When Trishelle Cannatella quit “The Challenge” in 2013, she thought it would be her last time appearing on the MTV show. She had badly cut her foot on broken glass her first night in the house — the result of her housemates’ sloppy partying — and it became infected. After 10 days of not drinking while on antibiotics, Cannatella got wasted, and had a screaming fight with Aneesa Ferreira, who’d been told that Cannatella had made remarks behind her back about Ferreira being multiracial, in addition to Jewish and bisexual.
“I thought that Aneesa and I were cool, and that I could say that, and it was funny,” Cannatella said in an interview with Variety this week. “But it wasn’t funny.”
She was getting ready to go to sleep, or as Cannatella put it, “pass out on my bed with my clothes on,” when Ferreira confronted her, calling her “stupid” and “Trashelle,” and stiff-arming her. Cannatella was ill-equipped to fight back, and for a lot of different reasons — including her foot and the show’s “toxic male energy” — she quit the next morning. She’s never watched the episode, even though it’s considered a reality TV fight so iconic that the stiff-arming has a pin on Pinterest.
But now, nearly eight years later, Cannatella is among the 22 old-school “Real World” and “Road Rules” alumni returning to “The Challenge: All Stars,” which makes its debut on the newly launched streaming service Paramount Plus Thursday. Paramount Plus has banked on Generation X nostalgia with its original programming: “The Challenge: All Stars” follows “The Real World Homecoming: New York,” which features the original cast of “The Real World” reuniting as fiftysomethings, and was the only new show the service launched with early in March. “All Stars” — conceived by Mark Long of the original “Road Rules,” as well as Bunim/Murray, the production company that invented the show and has produced it for MTV since its 1998 debut — has similar emotional vibes, but with grueling physical competitions as contestants fight for a $500,000 prize.
Cannatella, who made her television debut on “The Real World: Las Vegas” in 2002, became a breakout star immediately. She had come from tiny Cut Off, Louisiana — population: fewer than 6000 — and moved to Los Angeles before the show aired. There, she made a living doing appearances at clubs, bars and colleges, and also starred on other reality shows, such as several seasons of “The Challenge” and VH1’s “Surreal Life.” She made a living as a reality star before that was a common practice.
“We were in gossip magazines,” Cannatella said. “Like in LA, whenever I would go out, they were like, ‘Oh, Trishelle’s dancing on a table!’” Here, Cannatella talks with Variety about going back to “The Challenge,” her on-camera apology to Ferreira, and her life now in New Orleans, with her husband, John Hensz.
“The Challenge” has gotten so intense. Did you did you train for it?
I did not train for it. Mark Long has been a friend of mine for, God, almost 20 years, and he told me, “It’s not gonna be that serious!” Because I was really stressed out. I said, “Mark, I haven’t taken a jog around the block in maybe a decade.” And so he’s like, “You’re fine, you’re fine!” When I got there, I was semi-expecting them to take it a little bit easy on us because we are older? But they did not.
That first challenge is brutal.
I was completely shocked. Alton, who is one of the most physically amazing athletes out there, was telling me, “Trishelle, I thought I was gonna drown.” Some people were already physically able to do everything going in. But not me.
How involved in “The Real World” community are you these days?
I still talk to mostly everyone for my cast. I was just talking day before yesterday to Irulan, Arissa, and Brynn — all the girls in my cast. I talk to Steven a lot. I talk to Frank and his wife. Alton is the only one that I don’t talk to, unless we’re on a “Challenge” — but we’re cool when we’re on a “Challenge.” Mark’s a friend. I just have friends here and there, more old-school people.
Competing for $500,000, which certainly wasn’t the case the last time you did a “Challenge” — what difference does that amount of money make?
That’s huge! I mean, that’s a house. When I used to do “Challenges” back in 2003, we were happy to win $8,000. So I was completely shocked when he said the number. And I immediately knew it was going to get nasty, too.
When was it filmed?
It was in February. It was in Argentina — like, the Patagonia region. I completely thought because of COVID that it was going to be in the United States, in Lake Tahoe or something.
What were the COVID precautions like?
We got tested every single day. We had a solid quarantine. And when I say quarantine, we could not leave the threshold of our door. It was very, very strict. We all got tested multiple times before we even got on the plane. So I felt very, very good about it.
It’s a ton of alumni, obviously. But who were you surprised wasn’t there?
I think Coral is iconic. She, to me, gives the funniest one-liners in interviews. I absolutely appreciate that about her, even if it’s at my expense. Veronica has always been iconic as well. There are a few people that I wish were there. But that’s OK, because if they get Season 2 picked up, then we’ll see those people, hopefully.
Given that these are middle-aged people, what was the level of drama?
I thought that a lot of us, myself included, were kind of beyond the drama. We’re in our late 30s and 40s, and some 50s. No!
When you’re put in that position, you still have that in you. And there’s a reason that all of us were cast, I think, in the first place. And some of us just pop off really quickly — myself included. I don’t do that in my normal everyday life, but also, I don’t hang around people with such huge, huge personalities like this all the time.
