The Challenge champ Tyler Duckworth says he 'easily' would have won more if he'd been invited back
Back in 2006, two future The Challenge legends competed for the first time on The Duel. They were both eliminated early, and it would take them each two and three more seasons to finally win, but after their first wins they continued to rack up titles like it was nothing. But while one — a.k.a. Johnny "Bananas" Devenanzio — went on to become the most decorated winner in Challenge history, with seven wins out of 20 seasons, the other — a.k.a. Tyler Duckworth — was never seen on the franchise again despite winning the last two seasons he was on.
After 10 years, Duckworth finally got the call to return to the franchise for The Challenge: All Stars 2, and he's ready to make up for lost time. "I was just as surprised as maybe you were when I got the phone call," he tells EW. "I thought they had maybe lost my number. I was like, 'Wait, come again? Who is this?'"
Duckworth laughs as he adds, "I'm not mad at anyone at Bunim-Murray or anything because I ended up with a great career and everything, but I'm so happy to be back now. And I'm giving you guys a show this season, don't you worry. I gave it my all. I don't know if this might be my last rodeo, so I'm going to give you guys a motherf---ing show."
Below, Duckworth opens up about how it felt not getting invited back to The Challenge while his Real World: Key West cast members like Devenanzio constantly were, how The Challenge history could have been totally different if he'd kept competing, what fans can expect from All Stars 2, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It's about time that you're back on The Challenge! Why did you want to return to the franchise after all these years?
TYLER DUCKWORTH: Truth be told, I'm a teacher. I teach middle school and high school, and these middle schoolers just ran me down. I was like, "I can't handle another year of middle school. But did I just really turn down a job opportunity?" And not five minutes later, I get a phone call from Bunin-Murray being like, "What would be the chances of you doing The Challenge: All Stars?" I was like, "I'd love to!" It's been 11 years. I thought they lost my number because I won two Challenges in a row and then never heard from them again. It felt like I was being punished for doing so well. I love the opportunity to jump off buildings, to bungee jump, to eat crazy things — so absolutely. Sign me up for whatever. I'm down for all of it.
I was going to ask if you'd retired intentionally after that, because I cannot believe you never got cast again. We see so many other winners and people who have never won get called back season after season.
Yeah, and I'm not dumping on them or anything like that. But I will say, Key West, not to brag, but out of our cast, we have won 18 Challenges, and I think the next closest season won like six. I won Cutthroat, then me and Johnny won Rivals together, and Paula won that season, then Johnny won Exes, and then Paula won Rivals 2, so we were on quite the winning streak. But whatever happened, everything happens for a reason. I ended up settling down with my partner, and I started working in China, and I had a really great job. But there was a part of me that really missed the adventure. And how many Challenges would I have won back then when I was in my prime? I was 29. So my ego was like, "I still got more in the tank. I'm 39. Let's see what I can do."
How do you feel about making your return on All Stars rather than on a regular season?
I was very happy that it was All Stars because the regular Challenge, and I haven't seen too much of it, is pretty intense. And listen, I'm a full-time teacher. I had no idea they were going to call me. I'm getting my doctorate. I'm not 29 — I'm not a kid anymore. I was just more excited about the possibility of getting to connect with all these old Challengers that I hadn't seen in a hot minute.
It has gotten more intense, but looking back at your history, your legacy as one of the best competitors is undeniable. I mean, you won half the seasons you competed on, you've never lost a final, you are one of the very few players who has won back-to-back seasons and have elimination wins against Johnny, CT, and Derrick —
Yeah, but that's the problem. When I go into an elimination, I've had to go against Derrick, Bananas, or CT. And I have beat CT twice. Very few people can say that. And trust me, he was going for the win too, especially on Rivals. So part of me is like, "It's hard because I went out on top. Do I ruin my legacy?" I won two in a row and won against pretty stacked casts, but that was 11 years ago. And this sounds really sappy, but when you've already won, especially two in a row, for me it was more about: I just want to compete. I want to see if I still have it, if I can jump off crazy-high things or if I can do puzzles. That was my challenge. And I was going to see how I was going to interact with people, and could I keep my cool in stressful situations, and how the political game was going to play. That was the metric I guess I was working with in terms of [how] a win would be defined for me. [Laughs] And also, $500,000 is a lot of money. When I won my Challenges, listen, $100 grand isn't bad, but like, damn, I wish they were handing out half a million when I was winning them back-to-back.
Speaking of your legacy, the list of LGBTQ Challenge winners is very, very short, and you're at the top. What does that mean to you?
It's no secret that the gay guys are always voted in first. And I take it very seriously that I'm going to represent the gay community, and there's a lot of expectations because not only am I gay, but I can win these things and I've proven that I can. But at the same time, there's a lot of pressure. Like RuPaul says, "Don't f--- it up." If I f--- it up, it's like I'm ruining it for the gay community. So I put a lot of pressure on myself and feel like I have to carry the torch. But at the same time, you have to just let go of that pressure and be yourself because otherwise you're going to beat yourself up. You have to remember that this is just a game, and the big joke this season is when people started getting serious, I would always put my hand on my hip and then turn around and say, "It's just the game." And that kind of de-escalated situations for people that were getting upset.
But it is serious. It's tough. And I actually drew this analogy at one point to Cohutta. I go, "Imagine if you will, if you are on a Challenge and every single person is gay and you were the only straight person." He was like, "Whoa, I never thought about it that way." It was kind of funny to enlighten some of the other cast members on what it must be like for me being a gay cast member whenever everyone there is straight. But at the same time, I have to say that this is not The Challenge that it was when I first did it on The Duel. It's 2021, and the love and acceptance I got from every single male cast member was unbelievable. I cannot say enough about how welcoming and how supportive and what allies each and every one of those cast members were.
