Every reality competition show needs a villain, and on season 14’s “Big Brother,” Dan Gheesling was the houseguest from hell who overstayed his welcome, pulling off a series of jaw-dropping manipulations of his fellow contestants to finish second.
While Ian Terry won the show last night, “Big Brother 10” winner Dan will go down in the show’s history as one of the most devious people to ever play the game. The former high school teacher, who began the season as a coach and then turned into a player after the competition was “re-set,” toyed with other houseguests’ emotions by staging his own mock “funeral” and continued to lie to them until the end. His final achievement was pulling the wool over the eyes of third place finished Danielle Murphree. Outraged by Dan’s evil ways, a jury of his “Big Brother” peers voted 6-1 to award the $500,000 grand prize to his rival Ian, who had played a more civilized game.
But as first runner up, Dan collected $50,000. And this morning, he had no regrets, reflecting to Xfinitytv about his much-debated show strategy, his feelings towards his final competitors Ian and Danielle, his mental anguish in the Big Brother house, his wife Chelsea’s surprisingly uplifting profession and how he hopes to help others pursue their reality show dreams.
What are your thoughts on finishing second?
I was pretty excited. It was a really tough road for me. I battled the entire season. As a former winner of this game, to get to the final two was beyond my wildest imagination given the path that was laid out in front of me. I have no regrets about the game.
Your fellow houseguests were very upset with your antics all season…
[Smile in his voice] They were? Really?
In light of that, do you think you ever really had a shot of winning first place?
I like to think I did. In my mind, I thought as long as I can get myself to that final seat and have 90 seconds to try and win them over I always thought I had a chance. For me, that’s how I coach and compete in my life. As long as I’ve got a small glimmer of hope, I’m going to fight and do whatever I can.
Do you think Ian deserved to win?
Yeah. I think Ian played a good game and if I were to lose to anyone, he was definitely a deserving winner. He was not a floater. He won competitions and played a pretty good game.
What do you think of Danielle?
Danielle’s a sweetheart. She was very loyal to me early on. Any time in life when you’re in the dumps with someone, you form a bond. We were able to form a certain layer of trust that I was able to stretch a little bit and maybe take advantage of. I knew that as long as Danielle knew I would never put her in harm’s way, she would trust me and although I did some things that obviously upset her, she knew that I was trying to get her to the end and I think that’s why it worked.
Why did she fall for your ideas every time?
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I think it’s a little because in the player/coach relationship, she knew that I had done what I had had to do to get there before. I think she saw that I would do the same for her. It wasn’t like I was trying to sell her things without experience. She’s a smart girl. She knew by hanging out with me she’d reap the benefits as long as we stuck together and she definitely did and she was critical in getting me to the end. I couldn’t have gotten as far without the information she gave me. I’d like to think at the end of the day it was a pretty good working relationship.
How do you justify your game strategy?
I justify it because it was my only option. I couldn’t out-compete Shane [Meaney] or Frank [Eudy]. Everyone else in the house wanted me out so the only option I had was to try to get people to trust me, get them to do one major thing for me, then I had to send them packing because at some point, I was number one on the public enemy list. I couldn’t play the nice guy role like I did in season 10; no one was going to buy it and this time around, I was a little bit older and the competition was a lot stiffer.
You’re a former teacher at a Catholic high school and currently work as a high school football coach. What will you tell your students about how you played “Big Brother”?
That’s a great question! When I coach my football players, if we’re down 40 to nothing, I tell them not to quit. I tell them you do everything within the confines of the game and the rules to play to win. If I see some players with their heads dragging on the ground because we’re losing, I’m going to try to motivate them to get them going and play as hard as they can. I think in sports people are expecting to have things handed to them and kind of in this game, too. The beauty of Big Brother is there are no rules to the game, except don’t be violent. There’s no rules that say you can’t lie to people, no rules that can’t say you can’t use whatever as a ploy to get people to believe you. I did what I had to do to stay in the game.
What would you have done with the $500,000 had you won?
Had I won, I would have been able to offer the option to my wife to not have to work again. I’m not even sure if I offered that option, she would take it. She’s a marketing director for a Catholic school and also runs a girls’ organization teaching girls how to still be cool and modest and still have confidence in themselves, called goodgirlcomeback.com. But I love her so much and I don’t want to have to see her struggle and work hard even though that’s in her blood. I just want to make her life easier. If I had won that money, it would have been a much quicker reality. She’s the light of my life. If I’m the dark side of the family, she’s the light side!
What’s the first thing you said to her after the show finale last night?
I looked her in the eye and asked, are you okay? Because I’d never been away from her for that long and under the scrutiny and things she had to deal with because of my actions, I just needed to know that she was okay and our family wasn’t embarrassed by things I had done. As soon as I found out she was okay and she was proud of me and still loved me and I’d done nothing to make her feel embarrassed, I was a happy man.
How did your two seasons of “Big Brother” differ?
This season was completely different. The first season, I didn’t want to leave the house. And this time, I was ready to go because I knew what I was going home to was way greater than $500,000—my beautiful wife Chelsea was waiting for me, supporting me through all my antics. That’s all I can ask for.
What advice would you give to future Big Brother competitors?
First you gotta get on the show, which is not an easy thing. It was cool to see Ian and Ashley who read my guide, “How to get on reality TV,” about how to get on in the first place. In the guide, I went through what people are looking for in casting and how you can give that to them while still being true to yourself. But once you get in the house, the best strategy for me is find one person you can put 110 percent of your trust into because you can’t win this game alone. If you are shrewd enough to find that one running mate, you’ve got a shot to win.
How much did you prepare yourself for Big Brother 14?
I prepared two ways, physically and mentally. Physically, I tried to run two to three miles a day and mentally, I went back and watched a few of the seasons where I thought there were particularly standout players and looked at the aspects of the things they did.
Was the infamous Big Brother back yard pretty thrashed when the season ended?
Actually, the Big Brother crew did a bang up job; they work magic in the back yard and the last day, it turned from a poolside mess with towels everywhere and they flipped it in a few hours to the interview area with props. It was a great sight.
How hard is it to keep from having a mental breakdown in the house?
I’m not sure I could spend three months away from my better half again. Last time I spent 71 days in the house, this time it was 75 and it doesn’t sound like much but the last four days were the most painful because at that point I was talked out of every social conversation I could have, we had no competitions left to do, I knew with a little bit of certainty I was getting to the final two. I just wanted to speed it up. Unfortunately, I took it out a little bit on the Big Brother producers just because I got worn down. I was at my wit’s end.
What are you doing next?
Next for me is catching up with the wife. We’re going to spend a lot of time together. We both want to have kids so that’s definitely in the near future. Maybe you’ll see another Dan running around on Big Brother 38! And I want to get back to doing what I love, helping people get on reality TV.