Gay attorney and marathon runner Charlie Herschel is one of 18 participants in the newest edition of “Survivor: Gabon” that premieres tonight and the latest edition to the show’s list of openly gay competitors.
It’s an experience the 29-year-old New Yorker has relished since the CBS show premiered 17 seasons ago.
“I’d been a huge fan ever since the first season, but you just read about the tens of thousands of applicants, so I never threw in an application because I thought it would be a complete waste of time,” Herschel tells the Advocate in an interview. “Then I was twiddling around one weekend at my desk, procrastinating, and I was like, I’m never going to get this experience unless I at least try once to apply. One thing led to another and I finally got cast.”
Herschel’s strategy going into the show was to be “flexible and adaptable.” Being the show’s only openly gay competitor was an asset, he says.
“On ‘Survivor,’ a lot have romantic interests out there and that distracts them from winning the game. I knew I was never going to be tempted out there because I was going to be the only gay person, so if anything, I knew it was just going to help my game. But it does add a little bit of stress being the only gay character and knowing you’re going to be representing that demographic,” he tells the Advocate.
Herschel has completed seven marathons, a feat considering that in high school he couldn’t even complete a one-mile run for a 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 tells Outsports in an interview. “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.”
“Slowly I’ve become more athletic in my 20s,” he tells Outsports. “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.”
Before he left for the show, Herschel befriended another gay reality show contestant. This one—Clay Aiken—jumped back into the headlines this week when he came out on the cover of People.
“Well, he’s not a close friend of mine,” herschel tells the Advocate. “We’ve only hung out, like, twice. I fell out of touch with him for a little while, but there was a point when I was in law school that I was on IM almost every day, so we used to IM almost every day. But we haven’t spoken since I got back from Africa, so he doesn’t even know I was on Survivor. But there was a point, up through when I left for Survivor, where we were in pretty close contact.”
“Survivor: Gabon” airs Thursday at 8 p.m. on CBS beginning Sept. 25.