“The Challenge” superstar Johnny Bananas Devenanzio was in Los Angeles recently, filming the after-show segments for the current season of “Rivals III.” Zap2it got to sit down and pick the veteran’s brain on something that’s been on our minds for quite some time. We wanted to know why Evan Starkman and Kenny Santucci — two of Bananas’ best friends and former MTV contestants — never do “The Challenge” anymore.
For those unaware of who Tonya Cooley is, she was once a familiar face on the competition reality series. In October 2011, she sued MTV/Viacom and Bunim/Murry Productions after claiming Evan and Kenny sexually assaulted her with a toothbrush while she lay unconscious while filming “The Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Ruins” in Thailand.
She claimed producers were not only aware of what happened, but did nothing about it except replace her toothbrush. Cooley later got kicked off the show for getting into a physical altercation with another female cast mate, while Santucci and Starkman went on to be the season’s winners.
Viacom first tried to get out of the lawsuit by claiming the LA Superior Court had no jurisdiction over an out-of-California resident for a situation that happened out of state. Then the company fought back, stating Cooley failed to avoid the injuries for which she complains. “Plaintiff was frequently intoxicated, rowdy, combative, flirtatious, and on multiple occasions intentionally exposed her bare breasts and genitalia to the other contestants.”
The suit was never brought to trial, and all settlement details were kept sealed. Tonya, Kenny and Evan were banned from speaking publicly about this situation, and none of them ever appeared on an MTV competition series again.
Bananas had zero qualms voicing his opinion on this he said/she said controversy. “[Kenny and Evan] were convicted guilty in the court of public opinion. That’s the only place they were,” the 33-year-old reality TV star says without hesitation. “Hopefully, the truth will get out someday, and they will be exonerated of wrong-doing. ‘The Challenge’ and the world have been done a disservice by not having them around.”
“They’re guilty of being idiots and maybe taking jokes too far,” Bananas says. “But do you know who they’re dealing with? She’s a psychopath. There were no specifics. It was all just conjecture. It’s horseshit.”
While it remains a mystery who the “other girls” are that told Tonya what happened to her after she woke up, Bananas was actually there in Phuket in 2009. “Not only was I there, both Sarah [Rice] and Susie [Meister] were in the room at the time it supposedly took place. Both of them were victims of sexual assault in their younger years, so if anyone would have been the ones to blow the whistle, or to not let slide, it would be them.”
So, has anyone talked to Tonya since? “No,” Bananas says. “No one has seen or heard from that girl. The fact that it took her three years for her to even bring it up? She’s a complete idiot. It was a money grab. The long and short of it is that she saw an opportunity to get money and she took it.”
So there’s no truth to it? Because that’s quite a specific story to make up. “No. Nothing criminal took place at all,” Bananas claims. “All you have to do is watch any footage of her ever on a ‘Challenge’ and you’ll understand maybe you should take what she says with a grain of salt. It’s a shame that someone like her, who never brought a lot to the show anyways, was able to destroy the bright futures of two great cast members.”