The Toughest Woman on Reality TV

Farm girl Sandy Gabriel shows the boys, and the rest of us, how to muscle through the most difficult and dangerous jobs in America with a little Texas flare. Gabriel burst out of the closet on NBC’s America’s Toughest Jobs, as her friends, family, and students back home learn of her sexuality through reality TV.

BY Kandice Day

October 31 2008 12:00 AM ET

How did you hear
about the show?

My girlfriend
found an ad on Craigslist. They had an open casting call
here in Austin and it kind of started off as a little joke.
It seemed like a combination of Fear Factor and
Amazing Race, so I was like, “I can win this
hands down.” You know, I’m a farm girl.
I’m a country girl, I’m not afraid of
anything. I really wanted to do it because I haven’t
done any traveling. So I was looking forward to the
opportunity to just see what else is out there. Not
only that, I [didn’t want to] teach anymore. I
was just at a state in my life when I was ready to be me. I
had never been able to be me. I spent my whole life
hiding who I am. In the educational system parents
think you aren’t a good teacher because you’re
gay. They don’t look at you as a professional or at
how hard you work. I was just tired of being somebody
that I wasn't. So I said, “Here I am, this is
me.” It shouldn’t matter what my label is. At
the end of the day, my work should speak for itself.
Plus, I really wanted to find out what I’m made
of. I know I’m tough, but it’s hard when
you’re gone for eight weeks with no contact
with your loved ones and family. You’re put through
the most physical, mental, and emotionally challenging jobs.

Were you out to
your friends and family before you decided to go on the
show?

Well, I have a
girlfriend, but I never told my dad so he found out on TV.
One of my brothers knew, one didn’t, and I told my
mom. I have two separate lives; one with my girlfriend
and one at work where I wear my heels and I fix my
hair. So this was a merging of the two, putting it all
together and not caring what anyone else thought of me.

None of your high
school students knew?

No way. I do not
hint around, or let anyone…the thing about kids at
the high school level is they’re young and
immature. I just try to make sure that when I’m
in the classroom the kids look at me as a strong woman and
a great educator. They’re young and trying to figure
out who they are, how are they supposed to understand
who you are. I definitely keep my personal life
separate.

Do they know now
after the show has aired?

I don’t
know. None of them have said anything. I never told them I
was going on the show, they found out on their own. I
didn’t want them to think, “Oh,
she’s on TV.” I want people to get to know me
— what I stand for and my expectations. I
didn’t want everybody trying to get in my class
because I was on TV. So, they’ve been watching, but
the episode that my girlfriend was on aired on a
Friday night, which is football night. So, I
don’t know if anyone even saw that episode. The only
thing they’ve ever said to me is they think I
talk a little bit of crap. I just tell them that I
have to tell people how it is sometimes.

Was it a concern
of yours when you decided to go on the show that
students and parents would find out you are gay and
retaliate?

When I went on
the show I wasn’t planning on teaching again. I was
planning on becoming a police officer. I was going to head
out for the academy on April 28, but I left for the
show April 20. If I wasn’t going to teach or
coach anymore, then I was either going to become a police
officer or open my own youth recreational center. I’m
all about the youth. Working with kids is phenomenal.
But I did have a sit down with my principal before the
show aired to tell her what I said, that I did come
out, I do drink and cuss and I am gay. I had to prepare her
for what parents might say. The faculty saw the show,
and some of them I don’t really speak to
anymore. But, I just really don’t care anymore.
I’m tired of living my life for everyone else.

On the show, they
didn’t show the argument with Chris. On the episode
he called me “that chick,” when really
he called me “that dyke.” That’s when
I got absolutely livid. That’s just one of the most
hateful words that you can use. I don’t think
everyone understands the hatred behind that word. And
everybody had already been making a bunch of gay comments
before that. On episode one, one of the cast members was
saying “I can’t believe they
didn’t cast a bull-dyke.” You know, and one of
the bosses said “only steers and queers come
from Texas.” Every boss on every job that I was
on focused on that, which didn’t make air. It was
stressful. Plus, I hate how everybody thinks that if a
woman is tough she’s a man, or she’s a
dyke. Why can’t women just be strong? There are
strong working women out there.

Tags: television

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