After appearing three times on Discovery Channel’s gnarly reality competition series Naked And Afraid, including its most recent season for returning cast members, Castaways, openly gay competitor Andrew Shayde has been asked about being naked on TV more times than he can count.
So leave it to PASSPORT to spice things up by discussing what it’s like to be naked AND get bitten on your cock by creepy, venomous things, like a swarm of ticks that made late night dinner of his genitals.
But before we get to that, here’s some background on the amicable Lexington, Kentucky-based Shadye, who created a part time, highly visible career as reality competition contestant. Raised a Southern Baptist and out since he was seventeen, he made his first appearance on season three of The Amazing Race alongside his father in 2002. Season twelve of Naked and Afraid followed in 2021, although his run was cut short due to a possible MRSA infection. He returned for season fifteen in early 2023 and the inaugural N&A Castaways this summer (shot in Panama’s Pearl Islands), and is currently taking part in the brand new CBS competition series, Buddy Games, which debuted September 14th and is hosted by Josh Duhamel.
Shayde also maintains a side hustle as comic book writer, working on titles The Bold And The Brave and Monsters Among Us for gay owned publisher TidalWave, and has dedicated much time over the past two decades working in development for nonprofits including Lexington’s at-risk youth org, Arbor Youth Services and, while living in Portland, Oregon for eight years, the Cascade AIDS Project (for which he won Gay and Lesbian Project of the Pacific Northwest’s 2017 Hero Award). He’s also proud “guncle” to a handful of nieces and nephews and, on the romantic front, says he’s dating.
All tidied up, trimmed, and glowing during his Zoom interview with PASSPORT, Shayde spilled tea on his reality competition adventures and travels, what to expect from the new Buddy Games and his all-gay team, life off camera, where he’d like to travel for fun, gay clothing optional resorts, and advice for those who might consider applying to a reality competition (or already have).
How exactly did this career in reality competitions come about, and what motivated you to pursue them in the first place?
My first show was The Amazing Race back in 2002, and reality TV was actually fairly new. Everything I knew was MTV’s The Real World and getting drunk and screaming and fighting with your roommates in a hot tub. There weren’t all the dating and drag shows and America’s Got Talent. So I’d seen one episode of season two of The Amazing Race and thought, ‘that’s cool.’ They were hang gliding off a mountain in Rio de Janeiro, and I thought this is something I would want to do. I applied with my dad, who humored me, and within two weeks we got a phone call and a week later we were in L.A. having meetings with producers. It was a blur.
Who was your first hero or role model in these reality competitions?
I grew up Southern Baptist in the Bible Belt, and we weren’t allowed to watch MTV or reality TV, but I would find ways to sneak and do it. I remember Real World Miami in 1992 and there was a gay guy named Dan Renzi, and seeing him go on dates, and on one episode he kissed a guy on a beach or pier and I thought, ‘I want to do that!’ For a little queer kid in Kentucky, Dan became my reality TV touchstone, that there are other people out there like me. I’ve met Dan through social media since and told him, ‘you being out there and brave meant something to me.’ And since I did Amazing Race, I had a young gay guy from Survivor, Colton Cumbie, message me and say, ‘I remember watching you when I was young and gay,’ so I became that for someone else. Now, Colton was a little brat and behaved very poorly on the show and I was like, ‘I didn’t teach you how to behave, you weren’t very nice!’
How did returning for Naked and Afraid Castaways compare to the earlier seasons?
I felt I had so much to prove. On the first attempt, I was taken out early because I got an infection from being bitten by ticks. It was fairly outside of my control. I never felt I made a huge mistake. So I came back and wanted to make sure I reached the finish line. Queer people in general, when we get the opportunity to do these shows we have this added pressure to not only compete but represent our entire queer community. Our stories need to be told, but I’m fearful of the fact that people look at me and say, ‘you’re a queer person and have to represent all of us,’ because I can’t. I can’t represent a community of millions, the story of a trans woman or gay person of color. All I can do is go out and have that adventure and do the best I can as myself.
What was the most challenging thing about Castaways versus regular Naked and Afraid seasons?
What made Castaways so much harder was we weren’t allowed to have any tools ahead of time. So no knife, no pot, no firestarter. Anything we needed to survive for 21 days we had to make or find. One sad thing about this Panamanian island was there’s a lot of trash that washes up. As Americans we’re spoiled, because if you go on vacation to Florida or Hilton Head those beaches are combed and cleaned by locals. On these islands you see garbage that’s been rolling up for decades and there was tons of trash, which was great [for show competitors] because we could repurpose things for use, but it was also a bummer to see the impact man has and the crap we’re doing to Mother Earth.
Speaking of junk, did you and the other cast members ever discuss being bitten in their private parts by creepy, even dangerous things?
