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Exclusive: 'Big Brother' champ Dan Gheesling talks about his victory


By Reality TV World staff, 09/18/2008 

It seemed unlikely to succeed at first, but in the end, Dan Gheesling and Robert "Memphis" Garrett's two-man "Renegades" alliance managed to outmaneuver the rest of Big Brother 10's houseguests and make it all the way to the competition's live Tuesday night finale.

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Once they were there, Big Brother 10's seven-person jury voted to award Dan the season's $500,000 grand prize via a 7-0 vote -- a move that made the 24-year-old Catholic high school teacher from Dearborn, MI the long-running reality show's first-ever unanimous winner.

On Wednesday, Dan talked to Reality TV World about how he managed to recover from a pretty shaky start in the game, what he believes his key moves were, how he dealt with being suspected of being America's Player, why he thinks he won the jury vote unanimously, and what he plans to do with the money.

Reality TV World: Congratulations...

Dan: Congratulations on what? (pause)

Reality TV World: (laugh)

Dan: I'm serious, what? What are you congratulating me for?

Reality TV World: Your victory, obviously.

Dan: Oh. Thank you very much.

Reality TV World: Why, is there some other news we should be congratulating you about?

Dan: No no. I mean I had so much fun this summer and, you know, I should be the one thanking you for watching.

Reality TV World: (laugh) Ok well, thanks. For a second I thought you had gotten engaged or something since [last night's live finale]...

Dan: Oh, no, no, no. Is [my girlfriend] Monica there sitting with you or what?

Reality TV World: No, but it certainly wouldn't be the first time [a reality show contestant got engaged right after their finale].

Dan: Oh no...

Reality TV World: It wouldn't even be the first time it's happened on Big Brother, actually...

Dan: I don't know what you're talking about... (laugh)

Reality TV World: OK, well, I guess my first question is, how confident were you that you'd win that jury vote against Memphis going into it?

Dan: To be honest with you, not very confident at all.

Before the vote I told Memphis that I thought I had a 50-50 chance at him. I thought I had [Renny Martyn] and [Keesha Smith.] I thought Memphis had [Jerry MacDonald] and [Libra Thompson] locked up, which left the game to [April Dowling], [Bryan Ollie] and [Michelle Costa], and quite frankly I felt [I'd be lucky to] lucky to scrape together two more votes and maybe pull out four.

I didn't think it would be unanimous. I mean are you kidding me? Being a huge Big Brother fan I hadn't even sure that it had ever been done before and that thought never even crossed my mind once.

Reality TV World: Wow, ok. So how much of a role do you think that opportunity to take Michelle to the beach had to do with it -- do you think that really played a part in [your win] then?

Dan: Well I think it saved me one thing. I think it saved me a black eye from Michelle because I knew she wanted to take a swing at me. The one thing I think it did do is we at least salvaged any kind of relationship I'm going to have with Michelle.

You know she had the trip taken from her in the slap shot veto competition and, you know, we had a good time on the trip. I was working her, I got a lot of information out of her. But I don't think Michelle is the type of girl who was bribed and, you know, I think I got some positives out of it. I think I, at worst, had a chance at her vote. I don't think it locked up her vote but it gave me a shot at it at least.

Reality TV World: So what do you think convinced her to vote for you then?

Dan: I think, to tell you the truth, I think my biggest campaigner, my biggest "Dan fan" was Keesha in the jury house. You know, when she left she was so mad at Memphis and I cleared every lie up with her before she left about the Memphis alliance and the trip with Michelle. So I tried to send Keesha to the jury house as happy as can be, in terms as on my side, and I think she flipped a lot of people.

Also, when I addressed the jury the one thing I tried to do was, my main goal was to get people to set aside their emotions, much like I did in this game. I tried to master my emotions and vote based on gameplay moves and who they thought was the stronger player. And if I could get them to put aside their emotions I might have a chance to win. If they kept their emotions in it, I wouldn't have had a shot.

Reality TV World: So you definitely would say that was your main strategy going into that statement?

Dan: Yes, definitely, without a doubt.

