There’s nothing, and we repeat, nothing that T.J. Lavin hates more than a quitter. For 16 years, The Challenge host has seen it all. Bloody brawls, betrayals, and—trigger warning for those with weak stomachs—lots and lots of vomit. Still, the longtime host is famous for his unsympathetic goodbyes. “Don’t take care,” he told one contestant in a famous moment from 2016’s Rivals 3. “Hope to see you never.”
It’s those tense or otherwise hilarious interactions with contestants that led Lavin to become an iconic mainstay on MTV. The former BMX athlete first joined the series back in 2005, replacing then host Dave Mirra. “He said, you’ll love it for a couple seasons and you’ll probably be done with it, too.” 26 seasons later, he’s seen at least 200+ contestants battle it out for The Challenge crown…which will come full-circle with the upcoming All Stars spin-off featuring OGs from Real World or Road Rules’ past.
Ahead of the premiere, we caught up with Lavin to talk iconic moments throughout the series and how he thinks he’d fair as a competitor.
The Challenge: All Stars premieres on April 1 on Paramount+.
The Challenge has been on, for what seems like, forever. I feel like you actually haven’t aged.
One of my secrets is not to drink. I’ve only had alcohol one time in my life when I was 17. I never did any drugs or smoked cigarettes. My dad was an alcoholic growing up. And I just saw that it just wasn’t a good path. And I also have a very addictive personality. When you get older. I just think people like put their bodies through hell. I physically hurt my body from the outside in, for sure. But from the inside out, it’s pretty brand new.
Was it difficult to maintain sobriety when you were still competing as a BMX rider?
No, it was really easy for me. Everybody really respected it. One time I did go to a championship and we were celebrating at a bar, and they gave me a Mike’s Hard Lemonade. I drank a whole one of those and I started feeling tipsy. They played a joke on me. I didn’t even get mad, but [sobriety’s] just something that’s just part of my life.
How do you think you’d do if you joinedThe Challenge as a competitor?
I don’t think I would be very good. Just living together in that situation is hard. You have to be a well-tuned athlete. You also have to be able to eat some gnarly stuff. I can’t do that. I really respect people that that go all the way.
Speaking of living together, I read somewhere that you get emails with the events of the night prior and about drama inside the house.
Yeah, because if somebody is having a problem with somebody, or if somebody had a bad situation happened to them, I’ll know how to how to be with that person on that day. A few times we’ve had girls who were actually pregnant, and then they’d have quit the show. Normally, I’d go in on a quitter, but they’re not quitters. They’re quitting because they’re pregnant. You have to watch out for that.
I feel like people often don’t see The Challenge in the same light as, say, Survivor. Why do you think that is?
I think they probably saw the very early years. It’s a whole different show now. It’s not just a bunch of dudes playing pin the tail on the donkey.
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I wanted to ask you about some iconic moments during the series. First, Johnny Bananas taking the money from Sarah during Rivals 2.
It’s still a very douchebag moment. It’s a very bad thing to take the money from your partner who really helped you get to that point. I didn’t like it, and I also didn’t like it when Ashley did it to Hunter. But now they’re infamous for doing that. It helped them become the anti-hero that they want it to be, you know?
Speaking of, how do you look at Hunter’s reaction and huge blow-up now?
I just felt very, very bad for him. But some of the things that he said I wasn’t backing. I was like, dude, you know, you’re kind of getting out of line. It’s just money. But it’s kind of an easy thing for me to say, I didn’t get $500,000 stolen from me. But at the same time, he treated her really bad that season, so she did have a pretty good argument as to why she would do something like that.
Another memorable moment: when Jay and Jenna quit during the finals of Battle of the Exes 2.
It would’ve been very, very hard for me to do as well, but I was very against them quitting. It’s really sad and stupid to come on the show [when] you know there’s gonna be things that are beyond your control that you have to get done. And to not even try it is real sad.
Jordan’s crash landing and eventual win during the Dirty 30 after the skydiving accident was epic.
That was pretty badass. That guy’s next level. I don’t care what game it is, the dude is very, very capable.
What did you think of his proposal to Tori during War of the Worlds?
That was pretty crazy to me to put that much pressure on yourself. Like, that’s very big when you announce something like that. You know, I got married at a courthouse. My party was at Roberto’s Taco Shop. There was no pressure on the situation and that’s why I’m gonna be with my wife forever, because we don’t have any pressure.
What were you more surprised by: the proposal or their eventual breakup?
The proposal. Breakups are a dime a dozen on these shows
You’ve spoken about your near-drowning experience in 2010 after your accident. What was filming that first season like after your recovery?
I barely remember anything. I was still recovering actually as I was still going through it. I do remember almost drowning; the undertow took me and pulled me out. My buddy was surfing. He came out there on a surfboard and saved my ass. I don’t know what I was thinking.
How are you feeling now?
My body hasn’t changed shape at all. I just live life and eat whatever I want and have fun. I’m 44 years old. I feel great, man.
This interview was condensed for content and clarity.
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