Chip: Reality sets in
Any real fan of
reality TV knows that some of the best stuff happens
after the cameras are turned off, after the show has
wrapped, and after the contestants, houseguests, tribe
members, and bachelors go home and go back to reality.
Chip Arndt and Reichen Lehmkuhl are testaments to this
idea. In a summer saturated with queer eyes and boys meeting
boys, this “married” couple stole the
show, won more than a few hearts, and took home the
million-dollar prize on CBS’s The Amazing
Race. And they did it all while looking so hot
that even the straight guys on the show were flirting
But the real
story came after the show and the other times their teamwork
had been put to the test. Barely a month after CBS handed
the couple their prize money—$620,000 after
taxes—Arndt’s and Lehmkuhl’s lives have
taken an amazing turn.
After Arndt had
helped Lehmkuhl, a former Air Force captain, through the
difficult years of the “don’t ask,
don’t tell” closet; after Lehmkuhl
supported Arndt when his online entertainment company was
swept away in the flood of dot-com failures; and after
the couple beat 11 other teams in a race around the
world, they decided to break up.
37-year-old financial consultant, is living in Miami, and
Lehmkuhl, a 29-year-old Air Force Academy graduate and
founder of the charter service Tribe Airways, is
staying in Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. He
recently appeared on an episode of Frasier and
will appear in late October on three episodes of The
Young and the Restless.
But just like all
good reality shows, this one has to start with a bit of
a back story:
How did you two meet?
Lehmkuhl: It was actually at an after-party to a
birthday party at a club in Los Angeles in January
1999. I saw Chip across this crowded room and came up
and talked to him. He claims no one had ever hit on him
before, but I did. We connected right away.
Arndt: I was smitten from the beginning, and I acted
a little aloof. He actually offered me a drink, and I
said no. I think sometimes there’s a defense
mechanism of What do I do? What do I say? But
yeah, it was love at first sight.
Lehmkuhl: I was in the Air Force, and I was
moonlighting: The only reason I was at this high-end
party was because I was the Bacardi boy. I remember
distinctly being really bitter [when Chip turned down the
drink], thinking that all these high-powered people were
looking down at me. I said, “I know what kind
of person you think you are.”
It sounds like you were giving each other mixed signals.
Lehmkuhl: I know. But I pulled Chip into a stairwell
and kissed him. He said, “Who the fuck are
you?” And that’s how we met.
How did “don’t ask, don’t
tell” play into your relationship?
Lehmkuhl: When Chip E-mailed me, he never signed his
name. And I would get upset if he put anything
remotely romantic in an E-mail. I was so afraid of
getting kicked out of the Air Force and losing everything
for being gay. We had to hide it.
Could you tell people that you were dating Reichen?
Arndt: I told my family and certain people whom I
knew who were far away and wouldn’t say
anything. But a lot of people in L.A. didn’t
know. It was hard [in that way] because you really love the
person and respect what they’re doing and going
through, and you want to make sure that you
don’t screw anything up.
Did you have to tell Chip what he could and
Lehmkuhl: When people aren’t totally familiar
with the military, there’s a lot you have to
educate them about. It’s mostly fun stuff. You
fill them in on what the rank system is, what the bars on
your shoulders mean, why you have to salute, and why
other people salute you. The great thing for straight
people is that you’re actually bringing your
mate into this really cool world, and it’s really a
great big family. Or so they say—unless
you’re gay. Then it’s not a family. I would
tell Chip about all these cool things and then have to
say, “Oh, but you’re not allowed to come
to this function because you’re a guy.”
Arndt: When Reichen got pinned as a captain, we had
two different ceremonies. One was the official one
that I couldn’t go to, and the other was the
official one in my mind, with all of his friends and family
and a friend in the military whom we can’t name
because he’s still there. I think what I
noticed was that Reichen had two jobs. One was being a
captain in the Air Force, and the other job was figuring out
how to keep from saying the wrong thing or doing the
wrong thing so he wouldn’t lose everything.
Lehmkuhl: And not just lose everything: The fear and
the embarrassment of the trial. Someone dragging you
into court and questioning you on your bedroom
practices or questioning you on your lifestyle. I
can’t think of anything that would be more degrading.
If this were happening in corporate America, we would
all be outraged. But for some reason we’re not
outraged when it’s happening in our
Are you working with Servicemembers Legal Defense Network now?
