Suddenly, 2014 has become the year of the hetero-homo bromance in reality television. Zankie, the relationship between Frankie Grande (gay) and Zach Rance (straight) is the only thing people are still talking about from this summer's Big Brother 16. And the trendiest topic to emerge from America's Next Top Model (Cycle 21, airing now) is Willthew, the relationship between Will Jardell (gay) and Matthew Smith (straight, but famously prefers "no labels").
As unrealistic as unscripted television may be, the popularity of this trend is a clear reflection of a cultural reality: people, straight, and especially gay, are ready for genuine integration. While we fight for basic rights in the courtroom, we just as sincerely need meaningful friendships in the living room--with everyone.
Last week Outspoke with Grande about Big Brother and Zankie, and with Jardell and Smith about ANTM and Willthew, but now we finally talk with Rance, who does want to be labeled straight, and who tells us what he thinks we should, and shouldn't, be taking from this type of relationship that is fascinating the nation.
Out: Inside the house, you can't know what the audience is talking about. When you were evicted, you seemed disoriented by Julie's interest in Zankie. How surprised were you to find out just how huge Zankie had become?
Zach Rance: I was extremely surprised to find out how big Zankie was.
In the house, you know you're being watched 24/7 by live-cam feedsters. What did you think the reaction would be to you spending so much time with Frankie, and making comments like "I truly feel that he is my boyfriend"? Were you ever afraid of what people were going to say about you?
Yeah. I knew that I was going to get, I don't want to say "heat," because that's not the right word, but I knew it was going to turn into something. I knew that. Did I care? No.
What have people said to you?
People have been telling me a lot of stuff. When people bring up Zankie, or Frankie, I talk about him in a good light, and that's the end of the subject. People aren't like, "Oh, are you gay? Oh, have you come out? Were you bisexual?" That's never a topic of discussion. And a lot of people are telling me some of the bad stuff he said about me, but it doesn't matter to me. I know he's my friend. We've talked a lot since we've been out of the house. He's always going to be my friend no matter what happened in the game. It's just a game.
Frankie can attract everyone's attention in a room, but of all the houseguests, you were the most drawn to him. What was so appealing and interesting about him?
Frankie is by the far funniest person I have ever met in my entire life. I love people that are funny and he's one of the funniest people on the face of the Earth, so why would I not love hanging out with him?
Early on, people thought you could be using Frankie for the game, and just faking your interest in him, but it quickly became clear that it was probably the other way around. When you figured this out, you sort of had a little breakdown. You knew going into this that everyone was playing a solo game for $500,000. Why did you take it so hard when you realized you were being played a little?
I took it hard because I put all my trust in him in the game, and then he wanted nothing to do with me. I felt like in the game of Big Brother there has to be one person that you trust more than anyone and I was drawn to Frankie because he seemed like a great person, and he is a great person, so I put my trust in him. He was the one person that I really thought was going to take me to the end.
Whom should you have trusted?
I should have trusted Cody [Calafiore]. I feel like he had the same intentions as me and he would have had my back more than Frankie. I don't know if that would have been the case. I wanted all my trust in Frankie, though, and I wouldn't have changed anything if I could go back and do it all over again. He messed up. You can't win the game of Big Brother by yourself. It requires a team of people and a lot of luck.
You were clearly a very popular player on your own, but what does your family think about a big part of your new fame being tied to the Zankie relationship?
They love it. They love it. My whole family loves Frankie. My mom, my dad, my brother, my cousin--they all love Frankie. I feel like I did inspire some straight people to embrace gay people. You can be straight and have a gay best friend. It doesn't matter. My family's extremely proud of me because of how I approached that. I didn't see his sexual orientation at all. That doesn't define him. As far as the game goes, as far as my relationship with Frankie, my personality, my character--my family is very proud of me.
You showed a national audience that you can be best friends with a gay man, you can love a gay man, and you can even cuddle in bed with a gay man, and still be secure in yourself. What sort of impact do you think that has, particularly on straight culture?
I don't really know the impact it had, however I believe that there's a lot of potential for huge impact. I'm obviously straight, I've made that clear millions of times, and the fact that I was cuddling with a gay guy, giving him a massage . . . you know, let's be real--guys give other guys massages. It's not a big deal. I don't care that he was gay. I was never afraid that he would try to kiss me. If he tried to kiss me, I would have said, "no, it's not like that," and I would have continued to be friends with him. I don't know, I'm just speaking from my opinion, but I feel like I was kind of a role model for some people on the show who might look at me and say, "wow, Zach's a really cool guy and he's best friends with a gay guy, so why can't I be best friends with a gay guy?" We don't know the impact it's going to have on the world, but it'll definitely be a positive one.
You had a reunion with Frankie this weekend, right?
Yup. I saw him yesterday.
How did it go? What did you do?
We met at Starbucks. I was just around town and we met and just talked. We caught up. We talked about what's going on his life, what's going on in my life, we made some jokes, we talked about the other houseguests, we talked about how lucky and blessed we are, and how our entire families are proud of both of us--just a lot of positive things. He brings great energy, I bring great energy (when we're with each other there's too much energy), and we have a good time. He's doing very well, I'm doing very well, and we're both happy about that.
What kinds of things are coming up for you now?
I'm trying to find an agent to sign with and I want to go into TV (scripted or unscripted), I'll do feature films, I'm looking for anything. I'm looking for a job in front of a camera because clearly I'm at natural!
You filmed The Bold and the Beautiful recently. How was that?
It was amazing. It was a great experience. I had a great time, I loved every second of it and I plan on doing more of it in the future.
What do you think your relationship with Frankie will be moving forward? Will you see a lot of him?
When he's not traveling the world with his sister we'll see each other! We're good friends, we talk quite a bit, and whenever we have a chance to hang out we're gonna hang out, and just chill and bro out.
Are you going to go to South Africa to work with his charity?
Yeah, I'm definitely going to Africa with him. Of course.
Are we going to see any more of Zankie on camera?
Of course! Without a doubt. Without a doubt. We're going to have our own reality show.
Is this a plan, or an announcement?
This is a plan.
And how about Amazing Race? Everyone's talking about it.
I would love to do Amazing Race with Frankie. It would be great. I think we'd do very well at it. He's extremely smart, I'm extremely smart, and we're a good team together. Or we thought we were.
Any last words to set the record straight on anything?
One thing I think that should definitely be on record is that it doesn't matter if someone's gay or straight. It doesn't matter. People don't need to judge anyone from their sexual orientation, and we need to move on from that. Everyone in the world. It doesn't matter if you're gay or straight, it doesn't matter what you wear, it doesn't matter what you look like, we're all people in the world, and weall have feelings. I think that's the main thing to me. I don't see Frankie's sexual orientation at all--it doesn't define him. He's a great person. He's a great human being. He's extremely smart, he's extremely funny, and to me that's all that matters. He's a very kind person. I just want that to go on record--sexual orientation doesn't matter, and the whole world needs to move on. That's just what we need to do.
Follow Brandon Schultz on Twitter @BrandonAlexandr