By Bryan Buss
Rafe Judkins joined Survivor: Guatemala as an openly gay, Mormon-reared wilderness guide and went on to outwit, outplay, and outlast all but two of his fellow contestants. The sweet-natured red-headed 22-year-old spoke to Out.com about cuddling with hottie Jamie, how he learned to play Beethoven on the piano with his toes, and what Jeff Probst is really like.
Congratulations on making it so far! I think you're the first gay person to make it that far since Richard Hatch in season one.
Yeah, I think last time someone came in 8th or something?
I can't believe how young you are! You're so self-possessed, it's remarkable.
Yeah, well everyone on the show kept thinking that I was older, which was good because there were like five 22-year-olds on the show and they all got voted out before the jury. So I was like, OK, gotta think mature.
Well, you came across as very mature and you played such a different game from how Richard Hatch did.
Yeah, well, I went into it almost wanting to stick with people not because they hated me but because they liked me.
OK, the question every person reading this article is wondering: Are you single?
No. I have a boyfriend. We've been dating for about a year now. He's also Mormon. He is amazing. He actually, funnily enough, wants to go into reality TV production. So when we started dating, I was like, I have a funny story to tell you. I'm actually going to be on Survivor!
Do you regret booting Lydia instead of Danni when it came to the Final 4?
No, I really don't. You know, Danni and I have a really strong commitment to each other. And the thing about Lydia is that, Lydia definitely would have taken Stephenie to the Final 2, and I think it's possible that Stephenie might have taken Lydia to the Final 2, so with what I knew at the time, I was really thinking, Well, I'll definitely get to the Final 2 or I'll have to win this next challenge to get to the Final 2. So it seemed like the right decision at the time.
Surprise! Do you regret releasing Danni from her promise to take you to the Final 2?
No, I really don't. I went into the game wanting to not have any regrets when I came out of it. That's kind of how I live my life. And I realized at that moment that I really would have regrets if I tried to force Danni or strongarm her into taking me to the Final 2. I really did want her to think about it on her own. You don't see it on TV, but I talked to her about different reasons she should take me. And I really did want her to make the decision that she could feel good about because we were so close.
It seems like she made the right decision since she won!
If I hadn't let her out of the promise, I think that our relationship, no matter what had happened, would be really, really strange. Because it would be almost like saying, Don't look at our friendship, don't look at me, but you made this promise, stick to it. But because I let her out of it, if she'd taken me, we'd still be fine, and she didn't take me and we're still fine. So I think it was definitely the right decision.
Do you think you would have won opposite Danni or Steph?
I know that I would have won against Steph, and I think it would have been close against Danni.
If you could have replaced someone in the Final 4, who would it have been and why, and who would you replace them with?
For me, at the time, it did seem like pretty much the final perfect four, so, like, in the game, it would have been great. But now if I was gonna replace someone, I think I would switch Danni and Cindy. Because I really think that, at the time, I thought Danni might be the one person that would take me to the Final 2, other than Steph. But looking back I think maybe I made a wrong call on that. And Cindy and I were really, really close out there. And I would have liked to see her in it at the end.
How in-depth do the Tribal Councils get, like how long do they usually run?
You know, basically Jeff told us in the beginning, he was like, These are gonna be anywhere from a half an hour to three hours. I'm gonna keep you here until I get what I want, so don't crap around with me. Which we always did, because he'd always be like, Are you mad at someone? And we'd be like, We're happy about everything, with everyone, and everything's fantastic. Because you don't want to have any kind of argument at Tribal Council that could change things, so Jeff was just nagging you, nagging you, nagging you, until you finally are so frustrated with him that you say exactly what's going on.
Where do you go after you're voted off?
If you're voted off, you get your little torch snuffed by Jeff, and you walk down the stairs and out, and waiting right at the end of that sad little blue path is all the friends that you have from production, and they give you a big hug and they have a whole basket full of your favorite movies, your favorite candy, your favorite drink, your favorite meal, all that kind of stuff, and then you go and stay'for Guatemala, we stayed in like a camp. We had tents and stuff, and there was a TV, and, you know, it's nicer than where we were staying [while still playing the game], obviously, and the food, it wasn't like swanky, 4-star hotel or anything. But on past seasons I think they've had a lot nicer accommodations when you get voted out.
Do you get to hang out with the other castoffs?
Yeah, the first nine people voted off all went on vacation together in Costa Rica, and then the second nine people, the jury, we just hang out together, play Rummikub and chess and watch movies, and just play games together and hang out.
Was it difficult to grow up a gay Mormon?