There’s hookups, there’s drama, there’s fights.
The trailer shows you and Katie getting into it.
Yeah, that surprised even me.
We were in each other’s wedding. I mean, we’ve lived together. We shared a bed in Los Angeles for over a year when we were struggling out there. We’re tight. I mean, we were tight. It’s not my finest moment. But on “The Challenge,” sometimes you get paranoid. And especially when you’re dealing with this amount of money, and there’s so many people involved, and you’re living in a house, it’s like everything’s a little bit more heightened. You’re more sensitive to things — or I was, at least. A lot of it had to do with past issues that we had, too. I felt like she didn’t have my back in something, and my feelings were really hurt. And yeah, so we got into a huge fight. It was a 36-hour fight, I’m not going to lie.
The first episode didn’t make a big deal of your history with Aneesa. I assume it comes up later?
I hope it does. I did have a face-to-face conversation with her about everything and apologized. And she didn’t have to accept my apology, but she was completely gracious and did. And so I felt like we could be OK moving forward.
I hope they show it, because I think it’s a good learning moment for people who say something completely idiotic and racially insensitive — and they should be able to apologize for it, and not feel scared to. Sweeping it under the rug is not the correct solution.
I recently rewatched that episode.
You’ve said you’ve never seen it, right?
I’ve never seen it, but I’ve seen memes, clips, things like that. It’s shocking and humiliating. It’s not something that I want to revisit by watching. But it’s something I’ll never forget, and I haven’t forgotten over the years. I thought about it a lot. Yeah, it’s upsetting.
Was it the first time you’d seen Aneesa since you left that “Challenge”?
Yes. I was so nervous, so scared. I mean, I didn’t know how she was going to react. I mean, I wouldn’t have blamed her for any type of reaction, to be honest. I was like, “Drop me 50 feet off a crane somewhere in the middle of the ocean — but I’m more terrified of Aneesa!”
I saw you getting into it with someone on Twitter who called you racist, and you went back and forth — and seemed to actually resolve it?
Every once in a while on social media, people will say something about it — it’s new people that don’t follow me on social media on a regular basis. Because, I think, within the past year especially, I definitely have changed a lot of my views and done a lot of research and work on myself.
When I rewatched the episode, the men watching the fight were calling you both old, and saying it was like watching “Golden Girls.” I think you were 34, maybe 33. You’ve talked about the show being sexist.
That toxic male energy a lot of those guys had on the show — I hate that. That’s one of the things in “The Challenge” that I did not like. I don’t like the how the guys treat the women. And so that’s why I never wanted to do another one too, because I didn’t like some of the cast members.
And some of those people from your era — like CT and Bananas — have never stopped doing “The Challenge.” What do you think of that?
I think that it’s good for them, because they’re making a lot of money. They’re getting paid more each time, I’m pretty sure. But if you do that many “Challenges,” you have to keep relevant and keep exciting, so you’re going have to become more extra with each show than the one before so that you can get invited back.
I just feel like it also breeds this whole energy of, like — being a bad person almost. The fights have to be bigger, the drama has to be more. So, I think some of these guys, they feel the need to be worse people so they can get invited back. And they’re fine with it!
When you look back on your experience on “The Real World,” what are the things that you think about?
Oh, gosh. I was just so naive, it’s crazy! I had never been west of Texas. I’m so happy that I did it, and I got to experience so many different people from different backgrounds, and that a lot of us are still close. I think, if anything, I would have probably kept a little bit more to myself. My relationship with Steven apparently was so shocking that people called me names and had huge opinions about who I was just for one guy. I was sleeping with one guy on the show — I thought we were dating. I didn’t find out until I watched the show that, in fact, he didn’t think we were dating.
I’m still known as the slut from “The Real World” — and now I’m 41 and married. And that was one guy in five and a half months of filming. And who cares? If it was 10 guys, it shouldn’t matter. It was tough for me in 2002.
Of course! “The Real World: Las Vegas” was when the show became less about emotions and more about partying. Were you aware of that at the time, since you’d watched previous seasons?
You forget the cameras very quickly. And I always assumed that people had slept together, and they just didn’t show a lot of that. But on our show, they just didn’t hold back. And it was a little bit raunchy, I think. But I think that was a shift that the producers just decided to make. And it was shocking. I mean, definitely, people were talking about it.
You became very famous. Did it feel like that?
No! It did not! Because we were broke. I got a job in Westwood at some restaurant waiting tables, and when the previews were coming out for the show, my tables started stopping me and they were like, “Are you that girl that’s about to be on ‘The Real World’ on MTV?” And I was just like, “Yeah.” And my manager was like, “Trishelle, you’re wasting time! You can’t stop and talk to all these tables!” I got fired.
When did you start making money from doing appearances, and that whole industry that used to exist?
