Labels: T Lo Interviews
Long-time T Lo minions might remember that we once blogged excitedly about a Discovery Channel show called Out of the Wild: The Alaska Experiment. It was an engrossing series wherein 9 people are dropped off in the Alaskan wilderness and have to work as a group, hiking their way back to civilization, killing their food and finding or making lodging along the way. With no prize at the end, these adventure hunters were doing it just for the thrill and the experience of it. The only drama came from their daily grind just trying to survive. What made it even more of a hoot for us to watch was that one of the nine participants, Jake Nodar, is gay.
Now, we don't bounce up and down excitedly every time we see one of our brothers or sisters on the tube, but Jake was instantly likable (and cute), and doing the kinds of things one never sees a gay man do on reality television, which, as we all know far too well around here, trucks mostly in the fashion and design gays, rather than the outdoorsy gays. In short, he was blazing a trail in his own little way. He is the first out gay man to appear on the Discovery Network. That's kind of a big deal when you think about it. He wasn't teaching wannabe models how to walk, or sewing a dress, or agonizing over paint swatches; he was hiking and hunting and making fires and he was doing it all with what looked to us like relative ease and good humor. It's a great show and the other eight participants all were entertaining in their own way, but Jake really made it for us.
With the release of the show on DVD, we took the opportunity to sit down and chat with the kind of reality TV gay we don't see enough of around here.
How did you get involved with the show?
Complete coincidence. I was planning a trip to Mongolia to do photography; it’s a hobby of mine and I was googling “Mongolian expeditions” and a link came up that said “Alaskan expeditions,” and I clicked on it and a week or so after that I was out in L.A. and two weeks after that I was in Alaska.
Are trips to Mongolia a normal thing for you?
They are not. I train horses for a living and I do a lot of work with problem horses, so I get bumped around a fair amount and I wanted to switch things up and give my body a little break so I’m doing a photography book on horse people. I was going to travel around the world and take pictures of people who make their living with horses and Mongolia was my next stop.
Have you made it to Mongolia yet?
I have not. I got derailed with the Alaska Experiment and I hope to get back to it in the spring.
So you’re kind of a risk-taker then.
I like pushing myself. I find it way too easy to just slip into the daily routine of things. I like a little adventure.
How did you get into the horse training?
Horse training, it started as a childhood obsession, I was born on a farm, and I’m guessing that’s where it came from. We moved into the city when I was three and all my first drawings were of horses, and of course I had My Little Ponies, which went over really well, and as soon as I got out of high school I went out and bought my first horse, and I went out and I started volunteering for a horse rescue and shortly after that I went out to a horse training school and have been doing it ever since.
How long was the shooting schedule for the show? How long were you out there?
We were out there for 30 days.
Was there any training prior to going out, like survival training?
Yeah, a crash course in survival training in Anchorage. It was supposed to be a 2-week course that was abbreviated for production reasons. It was amazing. At the end of the third day we had to hike a couple of miles, jump into a river fully clothed – it was 35 degrees – float downstream, get out, wring out our clothes, walk about a mile, start a fire in the rain with flint and steel, and then field dress a couple rabbits and make rabbit stew. It was quite a shock to go from that, training courses, to the wild in a couple of days.
Yeah, they really threw you in the deep end of the pool right away.
They certainly did. So we had the three days of survival training, one day of navigation training, and then we were on a plane and being dropped off in the interior.
Had you done any hunting prior to The Alaska Experiment?
No hunting. I love wildlife photography but I have never had any desire to hunt. And I was really concerned; that was my only concern leading up to this, how I was going to deal with that.
You seem to have gotten over it fairly quickly. We seem to recall you chowing down on a mouse at one point.
Not having any food at all changed that quickly. It was good, because it gives me a new level of respect. When I do go to the grocery store and buy a steak or chicken I actually know the process of where it comes from.
Would you ever go hunting again?
If I was in a survival situation I would. I don’t think I would do it otherwise.
How did it work with the crew? Were they sleeping in tents too? Did they eat in front of you?
They were careful, they would set up their camp a quarter mile to a half mile away from where we were. Out of sight, out of smell, we weren’t allowed to talk to production at all. We didn’t talk to them until the wrap party and of course, our first question was “What were you eating?”
What were they eating?
One of the camera guys who’s become a friend, said “I remember that time you split that mouse? We were having prime rib and crab.” I mean, they were running around doing hardcore filming through rough terrain, the one guy put on 15 pounds. It was definitely tough for them. Those guys, I have to hand it to them, they were running around with 50 – 60 pounds of camera and gear and they were only getting like four hours of sleep and working in shifts, and going to the lodge on their off days and eating incredibly well, so I don’t have that much sympathy.
What was the grossest thing you had to eat?
It’s weird because when you’re starving it all tasted pretty good.
Even the mouse?
There wasn’t really enough to have it register. We had a salmon that was way past its spawn period. It was a grayish death-looking color. That was pretty gnarly, that was pretty gross.
You were only one of two people in the group who bathed during the entire time out in the wild.
I had to. It was like 23 degrees outside on the side of a lake with some ridiculous wind chill and it just had to happen. I wish some of the other members had done that as well.
A couple people - I’m not gonna name any names, John and Trish – two hours into the trip were already smelling like a European nightclub. It was out of control. And then weeks later with all of us together in a tent, it was not pretty.
And there was no soap or toothpaste or anything?
No toiletries. I think we got to the – was it the 5th cabin? I think it was. It was the cabin where I ended up showering, there was a bar of soap in the cabin.
