We last encountered Zach Anner in February when he was graced with his own show thanks to the Queen of Talk – Oprah Winfrey herself. Anner, who has cerebral palsy (“the sexiest of the palsies”) and uses a wheelchair to get around, aspired to create a travel show as part of Oprah’s Your OWN Show competition. His hilarious audition videos were quick to go viral, easily winning over the Internet.
Over the past nine months, Anner’s show has filmed in six cities across the country: Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Portland. NewsFeed caught up with Anner as he took a break from his whirlwind travel schedule. The fruits of his labor will premiere tonight, Dec. 12, on Rollin’ With Zach on OWN.
NewsFeed: How has your life changed since you won the competition?
Zach Anner: Still in my wheelchair, obviously, but I have my own show and, it was more than anything I could have even dreamed. We did some pretty intense stuff: I went rock climbing and surfing. And in New York City – it may not sound terrifying to you, but it was to me – I did stand-up comedy at Caroline’s. It was all about finding the most interesting and fun ways to challenge myself and highlight the personality of each city. There were a lot of laughs – a lot of laughs showing embarrassing situations as well. Some of them are in there, and some of them the editors were kind enough to leave out.
So you’re saying there’s some sort of epic blooper reel?
There is a blooper reel somewhere to end all blooper reels. And strangely enough I only had to get down into my underwear once.
What’s the toughest part of being a TV host?
It’s long days. But it’s long days of doing awesome stuff. So you can’t get too overwhelmed. I’ll have a 16-hour day where I waterski and eat ice cream and things like that, and I think it’s probably the best job in the world. My job is to communicate the great time I’m having so that the audience feels it at home. Television is getting better and better with 3-D and all, and eventually they’ll just be there with me to experience this. But until then, that’s my job: to bring the fun.
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What was the process like of shipping from city to city?
I wasn’t shipped in a crate – I went on a plane, so that was nice. But going from city to city was interesting, because the initial concept for the show was embracing all those travel hitches when it doesn’t go perfectly right. In New York, we actually had the door of the van that I travel in almost fall off, and it had to be taped to the side. When that happened everyone was panicking, but I would be like “Yes! This is perfect!”
What was your favorite experience?
I can’t pick that – it’s impossible. That’s like picking my one favorite kid – and probably harder, because everyone secretly has a favorite child, they just won’t say. But I will tell you the most terrifying experience: stand-up comedy in New York. It was terrifying: you, 200 people, and TV cameras. New Yorkers, the people are so honest. If you’re sucking on stage, they’ll let you know.
So that was quite a mental challenge. What about the physical challenges?
I did a whole dance routine with a dance troupe in L.A. and went surfing. We were always trying to do things that would push the limit a little bit. Rock climbing was definitely scary, but I made it. We’re always trying to find a safe way to do dangerous things – I think that’s the paradox of life.
Did you encounter any danger?
We were shooting at Lombard Street [the famous street of hairpin turns in San Francisco] filming a standup shot. At the end of it, we were going to go down the street, but my treads started giving out. The crew was like, “OK, you’ve gotta stop.” It was a beautiful view, but had I died they would have had a bit of trouble recasting the show.
How do you think viewers will respond to the show?
Hopefully the audience will see some really cool experiences and they’ll be changed. Grandmothers will want to learn how to surf. She’ll say, “I’m gonna go out on the ocean now,” and we’ll be like, “Good job Grandma, hang ten!” So that’s hopefully what people get from it: despite challenges, they can go out and do really cool stuff.
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Did the show change your perspective on America?
The response to this show has reiterated that anything is possible, with great support and great friends. This country is pretty amazing. Most people are really dedicated to doing good things. My stance has always been that my issue compared to everything else going on in the world is really, really small. Once you realize that, you can get a lot more out of being a part of the solution.
And sometimes the goodness in the world revolves around a simple milkshake. In tonight’s debut episode of Rollin’ With Zach, he visits Los Angeles to pay homage to the silver screen. There’s a stop at The Price Is Right, a surfing adventure and a Zach-inspired milkshake. Watch the exclusive clip below, and tune in to the premiere tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern and Pacific on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network.