Survival is always the name of the game, and it’s been the biggest obstacle for US Survivor players transitioning into the MTV version of The Challenge. While Survivor players have displayed strength and skills in the eliminations and daily challenges, they have been targeted early due to being in the social/voting minority and a general threat level they come in with via a perception of Survivor being a strategic game (it is). It is an uphill battle that Jay Starrett & Michele Fitzgerald are ready to face. Michele won Survivor, and Jay beat CT so badly in elimination that it forced CT to get rid of the Dad bod! They are two players ready to break through the ceiling and become the first former US Survivors to make an MTV Challenge Final. Let’s get into the preview:
Introducing the Friendship
Jay & Michele have been friends for over half a decade and even dated a bit. Over the years, they have remained amicable and vocally championed one another in interviews. Despite having 7 seasons on Reality TV between them, Ride or Dies will be their first time on a show together.
Jay is a former Realtor from Georgia who worked hard and grinded during his youth, was a fan of Reality TV growing up, got cast on Survivor, and has since been able to live his dreams of traveling the world and competing in various shows. He was the first US Survivor player to debut on Total Madness, in which he won two eliminations. Jay made history by pulling off one of the biggest elimination upsets the Challenge has ever seen by cleanly taking down CT in elimination. In one moment, Jay bought enough goodwill to last himself a lifetime in the minds/hearts of fans, and now it’s about whether he can achieve greater success.
He stood out by winning the season’s mini Final alongside Theresa on Double Agents, and they looked like a strong pair. Unfortunately, Jay wasn’t ready to take the heat that came with Theresa’s gameplay style; he got thrown into elimination against Leroy, where Jay put up an outstanding performance — Leroy was just better. He’s taken one season off, and now he’s back to compete with Michele.
Michele first appeared on Survivor as a young bartender on the Beauty Tribe. She was a sneaky good challenge competitor, played an under-the-radar social game, and ended up pulling out the win and becoming Sole Survivor despite much debate over the final vote. Michele went back for all the winners season a few years later, now a professional in the Hotel Management/Travel world. With a chip on her shoulder, Michele wanted to prove she was a deserving winner and top player. Things did not go her way, yet, Michele continued to survive and made it to the Final Tribal Council, finishing in 3rd Place. 78 Days of Survivor played without ever getting voted out.
She makes her Challenge debut on Spies, Lies & Allies and immediately gets thrust into the spotlight of the season’s first elimination, where she and Corey Lay defeated Michaela & Renan. Michele blended into the Challenge universe seamlessly, looking gorgeous in confessionals, having a showmance with Emanuel Neagu, getting into off-season drama & hookups, and showing grit in the daily challenges. Unfortunately, her run was only four episodes after going down to Amber B & Hughie in a funky elimination. Albeit short, SLA was an excellent way to test the waters for Michele. Michele finally got to learn what getting eliminated from a Reality TV show feels like; she was able to create new social connections, got a sense of what she needs to improve on physically, and seems ready to come back and do better this time around.
Sidenote: My personal favorite thing about Michele is she’s a legit television nerd. Seeing her tweets that come in when she’s done binge-watching a show always puts a smile on my face.
Jay Starrett: 33 Years Old, 5'10, 160 lbs*, 2 Seasons, 2–2 Elimination Record
Michele Fitzgerald: 32 Years Old, 5'6* (Internet says 5'8 though), 1–1 Elimination Record, Former Sole Survivor, 2nd Most Career Individual Immunities Won By a Female Survivor Competitor
Skills & Physical Strength:
Let’s discuss this team’s weaknesses first. Jay and Michele will not be winning this game with brute strength. They are both relatively thin and could have targets on their back where teams may pick them as their desired elimination opponent, hoping it’s a headbanger or something size-based. Size isn’t everything; however, on The Challenge, when players have to go into elimination, they get scared and default to their most basic Neanderthal instincts by calling out the smallest opponent. As good as Jay is, we have seen with Cohutta Grindstaff where you can pull off one of the biggest elimination upsets, kill every daily challenge, be likable in the house, and STILL, people will throw you into elimination before inferior competitors because of your size. The good thing is that Jay and Michele are scrappy, free-thinking, and creative, so they’re ready to tackle what gets thrown at them.
