Dan's interview with SpinalColumnOnline.com
October 22, 2008 - Dan Gheesling has been a big fan of the hit CBS reality show "Big Brother" since he was a sophomore in high school. Now, he is the show's new champion. The 25-year-old biology and physical education teacher and assistant football coach at Orchard Lake St. Mary's High School was crowned the winner of "Big Brother 10" on Sept. 16, beating out 12 other competitors and winning the grand prize of a half-million dollars. Before entering the "Big Brother" house, Dan graduated from Michigan State University with a bachelor's degree in business and a master's degree in kinesiology and also served as a graduate assistant coach for the Spartans in 2005 and 2006. He also interned with the Detroit Lions. He began teaching at St. Mary's in 2007 until he was finally called to the show this summer after numerous submissions. Beginning on July 13, an average of 6 million viewers a week tuned in to watch Dan and his housemates compete in crazy competitions ranging from a hockey slapshot game to dicing onions and sliding them into a box to help fight off weekly eliminations from the house. Dan also had to survive conflicts with his roommates and somehow managed to keep his cool, knowing that not only his family and friends, but his fellow St. Mary's staff and students were watching. In the end, Dan earned the respect of his housemates and he was rewarded with a unanimous vote in his favor in the finale. Since the show, Dan is back with the Eaglets football team and is looking forward to returning to teaching at St. Mary's and is still dating his girlfriend, Monica. He is also pondering other opportunities that are being offered to him and keeps a MySpace page to keep "Big Brother" fans up to date. Dan recently spoke with the Spinal Column Newsweekly about his experience on the show and his plans for his winnings.
SCN: For those who don't know, please explain what the "Big Brother" show entails, and what it's all about.
DG: "Big Brother" has a premise similar to "Survivor." You have a group of people who vote each other out and at the end you have two people and in turn the people that everyone had voted out, or in this case the jury, will then vote for the final two people as to who is going to win the prize money, which is a half-million dollars.
The interesting thing about "Big Brother" is the fact that it doesn't take place on a remote island, it all takes place confined in one house — 24 hours a day, seven days a week, everything's recorded and there's no contact with the outside world, so it's a pretty interesting psychological experiment, to say the least.
SCN: Before the show you already had quite a resume, including degrees from Michigan State and the privilege of teaching and coaching at one of the premier private schools in the state. Why the decision to try out for Big Brother?
DG: That's a question I have never really gotten asked because going into the "Big Brother" house, I really enjoyed my life.
I'm coaching football and teaching at one of the greatest schools in Michigan, maybe even the country, at Orchard Lake St. Mary's.
So why would I give that up to go pursue this competition? The answer is finances. I had a 1-in-13 shot of winning a half-million dollars and possibly securing my financial future where I didn't necessarily have to worry about a teacher's salary, and lucky for me it worked out in the end and I came home with the big prize.
It was a big risk because going into the house, sometimes these reality shows paint people in certain lights and they look for certain elements to create ratings, and lucky for me I didn't do anything to lose the respect of the St. Mary's community, because that would have been devastating.
I've been a huge fan of the show. I've watched it sine growing up as a sophomore at Dearborn Divine Child. I watched the second season and I thought "Hey, this is something I could probably do and maybe be successful at."
You had to be 21 to apply so once I turned 21 I sent my first tape in and I thought it would be a great lifetime experience and I would have a shot to win some money.
I actually studied for it like a test once I knew I had a chance of going in, so that when I got into the house I knew what to expect.
Back in college I sent in a videotape and the rest is history. I've always been in touch with "Big Brother" and there's been a few chances for me to go out before and the timing was never right and finally the stars aligned and everything worked out for a reason.
SCN: At St. Mary's Prep, its staff is held to high standards to serve as role models and help mold young men. How did the school staff and your students and football players react to seeing you on the show?
DG: That was my biggest concern going into the show, but before I even went, I had to get the approval of a few people, outside of my family, at St. Mary's and that was the headmaster, Mr. Glowacki. I needed to have him in my corner because if I left to go to "Big Brother" and came back without a job at St. Mary's, it wouldn't have been worth it to me.
Outside of Mr. Glowacki, I also had to talk to George Porritt, the head football coach and athletic director, because I really respected their opinions as men and also men of St. Mary's.
They both told me, "You're young, you have to take this shot, but just be careful as to what you do; you don't want to bring any negative light to the school so just remember you have students watching."
So while I was in the house, I was very cognizant of the fact that there were cameras rolling 24-7 and I didn't want to do anything that would disrespect the students or take away any respect the students may have for me.
