Out in Africa: Brandon brings positive gay portrayal to TV

By Jeff Walsh

I wasn't supposed to watch Survivor this year.

I've been purging a lot of my TV shows to concentrate on writing my novel more, and Survivor was on the hit list. Do I really need to watch starved, dehydrated people making puzzles on the ground in Africa?

But, I happened to catch the first show, where they just introduced the cast and showed highlights from the upcoming season, and then I saw Brandon Quinton. Damn that CBS! They put a hot femme twink on! Now, I have to watch the damned show all season!

To be fair, Brandon didn't disappoint. He swished around, was open from the get-go, and stood his ground against some of the 'good ol' boy' contingent, which never before encountered openly gay people where they lived.

I immediately called CBS and got on the 'Brandon list,' to interview him as soon as he was voted off. Unfortunately, that time has come and he didn't walk away with the million dollars. He got caught between alliances and ended up with a near-unanimous vote against him at tribal council.

Brandon, 25, grew up in Oklahoma and is now the 'novelty' twink bartender at a leather/Levi bar in Dallas, Texas. I got on the phone with him the day after his eviction episode aired. Despite the media frenzy that occurs the day after they get voted off, Brandon, ever the charmer, answered our questions like it was his first interview of the day.

I totally wasn't going to watch Survivor this year, and then I saw the first episode and knew I had to watch it for you...

Well, it's still on there, so you have to keep watching.

Oh, that's right. You're still on the jury... You've said that you wanted to go on the show to make a point about how gay people are portrayed?

I think young, gay people are portrayed in a really poor light by the media in shows like Queer as Folk, and even, I think, Will and Grace has some negative undertones. I just wanted to show just a normal twentysomething guy who just happens to be gay. And I also wanted people to look at me in a different way. I wanted people to look at me as not maybe so helpless, maybe as somebody they didn't think was helpless. Nobody looks at me the same now, I'll tell you that.

Obviously, everything you've done they caught on film, but the thing you always hear from people on reality shows afterwards is how much editing can shape the story. Are you happy with the way you've been portrayed?

Yeah. Nobody is so naïve that they get on there and think it's going to be 100 percent in their favor. They didn't make me out to be anything I wasn't when I was out there. Do I wish some other things had been added in? Sure. But they really weren't relevant to the game, so it didn't really matter, I guess.

Because it seems like on nearly every episode, there was some reference to you sleeping in, and I wondered how much of an issue that was, or did they try and make it look like a bigger deal.

That's a really good question. Nobody has asked me that today. I did sleep in. I slept in until 7, whereas the old folks would get up at 5.

That doesn't seem like you're sleeping in all that much, if it's only until 7.

Exactly!

I assumed it was one in the afternoon and you're still...

Right, I wasn't laying around until 4:30. It wasn't really like that. But, it made for good TV, so I'm all for that.

What's one thing you wish had been shown that happened when you were out there?

I wish the whole conversation that Big Tom and I had by the fireside had been shown. That was about a 30 minute conversation we had, and I think it would have helped endear Big Tom to some people who don't like him very much. It was a pretty in-depth conversation about me being gay, and he was asking me a lot of questions about it. He had never been around someone openly gay. He was not comfortable around me in crowds or groups of people, when the rest of the cast was around, but one on one, we got along really well.

How did you feel being the first gay person a lot of these people had met and having to go through the whole gay 101 with them? Did you mind that role?

I didn't mind that. It's like I told him on the show. He knew lots of gay people, he just didn't know that they were gay. And that's how it is. I just happen to be very open with it. That's part of who I am.

Since you've said you were a fan of the previous Survivors, how different is it when you go from just seeing the cast interacting on your TV to being there and you're surrounded by the cameras and booms and everything?

You get very used to that. In about three days' time, you're totally used to the cameras, mics, and all the people. The thing that touched me the most is that I was such a big fan of the show, and when I watched the first episode I hadn't seen any of it. So when it debuted the premiere night, it was the first I'd seen of it. I just remember hearing the music come up and seeing the beginning titles come through and then I saw me, and I just bawled for like 10 minutes I was so happy. It's like if your favorite show was ER and you got picked to be on ER, that's how it felt. It was my favorite show and I was so excited.

