Reichen & Chip: Reality sets in

Presented as a married couple on CBS’s The Amazing Race, they won the $1 million prize. Now anxious to use their success to talk about gay marriage and military rights, Chip and Reichen first have to face their biggest challenge yet: breaking up

BY John Barrett

October 13 2003 11:00 PM ET

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
with them.

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.

Arndt, a
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
couldn’t do?

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
military.

Tags: World

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