'The Challenge' star Johnny 'Bananas' morphs into a TV host

By Associated Press 07 November 2018, 12:00AM

NEW YORK (AP) — During Tuesday's episode of "The Challenge," Johnny "Bananas" Devenanzio managed to escape elimination on the reality show competition. Saving himself from all-but-certain expulsion has become a recurring theme for the show veteran, season after season.

For the last decade, Devenanzio has been one of the most consistent reality stars on MTV, if not all of reality television. He's arguably the face of MTV's long-standing hit reality show "The Challenge."

"Arguably? Come on, man," Devenanzio interjects playfully.

Devenanzio may have a case — the one-time "Real World" contestant has amassed an astounding 32 individual wins, six finals wins and has won the most prize money — all records for "The Challenge," where contestants live in a house and compete in insane challenges. It's a show he calls "the craziest, sociological, physical, athletic, mental challenge you could ever dream up."

During the past few seasons, the self-proclaimed "pot-stirrer" has found himself in an unfamiliar position; once the No. 1 contender many contestants hoped to align with to make it deep into the competition, he's now often the top target to be eliminated by an up-and-coming crop of younger rivals.

This marks Devenanzio's 17th season on the show, and while he has no plans to quit it anytime soon, he's now expanding beyond his reality star job as host of NBC's "1st Look," which airs in some markets after "Saturday Night Live."

"I mean, obviously, I'm 36 and I'm competing against guys that are 22, you know? And as much as I'd love to do this for the rest of my life and be doing challenges until I was in a walker, at some point there's has to be some sort of transition into another role," he said.

"I've managed to stay relevant and keep myself on reality television longer than anyone in the history of reality television, on the same show. And it's taken a lot of hard work."

The Associated Press talked with Devenanzio about his new role at "1st Look" and the difference being a host of a lifestyle show as opposed to a reality show contestant, as well as his legendary career on "The Challenge."

AP: On 'The Challenge,' lots of people love to hate you.

Devenanzio: I would rather be hated than someone not have an opinion of me because at least I know that they have an opinion. I think the worst thing to be is someone on TV they're indifferent about.

AP: If this was professional wrestling, some people may call you a heel, the bad guy. Is that why you have such a cult following?

Devenanzio: You look at every other show that's ever been on MTV. As big as they've been, they're like a flash in the pan. But I think the reason 'The Challenge' has been so successful and it's spanned so many years and generations, is because they bring back characters season after season. I run into fans_the majority of my fans aren't the prototypical MTV demographic, 18 to 24. I have fans that are late 30s, early 40s and late 40s who've been watching me since I first started on the 'Real World' and have followed me ever since.

AP: You're the face of one show, 'The Challenge,' and now you're the face of a new show.

Devenanzio: I've always wanted to do hosting. I've always thought it was something that I'd be good at and I've managed to find essentially the perfect job in hosting for me, and that's '1st Look.' '1st Look' is part travel, part experiential.

AP: So you're doing all of these unique experiences?

Devenanzio: The reason it's called '1st Look' is because it's giving most people their first look into all these crazy experiences, through my eyes essentially. It's been an absolutely wild ride and talk about challenges: Every day is a new challenge. I go one day from dressing in drag and stripping at a burlesque show to sumo wrestling a 600-pound man to competing in 'American Ninja Warrior' to going to a smell lab in Kansas City and smelling feet and armpits all day.

AP: What's the hardest part about being the host?

Devenanzio: This is what I didn't realize_the reality television world and the hosting world are two completely different arts. Reality TV is about sucking all the oxygen out of the room. And it's about being the loudest, most over the top, most dominating voice and personality. Hosting's the exact opposite. Hosting is about making the other person that you're interviewing or that you're working with, the star of the show. And you are essentially just trying to get as much information out of this person as you can. So it was a very steep learning curve in the beginning but I've done so much in such a short period of time that I really think I've come into my own and I've gotten more comfortable doing it

AP: What can fans expect to see on '1st Look'?

Devenanzio: The unexpected. There're the experiential shows where there's all the levity, all the comedy and all the humor, but then there's the travel shows which really balance them out. And I'm still trying to find that balance between the serious side and being an educational show but also providing the comedy and the light heartedness as well.

By Associated Press 07 November 2018, 12:00AM

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