Dani Campbell
Dani Campbell

America loves reality television, but when MTV’s Shot at Love premiered, giving viewers the first bisexual reality dating show, well, shock and awe was a more apt description of their response.

Each week as Tila Tequila, a woman whose claim to fame was being the No. 1 girl on MySpace, put a host of girls and guys through rather degrading tests like pudding wrestling and bull testicle eating, lesbians were alternately compelled and repelled. Either way, we were glued to the set. Clearly, we were rooting for the girls—after all, MTV had split the show up by gender (lesbians vs. the boys)—but within a few episodes it was clear we were rooting for one girl: firefighter Dani Campbell.

A sweetly soft butch (who uses the word “futch” to describe herself), Dani is the country’s first lesbian girl next door. Everyone from little girls to middle-aged men to aging grandmothers adores her. Even her own grandmother Pat, who died after the show aired, but is forever immortalized for getting a lap dance from Tequila, was a fan. “Grandma had the best couple of months after the show,” she says. “All she would talk about was the show and how she couldn’t believe that so many people liked her. She cried with joy when she talked about some of her fans.”

No fan base was more fiercely devoted, of course, than lesbians. After the finale, in which Tequila chose Bobby, a boy from Boston, over Dani, we were ready to pull her into a warm embrace known as lesbocelebrityhood. No need, though, as Dani was already a superstar.

Today Dani plays up her suave side for LOTL (think big car, fat stogie and a fly suit) but remains the girl everyone wants to love.

I’ve watched the show from the beginning, half fascinated and sometimes repelled. Did you watch it in playback, while it was airing?

Yeah, that’s the first time I see it too, every time it comes on Tuesday night.

Has watching it play changed your feelings about the experience for you?

No, it didn’t really change. It was just fun to see how everyone’s character played out, you know? Just to see how it plays on TV, how it plays back. It didn’t change the experience, but it kind of brought it together. It turned it into a story, so that was pretty cool.

The butch phobia that was happening at the beginning of the show so perfectly represents what we actually see in our culture. I was wondering, how much of that did you feel? How was that experience for you?

I train myself. When I first came out with being gay, it wasn’t as comfortable—I wasn’t as comfortable as I am now. So when I meet new people and some people tend to judge right off the bat, I’m just used to that. I’m just used to people being like “Oh, what are you, a lesbian?” It’s OK because I know once this person learns a little bit more about our…once they get to know you and see what you are and you’re just a regular person, you know what I mean? All those stereotypes are broken. So they don’t judge anymore. They don’t judge as much as they did in the beginning. It got different towards the end.

It was kind of interesting, throughout there would be situations where the guys would seem to treat you like one of the guys and the girls would treat you like one of the guys.

Yeah, yeah, yeah [laughs]. That’s usually how it works.

Initially, Tila was said, “I don’t know about dating a girl who doesn’t wear high heels and makeup.” But by the end of the series, she was saying that you were the best of both worlds. I think there were at this point a lot of women who were rooting for you in that way.

And that just goes to breaking stereotypes, you know? Tila was basing it off on what she sees about somebody, but then she realized it’s a combination, mentally and physically. I don’t know, I think it was just there, and I broke lots of stereotypes of the butcher lesbians if you will.

What was the hardest part of the experience for you?

I think the hardest part was eating people’s—you know—can’t tell you [laughs]. But nothing else, nothing mentally, not being away from home—nothing was hard but that.

When you were going into the final decision, how were you feeling at that point?

I was feeling good. I was always confident during all of the eliminations just because I felt like I had a lot to offer and I felt the connection that Tila and I had even though the cameras weren’t always on us. We had a different connection than anyone else did. I just had that confidence and it just kept me there until the end. When it was just Bobby and I left, there was a 50-50 chance. Either I was going to get it or I wasn’t. I knew it was one or the other. At that point, there were only two options.

I love how absolutely outraged fans still seem to be that Tila chose Bobby over you. At this point, how do you feel about her decision?

I have to respect her for her decision. Do I think it was the right one? No. I think Tila picked Bobby thinking that I was too “settled” in my life. You know, a good job, a tubby dog, a house, blah, blah, blah. She obviously didn’t spend enough time really getting to know me. I like to live by the seat of my pants. I love travelling and getting into all sorts of crazy fun. She said she thought my life was settled? I like to think of it as stable.