I don't think I did a lot of things in the house that were outside my normal character, so I didn't really have to worry about it too much; but anytime you're in an environment where there's a lot of outside influences and there's a lot of money on the line, people do some crazy things and things they may not be proud of, but in the back of my mind I just knew winning the half-million dollars wouldn't be worth losing the respect of my students.
SCN: Rome reality TV shows are known for stereotyping people, including Catholics. Do you feel that you were made a target by people in the house because of your background? How did you feel about your portrayal on the show?
DG: I don't think I was made a target because of my religion. I think at times in the game it actually helped me.
At times I'd read the Bible in the house in kind of my private area and people would come up to me curious about it and some people would look to me and ask me for a certain Bible quote or even inspiration or whatever the case may be.
So in terms of if I was made a target, no definitely not. It was a definite benefit for me to even have the Bible in the house.
I've only seen a few episodes of the show, but from the response I've been getting from the outside world and fans, it's been nothing but positive.
But I have to imagine I have gotten a more than favorable edit on the show because that's the thing about going into the house, you can act one way or be a certain way and at the end of the day the producers have the end-all, be-all control of your persona. Lucky for me I think CBS has been pretty kind to me in the edit and the response has been nothing but positive since I've been out of the house.
SCN: You also were asked to participate in some crazy competitions, like diving through a pool of honey to put teddy bears in jars. At any point did you wonder, "What am I doing here?"
DG: To me, this is when I had the most fun was in the competitions, because I'm a 25-year-old teacher, and when am I ever going to have a chance to dive through honey and compete in a challenge that actually means something? When am I going to have the chance to walk on the wings of an airplane to balance for a half-million dollars?
I had so much fun with the competitions because there are things you watch on TV growing up as a little kid. It was the first time I had a chance to compete in these crazy challenges. I just really had a great time with every challenge.
I also had a chance to eat some crickets, too, which I never thought I'd do in my life. It was a team competition and my team needed me, so it was even fun eating crickets.
I had so much fun in the house this summer from every aspect, it was unbelievable. It was a wonderful experience for me.
SCN: What did you learn about reality TV production that viewers would probably never know unless being on a show or in the business?
DG: I think "Big Brother" is very different from other reality shows so it's tough to speak on, just merely from the fact that you never come in physical contact with the producers of the show.
There's a loudspeaker in the house that may direct you in terms of when we have live shows every week.
During the live show, they direct us where to sit and things like that. All the cameras we see are mechanically operated and we never see the cameramen or anything like that, so it's a unique experience. At times you forget you're even on television, because you're not in front of a manned camera or a light guy or anything like that because everything's built into the house.
But there's a lot of footage that was taped, whether it's in the diary room or just normal, everyday stuff that doesn't make the cut. We're in there shooting 24 hours a day and there's never a day off.
SCN: Some are calling you one of the nicest players to win Big Brother, when reality TV competitions are known to bring out the worst in people. What do you feel was your toughest moment while living in the house and how do you think you were able to stay true to yourself?
DG: That means a lot, even coming out of this house and not really having too much negative press or negative feelings from fans. That's great to know that I came out the way I went in.
I had some tough moments in the house. I was challenged individually with my character and things like that. I just had to remember it was a game. A lot of people took the game very personally and that's one thing I never tried to do.
I'm not saying I'm 100 percent innocent, but I never tried to bring anyone's name through the mud in terms of their personal character or things like that. When your own individual character comes under attack your initial response is to maybe fire back or snap back at the person and I never did that for many reasons. No. 1, because it's not necessarily my personality; No. 2, I didn't want to get in any fights because if I have two students who are fighting they'll say "Mr. Gheesling got into a fight, why can't we?"
I learned a lot in the house about dealing with adversity. I think my patience has actually grown from being in that house because I had to deal with situations where people may be talking about me or slandering my name and you just kind of have to bite your tongue and move along. I just focused on the end goal and hopefully some of my students saw the fact that things might not always go your way or people may say some things about you but if you keep your mouth shut and just stay focused on your goals and you think highly of yourself and you keep a positive attitude, you're going to be in good shape.
SCN: You won the prize by a unanimous vote. Do you still keep in touch with your roommates? Some more than others, some not so much?
DG: Yeah, towards the end of the game I had to upset a lot of people and I wasn't sure I'd have a chance to win. I thought I'd maybe have one or two votes, but to win unanimously — I'd seen the show and it never happened before and it's just a shock to me, just like it was to anyone else. I didn't expect to win, let alone win unanimously, so that was overwhelming.