Reality TV World: You really seemed to pretty much play Memphis like a fiddle all season long. I mean you put the guy up for eviction twice, you let him be the one that had to evict Keesha, and the you convinced him to play along as you publicly blamed him for eviction. At some point you had to be surprised really, at how easy it was to manipulate him, [right]?

Dan: Well, I'll tell you what, not many people, I think, from your perspective, caught on to that, you know, so I appreciate you recognizing my hard work.

I think because Memphis and I had such a strong bond and friendship and things like that, every move I made was trying to get the Renegades to the end, however, I was trying to get one Renegade more votes than the other.

But I think Memphis thought as being loyal to our alliance -- which I was -- and I was honest with him about throwing him under the bus, if you can believe that. I just don't think he thought I was gonna run him over, put it in reverse, run him over again, and put about four sets of tire tracks on his back.

Reality TV World: Was there ever a point you thought you might have gone too far and ruined your alliance with him?

Dan: With Memphis? No.

The one thing I had to do to ensure that didn't happen was I pretty much had to guard Keesha like the Secret Service the last night she was there. I couldn't risk the fact of her and Memphis getting in a room together and talking and burying the hatchet because then everything would've came out. So I had to guard Keesha like a watchdog those last 24 hours because I knew what was at risk.

Reality TV World: So did you even have a backup plan if you had lost him or were you putting all of your chips on Memphis?

Dan: Well here the thing, when I got back from the trip with Michelle I [actually] tried to switch gears but it was too late. Michelle gave me some information saying I couldn't beat Jerry and couldn't beat Memphis in the end, so at that point I wanted to try and keep Keesha.

So I went to Memphis and said 'Hey, Jerry was in a POW camp, he's been faking these endurance challenges, he's gonna woop our ass.' And then I also said that Jerry was faking a neck injury.

So I tried to get him to evict Jerry but it was too late for two reasons -- because I thought I could beat Keesha in the end, but also because I thought if Keesha were to win the final HOH she would take me. So I tried switch gears when I got back from the helicopter ride but it was too late.

Reality TV World: But by the time Keesha confronted you guys [with her suspicion that she was going to be the one evicted, not Jerry,] you were on board with sending her home right?

Dan: Well at that point I couldn't fight for Keesha anymore. I was still throwing out lies about Jerry, but when Keesha put two and two together and figured it out for herself, Memphis had made his mind up and I couldn't flip him anymore. So at that point it became "Smoothing it over with Keesha and throw Memphis under the bus time," you know? That was my only play at that point.

Reality TV World: During the jury questioning you told them the reason you done the "replacement nominee roulette" thing is because you were trying to get Ollie and April to dislike you so much that Memphis would feel it was safe to take you to the Final 2. Was there any remote truth to that or were you just kinda making that up as you went along?

Dan: (Laughs) Are you suggesting the fact that I lied to the entire jury house?

Reality TV World: Yes.

Dan: You are? (Snicker) You think I would do something like that?

Reality TV World: Yes.

Dan: Really? Well you're right. There's no truth to that whatsoever.

The "replacement nomination roulette" went way farther than I expected. There was a little bit in there as a little present to Bryan to put Ollie on the spot a little bit [but] did I want it to go that far? Definitely not.

But one thing I tried to do in the house was make an entertaining show and I tried to have a lot of fun with it. I didn't want it to be just another normal boring veto meeting and it almost cost me the game. But all in all there was no truth to that whatsoever however if i could make the jury believe there was a strategy behind it [then] they may have respected it, so it looked like it worked a little bit.

Reality TV World: So it's safe to say then "replacement nominee roulette" didn't really play out as you thought it was gonna be?

Dan: No. I wanted to put the people on the spot. I wanted names to come out of people's mouths and get some targets on their back. I thought that went fine.

[But] I just... the way, after that went down, I thought I got a little cocky in the fact that... I... let's see, I gotta be careful. I got cocky about how I addressed Ollie and Michelle after that. I went overboard and I'll be the first to admit that.

Reality TV World: When you won the final HoH there, it sounds like then, based on what you say with your conversation with Michelle, you really didn't ever consider keeping Jerry around in the Final 2 then instead of Memphis?

