I’m going to tattle tale on myself in this blog immediately and outright say that I adore Jonna Mannion. The first season I ever watched was Rivals 1, in which she was a Rookie, so I attached myself and became emotionally invested in her as a competitor and personality. When I started blogging about the Challenge, Jonna had already departed from the series with no potential return in sight or mind. My opportunities to write about Jonna were sparse. So much so that when there was a lot of dead time during the heat of the pandemic, I took the opportunity to write a blog about “Top 10 MTV Challenge Competitors Better Than You Remember.”
Top 10 MTV Challenge Competitors Better Than You Remember
This is not a top 10 most underrated list. These aren’t players who are quietly elite or lost to time. This list is…
The funny thing about this blog was that it was just a guise of me pretending to write/care about 9 other people so that I could jump to the end and give a 700-word explanation as to why I thought Jonna Mannion, a woman who had a 2–5 elimination record and never made it to a Final was actually a couple of moments going differently away from being a multi-time Challenge Champion. It was such a weird blog, and because it was the pandemic when people had nothing else better to do, it was one of my most viewed blogs ever. I honestly looked like a bit of a psycho. Little did I know Challenge All Stars would become a thing and that Jonna would return to be the 1st Place Female in back-to-back seasons to vindicate me. I’m talking a victory lap alongside Challenge Champion Jonna Mannion (that has a good ring to it).
Jonna is back for All Stars 3 and is looking to be the first female to win two straight appearances since Sarah Rice with Exes 2/Rivals 3 and the first to do so in consecutive seasons since Veronica with the Gauntlet 1/Inferno 1 in 2004. Let’s fucking go.
Jonna’s Cheat Sheet (TLDR Version)
Introducing Jonna: Normally, I say people made their Reality TV debut on the Real World or Road Rules, except Jonna made her debut in 2002 on Endurance, a Discovery Kids competitive reality show created in the same vein as Survivor/The Challenge.
At 13 years old, Jonna was the winner of the show’s first season. She would then make her MTV debut seven years later on the Real World Cancun. Pretty quickly, Jonna became a character of interest. Jonna was multiracial, came from a rough upbringing, had a penchant for making bad choices, was flirty, sometimes closed off, occasionally vulnerable, always looked stunningly gorgeous, and through it all, she came off as a real human. That’s a ramble and run-on, but truthfully, Jonna has such a massive appeal as a character because so many different types of people can see themselves in her. A glam queen could like Jonna’s style. People of color can see her as a strong representation of them. When I watched Jonna, I related to a person who made mistakes yet always had a good heart.
On the Real World, Jonna met Jasmine Reynaud, and the two had a tumultuous relationship at first where Jasmine was into a guy, and the guy was into Jonna. There is a lot more detail to that story; what this transitions into is their animosity led to them being partners on their rookie season, Rivals 1. As the only Rookie team, Jonna & Jasmine had a humongous target on their back, so when they won the first daily challenge to guarantee themselves safety, it was a statement that established themselves as competitors.
If that wasn’t enough, they pulled off one of the biggest elimination upsets in Challenge history when Jonna took down a cocky Sarah Rice in a puzzle. It’s an impressive win by Jonna as Sarah never lost an elimination again after this moment, and she probably has the best puzzle resume of any player in show history. Their season came to a heartbreaking end when they had to face physical monsters, Laurel & Cara Maria, in a headbanger/size-based elimination.
Fun Fact: Jonna was supposed to be on Fresh Meat 2, unfortunately, passport issues led to them bringing in Evelyn as a last-minute replacement.
Before All Stars, Jonna’s rookie season was definitely the peak of her Challenge career; her later seasons almost always ended in bleak fashion. Don’t get me wrong, Jonna was a solid competitor in the seasons after; what she lacked was confidence, good partners, and ultimately, luck. Jonna would return for Battle of the Seasons (2012) with her Real World roommates CJ, Derek, and Jasmine (again) as partners. They were a solid four-person team, winning 2 daily challenges, consistently being in the top 3, and never finishing in last. Their game turned upside down when they got forced into a Hall Brawl elimination against Team San Diego. CJ and Jasmine stepped up for their team and took an honorable loss. Jonna & Derek would go down in the last elimination of the season against San Diego’s Frank & Ashley. Part of me thinks that if Jasmine & Derek had gone in, CJ & Jonna probably could have won the season together, except CJ was an unselfish team leader, so the thought never crossed his mind. This season, Jonna started a relationship with a dickhead named Zach Nichols.
