The Challenge of Being MTV's Johnny Bananas

How a stint on The Real World turned into a career for this reality star

By Chris Harnick Feb 06, 2019 3:58 PMTags
Johnny Bananas DevenanzioErik Anthony Johnson

For more than a decade, Johnny "Bananas" Devenanzio has been on your TV screens—something he never thought would happen.

After Johnny was one of seven strangers "picked to live in a house, work together, and have their lives taped" for 2006's The Real World: Key West, he turned his sights toward MTV's The Challenge franchise.

Now, with The Challenge: War of the Worlds, Johnny is on his 18th reality TV competition. An experiment with cameras following him to see "what happens when people stop being polite, and start getting real," turned into his livelihood.

Meet the Cast of The Challenge: War of the Worlds

"No," Johnny told E! News when asked if he ever thought The Real World would turn into a career. In fact, after he wrapped production on The Real World, he voiced his desire to try The Challenge franchise, and a producer wasn't necessarily on board. "He was like, ‘Maybe, we'll see…it's a possibility,' and now here I am, 14 years later, as, essentially, the face of the franchise," Johnny said.

Eighteen competitions later, he's parlayed The Challenge success into a hosting gig for NBC's First Look, "which is pretty badass." So, will there be a point when he hangs up the bandanas and sleeveless tees and says goodbye to drama, the feuds, the alliances and The Challenge?

"Obviously, yeah, when I die," he joked. "There will, but when that is, I have no idea."

Erik Anthony Johnson

Johnny makes it no secret what keeps him coming back: "It's the unknown, the excitement, the new locations, the new challenges, the new prospects. I'm just that hungry, there's the desire to keep on adding new chapters to my epic novel…And that allusive seventh win," he said. Plus, the reality star said he feels the need to make good television. His disdain for the constant rotation of new cast members is palpable.

"I mean, I feel like there's still so much more that I want to accomplish on The Challenge. As far as a mental and physical standpoint, I feel as good if not better than I have ever felt. Every challenge you learn something, man. And I really do feel like—it's like any profession that you've had for a long time, you get better and better and better at it. The other thing with The Challenge is just making good television, and from, like, a production standpoint—I go on the show and I literally think almost like a producer first and then a cast member second. I just want to continue keeping the franchise going, continue the entertainment…Let's be real…the stock isn't all that high these days on a lot of the new kids coming out. And quite frankly, I'm a little concerned that the future of the franchise is being left in the hands of these absolute boners that they're casting these days, so, one part of me is sticking around just to keep the franchise alive. Keep it going."

This iteration of The Challenge includes many familiar faces from The Real World and Road Rules days, as well as now-veteran contestants from previous challenges, all facing off with cast members from other reality shows including Love Island, The Bachelorette, Big Brother, Ex on the Beach and Survivor.

"They come up with the wackiest people to cast," he said.

But just because there are new faces doesn't mean he had an easier time making alliances.

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"I guess these days the only things sure in life are death, taxes and…everyone going against me, so," he said. "That's just the nature of the business these days, you know?"

It's not a curse that's kept him from the elusive seventh win, but his success, he said.

"The issue is, I've won so much, I've accomplished so much on and off The Challenge, that there are cast members out there who just want nothing more to see me fail…I've been one of the more vocal vets about a lot of the new faces that are on The Challenge, a lot of the guys, who I really don't think bring anything to the show. The sense of entitlement that a lot of these guys have…I think because I've been so outspoken against most of these guys, I haven't gone out of my way to necessarily befriend or create alliances with any of these guys, and again the fact that I've won the amount that I have, these things just all kind of work against me. There are just people out there who just don't want to see me ever win or succeed or do anything positive in life ever again. That's kind of what I'm up against these days," he said.

"Day one, I show up and I'm public enemy No. 1. There's a lot of guys that, not necessarily want to see me fail, but they want to try and make a name and they want to gain notoriety out of going against me. Whether it's on social media, whether it's in the house, wherever it is, it's almost like that's the new strategy, it's like, ‘What's a surefire way to get some attention? To get some notoriety, to create a name for ourselves, to get a storyline? Let's go after Bananas, that's a surefire way to do it, so'…It's the lazy way, if you ask me," he said.

And being the target to allow new cast members to get notoriety is tiring, he said.

"Oh, dude. It's exhausting, man. It really is exhausting. It's hard to even remember the days when I was able to come into a Challenge and just kind of fly under the radar, just show up and not have to go to work for a few weeks," he said.

The Challenge: War of the Worlds premieres Wednesday Feb. 6 at 9 p.m. on MTV.

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