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.”
Herschel also swims on a non-competitive team at his New York City gym.
“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.