Interview with "Survivor"'s Spencer Duhm
For the first four episodes of Survivor: Tocantins, Spencer Duhm, at nineteen-years-old the youngest Survivor competitor ever, mostly flew under the radar as his team did fairly well in the challenges. Spencer worked hard, didn’t make any enemies, and also kept the fact he was a gay man from his teammates. Therefore it was rather surprising when he was voted off his tribe on Thursday’s episode. Indeed, given his age, fitness, and devotion to the game, many had pegged him to go much further.
AfterElton.com caught up with him the day after his elimination to discuss his strategy, his relationship with previous Survivor winner Todd Herzog, as well as his controversial statements about what kind of gay guy he considers himself.
AfterElton.com: Hi Spencer, thanks so much for talking to us.
Spencer Duhm: Thank you.
AE: Let's talk about some remarks you made to RealityBlurred.com before you went on the show. You said things like, "I don’t come across like most of the gay guys...I won’t be Todd, I surely won’t be Coby. I won’t be Charlie." And "I talked to my parents and I was like, ‘Mom, do I sound like that?’ she was like, ‘Sweetheart, no, I would never let you go out in public if you sounded like that.’ Thank God." These comments really offended many of our readers. They felt as if there were examples of internalized homophobia. How would you respond to that and do you still feel that way?
SD: Well, okay, first of all, let me talk about my mom. She got a lot of flak for that. The way I said it and the way it actually happened were different. All the things I had her say when I quoted her, she didn't actually say. I jokingly said, "Mom, you wouldn't let me go out in public, right?" And she said, "No, Sweetheart." It was all me there. I didn't know it was going to be printed, so I wasn't being factual, but she got a lot of flak for saying nothing, just agreeing with what I said. I felt horrible for that. She's my mom! She's not like that.
Obviously, though, when I read that, especially the stuff about Charlie, I was mortified. My jaw dropped and I was yelling at my computer, screaming, "Shut up, Spencer! Shut up! Why are you saying that?" I've apologized. It's just one of those things where it happens and you learn from it. You realize the press always has that tape recorder going.
I'd never want to offend people like that, it was never my goal, and I obviously wish I'd never said that stuff, but it just sort of comes out. I don't have any homophobia. I've just had experiences in my life where people have judged me because I'm gay and they immediately assume I'm a fairy or something. And I'm like, "No, we have gay people who aren't..." Again, not to use a word that might offend people or get me in trouble again, but you know... fruity, or whatever, but there are some of us who aren't. I feel like every time people find out you're gay they just assume you're going to be a drag queen or something. That irritates me because I don't stereotype other people and I don't want to be stereotyped myself. That's where that all came from. I honestly didn't mean to offend anyone but I can understand why it did. I wish I hadn't said those things. I don't like to be mean to people I've never even met, like Charlie, but there's nothing else I can do about it now.
AE: You never came out to your tribe, which you discussed in interviews on the last episode. You said, "In the culture that we live in, there's not much to gain from people finding out you're gay." Obviously you're out in your real life, since you spoke so openly about being gay in the interviews, so were you referring specifically to the culture in the context of the game, or do you feel that way in general?
SD: I feel like there's still some prejudice out there. I've experienced and I know others have, too. I mean, we've come a long way, but this is a social game and you don't want to give anyone even a subconscious reason to want to get rid of you or have something against you. You don't want to give them that. That's why I didn't tell anybody, it wasn't because I was ashamed of it or because I thought there would be prejudice, I just didn't know.
Until you tell them, you don't know. It's out of your control. They didn't give me any reason to think they'd be prejudiced. I feel like in some of the interviews they've done, they've gotten flak. 'Oh, were they homophobes?' No, they weren't. I just didn't know, so there was no reason to tell them.
AE: You mentioned specifically that you were worried that JT might be homophobic because he was Southern. Have you had any personal experiences that have led you to believe that Southerners are less tolerant than people from other areas?
SD: Oh, yeah! I mean, I can't tie anything specifically. I don't have one thing in my life that I always refer back to, but definitely I hear comments and slurs all the time. You keep your mouth shut for the most part, there's no reason to create a big scene or anything, but yeah.
I grew up in areas where we have a lot of Southern people. I have nothing against them at all, I don't mean to generalize, but they as a society I think they tend to be less accepting of gay people. That's just the way they are. That's the only reason when we first got on the trek and everything and I see JT's a Southern guy. And I thought, "Okay, maybe I can't tell him." He was honestly great, a great kid. I loved hanging around him, but I just thought he might not be the most tolerant person, just based on my personal experiences.
AE: Did you get the sense that anyone suspected? Sydney almost seemed to be fishing for information in the scene they showed.
SD: Yeah, Sydney definitely did suspect that I was gay because JT and Joe were very receptive to her flirting and I wasn't. I didn't realize it was that obvious that I wasn't. I had a great relationship with her, but I just wasn't flirting with her. At night, Joe would sleep on one side of her and I'd sleep on the other side, and Joe and Sydney would usually cuddle and I wouldn't. She took that as me being gay. She even asked the other guys, and they were like, "No, he's just really young. He doesn't want to flirt. He's not comfortable with it." So she was like, "Oh, OK." But she definitely suspected that I was. She was the only one.
AE: If you had it to do over again, would you do anything differently? Do you think you'd come out to your tribe?