No toothpaste, no razors, no deodorant. Nothing. We went in there with the clothes on our back.
You must have really bonded.
We know each other way too well. The first three left within 4 days of getting there and we had survival training, but we weren’t allowed to talk to each other because they wanted all our interactions on tape. So we didn’t know them at all. Then, Dan left at day 13 and he was the first one we really got to know. Interestingly enough, he was the one I was most concerned about, because being openly, because, I mean, he’s a big dude, big bodybuilder police officer from New Jersey. But actually he ended up being the first one to bring the subject up; he asked me about it. He made a point to let me know that he had a relative that was out. He was very cool with it. He really made an effort. It was great because I was someone I would never ordinarily hang out with. We all really grew close and I think from him on, the six have stayed really close. I still see a lot of them frequently; some of them I talk to on the phone weekly. We definitely formed a bond.
How did the gay thing come up?
I certainly made no effort to hide it whatsoever and I think it was just sort of out there. Dan formalized by basically asking me about coming out and how it all happened. It was never an issue at all. I think we had such big problems just worrying about surviving; we had to get all the chores and hunting and fishing done. Who we were and where we came from didn’t really factor in. It was a really pleasant surprise.
How self-aware were you, being a gay man on this type of show. Were you aware going into it how rare that is?
You know, I did and that’s what gave me such a push to do it. You know I think the gay community is so great for the reason that we are so diverse and I think a lot of times on TV we’re portrayed a certain way, and I wanted to just go in there and be able to be myself and offer that up and try and be a decent role model.
You got a lot of positive feedback, didn't you?
I did, yeah. Every Wednesday morning after the show would air I would get the most incredible emails from people that were watching the show; young teens who were struggling with things, and guys in their sixties that are just coming out to their friends and family, that’s why I did it. When I was growing up, in a very religious family, we were taught that being gay was a sin, we had nobody that was gay that we knew, that was out. And that was a struggle and the only connection I had with the gay community was my Ellen DeGeneres comedy CD. That’s what got me through my year when I was struggling and coming out. That’s what really got me through and kept me smiling. There are kids out there that are in that situation and I can be out there and I can represent, that’s just such a great opportunity.
I have to give mad props to Discovery for making a big step forward for them. It was interesting the way they did it. They finally had the coming out episode in episode 7. I think it was good because it forced a lot of people who might not be comfortable with the gay issue to actually have to get to know me and not form a snap judgment and to really get to know me while I’m out there struggling, and then this comes up and it’s just a very subtle thing, it’s not thrown up in your face, it’s just, “Hey, this is who he is.”
How long did it take you to acclimate once you were back in civilization?
That’s a really good question. I was really, really screwed up for a while. For one, I had dropped 26 pounds –
Which you couldn’t spare.
No, you seriously could see my spine through my front. Then I got home and I ate and I ate and I ate. I was like a bulimic without the throwing up. I’d get up at 2 in the morning, chow down on all these candy bars and I’d actually hide the wrappers because I felt guilty not sharing with the group.
You were like a returned prisoner of war.
Seriously! I would never have imagined that it would take that kind of toll on me. I would take a walk, when I was down in D.C., I would take the dog for a walk, and I would see a squirrel or a pigeon and I would actually get excited. “There’s dinner!” Of course, go figure, I see about 600 more squirrels when I’m walking in DC than I did the entire time I was in the wilds of Alaska. Took me a while to get back into the swing of things.
Did you get sick going back to regular food?
Right before the wrap party, the doctor came around to check on us to make sure we’d be okay for the party and he said, “Be really careful. Your stomach has shrunken quite a bit, eat very mild foods like oatmeal,” and we were like “Hell no, we’re not gonna eat oatmeal. We haven’t eaten anything in 30 days.” I really put it away, I was drinking margaritas and wine, and I was sick, it would get to the point where it hurt really badly but I would keep eating regardless. They had this huge spread. It was of course having the option of that over oatmeal, yeah we’re gonna take that. Some people were more cautious than I was but I went to town.
You have a boyfriend, correct?
Yes. We’ve been together a little over 4 and a half years. He was at the wrap party. He had just got back from a trip to Africa and Europe and he got the call that if he wanted to come, to come out to Alaska. When we got off the train, he was there. This is hysterical. We had one last interview when we get to civilization, and then we have this wrap party where we’re all craving the food, we sit down at the table and Andrew looks at me and says “I’m starving. I haven’t eaten all day.” I wanted to jump over the table and smack him. I was like “I can’t believe you just said that!” But that was a wonderful way to come back to civilization, having him there.
Would you do it again, go out in the wild like that?
Not in Alaska, no. Maybe somewhere tropical. It was so cold and so wet, I mean every morning we’d wake up and there were times when it’d get down to 4 or 5 degrees, and we’d wake up and have to put on wet socks and wet boots and so on. That whole wet and cold thing, I don’t want to do that again.
What’s next for you? Has this opened any doors for you?
There have been some opportunities. This past Friday I got to go to the Library of Congress and give a speech to a gay group. And there have been some great opportunities to share my story. I did a little fundraiser with GLAAD, for the finale, and I’ll probably be doing adventure vacations with them next spring. We’ll see. Right now I’m back to training horses full time and absolutely loving it. We’ve been shooting something with one of the cinematographers from The Alaska Experiment, it’s got some ideas of mine and his, we’ll see what comes of that.
Well, good luck with that, Jake and we hope you get that trip to Mongolia soon.
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