HBO Max’s 12 Dates of Christmas follows three hopeless-romantic singles on “their journey to meet that special someone to bring home for the holidays.” One of those singles is Garrett Marcantel, a gay New York City-based real estate developer searching for a man to kiss under the mistletoe. Even though he didn’t end up picking a man, he has no regrets over his jolly holiday journey looking for love.
NewNowNext spoke with Marcantel about his time in the Christmas castle, what it was like bringing all of his suitors home to meet his mom in Louisiana, and kiki-ing with Shangela on the set of the Unwrapped reunion special.
I usually don’t watch dating reality shows, but I enjoyed 12 Dates of Christmas. How did you become involved in the project, and what was casting like?
I was not expecting ever to be in a reality show. I was just living my normal Brooklyn life. I sold real estate in Manhattan. One day, I got a request in my DMs about the show, and I read it and I was like, “This seems like a scam.” And so then I get an email 10 minutes later, and it’s from the same girl. So I got on the phone with her and she was like, “It’s HBO Max. It’s a new platform, and it’s a holiday Christmas show.” And I’m thinking, “This sounds really cheeky. But I’ll just keep going.” I’m single in New York, and I was like, It could be fun to change it up a little bit. And I’m always one for being a little adventurous, so this checked a box that was new for me and worth trying. Before I knew it, they flew me out to L.A., and I was meeting with the executive producers and the creator and the network, and I was like, “I think this is actually happening.”
Wow. How soon after that did you begin filming?
It happened pretty quick. It was, from beginning to end, I think about two months.
Was the Christmas castle as magical in real life as it was on TV?
Yeah, I mean, you don’t have anything like this in the States. This is something that was probably built in the 18th century. Just how big the thing was. And then each room had a theme. So there was the main library, where we shot a lot of dates and kind of intense conversations — just beautiful oak and the woodwork is like something that you would see in Old Europe. There was an old chapel, and all of these had actual gold pieces. It was just crazy. And so every single piece of this was something to discover and something to explore.
While you’re watching the show, you can tell the producers are having fun with it, not taking it too seriously. Was that the vibe during filming?
Yeah. I think we all kind of knew based off the fact that we were wearing onesies in a lot of the scenes, and we’re doing Christmas Eve-type of dates. I was open for it. I was like, If I can meet someone who doesn’t take themselves so seriously, and we can have fun in this experience, then that’s going to show a lot about their character and who they are. And I’m a big winter sports kind of guy. So I love to see another person, are they a skier or snowboarder? Are they complaining when they get too cold? Or little things like that. I was just open to the fact that it was so different than a dating show that was more or less based off of that lust, “stabbing someone in the back” kind of thing.
So, you didn’t end up picking a guy. Did you know going in that this might be an option, that you might not go home with someone?
It was communicated to me before that, “You’re going to the castle to find love. So be open to finding love. If you find a match, then you get to go home with them for Christmas.” Right? So I’m meeting everyone with a complete open mind, and these are all blind dates. But I think the most important thing for myself was, I didn’t want to be not true within myself or not true to someone else. I think we all know with reality shows, sometimes a production can kind of push for people to make better TV. And my main priority was to be authentic within myself and to not lead someone on.
I didn’t see you two as a romantic match, but I really liked Zach. I want to hang out with him.
Zach’s great. And this is the thing: We kind of developed this brotherhood throughout the show. Not all of them were at the castle at the same time, so a lot of them didn’t actually meet until Louisiana. And it was fun because we all shared this really unique experience. They’re trying to get to know me, and I’m trying to get to know them, but then you have these moments where it’s really intense. These elimination ceremonies are really difficult, and you have to be honest with yourself and honest with them and with the experience that I’ve had with my life in dating, I have to respect that. And I have to say, “This is why I don’t think that we’re going to have a successful relationship based off of what I’ve gotten to know of you. I have to make a decision right now, and with the information I’ve been given, this is the best that I can do.” So it was intense.
You mentioned Louisiana. That episode when you bring them all home to your mom’s house was surprisingly emotional. I teared up at the dinner scene. What did your mother really think about having other gay guys over for dinner?
