Jemmye Carroll on Ryan Knight: 'I Will Forever Tell His Stories'
Two months after Knight suddenly died at 28, his ex-girlfriend and teammate looks back
Ryan Knight’s final moments on The Challenge were characteristic of his right-here-right-now lifestyle: a sudden departure after a volatile series of events that demanded full attention and yet somehow imparted a sense of business unfinished.
Indeed, Knight’s own life was unfinished. Two months after his unexpected death on Nov. 27, MTV aired a special Challenge after show early Wednesday that featured a touching memorial to the five years Knight, 28, spent in front of the camera, starting with 2010’s The Real World: New Orleans.
During the tribute, Knight’s castmates alternated between bursts of laughter and choked-back tears, none more so than Jemmye Carroll. Carroll, 26, met Knight on The Real World and – after a two-year relationship broken by his infidelity – recently shared an complicated partnership with him on The Challenge: Battle of the Exes 2.
Carroll is the first to say she remained best friends with Knight, who admitted to a prior struggle with painkillers, through all his ups and downs. She even told PEOPLE that “in his heart, Knight always thought we would end up back together.”
Knight’s death made that dream impossible, but Carroll does want to pay one final tribute to her friend, her love and her teammate and, in doing so, seek a little closure for her own business unfinished.
PEOPLE: How did you first hear about Knight’s death?
JEMMYE CARROLL: It was Thanksgiving morning, I heard it from his sister. She and I are really close even though Knight and I had been broken up three years. I think I was the first call she made.
What was the first thought that crossed your mind?
It just did not feel real. I was at my mom’s house, and we were talking about how we were very blessed that we hadn’t ever lost anyone close to us and, within an hour…. We had just made sandwiches we were going to pass out to the homeless. When I got the call we were in the car. We had to pull over and, weirdly, we were right by Knight’s and my old apartment where we lived in New Orleans. I immediately lost my s—. It was like, “This is not real. This is not real.” I didn’t want to believe it. It took me a couple of days to believe it. I still miss just picking up the phone and saying something to him.
What personality trait about him do you wish more people knew?
I really wish people could have seen through his a–hole-ness to see that he cared about the people around him and was a very loyal person to the people he loved. He would say what was on his mind with people. But if he really loved you, you would know it. Even on our season of Real World, I was coming out of an abusive relationship that I never spoke of, and he was the first person that got me to talk about it. From the moment I brought it up to his last day, he was there for me. He was the one who saved me from that situation. That’s why people fell in love with us as a couple because they saw how much he was there for me.
Did you attend the memorial?
I did. It was a lot. He was very loved by the Challenge family. We spent a lot of time in Wisconsin with his dad and sister. I loved his family more than anything. Just to be there with them – without him – it was very weird. After the service, we all went to a bar and celebrated his life. At the end of the day, I feel like I know him more than anyone, and that’s all that he would have wanted: He would have wanted his Challenge family to be there with his real friends and family. You never expect those two worlds to collide, and unfortunately they did.
Has his death changed your approach to life?
Definitely. Knight was always the most carefree person. He didn’t care about two years from now, he lived in the moment, and I learned in the last few months that life is too short to not do what feels right. I don’t think I’m going to come back to The Challenge. If he was sitting here, he would say, ‘F— that, go do it,’ but it just would not feel right without him. Honestly, like, we’ve done so many shows together and regardless of the good and bad he was there. We started the season together, and I don’t want to go back without him.
If you could have said something to him on his last day, what would it be?
I just hope that, despite all the s— we went through – because God knows we did go through a lot of s— – that he knew how much I truly love him. In a relationship and as friends, just in general he was one of my favorite people whether I want to admit it or not. I just pray to God that when he took his last breath he knows that I had nothing but love for him.
Did you think you might eventually get back together?
I only said this to my best friend and no one else, but I was very mean to him on The Challenge. When he cheated on me and we broke up, I had to tell myself to remember only the bad times because I was scared that if I remembered a good time that I could fall back. But, from the moment I got that phone call, all the good memories started flooding. I couldn’t remember a bad thing. … Regardless of all the s— we did to each other, we were always friends. You have a soulmate in life and a love of your life. I think you choose the love of your life, and I think you are bound to your soulmate whether you want to be or not. We were bound together … he was my soulmate. We connected on levels that people don’t connect. It sucks because he was the person that loved life the most and he would want people to party on.
How will you continue to celebrate him?
I’ve been thinking: His birthday is in June, and he’s too big a person not to remember in the right way. I told his dad I would forever tell his stories. The good or the bad, I have stories for days – and I know he would want me to tell the bad ones because those are the ones he liked the most. I’ve prayed on it, and I don’t know yet, but I will tell the stories.
• Reporting by RAHA LEWIS