Jonathan Van Ness is no stranger to the gymnastics scene—after all, his high school cheerleading career is thoroughly documented in season 4 of Queer Eye. So, when Uber Eats asked him to tumble with the most decorated gymnast of all-time, thee Simone Biles, it was a no-brainer. “Anything to meet Simone,” Van Ness gushes to ELLE.com over Zoom. “I hadn’t gotten to meet her until that moment.”
Thus, Team Van Biles was born. You can catch the gymnastics duo in Uber Eats’s new campaign, where they twist, split, and flip in matching green leotards. “Uber Eats partnered us together because obviously, JVN is a huge gymnastics fan,” Biles adds, joining the Zoom call straight from practice. “Once we got on the set, it was seamless. It was so fun, so much energy.”
There was a lot of nervous energy on JVN’s part. “I’ve never been so nervous to tumble in my life,” he confesses. “They had a body double there, and I had been training my whole life for this moment. [When] I saw the run-through with the body double, I was like, ‘I was born to do that.’ And they were like, ‘Well, do you know how to tumble to a mark?’ And I was like, ‘Yes. I was born tumbling onto marks.’ Now, mind you, I haven’t technically tumbled to a mark before. I did have to do [it] like, eight times.”
Ahead, Van Biles talks quarantine cravings, gymnastics tips, and how Simone feels about the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
How did this iconic collaboration with Uber Eats come about?
JVN: I was just minding my own business and then my team was like, “There’s this opportunity to work with Simone and Uber Eats.” And I was like, that’s amazing.
Simone: I’m a huge fan of Uber Eats. I feel like it’s one of the best inventions we have of our time, especially during this pandemic. Whenever I’m traveling, sometimes I don’t have time to go to a sit down restaurant, and I’m always on the go. So, it’s one click of a button.
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What have you been ordering on Uber Eats in quarantine?
JVN: There’s a robust Uber Eats scene in Austin. There’s one really cute place that has this market salmon bowl that I’m obsessed with. There’s this ice cream sandwich place, they have a mint chocolate chip brownie ice cream sandwich. Instead of cookies, it’s two brownies with mint chocolate chip in the middle.
Simone: Some sweet and tangy chicken nuggets. Some carbonara, which I found out I was saying wrong. Spicy tuna rolls, beef kebabs. But it just depends on what I’m feeling. Nothing too crazy. I try to stick to what I know because I’m still on the road.
How was it doing gymnastics together? Jonathan, did you get any insight from Simone?
JVN: Full blown interrogation. I was like, “Who are your favorite gymnasts? What was your favorite Olympics? When did you know you were going to be a gymnast? What do you like better, a triple double, or a double double, or a double in, or a full in?” There was an internal voice that was like, “Don’t be too much.”
I was so afraid of hitting and tumbling into the greatest gymnast of all time. I was like, “Simone, if it seems like veering off course, if it seems like I am coming at you, duck, run. We cannot hurt you.” I would take a bus for her. If we were walking next to each other, and I saw something that was going to happen, it was only one of us, I really would. I would throw her to safety. She’s literally everything to me, to our country, to our gymnastics community.
Simone, do you have advice for someone who is just starting gymnastics or picking it up again?
Simone: I would say take your time, make sure you’re having fun, make sure you’re safe. Go into a gym. A lot of people think they’re too old to start, but they have adult gymnastics classes, and it’s not like you have to be a world champion. Whatever you want to accomplish and learn. JVN, he’s always wanted to do standing back tucks, roundoff back handsprings, and look at him. He’s learned that. That was his world champion moment.
What moves are in a Van Biles routine?
JVN: You saw [in the commercial] that there was the eight log roll. And then, there’s the Van Biles, which is a round off to your butt. Then what, Simone?
Simone: Definitely some of his choreography, because he’s better at dancing than just about our whole entire team. Keep the triple double for difficulty.
What song would you choose?
JVN: A little poppy. What is it, Simone? I feel like you love a powerful song to really get your tumble on. Here’s the question. If you didn’t have to deal with judges’ expectations of your song, and you could pick any song you wanted to do, even if it had naughty words in it or something, what would be your dream floor routine song?
Simone: I still feel like I would choose something powerful. Since we’re from Houston, I would choose Queen Bey. Have to! I think a medley would be cool, because I usually do remixes for my floor routines anyway, so I feel like a Queen Bey remix would be awesome.
Did your preparation and training change when the 2020 Tokyo Olympics got postponed?
Simone: Before it was officially canceled, I was like, well if it gets canceled, I’ll take a month off. Just take time for myself, give my body mental [and] physical rest. And then, it officially got canceled, and we ended up taking seven weeks off. So it was helpful mentally and physically, because once I heard it, I was kind of crushed. And it’s hard to go into the gym and train for a year out when there’s nothing ahead of it, because usually we have competitions. And now, the whole entire season got canceled. So it’s still weird for me to go into the gym and train for next year because none of us experienced this before.
It does give some time for upgrades. But mentally, physically, it does put a little bit of a damper on your body, on your mind, because you have to reset that clock, which is the hardest part. And then, making sure your body stays up to date and stays in top shape for another year. That’s pretty hard.
In one word, how would you describe your routine for the Olympics next year?
Simone: Ready. I was ready. I was 100 percent ready. I’ve never gone into a competition feeling 100 percent. Usually, you go into a competition feeling 90 or 95 percent ready, but I felt on top of my game. I was 100 percent ready way before the time needed to be, and I was feeling really good. I felt like I was at the top of my game, which is kind of scary for me, because I’ve never felt like that before.
What about your makeup look?
Simone: Sometimes I have ideas before I go into [a performance], but I kind of decide on the spot how I’m feeling. If it’s a neutral gold, or brown, or bronze on my eyes or we have a pink leotard, sometimes I try to incorporate that. It won’t look like anything [from] 2016 because I don’t know who let me out of the village looking like that. So, I guess I should be mad at my 2016 teammates because I looked horrible! But I try to go with whatever the leotard looks like. Some reds, some blues. I’m not scared to do colors either, so that’s fun.
JVN, will we see you in Tokyo?
JVN: I just want to be the bag person. Even the assistant to a choreographer, or a bag person, or a cheerleader. I could run the concession stand, carry your guys’s bags.
I would actually love to see JVN do some commentary.
Simone: JVN, do you remember at 26 Olympics, how Lola Jones did some commentary? Oh my gosh, we need to get you on that.
JVN: Nastia [Liukin] and Tim Daggett can be where they normally are, but can I be on the street? Oh! What I really want to do—because on prime time, they always cut away from who you really want to see—I feel like I could do mini, “Well, what you didn’t see on bars right over here, is so-and-so…” That would be fun.
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