Kenny Santucci is a man who has evolved tremendously over time.
He was selected to be on The Challenge from an MTV open casting call, took second place in his first competition and was invited back for seven years. Throughout all of Challenge history, Kenny has ranked #2 for highest wins, totaling 3 first place finishes and 3 second place finishes.
After opening up his own gym in New Jersey, Kenny moved to NYC. He now runs the show at CrossFit Solace (think CrossFit but less grungy, more refined) in Manhattan.
How did you get started with The Challenge?
Well, I was 20 years old and went to an open casting call. I got picked (whoever thinks stuff like that actually happens?) and continued on to a six month interview process.
The very first show I tried out for, I didn't get. After a couple months, they called me back to be on the next season of this same show.
At the time, I had a great job I'd just started, so I declined the offer.
Later, they called me back a third time and asked me to do a new season of The Challenge, airing September 2005. At that point, I had just graduated from college. I was a wrestler and a pretty good athlete.
I thought to myself, "unless there's some D1 athlete there, I think I can win this thing."
I ended up taking second and was invited back every time since for seven years straight.
How did you get started with CrossFit?
I started working at Equinox and everyone talked about CrossFit like it was the devil.
During that time, I had some friends in LA and New Jersey show me some work outs online. The workouts were very traditional to what some people might think- sledge hammer, flipping tires, sprints. They all said, "it's the newest hottest thing! You gotta do it."
Pretty soon, I belonged to every CrossFit Box in NYC. When I joined the 5th Avenue Box, I met what I like to call my CrossFit guru. This guy knew who I was from MTV and we started chatting. I always say that you have to look the part and this guy was 6'3", 240lbs.
I thought, "If I'm going to have a trainer, it might as well be this guy." We started working out, and I fell in love with it.
Shortly after, I got my CrossFit certification and opened up my own gym in New Jersey. Unfortunately, that gym didn't work out, so I started working at a CrossFit downtown.
Shortly after, CrossFit Solace called me up to be their Director of the HIIT Studio and a CrossFit Coach. The rest is history.
Why do you do Cross Fit and why do you think you've gained the success that you have?
Truth be told, I was really heavy as a kid. It affected me and I lacked confidence. Even to this day, I still wrestle back and forth with my weight... I don't have the best of diets. Also, I have severe ADD and can't do anything longer than 30 seconds.
That's why I love CrossFit- it's stabilized my measurements, it's constantly changing and it allows me to compete (all of us have a bit of a competitor inside us).
I used to get my competition fill from wrestling and jiu jitsu. Towards my late twenties though, I realized I couldn't keep getting punched in the face and beat up all the time.
The success that I've gained through it? Honestly, it's just the joy of helping people walk out of that uncomfortable feeling of being out of shape and seeing how much they can actually push themselves to accomplish. It changes their confidence levels like you would not believe. I love doing that for people.
Tell us a little bit about background. How did you end up in NYC?
I mean, everyone winds up somewhere else because of a significant other, right? Seven years ago, I started dating someone who was living in NYC, so i moved here. After we separated three years ago, I started living with a buddy of mine and kind of just stayed.
What's the highlight of your career on The Challenge?
At one point, I had the most wins! I've made it to the end of seven out of my eight challenges. I've won first place three times and second place three times. The only guy to ever dethrone me from being the king of The Challenge is my buddy, Johnny. Those wins are the obvious highlights.
Though the show was obviously really cool, the greater highlights might have happened after. The opportunities I've had post-Challenge (i.e. hosting an after show with The Jersey Shore, hosting stuff at Comic Con, etc) have really helped me fall in love with being in front of people/the camera. They've helped me get into a comfort level I never had growing up.
What's the highlight of your career in fitness?
Completing an Ironman! In 2012, I watched this documentary on a fireman from Brooklyn who got hit by a bus and dragged for almost 100 yards. He then had 23-24 surgeries and came back to run three more triathlons.
His story inspired the hell outta me. I later found him on Twitter and told him I'd be doing the 2013 Ironman. He wished me luck!
16 hours later, I crossed the finish line. Overall, that year was a huge turning point in my life. What I ended up doing physically helped me do a lot more mentally and emotionally. All that to say, just go out there and get it done.
I get that it's going to be hard. When I first got into fitness, I was cleaning weights at Equinox after being on TV for seven years. Talk about a complete blow to your ego? I was making $8/hour.
I don't care who you are, everyone starts at the bottom. Don't be afraid to work through those times. Don't see it as a pitfall or something to be ashamed of. Hell, there was a time after The Challenge that I was living out of my car and didn't have an apartment because I'd sunk all my money into my new CrossFit gym.
Those were some of my favorite times because they were character building opportunities. Embrace hard times as much as you embrace good times- both are equally important.
What do you do for fun?
Just as much as i like to work out, i like to eat and drink. I don't consider myself a connoisseur of foods, wines and alcohol but i'd like to think i am, just a little bit. I eat enough and have the credit card bills to prove it. I also love to spend time with friends. I've been extremely fortunate to have the friends that I have in NYC.
What are your favorite places to hang in NYC?
I'm a really simple guy- I usually go to the same places. A buddy of mine owns Marta and it's so close to my job that I go all the time. It's like Cheers- everyone knows my name. I go in and they know what I want to eat! Another buddy owns a bar called Lennon Hall, which is another place that I can call home. We always have a Christmas party with friends there every year. It's a great space.
What's something that people who only know you through TV would be surprised to learn?
I'm a huge nerd and love to draw. I haven't missed a Comic Con in 11 years! From sketch art to interior decor to design (and companies like SENE, of course), I love it all. Also, I'd like to think I'm not as big of a jerk as people assume I am.
Reality TV paints such a false picture of reality. You're caught in a world where you're fighting people for money. Essentially, it's being stuck in a closet where you're told you have you kill your way out. You do it. It sucks you in and there you are- captive in a small place with 30 other people all fighting for the same thing. It's a mental competition as much as a physical competition.
I'm thankful I made it out alive with some wins and a few really great buddies.
Visit Kenny's website here.
Follow Kenny at @kennysantucci