Married and millionaires—amazing!

Married and            millionaires—amazing!

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 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.

I agree with all of that, but in the hinterlands, there are gay people—and I talk to them, I get e-mails from them—who say, “So where can I get married?” Because they think gay couples can get legally married in Vermont or Hawaii. And it’s sad that I have to write back to them and say, “No, you can’t get married anywhere in the United States.” Reichen: You shouldn’t write that. You should write back and say, “You can get married anywhere you want. Just set up a ceremony and do it under God and wear your rings and tell everyone that you’re married.”

Chip: What I think people are mixing up here is what the state recognizes for insurance reasons and all the rest of that, so you can qualify for certain things, and what does your spirituality recognize. And I think it’s needed that people try to separate those two issues. And the word “married,” I guess, in the Oxford dictionary is a term used in a church [ceremony] for a man and woman, and what’s happening today, which has always happened through any revolution of culture, is that people redefine words. And we’re basically saying—

Reichen: It’s time to redefine.

Chip: It’s time to redefine it. They’re doing it in Canada; they already recognize it in Amsterdam. The United States is way behind on many issues, and I don’t really care how you would like to phrase it: We like to use the word “married.”

Reichen: So I understand why you write that to people, that they can’t get married, because it’s true: They can’t legally get married. But I guess the message we’re sending and what CBS is sending is, “If you feel like you’re married, then you’re married. “You know what I mean?

Yeah, that’s cool. And speaking of being married: If you were celebrating your one-year anniversary on the show—I don’t know how long you had been together before you got married—but a year’s not really that long. You’re still learning about each other. How did the race affect your relationship?

Reichen: Well, we had been together for three and a half years before the actual ceremony of February 2 [2002]. But the race definitely affected our relationship. It definitely strengthened it on the race—we got to know so much about each other, and winning together was just an amazing experience. Um, but—you know, after the race, there was a lot of stress between us. And we’ve definitely had some relationship problems. And we continue to try to work those problems out.

So do you consider yourselves a couple now?Reichen: It’s just been an ongoing thing for us. And so we can’t really give you any concrete answer of, you know, “Are you separated? Are you through?” The answer is no. “Are you together?” The answer is, “No, not all the time.” We’re still working things through. It’s been a tough time.

I’m sure it’s been tough for you. During the entire run of the show, I know from being here in Los Angeles, that the status of your relationship was like the hottest topic in West Hollywood. Was that hard for you guys?Reichen: Yeah, it’s so hard, because everyone’s talking about it, and you know, we just interviewed with—I’ll leave the paper nameless—but the interviewer said, “You know, in your Instinct article you said you were single” and da-da-da, and I had to stop the guy and say, “I never said in the Instinct article that I was single, and that’s how rumors get started.” And you know, there’ve been so many rumors flying around—it’s so hard to divulge this, I have to be honest—yeah, we’ve had a lot of problems. I hate telling the public that after fighting for our title of “married” and everything else. But we’re in a relationship like anyone else, you know? We love each other very much, and we want each other to be happy, and whatever’s gonna make that happen is what Chip and I are going to do. It’s no different from how we’ve always been with each other. We just want each other to be happy.

Chip: Relationships evolve and, as Reichen just said, to reiterate, um, people work on things and they want to—and we love each other. And that’s the critical thing. And we go from there.

I have say, I knew you guys were trying to work it out in some way when my partner, Christopher, ran into you at the grocery store in West Hollywood. Because you don’t go grocery shopping with your ex.

[Both laugh]

So, do you have any advice for gay couples who want to get on the next Amazing Race, if there is one, or any other competitive reality TV show?Reichen: Yeah: Walk in there, and all you want to keep saying is, “We’re gonna win,” because that’s what they want to see. They want to see people who, over everything else, just want to win because they know that’s gonna make for good TV. And remember, it’s all about ratings, so they just want people with piss and vinegar in their eyes.

[Laughs] And as a flip side to that, what advice do you give gay couples who are going to travel together for extended periods?Reichen: Don’t let Chip drive.

[All laugh]

I have to ask you about Chip’s driving. You’re a pilot, Reichen—what’s Chip doing driving? Why didn’t you take over?Reichen: I know!

Chip: He’s a navigator as well. And I screwed up at the very beginning, at the very first airport—it set the tone. I had the map turned upside down. So instead of turning left, we turned right, and we got to the airport 10 minutes later, and so we were on the last flight more or less.

Reichen: And I never forgave him.

Chip: And that set the tone for the rest of the race. You know, by probably about halfway through the race, we’d learned lessons and forgave each other and made things a little more humorous, but that’s why I drove all the time. And if you watch, every other team had the same system: One person drove, one person navigated. We were no different.

So you decided it was more important to have Reichen navigating.Chip: Absolutely. And we got places a lot of times before other people. I mean, everyone made mistakes. This show is about a comedy of errors, and it’s so funny that people like to pinpoint, “Oh, you did this bad, and you did this bad, and you did this bad”—every team did things badly.

