Dan Gheesling competed as a Traitor on season two of the Peacock reality competition series "The Traitors."
Gheesling is known as a legendary "Big Brother" player who won once and narrowly missed a second victory.
This is Gheesling's story, as told to Business Insider journalist Caralynn Matassa.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Dan Gheesling about his experience deceiving other reality TV royalty for a chance to win up to $250,000 on Peacock's "The Traitors." The following has been edited for length and clarity.
I came out of reality TV retirement to go on "The Traitors."
I livestream on Twitch five days a week, and I have a phone number I give out so fans can text me. I was on Twitch one day and said "Hey, text me right now. I'm responding to people." I'm going through my texts and one is like, "Hey, I'm a reality TV producer, I want to get you on this show." I'm like, "Ha, funny guys, you're pranking me."
Then I saw the name and went into my Gmail and I typed in her name and there were two emails from them, but it was in my spam inbox. So I'm like, "What the heck?" I just never got it.
If I didn't look at that text, I wouldn't have been on the show, because they probably just thought I was ghosting them or something.
We talked about it, and then I asked my wife. I just turned 40 and my wife was like, "Do you want a 40th birthday party?" I'm like, "No, I want to go play 'The Traitors.'" She's like, "All right, go have fun."
My mom told me not to go on 'The Traitors'
My mom was a huge fan of the first season of "The Traitors." She told me, "I love this show. You have to watch it, but you have to promise me you're not going to go on it." I go, "Ma, just take it easy."
But I watched it and I really liked it. The game is really unique. It's not focused on petty drama. Of course, there's going to be drama, there's going to be fighting, but it's about the game.
To me, "The Traitors" was just about the game, and that's what I like to do. I like to go play a game. I don't really care about fighting about stuff. We're here to entertain and play a fun game.
I was starstruck seeing boxer Deontay Wilder
The cast of "The Traitors" season two features reality TV royalty, from "Real Housewives" star Tamra Judge to two-time "Survivor" winner Sandra Diaz-Twine, plus other notable figures like former member of Parliament John Bercow and Deontay Wilder, a former heavyweight champion.
I didn't know who I'd be playing against until I got there. So when I saw everyone, there were people I recognized. But seeing Deontay Wilder there, a former world heavyweight champion, my mind was blown. I knew there were going to be some incredible people there, but it's a big deal.
It'd be like if "The Traitors" was in the '90s, and Mike Tyson was playing "The Traitors."
I was filming for a couple of weeks, maybe a month or so. On a typical day, we'd wake up and get ready. You're not supposed to talk about the game when the mics aren't ready or the cameras aren't on, because if we say something that's important and it's not on camera, they can't use it on the show.
The first thing is breakfast. When I was watching the show, I thought "Okay, this is just fake breakfast." But no, it's real breakfast! Sandra would be like, "Where's all the eggs? Who ate all the eggs?" We're like, "Sorry. Don't vote me out because we don't have any eggs!"
I didn't eat a ton at breakfast because I was more worried about making sure I didn't act like a Traitor. I couldn't eat and also pretend that I didn't know who got murdered, so I just did my best to hang out.
Then after breakfast, depending on the day, you'd either go do a challenge or you have strategy time where you get to walk around the castle.
The most grueling challenge was the one where we had to drag the catapult. But I say that with asterisks, because at that point, I didn't really want anyone to get a shield, so I was acting like I was pulling this rope but I really wasn't doing it. I know it was hard for a lot of people, but not me, because I really wasn't trying to contribute to winning the challenge.
I don't think anybody noticed I wasn't pulling. Or at least no one ever said anything if they did.
After the challenge, you'd come back, have dinner, strategy time, roundtable, then after roundtable, more strategy time. Then the Faithful would go to sleep, and the Traitors would go to the turret.
My biggest mistake in 'The Traitors' was not listening to Parvati
When it came time for the Traitors to murder someone in episode five, Dan was set on taking out Carsten "Bergie" Bergersen. But Peter Weber had set a trap, falsely telling Dan, Parvati Shallow, and CT Tamburello — the people he suspected were Traitors — that he and Janelle Pierzina had won the shield and would be protected from murder. In reality, Bergie and Trishelle Cannatella had the shield — something Parvati suspected when she tried to convince Dan not to target Bergie.
There were a lot of mistakes in my game. I'd say the biggest one was not listening to Parvati when I really pushed for the decision to murder Bergie. She had it all sniffed out and it just didn't register with me.
I think to have someone of that caliber like Parvati working on your team, who has so much experience and is so effective and deadly in the games that she's played — to not listen to her and go after Bergie was a huge mistake.
I tried my usual tactic to save myself from banishment, but it didn't work at all
Dan cemented himself as one of the most legendary "Big Brother" players ever when he saved himself from near-inevitable eviction by staging a "funeral" for himself in which he delivered a speech so jaw-dropping that the chaos it caused resulted in someone else getting evicted instead.
When I prepared to give my speech at the roundtable, I was like, "Okay, this works every time." It's always worked for me.
There's a moment during the speech where I'm going and Phaedra just starts knocking it all down. I'm like, "This is not how it normally goes. I'm not used to this. Oh no, someone else is jumping in and shredding me."
I realized it was not going well, but I wasn't going to give up. It was very humbling for sure, because it's something I had done time and time again and it always worked. It just didn't work this time.
I didn't expect Peter would be capable of setting the trap he did
In his final roundtable speech, Dan opted to throw fellow Traitor Phaedra Parks under the bus, deflecting suspicion from him and onto her in an effort to save himself. But Phaedra verbally shredded him and poked holes in his argument, and he was banished.
I've never seen "The Bachelor," but I've watched "Housewives" through osmosis — my wife is a huge "Real Housewives of Orange County" fan, so she told me if Tamra's there, be friends with her, you can trust her. So I really like Tamra.
I've seen some "Beverly Hills," I've seen "New Jersey," love the table flip, but I'm in and out because my wife watches that, so I pay attention. The one Bravo show I'm all in on is "Vanderpump Rules." That is amazing television.
Sandra, Janelle, and Parvati are the peak of the strategic mountain. There is no one higher than that. That's the standard. Then Peter, who's on "The Bachelor," he's been on a dating show, he hands out roses. I just didn't think he was capable of setting an incredible trap and catching me. He did and I loved it.
The thing I overlooked with the Housewives or Bravo people is that they're used to fighting. They're used to someone backstabbing them all the time. Yeah, they're not competing for survival or to win a million dollars, but they're fighting every single day. I don't know if a part of me thought, watching "Orange County" stuff, that it was not real, but I learned firsthand it's real. And they're good at it.
I enjoyed competing on 'The Traitors,' but I'm done with reality TV for good this time
There's usually someone on a cast you don't like, but I really liked everyone. Everyone had such a unique personality and brought so much to the table. I liked getting to know everyone.
I haven't been on TV in 10 years, so to be dropped into this environment with people I see on TV, as an everyday guy, that was really cool.
As far as returning to reality TV, I think this was it for me. It was such an amazing experience. It's like, how could this get any better? Sure, you want to win. But as a life experience, being on "The Traitors" was awesome and I wouldn't trade it for anything.
New episodes of "The Traitors" release Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on Peacock and also air Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.
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