Scroll To Top

Nice guys finish

Nice guys finish


Survivor's gay Mormon Rafe Judkins talks about coming close to winning the game, not eating the sacrificial chicken, and being betrayed with a wink

Rafe Judkins appeared to be in the driver's seat in the just-completed 11th season of Survivor, set in the Mayan ruins of Guatemala. Judkins, who is openly gay, was a member of the powerful six-person alliance that was poised to dominate the final phases of the competition, won four individual immunity challenges, and had a secret secondary alliance with the program's eventual winner, Kansas sports radio personality Danni Boatwright.

But after outwitting, outplaying, and outlasting 15 other competitors, Judkins made a critical mental error in the final immunity challenge and quickly followed that up by announcing that Boatwright was no longer beholden to their alliance, a move that ultimately led to her voting him out during Sunday's two-hour season finale. Just 12 hours after watching Boatwright claim Survivor: Guatemala's million-dollar prize, Judkins, the 22-year-old wilderness guide from Providence, R.I., talks with about his play in the game, whether he was misjudged by his fellow competitors because of his sexual orientation, and if--in the end--he was simply too nice to dominate a game that calls for deviousness, dishonesty, and selfishness.

Rafe, we were so excited to see you make the final three and were really rooting for you to take home the million-dollar prize. Do you think you made any mistakes at the very end of the game that led to you being the last player voted out?No, I don't think so. The problem was that after the tribes merged, people started talking and no one wanted to go to the final two with me. So my strategy was to take the two people to the final three that were the most likely to take me to the end, and that was Danni and Stephenie [LaGrossa]. So I did what I could to make sure we were in the final three together.

In the final immunity challenge [an endurance challenge that required the players to balance on a swiveling board], you seemed to be struggling early on. Was it more difficult than you expected?My balance, as you saw me fall several times on the show, is not fantastic. And when [host] Jeff [Probst] announced it was a balance competition, I was like, OK, this is over. The funny thing was, though, that I actually won the balance part of the challenge--I was the last person balancing. It was when we ended up leaning against the poles that I just kind of had a little mental lapse.

Yeah, we wanted to ask you about that. [In trying to find a better position to balance himself on the board, Rafe used his hands to help steady himself, which was prohibited and resulted in his being eliminated from the competition.] From the look on your face when you were eliminated, you genuinely seemed not to have realized what had just happened.You know, I just wasn't thinking for a couple of seconds. By that point, we had been out there for an hour and were able to touch the pole the whole time, and then all of a sudden we couldn't touch it anymore. I didn't even realize I had done it, and when Jeff pointed out that I had, I was like, What?! And then I realized what I had done. But you know, watching some of the old Survivor seasons, that kind of thing happened a lot. I guess I need to call some of those people and ask them how they're doing now [laughs].

When Danni won the competition, you immediately released her from the promise you two had shared to take each other to the final two. We were shocked, as it seemed you had secured at least a second-place finish. Why did you give up a guaranteed spot in the finals?It really wasn't giving it up. I wanted to let her know that she should make her decision on what she wanted to make it on. I wanted her to be able to respect herself later. I didn't want to demand that she give me a million dollars. I did want her to take me, but I didn't want to force her to take me. But I really did think she would take me.

Yeah, we could tell that you were surprised that Danni voted you out. But if you really wanted her to vote with her heart, why did it surprise you?She winked at me before tribal council! [Editors note: This was not shown on the program.] So I'm sitting there the whole time thinking, This is great! I'm going to the finals! And then I saw my name written down and was like, Ummm...OK. Apparently it was a wink telling me that she still loved me, not that she was taking me to the final two! But I was surprised because even in tribal council she was talking about how Rafe deserves it more, and that if I go with my heart, I'm taking Rafe. And then my name came up and I was out.

From watching the finale, it seemed that Danni won by default--that Stephenie was so disliked by the members of the jury that Danni's win was more a vote against Stephenie than it was for her. Knowing that, do you wish you had challenged Danni in the final two?Oh, yeah. I would have loved to be up against Danni in the finals. But it didn't work out that way. Danni knew she could beat Steph in the finals; that's why she took her.

But you voted for Steph. [Editor's note: Rafe was the only member of the seven-person jury to vote for LaGrossa to win.] Was it because you were upset with Danni for voting you out?As soon as I was voted out, Danni knew--everyone knew--that she didn't have my vote. I mean, Steph had been completely loyal to me, and Danni voted me out in the final three. I don't think there was any way I could have voted for her after that.

