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Why The Challenge: USA's Rules Has Everyone Scratching Their Heads

Over the summer, CBS offered fans of MTV's "The Challenge" an interesting new twist on the popular competition series, with stars from some of the network's biggest reality shows — including "Big Brother," "The Amazing Race," and "Survivor — going at it this time. But apparently, not everyone who got to watch or even participate in "The Challenge: USA" knew what was actually going on, especially when it came to the rules of the game.

Billed as a reality show first, "The Challenge: USA" was described online as a series that would reunite and pit "reality titans from CBS" against each other with the prospect of winning $500,000 (via CBS). Network execs referred to it as "the most unpredictable and demanding game of their lives," which turned out to be more true than anyone could have feared. 

"It is someone's job to make up the games and rules on tv shows. That role is called 'Challenge Producer,'" said Twitter user @IsaacDButler. "Let me use it in a sentence. 'The Challenge Producer(s) on The Challenge USA completely f***ed up the finale.'" 

In terms of what confused contestants and audiences the most, it was "The Challenge: USA"'s final game and episode, titled "Home Of The Brave," that ultimately left everyone scratching their heads after it aired on September 14. A number of players who competed in the finale have since come forward to explain what allegedly happened.

Challenge: USA players say rules created unfair advantage and they were misled about prize money

According to claims from at least two different "Challenge: USA" contestants, the rules on the show were constantly changing and giving unfair advantages to people. In addition, the producers allegedly misled everyone on what the monetary prize would be.  

"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," explained former "Survivor" contestant and Dallas Cowboys player Danny McCray on the "Reality Rundown" podcast (via Variety). McCray and fellow "Survivor" cast member Sarah Lacina both managed to win "The Challenge: USA" after more than half of the other competitors quit due to the alleged rule inconsistencies, which were made even worse by the apparent prize disparity. 

"We get to the top and I'm like, okay me and Sarah, we're splitting the $500,000, meaning we get $250,000," McCray said. "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. 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?'" 

When it comes to the rules that kept changing, McCray and Lacina both claim that no unfair advantage was present during the "Challenge: USA" finale. Those claims, instead, are coming from the people they beat.

Challenge rules were allegedly inconsistent, but winners insist the game was fair

According to contestant Tyson Apostol, there were numerous instances where the rules for "The Challenge: USA" games were changed or didn't make sense during filming. However, winners Danny McCray and Sarah Lacina both insist that everyone was on the same uneven playing field. 

"I felt like we all got the same rules, we all were able to possibly make the same mistakes," McCray explained on the "Reality Rundown" podcast. "I don't think any of us got a competitive advantage, which is my biggest thing," he 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."

According to Apostol, some of the blatant discrepancies that he and others saw during the filming of "The Challenge: USA" included DQ'ing Angela Rummans without a warning — after giving her a major disadvantage during one of the games — and letting him do things without explanations of the rules. "There were some times where I was like, 'Can I do this?' And [the producers] were like, 'No, it's in the rules,'" Apostol told Entertainment Weekly in September 2022. "I was like, 'Where's the rules?' And the guy was like, 'In my head.'" Describing Angela's situation and the unfair advantage other players had over her during a Sudoku challenge for the finale, Apostol said: "They told her she had to move two-thirds of a regular pile. But if you do the math, there's two people moving one pile and she has to move two-thirds of an entire pile by herself, that's more than every individual is expected to move."

When it comes to "The Challenge" and its ultimate future, CBS is already planning multiple spinoffs for Paramount+ that will lead into a worldwide tournament, with McCray and Lacina competing against the winners of the other shows on "The Challenge: War of the Worlds."