WE’VE GONE TO­TALLY BA­NANAS

TALK­ING SHOP WITH THE RE­AL­ITY-TV ‘ATH­LETE’ WHO’S SO EASY TO HATE

Chicago Sun-Times - - CHAT ROOM - BY JOE COW­LEY jcow­ley@suntimes.com @JCow­leyHoops

Long be­fore the Kar­dashi­ans were the queens of re­al­ity tele­vi­sion, Johnny Deve­nanzio was drink­ing him­self silly in Key West on MTV’s “The Real World.”

Years be­fore con­tes­tants were eat­ing lar­vae on “Naked and Afraid,” Deve­nanzio was chomp­ing on cow tes­ti­cles with a chaser of spoiled goat’s milk on MTV’s “The Chal­lenge” in the hopes of split­ting $150,000 four ways with his team­mates. “Johnny who?” some of you may ask. Does Johnny Ba­nanas ring a bell? Deve­nanzio — a k a Johnny Ba­nanas — is com­ing off his record-set­ting sev­enth cham­pi­onship on “The Chal­lenge,” is the host of NBC’s late-night travel/ad­ven­ture show “1st Look” and is look­ing for mem­bers for his “Call of Duty” squad on the web­site Cam­paign.tv, where Ba­nanas, other re­al­ity stars and pro ath­letes charge a fee to game with fans. Think of it as Cameo with a game con­troller and head­phones.

Deve­nanzio has been in­volved in two of re­al­ity TV’s most mem­o­rable mo­ments, first be­ing hoisted — against his will — on the back of half-man/half-mon­ster Chris (C.T.) Tam­bu­rello and thrown into a metal bar­rel in one hu­mil­i­at­ing elim­i­na­tion chal­lenge, and then, in 2016, on “Ri­vals III: The Chal­lenge,” be­com­ing the bad boy of the genre when he used a plot-twist rule in the fi­nale to steal $275,000 in prize money from then-part­ner Sarah Rice af­ter as­sur­ing her he wouldn’t.

Ba­nanas has gone from fun-lov­ing fra­ter­nity guy to vil­lain and now a sort of cult hero for “Chal­lenge” fans since his TV de­but in 2006. That sev­enth cham­pi­onship — af­ter a six-season dry spell — ce­ments him not just in the show’s his­tory but also sports his­tory, as far as he’s con­cerned.

“For me — and now 20 sea­sons of do­ing this and do­ing chal­lenges for 15 years — to have the longevity I’ve had phys­i­cally, but also rein­vent­ing my­self and bring­ing some­thing new, and now at the end of the day to have more cham­pi­onships than Tom Brady and Michael Jor­dan, you would be hard­pressed to ar­gue we’re not ath­letes, as well,” Ba­nanas told the Sun-Times this week.

The Ringer’s Bill Sim­mons has re­ferred to “The Chal­lenge” as “Amer­ica’s fifth ma­jor sport,” but the 1.5 rat­ing “The Chal­lenge: To­tal Mad­ness” pulled this season is ac­tu­ally on par with an av­er­age ESPN Sun­day night base­ball game and much bet­ter than the av­er­age NHL game. Fifth might ac­tu­ally be a bit low.

So who bet­ter for the lat­est “Chat Room’’ than the man, the myth, the leg­end — Johnny Ba­nanas?

MATT WINKELMEYE­R/GETTY IM­AGES

Johnny “Ba­nanas” Deve­nanzio at­tends last year’s MTV Movie Awards in Santa Mon­ica, Calif.

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