Recently, the gay community has been abuzz about Robert Sepúlveda Jr. The Atlanta interior designer is the subject of a new gay dating show on Logo, Finding Prince Charming. As is expected of any project that involves gay men, the show was immediately met with scrutiny and judgment.
I recently met with Sepúlveda and the show's host, Lance Bass over lunch at STK in Midtown Manhattan. We discussed life, love, and reality television over steak frites and sorbet. Although I was skeptical of the show, I soon realized the only crime is taking it too seriously.
Out: Did you watch any dating shows before this?
Robert Sepúlveda Jr: I did my research. I wasn’t a dating show expert but I did watch The Bachelor and a few other dating shows to kind of get a grip on what exactly they were gonna request of me, what they were gonna ask of me. I was actually on [Room Raiders]. It’s something that just kind of fell in my lap. I was at a bar, and they were casting guys…I was one of the raidees. But I won, based on my apartment. I never saw him after the show. [LAUGHS] But that was a fun little thing I did with MTV. And that was one of the first gay Room Raiders too.
Lance Bass: Yea, I’ve always loved reality. So when I was able to be a part of this, I was like “Yes!” This is a show I would watch with all my friends. You know, I did Dancing with the Stars so I got a really good taste of what it felt like to shoot a show like this. And being able to document my wedding was really a treat too because I went into it thinking, “Oh lord, I don’t know how they’re gonna show me. It’s only gonna show the negative things like us fighting.” But I thought it was a beautiful story that they showed. That’s why I trust this process so much because Brian Graden who produced my wedding special is producing this show. So I knew that we would be in good hands.
Dating shows in general receive a bad reputation for being shallow. That and obviously gay men have received a bad reputation for sexual racism and body shaming and things of that nature. Do you think this show steers away from that?
RSJ: Well this isn’t a regular show. This is the first one of its kind. There’s always going to be criticism in anything you do but the casting directors did a great job of getting a really diverse group of men that come from all walks of life, all colors, all shapes. People are going to criticize anything and everything you do.
LB: Our community’s very judgmental at times. People are going to hate what they’re going to hate and they’re going to love what they’re going to love. Reality as a whole gets a bad name for itself because some people just don’t get it. I respect it because I love the aspect of creating through reality, showing these amazing real stories. I think some of the best stories come from true life, and I love watching that. In the end, it’s television and it’s supposed to be entertaining. So when you cast a show like this, you’re not casting your neighbor down the street. You have to be a certain type of person that would do a show a like this. And as a viewer, you want to see certain type of people up there too. You want to see characters, entertaining people. I think they did a good job of choosing an amazing array of characters.
Obviously people are wondering how it works with a bunch of gay men in a house together. It just seems inevitable.
LB: They’re all gonna have an orgy. [LAUGHS]
RSJ: It’s something that I obviously was thinking about because those guys are spending a lot of time together, 24 hours a day. But if the guys found love within the house or whatever the case may have been—that they were more attracted to each other than they were to me—I would have given them my blessing. More power to them. I don’t really know what happened while I was away so I will be seeing all of that as a viewer sees it. Maybe I made the wrong decision. Maybe I could have kept somebody longer than I did. Maybe I kept someone too long. So I’m going to be seeing that with the viewer.
Lance, did you have any good advice for Robert during the show?
LB: It is nice that I’ve already gone down the aisle and found my Prince Charming, so to be able to watch other people fall for each other, I hope I had good advice. I’m kinda the only person that Robert had as a sounding board, so when he had some questions, or when he was looking for advice, I was there to help out. But I also didn’t want to steer him in any direction because there were certain things that I knew were going on in the house that I didn’t want him to know because I wanted him to really follow his heart and let the guys in the house create their own journey with him. So I stood out of it.
RSJ: He was a great mentor. But obviously he spent time with the guys in the house as well so he couldn’t really steer me in the wrong direction. He didn’t give me advice on stuff going on in the house that I didn’t see. He saw things that I wasn’t allowed to see actually until I watch the show.
LB: It was like I was a viewer. There were so many times I was screaming, “No, don’t pick him.” I was a fan of this show, going through it.
Was it hard being away from home for that long?
RSJ: For the first few days, it was hard not to have our phones. We don’t have phones or internet access. They sequestered us. But it was a nice little break for me to put the phone down, not check Instagram, not be on Twitter, not be on email. It really gave me and the contestants the opportunity to focus on each other. When we went on dates, we weren’t on our phones. We were focusing on who we were as people, as individuals, talking about past relationships, childhood, going through changes. All of that really came out, and part of it was because we weren’t on our phones. We didn’t have that noise.
LB: It makes about a month of dating turn into about a year of dating. That’s really how much time you spend together, set-up on all these romantic experiences.
Was it harder having a camera in front of you the whole time?
RSJ: What was hard is when we were going to dinner, we never actually finished our dinner. That was hard. But it forced us to really connect, being on the show. The cameras were there but we generally just forgot they were there. We were doing the show for 24 hours a day. At a point we really just forgot they were there and I really got to connect with the guys.
I read that there’s an HIV+ suitor which is amazing to have that representation. Do you think the show sheds good light on mixed status relationships?
LB: I hope so. I mean HIV is still such a stigma in our community. People are so uneducated about it, especially in the straight community. So I think this will give great visibility to the story, and I think it was handled beautifully. I think people are going to learn a lot watching this show. Not only with that, but issues like conversion therapy. A couple of guys in the show went through that. They’re things that you just don’t really publicly talk about, and it’s really beautiful to see a bunch of gay guys in a room really pouring their hearts out to each other. And this brotherhood that is formed between all of them is just a beautiful thing to see.
RSJ: The title of the show is Finding Prince Charming. Prince Charming is somebody that is accepting. Somebody that has HIV is worthy of love. They are not unworthy of love. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past or where you’ve been. Prince Charming is going to be accepting, with unconditional love. It doesn’t matter whether they have HIV or not, so I didn’t think twice about not keeping this person on because of that. The show really tackled that issue in a beautiful way, and you get to see that.
Tune in Thursday, September 8th at 9/8c to the series premiere of Finding Prince Charming.