There are no Martians in "The Challenge: War of the Worlds." But this 33rd season of MTV's physical-challenge competition, premiering Wednesday at 9 p.m., does look as if it takes place in an alien landscape. "The middle of nowhere, sand dunes everywhere," says Jenna Compono, of Wantagh — one of 16 veteran competitors and 18 newbies vying for $1 million in what resembles a "Road Warrior" boot camp.
Yet unlike the readily named locations of seasons past, the network isn't saying where this one takes place — only, says a rep, "not far from" South Africa, where last season's "The Challenge: Final Reckoning" was shot. Yet MTV's own "The Challenge" Twitter page reveals it's Namibia, in southwest African. It’s even got a video called "Namibia Is Calling," featuring veteran competitor Johnny "Bananas" Devenanzio wearing a T-shirt reading "Namibia is calling and I must go." Blogger Andy Dehnart's RealityBlurred.com and other outlets go on to specify the locale as the desert outside the city of Swakopmund.
And Compono says that torrid terrain wasn't even the most challenging thing. "This was the hardest season for me,” says the now 26-year-old star of MTV's "Real World: Ex-Plosion" (2014), who's on her seventh “Challenge" since then, "because of getting to know the new people" with whom the veterans are paired, in male-female partnerships. "Are they liars, are they athletic? We're so used to having the same alliances over the past few years."
Complicating matters is her on-and-off boyfriend, Zach Nichols, who is competing this season in his eighth "Challenge." The tempestuous twosome — whose relationship travails have punctuated past seasons and who had split up by the time "The Challenge: XXX: Dirty 30" premiered in July 2017 — are again a couple, Compono says, and she is even moving into his home in Brighton, Michigan, outside Detroit.
"I'm driving home from there," she says by phone, apologizing for the interview's equally on-and-off audio quality. While Compono currently lives at home with her parents, John and Joanne Compono, "within a month I'm moving in with Zach. We'll see how that goes. I'll probably end up back in New York in a year," she adds, maybe joking, maybe not.
Maintaining a relationship becomes particularly difficult on some far-off locale while the show is in production, she says. "One little argument is so magnified. Everyone hears it, everyone sees it, everyone wants to give their two cents. At the end of the day it's me and him, and we know if we want to have a relationship or not."
Compono, born in Merrick and raised in Wantagh, where she graduated high school, had been pursuing an associate degree in criminal justice from Nassau Community College. But that was also on-and-off. "I just kept doing other shows," she says of her succession of "Challenge"s. "My family just treats it as my job now. And I'm not into criminal justice anymore, so that would have been a waste anyway."
She's worked as a nanny for the past five years when not working on the on MTV show, but has "no idea" what kind of work she'd do in Michigan. "I don't even know if there's a city in Michigan," she cracks, a true New Yorker. The insouciant fan-favorite hopes to compete in more seasons of “The Challenge” but knows "you can only do it so long — I have to ride it out."