I think a lot of lesbians were shocked. Were you crushed?

I was totally blindsided by the ending. Even Bobby was in shock. We both thought Tila was going to pick me. I wasn’t crushed though. I was sad, but I wasn’t crazy in love or anything. I try to approach every obstacle I face with optimism. I believe that if you’re in a relationship with someone and they don’t choose to be with you, then you should walk away with your head held high and let go. You can’t make someone feel something they don’t. No need to make yourself unhappy trying. Instead, spend time with yourself and begin the healing process. That’s what I do.

Did you feel foolish for pouring your heart into it someone and then getting rejected on national TV?

I don’t think Tila felt like a tool at all. She has another show for Pete’s sake! I had absolutely no regrets about this show. I chose to be on TV, so I knew what could happen. My dirty laundry is out for everyone to see. Whatever. I don’t see it as being rejected. I know she had a tough decision to make. It’s like picking your favourite dessert, molten chocolate cake, or Tiramisu. You like both, but you can only have one.

Firefighter Dani Campbell
Firefighter Dani Campbell

You couldn’t talk with anyone about it. How did you cope?

I like to believe that I’m a pretty headstrong kid. (I like to say “kid” ‘cause I’m getting up there.) I used to have this thing as a child where I wouldn’t talk to anyone about my problems. That led me to do a lot of problem-solving myself. As I got older and wiser I learned that talking to people is much healthier. Unfortunately, I signed a huge contract stating I wouldn’t open my mouth to anyone until the end of the show, or I would be working for MTV until I was 127. It was pretty difficult at first, but it actually became a little fun teasing my friends every time the show would come on. It was doubly difficult because I couldn’t date either. Oh, the price we pay for love.

When they announced that they had broken up, was a part of you vindicated? Did you secretly think, yeah, that wouldn’t have happened if you had picked me?

I was a little shocked that it happened so quickly. It just seemed strange to me. One minute Tila is in love and the next, she has another show already. Whoa. I know I said earlier to move on if someone doesn’t like you, but geez. That’s fast, Tila! Sorry, Bobby.

There have been a lot of debates over this. Why do you think Tila picked Bobby?

Bobby was a really sweet guy. There was this childish innocence to everything that was new to him and that happened to be a lot. Like sushi for example…he hadn’t eaten sushi ever before this show. I eat sushi every day so I guess that’s why that sounds absurd to me, but Tila found things like that endearing. Whatever. It seems she enjoyed the fact that Bobby was this big kid that she could show the world to. I guess he’s like that for a reason though because look what happened when it came time to deal with her “crazy” lifestyle. Poor Bobby ate all that bull cock and balls for nothing.

There was a lot of debate off-screen about how real the show was, which happens with all of these dating shows. How real was it to you? Was it an act for you? Were you living your emotions the way that they seem on the screen?

When I got there you can see how I’ve changed, as a viewer. You know at the beginning I wasn’t trying to be all out there, making myself look crazy, trying to get attention. It wasn’t there for me in the beginning. It was like, I don’t really mind, whatever. I don’t really care if you pick me. And then once I got to know her I started changing my ways. I moved in, I put a kiss on her, on the camping trip. I just stepped it up a little bit because I realized I really did like her. So, it’s not scripted. Everybody thinks it is, but it’s really not. More or less, the producers are just coaching us, like, stay on track, you know, they know what the viewers want to see.

Were there people who you think played a little bit differently than they did in real life?

No. Everything that you saw was the way it was. I mean people were as crazy as it looks.

What was your hope going on this show? Initially, what were you thinking?

Initially, I was thinking, all right, I’m just going to go there and have a great time like it was going to be a big party. You know, I’m living in a house with a bunch of women, so whoo-hoo. And then it ended up being more than that. I actually liked the girl.

Tell me about being inside the house. What was the camaraderie between you or the conflict between you and the other folks in the house what was the environment like for you guys?

When we first got there we were all discussing, “Okay will we all get bunks, how will we sleep?” and we are thinking we would get our own bed, or maybe even two to a bed, and then we get up there and we see this huge bed and we are like “Oh, my god.” So that was an obstacle. It wasn’t bad for me, I mean I don’t care that much. To be in a bed with all those people, that didn’t bother me. I kind of paired up with the girls. The girls would kind of sleep together to keep the guys away from us. But everything else was fine, I mean we all shared bathrooms and showers, we all got along fairly well, considering.