Jonna went back for Rivals 2 and partnered with Nany due to a falling out between them off-camera. She and Zach had split after he woke up and abandoned her one day (not exaggerating). Her life situation during this era was suboptimal, to say the least. Jonna & Nany looked like a decent pair early on, coming in 2nd in the first couple of challenges. They both began to crumble mentally as time went on, culminating in a last-place showing in a daily challenge that sent them into elimination against a strong Cara/Cooke duo. She did Free Agents after, and it was a forgettable run; Jonna anticlimactically beat Emilee Fitzpatrick in a Wrecking Wall elimination and then lost to Aneesa in the same elimination weeks later.
Prior to All Stars, Exes 2 was probably the season people thought about when it came to Jonna, and not in a good way. On Exes 2, Jonna got partnered with Zach. Even though Zach was the one who crushed Jonna’s heart and left her in a bad place, Jonna still actively tried to be a good partner and friend to Zach. In exchange, Zach was verbally abusive, gaslighted her, actively belittled her in both 1 to 1 situations and in front of crowds of people, and never once took responsibility for any of their failures. By the end, we got a sweet moment watching Jonna outperform Sarah Rice in elimination, only for Zach to get completely outworked by Jordan. After their loss, Jonna has a confessional where you could feel she was closing the chapter on the Challenge part of life because she realized her worth and couldn’t deal with the bullshit that came with the show anymore.
We wouldn’t see Jonna for years except occasionally on Social Media. During this time, she became a mom with two kids and looked genuinely happy. Then the All Stars calls went out, and Jonna jumped not long after giving birth to her second child. When Jonna popped up for All Stars, she wasn’t the same person. She had a lot more confidence and purpose in her. Hilariously, Jonna was kind of wallpaper for most of All Stars 1. I was at first disappointed because one of my favorite characters wasn’t getting any camera time. The Final happens, and Jonna shows out. Jonna put on a fantastic performance of mental fortitude and perseverance. After winning the first kayaking/puzzle checkpoint, Jonna got to pick her partner, looked at the field, and she knew Yes would be the guy most ready to build a bicycle. Jonna paced herself perfectly as the Final went on, knowing what her body could do. She wasn’t in the best shape, but Jonna played the Final in the best possible way. She and KellyAnne would tie for first among Females at the end (3rd Overall).
Jonna came back for All Stars 2 in much better shape and carried herself like a Champion the entire time. She worked the social game hard, was consistently solid in the challenges, and when the game went to partners, Jonna & MJ had real, palpable chemistry. They were perfectly in synch as partners physically, mentally, and politically. Their performance in the overall Final was not stellar. It didn’t matter because it came down to Phase 2 and the final checkpoint, where Jonna was the only player able to solve the math equations required to unlock total victory. Considering all the bad luck Jonna got served for the early part of her Challenge career, watching her get good karma on these All Stars seasons has made me incredibly happy. It took a decade — at long last, it was official: Jonna Mannion was a Challenge Champion (and to many, 2x Champion).
Player Vitals & Stats
Jonna Mannion: 33 Years Old, 5'5, 5 Seasons, 2–5 Elimination Record, 2 All Star Seasons, 2x All Star 1st Place Finisher, 1x All Star Champion, 2x All Star Finalist, 0–0 All Star Elimination Record
Skills and Physical Strength: Let’s get the negatives out of the way. Jonna has no real dominant skill. She isn’t the best runner in terms of speed or cardio, isn’t the strongest when it comes to carrying weight, doesn’t look to initiate contact in physical events, and is not a great swimmer. It’s crazy difficult to win daily challenges when you don’t have those strengths where you can be first out of a pack of 5–12 people.
