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Australia met Ben Zabel on Big Brother 2013. Here's what his life looks like now.

As a kid, Ben Zabel had a routine he would follow each morning before school.

“Usually while I was getting dressed I had a John Denver cassette playing in my room,” he tells Mamamia. “Then my mum would make me a Sustagen drink – she was obsessed with the idea that I had brittle bones and would just fall over one day and die – and she would chop up a banana. I would sit in my green lime beanbag in my uniform and have my Sustagen shake while I watched Agro’s Cartoon Connection.”

Now, three decades later, Zabel is working on a comedy show with Agro which they will be performing around Australia, beginning at the Brisbane Comedy Festival next month. He’s still getting used to the idea of being up so close to his childhood hero, who puppeteer Jamie Dunn has been keeping in a suitcase “for, like, 15 years”.

Side note: If reality TV interviews were honest. Post continues below.

Video by Mamamia

“Every time he gets Agro out and we do an Eskimo kiss and we rub our noses and he bites my face, I squeal. It’s so crazy!”

Zabel never imagined himself having a career in entertainment, but going on Big Brother in 2013 changed his life. The former flight attendant went along to the Brisbane Big Brother auditions purely because they were being held in the hotel ballroom where his high school formal had taken place.

“I really wanted to see it one more time,” he explains. “I’m quite a nostalgic person.”

Despite not joining in when everyone at the auditions was asked to “bark like a dog that you know” and “give your best orgasm”, Zabel somehow made it through. Once he was on Big Brother, viewers loved his quirky personality. When he came out of the house, he found that everyone was treating him differently.

“It’s so weird,” he remembers. “I felt like I’d gone to like Earth 2. People have always said to me about my snort, ‘You know, you could probably get surgery to fix that.’ I remember googling ‘snort surgery’. Then all of a sudden it was, ‘I love your snort! Your snort’s so great!’ Really?

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“I’ve always been really close with my mum and everyone always used to say, ‘I think that’s really weird, and it’s a bit Oedipus Rex, and I don’t know if that’s healthy,’ and then it was like, ‘I love you and your mum!’ It was so odd.

“And everything I said was either funny or profound.”

Zabel spent two years “doing the circuit”, and was a regular on the Nine show Mornings.

“I enjoyed what it gave me,” he says. “I’m just a working-class guy and all of a sudden you’re getting presents sent to you in the mail and getting invited to things. I was off to the ARIAs and Logies.”

Listen: Big Brother co-star Tully Smyth talks to Mamamia about the psychological impacts of reality TV. Post continues below.

Zabel went on to make the documentary Graceland Happiness Project with his former Big Brother housemate Tim Dormer. In that documentary, Zabel spoke openly about his depression and anxiety.

He also spoke openly in 2014 after being hospitalised for an overdose of prescription drugs.

Years later, people who meet him still want to talk about his depression and anxiety. It’s something he has mixed feelings about.

“People like to hear about it because it’s very common and they relate to it,” he says. “But to talk about it is not much fun. If I dwell on it then I have to go back to it. There’s so much more to me. I’m quite a joyful, odd person that gets down.

“I guess I just didn’t want to be the pin-up guy for sad.”

Life has been good for Zabel lately. He’s been a roving reporter for Studio 10. He still gets invited to openings and premieres in Brisbane, and gets to bring his mum with him.

 

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“She loves, loves, loves, loves, loves it,” he says. “A single parent brought me up. We couldn’t afford anything, couldn’t go anywhere. She had three kids on her own. She’s just loving this.”

Currently single, he’s a fan of the dating app Grindr – although he keeps getting banned for impersonating himself.

“It’s happened more than 12 times. It’s ridiculous! Why wouldn’t I impersonate cute people like Matthew Mitcham or Joel Creasey? Why would impersonate some bald guy off a show from years ago?

“I get all these messages: ‘You should be disgusted with yourself, impersonating Ben from Big Brother. Ben from Big Brother wouldn’t be caught dead on an app like this.’ Ex-reality contestants want sex too!”

Zabel has a day job too, working in data input and analysis, which he loves.

“I’m a real geek and a nerd and an introvert,” he explains. “It’s just nice to be able to hide.”

He has a complicated relationship with being in the spotlight. He’s not out there hustling for gigs in entertainment – people just offer them to him.

“I don’t have an agent! They message me on Instagram.”

Although he’s had plenty of success in his life, he says he finds it much easier to deal with failure.

“Whenever anything good comes my way, I think, ‘Oh God, now I’m going to have to have a car accident or someone I know is going to have to die.’

“My whole life, I never expected anything good to happen to me, ever.”

Feature Image: Facebook / Instagram.

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