That’s interesting because you see these parts on the screen, like Ashley having his tantrum after he gets thrown off, or all these different little parts and you wonder how much of that is part of the back story as well.

Yeah—these were the high moments—the height of all the drama. That makes good TV. But for the most part, we all really got along. We were just there and drinking and having a blast in the pool. The only thing—the Brandi and Vanessa thing—they were always bickering away. That was just a continuous animosity between those two.

Now that you’re famous, do you still have time to date? Do you have a new girlfriend? Or girlfriends? Or a girl in every port?

My schedule is super crazy these days, from the fire station, my clothing line, Futch Apparel, my tubby dog Titan, my house, my family, my friends, my appearances all around the country, my college tours, interviews…etc, but after all that, believe it or not, I still have time to date. Not a girl in every port, but one at home.

How are you going to parlay your 15 minutes of fame then? What are you doing with this experience?

I am trying to become more involved in community efforts, i.e. HRC, our fight for equality and rights. It seems like I have a huge 11- to 18-year-old following and they just have a lot of questions. So if I could do some mentoring, that would be great, you know, just to talk to kids and just help them with all of their troubles and coming out. And just also educating our community that we need to vote more, we need to become more involved politically to get the rights that we deserve that we should have been born with. That way I want to stay involved and I don’t need the fame to be involved in something like that, that’s just something I’ll be doing now. But also, I’m launching a new clothing line, Futch Apparel [myspace.com/12nerd], and this is always something I’ve wanted to do because I have such a horrible time finding clothes. So I’m trying to make my own line with a whole completely new set of sizes, like for people in between, not femme, not butch but “futch.” And I don’t want to corner myself just marketing to women either. It’s for women and men—it’s a different size, a more unisex size.

Where are you in the stages with that?

Embryonic. It’s just getting off the ground. I trademarked it, so I own it. It has an LLC. But we just need to get the clothing out there now. So we’re in the process of interviewing designers and stuff like that.

I think there’s definitely a market there for that too.

Oh yeah. The New York Post did a full-page article on me, I don’t know if you saw that. But people are liking this idea, and I just need to run with it quickly and make sure that it happens.

Have you always wanted to move into activism, the way you’ve wanted to move into fashion? Is that something that you always saw yourself doing before this experience?

Yeah. I’ve always loved children, they actually look up to me as a role model. That puts me in a good position to influence them, you know? So they’ll be more apt to listen to what I’m trying to say because I’m Dani from the TV show. It’s crazy. It’s great, it’s a great tool, I’m trying to push something.

So many viewers were compelled by the boys vs. girls nature of Shot at Love. Do you think your fan base broke down the same way?

I think that concept was an awesome idea. It’s about time mainstream TV joined the rest of the world. My fan base is super broad, so I’m not sure how to answer that one. I think everyone enjoyed the show and that’s what matters.

A lot of lesbian viewers regarded all the femme girls as “probably bi” and you as a “real lesbian.” Was that fair?

Of course, it’s fair. I’m comfortable enough in my own skin to do what makes me comfortable. For example, I have short hair, I dress in men’s clothes, I’m in good physical shape. To some, these attributes are what makes me “look” gay. To me, it’s what makes me happy. Lesbians can see this and they just assume I’m the real deal. I understand that, but my goal isn’t to be masculine. It’s just I know what I like. I love purses and pumps, but I would just look ridiculous in these things. As for the other girls, people make the assumption that if you look girly, you must like guys. Wrong.

It seems like lesbians in general have some very strong feelings about dating bisexual women. I think Shot at Love offered a forum for us to have conversations about that. I know how it was presented to the United States like “I’m bisexual and I’m going to decide if I am going to be with a man or a woman.” But what did you experience on the other side of that?

Just because she like guys and girls doesn’t make me any more or less sure about the relationships. If somebody is going to leave me they obviously don’t love me, whether it is for a boy or a girl. So I don’t really see it as a problem, I mean, bisexual people, more power to them. I mean, they like both sexes. They have a bigger picking of whoever. If anybody’s missing out, it’s me. But you know, I’ve dated bisexual women, and there’s no difference. They just like boys and girls. Whoop-di-doo.

