"Everything is temporary."
So said the winner of The Challenge: All Stars, except it seems the MTV reality series is anything but, still going strong 23 years in. In its first season in 1998, The Challenge pitted The Real World and Road Rules stars against each other in an adult spring break atmosphere. Now, 36 seasons later, the MTV reality hit has evolved into a sport in its own right, one an Olympian even had to quit. With that evolution, producers began tapping talent from other reality wells, including Ex on the Beach, Big Brother and Survivor.
And sure, The Challenge is still one of the best and longest running reality series out there, it's just not what it used to be—which is why The Challenge: All Stars has been such a nostalgia-fueled breath of fresh.
The inaugural season of the Paramount+ spinoff, which was created by Challenge godfather Mark Long, came to its conclusion on May 27, and, to be honest, we already miss it and the blasts from the pasts it assembled, some we had waited almost two decades to see back on our screen. Like—spoiler alert!—winner Yes Duffy.
While he already had one challenge win on his resume, The Road Rules: Semester at Sea fan-favorite made his last appearance on Battle of the Sexes in 2003.
Since then, Yes has become a husband, a father to two boys—Madrone, 9, and Cipher, 6—an architect and an activist focused on the affordable housing crisis.
So a return to reality TV wasn't exactly in his game plan, but just like that 19-year-old who boarded that cruise ship in 1998, the 43-year-old version of Yes still has a love for the adventure in him and, it turns out, the competitive edge it takes to win The Challenge: All Stars.
E! News hopped on the phone with Yes to talk about his plans for the $500,000 grand prize, how All Stars changed his life and why he's already looking to defend his "temporary" title.
E!: Congrats on your big win! How did you think you were going to do when you first signed on for All Stars after leaving the franchise 17 years ago?
Yes Duffy: I thought I was going to get sent home on the first day. I just did. I planned for it. I mean I planned for a lot of options. But I planned for it because I didn't know that many people and I know I have not invested deeply in any social game. I had no social capital to start with and I talked to Syrus [Yarbrough] quickly during quarantine and he was like, 'Dude, everyone has their crews they're rolling with. There are alliances. You gotta get with it!' And I was like, 'Well, who are you rolling with?' and he was like, 'I can't say!' So I was like, what the hell, I'm going to go back to doing yoga and I'm going to come back and kick some ass. So that's pretty much how quarantine went. So I was consistently surprised every day that I was still there and that's just because the way these challenges go, T. J. [Lavin] can throw anything at you at any time.
E!: And you hadn't even met T.J.! [Editor's note: Lavin began hosting The Challenge in 2008, five years after Yes' last appearance.]
YD: No, I had never met T.J.! He doesn't know who I am. I'm thankful he knew my name the first day.
E!: Well, he definitely knows you now.
YD: Well, the respect is mutual between me and him!
E!: So you felt like you were going in alone?
YD: I had a lot to prove and I did it every day, just through building friendships and being honest and authentic with everybody. Listening to people. Listening to women, man. It was ironic and odd to me how much that was refreshing to people. The women who showed up were amazing.
E!: Because you went in with no real ties, who did you really bond with in the house?
YD: I started getting to know Darrell [Taylor]. I followed him into the room and we were roommates and he seemed OK with it, so that was fine. Then Big Easy [Eric Banks] jumped in our room too, so me, Darrell and Easy had a room that was unstoppable. We're the only room that never had to say goodbye to somebody. Easy would bring the social game, that guy can turn anything into a party from nothing. Darrell could bring this experience, this four-time champ and also because he's on the current season, he brought all of this knowledge, so I was just swimming in the middle of it all learning a lot. Aneesa [Ferreira], too. Aneesa, thankfully, didn't keep me outside. She welcomed me in and she shared all of her knowledge with me. I ask a lot of questions and learn! It's being nerdy. It's sticking out my hand, like, 'Nice to meet you, I'm Yes!' Like it was the first season or something. I just had to do it. I forced myself to come out of my little shy shell and meet some people. And immediately I learned how special all of these people are. They have so many cool stories.
E!: What was your initial reaction when Mark Long approached you with the idea for an All Stars season?
YD: That was wild. I didn't believe him. I thought it was a joke. But I was going to go along with the joke. No harm done in a direct message on Twitter. Mark, I never had a relationship with previously, so I don't know. I thought it was a joke, but I'm game. The pandemic had us all in survival mode and ready for anything and if I could make it that far, I was like, look, if you want to throw something crazy at me like this, let's go. I thrive in the uncertainty, in the adventure of new things, so it was just another feather in the hat.
