WE’VE GONE TOTALLY BANANAS
TALKING SHOP WITH THE REALITY-TV ‘ATHLETE’ WHO’S SO EASY TO HATE
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?
Johnny “Bananas” Devenanzio attends last year’s MTV Movie Awards in Santa Monica, Calif.