What’s with Oprah, The Price is Right and the Olive Garden? Zach Anner, comedian and winner of Your Own Show: Oprah’s Search for the Next TV Star shows us in his offbeat travel series Rollin’ with Zach. The series debuts on OWN beginning Monday, Dec. 12 and will air through December on Mondays at 8pm ET/PT.
Anner, who has cerebral palsy, became an Internet sensation with his quick smarts (he did an impromptu interview with Oprah that got national attention) and comic flare (in a hilarious audition tape where he cited himself as having “cerebral palsy – the sexiest of the palsies”).
Out of 15,000 people who auditioned for Your Own Show: Oprah’s Search for the Next TV Star, Anner was one of 10 who were plucked from obscurity and competed in the X-episode series. He and Kristina Kuzmic won their own shows (Kuzmic’s show is The Ambush Cook).
In Rollin with Zach, he explores the country, meeting people, indulging in the foods of the area and attempting experiences he never dreamed possible. Last week Anner talked to us about his about many things:
Tell us about the show’s format.
The structure of the show is me trying to do my top five things in each city. Five things I think everyone will find interesting and really fun. We wanted to present the city in a different and fun way. Even the things we do that our normal touristy things to do, we try and get another angle on them. Like in Chicago, I went water skiing and that had some great moments in it. We went to Willis Tower and Greek Fest. We tried to really connect with the people rather than just highlight the places because I find that’s where the story is.
Did people recognize you?
I got recognized on the street a lot more than I thought I would. Everyone is really, really positive. It seems like this is an idea that people got behind and are exciting about. Everyone was coming up to me and saying, “I voted for you.” It’s really humbling when something like that happens.
Any city that you liked better or were you were recognized more, maybe Chicago with Oprah’s roots?
Let me tell you about Chicago. I had the most fun there because people did not just recognize me, they would want to hug me. And they would want pictures. Chicago in the summertime is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, honestly, some of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. I was constantly turning my head. I was trying to be a TV host but was constantly distracted.
The first episode you tour is Los Angeles. I have to admit you had me worried when you went surfing.
Did I not look like a surfing professional? I’ll spoil it for you — I survived it. Honestly, that was incredible. I honestly didn’t know that I’d be able to surf, that was something I just automatically crossed off my list, so when they brought it up I was like “Hell yes, we’ve got to do it.” People made sure I was safe and that I was not attacked by a shark, so it was all gravy.
Also in that episode you visited the Price is Right; tell us why that was on your list.
I use to be sick a lot as a kid and that was the show I would always watch that would take my mind off that. It’s just like an institution; part of our culture now and it was something that I wanted to see. Just being able to go back stage and see that, and actually hold a Plinko chip was like holding the Holy Grail. Those things are like hand painted and they only have like 10 of them. I was going to steal one but they have those on lockdown there were like lasers around them. The coolest thing is, they actually gave me a piece of the staircase, like one of the railings from the Plinko staircase. I literally slept with it that night, for real.
So where is it now?
I don’t sleep with it. It’s in its own shrine now. It was, honestly, it was like sleeping with a piece of TV history.
Any chance the series will go longer than the six episodes?
The plan is to get a billion people to watch this one. I’ve got a perfect plan for this to happen. If you tell five people and they tell five people and then that person tells five people, all of sudden were at a billion people. That’s what I figured out. I did the formula in my head and that’s what we need to do. Getting this opportunity was incredible so whatever happens is all golden with me. Love to do it again. I think the show can reach a lot of people and inspire them to get off the couch and go travel.
You had said that you struggled, where you found it hard to accept that you deserve this opportunity. Why did you feel that way?
I always had a really supportive family. It took a little while for me to find my path. The way to use the skill sets I have, to actually make a positive difference. There’s nothing more rewarding than the feeling when you finally found the way you can positively affect people. Much of my life people have been really supportive of me and I’ve relied on them, but to find something that I can actually give back feels extraordinary. And to be given the opportunity by Oprah, who I have so much respect for, it was a little out of the realm of reality for me for awhile. I think we all kind of struggle when we get something that’s so wonderful, it’s like there are so many deserving people with great ideas, and I was just the one that had the skills and luck. I feel really blessed.
What’s it like to be part of the Oprah club? You on her holiday gift card list now?
I think being chosen by Oprah, it’s kind of; it’s a big responsibility. You know how much Oprah means to people and what she represents so it’s kind of upholding those values and being lucky to be chosen by somebody that represents so many strong ideas and has done so many great things for people. I think I also get like a 20 percent discount on Oprah merchandise. (I doubt that’s true.) It’s great. It’s been a wonderful experience all together.
John Mayer did the theme song for your series, how did that come about?
My video blew up on the Internet, the wonderful Internet. John posted something about me on his blog and then I posted a note thanking him and the Internet for championing me. He put a video up saying if I won the show he’d write my theme song, and he’s just been such a wonderful gentleman and so awesome. He came through. He’s a man of his word. I think the song is awesome – it really captures the spirit of everything we were trying to do. When I heard that I almost fell out of my chair. I’m just totally grateful.
So what’s the deal with you and the Olive Garden?
The Olive Garden and I have had a long relationship — it’s a complicated one. I love me some Olive Garden. I like to champion the Olive Garden as the Mecca of all restaurants for some reason because I think it’s kind of funny because it’s a place we all like to go but it’s hard to figure out why that places over every other place. I think it has some aura, some ancient wisdom it holds in the breadsticks that you can’t figure out. I’ve gotten kicked out of almost three Olive Gardens because I do a web series called The Wingmen and one of them the plot point is that my character takes his prospective love interest to the Olive Garden with a film crew but the film crew can’t stay at the Olive Garden so we get kicked out twice, and then I almost got kicked out of the Olive Garden trying to do this show. I love the Olive Garden but the Olive Garden is not so keen on me. I’m so vocal about my love for the Olive Garden, that why wouldn’t they be excited about that and like give me a card where I can eat there for free. I just don’t understand why we haven’t had a professional relationship at this point.
Rollin’ with Zach airs on OWN Mondays at 8pm ET/PT beginning Dec. 12.