Yeah, definitely. I was 18 or so when I really thought that, Oh, my gosh, I'm gay. And I was very nervous to come out to my family because even though my immediate family is not heavily practicing in the church, you know, we don't go to church every Sunday or anything, I knew that they had a lot of things against gay people just from their past. My mom, I remember really vividly when I was like 16, being in the car with her, and we passed this gay couple, and she said, 'Ugh, that's disgusting, it just makes me sick.'
I was like, Oh, my gosh, is my family going to think that I'm disgusting? Will they disown me? All of those kind of things are running through your head. And I love my family so much and I'm really close with them, and especially close to my extended family. So it was definitely nerve-wracking to come out, but everyone's been very accepting of me since I have. They've been amazing.
How do you reconcile your religious beliefs with your sexuality?
For me, I'm not like a dyed-in-the-wool Mormon or anything. I think there's a lot of great things you can take from the religion. The focus on family, the focus on helping others and community, and all those kind of things, are really important to me from growing up and I try to take all the good things I can from the religion, but there's things about the tolerance level in the religion.' I don't know, I think it's a very narrow worldview to see yourself as 'If someone else isn't my religion, they're not going to heaven.' That kind of narrow view I think is represented in their social views as well, and so that's the part I have much more of a struggle with. And I just kind of leave that behind and take the good that I can from it.
So what is Jeff like?
I love Jeff! He and I got along great. We might have been the only people in Guatemala who got along really well. A lot of the other cast members had some problems with him, because the thing about Jeff is that he does have to pull the drama out of you. He dropped the F bomb so much that I couldn't even believe it. Because he's rough with you, he wants to get the truth out of you, and, you know, kind of heighten the drama. That's his job. So I think a lot of people took that personally. But I didn't at all. I just thought it was his job and I think he's really good at his job. I think he's a great guy. I really got along well with him.
Did you feel like anyone out there in Guatemala treated you differently because you're gay? Was there any weirdness?
At the beginning, I was really worried about that. You know, half of our cast was from the South. Very religious people on the show. A lot of the people, I was the first gay person they'd ever met. So I was definitely nervous about that. But people really just accepted me. And I think part of that is because I was so open. Like the first night, I told everyone that I was gay. I never hid that from people. And I was like, This is who I am. I really like who I am and I think that you will too if you get to know me. I think that they were kind of attracted to the fact that I wasn't at all ashamed of being gay or felt like I had anything to prove. The fact that I was gay was almost a complete nonissue there. Which is surprising with the group of people that we had.
OK'Brian, Bobby Jon, Blake, Jamie, Brandon'there was a lot of guy candy out there this year. Did you have any crushes on any of the guys?
You know, the funny thing about that is, on the first night in the jungle, we didn't have any blankets or anything out there, so the only way you could get warm is you'd have a little cuddle partner. And Jamie, the first night in the jungle, was like, Rafe, will you be my cuddle partner? And so that was who my cuddle partner was for the whole first week or two we were out there until we got accustomed to the temperatures. I really like Jamie a lot. He was such a good guy, and he was pretty comfortable with some man-love. [Laughs]
Brian has come out in the press as straight, but did he ping! your gaydar like he did ours?
You know, definitely at the beginning when we were all in the hotel. We spent five days together before the show starts, where you can't talk to anyone, but you see everyone. And I definitely thought that Brian might be gay. And a lot of the other cast members actually thought that Brian was the gay cast member for this season and that it wasn't me. But when we got out there, it was funny, the first night, Amy goes to everyone, we're doing introductions, she's like (in spot-on Amy voice, complete with East Coast accent), OK, we'll go around the circle, and you say what your name is, where you're from, your age, and whether you're gay or straight. And she turns right to Brian, and she's like, Brian, you start. And so straight from the beginning, she was putting on the pressure. And he was like, I'm Brian, I'm straight. And she's like, No, you're not. This was the first night. It was so uncomfortable. And he was like, No, I'm really not. She's like, If you're not out yet or you don't know yet, whatever, that's fine, I accept you, but you're gay. And he was like, Uh'I'm really not. So those two went at it all the time about whether or not Brian was gay. And for me, I liked the kid, and I think whether he's gay or straight, either way, us constantly pestering him about it isn't helping him. If he is gay and he wants to come out eventually, he'll come out when he's comfortable with it, not when we're comfortable with it. And if he's straight, he probably gets this all the time and it's probably annoying as hell. So we should just give him a break.
Not to be a bitch, but how could you have stood Judd? Was he as repulsive as he came across?
