Johnny “Bananas” Devenanzio scored his seventh win on The Challenge: Total Madness, which aired in 2020, and after taking nearly three years off, he’s ready to go for number eight on The Challenge: Ride or Dies. Johnny is partnered with his longtime friend, Nany Gonzalez, and said that she was a big part of the reason that he decided to come back. “[Winning] has eluded her for so long and I felt like her best shot at finally winning would be with me,” Johnny admitted HollywoodLife EXCLUSIVELY. “I couldn’t pick a better person to want to compete next to and support and help cross the finish line than her. She deserves it so much. That girl has put in so much time and effort over the years. It gave me a reason to want to compete and win other than my own selfish reasons.”
When Johnny won Total Madness, he was in a six-season drought following his infamous decision to steal his partner’s money on Rivals III. The Total Madness win “broke the curse” for him, so the potential of helping Nany get her first W was the new motivation he needed to return once more. Plus, he admitted that Total Madness took a lot out of him “physically, mentally and emotionally,” so the break was necessary.
“I had ripped off 13 seasons in a row,” Johnny explained. “Not to mention that after winning my 7th one, as if the target on my back wasn’t big enough already, it was now going to be damn near impossible to maneuver around the house without being targeted out of the gate. So I thought stepping away for a little would benefit me in a lot of ways. And I wanted to appreciate the show again and look forward to doing it, rather than just looking at it like a monotonous job. I wanted to step away and take some time to reestablish my love for the franchise.”
While filming Ride or Dies, Johnny celebrated his 40th birthday, and said it was a milestone that will bring out a different side of him this season. “You’re going to see a little bit of a different version of me,” he dished. “I did a lot of soul-searching in the time I took away, and just through other changes I’ve made in my life. Look, obviously I’m never going to lose that mischevious nature of mine. I’m never going to not want to stir the pot and not want to ruffle some feathers. But I’m definitely doing it in a little more of a grown up and mature way.”
Johnny also pointed out that this will be his first season on the show as a single man in “quite a while,” and teased that there might be some “onscreen sparks flying” for him. “I just wanted to make sure if that was the case and if that’s what happened, I would take the more adult approach to it,” he explained. See more of our interview with Johnny below!
You and Nany have been partners before [on ‘Exes II’], did that give you an advantage this time around? Oh yeah. We both, from a social standpoint, have the same methodology about how we navigate the game and how we navigate the house and how we play a social game without us even having to talk. She’s not someone I have to worry about doing something or saying something stupid that’s going to jeopardize us. She’s been at the game long enough. When you have a partner and are working with someone and you confide in this person about a strategy, it’s always the biggest concern that that’s going to get out — that they’re going to say something or open their mouth when they’re drunk and jeopardize your game. With her, I didn’t have to worry about that. It was nice. I had someone I knew I could trust and rely on and I didn’t have to sit there checking in to make sure we were on the same page.
On how being partnered with Nany benefited his game: These last two years I’ve taken off, she stayed on and made the finals and has continued to establish friendships. She’s dating Kaycee [Clark] now, who obviously has a lot of ties in the house to the Big Brother crew. So from a social aspect, coming in, it was almost as if I was able to come in with some built-in alliances that I wouldn’t have had if I wasn’t paired up with her.
Her having these connections and the social game that she did, it really helped to neutralize a lot of the potential issues that I was going to have with people. Any time I walk into a Challenge house, there’s going to be a massive target on my back and I’m going to draw a lot of attention. Coming into this season, had I not been paired up with her, right out of the gate, things would have been more difficult. But being partnered with Nany helped neutralize a lot of those potential issues I may have had.
On the rookie vs. veteran dynamic this season: You’re obviously going to gravitate towards people who you’ve worked with in the past and who you know. It’s a different world we’re living in these days, though. The vets used to outnumber the rookies and the game kind of always went the same every season — we’d outnumber and torture them until they were gone and then we’d run the show. The landscape is completely different now. All these newcomers and rookies are here and we’re the ones who are outnumbered! It’s almost like we kind of have to join forces, as veterans, to protect the house. It’s cool because it gives us something to fight for. You join these alliances and band together and work together, not out of want or desire, but out of need. It’s going to make a really cool storyline and power dynamic for this season.
Did you feel rusty coming back in this season? When you’re in the routine of going every year, or sometimes twice a year, that’s kind of part of your rhythm and you stay in that rhythm. Getting out of that and everything shutting down because of COVID and the world changing, I questioned a lot of things about my ability to come back. Was I going to be able to perform at the same mental and physical level I had in the past, or was it going to get the best of me? There was a lot of question marks there. I was really curious to see how I was going to perform, not just socially, but also physically.
Did coming back light a fire in you to want to compete again or do you see an end in sight? I didn’t realize how much the show and the franchise meant to me until I came back. I would say this season, just based on the way it went down and the way I performed, really did reignite the competitive flame that burns inside of me. If anybody out there was hoping they’d seen the last of me or that this would be my swan song, they better keep hoping.
The Challenge: Ride or Dies premieres on Wednesday, October 12 at 8:00 p.m. on MTV