Exclusive

Johnny Bananas on Cementing His Legacy as The Challenge G.O.A.T and His "Most Special" Win Yet

Exclusive: The 38-year-old star won his seventh season, taking home the $500,000 prize in the Total Madness finale on Wednesday night. But his time on the MTV series is far from over

By Tierney Bricker Jul 16, 2020 4:30 AMTags
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20 seasons. 9 finals. 7 wins. Like the man himself will most definitely tell you: "The numbers don't lie."

In The Challenge: Total Madness' finale on Wednesday night, Johnny "Bananas" Devenanzio finally managed to break the alleged curse that's haunted him ever since his last win during Rivals III when he decided to take all the money from his partner Sarah Rice

Bananas took home the $500,000 prize as the male winner of the MTV hit's 35th season, with Jenny West crossing the finish line first in the grueling final for the female competitors. 

In the five seasons Bananas had competed in since making the infamous decision to keep the $275,000 for himself, the 38-year-old hadn't even come close to reaching a final, with fans and fellow competitors wondering if his winning days were behind him.

"I've never been one to believe in spiritual or external mystical forces that have any sort of effect on what happens good or bad in my life," Johnny told E! News in a phone interview. "I didn't feel like it was a curse."

But the reality star admitted he was feeling a different kind of curse: "I did start to doubt myself. I did start to think that maybe there was something out there that was working against me."

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Overcoming that self-doubt and the "added pressure" of cementing his legacy within the franchise he helped build is what made his season 35 win "hands down, the most special."

MTV; E! Illustration

"My first win [on The Island] was obviously amazing," he explained. "[But] I won with three other people, it was a team thing, it was the third Challenge that I had ever done. So it was almost like the feeling of difficulty to make it or the adversity to face, I hadn't really faced that yet."

Given his impressive winning record, on-screen antics and unofficial-but-sort-of-official status as the face of the series, Bananas admitted, "I was going to be public enemy number one just for the simple fact that nobody wanted to see me win anymore."

So after several seasons with early exits, the unthinkable happened: He entered Total Madness, which included imports from UK reality television series and contestants from Big Brother and Survivor, as an underdog, a seasoned veteran competing against people more than 10 years younger than him.

"The Challenges were way different back in the day," he explained of his prior wins. "It was hard, but it wasn't as hard. It didn't really take it out of you the way this one did. I was also in my early twenties. I could do anything. Back then, you could drink battery acid and wake up the next day and feel fine."

And while it's hard to imagine, yes, Johnny Bananas, who made his debut on MTV back in 2006 on The Real World's 17th season, isn't immune to the passing of time and his place within The Challenge world. 

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"I think what made this one so special is this newfound of mortality that I have, this fleeting sense of youth and my physical abilities," he said. "Not that I'm not capable physically, but I'm not as capable as I used to be and things don't come with the relative ease that they used to."

Not to mention that The Challenge has evolved over the years, going from a glorified Spring Break trip for veterans of The Real World and Road Rules to hook up and occasionally play "carnival games" during to a grueling and demanding—both physically and mentally—game that has helped replace the void many have felt after major sports have been delayed due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. 

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And Total Madness was the show's most relentless season yet, with the cast living in an underground bunker in "blistering cold" Prague in complete isolation aside from their interactions with host TJ Lavin. (Even their bus windows were blacked out, making natural light a precious rarity outside of the physical challenges.)

"There was nothing even close to what this one did to your psyche," explained Bananas. "I consider myself a very mentally tough person on The Challenge and I've basically done it all. I feel like I've pushed my mind to limits I didn't even know possible and this one was in a whole different realm. This one broke everyone...it was hell."

MTV

Ironically, Johnny Bananas says his eight weeks in the bunker helped prepare him for quarantine. (Bananas has been social distancing with girlfriend Morgan Willett, a Big Brother star he met during War of the Worlds.)

"Everyone's complaining about quarantine," he said. "I'm like, at least you can go outside and you have natural light and you're not breathing artificial air and you have television, books, magazines, distractions...you can call your loved ones. We were forced to live underground for eight weeks, so it was way worse. I've never experienced anything like that."

But as The Challenge has evolved over the years since its debut back in 1998, Johnny Bananas has evolved with it, with the notorious reality star admitting, "When I first came on, I was obviously an idiot. I was in my early twenties and I was immature. I came on like a bull in a china shop and I was hammer and I saw everyone in the house as nails.

"I had no interest in necessarily politicking. I was more about winning by just sheer force and just taking things over," he continued. "As time went on and as you age and as you grow and mature, you realize the path of least resistance is just the better way to go."

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But that doesn't mean Bananas is anywhere near ready to hang up his Challenge jersey and signature bandanas, even if some may think retiring after winning his 20th season would be the ideal way to end his journey.

"I don't look at it like that," he countered. "I look at it like that was a monkey I needed to get off my back."

Besides, it's not the money or glory that keeps him coming back year after year.

"The Challenge, whether I like to admit it or not, [has] become a part of me just like I'm a part of The Challenge," Bananas explained. "I've spent almost half of my life on this show. Obviously, as much as I want to show up and I want to win, that's not the only reason I go. The Challenge has been such a blessing in my life because it has kept me hungry not just for competition, but it's kept me hungry for experiencing new things, pushing myself. It's helped me grow. I mean the person that I am today, who I have evolved into and grown into, a lot of that has to do with the trial and tribulation I endured growing up on The Challenge essentially."

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And now feeling like his legacy is "cemented," the pressure to win or prove himself is gone and Bananas can just be, well, Bananas.

"Now I'm just playing with house money, so if I go and if I do well and if I win again, amazing, but if I don't, I'm OK with that," the star who has  parlayed his career as one of MTV's mainstay reality players into a hosting gig for NBC's First Look, said. "I obviously am going to go and put my best foot forward, but at this point now it's just about showing up, entertaining people, making good TV, stirring the pot, mixing it up and now I can do that without the added pressure of having to win or there's going to be an asterisk next to my legacy."

With MTV officially renewing The Challenge, which is the network's highest rated show, for a 36th season, it's likely you'll be seeing the reigning champ back in action soon. 

"Some things in life are certain: death, taxes and Johnny Bananas," he said. 

The Challenge will be back for season 36 on MTV.

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