Kind of a Big Deal

Kind of a Big Deal

Tori Deal has found fame and a fiancé on reality television, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg with this entrepreneur and South Jersey native.

It’s a Tuesday afternoon in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and Tori Deal, like most people across the country, is hunkered down inside her home. But while many Americans are getting cabin fever from being stuck indoors, Deal has managed to remain her usual, cheery self. Maybe it’s because she is uniquely qualified for the situation at hand.

A Sicklerville native and former soccer standout at Timber Creek High School, the 27-year-old Deal has been a reality television star on MTV for the last four years—most notably on the popular series The Challenge. The show features contestants living together in the same house, who then go head to head in physical and mental tasks and elimination rounds on the way to a demanding final challenge, with the winners dividing up a cash prize.

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Being on lockdown during the coronavirus is not too different for Deal—she’s just not being filmed for once.

“I guess you can say I’m a pro at handling situations like this because when you’re on The Challenge, you’re already quarantined,” she says with a laugh. “With the amount of seasons that I’ve done, I’m kind of used to the mental state that it takes to survive something like this, so I feel pretty good for myself. Obviously, I feel bad for other people and all the struggles that everyone is going through.”

It’s hard for Deal not to be optimistic with all of the positive things happening in her life at the moment. Last season on The Challenge, she and boyfriend Jordan Wiseley not only reached the final—with Wiseley ultimately prevailing along with three other winners—but they also got engaged during an episode. The couple has a burgeoning music career as well, while Deal has a side business with her best friend and will soon be releasing her first children’s book, titled The Adventures of Bumble Pea and Koala Pear: The Search for Syrup.

But even with all of that going on and her residence now in Los Angeles, Deal has not forgotten her Jersey roots.

“My entire family still lives there,” she says. “It’s my home and it’s where my heart is. I literally have a heart tattooed around South Jersey on my body because of how much I love South Jersey.”

South Jersey Magazine spoke with Deal about the new season of The Challenge premiering this month, her memories of growing up here and why she can’t wait to visit The Pop Shop in Medford and Collingswood as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic comes to an end.

Q&A
SJM:
 Before we talk about the new season of The Challenge, I wanted to go back to last season, because it’s going to be hard for you to top that. Is it exciting to look back on the season?
Tori Deal:
 Oh my God, yes. You just have to think about the number of cards that had to fall in the right order for that to happen the way it happened. Everything that happened, happened organically. Nothing was planned. Even winning the eliminations—you can’t plan that. Things like that really make you believe in the timing of the universe. I look back at that season and think, no matter what happens in the future—even if I win—there is nothing that will top that season for me because that’s the season my relationship got solidified and I proved to myself that I’m strong enough to compete with the best. I’ll never forget those moments.

SJM: You seemed genuinely surprised on the show when Jordan proposed. Did you have any idea that was coming?
Tori Deal: Well, obviously when someone is going to ask you to marry them, that’s something you talk about as a couple. We had that talk and we knew we wanted to be with each other forever. Did I think it was going to happen on The Challenge? No. Did I think it was going to happen right then? Absolutely not. My mind was so focused on the game that it was even a plot twist for me. I never saw it coming. I just remember thinking after that moment, Oh my God, life is real outside of this and I can be happy again. It can be really exhausting filming The Challenge, so that moment helped me realize that outside of it, I have a beautiful life and whatever happens in there is fine. I just have to play the game and not be worried so much.
SJM: It seems fitting that you got engaged on the show since you met on a previous season.
Tori Deal: Exactly. We’re going to tell our kids, ‘We met on a crazy show and that’s why your parents are … nuts.’

SJM: Did the proposal come at the perfect time since you and Jordan were battling against the majority alliance for much of last season?
Tori Deal: Totally. There’s no feeling like being an underdog, though. I played soccer growing up and I played through college, and there’s no feeling like when your back is against the wall. There’s no pressure. I think when everyone is against you and all you have to do is be yourself, it’s easier to perform than when people are expecting your best. I think I do good under pressure.

SJM: You prevailed in several eliminations, including a very physical one where you had to put on football pads and compete against Jenny, a muscular and intimidating opponent. But you surprisingly ran her over—is that a moment from last season that stands out to you?
Tori Deal: Totally. I was so scared before that because I had never put on football gear before. I had absolutely no idea what that was going to feel like, and knowing I was going up against her … it was so crazy walking into the arena. After winning something like that, it’s such a weight lifted off your shoulders. You believe in yourself. I didn’t know I could do that either.

SJM: Jordan also had a tough elimination where he had to swing a sledgehammer. Is it tough to watch him have to fight for his spot on the show?
Tori Deal: Jordan also had a tough one with the rope—he had some crazy eliminations. Jordan’s back is always against the wall because you never know how his hand is going to affect him in the eliminations [because he was born without four fingers on his left hand]. But he always rises to the top. It’s incredible to watch him perform. He is truly one of the best to ever do it.

