“If I got to put some money on it, I’d say that me and Laurel are gonna walk away with $100,000 a piece. And I’ll show you guys, for the fourth time, why I am the king of sting.…I’m gonna win another one.” —Kenny
“Carley’s feet are starting to slip out, so I literally stick my head right between her butt cheeks and start pushing her up this mountain to the finish. Like I said: push, pull, carry—whatever it takes.” —Landon
So, Landon is clearly the closest thing Fresh Meat II had to a superhero. The main storyline of this Challenge was, of course, “Wes vs. Kenny,” and the biggest surprise was the dominance of Laurel; in the end, though, the most impressive performer was, once again, Landon. Just two weeks after willing a barely-conscious Carley through one of the toughest Exiles of the game, Landon basically did the same thing in the final challenge. This time Carley never lost consciousness, but she was essentially dead weight for most of the course, and yet she and Landon led from start to finish.
Of course, Kenny’s statement from early in the episode was right: If you were betting on the final challenge, the smart money would have been on Kenny and Laurel. Not only had Kenny and Laurel dominated the entire Challenge, but they were the team best suited for an MTV-designed final challenge, in which you are only as strong as your weakest link.* Since Laurel was by far the strongest female competitor—and was arguably better than Kenny throughout the Challenge—that pair seemed destined to take the crown.
*The most notorious example of this being in The Gauntlet III, in which Eric’s inability to finish the challenge disqualified his whole team.
And you could attribute the loss to the fact that Laurel put up a surprisingly unLaurel-like performance in the final challenge—at one point Kenny said she was “dragging ass”—but the real reason Kenny and Laurel lost was because Landon is awesome. Even a lackluster performance from Laurel was still the best performance of the four girls competing—she stayed on the mountain bike longer than any other girl, she picked up more logs than any other girl, she helped Kenny carry the weighted duffel bag, etc.—and it was light-years better than Carley’s. In an epic final challenge that featured mountain bikes, logs, canoes, helicopters, ice axes, and 85-lb. duffels, Landon dominated every aspect of the race.
In the first part of the race, Landon and Carley took the lead thanks to Landon’s strength and, more importantly, his steering of the canoe. Able to pull slightly ahead of Kenny and Laurel, Landon pulled his boat ashore first and with the extra time was able to complete the first puzzle first. This gave him and Carley a two-minute head start in the second phase of the race. This included a puzzle that nobody figured out, as well as the tag-team mountain biking.
Although Landon is apparently capable of mountain biking “at an elite level,” since the bikes were tied together, he was held back by Carley. And while all the teams had trouble biking (since the whole concept of mountain biking requires steady pedaling, and it’s incredibly difficult to pedal steadily while also pedaling in tandem with someone else), the other teams seemed to alternate between riding and walking the bikes—even Jillian, who apparently doesn’t know how to ride a bike, gave it a shot. Carley, though, basically walked the whole challenge while Landon led both bikes up the mountain by hand.
It was here that Kenny and Laurel had their best chance to catch Landon and Carley. They were right on their heels for most of the bike ride, but this was also the part where Laurel seemed the most physically exhausted. Even though they were right behind the leaders the whole time they were on bikes, Kenny and Laurel never quite caught up.
The next section of the race involved assembling a puzzle with logs, and Landon evidently completed this section so fast—since Landon picks up logs like normal human beings pick up socks—that by the time Kenny and Laurel got there, Landon and Carley had moved on. After finishing the puzzle, each team had to pick up the 85-pound duffel bag and carry it further up the mountain. This once again provided Kenny and Laurel with a chance to catch up, since Laurel and Kenny split time carrying the bag, while Landon did it all himself (once again, he was the only guy to do this; even Jenn and Jillian dragged or carried the bag for a while). This was also where Landon started to show signs of tiring.
But Landon is a superhero, so he didn’t let Kenny and Laurel catch up. Not only did he get to the final puzzle first, but he managed to complete it before Kenny and Laurel could make up that much time. All that was left was the final climb—with helmets and ice-axes—to the top of the mountain. Once again, Carley was basically dead weight, falling down and at one point apparently lying down in the snow, unable to move. Refusing to give in, though, Landon wedged his head literally up Carley’s ass, nudging her along as if she were a baby cub learning to walk. Unwilling to let her slow down long enough for Kenny and Laurel to catch up, Landon and Carley made it to the peak with Kenny and Laurel about halfway down the final climb.
While the moment was triumphant for Landon (and Carley, who managed to luck into $100,000 by falling to Landon with his last pick way back in the initial Fresh Meat draft), it was rough for Kenny and Laurel. For Kenny, it was a blow to his massive ego, as well as his first lost since The Gauntlet III (and his first lost not by technicality since the first season of The Duel). For Laurel, it was a sour note on which to end her breakout season. As usual, she was noble in defeat, but her mediocre performance was not the way I had hoped Fresh Meat II would end for her. Hopefully, she’ll be back to redeem herself.
Meanwhile, while Kenny and Laurel tried to catch Landon and Carley, the other two teams tried to race for third place, since fourth place was left out of the money. Even though Noor and Jenn had competed in a grueling Exile at the beginning of the episode, they managed to give Pete and Jillian a few scares, particularly when Pete realized Jillian wouldn’t be able to ride her bike. Ultimately, though, Noor and Jenn faded down the stretch and didn’t even finish the race.
Overall, the final challenge was a fitting end to a great season of The Challenge. Unlike most other seasons, none of the final teams that made the last challenge snuck in: Each of the final teams won a challenge and at least one Exile this season, and even though Noor and Jenn didn’t finish, a lot of that was probably due to lingering fatigue from the last Exile—that team was not a doormat. Also, the final challenge included no technicalities or gimmicks—it was really just a chance for the contestants to shine.
And in a season that was defined by the Machiavellian machinations of Wes and Kenny, it was the apolitical Landon who shined brightest in the final challenge.