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A Brief History Of Penn State’s Reality TV Stars

No matter where you look, you’ll probably find a Penn State graduate. Whether it’s on a football field or around the town, the university’s alumni network is unparalleled.

Unsurprisingly, some alumni have made big names for themselves on our TV screens.

Whether they were dominating competition shows like “Survivor” and MTV’s “The Challenge” or trying to find love on “Love Island,” these Nittany Lions have done it all. Below are some of the memorable reality TV contestants that graced our televisions.

Johnny ‘Bananas’ Devenanzio — The Challenge

The Challenge 35 Unit / Gallery

Johnny Bananas is the greatest “Challenge” contestant ever to play the game. He has won the game seven times while also playing the longest. His reality TV show career started as a cast member on “Real World: Key West” and has blown up from there. He is quite literally the face of the show.

And while many reality TV show fans know him as Bananas, it was actually at Penn State where he got his nickname. Legend says he sometimes did crazy things that made other people call him “bananas.” That name inevitably stuck with him and the rest is history.

Alexandra Stewart — Love Island

Courtesy of CBS

“Love Island” was a popular British TV show and made its American debut last year. Alexandra Stewart, a 2015 Penn State grad, was a star on the show. She ended up being the runner up with her partner, Dylan Curry.

Stewart entered the game on Day 1 and made it all the way to Day 32. She was safe three times and partnered with Curry every time they were vulnerable except for the first three days of the competition when Curry was not in play. Unfortunately, due to some bad luck, they did not draw the envelope that contained $100,000 and lost the competition.

Ian Rosenberger — Survivor

Courtesy of CBS

Ian Rosenberger was quite the student at Penn State. He was the president of the student government and even got brought back as the honorary Grand Marshal for 2015’s Homecoming. But he really made his name as the third-place finisher on the tenth season of “Survivor.”

Rosenberger was a physical player on the Koror tribe. He and his closest ally, eventual winner Tom Westman, bulldozed their way through the entire game. In the merge, the two men were the only ones to win individual immunity. Rosenberger won two of those competitions.

His best-known “Survivor” moment, however, is the final three challenge between him and Westman. The two spent 12 hours standing on a pole in the middle of the ocean, neither one letting up. That challenge is the longest ever challenge in the show’s history. Unfortunately, Rosenberger couldn’t hang on to get the $1 million prize.

Julia Carter — Survivor

Courtesy of CBS

Rosenberger wasn’t the only Nittany Lion to appear on the CBS survival show. Julia Carter most recently appeared in season 38, The Edge of Extinction. Along with Stewart, she was also a 2015 graduate and began at Penn State Hazelton before coming to University Park.

Unfortunately, Carter’s on-screen appearance wasn’t as great as her other reality TV counterparts’. She was an early-merge boot, as she was voted out during the craziest and most chaotic tribal council of the season.

Off-screen, however, she is now working for change in Survivor and other reality TV shows. She is working with other Black cast members of the “Survivor” community to bring change to the casting process and have more representation for people of color both on and off-camera. They started a petition that has reached 7,844 signatures and are continuing the conversation on multiple podcast platforms.

Matt Kennedy Gould — The Joe Schmo Show

Reality TV shows have a local flavor
Courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Matt Kennedy Gould graduated from Penn State in 1999 with a degree in speech communications. In 2003, he was approached to be on a reality TV show on Spike TV. Little did he know that it was all a ruse and that the actual show was “The Joe Schmo Show.”

The show was intended to be a show where everyone would make fun of Gould, not realizing he was on a show where everyone else were actors pretending to be on a reality TV show. However, once producers saw how sympathetic Gould was to the audience, they made sure to paint him in a better light.

At the end of the show, it was revealed that Gould was on a scripted show the entire time and that he was pranked. Little did he know that the reveal was not the most shocking thing about the show. The answer to that trivia question is the fact that Kristen Wiig was a cast member for the show…before “Saturday Night Live,”7 of course.

Herb Hand — Chopped

No chop blocks, but plenty of 'Chopped': Texas assistant Herb Hand's twin  expertise of coaching and cooking – The Athletic

This one’s kind of cheating because Herb Hand is not actually a Penn State graduate and it was filmed in between when he left Vanderbilt and started at Penn State. However, because it’s so close, we’re counting it. Hand was the offensive line coach James Franklin brought with him when he first accepted Penn State’S head coaching job. He left in 2016 to take the same position at Auburn and is currently in the same role at Texas.

Hand appeared on a 2014 episode of Chopped, a three-round cooking competition. He was able to rock the appetizer round with a potato chip-crusted sole with bacon and garlic red Russian kale.

It was the second round, the entree round, that did him in. He made lamb covered in peanut Thai sauce that, according to the judges, did not look pretty. The poor presentation is what got Hand “chopped” from the competition.

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About the Author

Owen Abbey

Owen Abbey was a Secondary Education major before he graduated from the wonderful institution known as Penn State. When he was not writing for the blog, he enjoyed rooting for the Baltimore Orioles and Ravens, supporting Penn State basketball and softball, dreaming of all of the ways he would win the TV show "Survivor," and yes mom, actually doing school work. All of this work prepared him to teach his own class of students, which was always his true passion. He still can be found on Twitter @theowenabbey and can be reached for questions and comments at [email protected]

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