Challenge Total Madness Player Preview: Johnny Bananas
While MTV has still trotted out Johnny Bananas on press tours as a figurehead in recent years, it is undeniable that since Invasion of the Champions, Cara Maria eclipsed him in terms of “star” of the Challenge. Bananas is still the face of the franchise and had great runs on Vendettas and Final Reckoning, but Cara Maria has been at the heart of the biggest storylines that have gotten social media talking. Bananas has not made it a final since winning Rivals 3 (6 seasons). A lot of people don’t make a final once in six seasons, but to not do it while some claim you’re the greatest to play the game irks many fans. Even though I’m not a fan of Bananas, I believe if he had retired after Rivals 3, he unimpeachably would be known as the best to play the game. I don’t blame him for always coming back, the paychecks he gets for appearing are massive. Sadly, his legacy has gotten watered down from all the losses.
Now, many people have attributed Johnny Bananas failures in recent seasons due to him becoming washed up. That’s not true, at all. On Vendettas, Bananas was dominating the Troikas until Tony and Kailah threw him in. On Final Reckoning, he and Tony were fighting a giant Lavender Lady/Young Bucks alliance, and on War of the Worlds 1, he kicked Wes’s ass in the first daily challenge where they went head to head in a tug of war. 2010–2015 Johnny Bananas is an MVP level competitor, and 2016–2019 Bananas is an all-star level competitor. Tim Duncan, from 2000–2007, was an absolute dominant monster. As he got older, his stats on paper weren’t anywhere near as eye-popping, he didn’t teams starting having early playoff losses, but the guy was still absolutely a top player when you dig deeper into the stats. An older Johnny Bananas is still a much more all-around player than someone in their prime like Kyle or Nelson, and to a win a final, you need a balanced skill-set.
When you look at this male cast, there is a plethora of players with giant flaws, an elite Jordan, and then Bananas, CT, and Wes. If there was ever a season for Bananas to break through and take advantage of a weaker cast, this is the one.
Introducing Bananas: I am going to give Bananas the same treatment that I gave Wes and Aneesa, where I’m going to break down their history on the show.
The John Era — Duel 1, Inferno 3, Gauntlet 3: The pre-Johnny Bananas era when even the entrances referred to Bananas as “John.” He was first out on the Duel 1, made it to the final on the Inferno 3 (though there were only four eliminations), and then was the first male veteran eliminated from Gauntlet 3 (they could have put Danny Jamieson in, and picked Johnny instead). Bananas was a Dario Medrano/Thomas Buell level player in his first three seasons.
Kenny’s Sidekick Era — Island, Ruins, Cutthroat, Rivals 1: During this point in time, Johnny became best friends with Kenny. Kenny was the mob boss of this era, calling all the shots socially and politically. For reference to how well-liked Johnny was on the Island, it came down to a vote for who to eliminate between him and Abram. Abram told everyone to vote him off because he had to leave regardless. 6 out of the 15 people still voted to eliminate Johnny (meaning two stray votes and he would have been out). Without Kenny, Bananas does not win the Island. After Evelyn took Johnny’s key, Kenny convinces his Derrick to compete in a face-off (put his life in the game on the line) with Johnny and Cohutta to give them a 2/3 shot for Johnny to get a key. In the end-game, Kenny cut a deal with Evelyn for a spot in their boat so that she’d take Dunbar’s key instead of Johnny’s.
A massive moment, because Johnny ends up on the Ruins Champs team and gets a second win being on a dominant team where Kenny and Evan control the numbers. On Cutthroat, without Kenny and Evan, Bananas was only able to carry his team to two daily challenge wins for his team all season, and in the end, he got backpacked by CT. While partnered with Tyler for Rivals, Kenny and Evan controlled the numbers again, and he didn’t have to see an elimination until the final one where the only option was himself or Kenny. In the end, they put Bananas into an elimination where they might have cut a deal with Adam behind the scenes. They pull out the win against CT, and Bananas finally has his moment where he gets an edge on Kenny by winning the final and is now a 3x Champion.
The Bananas Dynasty — Exes 1, Rivals 2, Free Agents, Exes 2, Bloodlines, Rivals 3: When Johnny won his first three titles, I don’t think he was anywhere near as good as someone like Brad or Hunter. I’d rate someone like Joss as an infinitely more impressive player than Johnny during his first two wins. Without Kenny or Evan around, with Wes no longer working out, Derrick/Brad/Darrell out of the picture, Bananas struck when the iron was hot. On Exes 1, Bananas became a new player. He was killing the daily challenges, was dominating screentime confessionals, and was even using some of Kenny’s old lines. He made the finals four times, picked up three wins, and from Rivals 1- Free Agents, he accumulated a 5 elimination win streak with 2 wins over CT, 1 over Mark Long, and 1 over Jordan (two of them are sketchy, but still )!
