Season 35 of the MTV reality competition hit has come to an end, and two impressive players each walked away $500,000 richer

By Breanne L. Heldman
July 15, 2020 09:30 PM
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Love him or love to hate him, there's no denying it: Johnny "Bananas" Devenanzio has officially achieved GOAT status on MTV's The Challenge.

As The Challenge: Total Madness reached its inevitable mountaintop conclusion Wednesday night, Devenanzio and Jenny West were named Challenge Champions and walked away with $500,000 each. But getting there was no easy feat, especially for Devenanzio, whose trip to the final marks the end of a six-season dry spell that began after he won Rivals III in 2016 and opted not to split his prize money with his partner, Sarah Rice.

This win, Devenanzio's seventh in 20 seasons of the hit reality competition series, also makes him the biggest total prize winner in the 35-season history of the show.

While Devenanzio, 38, is known for his bravado, none of those newly broken records are lost on him, which was clear as the episode drew to a close and he broke down in tears, something fans almost never see.

"The road to this final victory is arguably one of the most difficult ones that I've ever had to go down," he tells PEOPLE. "I'd be lying if I said that doubt didn't start creeping into my mind if I would ever not just win a final, but ever see a final again. Out of the seven wins I've had, this one definitely had the most riding on it. And I think this one meant the most to me."

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"I've dedicated essentially a third of my life to this show, and I really do feel like this show has left an indelible mark on me and who I am," he adds. "It's caused me to in a lot of ways grow to be the person that I am. And so being able to be triumphant this time around and prove to myself that all this time and all this effort and all this energy that I've put into it, wasn't for nothing. To prove to myself and everyone else out there that I still have what it takes to compete at a high level and to win. It just felt really good."

One of the keys to Devenanzio's gameplay on the show has been to stir the pot and create drama among the competitors. But this season showed a different side of the reality star, as he teamed up with his rival, Wes Bergmann, and befriended other former foes, including fellow finalist Cory Wharton and Nelson Thomas, who recently called Devenanzio "such a great guy" and revealed to PEOPLE they had "great talks."

Devenanzio blames the cast's unusual living arrangements: "It was this bunker! In a weird way, even though we were technically there competing against each other, we were really competing against the bunker. Everybody was experiencing things that we'd never experienced before mentally, emotionally, physically, as a result of being trapped underground, artificial light, artificial oxygen, in this wartime bunker, never meant to have people live there. So, instead of dividing us, it almost brought us together. Because the ultimate enemy, the ultimate competition was the bunker. And I think we were all in that together."

With all that uncharacteristic reflection and sentimentality and the nice, round number of 20 seasons under his belt, could the series mainstay be ready to retire?

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Ha, not a chance!

"What this means for my future is that now I'm playing with house money from here on out," Devenanzio says. "Before, I really was looking at it like I just need to get one more W. And I'm going to do [the show] until I get it. Now that I have, I just see it as there's nothing that could ever be done to, I feel, negatively impact my legacy from here on out. So, like I said, from this point out, I'm playing with house money."

That said, he admits a little time off may be in order.

"I may need a little bit of a break," he says. "As if the target wasn't big enough on my back already, going into a season with seven wins, all bets are off. Any semblance of people wanting to try and pretend to play nice or not gun for me from day one, that's all completely out the window now. I expect every season to go in as public enemy No. 1. So if I was ever going to take some time off and take a break, now would be the time."

Johnny “Bananas” Devenanzio
Riccardo Giardina/MTV

That break, if he takes it, won't be because of naysayers who believe this season was rigged in Devenanzio's favor.

"Anyone that's watching this season objectively knows that there's no way things can be rigged for one contestant or another," he says. "If it was really rigged in my favor, why would Wes nominate himself to go into elimination against me? And then in this last challenge, well, what? Did they rig more bowling pins to fall down? In the final elimination, did they somehow rig me solving a math equation or Rogan getting nominated only for me to beat him?"

"The people who are saying it's rigged are either fans or bitter past cast members who don't want to see me be successful. They just want to invalidate what I did. But they can say whatever they want. All I know is that I am thrilled with the way things went down," says Devenanzio. "I couldn't have asked for a better season."

The Challenge recently was renewed for a 36th season. The season 35 reunion airs next Wednesday, July 22 at 8 p.m. ET on MTV.