The bar you work at in Dallas actually had Survivor nights on Thursday. Did you attend any of those?

No, I didn't go to any of those.

And that's a gay bar in Dallas?

It's a gay bar and, believe it or not, I work in a Levi/leather bar. It's a hardcore Levi/leather bar and I'm not into that at all. I'm a novelty.

And you plan to keep working at the bar? You're not going to become some celebrity?

No. I'm going to finish up the rest of my year, which is a just a couple more weekends, and then I'm going to take a few months off, but then I'll be back at my bar probably.

On the Survivor site, it mentions that you were previously married and now openly gay.. how did all of that come about?

Oh, you know, when you're young, you do foolish things. I was young and I did a foolish thing. And that's all I can chalk that up to.

No offense, but seeing you on the show, you're like, 'How did she think he was straight?'

(laughs) Well, I think to a lot of us who grew up in rural areas.. I act the way I act now because I'm comfortable in my own skin, and I don't care what people think. When I was uncomfortable with myself, during the time when I was married, I acted very differently. I was a very different person. So, I think that comes with your comfort level and I'm very comfortable with myself. So hey, I'm swishing around.

What prompted your coming out?

I didn't really 'come out,' per se. I just stopped dating girls and started dating boys. I was happier that way.

And how old were you then?

20, 21.

Did you figure that on the first year of Survivor, Richard Hatch, the gay character won... and on the second year, Colby from Texas technically could have won, so did you think the odds were in your favor as a gay Texan?

Oh, right... I did get voted off on the 'bitch' episode. It was the same episode that Jenna and Jerri got voted off on the years before me, so if that means anything. So, yeah, you can't play it like that. I wasn't trying to best Colby or Richard Hatch. I was playing the game for myself. And, for a guy who's never been camping before, 27 days is nothing to scoff at.

What was more difficult, the environment or the game?

The environment.

Obviously, the focus of the show is the game...

Well, that was what I was there for, and I enjoyed that very much. But the environment, the dryness, the lack of water, and the scorpions crawling over you at night, those things were very hard for me to adapt to, but you just do. You can adapt to anything, if you put your mind to it. But that was much harder than the scheming and game-playing, because I enjoyed that so much.

Did you have a game plan going in that you weren't going to connect to these people and just be focused on the game...

I did connect with them. But there was a definite line between connecting with somebody on a friendship kind-of level and playing the game. It's not a game of trust. So, you can be friendly with someone and stab them in the back at the same time. That's not a problem. That's part of the game.

Who were your favorite cast members on the previous Survivors?

Greg from the first one was my favorite, and Jerri from the second one.

Have you visited any of the Brandon Web sites that exist yet?

I don't own a computer, actually. Occasionally, if a friend of mine sees something really funny, he'll show it to me. But I don't go out looking for it. I think it's funny. I'm one of those people where the more you hate me, the better. It cracks me up.

Any regrets on your luxury item not being a razor?

We weren't allowed to bring any hygiene items. It had to be something frivolous.

But didn't the girls get to shave their legs?

Nope, little Kim was very hairy. They all were.

If they ever have a 'Best of Survivor' year with people from previous casts doing it all over again, would you do it?

I probably wouldn't, unless it was in someplace great with ocean views, and the prize money would have to be bigger, too.

Do you have any advice for gay youth in general?

I think the best advice I could possibly give is to follow your heart, and maybe not worry so much about what other people think about you, and do what makes you happy?

And, will you ever wear that ratty tank top again in your life?

No, but I still have it! It's in a Ziploc baggy.

That thing was looking pretty rank.

It was bad...

And what happened on this Survivor, no one was rumored to be hooking up, no nudity, it was a very conservative group.

I think all the hook-ups happened after they got voted off, but I wouldn't know about that.

There was nobody on the show that you would have wanted to hook up with?

Oh God, no.

Well, that made it very easy to concentrate on the game...

Sure did. There was nobody to distract me.