What was your motivation for going on the show?
I originally wanted to go on the show to break a couple of different stereotypes. Just to break the whole gay stereotype, you know? Typically, on Survivor, gay guys are seen as the effeminate, sort-of WASPy, unathletic guy and I don't think I fit that bill. I'm pretty confident I don't fit that bill. I grew up pretty athletic -- playing football, running track, playing volleyball -- so, in that regard, just from a physical standpoint I felt like I could keep up with any straight guy that you put me up against head-to-head. So, I wanted to go on the show strictly for that reason. And then, above and beyond that, just being Asian and breaking stereotypes about being a minority and being gay. So, I was born a double-whammy.
I guess, on both of those, how do you feel about the fact that there was never a reference that you are gay on the show? At least, none I recall hearing.
No, there wasn't. In fact, I think that the reason why is because CBS wanted me to appeal to a larger demographic audience, like to women? I'm not sure. But I did have a coming out story. In fact, I came out to both tribes and everyone knew. It wasn't a secret. I came out pretty much 48 hours into the show on my first tribe team, Puka. I mean, they kind of assumed and we had a conversation in the tent. And then, when we merged, when I was among the 10 Raro members, or however many people were left when we merged. We're there at the round table, you know, sitting around a campfire, and we're all telling stories about ourselves, where we come from, how we got to the island, and I said, 'Well, it looks like I'm the token gay guy.' And I told my coming out story, about how I came out to my friends, and to my father, and to my mother, and just dealing with the fact of knowing I was gay growing up but trying to deny the feelings and date as many girls as I possibly could. Just to try to not be gay, you know?
And then finally coming to terms with it in my early 20s, just saying 'You know what? It is what it is, and this is who I am.'
And, on the Asian side of that, you said you wanted to prove something with that as well, so when there was the switch-up with the race-divided tribes, did you that as a good thing or a bad thing?
Well, originally, I thought it was a genius move, just from a marketing standpoint for CBS. And then, when we actually got onto the tribe, I was having a lot of reservations just because I knew it was going to piss a lot of people off. From a personal standpoint, it was really amazing just having that connection, namely with Yul, because we shared a lot of the same stereotypes growing up, you know? Being Asian, growing up in America, and having that common ground was, for me, fantastic. He's a great guy and we continue to remain friends off the island.
Did you see it as a limiting thing in that you didn't want to be seen as the "best Asian" player. Were you concerned the audience was going to be looking at it like, 'He's the best one on the Asian tribe, and he's the best one on the...' So that we were dividing you by race as viewers?
Honestly, it wasn't played out as much as I had thought it was going to be played out. I didn't think the merge was going to come so soon, when it was like that whole United Nations mentality like it was after Episode 3? So, yeah, just sharing that common ground and as for being the 'best of the best,' you don't want to be the best of anything when you're competing on the show because, if you are the 'best of the best' and are seen as a physically and mentally dominating personality, then you'll quickly get voted off. Simply because you're posed as a threat.
What did you learn about yourself as a result of being on the island specifically?
You learn a lot. I learned, first and foremost, that I don't talk to my friends and family as much as I should. I don't tell them I care about them as much as I should. And, I don't spend enough time with my mom and dad. And so... just ultimately realizing what's truly important and why we're put on this planet. And not taking things for granted, and realizing that, you know what? You don't need the latest, greatest car. I don't care what type of jeans you're wearing, even though I'm in the fashion industry, you know? Do you know what I mean? Just realizing what is truly important.
And how does that shift as far as, because that's when you're living it on the island, how does it change when it becomes this packaged show? Is there a second level of what you learn about the experience as viewer of the show?
Well, from a personal standpoint, I learned that there's so much within editing and splicing of the show. And how they can really mold you into whatever character they want to mold you. They take something that you said one day and it will truly be something you said a week prior or whatever. You learn a lot just about the dynamic of television.
It also seemed like, and I don't know if you were the only one, but you always seemed to be enjoying the fact that it was a game.
Yeah, I know. I think a lot of them, like 95 percent of them, took it way too seriously, and it is a million dollars. It is a lot of money and, to me, I think ultimately what led to my demise was just being gut-wrenchingly honest, wearing your heart on your sleeves, and telling the truth. And realizing that, you know what?, some things are better left unsaid.
On that last episode, when they introduced the one twist, it seemed like half the people looked panicked, half the people looked like 'what am I going to do about it?,' and you're just there smiling like, 'what a great twist in the game.'
It just seemed like you were a bit of an outcast in your reaction to that entire experience.
Well, honestly, I didn't really fit in with my tribe, to be perfectly truthful with you. They're good people but, would I hang out with them off the island? Probably not. I think it's all about timing for me and the rest of the Raro members. A lot of them were just really young, so just trying to.. I don't want to say dumb yourself down, because that sounds horrible, but trying to communicate and relate to someone on a different level. Not to say that I'm on this great level, but it was difficult, and for me, biting my tongue was difficult after two weeks. Things started flying out of my mouth that ultimately led to me being booted off.
That's one thing that people who knew I was going to be interviewing you kept asking me to ask you.. it all seemed to be in the same vein, which is this whole mentality of 'does he wish he didn't do the puzzles?' or 'did he wish he didn't say that?' And for me, even when I first contacted you about doing this interview, I went to wish you good luck, but it was like, it's already over. I can't you wish you luck on something that has already happened. So, what is it like to experience this whole thing? Like, for me, two weeks ago, you decided to do a puzzle, where in actuality, you were at Lucky doing your job. What's it like to experience this time shift?
It's different! But, you have to realize that the majority of America believes the show is in real-time. They don't know right from left. They don't understand what happens in Hollywood, and they think we're actually on an island right now, competing for a million bucks, and I was doing close to 75 radio interviews yesterday and a lot of them thought it was real-time, that we're still on the island.
What is it like when you're kicked off? Are you just on vacation in the Cook Islands?
I wouldn't necessarily call it a vacation, but what happens is you're put on a boat, and you're given this three-course meal. So, you're just there stuffing your face. I remember the first night, I woke up. I had only slept for about an hour, and in that hour your mind is racing, you're trying to get adjusted to the bed and everything, and within that hour, I ate half a vat of ice cream. I mean, I'm a pretty health-conscious guy, and I would never in a million years eat half a vat of ice cream, but you're put on this island and basically, being the first member of the jury, they give you activities to do throughout the day. It's just a lot of Entourage and Sex and the City DVDs.
So, you're not in contact with the real world then?
No, you're sequestered until it quits filming.
Aside from the media asking, are you still thinking, 'I should have said this...' or 'I should have done that'? Or are you pretty content with how the game played out?
I'm content. Do I have regrets? Yeah, you know what? Looking back, hindsight is 20/20. Maybe I should have swam. I didn't realize it was going to piss my tribe off. But, just a little bit about that particular incident, and the reason why I stepped up to the plate was because, you know, we'd lost in the final homestretch of every challenge, whether it was immunity or reward. I didn't want to lose because of a stupid puzzle. I do creative things for a living. I understand color stories and 'creative spatial things' is what I said. And Rebecca stepped up to the plate and said "I've been practicing swimming. I can do this.' So, there wasn't any rebuttal from my team. They were OK with it. And I didn't realize that, you know what?, this is going to be ultimately what is leading to my demise and getting voted off.