Survivor's Brandon: The 'good villain' tells all

By Chuck Kim

Originally published on Advocate.com January 04 2002 1:00 AM ET

Brandon Quinton is proud to note that Entertainment Tonight dubbed him the Susan Lucci of the current Survivor: Africa, CBS’s immensely popular reality game show, the 25-year-old Texas bartender is one of only two openly gay men, along with original Survivor winner Richard Hatch, in the show’s three-season history—and he joined up planning to do as much scheming as possible.

In a no-holds-barred interview with Advocate.com, Quinton—who was the ninth person voted out of the show’s competition for the $1 million prize—says he tried out for the show to strike a blow for every young “little fag” who’s never seen himself on television and to let them know that being gay doesn’t mean being promiscuous.

Advocate.com: You were out there how many days?Quinton: 27 days.

Did you have any hesitation about going when you found out you were chosen?No, but when I got out there, I started feeling a little overwhelmed. I had thought a lot about getting on the show, but I hadn’t thought about [the fact that I had] not been camping before. That was kind of overwhelming.

From your CBS interview on The Early Show, it sounds as though your primary draw for competing in this wasn’t the money or the fame.It really wasn’t. Shows like Queer as Folk that are so popular show a really bad image of 20-something gays. Pretty much everything on TV is, either you’re over 30 and you can’t get a man and desperate to find someone, or you’re under 20, super promiscuous, and trying every new fad drug that comes out. I’m 25, absolutely not promiscuous, and don’t do drugs. I thought it would be good to have someone different out there.

How do you feel you were perceived?I’m just myself. I’m not like some super-butch guy; I’m not really worried about what people think about how I act. I can’t help that, I’m just who I am. I think it says a lot that someone on the flamboyant side can last 27 days with very little food and water in very hard conditions.

You went on there to break the TV stereotypes...I didn’t go to break the stereotypes, because that’s impossible for someone on a game show to do. I just wanted there to be an alternative. When I was in high school, there was no one [gay] to see [on TV]. Then the first gay characters I started seeing were not that positive. If some kid in high school is getting teased and called a fag or a queen every day like I was, [and] they could see [on Survivor] that a little fag queer guy outlasted a lot of the butch guys, then maybe I helped them. I didn’t really have a lot of chances on the show to talk about my views on promiscuity and drug use.

Were you out in high school?I wasn’t. When you’re from a really small town in rural Oklahoma like I was, it didn’t matter that I dated girls, I was just different from everyone else. I got to hear “fag” and “queer” nonstop. [In that situation] you can either decide, I’m going to get of this—I’m going to make something out of myself and get away from these kinds of people or you can let it really get to you and it’ll drive you crazy.

I’m certainly not defending anyone, but some of these kids who pull out a gun and wreak havoc, I can almost relate to them. You can only take so much; you can only be pushed so far before you either snap like those kids did or you just get a really strong resolve and say, I’m not going to take it, I’m not going to let anyone bother me. That’s kind of what I did. I wouldn’t trade back then for anything.

Would you say your Survivor experience was a good time?It was a good experience. It was no vacation—it’s very hard. I wouldn’t do it again, because I’ve done it. I found out a lot about myself. It was a good time. I enjoyed it.

What do you think of the other gay contestants, like Richard Hatch?I’m way different from Richard Hatch. I mean, obviously, I’m way thinner and less hairy! And then there’s the Guidos [life partners Joe and Bill] on [CBS’s around-the-world game show] The Amazing Race. Wow, they were something else. They weren’t portrayed in a very likable way, I’ll tell you that. I met them last week. Their finale was the same day I was starting my press tour. They seemed very nice. I don’t know what kind of people they are, but they seem nice enough.

How do you feel you were treated by your fellow contestants? Overall, were they OK with you being gay?For most people in urban areas, I don’t think it’s a big issue. Well, not that I’ve encountered. Most people on the show, they knew gay people. It wasn’t like I was the first one they had met like [I was] with [fellow contestants] Frank and Tom. Tom [a 46-year-old goat and cattle farmer from Virginia] has never ever been around someone who was openly gay. He asked me one day, “What’s the deal? Why are you different?” So I told him.

Frank [a 43-year-old telephone technician] has a military background and he doesn’t think a lot of gay people. That’s fine. You can’t go through life with a chip on your shoulder worrying about if you please everyone. I don’t worry if I please anybody. I’m happy with myself and that’s all that matters.

