CBS picks gay collegiate rower to carry this season's gay banner
By Ross Forman
On Feb. 12, Spencer Duhm will be the latest in a long line of openly gay participants in the show Survivor. And carrying on a piece of that tradition, he's also an athlete and sports fan.
DUHM ON BEING GAY:
He came out in January, 2008, though his plan for Survivor was not to tell anyone – unless asked. "I just didn't want anyone to judge me right off the bat because I am gay," he said. "When people are looking for reasons to get rid of you, that could be a reason and I didn't want to give them that reason." He is single.
Now at the University of Florida, he's found his way onto the crew team, which is a club sport at the school. He joined the Gators as a freshman in the fall of 2007, competing on the lower-tier novice team. By January 2008, halfway into his freshman year, he had moved up.
It was about that time that he came out.
"[Coming out] certainly was a concern of mine, being around 20-year-old guys. Of course I was curious to see how they would react, especially when the crew team is walking around in spandex all the time," Duhm said. "But they didn't care at all. They didn't look any different toward me than the day before I told them. The ones I was friends with before, I'm still friends with them. The coach was absolutely fine with it, too. It probably helped that we had another gay rower on the team who is older.
"When I came out, I got a great reception from the guys and the girls [on the team]. None of the guys changed their feelings toward me at all. I was very fortunate to have a lot of people around me who were OK for it. Coming out went pretty smoothly."
Still, Duhm admits that he really didn't know what to expect.
"I thought most of the people would be absolutely fine with it, and they were. Sure, there were a few who I thought might hold it against me, but they didn't. That was a relief," he said.
Duhm said being a college athlete did not impact his decision to come out. It was a personal choice he wanted to make.
"[Being gay] is who I am and if I'm going to be happy with myself, [coming out] was what I had to do," he said. "If they weren't going to accept me, then I don't need them in my life. I knew that there were a ton of people who would accept me and would be fine with it.
"Being on the team was not something that would have kept me from coming out."
There are about 80 members on the Gators’ club crew teams, including 20 to 25 who train under the head men’s coach. There are four coaches: a men’s novice, a women’s novice, a head women’s and a head men’s. "All were perfectly fine with [my sexuality]," he said of the coaches.
Duhm was on the team's top boat last fall, with its nine members, before leaving for Surivivor.
In addition to rowing, Duhm has had two passions over the years: Survivor and the beleaguered Chicago Cubs.
Duhm's been a borderline-obsessed Survivor fan since season one, when he was 11.
Jump back a few years to when he was in the ninth grade. Duhm said he finished a final exam, "and then for some reason I felt compelled to write on the chalkboard all of the Survivors, in the order they were voted off, from the first season through the Pearl Islands." He wrote their first name and their last name, plus all of the tribe information. That was 97 cast-offs at that point.
"It was a little ridiculous," Duhm now admits, laughing. "My friends took pictures and thought I was crazy. They thought that was really odd, but that was pretty normal to me. I guess that was the first thing that really triggered that I was a little crazy when it came to Survivor."
Duhm's fantasy turns to reality on Feb. 12, when he appears on the new season, Survivor: Tocantins. He is the lone openly gay castaway this season and is the youngest competitor in show history.
A Florida resident, Duhm is a diehard Cubs fan. Not a casual, bandwagon-jumping fan; He's been a Cub backer since age 5, when he braved 100-degree heat in the upper deck at Wrigley Field, sitting with his dad.
"I love the Cubs," Duhm said. "I watch WGN all season long when the Cubs are on. They drove me crazy [in 2008], losing to the Dodgers. My obsession with Survivor is equal to my obsession with the Cubs – and how much they drive me crazy. I'm hoping they break that 100-year streak soon."
Duhm's addiction to the Cubs is clear when he talks about the team's off-season transactions. Plus, he properly pronounces player's names and knows their nicknames.
"Getting rid of [second baseman Mark] DeRosa, I didn't understand that move; I think that was the worst one they've done," he said. I'm glad they got rid of [outfielder Felix] Pie. And I thought [the acquisition of controversial outfielder Milton] Bradley was a terrible move."
He is not competing this winter to instead focus on his academics after missing so much while filming Survivor. He will return to the team in the fall.
"Nothing dramatic has happened [since coming out], which is great," he said.
Correction: The original article did not make clear that rowing is a club sport at the University of Florida and this has been fixed.