Grey's Anatomy star Giacomo Gianniotti conquered acres of mud to celebrate his second Tough Mudder victory in San Bernardino, California, on Saturday, but on-screen, things could also get a bit murky for the Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital hunk!
The latest episode of the hit ABC series saw his character, Dr. Andrew DeLuca, finally admit to Stephanie (Jerrika Hinton) that he's in love with Dr. Jo Wilson (Camilla Luddington), and Gianniotti tells ET that his long-awaited confession to Jo is just episodes away.
"It kind of slipped out and it's been on his mind for a long time," said the 27-year-old actor, after crossing the finish line of the five-mile, obstacle-ridden race through mud. "With the whole traumatic experience of what happened with [Alex] Karev, Jo's been at his side. They've spent a lot of time talking, hanging out and bonding, and he has crossed the line between friends and potentially lovers, but he's closer to that line than she is unfortunately."
"Even though what Karev did is inexcusable, Jo can't forget all the feelings and the time spent being in love with him," he continued, referring to Karev assaulting DeLuca after finding him with Jo and misinterpreting the situation. "She still loves him and it's hard to turn your back on that. So, even if she felt the same way about DeLuca, I don't think she'd be ready to jump right into something new, but by the end of this season, we're certainly going to see him confront her about it. I don't know whether she's going to accept it with open arms or not, but it'll at least be out in the open. We're going to see DeLuca take a risk!"
While many Grey's fans are still gunning for Jo to get back together with Alex, Gianniotti doesn't rule out a "JoLuca" relationship, noting that friendship can be the best start to romance.
"You can't really help who you fall in love with," the Italian-born, Toronto-raised star said. "When you meet someone, you don't say, 'I'm going to fall in love with this person, they're perfect for me.' You start hanging out, then one day you wake up and go, 'Wow, where have you been all my life?' When DeLuca brought Jo home drunk and helped her, he was just being her friend. It wasn't part of some long game to get with her… it just became more for him."
When it comes to his own love life, Gianniotti had his gorgeous girlfriend, Nichole, cheering him on at each of the mud run's obstacles, which included a treacherous curved wall dubbed "Everest" and a mud-drenched crawl under barbed wire called the "Kiss of Mud."
"It was great having her here cheering me on -- and she had my beer waiting for me as soon as I finished!" he said with a laugh.
Last year, it was Gianniotti's potential screen love, Luddington, who was by his side at the event, running in the Grey's team alongside Martin Henderson (Dr. Nathan Riggs) and Jason George (Dr. Ben Warren).
"Camilla's pregnant, so we couldn't have her running this time," said Gianniotti, who once again launched a fundraising campaign in conjunction with the race, to raise money for Hollywood non-profit My Friend's Place. "She was bummed to miss it, but maybe she'll be back next year."
The Grey's "Mudder Squad" still had a strong turnout with more than 30 of the actors, crew and friends running in the Tough Mudder Half, as well as the team from My Friend's Place, which recently named Gianniotti their Champion of the Year for his continued volunteer work. The organization assists homeless youth in Los Angeles and last year Gianniotti's Tough Mudder efforts helped raise more than $15,000 for the center's Transformative Education Program. This year's campaign topped that with the total surpassing $20,000.
Other celebrities taking part in the grueling team race included Amazing Race winner Matt Steffanina and the cast of History Channel's Six, including former Revenge hottie Barry Sloane. While the Six team sped through the course in lightning speed -- passing British Olympians at one point -- Gianniotti nobly trailed behind so he could help some of his teammates conquer each obstacle.
The former Selfie star had been preparing for the race by joining the hordes of Angelenos out on their daily runs.
"I'm not really a runner," he admitted. "I see everyone in L.A. jogging every morning and it just kills your self-esteem, but I'm just not a runner! So, I was doing a lot more running with my trainer to prepare for this year's event."
With the race completed, it's back to work for the actor and his "Mudder Squad" -- but it's not just JoLuca that is set to keep Grey's fans glued to their screens. Thursday's episode, which was directed by Ellen Pompeo (Dr. Meredith Grey), centers on a storyline close to Gianniotti's heart and one which he promises will cause waterworks.
"The drought in California will be ended by all the tears that happen Thursday night," he teased. "It's a sad, emotional episode, but also so powerful when Shonda [Rhimes] and her writers take a moment to really flesh out the story of one character. It's going to be very centralized on Maggie's mother and the fact that she has cancer."
"Unfortunately, cancer is such a terrible disease that everybody knows at least one person connected to it," he continued. "My whole family is riddled with it, so it sucks and I'm always knocking on wood, hoping that's not on the cards for me. It's so relatable, so anyone watching thinks of their mom, grandmother, father or someone close to then and it immediately puts you in the driver's seat of the emotion that Maggie's going through."
Grab your tissues before the episode airs Thursday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC. Check out the Grey's team's Tough Mudder fundraising page here.