In the final episode, we saw a Mayan family perform a sacred ritual for you and your tribe mates during which a live chicken was sacrificed--and you all were told you were not to eat the chicken because of its importance in the ritual. Hours later, the other three contestants devoured the chicken, but you didn't. Why did you choose not to?You know, it was day 38, we had just one day left, and I was thinking, I don't need it that much. I talked a lot about how the sacrifice had been very important to me--it was such an important part of the Mayan culture, and it was such a powerful experience to be a part of that. But we also thought we would be eating it--and they were pouring honey on it, and there was chocolate and herbs. We really did think we were going to be eating it right up until they told us we couldn't. I guess it was just a very powerful experience for me, and maybe less so for the others. But I totally understand that, and I'm OK with that.

Looking back, do you think eating the chicken--a much-needed source of protein--may have helped give you a bit more strength for the final endurance competition?I don't think so. We were all hurting so badly out there. They didn't show it, but when I was eliminated from the competition I couldn't move for five minutes, my legs hurt so much. And we had to carry Steph away from the competition because she couldn't walk at all. So I think we all were pretty much in the same situation.

You were a member of what appeared to be a dominating six-person alliance that should have swept its way to the finals. And yet, one of the players outside your alliance won the game. What happened?No one from my alliance wanted to go to the end with me, and I knew I was toast with them. I had to figure out some way to get to the end, and that was to go with Danni [who was not a member of his alliance]. And Steph and I pretty much had 100% trust in each other, and I knew she'd also take me to the final three. With the rest of the alliance, no one would have done that, and I knew I needed to look outside it.

There seemed to be a genuine feeling among the members of your alliance whom you helped to vote out--Jamie [Newton], Judd [Sergeant], Cindy [Hall], and Lydia [Morales]--that they were stabbed in the back, and most of the blame fell on Stephenie. How did you manage to avoid taking the heat when you voted the exact same way she did?I think part of it was that there was a little bit of resentment toward Steph that she was even there in the first place. [Editor's note: Both LaGrossa and Bobby Jon Drinkard had competed in the previous season of Survivor and were brought back by the producers for a second season.] I really was genuine with everyone. It was a very competitive group, and I think in the end people just thought, Yeah, Rafe got me first before I could get him.

You and Lydia seemed to have emerged as the "nice guys" of this season's competition. Was that a part of your strategy, or were we just seeing the real Rafe?Survivor tears away everything, and what you end up with is who everyone really is at their core. You have to work your strategy around that. I knew that, as a nice guy, I would be able to use that to make good alliances, but you really can't fake that. People are just who they are out there.

One of the moments that sort of defined your good-heartedness on the show was when Cindy was faced with choosing a new SUV for herself or giving up the car and awarding the other four remaining players with new cars instead. She kept it, and you seemed surprised, as you said you would have chosen to give the other players cars in a heartbeat.Yeah. For me, I just didn't understand how you could keep one car for yourself and not give away four to other people. And I do think it would have been a good strategic move for Cindy, because I think it would have saved her for at least one more tribal council. It was interesting, because I was able to talk with Cindy about why she did it and find out more about the reasons someone would do something that was so different from the way I would have done it. At first, I just didn't understand it at all.

It seemed like it was a little deeper than you not understanding it, that you were actually upset about it. Did that play any role in you voting her out at the next tribal council?No, not at all. Cindy and I were so close to each other out there and we knew that we were each other's toughest competition. If she had given up the cars, it would have made it harder to vote for her. But she was already up on the block before that happened; it's not like that's why she ended up in that position.

Looking back, do you think you were too nice in the game? Do you think if you had been more devious and dishonest that you could have won the million dollars?I wanted to go out there and come back with no regrets, and I did. That's a pretty powerful thing to say about a thing like Survivor, to be able to be proud of the way you played and how you treated people. Actually, Jeff told me in three or four tribal councils that I was being too nice! But that's just me. I was just being myself.