I started making money with appearances probably about a year after my show aired. I did one “Challenge” right after, and then I came home and they were like, “Oh, you get to do these appearances. You’re getting paid like $1,000 or $1,500.” And to me at the time, that was a lot of money. Plus, if you’re doing three a week, it’s not bad. Then I just kept doing other shows after that. God, I did “Surreal Life,” I did a wrestling show. I did all kinds of stuff.
You were making money as a reality star, basically.
I had to seize the opportunity. And also, people had these opinions about what kind of person I was. And so, I was just like, “OK, well, if you think I’m a whore, then I guess I’ll say yes to Playboy.” I kind of felt like I had to be that persona almost.
My family was very confused by it, by the way, because they know what kind of person I am, and how I was brought up. They were just like, “What’s happening right now?”
Do you look back on Playboy with regret?
No! No, I’m proud. Especially now that I’m in my 40s, I’m just like, “Wow, that was a good time — when everything was where it should be!” I don’t regret it at all, and I paid off my student loans with that. A lot of my friends are still paying their student loans, so I feel OK about it. I would have never done it if I had not been, like, the bad girl on the show.
Were you also auditioning for acting roles at the time?
I was. I remember I had signed with a manager and an agency, and they wanted me to do more acting and try to get out of reality. But, you know, acting was just not natural for me. When reality was exploding in the mid 2000s, it was just so much easier for me to be myself than like take the classes and do the work. I never wanted to be an actress. There were too many people that really wanted to do that, and that we’re really good at it.
I am not good at acting. I’m good at just being me.
You were on quite a season of “The Surreal Life,” which you mentioned. Do you stay in touch with any of those people?
Clearly not Ron Jeremy!
Were you surprised by the rape charges against him?
I didn’t see that side to him. He made inappropriate jokes, but that’s something that you would expect from a huge porn star, I guess. And I was completely shocked by all that.
But Tammy Faye, you know, she passed — but I actually read a letter that she wrote me the other day, she wrote me this really sweet letter. It was an iconic season, I think — Vanilla Ice, he was great. We had a good time.
Vanilla Ice! Can you tell me the story about meeting Leonardo DiCaprio?
Katie and I were at Saddle Ranch, and we were going to The Standard when The Standard hotel was super cool. Right when we were crossing the street, two guys were walking, and they both had baseball caps on, and one of them was like, “Trishelle!” And Katie keeps walking, and she says, “Stop talking to fans!” and crosses the street. And I look, and I’m like, “Oh my god, it’s Leonardo DiCaprio.” I was like, “Katie, hang on!” She’s, like, yelling, and pissed off at me and storming off.
So, he’s like, “OK, I guess I can go back to The Standard, if you guys are going there.” He walks back with us, and we end up talking. He knew everybody’s name from the show. He was like, “Are Alton and Irulan still together? Tell me about Brynn. Tell me about Steven!”
And at that point I was like, “Oh my God, actual real celebrities watch reality TV.”
When did you decide it was time to leave LA?
I was playing professional poker, and I had a poker sponsorship deal. I was switching from reality TV to that, and I was traveling a lot with poker. And Black Friday happened, which was when all the poker sites in the United States shut down. I lost my poker sponsorship; I had no income; I wasn’t doing television anymore, really. And I was just getting fed up. And I was like, “Maybe it’s time for me to just go back home, try something new.”
I was looking through your Instagram, and you and your husband seem to have fun — you guys eat really well. Can you talk about what your daily life is like now?
We love food! Before COVID, I was going to apply to physician’s assistant school. Because whenever I worked in the medical field, I really liked it. So I thought maybe I would apply to PA school. I was going to take my GRE, and then COVID happened, and I haven’t scheduled it.
I’m a dog mom, my husband’s a pilot, so we travel a lot. And that’s about it. I mean, honestly, “The Challenge” was kind of the first thing that I’ve done TV-wise in, what — nine years? So that was pretty crazy. So who knows what’s next?
I saw on your Instagram that you said that you’d gotten your sense of taste back. But I missed when you’d had COVID. When did that happen?
I got it December 27th. We normally go up to Canada to go snowboarding, so this time we went to Park City. And we caught it some time when we were up there, even though a lot of our activities were outdoors. I really think it was whenever we were dining indoors, or like on this train ride thing that we did. I started to feel sick when we got back. Got tested, was immediately positive — immediately lost my taste and smell. So both my husband and I were sick with COVID. I got over it probably, like, mid-January
Was it the train ride where you said people weren’t wearing enough masks?
I didn’t want to call anyone out specifically! But I’m like 99% sure. They said that we were supposed to wear masks. And we did. But the people around us — there were people singing in my face without a mask! So I made my husband I switch seats, and then I tried to hang my head out of the window. But I’m pretty sure that’s how we got it.
Are you interested in doing more of it now that you got your feet back in?
I don’t know! I always have felt comfortable in front of the camera. I’m unapologetically myself.
This interview has been edited and condensed.