Cheer's Gabi Butler & Morgan Simianer Open Up About The New Season - Exclusive Interview

The Navarro College cheer team took the world by storm when Netflix released "Cheer," a docuseries showing their road to the National Cheerleading Championship. Fans were blown away by the talent and athleticism in the sport, which showcased a lot more than pom-poms and pep as Navarro perfected grueling routines. The show also offered a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of team members whom many viewers came to love.

Two stand-out members of the cast were Gabi Butler and Morgan Simianer. The pair sat down for an exclusive interview with The List to discuss Season 2 of "Cheer." The full season is available on Netflix starting January 12, 2021, with even more twists and turns than the first season. With new faces joining the team, a canceled competition, and their rivals from Trinity Valley, Butler, Simianer, and the rest of the Navarro team have had a lot going on since we last saw them in Season 1.

Cheer Season 2 will have many 'twists and turns'

So, how are you feeling with Season 2 coming out?

Morgan: You go first.

Gabi: Okay. I'm getting excited. Obviously, we haven't seen it yet. We are going to see it basically when everyone else sees it, but I'm very excited just because within the couple of seasons that Netflix was filming, there was a lot of craziness. There were a lot of ups and downs; there were a lot of great moments, there were a lot of bad moments, so a lot of twists and turns. So it's definitely going to be very dramatic, I think, from what I know, just being there. And then, I'm also very excited for you guys to meet the new people that are brought into both seasons, like Maddy [Brum], Cassadee [Dunlap], and Gillian [Rupert]. So there's definitely going to be a lot of new faces that you guys will see and a lot of really crazy new personalities. So I would say I'm just super excited for all of that.

Absolutely. What about you, Morgan?

Morgan: Yes. So, touching on what Gabi said, I am excited too. A little bit nervous, but I'm excited. It was two years in the making almost, and it's going to be really exciting to look back on our memories from Navarro because I no longer cheer there and to just be able to enjoy all the opportunities. Yeah. So I'm just really excited for the season to come out and for everyone to fall in love with these new characters that I know and I love, too. So I'm excited for people to get to know them.

Did you guys have any reservations, going into Season 2 after Season 1, or were you just all on board for doing another season?

Morgan: I think we were just ready to go. Like we were just so like in the moment of the practices that we were just like, "Let's go. If you're doing it, we're doing it. Let's do this, let's do it."

Gabi: I would have to agree with Morgan, for sure. It was kind of like we were used to it, and honestly, we grew a bond with the crew, and it was family at that point. Like they were our biggest supporters and our biggest fans, so it was just natural having them around, and yeah, we just grew bonds with them and it was kind of like, "All right, let's do it. Let's go round two."

Why COVID was 'devastating' for the team

And then, like you said, this season spans two years, and the 2020 championship was canceled because of COVID. How did that affect the team's morale at the time?

Morgan: So when we first found out that the season was being canceled, everyone was very upset, and we didn't really understand that much information about COVID. So once we learned the bigger picture, we obviously understood and everything, but it was just a little hard to deal with. Thinking of how much time and work we put in for this one competition to then get canceled. So a lot of us were upset, and [for] some people, it was their last time cheering, which was for me, for example, that's when I stopped cheering. So it was a little hard to deal with my emotions leaving Navarro, but looking at the positives of it, I had all the memories and all the relationships and everything that I will keep with me for the rest of my life.

Gabi: So I would definitely say that was probably one of the hardest things that, I'm sure, not only me but everybody on the team had to hear. It was like a knife just kind of slowly grinding its way through your heart because it was like you worked so hard for something all year and we were right there. Like we were about to be in Daytona doing our thing. And then, all of a sudden, just everything that you worked for is basically ripped from you. You don't even have a choice. It's just kind of like, "Well, it's not happening." It was a devastating thing for not only Navarro but for the whole entire cheerleading community. And I feel like there are so many things that people have missed out on or not gotten to do the things or the plans that they were planning on doing. So it was a very devastating thing for not just cheerleaders. It was devastating for everyone in general.

I know that there's a lot of things that people lost, but I do think that there were a lot of great things that also came out of it, because it gave people time to work on their things. I feel like it was a terrible thing, but there were some good things that came up.

Yeah. Did you feel like you had a lot of time to yourself to figure out what your next steps were and that kind of thing?

Gabi: Yeah, so I'm not really sure how other people were in quarantine. I know that I was like — even though everything is shut down and there's nothing, it's like, you can't really do anything — I'm going to make the best out of this time to better myself and who I am. Not only as an athlete but as a person. And I would work out every single day outside, just running and doing like a bunch of stuff. I was conditioning myself and also just really trying to just better myself, like mentally, and just make myself a better person.

They gave a behind-the-scenes look at Navarro's rivalry with Trinity Valley

And then, in Season 2, the show also starts following Trinity Valley, and, obviously, in the show, it kind of plays up the competition side of that. Is that rivalry something that you guys really felt behind the scenes?

