SAN DIEGO — I sat down with Boy Meets Boy winner Wes Culwell recently to get the inside scoop on Bravo's fascinating yet controversial reality series.
The controversial twist, of course, was that seven of the 15 guys from which lead player James was trying to choose a boyfriend were secretly straight but pretending to be gay. James outsmarted the producers in the end, and chose Wes.
Rex: One day, Wes, you're an ordinary San Diego homosexual working at the LGBT Center. You probably went for drinks at Flicks or Numbers or maybe Pecs, like the rest of us. And then you're chosen to be on this show. At some point, a few months ago, you're off to Palm Springs for 10 days to film this thing. You come back home. You went back to your job. You couldn't tell anybody anything. Then the show starts airing. Then, as you already knew, you win the thing. And now you're kind of like a celebrity. How weird is it?
Wes: It's very strange. I've been an actor since I was two years old, so I'm used to talking to people. But now it's, 'I know you.' ... They've seen you laugh, they've seen you cry, they've seen you have a crush on somebody. It's a really bizarre thing because they really get to know you.
Rex: Is it a different experience walking through WeHo and Hillcrest already?
Wes: Absolutely. Being in my early 20s, you get used to the cruising situation, always looking up and down, but now they have a reason to come up and say hello. So, it's a different thing. I love that people actually watched the show. And I guess the way I was portrayed, and who I am, makes them comfortable enough to come up and talk to me. That's great. But it's very different now walking through West Hollywood, through Chelsea in New York, walking through Hillcrest here in San Diego. Especially Hillcrest because it's where I'm from. My friends are like, 'Oh, my God!'— then half of the people I don't know.
Rex: Is it weird or are you enjoying it?
Wes: Both. I wouldn't have done it if I didn't expect some of this. But it's much larger than I ever thought it would be. But I knew it's reality TV and knew you're putting yourself out there to let people get to know who you are. So, it's weird but it's great.
Rex: You'll have to stay out of the bushes at Black's Beach from now on.
Wes: I don't know what you're talking about! What's Black's Beach?!
Rex: How did you get chosen to be on the show?
Wes: I was at Flicks [a San Diego gay bar]. I was doing outreach for the LGBT Center. I was approached by ... one of the casting directors and he told me the premise, and the minute I heard 'reality TV'—uh, no. I mean, I loved my job, I was doing some really good non-profit work, so I wasn't really interested in going that path. I saw him again later that night. I was, like, 'Thanks, anyway.' The next night I went out again ... and saw him at Bourbon Street. He was: 'C'mon, just come and talk to us. Let us tell you what it's about.' So, after two-and-a-half days of seeing him everywhere in San Diego, I decided to go in there. [In the end], I thought ... the fact that they're doing a gay Bachelor and it's going to be on a national network, that, to me, was the big selling point. I thought, no matter what happens, if I can go on and show myself as a strong gay man who's not afraid of my sexuality and doesn't fall into any major stereotype, that's great. That was my main objective. And what a plus if you find someone you really connect with.
Rex: Was your gaydar broken like James', or did you have suspicions that some of the guys were straight?
Wes: It's funny. Coming from the LGBT non-profit sector, you see every single type of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender—you see the spectrum. But there were many moments during the show when I was like, 'What?' One of the guys, he's a DJ and his DJ name is DJ Positive. When he told me that, I'm like: 'DJ Positive? Do you realize the connotations?' ... He was, 'What do you mean?' No idea. Another guy, Paul, lives here in San Diego. I saw him come on the first day and he's wearing this huge baggy T-shirt and these huge, oversized shorts and I'm like, 'You don't have to be a fashion guru to be a gay man, but did you even go shopping for national TV?' Little things like that. Dan came out of the bathroom one day and he's all dressed up and he has puka-shell necklaces on, and he said, 'What do you think?' And I said: 'Puka-shell necklaces? Dan, what kind of gay man are you?' And I watched his face just drop. Now it makes sense! Now it makes sense! So there were little things all along the way. People's coming-out stories, they seemed sometimes a little contrived. ... But what I found so interesting is that the friends that I really bonded with, that we were tight right away, were with the gay men. I don't know if that was because gay men do have the special bond, that kind of like sixth sense. Or was I picking up some of the deception, that I wasn't trusting some of the guys. ... Definitely the deep bonds were with the gay men.
