All it takes is two men, one rivalry and a metal barrel to make iconic reality TV.
For MTV's The Challenge - formerly known as The Real World vs Road Rules Challenge — that iconic moment came in its 20th season, Cutthroat. The incident now referred to as "The Bananas Backpack Elimination" left viewers speechless and cemented Johnny "Bananas" Devenanzio and Chris "CT" Tamburello as Challenge legends.
The above video sums up the impressive display of physical dominance CT showed when he turned a two-man tug of war event into a Transformer walk with his competition strapped to his back. To fans though, the elimination is more than that: it's the most epic event in TheChallenge's 28 season history. It's a story of redemption for Tamburello and the moment that would catalyze Bananas to become the greatest champion the show has ever seen.
As The Challenge is just kicking off its 28th season, TVGuide.com met with CT and Bananas in their first ever-joint interview to discuss exactly why the Bananas Backpack Elimination has become so epic and what it means to them almost six years later.
The back-story: Second chances and an anti-Bananas conspiracy
What happened before the elimination is as important as what happened on camera. Going into Cutthroat, Bananas had won two previous Challenge seasons and had proven to be a master manipulator of house politics. He was a strong contender for heading into the Cutthroat final as well before he was cast into the penultimate elimination that would go down in history. His manipulative game style not only made him a target for his housemates, but as he believes, MTV itself.
"I felt at that point, not only did I have the cast working against me, but I think I had a lot of people in production who were also rooting against me," Bananas says. "They were like, 'We have to get rid of this guy somehow, some way.' Obviously, they definitely chose the best way they possibly could."
Enter CT, who was not an official cast member of the Cutthroat season. He was brought back especially for the Bananas elimination. "When he came in it was like, 'Holy sh-t. We didn't plan for this.' It was the first time they had ever brought a cast member who wasn't on The Challenge as just an assassin for an elimination," Bananas explains.
CT actually hadn't appeared on the show since The Duel II, two seasons before, when he was ejected from the house on the first night; multiple producers were needed to stop him from attacking fellow housemate Adam King. The brutal incident had cast members calling for an unofficial ban on CT ever returning to the series.
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Bringing CT back for this elimination not only allowed an unexpected way to get rid of Bananas, but also served as probationary run for CT being able to return as a full-time cast member.
"I personally think that it [was a trial[. I had one of those zaps around my neck in case I got out of line," CT jokes. "If you look really closely at the video you can actually see the red dot on me at all times. It was a dart gun." CT passed the test. The show brought him back full-time for the next season, Rivals, where he was paired with King and lost in the elimination before the final to, ironically, Bananas. He went on to film four more seasons after that.
The elimination: Have you been working out, bro?
The elimination is not just famous because it was CT's epic return to the show. It's also because of the sheer dominance he exhibited while taking Bananas down. He was able to get his rival on his back due to an unfortunate combination of diet and bad strategy. Having made it so far into the competition, Bananas was preparing himself physically for the show's grueling final challenge, not a weight-reliant elimination.
"For me, it was the perfect storm of conditions. Going into [the show's] final you really do want to cut down weight as much as you can because you're most likely going to be running long distance and climbing mountains, " he explains. "[I] was in this carb-cutting-shred-down-getting-ready-for-a-final mode."
CT was doing just the opposite since he'd been at home and didn't have the pressure of running a final ahead of him. "I came straight from the gym. I was hungry," he says.
"I've never seen this guy bigger in my entire life," Bananas remembers.
Bananas couldn't do anything about his size, but knowing what game lay ahead in the elimination helped him to strategize. The problem is that before CT's appearance, Bananas had expected to go against rival housemate Tyler Duckworth. Tyler was big, but not CT big, and the strategy Bananas had worked out in practice inevitably backfired.
"[I] took two backpacks and tied them together. You see in that clip when they blow that horn we're both pulling in opposite directions. When [I practiced] doing it, I would barrel roll and try to pick it up. When I tried to do that with him, I miscalculated," Bananas says.
The barrel roll didn't just give CT a momentum advantage, but it actually allowed him to stand up with Bananas still strapped to his back.
"It just happened. I was trying to move a position to hold it. I was surprised that his hands and feet weren't on the ground anymore," CT says. "I was too!" poor Bananas adds.
The speed with which CT was able to carry Bananas to his barrel made it easy for Tyler to follow. He didn't have to beat CT, just last longer than Bananas was able to. Bananas went home with nothing but hurt pride that evening, but it was moment that changed both CT and Bananas' Challenge careers forever.
The aftermath: A champion is born and a rivalry lives on
Bananas has won three seasons of The Challenge since the Bananas Backpack — two consecutively after the incident. He has won more Challenges than any other cast mate in the history of the show, but it's still moments of defeat that he remembers the most.
"It really fueled me to at all costs avoid this happening again. You realize what your weaknesses are and what you have to work on to avoid getting put back in a similar situation. Of all the eliminations that I've done, that was hands down my most memorable defeat," he says.
Bananas is currently competing for a potential sixth Challenge title on Rivals III. CT has taken a break from the show since Battle of the Exes II in 2014 when his partner, and former girlfriend, Diem Brown collapsed from health complications and they both went home early. Brown died a few months later after a long battle with cancer with CT at her side. He's made two special appearances on the show since her death, one to honor Diem and a second elimination assassination during Battle of the Bloodlines. He's hesitant about rejoining the show full-time, but hasn't fully counted out the possibility.
"Never say never, " he says. "I'd love to see a final tiebreaker with you man. Let's finish up this series."
What if they could win it together?
"[MTV] would never do that. It wouldn't be worth watching. It'd be like, 'Here's the game. CT and Bananas here's your trophy," Bananas says.
Even if CT never returns to the show, they know they have this one moment of reality TV gold they created together. "At the time, I wasn't thrilled. Now I can get a good laugh at it," Bananas says. "That's our moment. That's the moment we share together."
We know we'd love to see them back in action together.
The Challenge: Rivals III currently airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on MTV.