Gabi: I would say that I have never been the type to be like, "Oh, I don't like this person because they're on that team." I'm a very naturally loving person. I love very hard with everyone, honestly. I have friends that do cheer for Trinity Valley. I actually cheer with a lot of them right now. I have a lot of alumni that cheered on Trinity Valley, and they're all cheering with me right now. So I would definitely say that honestly ... there has definitely, over the years, Navarro and Trinity Valley have always been super competitive with each other, and, of course, you are going to have these certain people that have it at a level that is more than others. I've always just been like the loving, supportive — no matter what team you're on or where you are. It's just kind of like, we're doing the same thing that we love. But, of course, there's always going to be that natural, competitive side of me that's like, "Okay. You can absolutely be my friend, and I love you. But when I step on that mat, it's game time."

How about you, Morgan?

Morgan: I 100% agree with Gabi. There is a rivalry between the two teams, but I am also friends with some people that are on TVCC, and they're humans. We love them. Like we are not enemies type of thing, but it is one of those things like where it does come down to that one competition you work the whole entire year for, as soon as you step on that mat, it's like, you can be friends after, but you got to get your stuff done right then and there. But we do love TVCC, and they do work really hard, and they are an amazing team, and they have so many amazing athletes and amazing people that are part of their program as well.

What it's like competing with teammates

And then you also, in a way, have to compete with your teammates for who's going to be on the mat at that final competition. What's it like balancing being teammates and also having that competition aspect?

Morgan: I'll answer. So I would say, for like at Navarro, it is just so family-based, and we literally fight like brothers and sisters. We spend 24/7 together. We live with each other, practice together, go to classes together. So we're just so close with each other. And it's such a family that we're going to support each other no matter what. And sometimes people do get upset, but at the end of the day, we're like a family, and we're going to get through it, regardless. So instead of beating each other down and being upset about who's going to go on the mat, who's not going to be on the mat, we really just pull each other up and support each other and push each other to be the best athlete and person that we possibly can.

Absolutely. What about you Gabi?

Gabi: Can you repeat the question?

What's it like balancing being teammates and also having to compete for who goes on the mat?

Gabi: So yeah, I would say like, as a cheerleader ... as any athlete, you're going to be competitive. Like if someone is fighting for a spot, yes, you can absolutely love them. You can absolutely feel like I'm rooting for you. And it's a friendly competitive [feeling]. It's not like, "Oh, I hate this person." It's not like that. It's like a friendly competitive [feeling], but yeah, I would say for any athlete, when you have a spot, and you see it right there, and you're going to go and grab it, and you're going to do anything you can, obviously, to get that spot. I would definitely say that Navarro, it is a friendly, competitive [group]. It's [a] pushing-each-other-type thing. And it's always been like, even if you didn't get that spot, we've always been supportive of each other and been like, "If I don't get that spot, you better get it, and I'm going to be rooting you on and pushing you to the most of your abilities." It's that kind of friendly competition.

But I would say with any athlete, when you have a spot and it's right there, you are going to do anything and everything you can in your power to get that spot. So if you don't get it though, we're not going to be like, "Oh, I hate this person because they got the spot." It's more like, "You better go do the damn thing. You better go and do that." Like, "Do that spot, and I'm going to be right there to support you."

How they've grown since Season 1 of Cheer

Absolutely. And then are there any parts in Season 2 that you feel like are going to surprise fans?

Morgan: So we haven't seen Season 2, but we are excited to watch it and relive the past like year-plus, two [years] of our lives. There's going to be a whole bunch of new faces that are introduced in the new season, and the routine is going to be different, and get to hear people's stories. So there's a lot of good things to look forward to. And there's also some twists and things that I think the world is waiting to see. So we are just excited to see it when the world sees it.

Do you have anything to add Gabi?

Gabi: Basically, the same exact thing Morgan said, I think that there are a lot of twists and turns, and I think you guys are going to meet a lot of new people obviously, going into this next season, and I think that you guys are going to also fall in love with them and I'm just super excited to sit back and, yeah, just watch with you, guys.

Do you feel like you've changed or grown in any big ways since Season 1?

Gabi: Absolutely.

Morgan: Yes.

In what ways?

Morgan: You can go first, Gabi.

Gabi: I definitely think that just watching the first season, I came a long way just within my confidence and the way that I carry myself because I think after watching Season 1, I think that I was too serious within everything I did. I never really smiled that much. I didn't really enjoy ... I did enjoy, but I was just so hard on myself. And now it's like, I actually learned how to have fun doing what I'm doing and not take it so seriously.

There are good things that can be brought out. And that fun side of me has been like brought to life more, especially within the second season. I think I definitely bloomed a lot more within that season and just really enjoying each other, enjoying the people around me, and not being too hard on myself. Even though I'll always be my worst critic, I'll always be super hard on myself. But I think I've learned to just enjoy the moment and all the people around and just not be so serious and just have more fun.