SJM: Can you describe what it’s like to compete in a final on The Challenge? It seems extremely grueling on TV.
Tori Deal: It’s insane. Watching them on TV, you realize that people have no idea what it’s like out there. The only way for you to truly imagine is to test yourself: Go run 16 miles carrying a suitcase, don’t eat the entire day, then stay up all night while standing, and in the morning try to do a sudoku puzzle. It takes such a level of determination to get through anything like that. The hardest part of [last season’s] final for me was standing up all night, because just when you need that break is when your body gets pushed to the limit. We couldn’t even stand in our shoes because they were wet. There’s nothing like a final—they’re crazy.

SJM: One of the big surprises in the new season’s premiere episode is that, in order to compete in the final, contestants must win an elimination during the season. How did you feel about that twist?
Tori Deal: That immediately brought me back to last season, when I was running the final with so many people who didn’t have to go into an elimination. All I could think was, thank God. I’m not afraid to go into an elimination, so let’s do it. Everybody who wants to skate by, absolutely not—that’s not what this show is. The Challenge is a show that you’re supposed to come on and be strong or get kicked off. You have to be willing to take that risk and now you can’t run from that, and I love it. No matter what the outcome was going to be, I was so excited that everybody, at some point in time, was going to have to face their fears. … The viewers are going to see every single person in an elimination and you don’t know what the matchups are going to be. This season was amazing, it was hard and it’s going to be so fun to watch.

SJM: Usually the contestants get to live in a huge mansion with a beautiful backyard. This season the living situation is not quite as luxurious—how did you feel about that?
Tori Deal: Oh my God, it was horrible. I think it was a bunker from World War II. It’s not just about being in concrete walls with no windows; the air that gets ventilated through there is really dusty and a lot of people were getting bad allergies from it. The lack of sunlight has a huge effect on your mood. Now I understand why people on the East Coast—where I’m from—are tougher and more moody than people on the West Coast. I really think it’s because of [a lack of] sun. It’s very taxing.

SJM: Do you have fond memories from growing up in South Jersey?
Tori Deal: I have so many. I love how diverse South Jersey is, first and foremost. When I went away to college in New York, I was used to being surrounded by so many different types of people. I think that’s one of the beauties of South Jersey—there are so many different people there and you get to engage with all different cultures. That’s really cool to me. I also love the sports there and I played soccer my whole life growing up. Some of the best coaches I’ve ever had and the people who taught me to be so tough are from there, like Coach T [Frank Torcasio at Timber Creek], who’s now the athletic director [for the Black Horse Pike Regional School District]. He was amazing. Even way, way back when I was playing for the Highland Heat in youth soccer, Tom Gladden was my coach, and he was a police officer. He was an incredible part of the community as well as being an incredible leader for children. I had so many positive influences from that part of the world and I go back to South Jersey as often as I can.

SJM: Are there certain South Jersey/Philadelphia things that you can’t get living in Los Angeles?
Tori Deal: There are no hoagies here. They have Philly cheesesteaks because everybody is trying to emulate the food of the East Coast, but it’s not the same. There are no Wawas here. Everybody needs a Wawa. It’s the little things like that about home that I miss. Whenever I go home I find myself going back and forth to Wawa for a coffee, a pretzel or whatever.

SJM: Are you a big Philly sports fan?
Tori Deal: Totally. The Eagles, Phillies, Flyers and Sixers, even though I don’t pay too much attention to basketball, it’s not my sport. When the Eagles are on, I don’t care where I am. Last season when they were in the playoffs, I was in California with my Eagles jersey on and hanging out with a bunch of Eagles fans out here. It was like Philly in Los Angeles for a second.

SJM: I know you got started on MTV after college with the show Are You the One?—did you ever see yourself going down this path?
Tori Deal: No. I was graduating college with a degree in broadcast journalism and I had just done an internship with News 12 Long Island, so I had a really good taste of what I didn’t want to do, because I realized I absolutely hated it even though I had just gotten my degree in the field. I was trying to think about what I was going to do and my friend suggested I try out for this show, Are You the One? I was like, absolutely not, I am totally not going on reality TV. But I watched it and I got glued to Are You the One? I thought it was awesome, because it was a dating show but also a game. I thought if I was ever going to do something like that in my life, it was at that time when I didn’t know what I was going to do with my college degree. So I applied for it online and sure enough within the next couple of months I got accepted for the show. I went into it determined to be myself and to not be afraid to be bold or weird, and hopefully it would translate. One thing led to another, and now I guess I’ve been on nine TV shows. I’ve definitely made a career out of it and I’ve been on for almost four years now. I think it’s helped me gain ground on being an entrepreneur in my own life because it’s opened so many doors for me. I definitely still have to [take advantage of those opportunities] but it’s helped me to be my own boss, and I love that.

