Wes Bergmann in ‘The Challenge: All Stars’ Johnny Bananas, Austin

In 2005, a frat boy with cocky red hair was enlisted. Austin: The Real WorldHe showed up drunk to his audition. Wes Bergmann had just met a girl at the Arizona State University fraternity houses that night and decided to make it a spontaneous move. “She was very pretty, and for whatever reason, my moves were somewhat working,”Bergmann, 38 years old, speaks over the telephone from Kansas City.

Finally, she said to him that she needed to go and get some sleep. Real WorldAuditorium the next day “I thought quick on my feet and said, ‘You know what? So am I! And I’ve got this idea. Why don’t we stay up all night long, get really drunk, and then show up to the interview together and tell them the story of the hijinx that we did?’ That was a successful strategy.”

Sadly, the girl in question didn’t make it onto the reality show, but Bergmann did. His ego, wit and dry humor earned him a spot in the reality series a year later. The Challenge The Real World AndRoad rules A spinoff in which cast members from these shows live in a house while competing in tough elimination events. The goal is to reach the final and win big cash.

Bergmann has appeared in approximately 20 seasons since then and won well more than $300,000. He’s one of the smartest, most cunning competitors on the show, making him either a bitter enemy or steadfast ally of fellow cast members, never falling in between. “Either I’m getting smarter or the other people are getting dumber,” Bergmann says. “But either way, I’m sitting here at the top of genius mountain, and there’s not even really a close second place.”

Bergmann will be appearing on Season Three of The Simpsons on May 11. All Stars Challenge, a Paramount+ spinoff that solely features Challengers who’ve made it to a past final. We spoke to him about the upcoming season and his friendly rivalry against Johnny Bananas. He also discussed which player he believes is the best of all time.

This was your first attempt at it All StarsHow was it for you? Was it like a regular season of? The Challenge
Both the show’s flagship and the other shows are available.All StarsThese are the kinds of lines that people love to draw between them. They love to say “Oh, well, ours is this and that, and the other one is this and that.” And as essentially the only guy that’s done both of these [in] modern times and back-to-back, they’re both as close as they could possibly be. It’s the same name. It’s the same production company. It’s the same rules, it’s the same prize money, it’s the same kind of grit and politics. It’s almost all the same, with slightly different casting choices. This just highlights how different personalities can make a completely different show, even though everything else remains the same.

It was an honor. All Stars just cause I’d watched the first two seasons and I am in love with it. I was proud to be part of it.

Are you feeling like a senior tour or is the competition level the same?
Well, I’m going to speak on the guys, because that’s basically the heat that I’m in. The men All StarsThree would defeat the men on [recent Challenge season] Spies, Lies and Allies no question. This cast is among the most absurd ever assembled. Although they are all a bit older than the rest, they have a lot of wisdom, strategy, and intelligence that is unparalleled by any of the other cast members.

I don’t want that to turn into an All Stars-It’s a flagship-versus-flagship thing. But in the grand scheme, I believe the flagship show would win. However, if we only considered the latest male casts from each season, then the All StarsThe group is definitively a better male team. And that’s not the case with Season One and Season Two, and who knows what will happen in future seasons of the flagship or future seasons of All Stars. This particular cast was among the most brutal males ever assembled. It was a horrible experience, as I had hoped to get a better chance by rolling in. When I saw the list I was stunned. “Shoot, I’ve got a better chance of winning the flagship show. What did I sign up for?”

 

Fans were excited to see vets for the first-time in a while since recent seasons. The ChallengeThese were filled with rookies. 
That is what I love. I love hearing those cries. But I also want them to shake my hand. I’m flattered because they’re basically saying they want to see more of my friends and I, and that’s cool. But what they don’t understand is a lot of my colleagues and friends have had to move on and get jobs and start families, and rookies are the lifeblood of our operation over here. It’s hard to change and it is different. Some of these people should be fired after their first season. But if they don’t put a bunch of new people into the flagship show and test them out, we’re going to end up with a very bad cast, because we didn’t invest in the future. And then what’s fun is all those rookies that the people complain about, after a season or two, they start to get compliments and then they start to build up fandoms.

You’re fairly or unfairly known for shepherding rookies and being their leader, but rookies aren’t on All Stars. What was your game plan for this season?
My goal was to just lay low. There were a few people I knew that were there and I wanted to try to coax them. But, you know, I found out really early on that that just wasn’t going to be the case. I am part of a small group that complains about the uphill struggle it is to be a Challenger. Every game that I play in the flagship show, the problem is jealousy and insecurity, and people thinking that if they take me out, they’ll be able to take my attention, money, and power, and that’s just really not how that works. So I have to compete against a lot of young egos that don’t understand how I got to where I’m at.