Dan: No without a doubt, It was "Renegades to the end." If a 75-year-old man made it to the Final 2, he's gonna get a lot of votes just to the fact that he struggled his way there and somehow weaseled his way there. And the other way too is that there is no way I'd ever take $50,000 or $500,000 out of my best friend's hand. If I had the opportunity I would not do that.

Reality TV World:  You just called Memphis "a best friend." After [knowing him only about] two months, is that really what you consider him at this point?

Dan: Oh without a doubt. Coming into this contest I was looking to leave with $500,000, and I'm leaving with $500,000 and a hell of a lot more. I never thought I'd find a best friend in Memphis.

Talk about two guys coming from totally different, opposite sides of the world, different careers. We had so many things in common and really bonded in such an environment that really makes that bond so much stronger. Memphis will be a best friend for the rest of my life and you may see him stand up in the wedding, if that ever comes around...

Reality TV World:  But there's no engagement yet, just to clarify, right?

Dan: (Laughs) No, not yet.

Reality TV World: Was taking Memphis to the Final 2 something you were set on from the moment you made that alliance, or was it something that you really decided on as the season went along?

Dan: No, when we made "the Renegades" that was the plan. However I did start to waver a little when I got back from the helicopter trip.

If I had been in a position to pick either Memphis or Keesha, that would have been a hell of a decision. But either way... here's the thing, if you win that... If I'm in that position, then I'm gonna lose one vote for sure no matter what. 

[So] I wanted to try and stay out of that position and luckily Memphis did a little dirty work for me, and luckily I threw that pyramid veto [challenge] to him because you go back and you look at that competition, I was taking my time and I was cruising up the steps and when i got the eighth step and put [Steven Daigle] up there twice, I put [Angie Swindell] up there twice, [and] I put Ollie up there twice. So that's six times on one step and each the same name. I had to throw that because I knew I couldn't get rid of Keesha at that point.

Reality TV World: Were you surprised to be the swing vote in so many of the season's early evictions?

Dan: Yeah definitely.  And it scared me a little bit because I know, being a swing vote, you swing back and forth and at some point you're gonna get cut.

One or two swing votes... you know, one was enough for me. I didn't wanna be in that position anymore because people would see me as expendable and not loyal -- which clearly I wasn't loyal (laughs) -- but I didn't wanna find myself in that position too much more.

Reality TV World: What do you think was the key move that helped you win? Do you think it was when Jerry decided not to put [Memphis and yourself] up against each other or was it something else?

Dan: I think it was two things. One was pretty obviously when I back-doored Michelle and made sure I had the votes to get that done. But I think one of the moves I made early on that was overlooked was the fact that I voted against the entire house to keep Brian in.

What I did was -- it was a vote to show loyalty to Brian but in actuality it made people trust me when in fact that's the one thing I couldn't be, you know I couldn't be trusted.

But people respected me for the fact that I kept my word to Brian -- that I wouldn't vote him out -- and I thought that bought me at least two or three weeks based on merit alone.

Reality TV World: So you didn't think things were looking grim at that point? You felt pretty confident that that was gonna work out?

Dan: No I mean at that point it was my only play. But in Week 2 when I was on the block, I knew I was safe. Libra told me I was safe, Jerry told me I was safe. And then I thought I got a shot to make a run a this thing. But to say I wasn't nervous in Week 2 would be a lie. But I knew when I voted against Brian... it worked even better than I'd expected.

So many people came up to me and said they respected me. You know, people stared to like me where as in Week 1 people thought I was the mole and very sneaky and this and that. So it actually got me some likability as well.

Reality TV World: How big a role do you think that initial attempt to portray yourself as a weak player played into your win?

Dan:  Oh, I think it was huge. I mean you look at someone like April or Michelle who had [that] Earthquake [challenge] where they were up there for eternity, and whether you win one of those [endurance challenges] or not, you're [still] it up there [all that time] and people are scared of those people, so you don't wanna find yourself in that position that early on in the game.

Was it easy for me to throw competitions? No. I mean I coach football. I play to win and initially I had a tough time throwing those competitions. So I tried to find some humor and some entertainment in it because that's what kept me through getting me over the fact that I'm throwing these competitions that I wanted to win so badly.

Reality TV World: What made you decide to target Memphis as your ally? Did you have some initial impression of him or something?

