Brad Virata was a high school football player who also competed on his school's track team. He was in a fraternity, Tau Kappa Epsilon, at the University of Washington, and had long-term girlfriends, including cheerleaders, in both high school and college.
'I was trying to play the whole straight role in high school, but was really uncomfortable with my sexuality [ while ] in high school and my first few years in college,' he said.
Virata came to terms with his sexuality when he was a junior in college, accepting the fact he was gay. He first told his family, starting with his dad, Ramon, who was born in Asia and raised Brad and Brad's four siblings in a strict Catholic environment.
The two were together, alone, on a vacation when Brad first told his dad.
'When I came out, I had in the back of my mind that, well, my dad may disown me [ and ] that he may not want to ever again speak to me. Thankfully, he just looked me in the eyes and said, 'You're my son and I love you no matter what, and I'll always continue to support you,'' Virata said.
Ramon is now a member of PFLAG. Brad's mom, Norma, is 'very accepting as well,' he said.Read more story below....
But it's father and son who truly have a lifelong bond, built on Brad's sexuality. They got matching tattoos ( the Chinese symbol for love ) , 'to show that my sexuality didn't matter, that my dad still loves me and accepts me no matter what.' Brad's is on his left bicep. Ramon went for his right shoulder.
'Just the fact that he didn't care [ that I was gay ] really meant a lot to me.'
Virata, the youngest of five ( two older brothers and two older sisters ) is the only gay family member. His siblings also are accepting about his sexuality.
He also has numerous nieces and nephews, 'and I have a great relationship with all.'
Virata's family and friends have been accepting. Some of his former frat brothers still keep in touch with him, showing no regard for his personal life but, rather, for the kind of person he truly is.
'For the most part, I haven't had a bad experience with being gay,' he said. 'It actually was a complete shock' that friends and family would be totally accepting.
Virata, though, never got the chance to share his sexuality with the world.
He is, of course, a contestant on the current CBS-TV edition of the hit reality show Survivor, although he was eliminated midway from the $1 million grand prize awarded to the finalist. He will, however, serve on the jury that will choose the champion.
His sexuality was never revealed on the air, although producers and his fellow castaways knew.
'I wish that my 'coming out' story had been heard because I thought it was a really cool story. I wanted to represent the Asian community in a positive light, but also wanted to represent the gay and lesbian community in a positive light,' he said. 'Quite often in the media, gays are portrayed in a stereotypical way. I didn't want that and I don't feel I'm like [ the stereotype ] . I wanted to break the mold a little, to show the rest of America that gays can be athletic, articulate, cool people, on and off the island. We're not all flamboyant attention seekers.
'Ultimately, I think [ CBS executives ] may have wanted to appeal to a larger demographic of people, specifically women; thus, my sexuality was not revealed. I'm not ashamed of being gay, not at all.'
Virata added that ' [ a ] lot of the stigma [ about homosexuality ] and the negative portrayal of gay people in the media is simply because of a lack of understanding and ignorance. People don't understand the culture. Plus, what they often see is a flamboyant drag queen on a float in the middle of Gay Pride San Francisco. But truly, that's not what the culture is about.'
'Survivor was a great experience,' he said. 'I learned a lot about myself—what I can and cannot live without. Survivor really put things in check, helps prioritize what's important. So, in that regards, I'm glad I did it, and I met a ton of great people, made some really great friends. Overall, it was a fantastic experience.
'Through Survivor, you learn, for instance, that you don't need the latest, greatest car to survive or the materialistic things. On the island, nothing you have back home really matters because you're literally starving, just trying to find a meal. The game really put things in check. It takes things in your everyday life and makes things not so important.'
Virata, who was not a Survivor fan before becoming a castaway, said the show was not what he expected. 'To be honest, I thought the camera crew would hand you a sandwich off-camera, or they would feed you off-line and not show anyone,' he said. 'But literally, they give you a machete and swift kick in the butt, and you're off to fend for yourself.'
They often were sleeping in wet clothes and dealing with other daily woes. On top of that, Virata left the island with a serious staph infection.
'The game was a psychological roller-coaster because you wake up every morning and think, 'What am I doing here?'' he said.
Once is enough, Virata said. Never again.
'A one-time experience is good enough for me. I'm glad I did it and don't have any regrets, but probably wouldn't do it again,' he said.
Virata said the best part of the Survivor experience was, 'learning what's important in life.' The worst was, 'dealing with the elements, starving and dealing with people who you normally wouldn't hang out with.'
The real world
Virata is the director of men's merchandising for Lucky Brand Jeans … and he's single.
'I'm currently single, and I'm willingly interviewing and accepting applications. Just kidding,' he said, laughing. 'Serious, I'm single and have been for a while, but I'm in a good space. I'm enjoying life and really focusing on my career. If something were to come along and happen, that would be fantastic. I'm open to anything, always looking for a great guy to share my life with. I'm pretty traditional when it comes to relationships. I don't date a lot. I know he's out there, somewhere.
'I just haven't met the right person, yet. But when I do, Ross, you'll be the first person I call.'
Virata said he looks for 'someone who has a good relationship with their parents, someone with a good heart, someone who shares the same traditional values that I have, someone who is not affected by their surroundings. And, they have to have a great smile.'