Yes, we absolutely talk about all the nasty things we experience out there like being bitten by bugs on all of our parts. We find humor in it because it sucks, and laugh through it all. I think when you’re living with someone 24 hours a day in such a harsh environment you find humor in the suffering and your walls crumble down. Also, you come back from those circumstances and you’re so close, at least I was. I’ve loved everybody I’ve been out there with afterwards.
Did being on these shows and their far-flung locations also inspire a love of travel?
Yes, for sure. At the time of Amazing Race I was so young I hadn’t been outside of the U.S. We started in Miami, went all over Mexico, Mexico City, Cancun, Cozumel, to London, Cambridge, and we were eliminated from the show in Aberdeen, Scotland. My first two Naked And Afraid experiences were both in South Africa, and my latest is in Panama.
Do you get to explore and experience the local culture and food and gay life during downtime?
Not too much. When we travel to these locations the production keeps you very much sequestered. Sometimes you get a night out and can walk around and taste the food. The times I was in Africa I was on these nature reserves and the owners cooked all my meals and were like, ‘Try giraffe! Try zebra! Try this kudu meal!’ Fresh killed options from their own reserve. That was incredible, to see the way the rest of the world lives and eats because there were no restaurants out there. That was home cookin’ from the real deal.
Have you traveled to any gay men’s clothing optional resorts, and if so were you treated like royalty after Naked And Afraid?
I’ve been to clothing optional resorts in Palm Springs and Fort Lauderdale and I love it, but I’m not often recognized because people are used to seeing me filthy and dirty and my beard grown out. When I show up with my hair cut and beard trimmed people don’t know who I am, even if they watch the show! It’s come up at pool parties. Someone will say N&A is their favorite show and my friend will be like, ‘that’s Andrew, he’s on it!’ and they’ll be, ‘oh my gosh I know who you are!’
Since some gay men love clothing optional resorts and beaches, would you like to see more naked tourism offerings available for LGBTQ travelers, like entirely clothing optional destinations and even naked cruises, tours and experiences?
I believe there should be more options for nudists. I don’t feel the body is a shameful, dirty, perverted thing unless you make it that, and that’s your brain. It only takes one person to come in and make it uncomfortable for the rest. I have experienced that at a gay resort. There’s forty people by the pool, music, everyone is drinking and having a good time, and one person is trying to take pictures with a phone or approaching others in a way without consent and it sucks that sometimes one person can ruin an incredible day for others just trying to enjoy themselves.
Is there a line in the sand you won’t cross as far as a challenge on one of these shows?
I always want to have fun and do crazy things. I’ll do scary things. I just don’t want to do anything that compromises a personal ethic or code, which is pretty open-ended! I don’t feel I have to live by any super strict code, but I won’t let anyone demean me. I’ll roll through mud and in fact I do on Buddy Games, but I won’t do something that hurts someone else.
Is there any animal or critter you just can’t deal with, like Indiana Jones and his fear of snakes?
My fears are roaches and sharks. I’ll catch a snake by its neck, I’ve eaten snake several times, spiders don’t scare me, but roaches for some reason freak me out and being eaten by a shark is one of my biggest fears. I want to cage dive with sharks, to face it, but there’s something about being eaten alive that’s scary. I kind of encountered that in Africa a couple of times. I had lions and hyenas and baboons that would come right around my shelter at night, four or five feet away, only separated by a wall of thorn trees that I built. People say, ‘oh it’s TV, it’s produced,’ but I want you to remember animals don’t work for production. They don’t have a contract with Discovery Channel. If they want to eat you they’re gonna!
Tell me about the gayest moment so far on Naked and Afraid.
On Castaways one of my partners saw a giant saltwater crocodile, a dinosaur of a beast, and we only had this teeny little blade and he said, ‘I think I want to find it and jump on and stab it!’ Ok, you don’t just do that. They will move and try to eat you, and it’s on the show! I said, ‘that’s some dumb straight people shit. I am not doing that!’ That was a time I put my foot down and was gay as hell. I’m not going to jump on a saltwater crocodile and try to stab it with a tiny blade, that is dumb. That’s how you die in a horror movie.
Tell us about Buddy Games on CBS, and is Josh Duhamel a doll or what?
He is hotter in person than on TV, and the first time I met Josh filming I told him that. I said, ‘you’re sexier in real life and it’s enraging.’ He brushed and whisked his hair to the side [flirtatiously]. I said, ‘you’re such a jerk I hate you.’ He’s great. He’s actually one of the most down to earth, dirty goofballs. He’s not the type who runs with the Hollywood elite, and he is really silly and fantastic to be around.
What makes Buddy Games stand out from the other CBS shows like Survivor?
You’re competing with real life friends—six teams of four. My team, Team Pride, is all queer. Bekah Telew is pansexual, Steven Mosier and Summer Lynne Seasons are gay and do drag, and Summer goes by they/them pronouns. So it’s not just one token gay person on a show, which happened for decades. And there’s a lesbian on one of the other teams.
Were there any homophobic teams or competitors?