Et cetera All Stars, a little bit of the mentality was, they just don’t want to be made to look stupid. They’re adults. They’re mature. They fear me due to my reputation as a well-respected genius. They would rather lose in a puzzle, or in a strategic game against them than have their shins kicked on international TV. So my hope of just laying low really wasn’t all that possible, because the entire group was just sitting around trying to figure out how to get rid of me.

Laura Barisonzi/MTV/Paramount+

I’m sure there were people in the house that were psyched to see you, though. Was there anyone you hadn’t seen in a long time you were happy to reconnect with?
I mean, anyone that was happy to see me, I’ve seen recently. Melinda and I are in constant contact. [Collins]Brad [Fiorenza]Nehemiah [Clark]There were a few more. I also knew that this group would pose a problem. I’ve got known rivalries — big ones with Derrick [Kosinski]Darrel [Taylor]Jordan [Wiseley]Veronica [Portillo]. But then, I didn’t really realize all the new people that were going to be there that I’d never met. So, the MJs [Garrett] and the Yes’ [Duffy]Veronica is able to manipulate any gaggle of people. On Day 1, I was going be walking in. [being] in everyone’s crosshairs, and I didn’t know it.

You made a very insightful observation about Yes. Everyone sees him as an innocent, sweet competitor. 
In my opinion, he’s actually one of the worst humans that’s graced the show, because he puts on this front like he’s such a great human, but those are sometimes the most dangerous humans that there are. I’m trying to remember the metaphor I was using before. It’s something along the lines of: We all show up as wolves to play a very cutthroat game, and he shows up pretending he’s a sheep. But really, he’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing. And I think that’s almost worse, because we all acknowledge that we’re coming for each other. But he shows up in and hopes that we all roll out the red carpet for him and that he’s going to be treated like some angel of a human. He’s just as bad as the rest of us, if not worse, because he comes in under false pretenses.

KellyAnne Judd was also with you. Did that make you feel awkward?
It’s not my first show that I filmed with her post-breakup, but there’s always going to be a little bit of awkwardness to it. But then to a certain extent, in a weird, small way, she’s still a friend. There is still some joy in her being there and seeing her.

Yes, it was awkward. It’s always awkward to have a conversation with your wife when you return home. Because I ended up rooming with KellyAnne on accident — actually, probably not accident. She was most likely intentional about it. I went in to choose the room. I was the one who chose a bed. I discovered that my wife had chosen one of the last beds in my bedroom hours later. And you can’t mention people’s names on the phone with your significant other, so my wife doesn’t know that I’m rooming with her and I have to come home and explain to her, “Hey, not only was my ex-girlfriend there, but I was actually one bed away from her the entire time.” Thankfully, I’ve built up a lot of trust with her for doing all the things that I’m supposed to do, and she takes it very well. She’s very mature herself. But it’s still an uncomfortable, not-fun conversation to disclose when you go home.

I was listening to you on Bananas’ podcast,He said that he considers the game a producer first and a competitor last. Is that what you think? Which do you prefer, the show or your game?
It depends on the scenario, but he’s definitely right in the sense of, I guess you could say I care about both equally. Sometimes I care more about my game, but half of what I do is dedicated to making the show better. This is one of those lessons that I really hope the competitors to flagship-shows learn. All StarsYou can also point out what I do to help them understand how an expert navigates difficult games and puts on a show. Just gave a masterclass on how to entertain.

With all the seasons now streaming on Paramount+, it’s easy to notice different the show used to be. The competitions were like playing carnival games. What are the biggest changes you’ve observed over the years?
It’s definitely gotten a lot more like a sport. It’s just so much more enjoyable. When a helicopter rolls through to drag us down the desert or something, it’s proving big, fundamental changes. We’ve got — insert helicopter, it could be tank, it could be train, it could be bus, it could be cliff. But not only are they pulling in something like a helicopter, but said helicopter’s got Challenge branding on it, and then there’s an explosion underneath that. We get to those big, great things. ChallengeLetters and jerseys look so much nicer and cleaner. Every last detail of the show’s cinematography is beautiful. It’s almost like every area of making every asset that they’ve got, they just continue to level up their game.