As much as lack of weight can be Jay & Michele’s fatal flaw, it can also be a real strength for them. While they won’t be bowling anyone over in a Hall Brawl, Michele & Jay are both incredibly strong for their size.
Michele is an avid Yogi, and Jay is an outdoorsman that rock climbs, skateboards, and surfs; they are more than capable of lifting their own body weights, on top of having strong balance, grip strength, and core strength. They are agile on their feet and have natural cardio, where they have the stamina to run a final. Both are legitimately strong swimmers and should be favorites to win any water-based challenges.
A big part of Jay & Michele’s physical game is their mental prowess, where they know they aren’t the most explosive athletes, so they problem-solve and figure out the best strategy to win.
SSMP (Social, Strategic, Mental, and Political Game): Michele is one of the best social players in Survivor history; Jay is a likable and fun guy. Going into this season, Jay has allies in Nelson, Fessy, Kaycee, and Analyse. Jay’s #1 guy and girl is likely Nelson & Analyse, as he spends a good amount of time with them in the real world. Michele needs to focus on building relationships, and Jay needs to strengthen his existing bonds with Kaycee/Fessy, as those two will likely wield a good amount of power in the house.
Challenge Total Madness Interview: Jay Starrett
This past week, Jay Starrett became immortalized in Challenge history by defeating CT in a one on one elimination that…
Jay could have a potential enemy in Devin Walker; when I interviewed him during Total Madness, he threw a dig at Devin going after Bananas for camera time, to which Devin reposted the comment on his Twitter. It’s not much to go on, except players will look for any reason to go after someone. Devin controlled the game politically on SLA; Jay could have a target on him if this game follows suit.
Strategically, Michele is someone who should try to guide them. Jay is a thrill-seeker who loves big moves yet doesn’t always consider the repercussions. On Survivor, he famously blindsided Michaela, a move that basically put him in the minority of the numbers from then on, forcing him to work behind the 8-ball the rest of the game. During Double Agents, he went all in with Theresa to force a Kam/Ashley elimination, not realizing Leroy (& Kam) would be coming for vengeance. I’m not saying they shouldn’t make big moves as they aren’t going to win by playing safe — they need to take better agency of the game to weigh when is the right moment to make a splash.
As seen on Survivor, Michele has killer spatial awareness that comes in handy with puzzles. Jay is a bright fellow himself, and as we saw during his elimination with CT, he thinks quickly on his feet. Michele and Jay should be one of the strongest mental teams in the game.
Eliminations & Winning Potential:
If you throw Jay & Michele into a Pole Wrestle, Hall Brawl, or Reverse Tug-of-War, they are likely going home unless facing a team equally as small as them. You put them in an elimination that requires teamwork, cardio, problem-solving, or puzzles, and they have a good shot of winning. Michele had to win the final immunity of Survivor Kaoh Rong to sit at the Final Tribal Council, and Jay took down CT; they won when the stakes were the highest or when staring down a Goliath. The pressure of an elimination should not get to them.
Can they win? Their shot of winning is low as it is hard to imagine them getting to the Final as once the numbers in the game begin to dwindle, they will likely get targeted due to their lack of size, and they don’t have the strongest connections in the game. Could they win a Final if they got there? Jay & Michele have the cardio, willpower, and puzzle prowess to thrive a Final on paper. What they lack is experience running an actual Final where knowing how to pace themselves and when to take advantage of certain moments is critical. Their chances of winning aren’t great, but I wouldn’t call it a zero percent chance. There is a realistic path where if Jay & Michele can string together clutch daily challenge and elimination wins and form the right alliances, they can get to the Final and maybe shock the world.
MICHELE’S OVERALL RATING: 79/100
JAY’S OVERALL RATING: 84/100
Michele & Jay’s Pair Rating: 85/100
Michele (Spies, Lies & Allies): 77/100
Jay (Double Agents): 83/100
Jay (Total Madness): 77/100