While Jonna doesn’t have any major parts of the game that she dominates physically, her biggest strength is an incredibly balanced skill-set where she has no significant weakness that will cripple her in a daily challenge or a Final. It’s not sexy to say someone is a balanced player because they don’t usually receive the adulation and glory of people who pull out wins in front of an entire crowd. We are talking about what gives you the best chance to win the overall game, and Jonna’s skill-set keeps her from coming in last daily challenges. Because Jonna never finishes last, she isn’t at risk of getting sent directly into elimination, and avoids anyone labeling her as weak either. Jonna is just good enough that nobody wants to test her because she clearly has the cardio to run a Final, has the size to where she isn’t a pushover in a headbanger, is quietly intelligent, and importantly, people know she has heart.
If I did have to categorize Jonna as above-average in a couple of categories, it would be heights challenges and eating. Jonna has a thrill-seeker side that doesn’t get talked about enough where she seems fearless in heights challenges (then again, she’s been competing in extreme events since she was 13). I also want to note that Jonna has again come back on the show in even better shape than the previous season; very impressive coming off a win.
SSMP (Social, Strategic, Mental, and Political) Game:
As much as I gushed over Jonna’s balanced skill-set as a physical competitor, none of it would matter if she didn’t have a stellar social game. On All Stars 1, Jonna went under the radar as the OGs with the most baggage, least connections, or Kendal were the ones getting thrown into elimination. All Stars 2 is when Jonna began working the house daily. Everything Jonna did on AS2 was savvy. She buttered up the prominent personalities to raise their profiles to keep her target small. Likewise, Jonna made sure to form connections with all the other moms & parents in the house, socially making those bonds tight to where if they voted her in, they’d feel like assholes. Jonna’s most brilliant move was rooming with all the men, where she was able to gain their trust and essentially gave them a season-long application as to why they should want to run the Final with her.
Unless you’re CT, you usually don’t do two seasons in a row where you never sniff elimination. Jonna has been doing something right.
Now, going into All Stars 3, I don’t know if those same tricks will work because it’s hard to imagine Jonna will be able to go under the radar following back-to-back first-place finishes. It’s a bit tricky to decipher who Jonna’s true allies are other than MJ; she might be a bit of a wild card, if anything. When it comes to the mental game, Jonna is randomly killer with certain puzzles, and other times, she’s more or less average. The good thing for Jonna is she hit big in two massive moments: her elimination with Sarah on Rivals and the end of the All Stars 2 Final.
Eliminations & Winning Potential: Is Jonna bad in eliminations? We’ve seen Jonna compete in headbangers, carnival games, Knot So Fast (twice), Wrecking Wall (twice), and a puzzle elimination in the past. Besides the puzzle against Sarah, she never wowed me in anything. Her career 2–5 record isn’t great. The good thing is every single one of her losses is to a quality opponent: Laurel/Cara, Frank/Ashley, Cara/Cooke, Aneesa, and Sarah/Jordan. The bad part is that it’s still 2–5, and one of those wins was against Emilee Fitzpatrick, a contender for worst competitor ever. I’m almost willing to throw out Jonna’s entire career elimination record because the person who competed in those eliminations does not have the confidence that 2022 Jonna Mannion does. She has real mom strength.
Talking logically, I think Jonna’s balanced skill-set is both a positive and a negative in eliminations. I can envision Jonna beating Kendal or KellyAnne because she’s bigger and has a rougher edge, or I could see her taking down Veronica an endurance comp with ease. You could flip it the other way, where I could see Kendal & KellyAnne running circles around her in a heavy cardio event or Veronica beating her in a puzzle.
Can Jonna win? Yes, we saw her be the 1st Place female the last two seasons. I’m going to beat this balance skill-set thing to death because it is why I think Jonna is such a threat in the Final. Finals aren’t just races; they are events that mentally & physically test individuals and prey upon their weaknesses, waiting for them to crack. Whether it be puzzles, swimming, eating, or running, one setback can toss your chance of winning out the window. You could even argue that Jonna & MJ crumbled in the Final last season. Finals are fucking hard, and it takes a lot of heart to push through. Experience matters in a Final, where knowing how to pace yourself and understand when to go all out in certain moments is key. Heart matters a lot in Finals, and if I know anything, it’s that Jonna has heart.