Fans of The Challenge have witnessed Chris “CT” Tamburello dominate his competitors for years on the MTV competition series. Now in his new horror film Habitual, Tamburello, 40, finds himself showing off his physical prowess in another unexpected, potentially dangerous location: abandoned New England hospitals.
“This place was as real as it gets, from the broken-down roof to the fingernail claw marks on the doors of the cell,” the three-time Challenge champ tells PEOPLE of the movie's filming locations. “They were state hospitals built in the 1800s, early 1900s, and they were all pretty much shut down and condemned back in the ‘80s.”
His costar, director and childhood friend Johnny Hickey remembers seeing Tamburello “jumping through a door like a maniac” on set.
“The Challenge definitely helped me prepare for this,” Tamburello says of doing his own stunts for Habitual. “We didn't have any safety harnesses or safety nets or anything. There were times you had to watch where you step; There were huge holes in the floor caving in, missing walls. Tetanus is probably rapid, asbestos, ghosts.”
But “it was worth it in the end,” the Real World; Paris alum says, because he knows they made a truly terrifying movie. Just ask Tamburello’s wife Lilianet. “She’s not a horror fan and I thought we had something when we showed her the trailer and she couldn't even watch the whole thing,” he recalls.
The reality star says his longtime pal Hickey “sparked a little flame” for acting within him, but he doesn’t plan to ditch The Challenge to pursue it full time.
“The Challenge, that's always going to be my first love,” Tamburello says. “I loved doing this with Johnny and I think we have more. I would really like to go in forward and assume more of these projects that Johnny's been getting his hands on.”
Working as a producer on Habitual gave the father of 3-year-old CJ a better idea of the behind-the-scenes process that goes into creating The Challenge.
“It was really like almost an internship because I learned so much on the backend on what really goes into actually producing something like this content,” he says. “It gave me a newfound respect for all the people that I work with on The Challenge.”
Filming both the psychological drug thriller and season 36 of The Challenge also pushed Tamburello to shed the “dad bod’ he often joked about on the show. Currently “it's more of a fatherly figure,” the MTV star says. “I gave myself that tune up.”
Tamburello jokes that he needs to keep “a 6-foot social distance from my fridge.” “I just walk by it every couple of minutes and see if there’s something new in there,” he quips.
When it comes to competing on The Challenge, though, “Getting in shape is the easy part,” Tamburello says. “It challenges you mentally more than anything. If you can deal with the mental stress, the anxiety of the cutthroat game while you’re jumping out of a plane or something, that’s the ultimate asset.”
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Tamburello calls the upcoming Double Agents, his 18th season, “the most intense Challenge I've ever been on.”
“The challenges themselves, they take it to a whole other level,” he continues. “It's to the point where I didn’t even know if some of the stuff we were doing was legal. The Challenge should be the fifth major sport.”
Habitual is out now on demand. The Challenge: Double Agents premieres Dec. 9 (8 p.m. ET) on MTV.
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