Have you been back to work since the show started?Oh, yeah. I only work two to three days a week, but I’ve definitely been back to work. It’s still fun. Most of the guys in Dallas, because I’m a bartender, they know me, so it’s not so big of a deal for them. I work in a Levi’s-and-leather bar, and a lot of straight tourists come in—these little straight couples wading through the guys in chaps! When they come to get an autograph, you can just see the look on their faces. It’s pretty funny.

For some reason, I’m super popular in Australia. I guess there’s a ton of gay people there. I get a zillion fan letters from people in Australia. It’s little kids, adults, straight people, and gay people. The people who come up to me from here are all different sorts too, but in Australia it just seems like an unusual amount of people.

Has the bar doing anything special since you’ve been on?[They air the show] on Thursdays. I don’t go to those. I’m not allowed to watch the show in public, because it’s new to me too. If I were sitting next to you and something happened, just my facial expression might give away something that might happen [in the future].

How have the tips been? Actually, right now, they’re probably the lowest I’ve ever made. I was on the show for 10 episodes. The further I made it, the fewer people would hang around my bar, like they were almost scared of me. Like they’re scared to order a drink from me, they’re scared to talk to me.

Dallas has a lot of gay people, but even in our own little gay community, when I go to shop or get a bite to eat—the people behind the counter, even—they’ll just kind of say hi and keep their head down like they’re afraid to look at me. It’s so strange. And it sent my dating life to hell in a handbag, I’ll tell you that. They’re all scared to hit on me now. Plus, I looked like total hell by the time I got voted off the show. At least now people can see me cleaned up. I was kind of a hairy little troll on there towards the end. A month out there turns you into that.

What was the absolute worst part of the Survivor experience?I hate to say it: While the water was really bad, the whiny girls were the worst part of it for me. There were a couple a girls my age out there who annoyed the shit out of me. I’m not used to being around girls, especially that age. I don’t know if they were cycling at the same time, because they just went on—they would just constantly whine and cry.

Who did you enjoy hanging out with most out there?One of those whiny girls. Little Kim, Kim Powell, was my favorite. I [still] hang out with Kelly [Goldsmith] all the time—I’m staying with Kelly in L.A. I’m looking at the new Globe [tabloid] and it has Gay Survivor Falls for Gal He Booted Off Show. This article is talking about Kelly and me having some kind of wild sexual affair. I’m like, “Hello? Did they ever watch the show? Have they met me?”

Was there any friction because of what happened during the show between you and Kelly?Oh, no, because when I got onto the jury, I lied to her and told her it was Frank that voted her off and not me. Then about two weeks before she got voted off [on the broadcast show], I called her and said, “Oh, by the way, the show is going to look like I voted you off, and I did. Talk to you later, bye!” She called me back the next day, and we got over it really quickly.

In watching the show, has your opinion about Frank or Tom [the two openly homophobic contestants] changed any? It’s a game. We were in an extreme situation. I don’t hold a grudge against anyone, certainly not for voting me off. I would have voted me off too. I was such a schemer and causing trouble all of the time. I could forgive almost anything Tom has said because he is so non-malicious when he says bad things. He would say some pretty racist/homophobic stuff, but it’s just the way he talks.

Frank, he’s just kind of malicious and homophobic. It’s funny—he spent a month out there with me and he did not grow a bit by knowing me. Maybe that says more about me than him, I don’t know, but I certainly didn’t change his opinions at all.

I think I changed Big Tom’s opinion. He’s invited me to stay on the farm with him. I’m going to do it just so all of his neighbors make fun of him. I told him, “I’m totally going to come stay with you and tell all of your neighbors I slept with you.”

“Aw, Sugarbear”—that’s what he said.

Are there any good sides to having been on Survivor?I think it’s really great for me. I [used to] think nobody else really cares about what I have to say. It makes me feel good that at least I can say what I feel. The big deal to me is the promiscuity that goes on amongst people my age. At least it makes me feel that one person heard that and realized that you can go out with someone and not have to fuck them. Maybe one person hears that and thinks, “Why am I doing that?”

Are you saying you’re celibate?Absolutely not. I just don’t have intercourse with somebody unless I’m with them. I don’t think dating somebody five times in two weeks allows them to be intimate with me. It’s all respect for me. It’s not even about [sexually transmitted diseases]. You can have pretty safe sex now. It would be much better for me to feel like somebody—even before I was on the show—if somebody’s with me because they want to hang out with me, not because they think they’re going to get a piece of ass. You can do other things to have a good time. If it comes to the point where I’m dating someone I really like and it’s three weeks into it, then it’s three weeks into it. Two months into it is two months into it. What’s the point? You can get off other ways without getting really intimate.