Virata has only been on a few dates since returning from his Survivor run. He hasn't found Mr. Right, but has encountered plenty of attention—from those interested in dating him, of course, but also those who simply admire his tale.
'It's kind of cool to be a role model to younger people because I'm not your stereotypical West Hollywood gay person,' he said. 'I wish CBS had told my story. That would have been cool, if only to help eliminate stereotypes some in America have toward gay people.'
Virata supports several major charities, including AIDS Project Los Angeles, Project Angel Food, Starlight Foundation and the Big Brothers Program of Los Angeles. Charity work, he said, 'means everything to me.'
'I'm at a point in my life where I'm able to give back, from time and financial standpoints,' he said. 'That's been one of my goals, ever since I was in my early 20s; I've wanted to contribute to my community and better the environment that I live in. There's no better feeling in the world than to be able to contribute and influence someone else who is less fortunate than you are.'
GETTING TO KNOW … Brad Virata
Resides in: Santa Monica, Calif.
Two favorite fellow Survivor castaways: Sundra and Yul. 'They will be quality friends forever,' he said.
About Survivor's Cao Boi: 'He's as real as it gets. He's kooky. He's definitely a standout character. What you see is what you get. He just wouldn't shut up. He's a great person, with a kind heart, but crazy.'
Survivor's Jeff Probst: 'He's great, extremely intelligent. You have to treat Jeff just like you're treating any of the other competitors. He's part of the game, especially at tribal council. He tries to push your buttons a little.'
Anyone else gay on Survivor: [ Pauses and laughs ] 'No, there wasn't.'
First same-sex experience: In high school. 'I can't believe I'm telling you this, though I'm not going to name names. But, we went to a party one night and got blitzed. One thing led to another and, uh, that was my first experience. It was scary and it was great all at the same time.' The other guy is now married to a woman.
Surfing: 'It's a lifestyle for me. I love waking up in the morning, heading to the ocean before work. I love being one with the ocean.'
Hobbies: Shopping, international traveling and meeting new people. 'Plus, I love to go out to nice restaurants, eating good food with great friends. There's nothing like Sunday morning brunch with a good group of friends.'
One dream meal: Kobe beef from Megu of New York, the miso black cod from Nobu in Malibu, Calif., and the sweet potato steak fries from Jar in Beverly Hills.
Favorite Drink: Mojito. 'I love the mint.'
Favorite sports: Beach volleyball and surfer.
Favorite athlete: Mark Tewksbury.
Favorite team: Los Angeles Lakers.
Boxers or briefs: 'Definitely, briefs.'
Favorite cologne: Mark Jacobs.
Do you prefer jeans and a t-shirt or dressing up? 'I'm all about jeans, beat-up boots and a white, cotton, v-neck T-shirt. I can't remember the last time I wore a suit.'
( Complete the following sentence. ) I'm better than most at: 'knowing what type of clothes you should put together, and how to wear them.'
It's a Fact: Since returning from Survivor, Virata has helped improve Yul's wardrobe, along with family and friends.
It's Also a Fact: He did not speak to any past Survivor contestants before appearing on the show. 'I didn't really know what I was getting myself into.'
Frat life: He lived in the fraternity as a freshman and sophomore, and was very active in the house. When he moved out and came out, 'no one had a problem with it.'
Gay Games: His edition of Survivor was filmed June 20—Aug. 7, so he was unavailable for Gay Games VII this past July in Chicago. But he's intrigued about participating at the 2010 Games in Cologne, Germany. 'I'd be interested; I'd compete, most definitely. I would love to compete. I think that would be a fantastic experience. I'd compete in swimming, just to show ( Survivor ) Nate that I'm a really good swimmer.'
George Clooney is People Magazine's Sexiest Man of the Year. Who's your pick? Nate Berkus. 'That guy has got a killer, killer smile. I would love to shake his hand one day, just to say hello.'
Carson Kressley from Bravo's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy: The two have met numerous times. 'He's a nice guy, but, when he's dressing guys for Queer Eye, he seems to make heterosexual guys look like him. There's nothing wrong with that, but I want the American male to look different. I want guys to look like guys. I want them to look masculine; I want them to have an edge. We just have a different perspective on how people should dress.' Virata, for instance, would OK wearing a baseball jersey. Kressley, no doubt, would shoot down such attire. 'Wearing a baseball jersey is OK, though it has to have the right fit and you have to be wearing it with the right product, such as the right pair of jeans or a really cool jacket.'
Virata's fashion sense: Comes from Japan, Europe, America and elsewhere.
Fashion faux pas: Ugg boots. 'I surf and wear Ugg boots just because they're functional when I surf. But, the girls who wear them with the mini-skirts and with the over-sized glasses … Dictating your fashion sense by what's on the cover of Us Weekly is the wrong thing to do.'
Watch-for fashion: 'There's too much denim out there, so the next thing will be color denim. Such as, different shades of gray, or different wash techniques in black. For women, full-on color denim, such as fuchsia and Kelly green. For men, brown, earth-tone colors.'
The Quote: 'I played the game all along knowing in the back of my mind that I was different. I just kind of thought in the back of my mind that, if I dated girls, then I may grow to like ( relationships with ) girls. It's not that I didn't like ( past relationships with girls ) , but there always was this element that something was missing.'
The Survivor: Cook Islands finale will air Sun., Dec. 17 on CBS at 7 p.m.