Bill Simmons was once a great sportsman. ComparableYou to Charles Barkley and Bananas for Michael Jordan. Do you feel flattered, offended, or somewhere in between?
Charles Barkley is my wife’s favorite author, and it seems that for whatever reason. Charles Barkley is a lot happier in his life. He’s still working. He’s hilarious. He is loved by many. Although he may not have won as many titles, he is still a fulfilled person. And in that respect, I would say that’s an apt comparison.

What’s your relationship with Johnny like right now? You guys have teamed up on Total Madness after years of feuding, you weren’t exactly friends.
Recently, the man tried to trim my beard on national television. Celebrity Sleepover show. So this is both a compliment and an insult, but he’s so much more like a mischievous cousin than a friend or an enemy. Like I said, I wouldn’t treat him as an enemy but I wouldn’t treat him as a friend. He’s more like that bad kid that just happens to be connected to you by blood. I won’t let anyone outside of my family bully him, but I’m gonna bully him as best as possible. Because, dang it, he deserves it. He’s an anomaly of a human being.

Both in a complimenting and insulting manner. He’s a little bit like those Sweet and Sour Patch Kids, where you could be on the phone with him or in person, and one second, he’s very sweet and charming, and then the next minute, he says or does something so obnoxious and insulting. He returns to his charming side just as you’re about to boil. I think he’s got this internal angel and devil on his shoulder that just make him go from one end of the extremes to the next, and you can see both sides of it in just about every conversation he has.

Would you regret putting yourself in the elimination against him? Total Madness
2020 is the year of hindsight. The armchair quarterbacks love it when I say that I should [have] waited. But given all of the information that we had at that exact time, I don’t take back the decision. I could take the time machine back to make a decision. But, we know there were other eliminations. One of those would have been one I would be particularly skilled at.

It’s just, at the time, we knew that there hadn’t been a Hall BrawlYet, that was about to happen. There was a lot of big boys left that didn’t have their skulls, so it was going to be a Hall Brawl, and I was correct about that. We never know the time of the finals, nor how many eliminations we will see. And [host] T.J. [Lavin]He sits there, and he is annoying us with the whole. “This might be your last chance to get the skull!” thing, so I’m using every bit of data that I’ve got to make a smart, informed decision. And it’s easy when you’re watching the show to say, “Oh, well, there’s three more episodes left in my DVR that’s on the schedule, so therefore there’s two more eliminations and then the finals!” But given all the information that I had at the time, I don’t take back the decision.

 

You’ve taken leaves fromThe ChallengeThe past. What keeps you coming back to the past?
I don’t know. I guess I’m a little bit obsessed with the game. There’s nothing that really could ever scratch the true itch of The Challenge. If you’re looking to play a small sport, great! You can join an intramural soccer league, which I do. [laughs]. You could also start your own business if you are interested in politics or cutthroat nature. But there’s nothing that you could do that really would mimic The Challenge. Even if there were, I don’t think I’d go back. The Challenge, because I don’t really care anymore about being on TV after so many years. More television time doesn’t equate to any extra fun or anything worthwhile. I go back because they’re the only purveyors of that type of game in the world, and, in ways, it’s hurt me, but in more ways it’s helped me, and, in ways, it’s made me a better man.

You can quickly get out of the race. Who’s the GOAT: Chris “C.T.” Tamburello or Bananas?
That’s a tough one. I’m going to ultimately say that it’s C.T. I’m looking at both of those two guys, and I have to ask myself: Who would I rather not go into the elimination with? It’s C.T. It’s C.T. It’s C.T. Who would I rather not be able to compete with politically? It’s C.T. And so when you kind of look at those three main buckets, he’s the best. On the entertainment side, you can start to give Bananas compliments. He’s more fun to watch navigate the politics. He’s got some one-liners in his interviews. Then you realize that he’s not the only one. “Shoot, C.T.’s also funny, in his weird kind of way.” So it’s like, that man checks off every box that we could be looking for, whether it’s in the scare factor, the size factor, the endurance factor, and quite frankly, even the entertainment factor. He’s got it all. And it sucks to not give the gold to Bananas because quantitatively, he’s won the most, and that fact will never go over my head. But you know, we’re talking about Chris Tamburello here. That’s the fucking man.

He is very funny. He’s got that The voice of a father is raspy.
He’s fun to watch on TV, but that’s not funny in person. You know, like no one sits down and says. “Oh, man, I’m really enjoying my time with Chris.” That’s just not the case. Whereas with Bananas, half the time you hate him, but at least half the time you’re like, “OK, this is kind of entertaining.”It’s like a perfect modeality. You can only do it in an interview chair while it plays on your couch. But in person you’d be like, “What is he talking about?”

