'I've had a rocky couple of seasons there,' the returning vet tells EW.

By Sydney Bucksbaum
April 01, 2020 at 10:00 AM EDT
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The Challenge

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Cory Wharton is ready to get back into the ring on The Challenge. But now, he's a changed man.

Last seen competing on Final Reckoning in 2018, Cory traded in one MTV reality series for another as he joined the cast of Teen Mom OG with his former Challenge fling Cheyenne and their daughter Ryder. And after a stint on Ex on the Beach, where he met and got together with Are You the One's Taylor Selfridge, he's got another baby on the way. That's why the formerly hot-headed vet — who made his MTV debut on Real World: Ex-Plosion — is returning to The Challenge for season 35 with a new, focused attitude. 

"I wanted to come back and show people that I'm not perfect, but at the same time, like you can learn from your previous mistakes and come back a little bit more mature," Cory tells EW. "This season, I have Ryder but my girlfriend's pregnant too, so I'm playing this game for more than myself and I wanted to prove that this season."

Ahead of the season premiere of The Challenge: Total Madness, Cory reveals what he's been up to in his time away from the show, how he's learned from his mistakes, and more, all in the name of winning a million dollars.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It's been a couple of seasons since fans have seen you compete on this show. What have you been doing in your time away to prepare for your return?

CORY WHARTON: I've been shooting Teen Mom OG! [Laughs] I did like three seasons of that. But this season I wanted to come in a little bit better cardio shape. So I learned what a treadmill is and what it does, and I actually started to run on it. And I just wanted to switch up my training to trick my body so my body wasn't getting used to the same training that I usually do. I wanted to attack this one with a different mentality.

What did you learn from your most recent seasons that changed how you approached this season?

I learned: Don't order pasta at the bar. That's one thing I'll never do is order pasta again. But the No. 1 thing that I learned is don't let these people throw you off. You're playing this game not only for you but you have Ryder at home. You have Taylor who's pregnant. This is life-changing money this season. It's not like my previous seasons where you know the winner used to only get $150,000. This season, and the past couple of seasons, have been a million dollars so that alone is life-changing. There's a lot of people that are dependent on me and so I just wanted to come represent myself well, and let's try to take home the money.

Have you been watching the seasons you haven’t played?

You know, this is where I'm different than some of the other castmates. When I take a break from The Challenge, I take a break. I found out that it kind of hurt me a little bit this season because I didn't know who had beef with who or like, who threw who into an elimination, these people don't like each other, I didn't really know. I didn't really watch the previous two seasons, but I enjoyed my break!

Total Madness is introducing a new twist where players must win an elimination to qualify for the final. What was your reaction when you found that out?

I loved it! Welcome to my world, Challengers. I mean let's be honest, I've been thrown into elimination every season I've done. So for me, I'm not scared to go into elimination. I'm gonna give it my all. If I lose, this is gonna suck. People are gonna tell me I'm terrible. And if I win, even better. So for me, the twist was great. I never really have the numbers on my side. I'm usually fighting the uphill fight. This season, if you don't like me, if you don't like TYB [Team Young Buck's alliance], throw us into elimination so we can hopefully try to make it to a final. There's never been a season like this one. People have to go in and prove themselves. You can't slide to a final like War of the Worlds 2. I feel like half of the cast that was in the final didn't even see an elimination. [Host] T.J. [Lavin] is sick of that. This season you have to come in and prove yourself.

So how did that twist shake up how everyone played the game?

I don’t want to spoil it, but if you want to get thrown into elimination, how is that going to change the whole dynamic of voting? Are people going to volunteer themselves? Are people fighting to get into elimination now instead of staying out of elimination? There are so many ways that it can go and the cast literally hits every single way. It's going to be good.

Is Team Young Buck back in full force this season or did you have other pre-season alliances this time around?

TYB is me, Nelson, and Hunter. Hunter didn't do this season. And honestly, me and Nelson didn't really talk for two months before coming onto the show. But once we saw each other at the airport we kind of talked about the things we needed to talk about. We were like, "Okay, obviously we're gonna rock with each other." And I had personal relationships with a lot of the people on this cast; I don't want to depend on only Nelson or only TYB taking me to a final. You still have to go and make other relationships with other people, too.

What can you tease about some of the in-season alliances you made as the season progressed?

You guys can count on me working with Nelson. I'll say that much. And I will tease this: Maybe TYB recruited a new member. I can't say too much!

There are a lot of rookies this season, so what was your initial reaction to all the new players?

This season there were a lot of Big Brother people, a ton of U.K. people, a lot of people I had never done a Challenge with before. I didn’t really know who to trust and who not to trust. Over time, you figure it out. We have some Survivor, Amazing Race people – The Challenge is literally grabbing from every reality TV show now. It’s crazy.

What was it like reuniting with Aneesa this season, knowing how much history the two of you have from past seasons?

Listen, I had a couple of people on the show that I had a showmance with, and I told myself I am going to win this money to bring home to the people that are depending on me. I talked to these people at the airport and I was like, "Listen, no hard feelings," and they were like, "No, we're good." And from there on we didn't have any trouble. So I just made sure to talk to people that did have a problem with me to let them know, "Hey, I want to come into this game with a clean slate. I'm here for the money. You guys know I got something good going on back home so I'm strictly here for gameplay." And they agreed with me and it's cool. I've had a rocky couple of seasons there. Honestly, the last full season I did was Dirty 30, which was two years ago. And this was definitely different. And then being placed in a bunker, it was crazy. It just gave me Invasion vibes, how we had to live outside for two weeks, except for this time, we never left the bunker. It was wild.

What is going to surprise longtime fans about how this season plays out?

People's relationships are going to be different. Some people who have never worked with each other, they're now working with each other. This game is dirty. It's nasty. People are lying behind each other's backs. You can even hear me saying in the trailer, there's a million dollars at stake. All these people would lie to you for a million dollars. It gets intense, and the best of the best will survive.

The Challenge: Total Madness premieres Wednesday, April 1, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on MTV.

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