'Challenge: Free Agents' Star Cara Maria Gives Us the Inside Scoop on Host TJ Lavin

Fans of MTV’s brutal competition reality show The Challenge love the series for its out-of-control obstacles, huge reality TV personalities, non-stop drama... and the totally hilarious hosting skills of TJ Lavin. Over the show's 25 seasons, Lavin has been the host of the most recent 14, and has been the voice of reason in the pure chaos that blows up week after week. I got the inside scoop from Challenge vet and fan favorite Cara Maria Sorbello on what it’s like working with the extreme athlete and host. “He’s not crazy or stuck up, he’s just a solid, real good guy.”

While sitting in her Jeep on her Montana ranch waiting out a thunderstorm (because of course), Cara Maria speaks lovingly about The Challenge host with the most... patience. He might not stay in the house with the cast, nor does he ever go out to party with them, but his honest presence is always felt.

"One thing he can’t stand is a quitter and people who don't have heart, and I think he’s seen my progression and how hard I try and that I do take these challenges more seriously than other people ... I think he’s grown from being like 'Who in the hell is this weirdo?' to thinking 'Oh she’s really trying.'"

During this past season of Free Agents, Lavin was particularly brutal when it came to keeping the cast mates and some of their inflated egos in line: He pulled the “Do I have to turn this car around!?” move during voting and deliberations more than once. After Jordan made that move when he flipped all of the cards so he could face off against Johnny Bananas, Lavin really let him have it. Even though we all agreed with Lavin in that it was a seriously dumb idea to risk throwing away $125,000, Cara Maria says that controversial moment was a little different from the inside. “To this day, though, I still supported Jordan because I wanted him to send Johnny [Bananas] home so bad... because otherwise Johnny was going to put me in!”

Lavin’s job is not only to keep the players in check, but to also give them the run-down of their challenges and eliminations. According to Cara Maria, “The only time you see TJ is when you don’t want to see him — sending you into an elimination, telling you about a terrible challenge. The only time you want to see TJ is at the end of the day when he’s holding a check.”

She’s spot-on with her assessment, considering the looks of shock and terror on all of the cast mate’s faces when Lavin first told them about the rules of Free Agents, or when he unveiled the final elimination to the last standing competitors. He may be a nice guy, but he sure knows how to deliver those blows.

When all is said and done, Lavin is truly a mentor to many members of the cast. Cara Maria saw her relationship with TJ as a mile marker for her own personal growth. "The best thing you can ask for in a challenge is props from TJ. That’s what you want to hear. He doesn’t bullshtt, he’s straight up. A fist bump from him you know, that was my win."

Images: MTV; initiat3/Tumblr