As The Challenge: War of the Worlds 2 approaches its climax, many questions remain unanswered. Could the newly engaged Tori and Jordan’s respective defections tip the scales towards a UK team that has underachieved for most of the season? Is it possible the relationship between Cara Maria and Paulie might have handicapped the US team despite their larger numbers? Will any of the four remaining Challenge veterans with two previous titles — Ashley, Cara Maria, CT or Jordan –win a third and strengthen their cases as the G.O.A.T.?
Hidden behind the usual chaos The Challenge brings is another question relating to someone eliminated ages ago: John Devenanzio, a.k.a. “Johnny Bananas.”
Johnny’s inability to win a seventh title has been well-documented. Challenge veteran Jemmye brought up the notion that he might be cursed, resulting from his decision to keep the entire $275,000 first-place prize money for himself, leaving his partner Sarah Rice-Patterson with nothing. In the six seasons since Rivals III, not only has Johnny come up empty, he has not even made it to a final. His record in elimination-based games in those six seasons is 1-7; his only victory coming in Final Reckoning, when he and partner Tony won their way out of Redemption House by defeating Nelson & Shane in an Apocalypse.
When you dig a little deeper, something rather unique bobs to the surface. Going into War of the Worlds 2, nine players had defeated Johnny in an elimination game: Darrell (Invasion of the Champions), Derrick (XXX: Dirty 30), Devin (Vendettas), Joss & Sylvia and Paulie & Natalie (both Final Reckoning), and Zach & Zahida (War of the Worlds). Since their victories against Johnny, not only did these Challengers not come out on top in those seasons, they have also yet to win.
The word “curse” can be thrown around liberally, especially when it comes to sports; “The Curse of the Bambino” and “The Billy Goat Curse” that vexed the Red Sox and Cubs, respectively being two that have been busted in recent years. That word might apply to the tenth player to triumph over Johnny: Theo Campbell.
In War of the Worlds, Theo was at the top of a rookie class; he was one of five that competed in the final. He might have won if not for Turbo, whose performances that season were extraordinary.
Theo came into War of the Worlds 2 as a member of the UK team, a group that wasted little time in showing how overmatched they were, even when pitted against a dysfunctional squad like the US. Theo soon found himself on the Proving Ground sent in by his own team and he expected to face a teammate to stay in the game.
To Theo’s surprise, Paulie and Cara Maria had ulterior motives. While Paulie promised Johnny he would not be sent in, he joined Cara Maria in voting for him, nullifying Jordan’s vote for Rogan.
Theo and Johnny faced off in Die For Me, where they had to maneuver around a course in small metal cages placing “detonators” onto matching “landmines” along the way.
The pair were neck-in-neck for most of the way but Theo managed to get the win, even after host TJ Lavin helped Johnny by pointing out an error he had made.
Theo’s game did not get any easier. Thanks to a double-elimination Proving Ground, he had to fight to stay in the game after consecutive missions, getting sent in by US-led Tribunals. He took out teammates Kyle and Idris.
At this point, Theo had faced elimination as many times as those named “Theo” before him . . . and unlike all three, he had come out victorious (Theo Gantt lost the final Gauntlet to Cara, Theo Von and his “Fresh Meat” teammate Chandra fell to Wes & Casey in an Exile, Theo King-Bradley bailed out of saving himself against Cory in Invasion of the Champions).
Theo eventually found himself sent back in by his team, and Cara Maria and Paulie would make another big move sending rival Jordan in against him. That is where Theo’s story would come to an end.
Under The Hammer required expertise with sledgehammers and Jordan’s previous experience working in construction made this an easy win. Theo leaving the Proving Ground was a mere footnote to Jordan’s marriage proposal to Tori.
After War of the Worlds 2 had finished filming, Theo was partying with his girlfriend in Ibiza, Spain, and he caught an errant champagne cork in his right eye preventing him from appearing in a third consecutive season of The Challenge. While Theo remains hopeful that he could eventually return, the vision in his eye might make the game a lot harder to play, even if it heals properly.