Are you trying to change what the gingers are getting?
Oh, no, I’m not trying to change that. I hope that I’m the only ginger. I feel like there should be some intellectual property protection that is put there, and I should be the only redhead that’s allowed to compete. But that said, I don’t really need a good reputation nor care about one. If you pay attention to me, you know that I’m already good. And if you don’t pay attention to me, you fall for the platitudes and the propaganda that the other people say about me.

You will notice that I do fight the bullies if you pay close attention. I don’t support the weak and I use poor tactics against them. However, they always come first. It’s just once they do, I really hit them where it hurts. Kind of like, I would never shoot anyone unless they came into my house, and then I’d have to protect my family. Well, in the game, I don’t leave my house and go hunting people. I am confined to my house. But when you step onto my property after hours, I’m gonna kill you before I find out what you’re there for.

There’s been a few homecoming seasons of The Real World.Are you familiar with Austin’s season? 
Yeah, I’ve definitely heard the rumblings, but there is definitely nothing official that’s in the books. It’s something that I know our squad would love to do. I’ve talked to essentially all of them, and for various reasons, we’re all down. It was one of my favorite seasons. I love the first three seasons, but we’ve got a different dynamic than what [they]they are putting out. It’s weird watching the New Orleans cast, and they’re saying things like, “None of us kept in touch and we hardly know each other anymore,” whereas we are very much ingrained in each other’s lives, and sometimes on a daily basis. So, for example, I have not just spent but also have spent. All StarsThree with Nehemiah, Melinda, and I talk to Melinda every week. Nehemiah, who lives in my hometown, works for a company which is basically one my clients. So I see him frequently. Then I keep in touch avec Danny. [Jamieson]Lacey [Buehler]Rachel [Moyal].

And that’s just me. In their own way, the rest of them keep in touch. It might even be possible to capture the magic of us drinking on Sixth Street every night. We would love the chance to go there and show a lot more fun, jovial atmosphere. We still have a lot to discuss. Danny and Melinda were divorcing and never spoke about it. Johanna [Botta]We had a bad breakup and never talked about it. Danny lost his mother, and was literally beaten up every inch of his existence. I can keep going. There’s a bunch of these points of contention that really need some therapy.

Some fans have speculated that Johanna doesn’t want to do it. Is this true?
I don’t know. She’s the only one that I don’t keep in contact with, but I’ve talked to Lacey about it. She says she’s down. She clearly has questions. But I would be surprised if she didn’t do it. At at this point, if she’s the only holdout, then not only would she be saying no to a great opportunity to clear the air and some good therapy, but she’d also be preventing the opportunity for the other six people. Which means she’d essentially be saying, “I no longer want to keep in contact with any of them, because I’m going to be dead to all of them if I say no to this.”

I want to run a rumor by you: Some fans think you’ve been taking steroids or HGH. Would you like to answer that question?
Yes, absolutely. No one that’s ever lifted weights before looks at the way that I’ve looked and says, “Oh, man, that’s a steroid body.” It’s all these fat or skinny people that don’t understand: If you lift weights for years and you eat right, your muscles grow. That’s how that works. At first it didn’t bother me, because I took it very flattering. But now I actually find those remarks to be very dangerous, because there’s some skinny or fat person at the beginning of their weight-lifting journey that thinks that the way to look like me — a.k.a. incredibly sexy and ripped — is to take steroids. And so when people’s insecurities make them hurl those kind of rumors out into the ether, they’re actually harming the world a lot more than they’re hurting my feelings.

I’ve also heard there’s a flagship ChallengeSeason is coming up. Are they reaching out to you?
I’m not sure if I’m allowed to discuss that.

OK. Do you hope to be doing this when you’re as old as Mark Long, a.k.a. The Godfather? 
I don’t know. They are my passion and I will continue to do them as long as possible. If it starts harming my family life too much, if it starts harming my health too much, if it starts harming my business too much, I hope that I have the maturity to step back, and that’s essentially what I do when I take a season off here or there. I’m like, “The timing just doesn’t work out for me right now because my business is under the gun and I really need to be here during this time of transition or growth”Or, whatever. Or, “I need to stay home because there is a personal responsibility that takes precedence.” And I’m proud of myself for being able to step out for a season or two when I know that my life is more important. And so as long as I’m able to keep that maturity, I don’t see why I wouldn’t be able to always have one foot in some capacity in the Challenge world.

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