SJM: One of those opportunities is your singing career—you and Jordan have released a lot of music together and several of your songs can be heard on Spotify. How did that come about?
Tori Deal: I like putting out songs with him. You probably don’t know this, but when we first met on The Challenge, we absolutely didn’t like each other at first. I thought he was an angry guy and he thought I was a stupid girl. One day we were hanging out by the pool and we were singing the same songs, and we realized we listen to the same music. So we were singing together and that helped us destress during [that season]. That was a big part of what made us fall in love with each other, and we do it for fun. We like to get in the studio together and experiment and be creative and see what we can come up with. It’s really just for us because we enjoy it, but we put it out there in case anybody else wants to enjoy it with us. We have so much fun making it that it makes it worth it.

SJM: Would you like to see your music career go to the next level?
Tori Deal: Yeah, I think so. We are working on getting a great management contract right now, so we’re in a place where we’re going to be writing a lot more music and getting it in different places. I’m really excited for what’s going to happen with music in the next year. It’s going to evolve and it’s going to be really cool.

SJM: Did you also start your own business with a friend?
Tori Deal: Yes. I have my own self-love company online, it’s called Suiheart Club. We’ve been really busy the past couple of weeks with everything going on with corona, because there’s a need for wellness and positivity on social media. We made this company that puts out meditations and journal prompts; it’s just a wellness company that is focused on making people feel better about their day-to-day lives. … This is a thing my best friend and I made for fun and it turned into a business.

SJM: What other endeavors are you currently pursuing?
Tori Deal: The thing I’m really excited about is that I have a kids’ book coming out in the next month that I’ve been working on for two years. As soon as businesses and stores are open again, I’m going to do a bunch of pop-up readings in South Jersey. I’m really excited to come home and do my thing in my city. We’ve been talking to The Pop Shop and places like that. The book is all about pancakes and breakfast, so we’re looking to match with pancake places or diners, things in that vein that can host a big party.

SJM: What inspired you to write a children’s book?
Tori Deal: To make a long story short, the idea came to me when I was filming The Challenge. I was bored out of my mind, because you don’t get phones and you don’t get books or anything like that when you’re filming. I’m super creative so I just started to think about this idea, and then I never did anything with it. Then I came home and decided it was a good idea that I needed to make into a book. It took me two years to do it. It took about 20 hours for me to write it, and the illustrations—which are done by my best friend Vira [Becker], who also owns Suiheart Club with me—took her about four to five months to draw. That’s how intricate and beautiful these drawings are. We put a lot of our time into it. It’s called The Adventures of Bumble Pea and Koala Pear: The Search for Syrup. All of the characters are a combination of animals and food and it’s basically about two friends. … It all rhymes and it’s super cute.

SJM: What else happens on The Challenge that fans might be surprised about—are the rivalries as intense as they come across?
Tori Deal: If not more intense. When you’re watching something on TV, the scene ends and you’re on to the next person’s story. You’re only getting bits and pieces of everything. But when you’re a person and you’re living in the same house with somebody else, it’s so different. Imagine being in a huge fight with your worst enemy but being right next to them the entire time. Not to mention, you’re playing a game against them. It’s always frustrating, because everybody is playing for themselves. You try to make friendships and you try to make things work, but at the end of the day you have to back stab everybody because there’s only one winner. If you don’t back stab them, then you have to go against them in an elimination. So it’s a really hard environment to be in and one hell of a show. There’s nothing like it.

SJM: Have you made friendships that carry on outside of the game?
Tori Deal: Definitely. There’s a few people I feel like I really connect with. One of the people I have connected with the most since Champs vs. Stars was Aneesa, who’s from Philly. Maybe it’s because we’re cut from the same cloth being from that area. There’s a few other people, like Jenna and Kailah and Nany, who I love. I’m also starting to love the UK people, like Georgia and Rogan. There are definitely some awesome people I’ve gotten to meet through this process. I even love Johnny Bananas.

SJM: You’ve also been to some cool places. Where have you filmed?
Tori Deal: We’ve been to Argentina; we did a final there. We’ve been to Spain, Colombia, Thailand, Prague—really cool places.

SJM: Have you started making wedding plans yet?
Tori Deal: We have talked about it, but there’s so much going on in the world right now that I’m really happy we didn’t start planning anything because I know a lot of people have had to cancel their weddings. Every time we start talking about it and we see how much it’s going to cost, we say it would be better to spend that money on a house. So eloping is looking a lot more possible, but we’ll see.

SJM: Can’t you just do it on television and have MTV pay for it?
Tori Deal: You know what, anything is possible. We don’t know how the cards are going to come out right now, but nothing is out of the question.

To read the digital edition of South Jersey Magazineclick here.

Published and copyrighted in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 17, Issue 1 (April 2020).

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Author: Matt Cosentino

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