Married and millionaires—amazing!
BY Advocate.com Editors
August 22 2003 12:00 AM ET
Reichen Lehmkuhl and Chip Arndt, a gay couple who celebrated their one-year anniversary during the course of CBS's reality show The Amazing Race, won the contest's $1 million prize by being the first team to cross the finish line in Phoenix in the final episode, which aired on August 21. The duo competed with 11 other two-person teams, most of which were eliminated one by one in a race around the world, beginning in Los Angeles and continuing through Europe, India, Malaysia, Korea, and Australia. They also competed with their own demons, as they competed aggressively to stay ahead of the pack, lost their tempers, and debated when to come out as a gay couple to the other players.
After winning the race on that final episode, the duo were shown greeting all the eliminated players gathered at the finish line, while they made a dramatic, heartfelt voice-over statement about how their victory would demonstrate that gay people are just as capable and have the same values and goals as everyone else.
It was perhaps the most revealing and detailed portrait of a real-life committed same-sex couple seen on network TV—at least since Team Guido, the long-term San Diego couple who came in third in The Amazing Race’s first season. Indeed, Chip and Reichen are the eighth and ninth openly gay male contestants to take off on The Amazing Race (all of whom have spoken to Advocate.com at the end of their journeys). As a couple, they’ve been together more than five years; as individuals, they each have intriguing stories of their own: Reichen, 28, is a pilot, a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, and a former Air Force officer, while Chip, 36, is a Yale and Harvard Business School graduate who is now a financial consultant specializing in funding entertainment projects.
As dramatic as the race itself—which involved Chip wrecking a race car, driving over Reichen’s toes, and running an SUV he was driving off the road in a tailspin, not to mention both of them rappelling face-first down tall buildings and Reichen swimming with sharks—was the gossip that surrounded their relationship once they returned home to Los Angeles. Were they still together? The bars of West Hollywood and the Internet chat rooms nationwide buzzed with definite confirmations that, yes, they had broken up and, yes, they were still together.
Finally, having been revealed as the winners of the race—beating second-place finishers, engaged couple Jon and Kelly, by mere minutes and third-place finishers, David and Jeff (straight best friends), by about a day—Chip and Reichen can finally address all the gossip head-on. And they can start figuring out what to do with that $1 million.
Hey, guys! Congratulations! Six months later—it’s been, what, six or seven months since you crossed that finish line in Phoenix?Reichen: Yeah, we finished on February 14—
You finished on Valentine’s Day?Reichen: Yeah! Valentine’s Day, so we had to keep it secret for like six months. It was really ridiculous because not only did we have to keep it secret that we’d won $1 million, we had to keep the secret that we were even on the race. Until June, when the Race came out [with the announcement about who the contestants were in this summer’s season], we couldn’t even tell anyone that we’d even done this. No one even knew we went on this Amazing Race.
So Reichen, when you did the cover of Instinct magazine, Instinct didn’t even know you were on the show.Reichen: They had no idea.
Let’s go back to the beginning of the race. You guys seemed a little apprehensive about disclosing that you were a gay couple. Did you think that would be detrimental to competing?Reichen: Well, I think on The Amazing Race you don’t want to tell anyone about your personal life, because part of your strategy is to keep your personal life a secret. You know, Jeff [of the third-place “best friends” team David and Jeff] hid that he was an amazing triathlete. You don’t want to let people know what your strengths and weaknesses are, because you don’t want them to have any kind of strategy against you. So it wasn’t that we were, like, ashamed of it. It was just not time for us to release it to the other contestants.
Do you think they figured it out anyway?Reichen: Some said they did, and some said they had no idea.
What made you decide to come out to the other teams on your anniversary? Reichen: Well, basically by that time we had been traveling with those teams for so long that we felt really close to them, and we felt that it wouldn’t be a detriment anymore at that time. And we had found out so much about them too and about their lives. It just made us feel more comfortable for them to know what they were dealing with and who we were as people.
One of the remaining teams at that point was Millie and Chuck, who did not seem very comfortable with all of that.Chip: Well, virgins from the Bible Belt who in their interviews said, “We read the Bible religiously”—yeah, they had a little bit of discomfort with it. But afterward—Reichen, didn’t they come to you?
Reichen: Yeah, coming from Nashville, Tenn.—where it’s not as open as what we come from in Los Angeles—I think it was tough for them to hear that, considering their very strong religious beliefs. But you know, afterward when we were done, off-camera they came up to us, and they said, “We just think you’re so courageous for coming out, and we just want you to know that we would never judge you.” So, I mean, there you go. It just shows that they have great character too. I mean, everybody on the race was so great.
What other teams off-camera were very supportive?Reichen: Definitely David and Jeff, [second-place finishers] Kelly and Jon.
Chip: Monica and Sheree [the NFL wives].
Reichen: All of those teams majorly supported us.
