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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-02-22



FEATURE: Gay Survivor's dreams become reality
News Update Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2008
by Ross Forman

This article shared 3619 times since Wed Sep 24, 2008
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One Saturday this past February, Charlie Herschel was at his law office in New York City. He was surfing the Web and came across the application for a future season of 'Survivor' ( CBS-TV; debuting Thursday, Sept. 25 at 7 p.m. ) . He applied, knowing the odds of his reality dream being fulfilled were astronomical, at best.

Well, dreams do come true on the popular TV show, which debuts the 17th season ( 'Survivor: Gabon' ) . The 29-year-old lawyer is one of 18 new castaways, and the only openly gay participant.

'It's a bit overwhelming since I've been a fan of 'Survivor' forever,' said Herschel, who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. 'I never thought I'd be accepted. Being accepted [ onto the show ] felt like I wont the lottery.'

Whether Herschel ultimately is able to outwit, outplay and outlast all others, and claim the $1 million prize is, oh, a few months away.

'I'm a very realistic person, borderline, pessimistic. So I just never thought anything would come of [ the application ] ,' he said. 'Even when they started contacting me, I didn't believe a word they said. I thought they were like [ used-car ] salesmen, and I just didn't believe them. And actually [ the interview process ] , was like a roller-coaster. One minute they'd say I was amazing and that I'd come out to Los Angeles and go to the finals [ of casting ] . The next minute, they'd say I wasn't going.

'Even when they called to say that I made the cast, I did not believe them. I thought they were calling 100 other people at the same time and telling them the same thing—and the day before we were to leave, they'd cut 82 people.

'Even when I was on the plane to Africa, I was counting the other contestants, to see if there were alternates on the plane. It even went through my mind that I was an alternate and they just didn't tell me because they knew I wouldn't come if I knew I was an alternate.'

Survivor host Jeff Probst ultimately welcomed Herschel and company to the game—game on!

'My strategy going into the game was that I [ was going to be ] a balanced player,' Herschel said. 'Being a marathon runner, I clearly thought I was going to be able to participate effectively in the challenges. I didn't think people would want to vote me off because I helped the team win challenges and, at the same time, I wouldn't be viewed as that big of a physical threat—someone who is too strong.'

Herschel has completed seven marathons, including the New York City Marathon for the past five years. His best-ever time for a marathon is 3 hours, 12 minutes. This is truly amazing considering the fact that, 10 years ago, he couldn't even complete the one-mile run in high school for the fitness test.

' [ Finishing ] my first marathon definitely was the biggest achievement of my life; that was the Philadelphia Marathon, where I went to college,' he said. Herschel also has finished a marathon in Washington, D.C.

'Growing up, I did not play sports at all. I started getting in shape and lost a ton of weight by running, which I started when I was 19 years old.'

He was on a non-competitive swim team in college and also is on a non-competitive team now at his New York City gym.

'Slowly I've become more athletic in my 20s,' he said, laughing.

'Swimming is a great alternative to running, and it also is good if you have a running injury. I have a bicycle and enjoy riding, but don't race. Still, I want to get into triathlons, and hopefully before I'm 40 [ years old ] , I want to do an Ironman, but that's a very long-term goal.

'A lot of the challenges on past Survivors have been endurance-based, so I thought my history with marathons and my ability to endure long periods of athletic pain definitely would enhance my ability to compete in the challenges.

'I knew my swimming would help me on 'Survivor.''

Herschel came out at 19 and said the coming-out process was aided by his environment: being in relatively liberal New York City, having parents with several gay friends and attending an accepting college campus.

' [ Coming out ] has not been very hard for me,' he said. 'It's pretty hard for me to hide being gay; I think most people can pick up on it right away. It never even went through my head [ about trying to hide my sexuality on 'Survivor' ] . In fact, I thought I would use it to my advantage because females usually like having a gay friend, so I certainly thought I could relate to the females. And I've never had a problem getting along with straight men. So I thought I had all of my bases covered.

'The only thing I was nervous about as a gay man was that there was a gay winner two seasons ago [ on 'Survivor' ] , Todd [ Herzog ] . He was kind of a sneaky, conniving gay guy, and I know that I resemble him a little bit, and I was a little nervous that the other contestants would think that, given that I'm gay and he's gay and he's sneaky, that would mean that I, too, was sneaky. So I was very concerned that people would make that calculation. So, my strategy going in was to make myself as least threatening as possible.'

Herzog and Richard Hatch are the only gay 'Survivor' winners, but being gay was not the reason either won, Herschel said.

'I don't think the fact that they won had anything to do with their sexuality, and it's not really surprising given how many people in America are, in fact, gay,' Herschel said. 'The great thing about 'Survivor' is [ that ] it's such a cross-section of society. I don't think being gay helps winning any easier.'

Herschel is single and not convinced the 'Survivor' exposure will help him find Mr. Right.

'If anything, I think [ being on 'Survivor' ] will hinder my dating life because people will know a little too much about me,' he said.

Herschel returned to work in New York City almost immediately after his round of 'Survivor' finished shooting.

'My job was very generous, giving me the time off to realize this dream. So I agreed to return to work immediately—and I agreed upon that before I left,' he said.

More Charlie Herschel:

—All-time favorite Survivor: Cirie Fields. 'My strategy going in was to be the gay, white, athletic Cirie. She had the social game down; she had the strategy game down; and was just a really likeable player.' The two have never met.

—Least favorite Survivor of all-time: 'I don't relate to the Middle America Favorite, like Rupert [ Boneham ] .'

This article shared 3619 times since Wed Sep 24, 2008
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