Every reality star wants their 15 minutes of fame, and for most, their newfound celebrity is over as soon as the reunion wraps. But MTV star Chris “CT” Tamburello has managed to spin his 15 minutes into a lucrative career that has lasted for more than a decade.
CT made his reality TV debut on 2003’s Real World: Paris. Then, he was just a 22-year-old from Boston studying Business Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He was opinionated and confrontational and quickly became known as the loose cannon of the house. For MTV producers, this meant drama — and more drama, means more viewers. So CT became a natural fit for the network’s Real World/Road Rules competition spinoff, The Challenge.
CT made his Challenge debut on 2004’s The Challenge: Inferno and has since appeared in 10 MTV Challenges to date. And despite telling Wetpaint Entertainment last September that he was done with the competition series after winning his first Challenge during last season’s Rivals 2, he’s back for his 11th Challenge with Free Agents. So what changed his mind? Well, it’s hard to say no to a free vacation.
“I finally won one, and I was like, ‘OK, I’m done. I can move on.’ And then MTV said they had another one coming, and I was like, ‘Sign me up! Where are we going next? Let’s go!’” CT told Wetpaint during a recent press day in New York City.
He added: “It’s exciting because you kind of know what you’re getting into but you don’t know where you’re going, you don’t know the rules, and you don’t know who else will be there.”
And while some Challenge regulars like to prepare their alliances ahead of time, CT says he likes to “tell people I’m not going and just show up.” That’s a strategy that probably paid off when he and his castmates landed in Uruguay.
Unlike previous Challenges, The Challenge: Free Agents follows a new format — it’s a “game-changer,” CT said — featuring each contestant competing in either teams, pairs or for themselves, for a share of $350,000.
“I think this one is going to be interesting to watch because typically, in the past, people come and they’re all friends with each other and they have their separate cliques,” CT told us. “But now, you don’t know what’s going to happen and you don’t know who you’ll be teaming up with in each challenge. The way to play the game is so different — and no one is ever safe. Ever. There’s no vote; there’s the Draw. So every challenge, you may be going in. And anxiety is at an all-time high. You can see it taking a toll on people.”
The Free Agents format seems like it was made for a player like CT, who is equal parts athlete and politician. He even boasts in the first episode, “Sooner or later your number’s going to get called. I’ve always been a free agent and now everybody’s gonna have to play my game.” So what’s CT’s strategy going into Free Agents? Don’t trust anyone.
“There’s only so much, politically, you can do to try and keep yourself safe,” he said. “In the past, if you were just friends with everybody, you didn’t have to worry about going in. Now you can’t rely on your friends.”
Adding fuel to the fire is a whole new crop of Challenge contestants who are hungry to make their mark — and they’re gunning for veteran CT. “There are a lot of newbies coming in this season, who are all hungry and feel like they have something to prove. They’re poking the stick at the old man.”
CT is the most experienced player on this season of The Challenge, and with 10 Challenges under his belt, he’s not playing around anymore — and he’s got the facial hair to prove it.
“I’ve turned into Mark Long out of nowhere! It was like I just woke up and was like, ‘Wait, I’m the old guy of this show now?’ I own it, though. I’ve got the old beard now,” he said.
“It was winter time, and I grew out a big ass beard,” he added. “I didn’t want to come off as he pretty boy this season. It’s my eleventh challenge. I’ve done enough. I’m definitely not 21 anymore.”
Seeing as Mark Long retired from The Challenge at age 40, CT still has a few left in him before he gives up the gauntlet for good.
Tune into The Challenge: Free Agents on Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on MTV.