‘The Challenge: USA’ Winners Defend Controversial Finale and the Show’s Rules, Shed Light on the Prize Money Debacle

After more than half of “The Challenge: USA” competitors quit during the season finale, cast members began complaining about inconsistencies in the rules.

Tyson Apostol, who dominated all season long, ultimately ended up dropping after he couldn’t finish a Sudoku puzzle. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, he said that while Sarah Lacina was able to time out of the first puzzle, production didn’t allow him to time out.

“I don’t know if she timed out of Sudoku, nobody was there to see her do it and they didn’t show her doing it on camera,” he said. Lacina, along with Danny McCray, went on to win the season — and were the only two who actually finished the Sodoku and scaled the mountain.

He also claimed that one producer on set told him the rules were in his head, but not written anywhere. His ally through the entire season, Angela Rummans, was disqualified halfway through the final race after she chose to opt out of a competition because she knew she wouldn’t win, assuming she could just take last place in that leg.

“She let her motives be very known to everyone. It wasn’t like she just snuck off and quit the challenge, she was like, ‘I’m going to bed because I’m not going to be able to even beat anybody in this,’” he said, adding that let her know that she would be disqualified.

However, McCray and Lacina noted on the “Reality Rundown” podcast that there were written rules on a board, which stated you had to complete the challenge to move on to the next round.

“If people are like, ‘Oh well, she’s just taking last,’ well, she does say, ‘I quit. I’m going to conserve my energy.’ It’s like, you’re not even trying and you have to make some sort of attempt. Cayla [Platt] was going to get last in the food eating, but she still had to eat it all. If she just opted out and took last, they would have counted that as a quit,” Lacina said. “It’s not fair that you just get a rest because you think it’s unfair.”

As for the other “inconsistencies,” both Lacina and McCray said that they did see some “shaky” rules — but nothing that gave an advantage to one player over another.

“I felt like we all got the same rules, we all were able to possibly make the same mistakes. I don’t think any of us got a competitive advantage, which is my biggest thing,” McCray said. “Was some of it messed up, and we were like, ‘Y’all’s rules are crazy?’ Yeah. But as to determining who won and who lost, I think they did the best that they could to be as fair as possible.”

Lacina, who worked with Apostol for part of the season before he turned on her alliance, added, “Who are the people that complain about it? The winners? It can’t be his fault he lost, so let’s blame it on something else. If you didn’t win, you didn’t win, that’s just the way it is. You don’t see the winners complain about it because it was fair. It is fair. All season, he’s been doing nothing but chirping about how great he is. Now all of a sudden, production sucks.”

As for the winnings, everyone is on the same page. The group was told throughout the season that they were battling for $500,000. In the end, however, it ended up being half of that.

“We had all assumed that the prize is going to be one winner, $500K, because it’s the ‘Challenge champion’ moving on to another part of a tournament — singular. We get to the top and I’m like, okay me and Sarah, we’re splitting the $500,000, meaning we get $250,000. Then we hear that if everybody had crossed the finish line, all of their money would have came out of that $500,000 and then me and Sarah would have split what was left of it. So it was very strange,” McCray said. “We come from ‘Survivor,’ where you get $1 million dollars. Xavier [Prather] came from ‘Big Brother,’ where you get $750K. ‘Amazing Race’ is $1 million dollars. I’m like, ‘We did all this for how much?’”

In Apostol’s interview, he said he wouldn’t have done the show had he known the real prize money in the beginning. “They kept assuring us that it was $500,000 to the winner. We all didn’t know. And then I asked them after, I was like, that was kind of a dirty move to mislead us like that, and they’re like, ‘Yeah, we thought a lot of you wouldn’t come for $250.’ I was like, ‘I for sure wouldn’t be here.’”

In a few months, Lacina and McCray will compete in a special worldwide tournament of “The Challenge” on Paramount+ — but they’re looking forward to a break first.

“You know what’s funny is right away when T.J. [Lavin] goes, ‘You guys punched your ticket to the global championship,’ Danny and I looked at each other, like, can we get a refund on these tickets? We just went through hell,” Lacina said when asked if the pair will do other seasons in the future.

McCray noted that the flagship is likely “too long” of a shoot for him since he as a 2-year-old daughter at home. When told that Season 38 shot for 10 weeks, Lacina responded, “I didn’t even take that long for maternity leave!”

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