SD: Honestly, I don't think that would have changed a thing. I don't think, knowing the people the way I do now, I don't think it would have mattered to them one bit, but not knowing, and not wanting to trip up the one chance I get to be on the show, I didn't want to have something like that change people's perspective of me. I don't think I'd change anything as far as that goes, or my strategy. They didn't show the alliances that I made, but I was comfortable with them. It just happened that they turned on me before I could turn on them. It's just part of the game. It happens. I wouldn't do a single thing differently except maybe figure out a way to make it last 39 days. [Laughs]
AE: Okay, on to happier topics! We heard from Todd [Herzog] this week and he let us know the two of you are dating. Congratulations!
SD: Thanks, but I know where you're going with this so I'll just go ahead and tell you I'd rather not talk about my personal life.
AE: Okay, then back to the show, I was shocked that you were voted off so early. I thought for sure you'd make it at least to the jury.
SD: Hey, me too! [Laughs]
AE: What happened with that final challenge? It seemed like you guys had it in the bag and then it all fell apart.
SD: Well, like I said last night, it was pathetic how I performed. I had played baseball when I was younger, but I was not the best baseball player. I couldn't catch fly balls. I would say I didn't perform well, and I'm not laying blame, but the other people on my tribe didn't perform well either. JT was the only who scored any points. It was just that I got scored on by Tyson, who is tall and very athletic. He was great in all the challenges.
Taj got scored on just as many times by Brendan, but because I lost the last couple points it made it look like it was my fault we lost, and that's where the frustration came from. I can understand that, but it came across like they laid it all on me. Stephen and Sydney could have nothing against them because they were shooting the balls, and Joe and Taj were playing and Taj got scored on. I knew they were laying it all on me, but I couldn't be defensive and say "Blame it on so-and-so," because that's going to piss them off even more. I just figured I'd have to take my lumps there and be apologetic, and I was. I was very disappointed in myself. I'm super competitive, and not doing well, not helping my tribe win was a real shock to me.
AE: Why wasn't Sydney considered? Do you think the male-dominated team kept her because she's pretty?
SD: Sydney was considered. When I went down to the water, we got the guy's alliance, and she was going to be targeted either last night or the next time. It was kind of like, "Who’s going first?" I was thinking Taj which is why I voted for Taj, but Sydney and Joe were really tight. I guess you can blame it on that. He went to Sydney and said, "It either you or Spencer. If you don't turn on him, it could be you." That's when they went to JT and Stephen, and that's what it was about. It wasn't about the game.
They were frustrated with me but after talking it out we'd totally gotten over the whole challenge thing and were ready to move on. I think they were aware that, looking at the other challenges, I performed really well. I helped the tribe. So going on just one, they were so, I'm not going to say stupid, but they weren't that naďve. They understand the in the context of the game, a challenge like that can happen, but was overall beneficial to the tribe.
AE: What did you think of the new twists this year: two people going to Exile Island each time and two immunity idols floating around?
SD: I think it's a great twist. I'm not a huge fan of having two idols in the game. I'm really not a huge fan of the hidden immunity idol anyway, that's just me coming from a fan perspective. It changes the game too much from where it started. Taj told us there was only one idol and it was on Exile Island and she thinks Brendan found it and all that stuff. We didn't know whether to believe her or not, but I think she's done a great job as far as creating a cross-tribal alliance. Although, it's really annoying that the alliance has gotten so much airtime. It's left nothing else to show from either camp after challenges and Tribal [council], but I do think it's great and added quite a bit.
AE: You mentioned earlier the alliances you made on the show? We never saw any of that, so tell us about them. What were they?
SD: Yeah, the didn't really show anything from Jalapao, which was really, really frustrating. Quite a bit went on. On Day Two, the guys were building the shelter and the guys made an informal alliance there, which later, the next day, we all agreed to have a formal alliance. In doing so, I was aware that I could be the first guy out if the four guys made it to the last four on the tribe or in the game, whatever. I knew I could perceived as the weakest guy. So when I was aware of that, I went to Sydney and Joe who I'd bonded with on the trek, and said, "Hey, you want to create a three-person alliance?"
At that point I was thinking that Sydney was our strongest girl, even though Taj proved later that she was by far the strongest in the challenges. I thought she'd be the last girl standing, so I figured okay, when we get down to five, I'll secure myself down to three because I'll have Joe and Sydney already in my back pocket and we'll surprise the other two guys. I was just trying to save myself, I wasn't trying to be sneaky. I was just concerned I'd be the first guy. So yeah, there were alliances.
Later on, I guess it was obvious that Sydney, Joe, and I had an alliance, because we hung out, apparently, quite a bit. So JT found out about it, he told Stephen, Stephen went to Taj, and that's why the last episode with Sandy, in the water when they were trying to target Sydney, they said Joe and Spencer might be really upset. Not because we were so attached to her, but because we had an alliance and they knew about it. They were trying to get us before we could get them. That's what went down at Jalapao. They didn't show a whole bunch of it.
AE: What are you doing now? What's next for you?
SD: I'm in school. I'm just going back to my regular life. I have no interest in benefiting from this or exploiting it in any way. I'm back in school now, in spring semester. I'm going to make up classes over the summer that I missed when I had to leave for the show. Just working on my degree and grad school and all that stuff.
AE: Well, good luck with all that, and thanks so much for talking to us.
SD: No problem! http://www.afterelton.com/people/2009/3/survivor-spencerduhm?page=0%2C2