By John Jameson
Originally published on Advocate.com May 20 2009 12:00 AM ET
Reichen Lemhkuhl and then-partner Chip Arndt won season 4 of The Amazing Race , and now a second gay man has finished in the top three. But Luke Adams was known to viewers not for being gay ... but for being deaf.
Luke, 23, and his mother, Margie, made a formidable team, finishing consistently in the top four throughout the competition, and they were just one surfboard short of winning the million-dollar first prize.
In a reality show that has competitors traversing continents and cultures, communication is crucial to a team's success, and Luke's being deaf would seem to put his team at a distinct disadvantage.
Quite the contrary. Luke and his mom have developed a special line of communication -- a hybrid of standardized American Sign Language and home sign -- that served them well on the show, enabling them to work out strategies and tactics in front of other competitors without giving anything away.
Advocate.com caught up with Luke a few days after the May 10 airing of the final episode of season 14, which showed Team Victor and Tammy clinching first place, Cara and Jaime in second, and Luke and Margie in third.
Advocate.com:You guys taped this season of The Amazing Race last November. When did you get to screen the episodes?Luke Adams: When it premiered on TV in February. We didn't get any special treatment from the producers. We just watched it along with the rest of the TV viewing audience.
Had you told your family how well you placed?No, we kept it a secret. We wanted them to be surprised that we made it to the final three.
You applied several times to be on Race before finally being accepted. How did you convince your mom to join you? It wasn't that hard to convince her to try out with me because she didn't think we would be selected! So the joke was on her! But we've always had a very close relationship. She's a great mom who has always supported everything I do.
Tell me about coming out to your family.I came out to my mom at 19, when I was in college in Rochester, N.Y. I texted her -- she was back home in Colorado -- but I was pretty nervous about it. I come from a large family with a lot of cousins, but there aren't any other gay people in our family, so I wasn't sure how she would react. But she was very supportive and said, "It's about time you told me!" adding that she knew I was gay before I did. I joked that she should have just told me instead of letting me try to figure it out on my own.
Were there any surprises when you watched the episodes on TV? Did you feel any of the teammates were portrayed unfairly?That's a good question. There were some really good moments that weren't shown, and I was surprised that Linda [who competed with husband Steve] used private transportation in the second episode. I would say most team members were portrayed accurately, but remember, I couldn't hear any of their conversations, much less the tone of voice they were using. I was surprised I was made to look like a villain!
In what way?Well, Mike White called me a sinister kid, and there was a lot of focus on the fight between me and Jen [who competed with sister Kisha].
That little skirmish was obviously more a function of everyone being stressed out and fatigued. But I really felt for your mom when she jumped to your defense because she thought Jen was laughing at you.Yeah, it was tough for me growing up, because kids would always make fun of me for being deaf. Sometimes I would feel like an animal in the zoo because of the way people would always stare when I would sign in public. But people don't do that as much now as they did 10 years ago -- they're becoming more aware of ASL and deaf culture.
I guess we can thank Marlee Matlin for that!I'm not sure she's the reason!
You mentioned Mike White. Did you get along with him and his dad, Mel? Did they know you're gay?Oh, yes, we got along. And my mom told them I'm gay on the first day!
They were pegged as the gay team, but your sexual orientation was never mentioned. Did the producers tell you to tone down any discussion of being gay?No, they actually let me talk about it, but I guess that all got cut. I suppose they didn't want to muddle things by giving me two labels -- deaf and gay -- so Mel and Mike had their gay story line, and I had my deaf story line. A lot of people have told me they wished I had had a "gay and deaf" story line, because there aren't many deaf gays on TV. It didn't really bother me, though. I just thought it was funny watching people try to figure out whether I was gay or straight!
And apparently Kisha is lesbian, and that certainly never came up.Yeah, I was surprised to find that out.
Who were your best friends on the show? Cara and Jaime -- I adore them to death! We formed an alliance on day 1. They were the team I could trust the most. They opened up to me right away, writing notes to me and learning some signs and how to finger-spell. I really appreciated the effort they made to communicate with me. It's just amazing that we managed to carry our alliance until the end.
Did anyone else attempt to learn how to finger-spell?Victor and Tammy did, and so did Mike White.
Which was your favorite challenge? And least favorite?I had two favorites: the cheese-carry and the pig-carry. Both were physical challenges that Mom and I excelled at. The cheese challenge was a lot more grueling than it looked on TV, because the hill was so steep and slippery from all the mud and cow poop. We really made up a lot of time on the pig challenge, blowing past Victor and Tammy and Cara and Jaime. Plus, since we used to live in Hawaii, we'd been to lots of luaus and knew how to properly bury the pig.
My least favorite was the makeup challenge at the opera house. I had no idea how to apply makeup on my mom!
You seemed to really relish the bungee jump in the first episode. That was the equivalent of falling 70 stories!That was awesome! I'd love to do it again. I did have a few problems with the bungee cord, though, because the rope they sent down to clip to the cord got all tangled up, and it really took me a while to untangle it. But I came back up in one piece!
What were your favorite destinations? I loved Switzerland -- it was really beautiful. And Guilan, China, was awe-inspiring. I'd love to go back there. Mom and I really enjoyed Bangkok too -- we took a boat ride that really gave us a chance to kick back and relax. My least favorite would have to be Siberia -- it was so isolated and freezing! But the people were super friendly.
You were visibly moved to tears by the poverty you witnessed in India. Tell me about that experience.I never thought in a million years that I would get a chance to visit India. And while I've seen that kind of poverty on TV, the depth of it didn't really hit me until we were there. It was really hard for me emotionally to see little kids literally fighting for their survival on the streets and eating garbage. While we were stopped at a red light, a little girl came up to our cab and tried to sell us a newspaper. She was really dirty and her little green dress was all tattered, but she just smiled at me like everything was OK. Kids don't deserve that. It really made me realize how lucky I am to have the life I have and a roof over my head.
Did you ever have any free time for sightseeing or come across any gay bars in your travels?[ Laughs ] Well, we had a 36-hour pit stop in Brasov, Romania, where we got a chance to tour Dracula's castle -- that was awesome. Other than that, though, we didn't have much time to explore.
Do you think the special communication between you and your mom gave you an advantage on the show?It was a huge advantage for us. Also, since we were unable to talk -- or bicker! -- while we were in the middle of challenges, we flew through them, where a lot of the other teams lost a lot of time bickering. Plus, where many of the teams couldn't communicate with the locals because of the language difference, I could use gestures to tell them where we needed to go.
Were there any times you felt your deafness was a disadvantage?Only when we were driving a car, and in that case Mom and I made a strategic decision that she do all the driving, because if we got lost, she could pull over and ask for directions.
Are you dating anyone now?As of right now, no, but I'd like to.
Deaf guys or hearing guys?I'm open to both. I'm hoping to meet someone nice.
What's the one thing you'll remember most about your experience on The Amazing Race ? I'm just proud of my achievement on The Amazing Race. A lot of people told me I would never get picked to be on the show because of my deafness, but look at what I just did! The experience itself was worth a million dollars.