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Toughest Woman on Reality TV

Toughest Woman on Reality TV

Farm girl Sandy Gabriel shows the boys, and the rest of us, how to muscle through the most difficult and dangerous jobs in America with a little Texas flare. Gabriel burst out of the closet on NBC's America's Toughest Jobs, as her friends, family, and students back home learn of her sexuality through reality TV.

On NBC's reality show America's Toughest Jobs, Sandy Gabriel took the bull by the horns, literally, as she braved crab fishing in the Bering Sea, scaled high-rises on bridge duty, and pulled her teammates through tree logging. Gabriel's "tough country girl" attitude and in-your-face commentary, and the fact that she destroys the men in every challenge, provides ample ammunition for retaliation. (The phrase "only steers and queers come from Texas" was thrown around quite a bit by job bosses.)

But back in Winnie, Texas, Gabriel sheds her cowboy hat and boots for heels and a chalkboard. As she tells us, high school students can be just as malicious as adults, and her passion for teaching has always overshadowed her desire to rock the boat. "You figure, adults are quick to call you a dyke when they're mad at you, what do you think a kid's going to say," Gabriel said. "I spent my whole life hiding who I am... I'm glad that I got the opportunity to do this, to basically shout out loud who I really am."

So I just watched the finale an hour ago...

The finale sucked! (Laughter) It sucked cause I didn't take home the prize! I had a watch party for all of the shows. We had a big cook-out and a watch party and had everybody over for the finale.

Are you surprised when you see how the shows are edited?

Sometimes, yes I am surprised. Because sometimes I think they're out of order with the editing and stuff like that. I was definitely surprised because my hand was already hurt (in the finale). I didn't hurt my hand from punching that thing (the wall). So, I was kind of upset about them saying that.

You were actually trampled by a bull, injuring your ankle. How long did you have to recover before the next job?

That first incident with the bull I had three days. But I was in and out of getting x-rays and getting my leg looked at. I just took off the boot and got rid of the crutches right before the next job. The first doctor said it was fractured and I was done, but the second doctor cleared me to go. I didn't want to go to the hospital, but they made me go. It didn't air, but I fought two more bulls. I didn't want my leg to be looked at until the job was completely done. I'm an athlete and I'm all about get back up and go. But for liability reasons, though, I had to go to the doctor.

How long did you have between each job?

Every job was different. It depended on what time we finished the job of that day. We basically did two jobs a week. We'd spend at least three days on each job working ridiculous hours, which is what the blue-collar American workers do for us every day.

Every episode I watch, it seems like the guys do a lot of complaining. Did they really complain that much, or was it simply how the show was edited?

(Laugher) A lot of the guys did a lot of complaining. Steven never had a job before. So it was definitely an eye opener for him. The only person there that I felt was a real hard worker was Ben. I'm really excited that he did win. If I didn't win it better be Ben because we come from the same hard-working background where you don't have time to whine, you just get the job done. A lot of them were thinking "this is the toughest job ever." But what did they expect? It's not going to be Candyland.

Did you make any friends on the show?

I talk to Romel a lot. We were pretty good friends on the show. A lot of people think it's funny that I talk to Amy. She got voted off the second show. She's actually a good honest person. Every now and then I talk to Ben.

How did you hear about the show?

My girlfriend found an ad on Craigslist. They had an open casting call here in Austin and it kind of started off as a little joke. It seemed like a combination of Fear Factor and Amazing Race, so I was like, "I can win this hands down." You know, I'm a farm girl. I'm a country girl, I'm not afraid of anything. I really wanted to do it because I haven't done any traveling. So I was looking forward to the opportunity to just see what else is out there. Not only that, I [didn't want to] teach anymore. I was just at a state in my life when I was ready to be me. I had never been able to be me. I spent my whole life hiding who I am. In the educational system parents think you aren't a good teacher because you're gay. They don't look at you as a professional or at how hard you work. I was just tired of being somebody that I wasn't. So I said, "Here I am, this is me." It shouldn't matter what my label is. At the end of the day, my work should speak for itself. Plus, I really wanted to find out what I'm made of. I know I'm tough, but it's hard when you're gone for eight weeks with no contact with your loved ones and family. You're put through the most physical, mental, and emotionally challenging jobs.