Chip: And Tian and Jaree [the models].
Reichen: Oh, yeah. Tian and Jaree were amazing too, yeah.
Tell me a little bit more about your relationship with Jon and Kelly, because they were at one point digging at you guys for being “fags” just to egg each other on. What was that about?Reichen: When we went on that 26-hour train ride in India after the Supremes [Monica and Sheree] were eliminated, you know, we really made a close, close friendship with Jon and Kelly, and that was definitely not portrayed in the editing and in what the viewing public saw. You saw a fraction of the funny jokes going back and forth, and one of the regrets I think I have from the editing was that it didn’t show this amazing, really funny friendship that we had developed with Kelly and Jon. I mean, the gay jokes were flying every five seconds—if you could have really seen how it was, I think it would have been so fun and humorous for the viewing public. But they [the producers] were trying to make out like we had a rivalry, which really wasn’t the case. It was so fun shooting these jokes back and forth. We were constantly telling Jon how pretty he was and how gay he was and reminding him how gay he was and, you know, he would come back with the gay jokes. We had so much fun. It really wasn’t a rivalry at all. It was great.
Chip: It was a flirtation.
Reichen: It really was a flirtation.
Chip: Like brothers kidding each other.
So by the time you were climbing face-first down the side of that tall building in Australia, and Jon was making cracks about not being beaten by the “fags,” this was part of an ongoing thing between you guys.Chip: Absolutely.
Reichen: Yeah, I don’t know if you remember when we were in the airport and Jon looked at me and said, “Oh, Reichen, you have that pheromone smell that keeps me attracted to you”—remember that? By that time, even, it was so funny. Chip would get miffed because I would get distracted because I thought Jon was so funny, and it was flirtatious. I mean, I would laugh so hard when Jon would do that with me. I would, like, try to stifle my laughter to hold my and Chip’s team together. It was so funny and comical at that point. By the time I was rappelling down the building, calling him an asshole, it was so—funny.
Is there anything else about the way that you guys were portrayed that you found misleading? Because especially at the beginning of the race, you guys came across as—let’s say, aggressive, starting with your blocking the doorway to that bus station in, I think it was, Switzerland—Reichen: I think the aggressive stuff was pretty accurate. And I think Chip got a little bit of a bad rap in Korea, when they made him out to hate this Korean guy because he didn’t speak English. I mean, it was taken totally out of context. But other than that, I think we got really accurate editing.
And as I understand it, you guys don’t see these shows until just before they air.Chip: No, we see it when you do.
Don’t you get a tape a day or two before?Reichen: We got the final episode on tape a day or two before, but just the final episode. Had we gone to CBS and said, “Hey, can we have a pre-copy?” they would have probably given it to us, but it was kind of more fun for us to wait each week and watch [the live broadcast].
Reichen, when I ran into you just before the race started broadcasting, you talked about you and Chip going to private viewing parties with people in their homes around Los Angeles. Did you get to do any of that?
Reichen: I did a couple times, but a lot of those nights were so busy because we were throwing our own parties with the actual CBS and Race people, so I didn’t get a chance to do that a lot. That is kind of a regret that I have, that I didn’t have the time to do that, because it really would have been fun.
Oh, I’m sure you’ll be invited to lots of parties now. Back to the show: You guys were portrayed throughout the show as “married,” from beginning to end. On the one hand, that’s great and we love that sense of equality. On the other hand, it’s not really true because you can’t get married in the United States. Do you think it’s at all misleading for people to be presented with you two as “married”?Reichen: No, I don’t think it’s misleading at all. When we were getting cast on the show, we made no secret to CBS that we wanted to be portrayed as married, and they said, “Well, are you legally married?” And we said, “No, we got married in California, but it’s not legally recognized by our state, but we consider ourselves married, [as do] our family, friends—and 200 of them were there [at the ceremony]—and under God, and CBS really took that to heart. They were skeptical and said, “Well, I don’t know. We’d love to help you, but we’ll bring it up to the executives,” and when the executives approved it at CBS, I mean, everybody was thrilled when the decision came out—even the people that made the decision. It was such a fun and wonderful thing that happened, and we were just thrilled that they were going to put “married” under our names. That’s how we considered ourselves.
You know, the big quote that came out was when the Christian Right was picketing and getting pissed off and writing articles and the Family Research Council called it “an aberration” that we were on the show and that CBS was a liar for saying that we were married. [The CBS executives] walked out [to meet the protesters]. And [CBS rep] Beth Feldman said, “They’re married, they’re gay, get over it. What’s the problem?” and turned back around and went in. I mean, that’s how they’ve handled it, and we just think it’s great.
It’s revolutionary. You know, it’s kind of saying, “Yeah, you know what? If the state isn’t going to recognize the rights that people want to have, then the people will go ahead and recognize that for the state.