The 'Big Brother' alum chats with PEOPLE about the irony of getting buried by Housewife funeral home owner Phaedra Parks and how he "underestimated" Bachelor Peter Weber, who orchestrated his undoing
“I think it's pretty ironic that she owns a funeral home and she's the one that finally does me in,” Gheesling, 40, tells PEOPLE of fellow Traitor Phaedra Parks, a licensed funeral director and former Real Housewife of Atlanta.
In an effort to save himself at the roundtable, Gheesling threw Parks, 50, out as his top suspect for a Traitor after being criticized for playing a quiet game. But Gheesling found himself caught in a trap set up by Faithful Peter Weber, who tricked the Traitors — including out by Survivor’s Parvati Shallow — to "murder" Love Island alum Carsten "Bergie" Bergersen when Bergie, 24, had a shield that made him immune to elimination.
Even before Bergie walked into breakfast, making the player aware of the Traitors' failed attempt to take him out of the game, Gheesling knew he faced “a dire, dire situation.”
“I didn't need to see Bergie's face. When I heard the knock, I'm like, ‘This is not good,’” Gheesling says. “But I didn't think it was over. That's how I play all these games. I could be backed into a corner and 10 wolves wanted to come after me, I'm going to fight until it's over. It lit my fire, like, now I have to go after Phaedra.”
Despite his best effort, Gheesling got voted out on Thursday. Now, Gheesling reflects on his strategy, the current state of his relationship with Parks and why he thinks The Traitors will be his final reality TV run.
What was your plan to deflect after Bergie walked in at breakfast?
DAN GHEESLING: At that point, I immediately wanted to get to Peter. You saw a little bit of that conversation. I'm like, OK, it's kind of like you're sitting across the table, it's a bad guy and the good guy, and it's like, can we find some way to work this out? So that was just trying to do damage control right away.
Did you think Bergie was that big of a threat that you needed to go after him, or did you just pick him because you thought Peter had the shield?
What it really was — and this is where I got so fixated on it — was it weakened Phaedra. You got to see a little bit of how tight they were, but they were tight. Bergie had the wool pulled over his eyes. He had no clue that Phaedra was a Traitor. She could lead him wherever he wanted. And I'm like, OK, getting rid of Bergie is weakening Phaedra. It was really, how do I get rid of Phaedra? And the thing was, without Peter, Bergie's not very dangerous. I really underestimated Peter. He did such a phenomenal job and it was fun, really fun to play against Peter.
Looking back now, do you respect Peter’s game play?
A thousand percent. Even early on when he did that little misdirection with Kevin [Kreider of Bling Empire], I'm watching and I'm like, "Dude, that is just..." People are like, "Well, what's the point?" I'm like, anything to not direct attention or cause some chaos, I love that. You saw me, I'm like, Peter's not this savvy. He's not going to go set this elaborate trap to try and catch one of the Traitors. And then when he did that, inside I'm like, I respect the heck out of that. I'm normally the one setting the traps and getting people, so to get caught, he shocked me and I love it. I totally overlooked him from a strategic standpoint and also as a leader. He has such a command over those Faithful and is so good in the day to day and garnering trust. He played a phenomenal game, and I'm excited to see what he decides if he decides to become a Traitor.
Why did you decide to stay quiet early on in the game?
The thing I was trying to do was be quiet and when I talk [have people think], “OK, this is Dan's time, let's give him this vote. He takes a shot, I get out a Traitor and it's like, OK, he really is the Faithful.” And then I build some trust with everyone. And then probably closer towards the end, you take a shot at whoever is the next person you recruit. So that was the endgame.
On your podcast, you revealed that Peter came to you saying he planned to vote for Parvati. At that point, did you think you should rally everyone around Parvati?
It was maybe 10 minutes before the round table. He came in and he's like, "Dan, we can keep you, but you have to vote Parvati." The way I look at these games and how I've had success, I pick one person and I'm 1,000 percent in. I'm going to protect this person, I'm not going to stab them in the back. I just really trusted her. Watching the show back, it was cool to see that Parvati had some shots to throw me under the bus and she really didn't. So to me, that validated that [choice]. I didn't see a path to win with Phaedra in the game and I'm like, I can't just get bled out in this game and be a ticking time bomb. I got to take this shot at Phaedra and try to get her out.
