‘The Challenge’ Season 35: Who Won ‘Total Madness’? (RECAP)
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the Season 35 finale of The Challenge, “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.”]
And then there were nine.
With a share of $1 million on the line, that’s all that’s left for The Challenge: Total Madness finale, from the 28 competitors that started the season. “Welcome to the end of the world,” host TJ Lavin greets veterans Johnny “Bananas” Devenanzio (20th Challenge, six wins), Cory Wharton (seventh Challenge), Kyle Christie (fifth Challenge), Melissa Reeves (third Challenge), Rogan O’Connor (third Challenge, one win), and Jenny West (second Challenge), and rookies Bayleigh Dayton, Faysal Shawn “Fessy” Shafaat, and Kaycee Clark.
It’s “winner take all,” split between first place male and female players, TJ informs them. Everyone else goes home empty-handed. But first, they must make it through two days of climbing a mountain in a blizzard and freezing temperatures. “This is my final. You’ll be climbing over 9000 feet of elevation while trekking 12 miles through thick snow,” TJ says. The final checkpoint is at the mountaintop.
First, the players must ski to a pile of logs and carry 12 (three at a time) through a valley to skull monuments, which they must then light. Cory and Jenny are the winners, making up the tribunal and choosing one man and one woman for the final elimination, one of the few no one wants to be in. (This season, they had to win one to earn a red skull and a spot in the finale.)
Once they all journey up to a compound, Rogan and Melissa volunteer to go in as the losers’ votes. Meanwhile, Jenny thinks with her head instead of her heart and Cory plays to win, and they send in Johnny Bananas and Kaycee. But when it comes time to compete, Melissa quits — “mentally and physically, I can’t carry on” — so Kaycee continues on by default.
Then the men face off in Knock Out, starting on either side of a ring and racing to be the first to ring the bell over it twice. Johnny Bananas wins, sending Rogan home. “I have a sudden rush of relief. I’m done. This hell is over,” Rogan says, but “I was so close to winning another challenge.”
As winners of the day, Cory, Jenny, Johnny Bananas, and Kaycee are rewarded by getting to go inside, to the warmth of the compound. Bayleigh, who injured her knee on her way to the first checkpoint, can’t continue on and leaves. Kyle and Fessy, as the losers, are only let inside after six hours.
It’s a “full-on race” to TJ at the finish line for the six remaining players. The Day 1 winners are given a one-minute head start, then the elimination winners are granted the same advantage over the remaining two. Along the way, they must solve math equations to unlock a skull, and while Fessy is the first to complete it, he soon ends up behind the rest of the male players on the trek. (Kaycee times out.)
Jenny is the first one to reach TJ, followed by Johnny Bananas, and they’re the champions, each receiving $500,000. “You guys earned every penny,” the host says. And Johnny Bananas has broken the curse that’s been hanging over him since his “controversial decision” (his words) to take the prize money instead of splitting it with Sarah Rice in Season 28, Rivals III.
Next to cross the finish line is Kyle. “This has been the worst, most brutal, hardest Challenge anyone has ever done,” he says. “I need to get that win. I will not rest until I’m a Challenge champion.” Then comes Cory, who, while happy for Johnny Bananas, admits he’s “disappointed,” especially after his success the first day of the final. And Fessy is the last of the men to reach the end, having to “live with” dropping the ball after taking the lead with the math equations.
Finally, Kaycee finished, and TJ notes it’s a “big deal” to do so her first season. While she thought she’d win, she was proud to represent the LGBTQ+ community. “If it wasn’t me, I’m glad it was you,” she tells Jenny. “You’re a badass.”
“To get to the final and to win and to play an honest game getting there makes it even sweeter because now I feel like I really deserve it,” Jenny says. (She’s planning to spoil her family and friends and save the money.)
Meanwhile, Johnny Bananas shares just how much this win means to him. “I never thought I was going to see my seventh win,” he admits. “This one means more to me than my other six wins combined. I needed this one to solidify my legacy as the greatest challenger of all time.”
“Without this one, had I not come and not seen this one through, I don’t know if I would’ve had what it took mentally and physically to ever make it this far again and do this again,” he adds.
And the finale ends with him shouting, “Curses be damned!” at the top of the mountain.
The MTV competition series will be back for a 36th season.
The Challenge, MTV