Being a Challenge Champ

Hi friends! Thanks for tuning into another episode of “Tori Dealing With” where each episode is short, sweet, and the perfect thing to enjoy in the morning just like your coffee.

This episode is gonna be sweet. In the past I’ve covered really emotionally deep topics such as anxiety and healing, but this episode is light and is meant to feel like celebration!  Today I’m excited to talk about what it feels like to finally be a Challenge Champ!

As most of you know well, I’ve been a contestant on MTV’s The Challenge for about 6 years now. After being on 7 seasons, and making it to 4 finals, I’ve FINALLY been victorious enough to get the champ title. Grateful, is an understatement.

A lot of work goes into training for a Challenge. In the off season I work out 5-6 days a week, train my brain to be better at problem solving with logic apps on my phone, and even practice remedial math. Not only do you have to be good at the basics of competing, you also have to be good at handling the emotional roller coaster that comes along with it. 

The Challenge is one of the most interesting experiences to be a part of because it really pushes you to your physical and emotional limits. Especially for people who are recurring players of the game. 

Let me put it like this, imagine sitting down with your family and friends and a few plus ones for a gathering. During the party a legend named TJ Lavin walks in and tells you that you all get to compete for 1 million dollars. At first you’re all excited! You put on your uniform, a camera crew comes in to take hero shots of you looking badass, you load the bus and go. When you arrive at the daily challenge you’re greeted by a massive building. It’s about 300 ft tall. You unload the bus and are staring up at the skyscraper and see little structure attached to the side. Without much time to observe the production team loads you in the elevators and gets you to the top. The moment you step out to the roof you’re ambushed by huge gusts of wind. You’re afraid to even stand 10 ft within the edge because it feels as if the force could just swoop you right off.  But you can’t think too much about it because The host TJ walks in and he starts to announce the rules of the game. He explains that you’ll be running on a very thin beam that extends 15 ft off the building and racing to push a button. You’ll be competing against two of your friends. Whoever touches the button first gets to choose which friend to drop off the building. Now of course, you’re attached to a harness, but this is the first time you’ve ever done anything like this and you don’t get any practice chances. Your nerves start to kick in, your anxiety is at an all time high, and you’re not even sure that your legs are going to work once you’re on that beam. But it’s time. You get attached to the harness, the horn is blown, and bangs. Once the blow horn goes off you’re entered into a timeless zone. When competing, your brain is processing every moment so quickly that it doesn’t even store it in its memory. All of your energy goes into surviving that single moment. All of the sudden you slap the button and your friend goes plummeting to the bottom. You won. The relief. The safety team unrigs you and everyone congratulates you. You feel on top of the world! You did it! You won your first daily challenge and you feel high! Until you remember that now you need to  decide which one of your family members, friends, or friends friends has to go into elimination. The fairytale of winning is short lived when it comes at someone else’s expense. Throwing someone into an elimination is a hard decision to make because you know someone is going to be offended! And sure, maybe in the beginning it’s clear that you’re going to vote for someone you’re not close to, but what do you do when the numbers start to dwindle? 

Walking you through a challenge episode Step by step is important in order to get my point across. You can understand how emotionally taxing and stressful it can be! The Situation I described happens at least 16 times every season, and think about the people who’ve done 15+ seasons.  To be a champ, mental game is just as important as the physical aspect. For me, maneuvering through the political side of being on a reality competition show has always been the hardest. Whether it comes across this way or not, I do not thrive in drama. I avoid confrontation at all costs because I’m so sensitive. And if I’m in a confrontation it’s because I’ve snapped, and I don’t particularly like that version of myself. My plan is to try and ease through difficult conversations, but let’s be real, no one wants to hear that you’re voting them into elimination, A position that could cost them their chance at winning 1,000,000.

 After filming my first season of the challenge, which was Dirty 30, I was shook. Yeah I made it all the way to the end and had a great rookie season, but my brain was fried after that. 11 weeks of facing my fears in daily challenges, eliminations, and voting people into eliminations really sent my mind on a trip. It even led me to turn down Vendettas, the next season, because I didn’t feel emotionally stable enough to go back for an entire season.

 Over the years I grew stronger and became better at handling the heat that came with being a challenger. I started to take the social media insults less seriously, I focused on getting external help from a life coach, therapist and even antidepressants. I surrounded myself with people who made me feel safe and most importantly I didn’t give up. Even with all of the tools I had welcomed into my life it was still an uphill battle emotionally to survive the lifestyle. But, I didn’t want to just be a survivor of my reality, I wanted to thrive in it. Even though my mental health struggles were intense I still understood how lucky I was to get paid to be on TV, so I needed to figure out how to be the victor of my circumstance and not the victim. And what I found to be true is that the mind is just like muscles in the body. When you actively train it, consistently and with the right coaches it will transform. So finally after years of effort, one day it just clicked. Luckily enough that day came before I went to go film the season “Ride or Dies”. 