I still speak to some of my houseguests on a regular basis. You spend 70 days with these people and you become very close to them and create these bonds, so to go back to your normal everyday life and not talk to them isn't exactly normal.
I do talk to Memphis and Keesha and Reny probably at least once a week. I talk to Memphis the most and Brian and Stephen every once in a while.
I've pretty much touched base with the majority of the houseguests, not everyone, but I've talked to about eight of the 13 at least once and it's great because I'll have some of these friends for the rest of my life and they're all spread throughout the country. So if for whatever reason business or something takes me to an area of the country I'll always have someone to call on and enjoy their company and vice versa.
SCN: What has your life been like since the show ended and how have you dealt with your newfound fame? What was the most exciting experience that fame has brought you?
DG: I don't know how much I view it as fame. Being a teacher, it's a little overwhelming to be in public and someone comes up to you and says "Hey, you're Dan from 'Big Brother,' can I have an autograph or picture?"
The one cool thing is when people come up to me like that and if I can do something to humor them or brighten up their day, I'm just shocked that they would want to come up and speak to me, but I have a lot of fun with it.
One of the cool things I had a chance to do was go on "The Bonnie Hunt Show." That was fun. They put you through the whole thing, you're in the green room and they start the show and you hear the crowd clapping and they call your name and there's Bonnie Hunt. She's a terrific actress, and she's warm and kind-hearted. She had some tough questions for me, but she was very open to my answers and she's a very kind woman. It was a great experience for me.
In the house, we had a chance to go on Craig Ferguson, and that was a thrill. Anytime you get to go on a late night show — whoever thought we'd have a chance to do that, so that was fun. But at the same time, I didn't really feel like we were on his show or even on television because we're still trapped in the house, but through the magic of television we were able to talk to Craig Ferguson, so that was hilarious.
Another thing I've gotten fulfillment out of is once in awhile, I'll get a letter or e-mail saying "Hey, my son or daughter is struggling with a homework assignment or school, can you send them a quick e-mail or pick-me-up to maybe push them through and give them some positive influence?" I love doing things like that, especially for young people. If there's something I can do like send them an autograph or something like that to brighten a kid's day or motivate them to work a little bit harder in school, I love doing things like that.
Anything I can do positive for other people, whether it's charities in Michigan, I'm very open to that and I hope people in Michigan will contact me if there's anything I can do to use my pseudo-fame or whatever you want to call it to raise some money for some charities. I would love to do that.
Monica and I are going great and we're just taking it a day at a time. She's been great adjusting with me and she means the world to me.
SCN: You said that you plan to return to St. Mary's to continue teaching and coaching. Do you have any future plans beyond that?
DG: As soon as I got out of the house, I jumped right back into coaching to help me stay grounded and go back to normal. I've been going to practice every day, so I'm back in the mix of football things.
I'll be coming back to teach at St. Mary's once the next marking period starts. I need to take some time off to get psychologically and mentally readjusted, so I'll be back at full capacity at St. Mary's soon.
Outside of that, there's been a lot of interesting offers thrown my way, whether it's promotional things or public speaking or hosting, so there's some things up in the air that are being negotiated and I'm going to take advantage of some of these opportunities that come my way. I'm going to have some fun with it just like I did in the house and I'll probably be making some appearances around the area and maybe across the country.
So you'll see me around a little bit and who knows what will happen, but my heart is at St. Mary's. Teaching and coaching long-term is what I'll be doing, but some very interesting offers have been thrown my way, some I don't even believe so we'll see what happens with them and I may not be out of the public eye completely.
I have a blog, myspace.com/ghees, so I try to keep my fans updated as to what's going on and how they can contact me. I try posting a blog about every few weeks to update people on what's going on with different events and things like that.
SCN: What are your plans for the money you won?
DG: With the market the way it is right now, I'm trying to make some sound investments so that I don't necessarily have to worry about a retirement, at least not long-term. I want to do some smart things with the money and grow it so I don't have to worry about leaving St. Mary's or the teaching profession anytime soon because of salary.
I know it's not a real exciting answer but that's the truth. I haven't bought too much yet. I've been on a few dinners, but nothing exciting. I just want to be smart with the money.
Going into the house I was pretty safe with my money, I wasn't very extravagant with things that I bought in my normal, everyday life and the money is really not going to change me. I'm just going to invest it and hopefully make it grow even in a down economy so we'll see how I do.