Johnny Bananas on Why ‘The Challenge’ Season 35 Really is ‘Total Madness’
The teaser for The Challenge: Total Madness looks like something right out of an action adventure movie, but it is in fact real scenes from Season 35 of the MTV series. With tanks, explosions, fast cars, mountainous wintry climbs, alliances, blow-ups and everything in between, clearly this show will live up to its name.
Among the 28 soldiers entering the proverbial battlefield for a crack at the million dollar prize is longstanding veteran Johnny Bananas (Johnny Devenanzio). The former champ is returning for his 20th run and seventh win. Here The Challenge OG gives us an idea of why this time around was his most grueling experience yet.
How would you say your preparation has changed over the years?
Johnny Bananas: Every season is different, so strategically I never go in with the same game plan. From a physical standpoint, I’ve definitely had to change up the way that I prepare and train going in. I’m 37 now and spent 15 years on The Challenge. The fact I haven’t died or been seriously injured or had some sort of a mental breakdown is a feat of human ingenuity and a testament to the human will and drive. It’s like when you see a baseball player, especially pitchers, who are later on in their career. The guys who used to throw hundred mile fast balls, they lose speed and have to change up their arsenal. You need to be more tricky.
I’ve had to tweak my game because I’m coming in against guys 10, sometimes 12 years older than me. The cast is not getting any easier. I’m just smarter in the way I go in. Obviously, taking care of myself is paramount now. A lot more important than I used to be. In the house I try to stay away from the drinking and the partying because I need to stay focused as I can, knowing season after season I’m going to be targeted first. I need to put in twice the work to get the same output that I’m used to. It’s all about adaptation. The people who do the best, me included, are able to adapt to this ever-changing landscape and roll with the punches.
When you’re in this helicopter heading to the site with your fellow competitors, you see a number of familiar faces, including rival Wes. What is going through your mind at this point? Is he further motivation to do well?
I will say the outcome is even more incredible than you could have ever predicted.
One of the more exciting elements this season is the bunker, your militaristic living situation. How does that affect the dynamic?
You say exciting. I say excruciating because of all the seasons I’ve done, and this includes where I was on a deserted island for 30 days and literally didn’t eat anything, these were the most brutal living conditions we’ve been forced to live in. We were living in a bunker that was created for war. It’s a Soviet, Cold War, anti-aircraft bunker where they actually launched missiles at American spy planes. How fortuitous that here we are years later filming an American reality show in a bunker once meant for the destruction of America. It’s pretty wild to wrap your brain around.
You’re underground in Prague in the dead of winter, so it’s already cold and with no windows. We’re underground with nothing to do. That was the real challenge this season. Normally you go on and you’re living in this amazing villa or mansion in Thailand or somewhere tropical. As brutal as the game is, the living environment is kind of like a reprieve from the game. This season it was not. It was almost like you’re looking forward to doing challenges rather than sitting in this bunker withering away and being left to your own devices. It was pretty gnarly.
Then there is snow and blustery conditions. How does that compare to braving the heat in other locales?
We haven’t done many cold weather challenges. I’ve always been more of a fan of the cold weather. Competing in Africa and Thailand where it’s just brutally hot, it actually makes the competition more difficult in my opinion. It wasn’t necessarily the cold. It was the bunker. There were some challenges we had to do in water. We are in the Czech Republic in the dead of winter competing underwater.
There were days that were a welcome reprieve than being trapped underground in this bunker. Like they do every season, they definitely step up the challenges big time. They left no stone unturned as far as ways they could be diabolical. They dial it up. I’m just happy our madness and misery will be out there for everyone’s viewing pleasure.
When in the Purgatory and host T.J. Lavin reveals the twist that you have to participate in an elimination in order to compete in the final, what was going through your head?
I thought, “Finally!” I guess all the strongly worded letters I wrote to production over the years finally got read. I’ve always been a fan of having to go through an elimination to earn your spot in the final. There have only been a couple of seasons I’ve done where I haven’t seen an elimination. And in those situations I’ve felt like I almost cheated the system. It’s funny you’ll see in the interviews and the looks on other people’s faces when T.J. announces that twist. Judging by their reactions, you can tell the people who are used to not going into eliminations and used to skating by on their physical or political intimidation tactics. I liked it.
People are going to have to pick up their games. No more free rides. I think if anything this was a consequence of what happened last season when you had a final where nine out of the 12 people in the final never saw an elimination. There were three who saw eliminations. You had a guy like Theo who had to go through four eliminations and was one of the most qualified guys to be in the finals and not be there just because of the politics of the game. I think this is goodl This is going to force the cream to rise to the top. And the only people you are going to see in the final are people who deserve to be there. Not people who are able to cheat the system or be part of some mega alliance that never see an elimination. It’s going to be good.
You talked about what a number the bunker can do on you mentally. In the circumstances we’re in right now in the world of self-isolation, does your experience on The Challenge help prepare you for this?
I don’t think anything can prepare you for what we’re in right now. This is unlike anything anyone has had to go through. Even for me, someone who has essentially been forced to be quarantined inside houses and bunkers and beaches. This is different. I will say it’s eerily serendipitous how what we went through and basically it feels we are at war right now with this invisible enemy. In a weird way I feel like this Challenge could not have come at a better time because I feel it will be very relatable as far as what we have to go through.
From a sports perspective, I think that is what is going to be most beneficial. The Challenge has and will always be considered the fifth major American sports. The fact that NHL, MLB, college and professional basketball, soccer, every sport is on hiatus and on hold. This is the time for The Challenge to step up and feed the appetite of the sports lover out there and provide what has been missing for a lot of people’s lives.
I do hope this upcoming season is going to be a momentary escape for people where they can watch it and step away from their madness and live in our madness for a little bit. At the same time, it fills the need and desire for sports that everyone is being robbed of at the moment. Now more than ever The Challenge is going to show why it’s the fifth major sport.
With this being the 20th season for you, how much longer do you see yourself going in your Challenge career?
When you think of basketball, you think of Michael Jordan and LeBron James. When you think of football, you think of Tom Brady. When you think of The Challenge, you think of Johnny Bananas. That’s just how it is. For me to be a part of and the face of such an amazing and important, incredible franchise means the world to me. It’s almost like I’m a protective father. I just want to see it successful and grow and continue to entertain people. For me and my own personal competitive spirit, I just love competing. I just love every season going out there and exposing myself to new challenges.
For me, no matter of these I win and how successful I am, it’s never going to be enough. No matter what, there is always going to be another rung on the ladder I can climb. At this point, I’m not following any path. I’m blazing my own trail. When it’s all said and done, I want to leave a lasting legacy.
I’d be lying if I say I’ve got a bunch more in the tank. Every Challenge I do, I really feel like I lose a piece of me. They say father time is undefeated. If you’d ask me 10 years ago, I’d say I can do these forever. Now, especially after this last season, I feel every day of 37. Things on me that are sore that never used to be. Things are a struggle that never used to be. It makes it that much more difficult that I’m going in getting older and competing against guys that are younger, faster, stronger, hungry. I’m going to do this for as long as I can, but you never know what the future holds.
The Challenge: Total Madness, Season Premiere, Wednesday, April 1, 8/7c, MTV