The Challenge: Total Madness male winner speaks: 'It still keeps me up at night sometimes'
"If there was a curse, I broke it," the victor says of his historic seventh win.
Warning: This article contains spoilers for the season finale of The Challenge: Total Madness.
The Challenge curse of Johnny "Bananas" Devenanzio has officially been broken.
After a six-season drought during which he failed to even make it to a final (let alone win one) following his infamous decision to steal the prize money from his Rivals III partner Sarah Rice, Bananas won The Challenge: Total Madness as the top male contestant, alongside Jenny West, the top female player (check out EW's recap here). It was a hard-fought battle that had the Challenge champ doubting his own abilities and future on this franchise, especially after the so-called curse followed him from season to season. But in the end, he was the first male contestant to cross the snowy finish line, earning half a million dollars and cementing his legacy as the most decorated winner in Challenge history with his seventh win.
"Out of all of the victories that I've had, this one, hands down, not just because of the road that I had to navigate this season but just the culmination of the pressure and the close calls and the near victories and the heartbreaking defeats that I've had over the past six seasons, it was just that much sweeter," Bananas tells EW. "Everything this season in conjunction with everything else just really made this one special."
Below, Bananas dives deep on finally snapping his losing streak, how this win is affecting his outlook on future seasons, what wasn't shown this season with Dee Nguyen, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You talked a lot this season about how your goal was to win so you could solidify your legacy. If you hadn't won and your losing streak continued, how would that have affected your future in this franchise?
JOHNNY "BANANAS" DEVENANZIO: It really shouldn't have changed anything. When my Challenge journey first started, I was in my 20s and there was just this infinite road ahead of me. And I felt like even if I don't make it this season, there's next season, there's next season, there's next season. I've gotten to the point now where I'm at in my Challenge career and in life where I've only got so many bullets left in the chamber, I've only got so many shots left at making it through. After the past six seasons, to have made it this far all the way to a final in the fashion that I did, overcoming a lot of obstacles and odds this season, whether it was the breakdown of my alliance in the elimination with Wes, surviving this bunker, I was the only one that had to see an elimination in the final, to have gone through all that and to have not have seen it through, I just don't know if that is something that I would have necessarily been able to bounce back from. I just don't know if I would ever be able to honestly tell myself that I can still win if after everything I went through this season I didn't pull it through. That's why there was so much for me riding on this season. It wasn't just the culmination of the last eight weeks of challenges and living in the bunker, it was the previous [six] seasons.
When you touched that red skull at the end of the final and realized you finally won, what was going though your mind?
Oh my God, it was indescribable. To be the last man standing, that never ceases to amaze me. And I feel terrible for the first time ever in a Challenge final for the other people who didn't win. It was almost like Jenny and I, this journey that we went through this entire season, everything that we had to endure, we were the only ones that walked away from that like it was worth it. We did it for a reason. We won. Everybody else walked away empty-handed.
During your six-season drought, you spoke out a lot against the idea of any curse existing. So it was shocking to hear you reveal on the show after your win that you actually did doubt yourself after not making it to a final since that moment. Now that it's behind you, can you honestly say you never believed in the curse?
In the beginning I did not. I've never been a person that believes in extraterrestrial, spiritual forces working against me. Does karma exist, or do good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people? With this curse, I always maintained — and for the large portion I still do maintain — that my lack of success as far as making it to a final and winning a final was a result of my success more than anything. That's just the way it happens in sports: The best team, if they go on this streak and they win, they then don't win for a while. Does that mean they're cursed, or does that just mean that all the other teams are giving them their best shot because they're the best team out there? That was my argument. However, as time goes on you start to wonder, what the hell could it be? I wasn't necessarily doing anything differently. And self-doubt starts to creep in. After a while, when you haven't reached that level of success that you feel like you have, and when there's doubters out there and putting that out there that there is a curse, you start to wonder if there really was this curse or whatever. Whether I believed in it or didn't believe in it before, I can now say with 100 percent certainty that there is no curse. And if there was a curse, I broke it.
Did you ever regret stealing the money from Sarah because of how the next six seasons went for you?
Never. For a few reasons. One, I've never once gone to my bank and looked at my bank account and wished that there was 275,000 less dollars in it. I never once have thought, "Would it have been a better television moment if I would have split it?" We wouldn't be talking about it right now. What made that moment so amazing is the fact that I did what I did. There's a reason why it is one of the most widely recognized, widely talked about [moments] on reality TV. It was such an incredible moment, good or bad. Thirdly, there came a time in my Challenge career when I was very successful on a regular basis, and it almost makes you take wins for granted. I started just assuming that I'm going to show up every season, I'm either going to make it to a final or I'm going to win. I took for granted how difficult it was. If anything, what this drought, curse, whatever you want to call it has made me realize is how precious and how much a Challenge victory means and how difficult they are to come by. So I don't ever regret that decision I made. Had I not taken the money from her and had I split it, would my road have been not as difficult? Possibly. But I also don't feel like this win at this time with everything on the line the way that it happened, there wouldn't be as much fanfare around this. My seventh win on my 20th season on a season of The Challenge that is airing when everybody is going through such a crazy time, I just think that it couldn't have happened at a more perfect time in a more perfect way.
While you were the first man to finish the final, how did you feel about Jenny beating you to the finish line?