Here are the rest of the Challengers who triumphed over Johnny when it counted. While a few of them haven’t had the level of bad luck that would call for almost losing an eye, the others might need to find ways to improve their fortunes in the future.
[Writer’s Note – The given battles took place over eliminations that could be classified as “traditional.” Late into XXX: Dirty 30, residents of Redemption House – including Johnny – took part in The Final Redemption Challenge. CT and Jordan advanced, while Johnny, Dario and Leroy were permanently eliminated. Since the format resembled a challenge (lower-case “c”; I tend to go old-school with “mission”), The Final Redemption House was not counted. Also discounted: results stemming from Champs Vs. Stars and Champs vs. Pros.]
Defeated Johnny: Balls In (Invasion of the Champions)
Darrell came out of “retirement” to join seven other past winners for Invasion of the Champions. Since the final mission called for one Champion per gender, all of them had to fight in the Fortress at some point to remain in the game. When CT won immunity in the Fallout mission, remaining Champions Darrell and Johnny played Balls In, with Darrell coming out on top.
Due to the format of IOTC, Darrell would have to enter the Fortress for a third time (having dispatched Zach prior to battling Johnny), this time against CT. The Fortress wasn’t as intense for people who wanted to see two legends collide; Knot So Fast had the Challengers tying ropes on dome-shaped structures. CT was able to undo Darrell’s rope faster, leading to his berth in the final mission and a subsequent win.
Darrell returned for XXX: Dirty 30 with frustrating results and an early exit. He was unable to advance in The Purge, that season’s first mission. Darrell missed the cut in the first two parts of the mission and he came up short again when Cory won the third part. Given a choice to keep another male in the game, Cory picked Tony, leading to the elimination of Darrell, Devin and Shane.
Unknown to the remaining players, they were sent to Redemption House, where they would wait for their shot to re-enter the game. Darrell’s chance came in Man Overboard, where players had to knock each other off platforms over water in one-on-one battles. Darrell eliminated Devin but he would lose to Tony in unsatisfying fashion, as Tony’s kamikaze move paid off when Darrell hit the water first, eliminating him from Dirty 30.
Darrell has not competed in The Challenge since. He appeared as a Mercenary in Vendettas and battling Nelson in Yankin’ My Chain. The two battled long enough for TJ Lavin to declare it a draw after the time limit came, allowing Nelson to stay in the game.
Defeated Johnny: The Reel World (XXX: Dirty 30)
Derrick would join other Challenge legends competing in XXX: Dirty 30. Unlike most of those returning players, “The Diesel” wound up chugging deep into the game going as far as pulling two Double-Crosses (“XX”) and sending Ammo and Tony into the Presidio. But after the Backstabber mission, winners Hunter and Jenna sent Derrick into the Presidio. Tony pulled the Double-Cross which gave him safety but meant remaining player Johnny had to fight Derrick. They competed in The Reel World, where Derrick knocked Johnny out of the game.
Derrick would punch his ticket to the final by winning Snaking Your Way Back In, the final Purge of the season, sending Hunter and Tony home. He would finish second to Jordan in the final mission, winning $35,000. This would be the last Challenge where Derrick competed in full. He would return as a Mercenary in Vendettas, knocking Joss out of the game in Crazy 8, which many consider to be one of the more intense elimination games in recent memory.
Defeated Johnny: Not So Bright (Vendettas)
Devin’s first two forays in The Challenge yielded unique results. He teamed up with fellow Are You The One? 3 cast member Cheyenne in Rivals III. They were eliminated in the first Jungle, brought back when Brandon quit the game and then made it to the final finishing in third place (splitting $25,000)Two seasons later, Devin was sent to Redemption House at the beginning of the season and he was knocked out of the game by Darrell in Man Overboard.