Lehmkuhl: Yes, I signed on with SLDN to be their
spokesperson fighting “don’t ask,
don’t tell.” I’ll be either narrating
or hosting a new and very powerful documentary that
they’re releasing very soon. This charity is so
important to me and so close to my heart. When I was at the
Los Angeles Air Force Base and I had officers—friends
of mine—come up to me and say,
“So-and-so thinks you’re gay,” I got
very scared and had to call SLDN. They [calmed] the
anxiety I was having by saying, “If something
happens to you, you’re under our wing now.”
That was very powerful.
So did that pressure precipitate your leaving the
military in 2001?
Lehmkuhl: Yeah, I think I left the military glad that
I was leaving. I wasn’t happy about getting out
of the military, but I was happy to be able to be me,
and that’s what sucks. I had some serious
separation anxiety when I left. I remember one night about a
month after I left, I broke down crying at dinner with
Chip. I was thinking about all the work and everything
I had put into the Air Force. Had the higher-ups found
out that I was gay, even after everything I did, they
wouldn’t want me anymore. That would make
anyone cry if they really thought about it.
And how did leaving the military change your relationship?
Lehmkuhl: I have so much more self-esteem now. I have
a lot more strength as a person. I’m a lot more
confident in myself and in my abilities. And I think
that has definitely changed our relationship: I became
less needy of Chip, and that was a tough transition for both
How was that for you?
Arndt: I think Reichen said it right: It was a very
tough transition. But I think it has been a wonderful
thing because it’s a journey. It’s
wonderful to see somebody be able to do what they want and
speak their own mind. That’s the best thing that has
And then one day you decided to meet a friend for a drink
at the Abbey [a West Hollywood, Calif., bar].
Lehmkuhl: Thirty seconds after I walked in, this
casting agent approached me and said,
“What’s your name? Have you ever heard of
The Amazing Race?” and
“You’re exactly what I’m looking for.
Do you have a brother or father or someone that you
could do the show with?” I said, “Well,
I have a husband.” And he about fell over and peed
his pants. So Chip, who was in Connecticut on
business, flew back immediately, and we had a meeting
with CBS the next day. We kept getting called back and
called back, and finally they took us. That was it: They
cast us for The Amazing Race.
Were you fans of the show?
Lehmkuhl: We had seen it before, but we
weren’t addicts. But only because we
didn’t have time and we didn’t give it the
time we now know everyone should give it.
There have been
other gay people on reality TV, and even other gay people
who took home the million dollars. But there seems to be
more interest in you guys.
Arndt [gesturing to Lehmkuhl]: Well, look at that
I mean, here’s a story from the Philippine
Daily Inquirer, of all papers, that calls
you “sexy specimens of manhood.” How much
of the interest is about the way you played the
game, and how much of it is about the way you look?
Lehmkuhl: I’m sure there is some interest from
people who like the way we look, but I also think that
the people who really like The Amazing Race saw
how we played. People watch because they can imagine
themselves running and because they identify with a
particular team. They want the team to act as they
would. And I think there are qualities they like to
see, such as competitiveness and patience, and then also not
putting up with anyone’s crap.
But how do you keep the attention to your looks from
going to your head?
Lehmkuhl: I don’t believe in it. Chip tells me
that I’m good-looking, and I still wake up in
the morning and say, “I feel so ugly today.
What is wrong with me? What should I do? What can I do to
fix this?” And he’ll say, “I have
no idea what you’re talking about.” I think
it’s just my upbringing. I was a very ugly child. I
mean, I was ugly in the sense that I was always very
skinny and my ears stuck out. I was a nerd. I’m
very insecure. I don’t believe that I’m
Even when there’s a [vitamin ad] billboard
featuring you in West Hollywood?
Lehmkuhl: Yeah, I look at the billboard and I think,
Oh, my God. I hope they don’t see that one
thing that I can see that’s really bugging
What is that?
Lehmkuhl: I don’t want to talk about it
because then they’ll see what I see.
It’s probably a disease, when you can’t see
yourself the way others see you. That’s why
Chip has been great, because I need to be in a
relationship where someone’s always telling me that I
look OK and that I’m doing OK and that
I’m not making an ass of myself.
How about you Chip? How do you keep the attention to your
looks from going to your head?
Arndt: Well, at this stage in my life I want it to go
to my head [laughs]. Any role model or leader
has to pay attention to how they look. Howard Dean is
running for president. I was just talking to him two
months ago, and he’s conscious of looking good.