Morgan: Yes. And then, for me, I feel like I learned a lot about the show. I had a very scared look for myself, but if you know me in person, you know that I laugh all the time. I'm smiling, I'm being crazy and cracking jokes and stuff, but I was so focused on what I was doing. So I thought that was kind of funny to watch, but I did gain a lot of confidence and just acceptance with my story, because it was really hard to talk about, but by telling my story and seeing how many other people could relate to it was something that was absolutely incredible. And I can't really put it into words. It's really indescribable, but just being able to relate to other people and have them relate to me and make other people feel like they're not alone and just be a kind of impact in their life. And just show them that they're not alone. That was probably one of the biggest things that helped me grow as an individual from the show.

They never imagined how big Cheer would get

When you first started having the first season filmed, did you ever imagine how it would take off or how fans would respond?

Morgan: Absolutely not. We did not expect the show to be as crazy as it was or as big as it was. We knew it was going to be big in the cheer community, but it reached a much larger audience than we ever anticipated it to. And we're very thankful for that and very glad to be a part of it. And we're thankful to everyone that has taken time out of their day to watch it and to be a part of this experience with us.

Gabi: Oh, yeah. I honestly, we were not expecting anything. I think we were just— and I think that's what made Season 1 so amazing. I obviously haven't watched Season 2, but I feel like Season 1 was so raw, and it was so authentic and genuine because we were not thinking like, "Oh, this is going to be a hit." We were just doing our thing. We did not care about cameras. We were not expecting anything. And honestly, I think that's why the show was such a hit because we were being ourselves and we were not being anybody that we weren't truly. So I think it definitely helped a lot of people see the genuine, authentic sides of us and just all the craziness that happened. None of us are expecting it. And obviously, it was a blessing that we did get a lot of really great opportunities. So we're all very thankful for just the show and each other. We really, I feel like just grew in general as a whole.

Absolutely. And then, like you said, you weren't really expecting how big it would get. Did that put more pressure on you when they started filming Season 2?

Gabi: I would say that it didn't necessarily bring more pressure. I do think that a lot of people though when you are on the top for something, a lot of people they don't want to see you succeed or keep succeeding, if that makes sense. So for Navarro, it was like, everybody was like, "Well, we've seen Navarro, and we've seen them succeed. We've seen your story. We want to see another team succeed." So it's always like that. It's always like that when you're on the top, people don't want to see you stay on top. And I would definitely say that like, as a whole, there probably was a little bit more pressure for everybody just because it was like, okay, well we are, we are the two-time back-to-back national champions in these past two years. So it's going to be hard to hold that title.

Morgan: And then for me, I would say if it wasn't that much added [pressure] because we were so comfortable with the film crew and they were amazing, like family to us. So, we were used to having cameras around and being mic'd up all the time. So it wasn't really anything that really was in the way, I guess. Obviously, the whole situation of the show coming out and doing on the interviews and our life going from zero to a hundred so quick was a little difficult, but it was an incredible opportunity that we were blessed with, and we will cherish those memories for the rest of our lives.

Was their Season 1 portrayal genuine?

How did you both feel about the way you were portrayed in the first season? I know, Morgan, you said you seem very nervous at least at the start of the first season.

Morgan: Yes. I feel like I was portrayed pretty accurately. That's how I was. I was just a little crazy, and they didn't get the crazy side of me at practices as much, but I feel like we were all portrayed in such a good way and the way that they told our stories was really good because we didn't get to see it beforehand. So we were scared because my whole life story's going out and the whole world would see, so it was a little nerve-racking, but Greg [Whiteley] did an amazing job. The film crew did an amazing job. Everyone at Netflix that works behind the scenes, they pulled everything together and did such an amazing job and really brought light to the sport.

Gabi: Yes. So I would definitely say like, the way that we were portrayed was very true. I would say that they did a very good job of just capturing the genuine side of us, and I think that, with the way that I watched the first season, I basically already said that I did look very straight-faced and they didn't capture the goofy side of me or the side where I'm joking or being a clown at practice. So it was more like, I was very serious most of the time, but yeah, I think the way that they portrayed all of us, it was pretty true to how we actually were. But yeah, there's always going to be those little moments that maybe they didn't capture all the time of the genuine, or not the genuine, but the other conversations. I would say Greg did a very good job with everything.

Gabi and Morgan's plans after Navarro

So what are your plans going forward after Navarro?

Morgan: So for me, I have already graduated from Navarro, and from that point on, once COVID hit, I moved to Dallas, and I'm living here and been spending time working on my brand and enjoying life, spending time with my friends and family, my boyfriend, and my cat. And I'm just really excited for the future to see what it holds for me and to see what I'll be doing next.

Gabi: Yeah. And for me, I'm still cheering. I'm actually out in Utah right now, and I've just been going through a whole lot of stuff, but I'm going to be cheering probably for a little bit longer. I don't know how much longer, but not too much longer, just until my body's like, "All right. We're tired now." But cheerleading is definitely a passion of mine. It has brought me a lot of joy over the years, and it's brought me a lot of amazing friendships like Morgan and TT [Barker], La'Darius [Marshall], and Derek [Gaskins]. And it's brought a lot of really amazing things and a lot of great friendships. So yeah. I don't know what I'm going to do throughout the years, but right now, I'm basically just doing me and cheering. Yeah, just doing my own thing.

"Cheer" Season 2 is available to stream on Netflix starting on January 12.