Were you horrified when the car went spinning off the road [in Hawaii, in the final episode]?Reichen: Oh, my God! That was the most scary moment of the whole race for me, because, one, I was just really sick of sitting in the backseat. I always feel out of control at any time in my normal life if I have to sit in the backseat of someone’s car. And because I’m a pilot, I just love to drive, you know? I like to be in control of the vehicle, and it was just so hard for me to sit back there, and then when we started spinning, I thought, Oh, my God! I was horrified.

Did you feel then or at any other time that you might be out of the race?Reichen: At that point, yeah. That was the only time I think I felt that way.

Chip: That was the only time I felt we might have been out of the race. When we were pedaling in India, when we did the [transporting of the] chickens [by bicycle], I knew Reichen had stronger legs than an elephant and faster legs, but that was very close.

Reichen: That was scary.

So, Chip, how frustrated were you that you kept coming in not quite first place at the pit stops?Chip: That was very frustrating. What really got me angry was [thinking,] What are we doing wrong? What are the little things we’re not going right? Because if you look at the statistics, I think we finished second five or six times.

And the only time you finished first was when you did the Fast Forward [winning a challenge to skip to the end of a race segment], right?Chip: It was very frustrating. We lost out on little things just by— yeah, it was frustrating. It would have been fun to win more trips or finish first and have that confidence, but again, our strategy the whole time was just to keep not getting eliminated [to make sure] we got to the final three.

Well, you finished first when it counted.Reichen: We sure did!

Chip: The final leg clicked. And as Reichen said the day before, he said, “Look, you know we can win this thing.” And all the rest of the [finalists] are good teams, and David and Jeff we thought were going to be right there with us, and we just focused and said, “Let’s do this and win.”

And at what point did you know that you really were going to win?Reichen: I remember the moment: We were in Honolulu, and I looked at Chip and I said, “You know what? We’re going to actually win this race. I actually feel that we’re going to win this race.” I never stopped thinking that, and neither did Chip, and we kept that in our heads all the way to the finish line, and it really helped us focus. We didn’t make any mistakes; we just consistently did well and got there first.

You did. Now I’m going over my 15 minutes, but I wanted to ask you, Reichen, I understand you’re doing a documentary about the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy—Reichen: Did you hear about that through SLDN [the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network]?

SLDN put out a press release this morning.Reichen: Yeah, you know, I was really happy to agree to do their documentary, to be a spokesperson for getting rid of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and lifting the ban on gay people in the military. So I will definitely be doing that. And I don’t know if you know, I got the opportunity to do the season premiere of Frasier.

Cool! No, I didn’t know that. When will that air?Reichen: That will air September 23. I have one line—

Chip: Ye-a-a!

Reichen: That I wouldn’t change for the world. And it was such an amazing week, just working with the whole cast. We rehearsed all week, and the cast was just coming off hiatus, so they weren’t memorizing their lines as fast, so I got to rehearse with them a lot more. And some of the cast were big fans of Amazing Race, and I came on set, and they were, like, “Oh, my God! I’m such a big fan of you and Chip!” And I was like, “You’re not allowed to be a fan of me, you’re on Frasier! We’re supposed to be fans of yours.”

Well, Frasier is the gayest show on television—at least until It’s All Relative comes on this fall.Reichen: It was such a wonderful time. I play the part, in the credits it’s called “the impossibly handsome man.” I have one line in the opening scene of the season premiere. So I’m so excited about that. I have an acting coach now, I’m signing with an agent this week, and I’m trying to get on a soap opera. So that’s the next—

Do you have other plans to use your TV fame to advance gay rights?Reichen: You know what, right know I’m going to really focus on “don’t ask, don’t tell” solely and on Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. It’s just gonna be my primary focus right now.

It’s a great cause and a great organization. Chip, what are you up to?Chip: Actually, I was pretty political about five years ago. When I was in New York, [I was involved with] Empire State Pride [Agenda] and a lot of other things, and I’m going to actually try to use this to go on some speaking tours around the country to try to help youth and kids feel as though they can come out and do it with pride. And then on the business front, I’ve been consulting for the past year and a half, and while it’s been fun helping individual small companies, I’ve been focusing on finding some full-time work back in the media community that I love. I helped run a company for two years that we closed down a couple years ago, and I’m in the job market to go back [into the media realm].

Excellent. What are you going to do with the $1 million?Chip: I’m going to have some fun and get a Ducati motorcycle.

Reichen: I have a Ducati, and Chip wants to ride with me.

Chip: So that’ll be fun. And you know, on the mundane side, we’re going to look to invest in some property, because it’s a good investment, and pay down a little bit of my business school debt that I have. And Reichen has a commercial [pilot’s] license, and he put himself through school for that, and [we need to] finish up paying for that.

Great! I hope we’ll be touch again when the immediate madness is over, and we’ll talk about what we can do together in the future.Chip: Please stay in touch. This has been an incredible experience and a ride for us, and any advice you have for Reichen and myself—because The Advocate has always been a wonderful publication for the gay community, and anything we can do to help, please let us know.

Reichen: We love you guys!

We love you back. Thanks a lot. Congratulations again.Chip: Goodbye.

Reichen: Bye!

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