MTV’s The Challenge is essentially a himbo factory, producing such masculine icons as Mark Long, Derrick Kosinski, Mark Long, and most famously Johnny Bananas. But there is one man who stands above them all and his name is Chris Tamburello, better known as CT. For those who have not been spending the last 10 years obsessing over this particular reality competition show, CT made his first appearance on The Real World: Paris and has appeared on 20 subsequent seasons of The Challenge and its spin-offs, winning six of them. He is a Challenge legend, not just because of his elimination record or the time he invented the Bananas Backpack, but also because of his absolute commitment to the character of CT.
In real life, CT is a 40-year-old divorcee from Massachusetts with a son and a normal job. But on The Challenge, he is a fully realized Masshole who signals his anger by puffing his chest out and using the word “bro” at an exponentially higher rate. In recent years CT has also been dubbed the Dad Bawd Gawd because, despite losing the muscle definition he had in his 20s, he’s still strong enough to outpace most of the younger players on the show. It is the version of CT, the uncontrollable rage monster that can be triggered by a simple look, that is somehow the most lovable.
Nothing is more wholesome and more enjoyable to watch than CT, fully activated, screaming at someone else a mere two inches from their face, because he knows that he is CT and he can beat pretty much anyone. But it isn’t CT’s brute strength or puzzle mastery that endears him to viewers; it is his ancient himbo history, which viewers like me cling to in dark times that keeps CT firmly encased in the amber of my heart.
Before CT was the Dad Bawd Gawd we all know and love, he was an absolute Neanderthal in a bandana—and then the event that would change the course of his on-screen personality forever occurred: he met Diem Brown and they shared the Kiss Heard Round the World.
Diem and CT met on The Duel in 2006 and began their years-long, on-again/off-again relationship which gave viewers a reason to tune into every iteration of this show. The year prior, Diem had her Challenge debut, where she shared that she was in remission from ovarian cancer. During her 2006 season, a main storyline revolved around Diem’s hair, or lack thereof, which she felt some degree of shame over. After some back and forth, CT walked Diem out to a cliff without their mic packs and asked if she would take off her hat and bandana in front of him so they could share their first kiss. With the entire house watching as if it were the climax of a rom-com, CT and Diem shot into Challenge history.
After that moment, it was impossible to view CT as anything other than that guy, standing on a cliff asking the woman he loved to expose her nearly bald head and kiss him. While filming what would be her final appearance in 2014, Diem collapsed during Battle of the Exes II where she was partnered with CT. She died in November of that year after her ovarian cancer had metastasized and spread to her colon. The show, and CT, were never the same.
In the post-Diem years of the Challenge, CT has gotten older, gotten married, and gotten only slightly wiser. But it is the enduring image of him as the person who stayed by this woman’s side even when they were constantly bickering that aids in erasing all of his extremely obvious flaws. In Challenge history, there is no CT without Diem, there is no growth from him as a character and likely even a person without the love and loss that came with that relationship.