It seems like a lot of the lesbians I hear from was clearly rooting for you from the beginning. I think there was a little inference that you were the “real” lesbian. We heard that a lot here at the office.

I think the lesbian population—it seems to me after going through my email and talking to people—were excited to see somebody that yeah—there’s no joke that I’m a lesbian. And not only was I on the show, and that’s groundbreaking because I’m not your typical stripper lesbian, you know femme, I proved myself to be well-spoken, intelligent, I have a career, I was a role model—that’s what a lot of kids are calling me, a role model, crazy—but I was a positive image for a minority that struggled to be called equal, be treated equally. When you see something that is beneficial to you, you feel good. Well, I feel like I’ve beaten that one to death. I feel like I’m babbling now.

Did the other women on the show mostly identified as lesbians?

Well, they all said they were lesbians but we saw clearly that some of them were very flirtatious with the boys or actually hooking up with them in the bed. You wonder how much of it was sincere, but I think people can tell that I’m not swinging both ways.

Did you know you have an entry on Yahoo Answers? The question is, “What type of butch would you call Dani from Shot at Love?”

I did not. What does that mean? Type? My blood type?

Ha! Do you think you were able to offer Tila something that helped her in her coming-out process?

Maybe I’ve dealt with more situations, being a gay female. You know how to deal with things. You know, you are an outcast—not an outcast anymore, but a minority. Different situations come about with minorities and you deal with them, hopefully in a positive way. So I think I would have had that to offer her. Kind of like wisdom.

Obviously, lesbians love a girl in uniform. Now that you’ve been on the show, are you being hit on constantly?

Um, yeah, you know what, it’s coming from all directions. I get a lot of straight women sending me emails saying, “I’m a married woman but I would definitely go gay for you.” Go gay [laughs]. A lot of flattering emails—it’s crazy how many straight women are hitting on me now.

Is that different from before?

No. I hang out at a lot of straight places. I’m not the typical lesbian, if you will, who hangs out at a straight bar. I have a lot of straight friends, and we hang out in a lot of straight places, so I meet straight women, and you know, I’ve dated them. There’s definitely a lot more hitting on me now, since they recognize me, and I don’t have to work to charm them. I’ve already done that on TV. [Laughs] So the charming part’s over, and now it’s just like “Hey.”

So now you’re practically a rock star now. You’ve got 140,000 friends on MySpace, you¹re at every lesbian party, girls are mobbing you everywhere you go. Are you just the total mack daddy now or what?

I guess I sorta feel like a mack, but I don’t act like that. I really appreciate all the love my fans show me. I don’t want it to get to my head and start acting like some big shot. That’s not very attractive. I get attention anywhere I go and it’s not just the gay parties. I probably have just as many straight women fans as I do gay. It’s awesome to think I broke some silly stereotypes in a way. The biggest thing for me is seeing people liking me for just being me. Gay, straight, male, female, it doesn’t matter. It makes me happy to think that society is letting go of some of its prejudices and that I might have had something to do with that. Don’t we all want to make the world a better place?

A Shot at Love was groundbreaking because it was the first bisexual reality show. Do you think it educated Americans about bisexuality or did it perpetuate stereotypes?

I definitely think the show opened people’s minds a bit. The world isn’t ready to love people for just who they are vs. what they are, but it portrayed the reality of the simple fact that no matter what your sexual preference may be, people are still people. I’m just wondering when people are going to stop trying to tell others who they should like. I’ll decide for myself, thank you.

Did you see what Margaret Cho said about you in The Advocate? She said she’d hire a prostitute but they didn’t come in her type. She asked if it was possible to get one that looks like Dani from Shot at Love.

Ah-ha!! She’s funny. I’ve heard she’s said a few things about me, all very nice of course, but I hadn’t heard that one yet. She’s coming to my area soon, so my manager is trying to set up dinner before her show. Imagine that, a true talented professional wanting to meet me. Awesome.

I was sorry to hear about your grandma Pat dying recently. How strange is it to have her last year immortalized on TV getting a lap dance from a bisexual pin-up girl?

