Exclusive Interview: VH1's Tool Academy Lesbians
For two seasons, audiences have been irresistibly drawn to VH1’s dysfunction-fest, Tool Academy, in which girlfriends desperate to change their partners' “toolish” ways—which include everything from infidelity, compulsive lying, compulsive tanning and general obnoxious alpha male behavior—trick their partners into enrolling in their last chance for change, the Tool Academy. The show promises to help them see the error of their ways and become better men as well as partners.
We here at Curve have been secretly watching every episode since it began airing, whispering about our guilty pleasure, decrying the behavior of the tools and shaking our heads in wonder at the women who stay with them. However, when it was announced that season three of the series would not only include female tools—or “toolettes” if you prefer—but that one of the ladies was half of a lesbian couple, this news was greeted with a collective gasp of relief that we could finally come out of the guilty pleasure closet and justify our watching with bated breath as a professional interest.
When the show premiered, we were introduced to Courtney Barcellos (the tool) and Cheron Wilson (the fed up girlfriend) who had tricked her partner into applying for a fictitious game show that promised contestants a chance to become the “Party Ambassador of Mexico.” Courtney quickly revealed a number of infidelities in on-camera confessionals, as well as in footage caught on hidden camera. However, the two vowed to try and work it out and carry on. Unfortunately, after only four short episodes, Barcellos was declared "just a tool" and ousted from the house. The episode concluded with Wilson ending the relationship and Barcellos swearing not to give up on them.
We recently caught up with the couple—yep, that’s right the two are back together—to hear their side of the story. They share about falling in love, what it was like to have their relationship under the microscope, facing infidelity and if a tool can ever really change their toolish ways.
First of all, let me ask you, how did you end up on the show? Did you reach out to VH1?
Cheron Wilson: Well, it’s funny because Courtney and I had watched the second season together, and I was thinking in the back of my mind, like, Hmm. Courtney can be a tool at times. I wonder if she’d learn anything. [Laughs] I did like, a video interview kind of thing. I sent it in. They liked me, they liked the story…So I convinced Courtney to go. She was all gung ho about it.
Courtney Barcellos: I signed up for the show to be this party ambassador, you know—travel around the world and party, do things that I enjoy: beautiful women, alcohol, awesome. I guess I should’ve been suspicious that she was OK with me leaving to go drink with other women in a different country. So I signed up, got on, thought I got on because I can be insane at times and next thing I know I’m enrolled in a whole different show.
Well what went through your head when the water exploded and the sign popped up and said you were on Tool Academy?
Barcellos: The sign wasn’t even that scary. It was the water—it sounded like we were at war, it was so damn loud. It just shot up and it got us all with water. Some people wanted to walk off. Me, I was too stunned [to] know what the hell to do. And then the sign pops up and as far as I knew the show was only for men—so that’s even more of a punch in the gut.
Cheron, you mentioned how they were sort of intrigued by the story of how you guys met. Can you tell me a little bit about how you guys met?
Wilson: I had a couple gay friends on the coast, and they were like, Come out with us, because I had just…got divorced from my husband, so I was not having a good time, and they were like, Come out with us, we’re going to a bar—it’s a gay night. It’s a lot of fun. And I’m like, OK. I have a lot of gay friends. I’ve never been in a gay relationship, but I know they’re a lot of fun. So, I started drinking, and Courtney pulled me onto the dance floor, and we started dancing and we talked and we just really hit it off. She was really cool and charismatic. She made me feel really comfortable, and we had chemistry.
Was this is your first same-sex relationship?
Wilson: In college I had an experience with another woman, but it was more like, a curious kind of thing. There was something about Courtney—you know, in the past men had treated me horribly, and I figured, you know, why not try something new? At least give it a chance, because I had a curiosity about it. It worked the first couple of months, and then it started going downhill.
Courtney, do you think she was drawn to your player ways? Or is that something, when you meet a girl, you keep low-key?
Barcellos: I’ve got this smile and the smooth talking. No, I’m just joking. Forever doomed with women, awesome. We had a great conversation and…there was just some natural chemistry that was there. Of course I’m sure I threw out probably 20 lines at her. I’ll be honest, the first time we met was a very drunken moment. Like, you’re at a bar. It’s not like I’m ordering water on the rocks back-to-back.
Wilson: I think a lot of women like that bad girl, bad boy type thing. They like that, the chase. So I think a little bit of that—Courtney portrayed that, and it intrigued me a little. But you know, she has a soft side too. And you don’t really see that on the show a lot, but she does have a soft side.
Gotcha. Well, Cheron, you know obviously you had some suspicions, or you wouldn’t have gone onto the show. Were you surprised when you saw some of her antics?
