Greg Louganis photographed by Clinton Gaughran for AfterElton
Take ten celebrities, put them in swimsuits, give them some training by a sexy Olympic legend and then make them dive into a swimming pool. There you have the basic concept behind ABC’s new reality competition series, Splash.
The reality competition series, which kicks off tonight, has celebs learning from the skilled prowess of Greg Louganis, the show’s Dive Master. But the hook of Splash is watching as the celebs – basketball icon Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, comedian Louie Anderson, actor/singer Drake Bell, comedian Chuy Bravo, reality star Kendra Wilkinson, actress Keshia Knight-Pulliam, skier Rory Bushfield, actress Nicole Eggert, Miss Alabama Katherine Webb, football’s Ndamukong Suh – grow (or not grow) as divers both physically and emotionally.
As you probably know, Louganis won Gold Medals in both 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games on both the springboard and platform events. He was diagnosed with HIV in 1988, wrote about the experience in the book Breaking The Surface (with Mario Lopez playing him in the TV movie based on it) and then publicly came out to Oprah Winfrey in a 1995 interview.
What you may not have known is that Louganis, now 53 and just as handsome as ever, took twenty years away from the pool before returning in 2010 and mentored the US Olympic diving team in 2012. With Splash premiering tonight, it was a good time to sit down with him to chat about his career, coming out publicly when others were not, his latest gig on Splash and how his current relationship has made him a believer in soul mates.
AfterElton: I remember when Dancing With The Stars first came out here in the States. I was like, ‘Really? Are you kidding me?’ And yet fans can’t get enough of it. Do you see Splash as fitting in with the same audience?
Greg Louganis: You know, I’m hoping so. We’re really hoping that. Diving is a sport that you have to have a certain skill set. It takes time to learn that skill set. I think with the first season, we got our celebrities but then I believe they thought it was going to be easier than they thought. The ones that have put in the time, vast improvement, they’re doing really well. But a lot of them are just like, ‘Okay what do I need to do to get by?’ which puts me in a rough position because then I’m bartering, you know?
AE: Right. It is a competition.
GL: It is. It is a competition, but each celebrity’s journey on the show is different. Like Chuy and Louie [Anderson]. God, getting Louie just to be healthy…he’s morbidly obese and trying to get him on the right path and educate him about food intake and how to work out…he doesn’t know how to work out.
AE: The fact that most of the celebrities aren’t athletes – or at least divers – is your approach different?
GL: Not really, because behavior is behavior and it’s just trying to figure out what motivates each individual and how to appeal to them in such a way that can inspire them to kind of push themselves harder than they would if they were just left to their own devices. So it’s really been challenging. It’s fun.
Chuy, in my mind’s eye, his story is just so compelling. He almost drowned when he was seven and he was afraid of the water. Just the journey that we took together has really been transformational. And then once we got past the fear of water then there’s the fear of heights. So it’s like, ‘Wow.’ When he shows up, he shows up. [A show rep confirms that Chuy recently fractured his heel and will not be able to dive, however, he will continue to be a part of this season. Brandi Chastain will take his place in the competition in episode 2.]
AE: I know there was some press with Kendra shouting at you a few weeks back. Is there anything you’d like to say to that?
GL: You know it’s interesting because it’s a totally different generational thing. I just go back to thinking about what behaviors we’re rewarding and also what is perceived as a reward. Her reward is the cameras, and she’s rewarded for bad behavior by getting her reward. It’s interesting because on camera she won’t admit it, so it’s like we’ve got to play a game.
Some of the things that I’m doing I would do probably with anyone, and I did apologize to her because when I do camps for kids I tell them, ‘If you argue your limitations, you own them.’ That’s not a secret. It’s like if you say you are afraid, you know what? You’re afraid. If you say you can’t do something, I’m not going to argue. You can’t do it. But how limiting that is, that mentality. It’s really kind of sad.