There are a lot
of different dimensions that are beautiful. Reichen did a
gorgeous spread in Instinct magazine that was all
over the world. But let’s be
truthful—getting a six-pack or eight-pack or 10-pack
is hard work. And when people see it, it’s
beautiful. So there are two things working there:
It’s beauty, but you also realize that it
doesn’t happen overnight. There is a whole
other side to it—dedication, self-discipline,
focus. And I think that, all together, makes us what that
Philippine paper was saying.
Sexy specimens of manhood?
Lehmkuhl [laughing]: That makes me
I know you were adamant about being identified as
“married” on the show. Why was that important
?Lehmkuhl: It was important because we had been
married for almost four years at that point. Actually,
we had our ceremony on February 2, 2002. When we went in to
CBS together, we said we were married. And they said,
“We don’t know if we can put
‘married’ on there.” But they ran it by
the executives, and they decided they could. And when
the Christian right reacted to it, [a CBS
representative] came out and said, “They’re
gay, and they’re married. What’s the
problem?” That was CBS’s statement. CBS stood
behind us. That was groundbreaking, brave, and
So this has elevated you to role models for marriage.
What do you say to people about it?
Arndt: The word marriage is owned by the church
because that’s what it says in the dictionary.
If you want to give us another title, that’s
fine. Civil unions, I don’t care. As long as we have
the same overall benefits that everyone else has.
Lehmkuhl: In order to be given certain rights, you
have to register your relationship with the
government. This is what we’re all fighting
for. We can all register our relationships with God;
that’s no one’s business. But if you
have to register your relationship with the government
to get these rights, then we should be able to register our
relationship with the government. We’re part of this
government. We pay taxes to this government. We serve
in the military of this government. And we should be
able to have the same rights as anyone else.
You talked with Advocate.com about how the race
strengthened your relationship. How was that?
Arndt: It strengthens a relationship when you
get to know somebody better and understand their
weaknesses and strengths—and can still see through
those things. We all make mistakes, and we all make
little blunders. It’s seeing through those
things. The show is a comedy of errors. And I think
that’s where the relationship is
The show seemed
to change these two in other ways as well. Arndt—who
came across so clearly as the A-type personality on
the program that few viewers were surprised when he
wrecked a race car and ran an SUV off the road in his
“get out of my way now”
determination—is now quiet. He seldom answers a
question during the interview unless it’s directed
specifically at him, allowing the more enthusiastic
Lehmkuhl to answer for them both. But when
they’re asked about these changes—about where
their relationship stands today—they both get
quiet. Arndt reaches over several times to touch the
side of Lehmkuhl’s head, an intimate gesture, as if
he were tucking his hair behind his ear, if it were
long enough to do so.
Lehmkuhl: Here we go.
Arndt: We have to go into it.
Lehmkuhl: When the show first started I think we felt
an obligation to answer every question. We quickly
learned that’s not the case. We’ve also
learned to value our privacy and that there are lines we
don’t want to cross. But go ahead and ask us
questions, and we’ll tell you if we can answer
Well, what can you tell me about the state of your relationship?
Lehmkuhl: We are broken up, officially. And
it’s very recently that we decided that this
was the case. Without going into all the intricate
details of why and who did what, I think that it’s a
decision that is the best for both of us.
Arndt: I agree.
Lehmkuhl: There isn’t anyone in the world who
I think about more often in a day’s time than
Chip, and it has been like that since the day I met
him. I totally want the best for him in anything that
happens, and I know that he feels the same way about
Is it more difficult breaking up now that you’re
famous for being married, for being a team?
Lehmkuhl: We were a team and we are a team and
we’ll always be a team in so many ways. Chip
will always be on my team, and I’ll always be
on his. We haven’t split apart from each other.
We’re just not intimately involved anymore. But
the fact that we’re split up doesn’t negate
that we were married for quite some time. And it
doesn’t negate the fact that we think people
should have marriage rights. My parents are straight, but
they got a divorce. And they got a divorce because it was
the best thing for both of them. But that
doesn’t mean that straight relationships don’t
work. It’s so hard to have people walk up to us and
say, “How does it feel to be the role model for
gay relationships?” Well, it doesn’t feel
very good because ours isn’t working out.
That’s my answer.
Arndt: In a lot of straight relationships, when they
split up, people don’t stay in touch. They
aren’t on each other’s teams. We’re
still in each other’s lives as much as possible.
We’re just doing different things right now.
