When The Challenge star Chris "CT" Tamburello hops on the phone from his home in Miami, he just finished running through the ABCs with his son, CJ. As we talk, the four-year-old chatters in the background, with CT breaking every once in a while to attend to his “mini-me,” promising the toddler his phone call won’t take long.
“We’re best buds,” CT tells me, adding that the pair “work out” together most mornings on the patio of his Miami home before CT really hits the gym.
CT then brings his son to the phone and asking him, “Who's your best buddy? In the whole wide world?” A tiny voice plays over the receiver, responding, “Babe!”
“He calls me Babe. Well, it's funny. Cause Lil call me babe,” CT says, referring to his wife Lilianet Solares. “So he started calling me Babe, and it just kind of stuck. I call him Bud; I'm Babe.”
Fans of MTV's The Real World and The Challenge know CT as a particularly aggressive competitor, making his tender dad persona somewhat of a departure. With his gruff Massachusetts accent and quick temper, CT often crushes the competition—just watch the infamous 2010 Johnny Bananas Backpack scene for proof. And his son is already channeling that unmistakable Tamburello energy.
“His new thing is asking, Do you want a piece of me? Want a piece of me?” CT says.
And while this inherited Tamburello aura may be unmistakable, CT has always had a side that makes his proud fathering unsurprising. That’s also why it is somewhat surprising when CT shows concern over his child sharing his name, and what the internet might lead him to discover about his father.
“The guy's going to get to that point where he's going to look up his own name, and I'm going to pop up,” he says. “And then it's like, OK, how do I explain it to him—do as I say, not as I do.”
While CT may have his share of DQs for fighting other competitors (outside of the arena, that is) and a notorious reputation, he has also evolved as a player and person in his two decades in competition. His tough exterior is now significantly whittled away, revealing his warm, caring side more than ever—and that's especially true on the most recent season of MTV's The Challenge, called Double Agents. CT tends to sit on the sidelines of meaningless fights instead of inserting himself in the chaos. He prioritizes his mental well-being over a buff exterior, refusing to run around like a “chicken with his head cut off” like he did in his 20s.
This is the evolution of CT Tamburello. And it’s a redemption story any parent should be proud to tell their child.
Men’s Health: You’ve been a part of The Challenge universe for almost two decades now. What’s been the most rewarding part?
CT Tamburello: I got really lucky. I didn't think my 15 minutes was going to turn into 15 years, so to speak. I've been able to just do so much with my life. I get to travel the world, getting into all kinds of crazy stunts. The opportunities that it's given me—not just work-related or financially, but just in general life experiences…
I’ve been very lucky to have the life that I have because of it. And it all just started with me skipping accounting class one day [to audition for The Real World]. Next thing you know, I got swept off to Paris and then, you know, I always say The Challenge god has continued to summon me.
I'll tell you one thing: I'm far more appreciative now than I was in my twenties, that's for sure.
MH: Over the past few years and especially with this season of The Challenge, fans have been talking about your evolution not only as a player, but in your personality. The CT they knew in 2004 seems like a very different person that the CT fans know now.
CT: You know, I don't want to say I have one of the longest story arcs the history of reality television. But, I mean, I've basically grown up on television. I was technically an adult when I started to do the shows, but I was a “man-child.” I went from running around with my head cut off to who I am now.
MH: You were saying before that The Challenge gods have summoned you to come back again and again ...
CT: More like be a sacrifice ...
MH: What is that pull? What keeps you coming back season after season, driving you to keep competing?
CT: I mean, how can I not do that. I mean, I’m lucky enough. When else am I going to be able to do stuff like this? And honestly, at the same time, it's kind of all I know. You know, it’s 20 years now of getting throw on a plane. How could I not?
I just I love it. And I'd like to think I'm at the forefront of [reality TV]. When I started, reality TV was sort of frowned upon. Now, it’s become sort of a gateway. I'd like to think that I was at the forefront of that. You know, leading the charge. Holding the torch.
It’s funny. The Challenge is kind of like Neverland and I'm like Peter Pan. Going back to The Challenge is like being a kid again—everything from living in bunk beds to acting like I'm invincible to jumping off cliffs to hanging from helicopters and whatnot.”
MH: How do you stay in top shape to compete in challenges? Any secrets?
CT: I know that there are a lot of miles on this engine. I would say what I try to do—and this is what dawned in this Challenge—is get my head right. Mentally prepare myself. That was the main reason why I was so out of shape the last few seasons. For this last Challenge, I had to give myself a tune up, you know.
Getting in shape for this challenge was a lot easier once I was mentally strong. Once I got my mental health in check, I was moving a lot easier, if that makes sense. For me, The Challenge is far more mentally straining than it is physically. Not to say it's not physically straining—obviously it is. But it’s the mindfuck. That's what you have to prepare for. If you're not mentally strong, it's going to eat you alive.
You know, I'm getting older now, so I have to be conscious in really taking care of my body, from supplements to recovery. I lift just be functionally strong. I take the time to stretch and warm up. I'm very careful with what I eat and the supplements I take. You know, my achy bones—I take care of them, too.
But I wish I had listened to every coach I ever had when I was growing up, when it comes to taking care of my body, recovery and stretching, moving up, what you eat and all that. And I'm paying for it now.
MH: What’s your go-to gym routine?
CT: I love to run. I find it's very therapeutic for me. I really just burn off all that anxious energy. But, I can't run too much because I'm old nowadays. If I run too much throughout the week, my knees really feel it. So I do a lot of swimming a lot.
I like to do circuit training where it's more about how many reps I can get in a minute compared to how much weight I can put up, if that makes sense…
I still look weak, but I'm more concerned about just being functionally strong. I don't, I don't want to have to shop at Big and Tall, you know what I mean? I want to be in a nice suit. I'm 40. I want to hit them with that salt and pepper — with that George Clooney, you know.”
MH: How do you push through challenges that seem fully impossible?
CT: Just do it. Figure it out. Think about it later. I’ll be honest with you, I have a conditional response to [The Challenge host] T.J. [Lavin]’s horn. You know, I can be anywhere — If I hear a giant truck blow the horn and I'm walking down the street, I immediately just start looking around. I'll just start randomly running.
You are always posting “Gym Jams” on social media. What’s always on your gym playlist?
CT: You know, what's funny about social media? It terrifies me. I do enough to just to be a part of it and engaged enough. But I don't need a wildfire breaking out on on my feed.
For me, I like to slow things down when I'm in the gym. I know some people want to listen to like death metal. You know? But I don't. It's my sanctuary. It's my safe space, I guess. It's where I want to be calm and collected. I like to look up piano-acoustic covers and stuff like that. Anything with a piano in it.
But I do like mashups and remixes. I like it when people put two different genres together in a way where you don't think it would fit, but it's a nice tone.
MTV’s The Challenge: Double Agents airs Wednesdays at 8PM ET/PT
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