‘The Traitors’ Star Dan Gheesling on Why He Had to Target Phaedra Over Parvati: ‘I Went After You Because I Didn’t Think I Could Beat You’

SPOILER ALERT: This article contains spoilers for “Backstab and Betrayal,” the sixth episode of “The Traitors” Season 2, now streaming on Peacock.

Not once in his two-season run on CBS’ “Big Brother” did legendary player Dan Gheesling see his name written down for eviction. More than a decade later, it is still an impressive feat in the annals of reality competition history.

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But Gheesling’s clean record came to an end on Thursday when he watched all but one of his 12 costars on “The Traitors” scribble his name on their chalkboard and banish him from the Scottish castle for correctly deducing that he, in fact, was a Traitor. But Gheesling’s exit from the game wasn’t exactly a shock after last week’s episode, when he made what would become the fatal mistake of trying to murder Carsten “Bergie” Bergersen based on false intel planted by Peter Weber, who suspected Gheesling of being a Traitor.

When the shield-protected Bergie walked into breakfast at the start of this week’s episode after surviving Gheesling’s attempted murder (one co-signed by the other Traitors), Weber wasted no time in revealing to the group — over smoked meats and crumpets — that he fed his laced intel to three people: Gheesling, his fellow Traitor, Parvati Shallow and Chris “CT” Tamburello. From there, the tainted trio were left to make the case they didn’t take the bait, a task only CT managed to convincingly do. By the time the cast convened around the roundtable to deliberate who should be banished by night’s end, Gheesling was the first out of the gate to weave a somewhat baffling web against his other fellow Traitor, Phaedra Parks.

THE TRAITORS -- "The Funeral" Episode 204 -- Pictured: (l-r) Dan Gheesling, Phaedra Parks -- (Photo by: PEACOCK)
Dan Gheesling, Phaedra Parks

His case, albeit flimsy, included him taking issue with her theatrics at each breakfast when the murdered player is revealed — something she bit back at with the instantly iconic line, “I do too much because you do too little.”

When it came time to vote, Gheesling received every other player’s vote except Weber’s, the man who trapped him, who ironically voted for Shallow just to make sure people don’t forget he also suspects her of being a Traitor. So why did Gheesling try to bulldoze Parks’ game when Shallow’s target was far bigger?

“Everyone liked her, and no one suspected her,” Gheesling tells Variety. “And until I brought her name up, no one even considered her. To me, that is really dangerous and I hope she takes that as a sign of respect. I went after you because I didn’t think I could beat you in the end.”

Looking back on his gameplay, Gheesling shares the mistakes he made, the “gut punch” from his fellow “Big Brother” alum Janelle Pierzina and where he stands with Parks after the show.

You spoke in your Circle of Truth about coming out of a decade-long retirement for this. So why was it “The Traitors” that resurrected you, Dan?

There’s a couple of reasons. The first is that I had seen the first season and it is the first show in a very, very long time that I watched that was centered just around the game. You saw fighting, and you saw people go at it, but it was about the game. It wasn’t about personality clashes. You need that stuff to make entertaining TV, but the game was the center of everything. It was a new and unique game. On top of that, I watched it and thought it didn’t look like reality TV. The way it is filmed, it just looked different. The second thing was that Sharon Vuong at NBC just made it so easy for me to say yes. I have three little kids and I’m married, and I was able to call my kids and call my wife. They alleviated any worries I would have and the only thing I had to do was to come play the game and have fun.

Did this make you want to jump back into the world of reality TV? Or was this a one-and-done until your next resurrection?

I really wanted to come back and play against some great players. I just knew that if they are calling me, I’m not the only person they are calling. They are calling some big dogs. That was really intriguing to me. But also, I guess the double-edged sword of this all is that they set the bar so high. To me, this is the standard. I have gotten a few calls already about other shows and it’s like, “Does it meet that standard?” I just think so highly of this show and it’s really hard to top. And I don’t have an interest to come back and do something that has been done 100 times before.

Did the funeral challenge a few episodes ago bring back memories of when you staged your own funeral in “Big Brother 14?” And is that a requirement of the competition series you will be a part of moving forward?

It was kind of bizarre because it truly was like a funeral! But also, I’m like, “Man, please don’t let anyone say that I’m familiar with funerals.” I just didn’t want anyone playing the game to bring it up because until Janelle blew up my game, no one knew who I was except Sandra (Diaz-Twine), Peppermint and Janelle. And Parvati, though I don’t even think she knew.

So do you think you were playing a solid game before this Janelle/Peter plan in the last episode or, looking back on it, would you take a different tactic from the beginning?

No, I have a laundry list of all the mistakes I made. (Note: At this moment, he literally picks up a yellow pad with a bunch of scribbled notes on it.) But I feel like there are also some things that went against me. I have always been able to adapt and recover. I make mistakes in all of these shows, but I can always recover. What really first knocked the wind out of me — that’s the best way I can describe it — was that I knew Janelle was going to come after me. But I didn’t know, and they don’t show everything, that she was going to come after me saying, “This dude is dangerous. He’s done X, Y and Z. He’s faked his own death.” Everything I didn’t want people to know, Janelle threw out on the table and everyone looked at me differently after that. And that carried over for me into the Traitors turret. The game is really fast and I just never recovered from it. So I’m making the decision to take a gamble and get rid of Bergie, and I am doing so while I am still stunned. Some things went wrong, but the Janelle gut punch was really what started the tailspin.

Have you talked to Janelle since you were both banished?

Oh, yeah! I love Janelle. We laugh about it. That’s the thing, even with Peter. Peter set a trap, but I’m the one who sets the traps! Peter set a trap on me and when he got me, all I could think was, “Man, that was a great move.” I didn’t tell him that in the moment but it was what I was thinking. I love that he makes moves like that, but I never saw it coming.

