Dustin Erikstrup is ready to resume his normal life: studying at Columbia College, working at a shoe store and enjoying quiet evenings at his Edgewater home with his cat.
The spotlight of CBS-TV’s bright lights and countless cameras inside the Big Brother 8 house, where he lived with from early July through mid-September, are gone. So, too, is his ex-boyfriend, Joe Barber II, who also was a participant in the popular reality show, which was broadcast live three times a week: Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“The whole Big Brother experience was unforgettable,” said Erikstrup, an Eagan, Minn., native who has lived on Chicago’s north side for the past five years. “It was a lot of fun, challenging at times, nerve-wracking, annoying and slightly stressful, too.
“Going in, I had expectations of how it would go, and having [ to deal with ] my ex and [ fellow housemate ] Danielle Donato, who was personally degrading to pretty much everyone in the house, made things a little more stressful and, thus, a little more high-intensity than I was expecting.
“Being around, and having situations with, people who I normally would never be around definitely was an experience I’ll never forget.”
Erikstrup ultimately was evicted from the house by a 4-2 vote on Day 48, becoming the first member of the show’s jury.
Richard Louis “Evil Dick” Donato, a 44-year-old bar manager from Los Angeles ( and Danielle’s father ) , was ultimately crowned the winner of Big Brother 8 and the recipient of $500,000. The elder Donato ( who faced his daughter in the final ) received five of seven votes for the title, including Erikstrup’s.
“Living in the liberal bubble that is Chicago, I kind of think everyone is like us. But not so. There were a lot of stubborn people [ in the house ] ,” Erikstrup said. “Not winning [ the grand prize ] was not as big of a let-down, as I thought it would be. I made it to the jury house, which was a goal of mine, so I was able to live out the experience to its fullest.
“Going home when I did, and how I did, was kind of disappointing. But, at the same time, I didn’t have any hard feelings because it’s a game and everyone has to do what they have to do. I felt OK about [ the ending ] .”
Erikstrup said the best part of the show was “seeing all of the different walks of life and learning from other people’s life experiences, along with the [ in-depth ] one-on-one conversations.” The worst part was not being allowed to listen to music, ever.
And seeing his ex also on the show, well, wasn’t too enjoyable either—particularly because of their bitter break-up.
Barber, a longtime Big Brother fan, applied for the show and listed Erikstrup as his arch-rival. After they split, Erikstrup moved away from Barber and changed his phone numbers. But the show’s producers were intent on finding Erikstrup, to be one of three nemeses on the show—to stir things up within the house. The producers searched phone books across the country, eventually finding his family in Minnesota—and his dad gave the producers Dustin’s cell-phone number.
They immediately called and said that they wanted him to appear on Big Brother.
“I [ then ] had no idea that Joe had applied for the show, but I found out soon enough,” he said.
Erikstrup admitted that he thought it was “strange” that they asked him to appear on the show, particularly because Barber was the diehard fan, “but I do have friends who work in the entertainment industry, including some who have worked on previous seasons [ of Big Brother ] , so I didn’t know if they had recommended me or what.
“Yeah, I thought it was odd, but I just thought it was the luck of the draw.”
Erikstrup said there “definitely was a moment of shock,” when he first spotted Barber. The two hadn’t spoken in a year.
“It was a moment of, ‘Oh, crap; I’m gonna have to see this guy again,’” Erikstrup said.
Barber, a 23-year-old receptionist from Chicago, was the second houseguest evicted.
“We’re not on speaking terms [ today ] , but we don’t hate each other. I guess we’ll be civil because of this new, shared experience,” Erikstrup said. ( Barber was unavailable for comment for this story. )
“I’m extremely glad that I did Big Brother,” Erikstrup said. “I have no regrets by any means. But would I do it again? I don’t know; everything sort of happened at the right place, at the right time the first time, so I don’t necessarily see it happening again.”
Erikstrup’s best friends on the show were Amber Siyavus and Jameka Cameron.
Danielle Donato was the houseguest he liked the least. “I couldn’t stand her. She was maybe the most negative person I’ve ever met in my whole life,” he said.
Erikstrup and Barber were the only LGBT houseguests, Erikstrup added.
Erikstrup, who returned to Chicago in mid-October and resumed working at the aforementioned shoe store at the end of the month, does not have any other acting roles coming up, though he is now looking for representation. “I’m just going back to life as normal, hanging out in the city, spending time with my cat. Back to the simple life: work, school, the everyday routine,” he said. “A lot of people go on reality shows to try and make a reality career, or hope it’s a stepping-stone to more [ acting ] roles. But, for me this more or less was just an opportunity to make a lot of money.”
Erikstrup is also single—and looking.
“I look for a mature, responsible man, someone who doesn’t like to go out partying five nights a week. Personally, I like a quiet night in. And, he has to be able to put up with me,” he said. “Most of the gay men who I meet are hard-partying, young men who don’t really have their priorities straight. I’ve found it real hard to meet somebody who is down-to-earth, genuine, mature and responsible.
“My theory on my love life is: when it happens, it happens. And everything happens for a reason. I wouldn’t really say I’m out on a quest looking for [ a boyfriend ] , but if he’d cross my path now, I’d be interested.”
Getting To Know … Dustin Erikstrup
Resides in: Chicago ( Edgewater neighborhood )
Hobbies: The beach, working out, crossword puzzles, movies, hiking and museums
Favorite movie: The Beach
Favorite museum: Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art.
On the celebrity status: “It’s flattering at all times.”
Why Chicago?: “Because it’s not as expensive as New York and not as ugly as Los Angeles. I feel very comfortable in Chicago.”
On his bar life: Admits he’s a Roscoe’s patron, “but once the night gets late and I get a few cocktails in me, you can usually find me at Berlin, dancing until 5 [ in the morning ] .”
On who the real Dustin is: “Funny, sarcastic, out-going, down-to-earth and a good listener”