Thank you. Grandma had the best last months of her life after the show. Well, not physically, but emotionally. All she would talk about was the show and how she couldn’t believe that so many people liked her. She received almost 1000 letters from fans wishing her well. Anyone that would visit her in the hospital was sure to read at least one hour’s worth of cards and such. We would decorate the walls of her room with them. She cried with joy when she would talk about some of her fans. It really made her last days happier. Thank you to everyone out there who wrote to her. It was difficult watching someone you love and who has always been there died. I struggled with it for a while, but I am trying to move forward and remember the good times I had with her. Just talking about it makes me cry still. I will always love and miss her.

Your initial foray into reality TV was really on a whim, right? How surprised are you with where it’s led you today?

I seriously wasn’t even going to try out for the show. My friend bamboozled me into doing it. I never for one second expected to be called back, let alone make it to runner-up! When we were filming the show I tried to picture what my life would be like after the show. Wow. Was I way off.

Now you get recognized constantly. Ever miss your old quieter life?

At first, it was cool. Something new and exciting. Just recently I think I almost had a nervous breakdown with all that I was trying to juggle. I’m learning to pace myself and get my priorities straight. It’s tougher than it looks. I don’t know how the “real” stars do it. I have a newfound respect for this lifestyle. The only thing I really miss is hanging with my family and friends as much as I used to be able to.

The great thing about Shot at Love was seeing real queer women on screen. How hungry do you think queer teens are for that kind of imagery?

I think the show gave people, not just young ones, the courage to own up to who they are. So many people have come up to me and said “Thank you for giving me the strength to come out to my family and friends.” Wow. Who knew the effect I would have?

Are you hearing from a lot of kids?

A ton! My youngest fan that I know of is 5 and my oldest is 60. And they’re both straight (well, as far as I know)! That’s crazy awesome! One of my co-workers asked if I would stop by his daughter’s soccer game and sign a few autographs for some of the girls on the team. When I got there the girls went crazy. I felt a little weird because the parents were sitting up in the bleachers and I was thinking, “Oh man, I’m gonna get the eye from them I know it!” Would you believe it that when I was done with the girls and started walking back past the parents, they started walking down and thanking me for being such a positive role model! Ha! That’s one of my favourite stories.

That’s great. Let’s segue a bit. Tell me about the first time you fell in love.

I think I was about 17. I had dated girls and guys before, but this was the one. I knew it all at that age…ya right. She blasted my heart out of my chest in less than a year and a half. It was the worst feeling ever. She cheated on me with a so-called friend. It took me a good five years before I could ever truly love someone again. I had built up huge walls around my heart because I didn’t want to feel that way again. That was a long time ago though. I still remember the day I finally didn’t love her anymore. What a relief. We see each other now and it’s like whatever. It’s like those old pictures where you have some weird-ass hairstyle and you wonder what the hell you were ever thinking.

Are you a gold star lesbian?

Maybe. Not quite sure what that was.

You’ll have to Google it. OK, one of the scenes that I liked from the show is when they went to the firehouse and she met your co-workers and stuff. And to have the big burly guys ask Tila, “What do you offer Dani?”—so sweet.

Yeah, it shows their sensitivity, and it shows how close we are, and that’s what it is. Those guys at the firehouse—and girls—we’re all really close and we care about each other.

And are you back at the firehouse now?

Yeah, I’m still working.

As a female firefighter, do you feel like you have to prove yourself on the job?

When I went to fire school I felt that way, but not so much when I got hired. I like to think my work ethic is pretty good. If something needs to be done I don’t like to bitch and moan about it. Just get ‘er done! Some of the guys will complain about being tired or whatever, but I don’t. Not because I feel I need to prove myself, I’m just a hard worker.

My fire school was Florida State Fire College and it is regarded as one of the toughest schools to attend. I guess I picked that one to prove to people if I’m gonna do this I want nothing but the best training. I graduated [as] class president and received two awards for Most Outstanding Performance (that means the physical stuff) and Highest Academic scores. Is that enough proving?

What did the other firefighters think about the show?

They loved it! I would get bombarded with questions all the time. It also gave everyone a chance to really get to understand me more. I feel a little closer to the guys and girls I work with now.

OK, one last question, since you’re now such a smash on the party circuit, what’s been your favourite event and why?

Every event I go to is great. It’s pretty much always the same thing with taking pictures and signing, but the people make it fun. I always think it can’t get better, but it does. I don’t have a favourite place, but a lot of great memories.