Johnny 'Bananas' Devenanzio on Leaving His Comfort Zone as the New Host of NBC's '1st Look'
If there’s one thing viewers know about Johnny 'Bananas' Devenanzio after 17 seasons of MTV reality TV competitions, it’s that he's up for any challenge.
This adventurous and open-minded mindset made The Challenge star the ideal candidate to take the reins of NBC’s lifestyle series 1st Look. And going into filming, he let them know right off the bat nothing was off the table.
“Put me out there,” he said. “There is no environment that you are going to be putting me in that I’m not going to be able to step up. I think with the previous hosts they’ve had, there was a comfort zone they didn’t want to step outside of. I think that’s what’s a perfect marriage with the show and me because the sky is the limit. The only thing that’s going to hold them back from producing a segment is their own imagination.”
Just one look at the 36-year-old’s social media will give viewers a hint at what to expect come September 29. He reflects on what he has done in the last three months of filming excited, knowing there is more to come. A couple of weeks ago, the crew was in Florida wrangling up iguanas. The same shoot saw him going head-to-head with some of the heavy-hitters in the NFL, including Maurkice and Mike Pouncey. Needless to say, it didn’t go so well. Devenanzio has been racking up those frequent flyer miles.
“I worked in a Jelly Belly factory, went to a cannabis farm, dressed in drag, sumo wrestled a 600-pound sumo wrestler,” Devenanzio continued. “I went to Alaska going ice glacier climbing and bear watching. I just got back from France, where I spent a week with the biggest wine producer in France. It has been life-changing, and we’re only a quarter a way into filming.”
It’s a dream job for Devenanzio, who has always wanted to get into hosting. He believes this was the next logical career move and a smooth transition. That said, listening instead of talking took some getting used to. The Real World: Key West alum says he drew inspiration from The Challenge host T.J. Lavin and Mike “The Miz” Mizanin, who took a similar trajectory from MTV.
“It’s funny, from the beginning, I noticed I was copying T.J.’s mannerisms after watching him for as long as I have. That’s the person I’ve seen the most, being on The Challenge for so long,” Devenanzio mused. “They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I really do appreciate what those guys have done. Parlaying MTV reality into a pretty legit hosting gig. I feel like those guys were trailblazers.
“The Miz is one of the biggest names in WWE. T.J. has hosted, in my opinion, the greatest reality television show in the last 13 years. I’m just trying to make those guys proud and hopefully follow in their footsteps and be successful. Kind of take what they’ve done but put my own spin on it.”
Devenanzio is hoping to make the most of the 1st Look opportunity. Despite being such a popular fixture on The Challenge, it’s the first show that he considers 100 percent his. Success or failure is dependent on him, and that is a thrilling feeling in his eyes.
“The majority of the people I’m on camera with have never been on camera before or aren’t necessarily comfortable on camera or know what to do,” Devenanzio said of 1st Look. “It’s up to me to find what their strengths are and their personalities that will transfer well into television.
“One of the many qualities I’ve gotten from The Challenge is understanding people and reading people and how to manipulate people. When you say manipulate people, there is a negative connotation to it. However, you can look at it as a positive, looking to what their strengths are, and weaknesses are. [To] pull the best out of them and make them shine on TV — that’s my focus and goal for 1st Look.”
Devenanzio also remains loyal to his roots. Even though he is on the latest season of The Challenge dubbed Final Reckoning, it won’t be the last time you see “Bananas” competing, if he has his way.
“The Challenge means so much to me,” he explained. “I know what athletes experience when you see guys who don’t know when to hang it up or how to hang it up. The reason why is it becomes a part of your life. I have essentially spent my entire 20s and half-way through my 30s basically on reality TV and MTV.
“You’ve seen the movie The Truman Show. I feel like Jim Carrey in that I looked at myself grow up on TV. I look back at when I was 22 and started. I’ve watched this process and growth in a way most people haven’t been able to ever in life. I’ve got to watch from a different perspective."
He admits the show has him feeling like "a protective father." For Devenanzio, The Challenge is one of the only pure reality television shows left. Remaining on the MTV lineup after 32 seasons and counting in its various incarnations has stood the test of time.
“I feel like what has happened with reality TV today is it’s gotten heavily produced and scripted. I think a lot of that is because it’s very difficult to keep on turning out the same theme or concept and let drama and stories appear organically,” he reasoned. “With The Challenge, the most common question I get is if it’s scripted? Does production tell you what to do? The answer is absolutely not.
“The reason why is because the environmental factors are so unique and crazy. The isolation of the experience. No books or magazines and very little communication to loved ones. What that does is wear on your psyche and gives you cabin fever. The drama is a bi-product of the environment. A lot of other reality television shows that come out like Gold Rush this or the Kardashians or other shows, you can tell a lot of the storylines and drama is manufactured."
And at its core, 1st Look is seeded in reality as well. Even though the themes and topics might appear out-there: looking for Big Foot, venturing through a haunted house in Florida with a ghost hunter, searching for an alien spacecraft in Roswell, New Mexico. And future plans are to see if the mysterious Loch Ness of the deep exists. Devenanzio appreciates producers are open to his own suggestions and pitches.
“Before doing 1st Look, myself and Mark Long from The Challenge came up with a similar concept,” he shared. “It was essentially entering me in various contests and festivals and annual events around the country and world. Every episode I would be competing in a different event. For example, there is a school bus demolition derby in Indiana. There is a high-heel race. There is an outhouse down-hill race.
“There is a whole list of these different events and concepts I want to do. We’ll see If there can be an episode or two dedicated to these zany off-the-wall competitions. I didn’t know what the next step was after The Challenge. This gives me the opportunity to force myself out of my comfort zone in new ways but also keep challenging myself.”
Devenanzio feels like he accomplished everything in The Challenge, accruing upwards of almost $700k in winnings over the years. Everything now on the show is the cherry on top. 1st Look tests him in ways he never knew were possible.
“The options are endless. That’s what is crazy,” he explained. “The things these producers are coming up for me… When I hear about these things on my itinerary that it’s so off the wall, it’s amazing… I can’t wait for it to air and for all of my fans and 1st Look fans to see me in this new environment and experience all this stuff with me.”
The Challenge: Final Reckoning airs 9/8c Tuesdays on MTV
Johnny 'Bananas' Devenanzio begins hosting 1st Look after Saturday Night Live starting Sept. 29