Jonna Stephens (née Mannion) may have been the first Challenge veteran eliminated from season 2 of The Challenge: USA, but she didn’t go down without a fight.
After losing an intense round of “Drop the Ball” to fellow Challenge alum Tori Deal, Jonna, 34, became the second person booted off the Sunday, August 13, episode, following Ameerah Jones out of the house. Although Jonna and Tori, 30, are real-life friends, Jonna exclusively told Us Weekly that she “wasn’t surprised” by how hard Tori went in the challenge.
“Right before, you know, we’re getting ready, we’re putting our helmets on, … [Tori] looks at me and I could just see pure, like, sorrow in her face. She’s like, ‘What do we do?’” Jonna recalled of the moments before the elimination round, which forced the two women to tackle and shove each other as they attempted to catch balls falling from a Plinko-like machine and carry them to their respective goals.
Jonna emphasized that she told Tori not to go easy on her “just because I’m terrible at physical things.” On the contrary, she wanted to give the other players “a show.”
She continued: “[I told Tori,] ‘This is what they want. They want vet versus vet. I’m gonna try as hard as I can, so you better try as hard as you can, too.’ So, I was not surprised when my face got slammed into a wall and on the ground and stuff.”
Other contestants marveled at Tori’s performance as they watched from the sidelines. “Tori’s absolutely manhandling Jonna in every sense of the word,” Johnny “Bananas” Devenanzio said during a confessional. Tiffany Mitchell added, “This girl got kids at home, you about to damn kill her,” referring to Jonna’s daughter, Naleigh, 7, and son Cal, 3. “Girl, that’s not your damn friend.”
Tori and Jonna going head-to-head was the result of several contestants working together to target Challenge alums in the hopes of sending a veteran player home. (Jonna won seasons 2 and 3 of The Challenge: All Stars in 2022 while Tori was crowned the winner of The Challenge: Ride or Dies earlier this year.) Although rookies going after vets got Jonna out of the competition, she told Us that she is “very impressed” by this season’s newcomers.
“There’s never been a group of rookies that come in and that are this organized,” she said. “When you go into a game, there’s usually maybe a handful of people [who are] able to handle all the complicated layers of this game, and they’re the strategic players that are playing chess and everybody else just kind of falls in line. In this game, 24 of the people were strategic players.”
Prior to Jonna’s elimination, the Blue team — which is comprised of Challenge vets Tori and Cory Wharton, Survivor alums Cassidy Clark and Sebastian Noel, Big Brother alums Alyssa Lopez and Alyssa Snider and Faysal Shafaat, who has played both Big Brother and The Challenge — opted to leave the vets alone and target Ameerah and The Amazing Race’s Luis Colón.
After her elimination, Ameerah exclusively told Us she was “very surprised” that she was targeted during round one and felt that the newbies were “really scared” to go after the bigger threats.
“I felt like we had the numbers, in the beginning, to get out the vets. I didn’t really see a point in keeping them around when they’ve done this a million times [and] they’re really good at this game,” she said.
After seeing how well Tori performed against Jonna, Ameerah told Us that she thinks the way to take Tori out is to “keep throwing [her] in until it’s not a physical elimination.”
She continued: “She’s a great competitor. I don’t wanna see her in the end of this game. I don’t know who would want to. So, we gotta just keep trying and trying until we get her out.”
While Ameerah might be out of the competition, Tori still has plenty of enemies gunning for her. Lopez, her fellow blue team member, conspired against her during Sunday’s episode. “I love when people think they know everything and it doesn’t go their way,” Lopez said during a confessional after Jonna and Tori were revealed as the bottom two following the secret vote. “Looks like you didn’t get your way this time.”
Lopez isn’t the only one breaking ranks and going against a member of her team. Jonna became the first person of the season to cast a secret vote against a teammate when she voted for Survivor alum Michele Fitzgerald to compete against Ameerah in the first elimination round.
Although the risky move put a target on Jonna’s back, she told Us that she’s “happy I took my shot.”
She continued: “I already knew there was a target on my back because I’d just come off back-to-back wins [in All Stars]. … I already knew that these 18 people, … the only goal that all of them have in common is to get me out. So, I felt like my back was up against the wall.”
Jonna added that she and Michele, 33, got a chance to hang out “this past weekend” and chat about what went wrong for them. She explained that she felt Michele was going to be a threat to her as a player with “a great social game that is so much smarter” than she lets on. “Her and I are very similar with how we navigate the social part [of the game].”
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The Challenge: USA airs on CBS Thursdays and Sundays at 10 p.m. ET and 9 p.m. ET, respectively.