The 34th season of MTV's The Challenge is called "War of the Worlds 2," so named after last season's installment opened up the casting to contestants from reality shows from across the globe, and battle lines were vaguely drawn between the Challenge vets, mostly Americans, and the cadre of newbies, mostly from UK shows like Ex on the Beach and Geordie Shore. Never a network to believe there can ever be too much of a good thing, MTV is doubling down on the cross-pond rivalry and bringing back most of their big-time regulars to battle it out. This includes Johnny Bananas, Cara Maria, Wes, and of course the beloved CT, who is back in a big way, and we do mean big.
Christopher "CT" Tamburello is a unique figure of devotion in the Challenge universe because he spans so many eras. He's one of the few Challenge participants to have actually originated on The Real World, for one thing. You could've stopped watching MTV's reality staple 15 years ago and still remember CT as the hot-headed Massachusetts bro who antagonized his roommates on The Real World: Paris. From there, he graduated to The Challenge, where his athletic prowess often (though not always) triumphed over his volcanic temper. His on-and-off-and-on romance with castmate Diem Brown captivated audience members who may not have been in the college-bro demographic the show courted (though, to be honest, it probably captivated a lot of them too), and when Brown died of cancer in 2014, our hearts all broke. When it comes to Challenge cast members whose notoriety extend past the show, there are only two people: we all hate Johnny Bananas, and we all love CT.
The most recent iteration of CT has been just as much of a joy as the other ones, though more jarring than many of us were prepared for. In recent years, since settling down with a family and a kid, he's moved into the "Dad bod" phase of his life. Part of what's made it so notable is that he'd always been this jacked physical specimen. Dad-Bod CT is by no means an inferior version. Even as a more mellowed-out version of himself these past two years, his competitive fire has always clearly remained. Which is what makes it so crazy that the American team opted not to draft him to their side when they got the chance in the season premiere. Their rationale? That CT showed up in this shape:
That right there? That goes beyond Dad-Bod CT. We have officially graduated into the realm of Chonky CT. And I for one could not be happier. What are the defining characteristics of Chonky CT? Peep the soft belly unable to be fully constrained by his Challenge-provided tee. The legs that are ever more trunk-like. The overall roundness of the geometric figure he cuts against the Thai jungle background.
What does it mean that this most iconic Challenge figure has graduated to his doughy phase? I've been going through some emotions.
CT has been a person on television for almost the entire 21st century to date. His volatile, heedless, monstrously sexy youth was spent looking like a Greek god so all us mere mortals could live vicariously through him. Seeing CT now as a dad with priorities that are no longer "maintain bodily perfection" is a reminder that we're all 17 years older than we used to be.
Now that CT (the "T" is for "Thiccc") no longer looks like a frat boy on steroids or an Olympic-level pro athlete, a spell has been broken. The spell that fools us into thinking that grown men and women ought to participate in something like The Challenge. CT! You remind us of our own dads when we were younger! Your suddenly vulnerable body shouldn't be subjecting itself to such rigors!
Despite the above paragraph, we're still SUPER psyched he's back on The Challenge this season. We will learn to live with the hypocrisy.
Okay, how DARE that American team pick Turbo (the compact Turkish dynamo who blasted through last season of The Challenge like an MCU energy burst) over CT?! Just because they didn't think he'd be able to climb very high or run very fast in his new Pillsbury'd condition? If I'm Johnny or Wes or Jordan or any of the other decision-makers on that team, I am sleeping with one eye open, because here's the fun part: they just awoke the sleeping tiger. And so now, instead of getting just one kind of CT, we get this cool hybrid creature that possesses all of CT's aggression and funnels it into his new beer-keg body. We've never seen this particular version of him before! It's so exciting!
Here's the secret about New Chonky CT: he still looks incredibly sexy. Lest you think this attention to his new body shape is in any way intended to shame. It is NOT. In many ways, the current incarnation of the man who once stomp-walked across an arena floor with Johnny Bananas helplessly flailing while strapped to his back is one his best looks ever. It's all in what you're looking for. Are you into a lean, tough, thin steak? Or do you want that juicy, marbled porterhouse served medium rare and with a chip on his shoulder because his crappy friends didn't pick him for their team? To put it more plainly, if this shot of CT doing the chonkiest squats you ever saw didn't turn you on even a little, check your pulse and tune in to the next episode of The Challenge pending re-evaluation.
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Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.