You’d been ready to throw Phaedra under the bus early on — why wait as long as you did?
In hindsight, I would've taken that shot maybe a week earlier because I still had Janelle [Pierzina] and she was waiting for me to. I think we could have got a couple votes. I don't know if the ultimate outcome is any different in terms of, Phaedra was so well-insulated. But I think it was a higher percentage chance if I still had Janelle in there and took the shot.
Do you think you took the wrong approach by not trying to work with Janelle, with whom you’ve played Big Brother previously?
I was just hyper-concerned about the Survivor/Big Brother people, being seen [as] super tight. So I tried to keep my distance from her, but I always trusted her. I kind of knew she was going to come after me because some people told me. I didn't expect her to drop a nuclear bomb on me. I was stunned. Everything I was concerned about coming out, about winning Big Brother, how I was dangerous, she laid it all on the table. It was like if you've ever been either punched or fallen and had the wind knocked out of you, that's how I felt all the way up through the night in that Traitors turret. It was really hard to recover. But I love Janelle and one of these days we'll get on the same page. But I think I made a mistake by keeping her at such a distance. I kind of sketched her out, which I can understand why she did what she did.
How would you have moved forward to work with Phaedra if Parvati was the one who got voted out?
The shocking thing to me was how adept Phaedra was at deflecting, and also how personal she took it. Even in the postmortem, she's not very happy with me. So I don't think that would've played out very well for me in the house. And I get it. I think she really trusted me, and I don't think she saw that coming. It didn't matter because she was so good at deflecting, but I think she was probably hurt by that. After you take a shot at someone like that and then to have to work together, I think is tough.
Do you think the Housewives were underestimated in the game?
I do. Their familiarity with conflict is out of this world, so they can create situations to create conflict and chaos and they can get themselves out, which is a huge part of these games. Some of them are used to strategically how they place themselves, but I think their skillset is very well-suited for these games. Even someone like when Kate [Chastain from Below Deck] came in, she's not a Housewife, but she's Bravo. I'm like, "Man, this is not good." As a fan of Traitors, I'm like, "All right, here we go."
Did you anticipate Kate being so suspicious of you right off the bat?
She really came in as a blank slate. She didn't come with any preconceived notions. I had some one-on-ones with her, and I could tell those conversations were not going very well because she wasn't buying what I was selling. Someone having pretty much an entire season of experience is worth so much. She's been through this already and I think she really capitalized on that and has a good feel for what's going on.
Was there anything we didn't see on TV that you wish made the final cut?
I was very quiet in the house and it doesn't make for tremendous TV, but I was working. I'm talking to everyone, just not about the game. And that's where I developed these relationships. I could tell you a lot about everyone in that cast because I'm sitting there digging and working. I just ran out of runway. In Big Brother, I can do that infinitely. Here I'm like, "Hey, I spent way too much time doing that and not enough time talking about strategy.
Who would you have wanted to extend that Traitors invite to if you survived the latest roundtable?
I think Pete's a really interesting choice. When you're watching it, you're like, "There's no way." But while we're in there, I'm still thinking Pete can be worked over. For me, it's like someone probably like CT [Tamburello]. It would have to be a guy because otherwise it's coming back to me at some point.
In the beginning, did you consider keeping Parvati as a Faithful who would be on your side and bringing in someone else as a Traitor?
As soon as I saw Parvati, I'm like, "This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance." She plays Survivor like I play Big Brother. I needed someone in there in the Traitors turret that had strategic experience to build on. On top of that, it's like I'm a fan of her and Survivor, and I'm just like, "What other world am I going to get a chance to work side by side with the Black Widow?" I think it worked out because for the poisoning, that was another day at the office at Parvati. I would've been bumbling all over the place. I really enjoyed playing with Parvati.
You said on your podcast that you don't think you'll ever play another game again. Should we consider this your retirement?
You haven't seen me in 10 years, and I think this is it for me. But it was one heck of a way to go out — just such a positive, fun and wild experience that I'll never forget.
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