Wilson: Oh yeah. I had my suspicions, so I mentally had prepared myself. But nothing is like seeing it. You can try all you want, to think about the “what ifs,” and brace yourself, but…when I watched what she did, it just broke me, entirely.
What was it about your relationship—about Courtney—that made you stick it out and to go through the process?
Wilson: After I saw the videos and stuff, I was about to leave. Like after the first episode, I wanted to leave. I didn’t want to work it out. But I’m like, You know I try to…I already flew all the way to Cancun…and I don’t just want to give up. I want to give her a chance to try and work on it. Because I believe that people can change if they are willing to do it. So I wanted to see what she was willing to go through.
Were you glad that she decided to try and stick it out? Or were you surprised?
Wilson: Um, I was a little surprised she stayed, but you know, I think she generally loved me throughout the relationship, but I just didn’t know to what extent.
You two were the first gay couple to ever be on the series. Did you feel a lot of pressure to sort of represent?
Barcellos: Yeah, besides being told I’m a tool, which is its own happy little ending. To have to sit there and realize [that], Yeah, I’m representing not only women—cause I was only one of two [female] tools—I’m representing the whole gay community too. We get overshadowed, and these negative connotations are already put about us and here I’m not really helping the fact that if I can better myself, maybe I can put a better light on and show that yeah, I’m gay but I’m normal and my relationship has the same exact problems as yours does. It’s just with a female. I tried to help to use it as an eye-opener for more people.
Wilson: I did feel a lot of pressure, only because nobody knew that I was in a relationship with Courtney. My family didn’t know, my friends didn’t know. It was very secretive. Her family didn’t know she was gay. So it was hard to go on there and say, Yes we are in a gay relationship, and then on top of that, we’re also representing the gay community. Yeah, it was a lot of pressure.
Barcellos: There’s definitely huge concern because before the show I hadn’t come out to all my family. And I hadn’t come out to all my friends. I just go off of the assumption that people just know and I’ll just let them figure it out on their own…It was a huge battle in the back of my head constantly…So yeah, that was always in the back of my head. I come from a very conservative family.
Did it sort of force you to come out?
Barcellos: That was another trouble was, do I tell all of my family before the show airs? Do I let them find out by the show, like, Oh yeah, you didn’t know? The hardest one was after the show and I came out to my grandmother because my grandmother is the most important woman in my life. I did it after the show taped but before the show aired. Being able to do that was hard but the most rewarding thing because the show gave me the strength to do it.
Have you been getting recognized?
Barcellos: It is different to have all these people reaching out to me over every Internet source you possibly can. Or going down to West Hollywood. I’ve gone down there a few times with friends and I’ve had a lot of gay boys come up to me like, Can we take your picture? We love you!
Wilson: Yeah, I mean here and there people recognize me. But I think—a lot of the responses are negative, because there is so much drama in this season that a lot of people are like, There is no way that these people are like this. They have to be made up, you know? But for the most part I’m just hoping that people will just recognize that gay couples are just like regular couples.
Right. And part of the show is having these intense couples therapy sessions that really require you to be vulnerable on camera.
Wilson: Well, let me tell you. That was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through in my life. [Laughs] It was like boot camp. It was brutal. I mean not only are you putting your emotions out there for everybody to see, but you also have to listen to everybody else’s situation. I mean, we were in those chairs all day.
Barcellos: [Being] put under a magnifying glass—holy hell. That’s when my guard started to break down, because I’m not a crier, and anybody that watched the first episode saw me fight with myself, trying to fight the tears. I hate crying, and you got [the therapist] Trina giving you that dead-on look, like I dare you to lie. I’ll call your ass out of it, if you lie. I honestly thought it was going to be a lot easier than it was because when I think of reality TV, beforehand I thought of fake and scripts, and people prepared, but no—everything that came out of my mouth was honest, I wasn’t fed anything. It was intense. It opened up a whole different level of me that I’ve never decided to get in touch with.
Were you surprised sort of by the affect that it did ultimately have on you?
Barcellos: Oh yeah. I used to be so good at turning emotion on and off and not feeling and totally controlling whatever happens, like emotionally to me and then getting in there and realizing that this is still a competition, and the only way I have a chance of staying in is if I open up all this different stuff. And if I wanna take this seriously I need to go through all the motions of it.
Was there a lot of opportunity for you guys to just have a cathartic moment back at the house after these brutal sessions—especially after the infidelity discussion?