We were really nervous at first because there’s a team of big strong alpha looking guys from Oklahoma, Team OK. We showed up on day one in matching neon color leopard prints and looked as queer as possible, and then here comes these four big straight guys with cowboy boots and belt buckles and we thought, oh crap, these are gonna be homophobic jerks. But we did wrong, we stereotyped them just as many people do to gay people, and they were amazing, fantastic, kind, and even very protective of us. Now, we’re still going to try and beat their asses! I’m a competitive son of a bitch and my primary goal is to take out all the teams I think can beat me.
Was there any worry you would be painted as the season’s villain?
Thank goodness my parents raised me to be a nice person, so I was never super fearful of looking like a villain because I don’t treat people in a poor way, that’s not who I am. But I came in with a very strategic mind. I lost Amazing Race and know what it’s like to lose the opportunity to take home the money, title and bragging rights, so I came in very headstrong. While a lot of people were like, ‘this is just a great experience for me and my friends,’ I came to win. The second we hit that dirt and first challenge my mind was, win win win at all costs, how do I get them all out of here so I win the whole damn thing, and I realize that can make me a villain to some people.
Ah, so you might be the season’s villain!
If you don’t like a mastermind or strategist you’re going to hate me, sure! But I didn’t call people names, bully, or belittle anyone. But I did put into motion every move to make it to the end.
How has being on Naked And Afraid affected your personal life off-camera, especially when it comes to dating?
It makes it very weird. They feel you’re naked on TV so they can ask you all kinds of crude questions right off the bat, and two or three times a day I get the same message from men: ‘Can I see the show without the blur?’ Every single day. Come on, y’all. At least be creative.
How do you feel Lexington measures up as a place for LGBTQ visitors?
Great! We are this amazing blue county, we’ve had an openly gay Mayor, the best and most famous bourbon distilleries are here, they’re a blast and super fun and some have pride events. You can walk downtown and many of the straight pubs have rainbow flags outside and the hotels put rainbow stickers on the doors. It’s a hidden gem for queer people. We have this amazing lesbian owned coffee shop and bar called Lussi Brown. It’s hip and fun and what they serve is fantastic. We have this great dive queer bar called Crossings, it’s the epitome of great little dark gay bars, it’s one of my faves. Ole Hookers is also a great dive bar with weird eclectic art and a giant shark head on the wall. Things that don’t necessarily make a lot of sense to me but we all love it.
Which countries or destinations outside the USA would you most love to visit, either for another reality competition or vacation?
On my bucket list right now are Italy and Japan, but if N&A calls again and says they want to send me anywhere in Asia or Australia, I’m gonna say yes. I want to check off all the continents, and I’m getting closer. All I have left is Asia, Australia, and Antarctica. I don’t think we’re going to make N&A in Antarctica, but I’d probably say yes if they asked me.
As far as destinations you’ve already experienced, what are your favorites?
Savannah, Georgia and Vancouver, Canada. I fell in love with both. Africa is the most amazing place. It’s as close to being on another planet as possible in a good way. You feel everything is so much bigger, more wild, and vibrant. You can see elephants and giraffes in a zoo, but it almost feels fake. To see them walking freely is not the same at all.
What is your advice for LGBTQ+ folks who have considered applying for a reality competition series?
Just do it and be yourself. The people who work in casting do it for a living and if you try to be fake or off a script or skit they don’t care or want to see that. They want to know who you are, real people with real stories. Don’t tell them, ‘I’m John and I’m funny.’ Tell them what you do that’s funny with specific examples or show them in video clips. If you’re a teacher, show them you in your classroom. If you work in sanitation, show yourself driving your truck. Let them see who you are in real life.
Is there any reality competition you haven’t been on yet but would love to get a call for?
I’ve been such a fan of Survivor and Big Brother and would love to try those. I feel they’re so different from the ones I’ve done and would fit my skill set better.
Survivor contestants get to bring one “luxury item” from home with them. What would be your item?
A good question. I’d love a journal. One thing I learned about these wild adventures is you do it and come home and it’s such a blur. You forget so many details. I’d like to write things down so I never forget them. One thing I love about having these adventures is life is so short and someday when I’m sitting in a retirement home, I don’t want to remember binging 80 shows on Netflix every weekend as my memories. I want them to be, ‘I was naked in Africa trying to hide from a lion!’ or, ‘I was with my friends competing and jumping in mud and getting electrocuted!’ I want these wild memories and feel that’s the reason I do this. I would still do these shows if they weren’t on TV and didn’t pay.
Finally, let’s create your own gay reality competition show! What would it be like, and where would it be?
I would love to see an LGBT competition series and it’s not dating. I feel like every time, like Neftlix’s The Ultimatum did a queer season and there was Boy Meets Boy and Finding Prince Charming. I want to see a bunch of LGBTQ+ people on an island somewhere or climbing a mountain or competing in physical challenges. I want to see something more physical.