"Some things in life are certain: Death, taxes and Johnny Bananas."
The reality star himself told E! News that last year after he won his seventh season of MTV's The Challenge, cementing his status as not just the face of the longrunning franchise but as one of its most dominant players ever. But then he didn't return for season 36, nor did he appear on the roster for Paramount+'s spinoff The Challenge All Stars. And when the cast was announced for the current 37th season, Spies, Lies and Allies, the fan-favorite was once again nowhere to be found. Suddenly, Bananas' future on the franchise was a lot less certain.
Well, it turns out, he decided to transition from competitor to commentator with Death, Taxes, and Bananas, which is part of The Ringer Reality TV Podcast channel on Spotify and releases new episodes every Wednesday. And the 39-year-old isn't afraid to share insider info or voice certain criticisms of the show that would make host T.J. Lavin grimace even more than usual.
But would you expect anything less from Johnny Bananas?
"I've ran into some producers along the way since I've got started," Bananas (real name: John Devenanzio) told E! News in a phone interview. "Listen, it's a double-edged sword. The way I like to see it is I am providing the show with constructive criticism. I love The Challenge. I've always loved The Challenge. It's left an indelible mark on my life and it's something that will always be a part of my life. I grew up on this show and I spent my twenties and now the majority of my thirties, some of the best years of my life, on this show. I've spilled so much blood and tears into the show that I want to see it be successful more than anyone."
And sometimes that means dishing out some tough love. "With that being said, I have seen as of late the show going in somewhat of a concerning direction," he continued. "I feel like sometimes it if ain't broke, don't fix it. And what has always made The Challenge so incredible is its simplicity. You don't need all of the bells and whistles and gimmicks."
Those adornments he's referring to are the endless barrage of twists being thrown at viewers during the current season, with more pyrotechnics than familiar faces as 17 rookies from around the world made up more than half of the cast. That's a lot of freakin' backstories to tell in a compelling way.
"Listen, the fans know what they like. I think it's very apparent in just how the ratings are now that it's like they are trying to force feed them something that they don't want," Bananas explained, adding the show may be alienating viewers who have been with the show for years and formed attachments to players like him, C.T. Tamburello, Aneesa Ferreira and others only to be introduced to an onslaught of new characters.
"These are people who have grown up with them and they feel like they know them," he said. "It's almost like technology. I don't want to buy a new phone because I don't want to learn how it works. I don't want to start a TikTok because I don't want to learn a new platform. It's the same with fans, it's like, I already know this person, I don't want to get to know somebody new. I think that's what's being missed here. You can't just take out a Johnny Bananas and plug in a whoever and have fans be like, 'OK, that's a fair swap! I'll take that trade!' That's not how it works."
But Bananas is aware of the predicament the producers are under as the older cast members are "aging out" and The Real World is no longer around to serve as a bullpen for future Challenge stars. "They need to inject new blood in," he reasoned. "I just think they can go about doing it a different way."
Bananas also suggested The Challenge bring back one of its old formats to both simplify and heighten the drama, whether it be an Inferno, which pits Good Guys vs. Bad Asses or Rivals or an Exes, "although I don't really know if I want to deal with Exes in this day and age," he admitted, alluding to his recent split from Morgan Willett.
Bill Simmons, The Ringer's C.E.O. and a Challenge super-fan, first approached Bananas about hosting his own show after his Total Madness win. But the champ was hesitant for a few reasons.
"I just wasn't ready to, I felt like I needed clean break from the show," he explained. "Total Madness really did a number on me and I just wanted to step away for a little bit. And then I was like, 'Well, if I do a podcast about the show, is it going to look like I'm clinging to this even though I'm not on it?' I just didn't know what the optics were going to be. So I just felt like I needed to take some time away."
And that break helped Bananas hone his hosting skills, thanks to his NBC travel show 1st Look, making his transition to podcaster more seamless than he anticipated.
