Johnny “Bananas” Devenanzio is undertaking a new challenge — and it doesn’t require him to go into eliminations, form alliances or fight for his piece of a cash prize.
The Challenge vet will host 1st Look when the late-night travel series returns to NBC in September, PEOPLE can exclusively reveal.
“It’s challenging me in ways I’ve never been challenged before,” Devenanzio, 36, tells PEOPLE. “This is the first time I’ve done hosting, and what’s different about this than The Challenge is, The Challenge it’s me and 30 other cast members, and there’s a lot of other people to carry the load. Whereas this is 100 percent on my shoulders, and it’s an exciting new experience.”
Luckily, his 17 seasons on the MTV competition show gave Devenanzio excellent examples of how to do the job thanks to regular season host T.J. Lavin and Champs vs. Stars MC Mike “The Miz” Mizanin.
“They’re both very likable and they’re very good at connecting with not just cast members, but the fans, and that’s what my goal is as well,” says Devenanzio, who will take over 1st Look hosting duties from The Pussycat Dolls’ Ashley Roberts.
So far, filming 1st Look has brought the reality star to Roswell, New Mexico (where he looked for aliens), a cannabis farm in Northern California and his favorite location yet, Alaska, where Devenanzio spent nine days climbing glaciers, watching bears and whitewater rafting.
“It was the scariest, coolest experience ever,” he says of being in such close proximity to the larger-than-life mammals. “And there aren’t just polar bears there, there’s different varieties of bears. When we went bear-watching in Homer, Alaska, we landed a plane on the beach, got out, and grizzly bears were 30 feet away! They didn’t even bother us. Just when I thought I’d kind of seen it all and done it all, 1st Look came along and totally blew my mind.”
Though Devenanzio says his time on The Challenge helped him become accustomed to traveling the world (the current season kicked off in South Africa) and strenuous physical demands, the reality star’s latest 1st Look adventure tested him beyond anything he’s encountered on the MTV series.
“I thought that I knew what intense physical training was — today has absolutely blown my mind,” the Penn State grad says of spending Thursday with some of the NFL’s top players. “I was competing with Mark Ingram, Carl Lawson, Travis Kelce and holding my own against them. People look at the guys on The Challenge and they’re like, ‘Oh man, C.T.’s a monster! Zach’s a monster!’ These guys are absolutely mutants. You want to talk about being challenged in ways I’ve never been challenged before, I literally feel like I just ran a final in The Challenge.”
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Devenanzio’s 1st Look gig won’t keep him from returning to the network that launched his career, though — and his fellow competitors should be even more worried about going up against the game’s biggest winner.
“I want to do Challenges until my body tells me no, until MTV tells me no or my mom tells me no, which she’s done in the past, but I’ve always been like, ‘Mom, not happening,’ ” he jokes. “All that this is doing is keeping me on my toes. Learning the things that I’m learning on the road, I’m not only becoming stronger physically, but mentally. Being exposed to all these different people and cultures and destinations, it really is making me a more well-rounded, sharper player, and that’s a very dangerous thing for a lot of my competition on The Challenge.”
The Real World: Key West alum thinks his costars might also be envious of his new job. “A lot of my cast members are already jealous of what I established for myself on The Challenge, so now when they hear, ‘Wait a minute, not only are you the superstar of The Challenge and MTV’s golden boy, you now are hosting this amazing show on NBC? I think I might get death threats,” Devenanzio quips.
But for any longtime fans of his MTV career, Devenanzio promises even more classic Bananas antics on 1st Look, saying, “If Johnny Bananas on The Challenge has been an ice cream sundae with no toppings, 1st Look is going to be chocolate sauce, chopped nuts and a cherry on top. Instead of just a banana, you’re going to get a banana split.”
The new season of 1st Look premieres Sept. 29 on NBC following Saturday Night Live.
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