E!: Were you surprised by how hard the challenges were or did you think they were going to take it easier on you guys because some of you had been out of the game for so long?
YD: I was like, 'Oh s—t' when I got there. Well, because Mark told everybody, ‘We're going to have fun! It's going to be cool!' And then my last Challenge I had done, we were doing Simon Says in the sand on the beach. Like, I got fourth place in Simon Says against Laterrian [Wallace]. I mean, we did some crazy stuff, too. I set the world record in bungee jumping. But I thought were were going to go light and then it was just all-out madness the minute we got there.
E!: So did you do any training?
YD: Thankfully, I did train for, like, a month and I did lose weight. The pandemic put on a lot of pounds, so I got more sleep, I did lose weight and practice yoga more. The big thing was don't come home missing a limb. If I come home and I can't pick up my kids, that's a problem. That ain't worth a half million dollars. So that was step one: Get fit. My key to winning was I did yoga twice a day for seven days straight in quarantine. It was like a yoga retreat. I couldn't leave the room. So twice a day, one was more stretching and calming and the other was a lot more active. But what a practice, it was great. What a thankful blessing that was because I changed my life now and I thank Mark for it. I changed the way I eat. I changed the way I sleep. I feel better than I've ever felt since my twenties.
E!: In the finale you said throughout the competition you would keep picturing your wife and kids running into your arms after you walked through the door and told them you won. So did reality live up to the fantasy?
YD: When I saw my kids we just cried and we hugged. I had never left them for more than four days. So it was a big deal. We really missed each other. They really needed me, I needed them. We celebrated. Now, just me coming home was winning for them. I didn't tell them I won because they're in first grade and fourth grade and they will tell the whole school! So they don't know. They watch along with you guys. They're going to, like, jump out the window and go crazy! One of them wants a go-kart and the other one wants a fishing boat!
E!: Aside from those awesome requests, any other plans for the prize money?
YD: The immediate plan is I am going to take care of the people who helped get me here, from the child care to the family and friends who need support. And then the second part is a bit more intentional. As an architect and as an activist, throughout my career I've worked for a number of non-profits, I've started non-profits that fight for social justice and design affordable housing. And I'm really thinking of this $500,000 as a grant to elevate the social impact of our work and address this housing affordability crisis because that's really where my blood has been for so long and that's where this money will go. Just in 2021 alone, there were more than a half million people homeless in the U.S. So the issue is real, it can be addressed in my lifetime and I'm part of the solution. This is going to help propel that vision forward and help us achieve more of the goals of making sure housing is a human right for everybody. That's my world. That's where it goes. That's where my energy goes. That and feeding the kids!
E!: That's amazing. Before returning for All Stars, how much was your reality TV past part of your present life, if at all?
YD: It was not part of my life. I still get recognized now and then, it's just few and far between. People think they know me from somewhere but they don't remember where, which is really fun. But no, I had taken a lot of the skills I had learned at Semester at Sea and all that I did on the challenges, too, and just dove into my career. So I've been all in as a father and as an instructor at UC Berkeley in architecture and then in my career as an architect. I just gave it my all and never looked back. Thankfully, it's had a lot of traction and a lot of momentum. I've won a lot of awards in affordable housing and different things. And now, to change gears, step into this whole other train track of uncertainty and meet all these amazing people who have been brewing in this wonderful concoction of reality TV. I'm just thankful they didn't throw me out with the garbage!
E!: Is there anyone you'd love to see come back for a future season of All Stars?
YD: I'll go against anybody, I'll ride with anybody, whether we're teammates or opponents. I had such a great time with this mystery mix that I'm done for the next mystery mix. If you want to throw on some of the old famous people, that's fine, too, whether it's the retired folks to C.T. [Tamburello] to David [Burns] to Timmy [Beggy] to Johnny Bananas to Wes [Bergmann] to whoever, I'm game. I make friends with everybody and then we'll go at it in elimination and then we'll hug when we're done!
E!: And finally, Mark has said his grand plan is to eventually do the Super Bowl of The Challenge and pit all stars against new school players. Are you in?
YD: Mark's always thinking ahead! I appreciate his vision. I'm game. I love the idea of having more All Star challenges. There are so many more competitors we can tap and look at and see what they got now. If we want to do the Super Bowl, OG vs. new school, I'm game. I'm game to jump in it and see what I got. I'll bring everything I've got. I have a lot of fun at this. This is a happy place for me.
The Challenge: All Stars is streaming on Paramount+.