Devin was on the losing team after the Kickin’ Ass mission and five of his teammates voted to send him into the Ring. A verbal fight with Johnny after the vote left Devin begging to face off against the mainstay . . . and thanks to Kailah and Tony’s votes in the Troika, Devin got his wish. Johnny and Devin played Not So Bright, where they had to turn on lights to match a pattern. Devin got the win, much to his immense delight. However, his luck ran out three missions later, as he finished last in a Purge (Help Me, Rhonda); the difference between him and Kyle in that mission was five seconds.
The animosity between Devin and Johnny was enough to validate their partnership for Final Reckoning . . . until Devin’s father passed away before the season began, leading BMP to bring in Tony as a replacement. However, Devin would make a surprise return midway into the game, paired with Cory based off beef from Rivals III. The team earned their way into the game by winning two Armageddons back-to-back, sending Amanda & Zach and Da’Vonne & Jozea to Redemption House. The feud between Devin and Johnny escalated, especially after Johnny brought up Devin’s deceased father. Before things could be settled on the field, Devin found himself going home after Cory got into an altercation with Tony. Although Devin was still steaming at the subsequent Reunion (getting in Johnny’s face and seeming ready to fight), he has yet to return to The Challenge.
Joss Mooney & Sylvia Elsrode
Defeated Johnny & Tony: Don’t Trip Me Up (Final Reckoning)
Joss & Sylvia were paired together based on him sending her into The Ring during Vendettas. Sylvia defeated Melissa to stay in the game but left Vendettas due to illness. Joss continued his rookie season, meeting his end against mercenary Derrick soon after.
As Final Reckoning approached its conclusion, Joss & Sylvia found themselves in Armageddon for the second time having been “called out” by Johnny & Tony, the pair voted into the elimination. They competed in Don’t Trip Me Up, which involved teams untying tiles underwater and trying to stack them as a tower on a floating platform. While their initial attempt failed, Joss & Sylvia succeeded in building a tower sending Johnny & Tony to Redemption House.
The pair advanced to the final, which some might consider to be the most chaotic finish to any Challenge season. The turning point came when Natalie convinced her partner Paulie to go against his word and use a Grenade on Joss & Sylvia in the final portion of the mission. As a result, Joss & Sylvia had to find a key to unlock chains put on their ankles before their final walk on the hot coals. In the end, Joss & Sylvia were a mere 40 seconds behind Ashley & Hunter, a disappointing second place.
While Sylvia has not returned to The Challenge, Joss recently popped up in War of the Worlds 2 as a member of the UK team. He found himself on the Proving Grounds, where he dispatched teammate Bear in Whalloped (a variation of the popular Hall Brawl). Unfortunately for Joss, an alliance that included Kayleigh would blow up in his face. Puzzling Swim was a Purge mission where the slowest swimming pair would be eliminated from the game. Thanks to being teamed up with poor swimmer Kayleigh, Joss was eliminated.
Natalie Negrotti & Paulie Calafiore
Defeated Johnny & Tony: Milk and Cookies (Final Reckoning)
Final Reckoning marked the second time a “Redemption House” was in play. Some viewers could suggest Natalie & Paulie were the biggest reasons for opposing its existence. The pair was sent there after losing the first Armageddon (Think Outside The Box) to Kam & Kayleigh. The Big Brother rivals had two chances to re-enter the game but they would lose both Apocalypses to Da’Vonne & Jozea. On their third try they defeated Brad & Kyle returning to the main house. They would soon find themselves in the final Armageddon facing Johnny & Tony for a spot in the final mission. What happened next was a comedy of errors caused mostly by poor planning.
Both teams took part in an Armageddon that was called off midway through due to a production malfunction. According to several sources, Johnny & Tony had a sizable lead when things were shut down. The next night, the teams faced off in a new Armageddon: Milk and Cookies. This proved to be about as thought out as the original set of Infernos that aired in 2004. While Paulie and Tony ate cookies and drank Mursik milk, Natalie and Johnny stood on perches with their arms tethered to buckets of the fermented milk.