Were you out to your friends and family before you decided to go on the show?

Well, I have a girlfriend, but I never told my dad so he found out on TV. One of my brothers knew, one didn't, and I told my mom. I have two separate lives; one with my girlfriend and one at work where I wear my heels and I fix my hair. So this was a merging of the two, putting it all together and not caring what anyone else thought of me.

None of your high school students knew?

No way. I do not hint around, or let anyone...the thing about kids at the high school level is they're young and immature. I just try to make sure that when I'm in the classroom the kids look at me as a strong woman and a great educator. They're young and trying to figure out who they are, how are they supposed to understand who you are. I definitely keep my personal life separate.

Do they know now after the show has aired?

I don't know. None of them have said anything. I never told them I was going on the show, they found out on their own. I didn't want them to think, "Oh, she's on TV." I want people to get to know me -- what I stand for and my expectations. I didn't want everybody trying to get in my class because I was on TV. So, they've been watching, but the episode that my girlfriend was on aired on a Friday night, which is football night. So, I don't know if anyone even saw that episode. The only thing they've ever said to me is they think I talk a little bit of crap. I just tell them that I have to tell people how it is sometimes.

Was it a concern of yours when you decided to go on the show that students and parents would find out you are gay and retaliate?

When I went on the show I wasn't planning on teaching again. I was planning on becoming a police officer. I was going to head out for the academy on April 28, but I left for the show April 20. If I wasn't going to teach or coach anymore, then I was either going to become a police officer or open my own youth recreational center. I'm all about the youth. Working with kids is phenomenal. But I did have a sit down with my principal before the show aired to tell her what I said, that I did come out, I do drink and cuss and I am gay. I had to prepare her for what parents might say. The faculty saw the show, and some of them I don't really speak to anymore. But, I just really don't care anymore. I'm tired of living my life for everyone else.

On the show, they didn't show the argument with Chris. On the episode he called me "that chick," when really he called me "that dyke." That's when I got absolutely livid. That's just one of the most hateful words that you can use. I don't think everyone understands the hatred behind that word. And everybody had already been making a bunch of gay comments before that. On episode one, one of the cast members was saying "I can't believe they didn't cast a bull-dyke." You know, and one of the bosses said "only steers and queers come from Texas." Every boss on every job that I was on focused on that, which didn't make air. It was stressful. Plus, I hate how everybody thinks that if a woman is tough she's a man, or she's a dyke. Why can't women just be strong? There are strong working women out there.

My favorite moment was when you were all sitting at the bar drinking and you tell them you have a girlfriend. The look on their faces was priceless.

Some of them were like, "what?" But I said, "I'm gay. I have a girlfriend and we've been together for five years. She's the love of my life." They couldn't believe it. People don't recognize my girlfriend and I as equals because we're not married or we don't have kids. But this is my life, and we are married because I don't want to ever be with anyone else. It was tough listening to everyone be proud of their families but then not acknowledge you for having the same thing at home.

How did your girlfriend feel about being on the show and about you coming out on national television?

She was all about me being on TV and not her. When she got invited to that one episode she was like "I didn't agree to be on TV." She loved it, though. She was proud that I branched out there and was honest. I think she's been waiting our whole relationship for me to finally say, "This is my girlfriend and someone who I'm completely proud of." She was excited and proud.

Why did you go back to teaching when most contestants went on to different careers when they returned home?

It's still my time to be here. I love the kids, and I really think this is my calling. I am always trying to find a way to be a role model. Like I said on the show, I just wanted the money to pay-it-forward for people who helped me out. In my life there have been several teachers and coaches who have helped me out and turned me the right way. Why not try teaching while being true to me and working the job that I love? Now that I'm honest with myself it makes this job so much better.

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