So, my mom — she’s probably one of the more fun moms you could get in life, but she also was raised in a conservative area and has never lived outside of that conservative area. She does have a couple of gay friends. And so it’s not like she’s never really been around gay men before, but it’s one thing when you’re sitting at a dinner table with… And you just don’t know these individuals. It’s not like you’ve had a chance to really get to meet them before. But I think she’s just an open-minded type of person, and she was excited and she was like, “Well, we’re going to have fun. I’ll cook some more food, and let’s just do this thing.” And it was great. I mean, my mom has a great personality, and the boys fell in love with her and she obviously fell in love with them. And then she’s like, “Why didn’t you pick any of these boys?” She didn’t know all the backstory, of course, of what happened in the castle, until she watched the episodes.
Did that experience bring you closer to your family?
Yeah. It’s kind of a crazy opportunity because as a gay man, I think we struggle — or myself, I struggled with the fear of, Is my family and extended family going to fully accept the fact that I’m living true to myself now? And you just don’t know until you go through a process. And I think this was such a great opportunity to see that my mom has this capability to love and open herself up to someone. It really humbled me and kind of put me in my place for not really trusting my mom ahead of time that she would be ready for me to bring home someone. It was a really beautiful moment that I think taught her more about gay culture and questions that she had about me and my struggle. Seeing her child go through coming out, I think she was able to see that in a lot of these other guys, too. So I think it was comforting for her to see that, like, this battle is bigger than just her son.
It seems like you and Faith and Chad, the other two hopeless romantics on the show, really got along. Have you all kept in touch?
Completely. We’re still going through this together, right? We started this journey together. We were all living our normal American lives before, not in the public eye, and we went through the castle together and we fell for people, we had to break up with people, and then we wrapped it up together. I just talked to Chad today. I think it’s something that the three of us will share as a bond forever. How many people get to say they lived in a castle and got to go through this experience?
What about the suitors? Have you kept in touch with any of them? Or Is it a group chat situation or something?
There’s definitely a group chat, and it’s like what you would imagine a gay group chat to be. Like, sharing memes and calling out other queens, and it’s like a full, real, modern gay group chat culture type of situation. Which is really nice to have because I think we all went in with the same goal of wanting to find a romantic connection with someone. And I think that we all stayed true to ourselves, and that shows respect within every single person.
The Unwrapped reunion felt a little tense. What was it like filming?
I was definitely nervous because this is an opportunity for [the guys] to all share their feelings and their expectations going into the castle, and how it didn’t necessarily meet up to their expectations. And unfortunately, I’m the face that represents that. So I had to really listen and respect them. I may not have agreed with their approach or opinion, but they also have the right to share that. So I just had to hear them out. I think that was really the only way that I could respond in that moment.
Did you get to kiki with Shangela at all while you were up on stage? What was that like, hanging out with her?
I am humbled by Shangela’s work mentality, and from where she’s come from, and to being a host on a reunion special with HBO. It’s incredible, and her talent shows throughout. She’s just genuinely an incredible person. And knowing that I had to be in the hot seat, she really comforted me throughout the reunion. I would not want any other host to be there. She was the perfect person to be at my side.
And did you get to catch up with any of the guys at the reunion?
Because of COVID, we all had to quarantine before the show. So it was like, we’re in a hotel together, but we’re not able to see each other. So we’re FaceTiming, but we’re like, “I see you out the window.” But once were on set, it was great to see everyone. I think we had a total of five hours together, and then everyone was off on their separate ways again.
Since the series started airing, have guys been reaching out to you, sliding into your DMs?
I’ve gotten a mix of everything. People can take the journey in many different ways. I think people have received it and were like, “Oh, Garret’s still single. So, like, I’m going to hit him up.” Or the show struck something in them that they necessarily didn’t like or don’t like about gay culture, so they feel the need to share that. I’ve definitely gotten a good mix of DMs throughout, and I think I just have to remind people that TV is TV and that I did what was best for myself and for all the boys. Ultimately, I think that they would agree on that. But yes, people are hitting me up.
The end of the series teased that you were still on your quest to find love. Would you do another dating reality show?
I’m really looking forward to going home and spending time with my family because we had a really rough year with hurricanes in Louisiana. My town was quite destroyed. And so I’m going to focus on family time. I also just moved to Los Angeles to build out my real estate there — I do real estate in New York and also now real estate in L.A. So I am going to be setting myself up, and look, I’m always open to hearing if the right opportunity came.
12 Dates of Christmas: Unwrapped is out now on HBO Max.