That's amazing to hear, especially considering what the show used to be like.
There was part of me when I was packing my bag getting ready for the show thinking like, "What do I bring? I want these competitors to take me seriously. I haven't seen them in like 11 years." I do a little drag here and there just for fun, but I was like, "If I bring my heels and my drag, maybe the other guy competitors won't take me seriously, or they'll think, 'He's not as much of a competitor as he used to be.'" But I was like, "Tyler, get out of your head. Bring it." And within the first day I was able to introduce my drag alter ego.
And one of the male cast members helped name and rebrand me and helped style my wig. And when you see which cast member, you will absolutely die. It just shows why All Stars is so f---ing phenomenal, that you have this crazy uber, uber, uber straight guy styling my wig and helping me become a better drag queen. It's truly an experience I thought I would never have. I was mad at myself. I was like, "I am shortchanging these guys," but of course I haven't seen them in like 10, 11 years. But it just goes to show that people can grow, and we all have grown so much. The love I feel for these people on this cast is so real. [Laughs] Until the game got started. Then I took my stiletto and was aiming it right at a couple of people. [Laughs] So if you see a heel flying across the room, you'll know who did it.
Have you kept up with The Challenge since you were last on? Do you watch each season?
Okay, do you want the political answer or do you want the real answer?
Oh, the real answer, definitely.
Truth be told, I was a little [upset] that I did win two Challenges in a row and I never got called back. And I could have won how many more? No offense to Johnny, but he did 20 Challenges. I only did four, and I was in my prime. It was actually too hard for me to watch because it kind of broke my heart that I never got invited back. But sometimes you just have to let things go. God closes one door and opens up another. So I have not really [watched since] because I just felt like I had more in the tank than I got to show. I just wanted to be on the playing field. So that's why when they called me to do All Stars, I was so overwhelmingly excited. So that's the answer: No, I did not watch it because I was thinking to myself, "I could have beat all these folks. I could have killed these kids." And I would have. Who knows how many championships I would have won?
That is interesting to think about because your Rivals partner went on to be the most decorated winner in Challenge history, but that can only happen if you get called and put on the cast season after season. So it's not hard to imagine you in the running to earn that title if you had gotten called back as many times as he did.
Yeah! There's a lot of shoulda-coulda-wouldas. I feel like I missed out, but I had to grow up at some point, and I am just so, so appreciative to be able to get back in gear and participate again. But yeah, I probably would have won a couple more, easily. Easily! [Laughs] My mom always says, "You are never lacking confidence. I don't know where it comes from." I say, "Mom, you go against CT and win in an elimination and then you'll get some confidence." I've earned it.
How did your time away from The Challenge help you improve your game for All Stars 2?
It's not just about who's the biggest, baddest, and strongest, because this is All Stars and we're obviously older. They did such a great job this season balancing the physicality but also the mental aspects. It's not just about who can deadlift the most weight. There's a mixture of logic or puzzles, so it kind of evens out the playing field, which made it a lot more fascinating. In that aspect, I'm in graduate school, I'm a teacher, and Brad is a teacher as well, so we kind of had an advantage, because we're a little more fresh with some of these puzzles and logic than other people.
And truthfully, being away from the game for so long, I didn't have any drama with anyone. There's no bad blood, whereas a lot of the cast members that were there, they've been doing Challenges and they still remember what happened on Rivals 3 or Exes 2. I came in with a clean slate, luckily. You'll see, it's funny how it plays out, I joke all season that I'm Miss Congeniality because I get along with everyone so well that everyone was afraid to possibly have to go up against me or they'd think, "No one's going to vote against Tyler because he's too fun." They're also afraid that Tundra will beat them up. The first time the boys met Tundra, a couple of the cast members were like, "Who is that big white girl that joined the cast?" And then I turned around and they're like, "Whoa, that's Tyler?!" [Laughs] Let's just say that Tundra was very popular but also very intimidating. So no one wanted to mess with me or Tundra.
A lot of fans are eagerly awaiting some reunions in the house, especially between you and Ryan Kehoe. What was it like reuniting this season?
With Ryan, it's tricky because I felt like he played me. And so we definitely had to clear some things up the first night. I'm a straight shooter, I'm from the Midwest, I say what I mean, I mean what I say. We're adults now, and we had to clear the air. And also, people were so vulnerable. People were so open about positive things and negative things, the peaks and valleys that we've all gone through since we last did The Challenge. You know, divorces, miscarriages, job losses. We weren't trying to impress each other or brag about each other. We were just our authentic selves and because of that, everyone was rooting for each other. And I truly thought that whoever was going to end up winning this, I was going to be happy for. Obviously if I won, I'd be happiest, but I was rooting for everyone.
I did end up watching season 1 just in preparation, and my all-time crush of any Real World/Road Rules people is Laterrian. I think he's so hot, such a beefcake, always brooding. So when I saw him on this cast I was like, "Oh, my God, I'm going to die." I hadn't seen Melinda since we were on Cutthroat together, and I forgot how much I love that girl. I'm a student of the game. I saw Semester at Sea, so when I saw Ayanna was going to be on the cast I was like, "Holy s---." [Laughs] I was super excited to meet Teck. Tina I hadn't seen since The Duel, and she's a loudmouth, but she's fabulous. I mean, she came in with a diamond-encrusted Dyson hairdryer. It was just absolutely ridiculous. And MJ is like a Ken doll — you just want to lick him from head to toe. He's so gorgeous. Him and I had quite the torrid relationship this season — watch out for that. [Laughs] I'm hard to stay away from. I'm a very attractive young man. When you see these gorgeous gams of mine in heels it's hard to say no!
The Challenge: All Stars 2 premieres Nov. 11 on Paramount+.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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