Wantagh's Jenna Compono didn't realize it then, but when she and the other stars of MTV's "The Challenge: Total Madness," premiering Wednesday at 8 p.m., found they'd be living in a military bunker outside Prague, they were all just getting practice for coronavirus quarantining.
"Right! I know!" Compono, 27, says by phone from Brighton, Michigan, her fiancé Zach Nichols' hometown, where the couple lives. "It practically trained me for right now," she says of herself and fellow "Challenge" alumnus Nichols self-isolating due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which became widespread only after this 35th season of MTV's physical competition / soap opera shot from around Oct. 21 to mid-December, primarily in the Czech Republic.
Life in a bunker, she says, was a decided change in accommodations from the mansions of most previous seasons. "At first I thought it was like a sick joke. We walked through it and we're looking around and there's no windows, there's no outside, there's no sunlight … You go stir crazy. You want to go outside, you want to go for a run, but no, we can't do that. We can't go outside for a breath of air, practically. So it was just really very, very hard."
As were, of course, the show's challenges, which included things like pulling an oil drum by rope across a field, while a pair of tanks speed back and forth trying to crush it — followed by a puzzle and math. This being Compono's eighth ride in this rodeo — from 2015 to now she's competed in seasons 26-30 and 32-33 of "The Challenge," after having made her bones as a star of MTV's "Real World: Ex-Plosion" (2014) — she took it all in stride. Except for the cold.
"It was absolutely freezing and I didn't really pack for that colder weather," the Wantagh High School grad says. "I didn't expect it to be that cold. I'd already lived outside for two weeks on 'Invasion [of the Champions' (2017), the 29th season], so I didn't want to do that again. I was freaking out right from the beginning," she confesses.
The raw weather made things "a lot harder for me" than in most previous seasons. Her two-person teams had reached third place each of her first times out — "Battle of the Exes II" (2015) and "Battle of the Bloodlines: (2015-2016) — and was runner-up on her third outing, "Rivals III" (2016). She hasn't fared as well since.
At least not on the show — life itself has been good. She and Nichols, 32, who did not compete this time out, had met on "Battle of the Exes II” then had an on-and-off relationship, sometimes in joint seasons, and became engaged on Dec. 21. Compono has previously given the wedding date as Feb. 13, 2021, and now reveals the venue as the Sand Castle event space in Franklin Square.
Compono, who was born in Merrick and as a youth moved to Wantagh with parents John and Joanne, had briefly pursued an associate degree in criminal justice from Nassau Community College and for years worked as a nanny. Now, she says, "I'm just doing influencer stuff on Instagram right now. I do have to start looking for a job. I don't know what I want to do yet over here" in Michigan.
One of six siblings, she still visits home regularly. "It's kind of hard," she says, living in small-town Brighton, a suburb of Detroit. "My dad always jokes, 'There's bakeries and pizzas and bagels out here' " on her native Long Island. "I'm like, I know!"