From the earliest episodes, it was obvious that your tribe mates knew that you're gay, but we didn't see you actually talk with them about it. How did you break the news to the other competitors?It was kind of funny: The first day during the hike through the jungle [Editor's note: The first reward competition on the program required the contestants to hike for 11 miles through thick Guatemalan jungle] Jamie said to me, "Rafe is a sexy name. Do you get a lot of girls with that name?" And I was like, "Um, no." And then he said, "Do you get a lot of guys?" And I was like, "Sometimes." [Laughs] Later, we sat down in the jungle and introduced ourselves to each other. And Amy [O'Hara] said, "Say your name, where you're from, and if you're gay or straight." [Laughs] Definitely, for some of them, it was obvious they hadn't met a gay person before.

What was their reaction?It was very positive. I was kind of worried about meeting some of the other tribe's members later, like Judd and a couple of the other guys, but I was completely open about myself and was completely confident in myself. I think they saw that confidence and knew they also could have confidence in me.

You won four immunity challenges on the show, more than any other player. Do you think you were misjudged as not posing a physical threat in the challenges because you were gay?Oh, definitely! At the beginning, all of the guys were talking that I wasn't going to be a big threat, and I just let them think that. If you think that because I'm gay I'm not going to kick your butt in the immunity challenges, you're so wrong! I won half of the immunities, and actually some of the guys were a little bit sore about it.

Did that perception ever change as you showed you were capable of beating all of them in both mental and physical challenges?You didn't really see it on the show, but after the second immunity people were always talking about how big a threat I was. No one wanted to go to the end with me. Really, the first time they showed it was at the tribal council where Cindy was voted out, but people had been talking a lot about voting me out way before then. Judd, when he was talking about voting out the strongest players, was definitely coming after me when I didn't have immunity.

You also seemed to bond much more closely with the women on the program. Was that a strategic move by you, or was it just easier for you to connect with them than with some of the guys?It wasn't strategic, it was just the people I felt closest with, and the people who were less threatened by me. It was the guys who were talking about me being such a threat--Judd and Gary [Hogeboom] and even Jamie, to some extent. I mean, it did play into strategy, because the women didn't see me as being as big a threat, but I really was just closest with them.

We saw from your bio on the CBS Web site that you were born into a large Mormon family. Are you still a practicing Mormon?I'm not a practicing Mormon, but my whole family is. I'm as close as you can be to a practicing Mormon without being one.

The Mormon church is notoriously antigay, and yet we saw from seeing your mom briefly on one of the episodes and from the message your family left for you that was played after you were voted out that your family is very supportive of you. Has your sexuality posed any problems with them, particularly given that they are Mormon?At first it was really difficult, because in my entire extended family I was the first gay person they've ever known. For my mom, I was too. And they had so many associations in their heads of what gay meant, and thought that since I'm gay I must be all of those things as well. A great thing about this show is that, for my extended family, it really gives them a chance to see who I am and help fight some of those ideas they may have about gay people.

We got the impression that you didn't really go on the show to prove anything about yourself to anyone--that you were simply comfortable with yourself and your sexuality. Was it that comfort level that made your sexuality pretty much a nonissue on the show?I think so, because I think a lot of gay people feel that they have something to prove, and I didn't. I'm totally fine with who I am and I'm very confident in myself, and that did make it a complete nonissue out there where no one cared at all. And there was plenty of opportunity for them to do so! But when I went into casting, I told them, "Don't put me on the show because I'm a gay guy. Put me on because I'm a guy who just happens to be gay."

Some of us Survivor fans were talking early on that you really did seem to be sort of the ultimate poster boy for gay men and women on reality TV--you were strong, smart, charmed your way into the hearts of your fellow competitors and the show's viewers, and sort of personified the message that gay people are no different from anyone else. Was that something that you had hoped to accomplish by appearing on the show?I love reality TV, so I watch all the shows. I really do see that there are a lot of gay people on reality TV that aren't confident in themselves or comfortable with themselves, or that they feel they have to go on TV to prove something because of their sexuality. That ends up just causing drama. I wanted to go on TV and be the gay guy all the people in the red states can root for. And you know, I was in Kansas last week, and people were coming up to me and telling me that I was their favorite! That's really amazing when you think about it.

If there is one message you hope viewers--both gay and straight--took away from your participation on Survivor, what would it be?I would hope people would be able to look at me out there and see that gay people can be strong and confident and successful. If more people had confidence in themselves and the decisions they make, the better they'll do in life. I really hope people will be able to see that.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Bob Adams