You were actually married to a woman before.I was, for nine months, before I was in college.

Have you heard from your ex-wife since the show?She sold her story to The National Enquirer and the Star. Gotta read all about that. I was 19 years old; I lived in rural Oklahoma. Not to make silly excuses, but I didn’t know what gay was when I was 19. I had never been with a guy. I just thought I was having weird thoughts. I kinda was just doing what everyone else was doing. Then I thought, “I really don’t like the vagina that much.”

So how old were you when you met your first guy?This is going to sound so bad: 19 or 20. I dated for my first time when I separated from my wife.

Was it tough the first time you were with a guy?I don’t have a lot of moral hang-ups about stuff like that. I felt right.

What was the reaction from your family about being on the show?My mom and and my grandma really didn’t want me to do it. My mom might have been afraid that I wouldn’t fare so well. My grandma I think was embarrassed. You know, she was afraid her friends would see. They’re really proud of me now, but they were real apprehensive when I got on there. They hadn’t really watched the show before.

Were they OK with you being out nationally?I didn’t really give them the choice or ask their approval or permission to go on the show, I just did it. I told them, “You can like it, have a good time with it, or not.” They chose to have a really good time with it.

Team Guido, the gay couple who competed on CBS’s The Amazing Race, told me they thought you did a good job with your interview on Letterman. Were you nervous?I was very nervous about that. I was really nervous before all of my TV stuff. Letterman doesn’t really like that he has to do [interviews with contestants from] Survivor. The producers made me super nervous beforehand. Then I thought, Fuck it, I’ll just do what I do.

Was he the toughest?He wasn’t the toughest interview, but I was most nervous for him. Actually, Bryant Gumbel interviewed me [on CBS’s The Early Show], which is weird, because he never interviews any of the Survivors. He sat down with me and asked some pretty hard questions that took me off guard. He was probably the toughest, but he was really nice about it.

Have you met any of the previous Survivors?No! But my absolute favorite Survivor, Jerri [from Survivor: The Australian Outback], called me after my interview with Craig Kilborn. It made my day.

Isn’t Colby [the runner-up from Survivor: The Australian Outback] back in Texas now?No, Colby’s not in Texas now! As soon as he got his check, he packed up and moved to L.A. because he wanted to be an actor.

How about you?I am not any good at any of that. I was so nervous before the TV interviews—I’m just not an actor, I wouldn't be good at it.

Were you ever surprised how you appeared while you were watching Survivor: Africa?I’m a very middle-of-the-road gay person. I’m not the nelliest gay guy you’re going to meet, but I’m not super butch either. I have my moments each way. I was a little surprised [that] when I get overexcited, I got a little flamboyant, but I have no problems with that.

What do you think will happen to the reality show genre?I think the ratings alone show. These were high-rated shows last year, and [their ratings] have just plummeted. The Mole has been [temporarily] canceled; Temptation Island 2 is one of the lowest-rated shows this year. A lot of that is just quality. Those are a whole different quality of show. Survivor is the main “name brand” one. Our viewers have definitely dropped off, but our viewers average about 19 to 20 million people a week. It’s still a top-five show. I don’t really see it affecting Survivor for the next couple [of years]. I don’t know if there’s going to be another one after four; I don’t know if [the show’s creator] Mark Burnett wants to do another one. We’re such mindless TV. Survivor is like a modern-day Dynasty. People don’t really care [anymore] about a couple of rich old broads who have a catfight, but everyone loves it when Frank and I have a catfight on TV. I think it’ll last a couple more years.

So are you Alexis or Crystal?Neither one. Entertainment Tonight called me the Susan Lucci of our show, which made my day. I love her.

Are you going to watch the next Survivor [which begins in February]?Kelly and I are so pumped about it. We were actually on a Survivor 4 spoiler Web site looking for info on it. That’s why we get along so well. We were fanatics about the first two. Australia, I would tape the Thursday night show—watch and tape it at the same time—and see it five times before the next episode. I’d pull it all apart and try to figure why they did this or that...

Did that help you with your strategy?No. I just knew I wanted to be really mean, scheming and have a good time with it. And I did—imagine that!

Were you a good guy or villain?I was a good villain—sort of the good-hearted cad.