[Laughs] Tell you what, if I was playing on the female side, I wouldn't want to see her in anything. She is an absolute machine of a human being. When we finished that second day, when we were going through that long climb through that glacier, she set such a blistering pace that I was like, I am not going to catch her. But having her ahead of me and following her pace is what in a lot of ways helped me push myself as hard as I needed to be pushed. And I think it's also funny that her and I shared a bunk bed this season for the entire season, so it was almost like our bunk was the winning bunk.
In prior seasons, we've seen only the top winner get the prize money. What do you think of how you wouldn't be considered a winner if those were the rules this season?
I think it was an appropriate way to do it. In the past, they've run into problems. You look back at War of the Worlds I, first, second, and third place were all guys. That rubbed a lot of fans the wrong way. It was fair to have a male and a female winner. It's not that I tried any less, but had I known that there was going to be one winner and not first-place male, first-place female, it may have changed a little bit the way that I went about the final. But I knew with her ahead of me, it didn't matter to me. It wasn't like, "Oh my God, I need to beat Jenny," it was just that I need to beat the guy in first place. That was all that mattered to me.
Now that you've gotten your seventh win, how has that affected your thoughts on coming back to compete again?
It's taken a lot of pressure off of me. I don't feel like I have to white-knuckle it anymore. At this point moving forward when I come back to The Challenge, I'm playing with house money. That's good for me and bad for everyone else. One of the things that may have held me up in past seasons is me pressing a little too hard, trying to do too much. I accomplished what I ultimately wanted to accomplish, and that was doing the unthinkable and winning a record seven challenges. The likelihood of me ever seeing or winning another final again is even slimmer than it was before, only because if people didn't want to see me win my sixth one, nobody's going to want to see me win one after seven. And I'm okay with that. I just enjoy showing up, I enjoy competing, I enjoy entertaining, I enjoy stirring the pot.
You put a lot of rivalries to bed this season, like with Cory and most importantly with Wes. Who do you consider to still be your rival in this game moving forward?
That's the funny thing this season did — it erased a lot of vendettas or rivalries that I had. All of the ones I had all somehow stemmed or spawned off of Wes. By me putting my differences with Wes aside and by us neutralizing this rivalry we had, it also in a weird way neutralized a lot of other rivalries. Moving forward, I don't know. Whoever wants to be my rival, I guess! Take a number at this point.
Why did it took this long for you and Wes to team up? Do you regret not doing that sooner?
I definitely do regret not doing it sooner, but I don't think that it would have worked any sooner. With Weston, we just weren't ready before. We were forced, make no mistake. This wasn't something that we did out of the kindness of our hearts. If we don't do this, we're going to keep on getting eaten alive. What it took in order for us to come to that realization was me suffering a very untimely, devastating defeat in War of the Worlds I, and then the favor being returned towards him on War of the Worlds II. The only people that are benefiting from our rivalry is everyone but us. For the sake of our own legacies, we need to put our differences aside. It happened when it needed to happen. People better hope that our rivalry gets reignited because they're going to have a lot to handle if they're going to have to show up every season dealing with Wes and me working together.
The last elimination before the final began, you had the chance to put Fessy into Hall Brawl against Rogan considering he was a huge threat. But you saved him instead. Why?
We pretty much knew the final elimination was going to be Hall Brawl. There's nobody that was in that house, maybe C.T. this season, that could have hung with Fessy in Hall Brawl. I knew even making the deal with Kaycee, you send him in, he's coming back. Plus it gave me the opportunity with Kaycee and with him to make a deal. It made me good on my word with two very strong competitors, Kaycee and Fessy, so I saw a future that would benefit me. Would it have made better TV to watch Rogan go against Fessy? Maybe, but the days of me producing and doing things for television were over. That was strictly me doing what was going to benefit me the most.
What surprised you about this final?
Going into it, if you would have told me that Cory and Kyle were going to be my biggest competition, not Fessy and Rogan, I wouldn't have believed you. That's what surprised me the most: which people decided to step up when, and which people can't necessarily rise to the occasion. One of the things that shocked me the most about my performance in this Challenge was the fact that I got a math equation correct, which very easily could have made or broke my victory. I was able to solve a math equation by writing it with a ski pole in the snow. [Laughs] There's just certain things that you can never factor in or plan for, and winning that Challenge the way that I did, it still keeps me up at night sometimes, that math equation, just thinking about it. Had I been off by one number, we wouldn't even be having this conversation right now.
What is something we didn't see air on this season that you think is important for fans to know about?
It was unfortunate that we didn't really get to see Dee's demise take place the way that we would have otherwise. There was a lot of beef there between her and Jenny at the end, and it made that elimination at the end that much sweeter.
How are you preparing for future seasons, now that the game has leveled up in recent years?
There's not that much more I can do, unless you can tell me where I could go to get younger! [Laughs] I used to go on every season as a hammer and see everyone as nails, and it was may the best man win. I just don't have it in me to play that type of game anymore. So I have to be just an overall smarter player. When I was my 20s, you'd show up, work out every day in the house. Now I need to pick and choose the days that I train, I need to pick and choose the days that I drink, if I decide to do that. It's just a lot more difficult.
What are the chances we'll see you compete in the just-announced season 36?
Out of 23 seasons since I started, I've done 20 of them. So the odds are pretty good that you're going to see me back. People thought that potentially after this season, this was going to be my swan song. That's not the way I'm going to go out, man. I'm going to ride this one till the wheels fall off. If this season proved anything to me, it's not that I needed to hang them up, it's that I needed to get ready to do a lot more. This just proved to me that I still have what it takes to compete and to win.
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