If you look at Bananas’ career, he won 4 out of his first 8 seasons, which ties Darrell’s career record. And if you only look at a specific window, Bananas went 5 out of 7 between the Island and Free Agents, something nobody has ever done. During this era, beating Bananas was star-making moments for Cara and Sarah on Exes 2/Bloodlines. Them overcoming the evil force put them in the upper echelon of Challenge competitors.
Meh Era — Invasion, D30, Vendettas, Final Reckoning, WOTW, WOTW2: As mentioned above, Bananas hasn’t been awful on these recent seasons, but if he wants to say, he’s the best, he needs to make some finals again. Bananas doesn’t like new era challengers because he doesn’t understand how to create conversations with them. If you watch WOTW 1 and WOTW 2, whenever Bananas talks to rookies, he speaks in generalities and doesn’t try to establish genuine connections. People aren’t afraid to throw him in as he doesn’t show respect to anyone, and they know he’s lost a lot of eliminations at this point. Bananas had tons of friends when he dominated the show. These days, most of them are retired.
Johnny Bananas: 37 Years Old, 5'10, 202 lbs, 19 Seasons, 8–13 Elimination Record, 6x Champion (The Island, The Ruins, Rivals 1, Exes 1, Free Agents, Rivals 3)
Skills and Physical Strength: The website I got his height/weight from lists him at 202, but I think he’s closer to 180. Maybe he was 202 in like 2011. Bananas is elite in all the weird challenges. If it involves heights, balance, or any obstacle course, Bananas knows all the angles to achieve victory. Johnny is quite quick on his feet and naturally has an excellent first step when running. Being able to get the first step on someone in any sport is a huge deal, so while he might not be the fastest person, his running form is fantastic. Another small detail is he has unbelievable grip strength. This matters when you’re doing stuff like a tug of war, a pole wrestle, or a heights challenge where you need to grab a ledge for balance.
Wes likes to make fun of Bananas for not being a good swimmer, but Bananas is an above-average swimmer on the Challenge and is one of the best when someone like Wes isn’t in the game. People like to make fun of his cardio because he struggled on the Gibraltar rock challenge on Vendettas, but he’s in his mid-30s and got off an airplane (could have been drinking beforehand). Bananas is excellent at running finals; if anything, it is what he is best at.
What is missing about Bananas is he’s not as fit as he used to be. While he is still in great shape, Bananas used to train two-a-days for the Challenge, and the show was 90% of his income. Now, he works out to keep himself in shape, the appearance checks are fat enough to keep him happy, and he hosts a show on NBC. To be a big character on the show, you have to be dominant, and he hasn’t been that.
SSMP (Social, Strategic, Mental, and Political) Game: There is a straightforward strategy that if Bananas follows, he will make the final. He needs to cut a deal with Jordan and CT never to put each other in elimination. That’s it. Legitimately, the three of them are the best players in the game (Wes is on their level too), and they will win a majority of the daily challenges. For everyone else’s player previews, I mention that they need to take out Jordan before the final if they want a shot at winning. Deep down, I think Bananas could give Jordan a run for his money, and Bananas probably believes so as well.
Bananas and Jordan have worked together in newer seasons as Jordan gained respect for Bananas after he won Free Agents. He has become great friends with Kyle and Jenna. In more recent seasons, he’s been cool with Tori, Nany, Aneesa, and Jenny. Nelson will likely gun for him, but that’s not a threat since Nelson doesn’t win daily challenges.
If Bananas gets caught up in Wes drama, he will likely lose the rest of the house socially. He tries too hard to convince some people that Wes is an evil guy. Like at a certain point, you’d think he’d figure out that they have watched the show before and know what Wes is about. All Bananas has to do is be friendly on the outside and play a straight-up game.
Eliminations & Winning Potential: There was a point in time where his elimination record was 6–3. So if you ever feel joy about your favorite player’s elimination record, know it can go from 6–3 to 8–13 real fast (well, that would be a lot of seasons, so not that fast). Bananas has lost every type of elimination: mental, physical, carnival game, etc. He has also won every elimination format. Sometimes it’s the luck of the draw of who you get on what day. Considering he’s only won 2 out of his last 12, it is fair to say that older Bananas sucks at eliminations.
Since you have to win an elimination to make a final, Bananas needs to pick a good opponent. After Devin got a win over Bananas, I can see envision anyone beating him. Likewise, Bananas holds two wins over CT, has one of the only two wins over Nelson, and then only win over Jordan. Anything can happen on the Challenge.
Can Bananas win? Yes. It would be an uphill battle in a final against Jordan, but we’ve never seen them face off in anything like a final before. CT at his current size might not be able to keep up with Bananas running pace, and Wes isn’t as good with stuff like puzzles and eating. Everyone else in the game has no shot against him in a final. You’re going to tell me that Kyle and Nelson are going to be able to solve a puzzle by themselves in a final?
It could be his last chance ever to get a win in a solo format.