Originally, the game was meant to end with a spilled bucket and the result hanging on whomever ate the most cookies. But when Paulie and Tony finished their cookies without milk getting spilled, their efforts were rendered meaningless and the Armageddon came down to which of their partners would fall off the perch first. The cookies were consumed in about 90 minutes and it would take another four hours before Johnny dropped off his perch, giving Natalie & Paulie the win. They finished third in The Final Challenge, two-and-a-half minutes behind winners Ashley & Hunter.
Both players returned for the following season, War of the Worlds. Paulie got picked first by Natalie “Ninja” Duran from American Ninja Warrior and Natalie was partnered with JP from Ex on the Beach Brazil 2. Natalie’s game ended in Ring Tossed; a three-way Killing Floor where she and Julia were defeated by Mattie. In contrast, Paulie & Ninja wound up on three Tribunals for good performances in missions, and they competed in the final paired Killing Floor, taking out Kam & Ashley. Paulie appeared ready to make his second straight finale . . . but in the penultimate mission (Judgement Day), his body repeatedly gave out on the obstacle course, as he kept falling into the water. When the other male competitors managed to complete the mission under the time limit, Paulie was eliminated from the game.
Paulie has made the finale for War of the Worlds 2, placed on the US team along with his girlfriend, Cara Maria. The penultimate episode has shown his body having another breakdown running the Final Challenge, and the odds of him getting his first title look grim. Natalie has yet to return for a third season.
Zach Nicholls & Zahida Allen
Defeated Johnny & Morgan: Map It Out (War of the Worlds)
Zahida narrowly avoided elimination in the first mission (Impending Dune), knocking out Big Brother alumnus Liz. When the new cast members got to draft returning players, Zahida wound up with Zach, the last available male
Three missions into the game, the Tribunal selected Johnny and Morgan (the winner of Big Brother: Over The Top) to enter the Killing Floor. In the preceding mission (Search and Destroy), Zach had given Wes (with partner Dee) a berth into the Tribunal. Prior to the Killing Floor, the three teams were deadlocked on which pair to send. Ashley Cain (another import from Ex On The Beach UK) changed his vote to Johnny & Morgan. Regardless of whether Zach knowingly helped Wes or suffered a brain freeze, it was enough reason for Johnny & Morgan to “call out” Zach & Zahida.
The pairs competed in Map It Out, a game where they had to place small flags on a map on top of a rock-climbing wall. The object was to match the flags to their respective countries. All of this was done within a 15-minute time limit. Johnny and Zach wound up placing the flags and climbing. After time expired, Zach & Zahida wound up placing 18 flags correctly, beating Johnny & Morgan by three. This resulted in Johnny’s earliest departure after his Challenge debut (The Duel, where he was the first person out).
Zach & Zahida’s run came to an end two mission later. Following the Tired Out mission, the Tribunal selected them as one of three possible teams to enter the Killing Floor. They wound up getting three votes to send them in; one of them coming from Cara Maria, who had been feuding with Zach at the time. After disagreeing on which team to call out (Zach wanted Da’Vonne & Bear, Zahida leaned toward Amanda & Josh), they wound up picking Wes & Dee. The pairs competed in Lights Out, where they had to assemble a puzzle in a darkened room, pausing only to run out and turn on a light after it went out. Zach and Zahida wound up gassing out (a recurring problem in Zach’s career), giving Wes & Dee the win.
Both players returned for War of the Worlds 2, this time on opposing teams. Zahida competed in only one mission on the UK team before leaving the game due to a family emergency. In contrast, Zach made it to the final without setting foot on the Proving Ground. He appeared to be one of the better players on the US team running the Final Challenge . . . but going into the final episode, the odds of him finally winning his second title after eleven seasons (Battle of the Seasons in 2012) look grim.