Wilson: That day was I think the hardest for everybody. So we all just went back to the house and started drinking and talking about it and, it got emotional at times, and we got pissed, and then we got really happy. Like, Let’s not talk about it anymore. [Laughs]
Gotcha. So, you know, obviously the craziness extended beyond the therapy sessions and back into the houses. Which one of you two do you think has lived in the craziest house?
Wilson: You know, I think the tools' house is probably a lot more emotional. I mean, emotions were running high in both houses, but I think when you’re living with a bunch of alpha people…they get all competitive, so things can get really, really crazy. But, you know, we did have our spats at the girls’ house. In a house full of women and one guy, there’s going to be some drama.
Barcellos: It was hard to live with a bunch of dudes. I’m an alpha female, so it was just weird to be around male versions of me walking around the house, and I don’t know, in the back of my head I was worried about Cheron, like I wondered what it’s like over there? If it gets bad is she gonna hit somebody, because that’s what I’m thinking over here. I had it worse. She had it really easy.
There was definitely a lot of ego in that house, and I think one of the finest Tool Academy moments was watching you crush Chasyn’s ego in that wrestling match. How did it feel to just put him in his place like that?
Barcellos: Oh man…Chasyn should never come back to wrestling. He just kind of chose a lose-lose situation. One, he agreed to wrestle a girl, even if I was as big as Chyna. You’re still bad, you’re wrestling a girl and then you got beat by a girl. I would never go back to wrestling, I’d probably move to another country.
I noticed that Jennavecia takes a lot of heat from the other guys in the house, did you have any of that?
Barcellos: I was more or less on an equal playing field with them. They didn’t see me as a threat because one, I’m not attracted to any of them and two, if I’m chill enough to be in the house with them and get along with them they just kind of figured she was. With Jennavecia they were, as you can see in the show, they were all over her in Mexico. And to get to the house and be like, Oh shit I gotta live with this girl from here on was a different show.
Seems like they wanted to pass the blame.
Barcellos: Yeah. And she has that outspoken—excuse my language—don’t give a fuck type of attitude so it’s easy to go on. You know, I have my own thoughts on her. But it’s just one of those things, where it’s much easier to pass the blame after you were hitting on her and grabbing her and kissing her. Then all a sudden you hear what she has to say on her little video or whatever and you just call her a slut, and oh she was all over me. It’s just one of those things where an excuse—I’ve used that excuse. Like, Oh she was just a slut. I was not trying to get on that.
Cheron, were you ever concerned about Courtney and Jennavecia living in the same house?
Wilson: I think I was worried at first, knowing Courtney’s history, but um, [she] is not cute. She is not good looking. She’s trashy and slutty and as far as I am concerned—Courtney has never dated a girl like that… I found out when we are on the show that she was on Bad Girls Club and I was like, Go figure. She was raised in a brothel, for crying out loud. I was just surprised that on the show Kyle stuck with it that long, you know?
Did you see her when she was on The Bad Girls Club? Were you familiar with her antics?
Barcellos: No. I had never watched The Bad Girls Club and then, you know, it was mentioned. She admitted to it. And I had heard of The Bad Girls Club and I just laughed. And then when I got home I watched it and I laughed even harder. Jennavceia’s so far from my type of woman. I like women that look like models and have a personality.
Courtney, the show starts off really focused on your behavior but not very much about you as a person. What would you like the audience to know that maybe they’re not going to get from the show?
Barcellos: In the first episode I came off as such an ass. And I was cracking myself up watching myself. Holy hell, Courtney. You’re crazy at times. And I’m actually a reserved, very caring person. When I let someone in my life I will care about them and take care of them the best I can. But most people would never guess that, especially after seeing the show.
Has the show been a positive influence in your life?
Barcellos: The show helped me realize that I do have what would be described as foolish ways. I’ve learned a lot about myself and it’s helped me be more comfortable. I’ve known that I’ve been gay for years and years and years and with some people if I felt semi-comfortable with them would be like, Oh yeah bi…and then down the road be like, Oh yeah I’m lesbian, I only like women. So the show gave me the strength and the willingness to really accept who I am. It’s been the most rewarding thing. The show is intense and I do want to become a better person.
Wilson: I’m a lot stronger of a person. I have a backbone now. I’m not going to continue letting people walk all over me. I really found myself because before the show, I was kinda lost. I got out of a divorce a year ago and then I jump into another relationship with a woman. The show really, really helped. The therapy with Trina was amazing and you get to bond with other women—and men—that are experiencing the same thing that you are. So you know you’re not alone.
So having gone through the experience, you’re an expert. Do you a think a tool can change its ways? Does a tool change its stripes?
Barcellos: Yeah, I’m living proof. If you put your mind to it, you can do anything.