Osher Günsberg: the TV host on anxiety, dating and if there'll be a gay Bachelor

After years on reality TV helping contestants through vulnerable moments, The Bachelor host tells Brigid Delaney about his own experiences of opening up

The best television hosts are, in many ways, the most bland. They are the filler between the contestants, the banter before the ad break; they conduct the benign interviews with those about to be booted off the show. In the role of television host, it’s necessary to skate smoothly along the surface.

It’s notable then that one of Australia’s most enduring and successful TV hosts also openly chronicles his emotional and mental challenges with a bracing frankness.

Last year Osher Günsberg, 44, formerly known as Andrew G and host of The Bachelor Australia franchises and Australian Idol, published a book about his struggles with and triumphs over mental illness. Back, After the Break chronicles addiction, divorce, body image, isolation, delusions and recovery.

It’s a bestseller, and Günsberg has been able to reach a large audience through his podcast, speaking gigs and television roles. His signing queues after speaking events would make most writers weep with envy, but his great gift as a writer and a speaker is to make people feel less alone.

Even now he is surprised at the book’s reception. “I’m white cis-het [cisgender heterosexual] male that grew up in a suburb in Brisbane,” he tells Guardian Australia. “Now, I’m getting all sorts of people saying ‘this was just like me’, and it’s spooky.”

He says his book has not just helped people with mental illness but also their friends and family.

“People say, ‘I never understood the person in my life who was going through anxiety, depression or drinking’. I’ve had the most extraordinary, touching conversations with people after the shows. Wives saying about their husbands, ‘I never understood that person until I read your book’.”

So why has Günsberg’s story resonated with so many people?

“I’m writing about a vulnerable subject – living with a brain that isn’t 100%,” he says. “I started talking about it on my podcast years before and as I got better at it, and the more powerfully I stood when I talked about this, the safer it was to listen and the safer it made people feel about considering their own situation. Previously, anyone talking about a less-than-superbly functioning emotional system had a fair bit of stigma. But its self-stigma. People are really hard on themselves.”

Günsberg is so open about his struggles with addiction and mental illness that on Tuesday night in Sydney he is giving a lecture for the School of Life on the topic of vulnerability. He will also be a guest at All About Women in March, appearing on a panel discussing toxic masculinity.

“I’m no anthropologist but I feel that deep within our survival code there’s an awareness that showing weakness is bad for our survival,” he says.

American researcher Brené Brown has argued in her wildly popular books and TED talks that vulnerability is a key to living an authentic life. But Günsberg says that the pressure to be vulnerable can be yet another difficult task for people who are already struggling. “Just getting out of the house can be a gigantic task for some people. It might be all you can do to look someone in the eye.”

Günsberg’s life is full of positivity: last week he announced that he is about to become a father (he is also a stepdad to his wife’s first child) and he is busy in pre-production for the next series of The Bachelor. But he says he still has to work hard to maintain a good mental state, and some days are better than others.

His coping strategies include vigorous exercise. “I get on my bike and train. I am better to be around and I’m better in my own head. It’s not a secret that our bodies are designed to move. For me, dealing with anxiety is about a lack of control. So we can control what we eat, we can control how much we sleep, we can control how much our bodies move, and who we spend time with, we can control how we feel about things. By trying to get control over these things, the less we feel that the world is spinning away from us.”

But does Günsberg perceive a conflict between his role as a mental health ambassador – especially as a director of mental health charity SANE – and the reality television shows he hosts, such as The Bachelor? After all, last year’s Bachelor Nick Cummins emerged from the show saying he had “never been in a mental space as low” as during his time there.

Günsberg (r) with The Bachelor Australia’s 2017 bachelor, Matty J.
Günsberg, right, with The Bachelor Australia’s 2017 bachelor, Matty J. Photograph: Network Ten

“I see the amount of support that people on the show get. The executive team and editorial production crew are largely women and the support we have on set is huge. So many women in that mansion are wearing something other than a ballgown,” Günsberg says.

While some viewers may squirm at the often traditional and binary dynamics that play out in the mansion, Günsberg – who believes he is not typical of mainstream Australia, as he’s “a left-leaning vegan coeliac doing an interview with the Guardian” – says the show reflects what’s happening in the world. “What I find really powerful about the show [is] you are able to take that stuff and then have a conversation about it. It’s such a popular program because it opens up discussion. It allows us to feel less alone in that [dating] experience.”

Dating can suck, hard. Günsberg has his own horror stories of online dating after his first marriage broke down. “I hated it so much. I was in LA and I was single, using an app. Three out of four women had boyfriends or husbands and they were like, ‘My boyfriend is away.’ And I was like ‘What?’ It was absolutely awful.”

He has also noticed a “fascinating” double standard in response to The Bachelor shows, when outcry followed the depiction of a woman kissing multiple men, and then a deafening silence when a man kissed multiple women.

So when will there be a gay Bachelor? And would he host it?

Günsberg is enthusiastic about the prospect. “I would love it if we could make a gay Bachelor. I think it might take off. I have nothing to do with the casting of our shows and we are limited by who applies, yet overall the diversity in casting in Australian television has changed so much in five years. We are starting to move the needle in that direction. I feel that the path to same sex reality-TV dating starts with showing more diversity across the board, and it’s really encouraging to see this happening already, not only in reality but in drama and in advertising.”

Osher Günsberg is giving his talk On Vulnerability, co-presented by The School of Life and Dumbo Feather, in Sydney on Tuesday 19 February and in Melbourne on Thursday 21 February. He will also appear at the Sydney Opera House’s All About Women festival

Contributor

Brigid Delaney

The GuardianTramp

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