Rex: This is all in retrospect. Your suspicions never rose to a conscious level?
Wes: Right. Not at all. During the show I thought: Wow, what a great casting job that they can show this spectrum of gay men. ... I was thinking they did a great job of finding 15 dynamic gay men.
Rex: What were your feelings about the twist itself, once everything was on the table?
Wes: When I found out about the twist, I was a little like, hmmm.
Rex: When did you find out?
Wes: James whispered in my ear during the last scene, 'There's a twist.' You don't see him do it [on the edited program]. During the hug. ... Then we walk off hand-in-hand ready to start our new adventure and that's when they sat me down and said, 'Here's the whole story.' My first reaction was, 'What was the point?' ... Then they explained the premise of the show. [The] Evolution [company] is a totally gay production staff. They wanted to bring Middle America into the show. ... They wanted to show gay men interacting with straight men and vice versa. So, when I first heard the twist, I was like, not so much. But when the entire show aired ... I think it did its purpose. I get e-mails from Middle America saying, 'My son just came out and he's 15 and, wow, you've given him a role model.' Queer As Folk is a great show but it's so oversexualized. And a lot of times that's all Middle America sees of the gay community. Sexuality is absolutely a part of our community, but there's the other side—romance and friendships that sometimes get brushed under the table because they're not quite as sensational, not quite as good ratings.
Rex: How was the editing?
Wes: What you didn't see of me was a lot of my campiness. I was pretty campy. I had a great time. I was myself. One of the biggest things they cut out that would have given away that I was a gay guy was at the karaoke. When I walked in and saw Coco Peru, I almost died. I love Coco Peru. I walked in and my jaw just went clunk. I mean, I never get starstruck, but it's Coco Peru! My jaw just dropped and I just went [he screeches]. It was the gayest moment of my life. Of course, they had to cut that out because straight men wouldn't know who Coco Peru was. ... You also didn't see all the chaos of James' and my last date. At the lookout point a group of 13-year-old girls thought we were a boy band and they were pounding on the window of the limousine wanting our autographs. We're like: 'We're in a gay show. Get out of here.' Then, the carriage ride around Palm Springs, we got pulled over by the police. There's an open-container law and we were drinking champagne. They were writing citations. We were like: 'Producers! Help!' The limousine crashed into the fountain in front of the leading man's house—broke the fountain, cracked the transmission. And we're like, 'Is this romantic or is it insane, I can't tell?' And then the fire [which you saw]. It was one of those nights.
Rex: And what's up with you and James these days?
Wes: People don't understand that when we left the set [on May 18th], contractually, you cannot see each other, because it ruins the end of the show. You can go out in groups, you can make phone calls and do e-mails, but you can't spend one-on-one time together. When you have a high budget like with The Bachelor shows, they will actually rent suites in hotels so you can have one-on-one dates, but it's Bravo, God love 'em, they don't have the hugest budgets in the world. They've done great with it, but we didn't have the option. They were like, 'Do what you gotta do, don't be seen in public together.' So it's been five months now and we have been keeping in contact with phone calls three or four times a week, e-mails, going out in groups, but, really, it's such a hard thing to try to keep up. You know, 'I don't really know you, enjoyed the show,' but you can't be romantic. So now that the show's over, we're picking up where we left off. There's potential there, definitely. Absolutely. But where you saw us walking off hand-in-hand, that's where we're picking up now. The trip to New Zealand [that we won] is in March.
Rex: What are you doing now?
Wes: I move to L.A. on Monday. I start college tours in the next couple of weeks ... talking about the social aspects of being gay and being out on a national platform. It's called Rainbow College Tours. ... I'm going to be pursuing hosting opportunities. [I want to] use that 15 minutes [of fame] to actually do some good, that's what I'm excited about. ... It's reality TV. It is 15 minutes. I think if you're smart with it, you can transition into different things. But, the level of celebrity does diminish. We're a week out of the show. But there's gonna be a peak and then it's gonna calm down, which I think James and I both welcome. You know, it's fun, but you gotta figure out, what can I do with these 15 minutes, how can I make the most out of it? You gotta do something great with it, because you've been handed it.