From Bull to 'Big Brother'
Reality TV star and UB alum Mark Jansen aims to inspire after 'Big Brother' fame
Some stars are born. Others are self-made.
Mark Jansen, a UB alum and “Big Brother 19” contestant, was built in Alumni Gym. Jansen graduated from UB in 2013 and tried out for “Big Brother,” a popular reality show where contestants compete in challenges and live together in a house under constant surveillance. He tried out four consecutive years before CBS finally casted him in 2017 to compete for $500,000.
But before competing in the “Big Brother” house, Jansen competed at UB Stadium as a Bull.
“I played football freshman year. I walked on in ’09 with [Coach] Turner Gill. Then [Coach Jeff] Quinn came in and the program changed a lot,” Jansen said. “I never loved football that much. I just wanted to play a Division-I sport. And I was huge. I was like 330 [pounds] at the time. It was a great experience but it just wasn’t for me.”
Jansen took to partying and switched majors from accounting to finance after his time with the Bulls. He took the “easy way out” of the accounting program and discovered his love for fitness.
Jansen felt like he lived in Alumni Arena. He went every day after class, taking his shirt off and acting like a “clown.” Jansen found shelter in the facility.
Jansen acquired the confidence he exuded on CBS through his fitness ventures in Alumni and his time at UB. That confidence did not come to Jansen naturally though.
Jansen was a victim of bullying growing up in Buffalo in middle school and high school. It took a toll on his emotional health and resurfaced in the “Big Brother” house.
Runner-up Paul Abrahamian would rally the other houseguests and trash-talk Jansen’s friend Cody Nickson throughout the season. Jansen was often considered guilty by association.
Abrahamian requested winner Josh Martinez to “bring out the pots and pans.” Martinez smashed cookware together to provoke other cast members, especially Jansen.
“I wasn’t expecting the bullying thing. I wasn’t expecting to start crying [on the show] because I was bullied 10-12 years ago,” Jansen said.“I was bullied before but I could go to the gym, a place that just makes me happy and clear my head. I look the way that I do so I’m not really dealing with too much harassment these days. But in the house I’m letting Josh do this because I can’t do anything. If I take action then I’m threatened to get kicked out for putting my hands on him. So I just sit there. It was awful.”
Jansen found an ally in Elena Davies, a Texas-native and fellow houseguest. The two made it far in the season by using Jansen’s competitive nature and Davies’ communicative skills.
Davies and Jansen developed a “showmance” that continued after the cameras stopped rolling.
Davies found it difficult to watch the show and hear the things the rest of the cast said behind her back on national television.
“I found out about things that were said about me that were completely unrelated, have nothing to do with the game, were untrue about me and very hateful on the live feeds,” Davies said. “400,000 people have now watched them tear me down as a person.”
Davies and Jansen received feedback from fans who were inspired by their honest approach to the game after the show aired. This was worth more than the half-million dollar prize to Jansen and Davies.
“I had a letter sent to the CBS studios that they shipped to me after with all my ‘Big Brother’ stuff,” Jansen said. “It was a guy who was bullied his whole life and is gay. He used to get beat in school and teachers would watch. And then he’s like ‘I really hope I can call you a friend because you’d be my first straight friend.’ I have never been brought to tears from a letter. It just really hit me.”
Jansen is looking forward to future endeavors. He plans on moving to Texas with Davies to start a fitness training and motivational speaking program.
The program, Jansen said, will fall under the umbrella MJ Fitness Lifestyle on MarkJansenFitness.com and will launch on Nov. 1.
Many college sports coaches have reached out for Jansen to speak to their students, but Jansen has his sights set on returning to UB.
He wants to give a speech and inspire UB students just like he inspired thousands of fans on television.
Brenton Blanchet is the assistant arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.