a sizable lead into the individual portion.

What about around the rest of the game? Jonna has shown incredible grit so far, even flying over the handlebars in that terrible tethered bike ride only to bounce right back up. Her resiliency and ability as a competitor was underplayed in her time on the show, and I'm glad she's getting another chance to show it now. Ruthie is holding strong, and aside from a moment on Darrell's shoulders, has looked totally up to the task. Jemmye is staying in it, and is rightfully proud of herself. Aneesa will need to dig deep next week for any chance of continued sympathy with her "if I could just make the final and show what I've got" shtick. It could get out of hand fast for her, unfortunately.

But there is the ghost pepper equalizer. Jemmye boasts that she lives in New Orleans and can eat spicy, only to find herself doubled over on the ensuing run. Darrell, who we saw house curry like it was Gatorade on Invasion, ended the episode on the ground, calling for a medic. This is the first vulnerability from the stacked guy's side.

Mark is keeping a level head, rolling with the punches and being a good partner. Yes seems to be in cruise control, and his knowledge and skill on the mountain bike may indicate an adulthood spent building the type of fitness needed to win a race up a mountain when things turn individual. Darrell, as mentioned above, pulled a Kenny and carried Ruthie past other teams. If his stomach can survive, he's in a great position. And who would bet against Darrell? Except that there's Alton, who endured a divorce boat canoe trip with Aneesa by showing a lot of calm. He's had a relatively quiet first half, but let's not forget he's one of the Top 3 best athletes to ever be on the show, and has a history in the outdoors, too. And let's not forget Big Easy, who continues to surprise everyone this season and is holding his own through Day 1. I am very much here for the Big Easy redemption tour, despite wishing Kendal had made the final.

So who can win it all? My brain still says KellyAnne is sitting pretty, but I'm not putting any money on it yet. If a Bananas or CT or Jordan were here, you'd know that by Day 2, they'd start pulling away, but I just can't call who will play that role. Jonna, Darrell, and KellyAnne looked great on Day 1. Does that mean a cushioned lead, or does it mean the likes of Yes and Alton have plenty in the tank for day 2? An individual race will look a lot different, and I can't wait for next Thursday.