We’re supporting each other along the way. And
I think if anything, it reinforces the fact that gay people
might be more mature and healthy about going their
separate ways while still being supportive.
Lehmkuhl: I think that that’s because gay
people—after being in the closet for a long
time like a lot of us have—really value the right
to be in a relationship. Actually, we see it as a privilege,
not a right. I know I do. After coming out of the
military it is a privilege for me to be in a
relationship with a guy out in the open.
Arndt: When people look at us as role models and then
wonder if we still are because we no longer spend
every day together, I say, “Wait a
second.” We spent four years doing a tremendous
amount of things. I was very supportive of Reichen,
helping him get out of the military and making a
gigantic career decision. We supported each other through my
business, when I was closing it down, and when he was
starting a new business. And then we did The
Amazing Race together—and we managed to
win. If people are looking at the success of a marriage just
on a time basis, I would say that’s an
inappropriate way to look at it.
Lehmkuhl: I hope that you print everything that
we’re saying today because it’s really
important to us. This is the first time we’ve said
those words: “We are broken up.” Just so you
know. That’s the first time I’ve told
anybody that. And I don’t know if it’s because
I feel so comfortable with you as an interviewer or
because I feel comfortable with The Advocate,
because we love The
Advocate. But we don’t want to just say
we’re broken up and that’s it. We have a lot
But your relationship is what people are interested in.
Do you hate that people want to know this?
Arndt: Leaders, role models, whoever decides to put
themselves in the limelight, have a certain amount of
responsibility. Michael Jordan—when he had a
gambling problem—said to himself, You know,
you’re a role model to kids; you’d
better stop gambling. Some gay marriages don’t
work, just like any marriage. But we also have to say that
they do work. It could be three years, it could be
four years, it could be 30 years.
Lehmkuhl: They were wonderful years. I will never
Arndt: Maybe the irony here is that maybe
we’re the perfect role models for marriage,
given that 80% of marriages end in divorce. So maybe
we should be talking to people about how to disengage from a
relationship in a healthy way.
So what happens now?
Arndt: In the past two years I’ve been helping
people with their businesses. And what that basically
means is that I help people create financial wealth
and protect financial wealth. I’m based in Miami
right now because I have two clients down there that
I’m going to be dedicating a lot of my time to
in the next few months. I want to continue to have a
presence in California and in New York as well. People who
need some business advice and financial advice that
they can trust should give me a call.
Lehmkuhl: I want to keep acting. I have three acting
coaches now, and I’m also studying in a class.
And it’s not because I just started acting.
Everybody thinks that after coming out of The Amazing
Race I started being an actor. It bothers me a
little bit because it’s not true. I’ve
actually been doing theater since I was in elementary
school. And now that I’ve won The Amazing
Race, I finally have the chance to follow this
dream. I was blessed with the opportunity to do one line
on Frasier. And I was blessed with the opportunity to
be on my favorite show, The Young and the
Restless. I signed with an agent, finally, and
I’m taking it very seriously. I am crossing my
fingers and toes, and I’m going to do the best
job I can.
And what’s this I hear about a calendar?
Lehmkuhl: There is going to be a 2005 Reichen
calendar through 10 Percent Productions. There are
also going to be some Reichen magnets and other items.
I just signed that deal. So I’m very excited about
that. Tribe Airways will continue too, and we are
starting to do some scenic tour flights around
Southern California. And yes, I will be flying some of
those flights, by request.
Arndt: In addition, I would like to tell people I
have been very political in the past, that this is one
of my passions. So what I would like to do is put
myself out there and be available to speak in schools
and at corporations and help people deal with gay issues. If
people want to hear from somebody who’s been
through it all, from Wall Street to dating someone in
the military—and someone who definitely has an
opinion on these things—I would love to try to
I have to know, what’s happening to the money?
Lehmkuhl: On the boring side, Chip and I paid off our
debts. I had a lot of flight-school debt because I got
my commercial pilot’s license and my flight
instructor’s license when I got out of the Air Force.
And Chip had Harvard and Yale debts. So we were able
to write a check, and it felt so good. We’ve
also both already given a tremendous amount to
charity, including SLDN; AIDS Project Los Angeles; the
National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association; the
Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network; and
Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.
How much went to Uncle Sam?
Lehmkuhl: Thirty-eight percent goes to Uncle Sam,
which sucks. But you have to look at it and say,
“I thank God that I live in that tax
bracket.” Believe me, we’re certainly not