Dan: You know, as the game went on I realized how calm, cool and collected he was and I knew he would never blow his top and that was a huge asset...

Reality TV World: Except to Jerry, right?

Dan: Yeah, but his asset to me was the fact that when I knew that things were looking to keep Memphis in the house, I didn't want to get nothing for my vote. I wanted to get something for my vote, and what a better time to start the Renegade alliance then the fact that "Hey I'm the swing vote, I can keep you here. But I wanna form a secret alliance with you and then take this thing to the end." So being that swing vote let me plant the seed for the birth of the Renegades.

Reality TV World: So you weren't concerned at that point that you were aligning yourself with a guy that had been an outsider at that point?

Dan: Not so much because at that point for Memphis to stay, Keesha flipped, Renny flipped, and Libra flipped. So I have been in an alliance of five as opposed to an alliance of seven when I was the bottom man on the totem pole. Even if I was the bottom man on the totem pole at five it's better to be [in] spot five than [in] spot seven on the other side.

Reality TV World: So if America hadn't been controlling that vote [due to your temporary acceptence of the "America's Player" position] you would've done the same thing and still voted to [evict Jessie]...

Dan: Yeah, without a doubt. I owe America some of the half-million because if they would've voted out Memphis I wouldn't be sitting here right now. That's for sure.

Reality TV World: What was your initial reaction when you learned that you would be given the opportunity to serve as "America's Player" for a week?

Dan: Oh my gosh, I walked into the diary room and there's this envelope sitting there and I'm like "What the heck is going on?" And then I opened it and I was extremely humbled.

When I walked into this game, I thought I had three fans: my mom, my sister and my girlfriend. And when I walked out I worried about [still] having those three, I didn't think even they would like me when I got out of here.

So to think that America voted me as America player, I mean, it was a tremendous feeling. I was very, very humbled and i just wanted to do a great job for America and keep on entertaining and get the jobs done that they wanted.

Reality TV World: Were you worried it was going to damage your strategy or that you weren't gonna be able to make it work out?

Dan: When I opened the first card and saw it was Jessie I knew America and I were on a similar mindset.  I thought -- you know it was a huge risk... but when $20,000 is being dangled in front of you, as a catholic school teacher, I knew I had to take that risk at that point.

Reality TV World: There was a point where it seemed that several of the houseguests became convinced that you were America's Player and had been playing that role all along and you seemed to kind of do your best to just brush it off. But how concerned where you? And do you really think that you were able to convince them otherwise at some point? or did they just really stop bothering to mention it?

Dan: Yeah, no, you know Libra was a major component of that. That was one of the things that made my blood boil, but that's where I had to control my emotions.

Every time America's Player got brought up it spread like wildfire, and everyone at some point called me America's Player and that was starting to affect my strategy. So when Libra got evicted a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders.

Did America's player still come up [after Libra was gone]? Yes, but not nearly as much.  However for me to dodge that bullet... And sometimes I played into it. I don't know if you saw, but we were playing gladiator in the back yard and I splashed ketchup on my face.

I could do two things: deny it, deny it, deny it or I could try to play into it and act like they're crazy and luckily no one really figured it out. I think they thought I was [America's Player] for goofy reasons, but I don't think they ever suspected the vote, or me wanting to put Jessie up. I really never thought they suspected that.

Reality TV World: What were the reactions that you got [off-air] last night after they found out the truth [at the end of the live finale]? A lot of "I told you so's?"

Dan: Oh yeah, Libra came up and said "Oh, Father Dan, I knew you were America's Player."  Michelle [said she] knew it all along. But other than that not so much. Memphis was shocked, and Memphis' reaction to some of my antics I pulled were priceless. The helicopter trip, and America's Player... his face alone was worth keeping the secret.

Reality TV World: What do you plan to do with the money? Any big plans?

Dan: Yeah, definitely. Monica is gonna get a gift that fits on her left ring finger at some point.

I'm definitely going to help my mom with her mortgage and invest it wisely, because this will allow me to keep my dream job of teaching and coaching at St. Mary's because it's no secret that catholic school teachers don't get paid very well. But with my money I may be able to keep the job that I love and stay there.

(Photo credit CBS)


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