That’s the beauty of this game plucking players from all across the reality TV landscape. There are some real wild cards. Did you know of Peter before this because he seemed to come out of nowhere for you?

No. This is what I knew of Peter: “Bachelor.” But then I got to know him and learned he’s a pilot and a really likable guy. I took him as really straightforward and honest — not savvy, you know. But that was what he presented to me. Meanwhile, he’s doing all these cool things. Even early on, when I was watching the show, he faked a little fight with Kevin [Kreider]. But that’s my move! I can do nothing but respect it because I love seeing that stuff on TV. While I would prefer it’s me doing it to someone else, I can appreciate it.

Why go after Phaedra at the roundtable when Parvati already had the target on her?

For “Big Brother” fans, Parvati was Memphis (Dan’s close friend and runner-up on “Big Brother 10”); Parvati was Danielle (his closest ally on “Big Brother 14”). A completely different level than Danielle, but I say that for the level of trust. I had 1000 % trust in Parvati, and I feel like it was reciprocal. But she was the person that I saw myself going to the end with. That was part one. I wasn’t going to turn on her because I know to win, you can’t win by yourself. I really trusted her. Would trusting the Black Widow get me in the end? Who knows but I like to think not.

The other thing was that I didn’t see a path to win with Phaedra in the game. I know how this game works. You are not knocking out Faithfuls the entire game and then it’s three Traitors standing in the end. A Traitor is going to go. I didn’t want it to me, I didn’t want it to be Parvati. And Phaedra was so insulated. Everyone liked her, and no one suspected her. And until I brought her name up, no one even considered her. To me, that is really dangerous, and I hope she takes that as a sign of respect. I went after you because I didn’t think I could beat you in the end. You’re going to be at the final fire at the end, look at your Bravo friends, wink at them and I’m gone. I didn’t see a way to win with her, and I think in hindsight, that was a huge mistake because I think she is a little upset with me now because she really trusted me and I never gave her a reason not to. Sometimes, when you play a game like this for the first time, that stings. So I completely understand if she is upset with me.

THE TRAITORS -- "A Killer Move" Episode 205 -- Pictured: Phaedra Parks -- (Photo by:PEACOCK)
Phaedra Parks

After the episode aired, she posted on X, “Bye, Dirty Dan.” Have you talked to her? What would you say to her?

I mean, I have DM’d with her. I would say the DMs were… How would I say it? I would say very neutral. Neutral to she’s not happy with me, but I hope with time that she understands. That’s the tough thing for me. I really liked everyone. When you play “Big Brother,” sometimes people get on your nerves and you are happy for them to go. But it wasn’t like that with Phaedra. I like her. I mean, she’s a star. So that was hard for me because I genuinely liked everyone. But the only thing I can do is say that it was just a game. You know, I have three little kids. The way I approach this is that I play hard and I’m going to try and knock you out. But I’m not going to make fun of you in the process. I hope at some point she sees it like that and that I wasn’t trying to, like, embarrass her or anything like that.

Have you started watching “The Real Housewives” to take notes for future competitions against them? Those who know Phaedra knew she was not to be messed with.

I’ve always watched “Real Housewives” through osmosis with my wife, and she is a big “Orange Country” fan. So I knew who Tamra Judge was. I’ve watched “New Jersey,” and I like “New Jersey.” I’ve watched some “Beverly Hills,” but I’ve never really seen “Atlanta.” If I had seen “Atlanta,” it probably would have served me a lot better in this game for sure.

Did your wife send you off with any words of wisdom in dealing with Housewives?

She did tell me that if Tamra was there, be friends with her and you can trust her. And I really like Tamra. I know now that Tamra thought I got rid of her, but she found out later that it wasn’t that and I really wanted to work with her in the game.

We only get to see so much of the roundtable. Were there other parts of your case against Phaedra we didn’t get to see?

I think they did a great job of distilling it down to the important parts. Some stuff was cut out, but it was nothing that made a difference. But it was interesting to watch back because it felt a lot worse. Like, Phaedra and John [Bercow], they just came after me. They eviscerated me. In the edit, I got knifed up and it was pretty bad, but I don’t know. This is the first time that I’ve watched a show that I’ve been on and it’s different. When you’re on “Big Brother,” you’re not going to watch the show because it’s over. But this is a case where you’re living something that happened three months ago, but you are watching it for the first time. So it was a unique experience.

Was there anything in your Circle of Truth speech that we didn’t get to hear? As viewers, we want you all to say so much more before leaving!

Yeah, it definitely was a lot longer. You know when I get the chance to speak in front of an audience, I like to put a little something on it. It was kind of like a little winding road. I didn’t want to go up there and just say, “I’m a Traitor.” I wanted to make them sweat a little bit. The way I wrapped things up, I think I said something like, “My favorite movies are the ones where the bad guys get away in the end.” Then they were like, “Well, are you a bad guy or a good guy?” And I said, “Unfortunately, this is not one of those movies.” So it was a lot longer, but I think the way it was edited was true to form and the messaging I was trying to get across.

Since you are watching it in real-time, what do you think of Pavarti and Phaedra’s decision to try and recruit Peter as your replacement in the turret?

I think if Peter puts on the cloak, it is going to make for incredible television because all these people that love him, he’s now going to get to stab. I mean, you dream of that in a game like this. At least I dream of being able to do something like that. Being in the castle, I thought he could be swayed. But watching at home, I was like, “This dude is never going to take that.” But here’s my thing: if he doesn’t take the deal, he’s flicking off the Traitors. He’s done. If you do that, you’re not coming back from it. For me, because I’m rooting for Peter, I hope he takes it. It will make for incredible television. If he doesn’t, he’s a dead man walking and, trust me, I know what that’s like.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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