Judd is only repulsive when he is drinking. The rest of the time, Judd is so fun to hang out with. Everyone likes Judd. Except he'd get drunk and just be out-of-control obnoxious and rude to people and negative. He was also having some troubles because he didn't eat or sleep at all when we were out there, so he was like really run down towards the end of the game, and I think he wasn't super comfortable in the elements there because he had never been camping before. He was not completely there at the end.
At the Tribal Council where you voted out Margaret, with her calling Judd out on the fact that he doesn't listen to anyone and him denying it and in the process completely proving her point'
The most hilarious part about watching that on TV was that he said, 'Rafe, do I listen to you?' And I'm, 'Well',' and I'm trying to explain myself, and he's like, 'Cindy, do I listen to you?' And he goes through everyone [without letting them speak], and he was totally proving [Margaret's] point.
It was crazy. Did you want to vote him out that night instead of her except you had an alliance with Judd?
Well, when we initially switched tribes, I wanted to target Judd first, and I thought I could get the girls from their tribe together to do that. But they were pretty clear that they were not going against the old tribe lines on the vote. So by the next Tribal Council, we were kind of locked into an alliance already and there wasn't much to do.
What was the most satisfying vote?
Definitely, both Jamie and Judd were just really satisfying for me, because I knew that I had a large part in why they were happening. I was sick of being aligned with people that I didn't feel treated other people very well. And so it was really good for me to get both of them out, especially because they totally underestimated me. Jamie was like, 'Oh, Rafe's just Stephenie's lapdog and he can't do anything, he can't think on his own.' So it was really satisfying to be the reason he was voted out.
Did you feel you were represented fairly through the editing?
Yeah, I feel like I got a great edit, and I feel like they really represented what happened out there for everyone. Obviously, you can't show everything on TV, and can't show all the facets of people's personalities, but watching it on TV was like watching home videos to me. It was just like exactly who everyone was. And I felt like it came across really true to what our experience was.
Who did you enjoy being stranded with the most?
Danni and Cindy and Steph and I all got along so well. Cindy was hysterical, because she would make up all these stories about what the animals were talking about to each other. The big part about Survivor is that everything you don't see on TV is downtime. Like we were just literally laying down for 8-10 hours a day. So you just sit around and talk about your families and your lives and play games. It's kind of like summer camp in a weird way. You're just hanging out so much of the day with nothing really to do.
Did you know Gary was an ex-NFL quarterback?
When I was out there, I didn't know Gary was an NFL quarterback. I thought that he probably was by the time Danni joined our tribe, because she knew for sure. So as it got close to every Tribal Council and she was worried it might be her and not Gary [who was voted out], she'd be like, 'You know, guys. Gary really, really doesn't need the money,' and kind of hint at that right before Tribal Council every time. So I had a feeling that he might be. But it didn't really matter to anyone. Honestly, to everyone it seemed kind of random that he was lying about it, because it was such a nonissue.
Yeah, I thought it was strange he was lying about it too. I didn't see who would care.
Yeah, especially in a season when two former Survivors were coming back, who clearly are famous and have money. You'd think that he would maybe take a step back and be like 'Oh, people are gonna be fine with me if they're fine with these former Survivors.'
You've traveled to all 50 states and 14 countries. What is the most awe-inspiring place you've seen?
I think the most awe-inspiring place I've been is the west coast of Australia, because it's just completely empty. It's beautiful land that is completely empty of people. I walked places where there were no human footprints. It was all kangaroos and that kind of stuff. I walked 10 minutes away from the little campsite I was at, and I was probably someplace that no one had been for thousands of years. And to me that was really an incredible experience.
OK, weird question: How did you learn to play Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy' on the piano with your toes?
Well, when I was little, my mom taught piano lessons to make some extra money, and so she was amazing at the piano. And I just was not very good at the piano. I like to be good at the things that I'm trying to do. And so I was really frustrated that I wasn't good at the piano, so I was like, Well, what can I do with the piano that will make me good at it? And I was like, I could be better at playing the piano with my toes. And so then I just spent some time with it and like really learned to play the piano a little bit with my toes. And my friends always joke with me, they have me do like bizarre things with my toes, because I guess they're very mobile compared to most people's toes.
Sounds like it! So, what's next for you?
My boyfriend, Stephen, and I are moving out to Los Angeles. I've always wanted to be a screenwriter, you know, before Survivor. And so I really want to pursue that once I get out there. And Stephen wants to do reality TV production. So both of us are going to move out to Los Angeles and try to pursue those things.