By the time I was filming I was in a good spot mentally. We even had to quarantine in a hotel for a week prior to filming and I remember feeling surprisingly calm, a calm that I hadn’t really experienced before. I felt settled in myself. I guess that’s exactly where I needed to be mentally before the disruption occurred. Going into the season I had no idea that my ex fiance Jordan was going to show up. I was stunned when he walked into the elimination arena a week after we started filming.  Seeing his face brought up so many fears and emotions. I remember going straight into the bathroom the moment I could collect myself. Looking myself dead in the eyes and giving myself a pep talk as if I were about to enter some type of battle. 

When Jordan first arrived we had deep conversations talking about the past. These conversations were usually when I was drunk because at that time it felt easier to get the words out while drinking. Looking back on that now, as somebody who is proudly taking a break from alcohol, I feel so bad for myself. And as much as i don’t support drinking for that reason, that coping mechanism helped me get through that time. Thankfully, I recognize how dangerous drinking is and my more recent healing has brought me to quitting. 

Being in a house with Jordan got increasingly more difficult when he developed a connection with another woman on the show. Processing emotions like that in real time really tested my healing progress. I realized I had to lean into forgiveness as much as possible. I had to forgive myself for the mess I made after he dumped me, I had to forgive him for acting out, and I had to let it go. And thank god i did, cause if i hadn’t i guarantee I wouldn’t have won. 

This season of the Challenge was one of the most difficult seasons I had ever been a part of. It’s not easy to take responsibility for mistakes on national tv and deal with heartache. The heights I had to conquer externally paralleled those I had to face internally. This season was equally as stressful on the inside as it was on that outside. But you know what, I dug deep within myself, had my own back, held space for my pain, chose to keep going, and I won.  Being a champion on the outside is an indescribable feeling, but the peace I feel internally is priceless.  That’s why “winner strength is inner strength”. When you focus on the path inward your external environment transforms. When you take responsibility for your healing and clear out your mess you make room for blessings. I’m not just a champion of The Challenge, I’m a champion of myself. 

The final that My partner Devin and I won was 100 hours long. It was exhausting, our bodies were in so much pain, and we pushed ourselves to the brink. But the fire that existed inside me to keep pushing through was much more intense than any obstacle I faced.

I’ll never forget the morning before the final elimination. Devin and I were sitting in our tents in the cornfield waiting for nightfall. As the hours slowly crept by our anxiety was at an all time high, realizing that we were so close to the end, and wondering what we could possibly be doing. The mind plays tricks on you in a place like that. It traps you in like a maze, presenting different paths and dead  ends. For hours we sat there thinking about every possible little thing we could be doing, to the point of exhaustion. Finally I closed my eyes and laid my head down on a cot for a bit and I’ll never forget what I saw. In the black of my eyelids I vividly saw and felt a pink wave that washed over my body. It was as if I was in the flow of some amazing energy. It felt calm, peaceful, and comforting, a feeling I hadn’t felt in days. I sank deeper into that wave and almost immediately realized that it was the flow of the universe. Fate. A feeling of “whatever is meant to happen if going to happen and it’s going to be okay.” At that moment I truly believed we were going to win. And as the day continued to pass I tapped back into that wave regularly. 

At some point, we have to recognize that we have done enough, and we need to trust. Yes, I wanted the win so badly, but how many times has my desire for winning suffocated the potential. You can’t only want the win, it needs to want you back, It’s a mutual agreement. You have to trust, flow, and let go of whatever you think you want the outcome to be and allow the outcome to just be what it is. 

I had to do that with haters on social media, I had to do that with Jordan, and I had to do that again with this final. For me winning was bigger than just winning. It was the universe speaking to me, telling me that it sees the work I’ve put in, letting me know it was proud of me, and reminding me that I can handle being a champ now. 

I’m not sure who I would be today if I would have been crowned a champ any sooner. I definitely wouldn’t have put as much emotional work into myself and healed as much. All of the old co-dependent patterns would have continued and transpired in other ways through my life. 

So hindsite, I recognize that every loss was truly a lesson and an important building block into who I am today.  I’m not saying that I’m perfect, but I promise you, I’m way better than I was a few years ago. The title is beautiful on the outside but i promise, it feels better on the inside because of where I’ve grown emotionally and spiritually. 

To sum up this podcast I want to leave you with a poem that I call The champion’s song:

Be thankful for the hate, that’s what gives us fuel 

all the fire that they spew is a lesson to remain cool 

Pressure is heavy but it can make a certain jewel 

Now when the opportunity comes you’ll know what to do  

It’s proven now, but I knew it back then 

a winner is a loser who decided to try again 

There’s years of roadblocks before the path makes sense 

They say the top is lonely but what if you’re there with friends 

Every loss, every doubt, every ounce of pain 

The plus side of money, but the downside of fame 

These are challenges of life, it’s not just a game 

That’s why Inner strength and winner strength are one in the same 

Thank you all for listening to this podcast and supporting me on my journey. 

I’ve recently launched a merch line in celebration of winning. If you feel like my message has resonated with you and you want a physical reminder of inner strength throughout your own journey, check out the shirts. I’ll link them in the show notes below.

If you liked my poem I encourage you all to follow my poetry page @thesoulspill on instagram.

And as always there is a special song that resonates with this episode in the show notes below. Thank you for allowing me to open up to you. No matter what happens today remember how special it is to be alive.