"I've never been a good listener. It's still a struggle for me," he admitted, explaining reality TV encourages "being the loudest one in the room and absorbing all the oxygen"
After making his debut on The Real World: Key West in 2006, Bananas quickly became fluent in soundbites, so actually engaging during an interview took practice.
"My producers would tell me, 'Don't be interesting, be interested. The person that you're on camera with is the star, you are just the vessel to highlight them,'" he said. "It took me a lot of trial and error I guess to get to a point where I was able to interview someone and actually instead of making it sound like an interview almost make it sound more like an actual conversation and dialogue."
So far, Bananas has engaged with guests like his former enemy-turned-ally Wes Bergmann, last season's female champ Amber Borzotra and Big Brother U.K.'s Hughie Maughan, one of the rare rookies to earn Bananas' praise (though he's quick to blame the veterans for not guiding the newbies enough this season). On his wish list for future interviews? NBA superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, a vocal fan of the show, and C.T., one of The Challenge's most infamous figures, though Bananas admitted, "I know he is a very, very private person and that would take an act of congress to try to get him on the show."
While viewers would surely like to hear Bananas and C.T. converse, they'd love to see them compete against each other again. (Who can forget that infamous Bananas backpack elimination showdown?) After Bananas' win, C.T. went on to win the following season and is currently dominating in Spies, Lies and Allies.
Missing from two seasons and counting, many are wondering when Bananas will return or if he's quietly retired after competing in 20 seasons. And, unfortunately, he doesn't have a satisfying answer, even if it's a practical one.
"The problem with the flagship show now is it's so long," he explained. "It's eight to 10 weeks...I have obligations outside of The Challenge now. I host a travel show that I need to put 21 episodes together for an entire season. I have this podcast now that I do weekly. I have other obligations outside of that and I have other projects I am working on that just require a lot of my time. There's no way to conduct business. You basically have to leave it in someone else's hands and for me, it would be a very difficult thing to pull off if I was there and I stayed for the whole time."
Which, obviously would be the plan. "That's the thing, if and when I do return, it's like, I don't want to do it half-ass," Bananas continued. "Anything I do I'm going to do 110 percent and I'd feel like I'd be cheapening my legacy if I went to collect a paycheck and then just bounced. If and when my schedule does accommodate The Challenge, I would be more than willing to go back and I think it's what The Challenge needs a little bit, too, is some guidance."
Chances are you might actually see Bananas on The Challenge: All Stars before he returns to the flagship show, revealing, "I actually threw my hat in the ring [for the first season] and they threw it back out for whatever reason." (Mark Long explained the reason why here.)
"All-Stars would be a much more plausible option for me. Just because the circumstance surrounding the time commitment," Bananas said. "It just had a different vibe. I watched it not just as a family member, but as a fan."
Given the serious turn The Challenge has taken in its current iteration, All-Stars is delivering that fun, old-school spring break for adults atmosphere that some viewers have been missing—including Bananas.
"I feel like right now nostalgia is in and one of the major reasons why is because, dude, this has been a very, very, very rough last few years," he said. "I think with the music and with the familiar faces, it brings you back to happy times and it brings back that feeling of nostalgia. From everyone I've heard from, all the castmembers that I've spoken to since, they were like, 'We just had fun.' Yeah, the game's there, but the game's almost secondary. It's the house reality and the fun that we have and the vibe is just completely different so I think that would be a nice welcome reprieve."
Not that Bananas wouldn't bring his competitive edge to the party.
"There's a lot of guys who haven't done The Challenge since I've been on it, there's always the argument or discussion, like, 'Alright, who's the G.O.A.T.?' I would love to have Landon Lueck there. He was fantastic when he did every season that he did, but his body of work, he only did two or three seasons. So it would be great to finally to put that discussion to rest."
Until then, he'll be keeping that and every other Challenge-related discussion going every Wednesday on Death, Taxes, and Bananas.
Death, Taxes, and Bananas, and the rest of The Ringer's Reality TV Podcast channel's lineup—including The Pod Has Spoken, a Survivor recap show with Tyson Apostol—is available on Spotify.