'Survivor' Runner-Up Deshawn Radden Comes Out As Queer

The new era of Survivor has featured a number of highlights for the LGBTQ+ community. Yam Yam Arocho became the first openly gay man to win the show in 15 years. The show's most recent victor, Kenzie Petty, is the first female winner to openly identify as LGBTQ+ at the time of the season airing. At the end of 2023, Season 41 winner Erika Casupanan came out as queer. And she would soon be joined by the man who sat alongside her at the Final Three, as Deshawn Radden, the runner-up of Survivor 41, has recently publicly come out as queer. 

"It's been quite the journey," Deshawn said in an interview on "Rob Has a Podcast." "I came out back in 2021. I came out to all of my immediate family, and then a few close friends. And the struggle there was that, since I never made a public statement, there's spaces that I occupied that I wasn't out in. And so sometimes I had to make the decision: Do I want to correct somebody when they very innocently assume my sexuality, or do I just want to let it fly? And so here is a really cool opportunity to be able to say to the world, 'Hey, I'm queer.'"

Deshawn made the announcement on "The Pride Has Spoken" series on the award-winning RHAP network. Broadcasting annually throughout June, the show features discussions with various LGBTQ+ contestants from the past 46 seasons of the Emmy-winning realty series, from the show's early days to its most recent castaways. This particular chat was conducted between Deshawn and his fellow Survivor 41 cast mate Evvie Jagoda, the first non-binary player to compete on the show.

Related: Read our Survivor 41 post-finale interview with Deshawn Radden

During the interview, Deshawn discussed what he called a "25-year journey" to discovering his sexuality, starting all the way back from his love of Britney Spears through trying to manage romantic relationships in college. Things came to a head during his time in medical school for the recently-graduated doctor, when he realized he was essentially maintaining two different identities.

"On the one hand, I would walk outside, and I'm the guy that everybody's looking at as having all his like stuff together," he explains. "He's successful. He has it all figured out. He has to be happy. He's somebody who you can look to kind of model after. And then whenever I would come home and be alone by myself, there were all of this anxiety and depression and shame about this part of myself that I hadn't quite figured. So there was this extreme duality. On the one hand, people saw me as this, as this guy who was successful. But in my heart, I felt just anguish, almost every single day. And you're kind of having to figure that out. Who actually am I? And so that was my life for a lot of different years." 

The turning point came during the pandemic. While Deshawn had turned to substance use to help quell his conflicted feelings, the forced proximity to his family removed that option. And with so much downtime from the minimized school, it gave him the space to truly reflect upon himself. But he largely credits his coming out to being around his brother, and the discussions they would have over their respective spiritualities.

"Through those conversations, I figured out my biggest fear in life would be, if I were to die soon, and like, the only thing that people can talk about is like the things that I did," Deshawn says. "'Oh, he was a doctor.' That was what my entire identity was at that point. And nobody could ever speak to how I made them feel, my authentic self, or what it was like to be around me genuinely. If people don't actually know me while I'm here and my essence, then what was it all for?"

Related: Everything to Know About Survivor 47

That revelation gave Deshawn the courage to come out to his friends and family. At the same time, he was only six weeks out from competing in the first season of Survivor, back from its pandemic-led hiatus. In the interview, he admits that watching Brice Izyah, the first openly gay Black man in the show's history, compete on Survivor: Cagayan, and his family's support of him, helped make Deshawn feel more supported in turn. Despite the huge life changes before going on, though, he came to the island with the initiative to not talk about his queerness. 

"Before I went onto Survivor, I decided I wasn't going to talk about it on the show," he says. "And it's a regret of mine, because it definitely informed the way that I played the game, unfortunately, in a negative way, and it had an influence while I was out there. I didn't want to complicate this already very complicated situation by bringing it on TV. I didn't talk about it, but it definitely would have helped to be authentic out there."

To that point, Deshawn speaks about his time during the preseason of Survivor. Lasting days to sometimes weeks, before competing on a season, the contestants stay in lodging on-location for their final moments of civilized society before throwing themselves into the game. Though players are not allowed to communicate with one another, first impressions can undoubtedly be made. For Deshawn, he saw a lot of authenticity coming from his competitors for the million-dollar prize. And so, since he felt he couldn't be his true self on the island, it was time another side came out.

"That's where the birth of 'Devious D-Rad' came," he explains, citing a nickname he gave himself in the preseason. "Because pretty much I was thinking in my head, 'Wow, all of these people in the cast are coming out. They're giving their authentic self. They're not really holding anything back. And I'm somebody coming out, giving half of myself because I'm not ready to talk about it.' So, in my mind, I thought the only way for me to give producers what they probably were expecting was for me to step up and, even if it's not the best, just do a lot and be devious. Be cutthroat and maybe play the game I would have organically played myself. But I needed to give them something to fill that void I wasn't giving them."

To Deshawn's point, the game he played in Fiji was largely seen as erratic and emotional by players and fans alike. After spending half the game immune, he hit the ground running in the postmerge, and made his voice heard when he was the name on select people's lips. He had a habit of causing chaos at Tribal Council, whether it was his adverse reaction to the live strategy happening around him or his "truth bombs" blowing up in his face. Despite his struggles, Deshawn prevailed during the Final Four fire-making challenge to make it to the end, where he received one vote for the title of Sole Survivor. Erika and Deshawn mark, to this date, the first time in Survivor history where the top two finishers are openly LGBTQ+.

Related: Survivor Winners Parvati Shallow and Erika Casupanan Come Out as Queer

In true Deshawn fashion, he had another "truth bomb" that took even his castmate Evvie by surprise. Though he stuck to his preseason vow not to talk about his sexuality on the island, there was an admitted close call. And it came, in all places, from a conversation with Shan Smith, a person who Deshawn consistently came into conflict with during the game. The then-pastor Shan would hold consistent Bible studies with Deshawn's number one ally (and eventual Challenge winner) Danny McCray.

"I finally got to sit in on one," he says. "And Shan was saying something along the lines of, 'God accepts you. God accepts all.' And based off of where I was in my process and my relationship with God, I just started welling up, crying. Because I had so many questions still for God, and I wasn't being honest about who I was on the show. And so I tried to get up and leave quickly. And she noticed me, because she's obviously very perceptive. And she came after me, gave me a hug, and asked me, 'What was that about? What's the emotion you're feeling?' And, in that moment, I really, really wanted to have the discussion with her, because it was really on my heart. But I couldn't, obviously.

"I had to make a decision. Do I break everything that I said I was going to do in this moment that feels really real and feels really organic? Or do I just say, 'We can talk about it later?' And I ended up telling her, 'We can just talk about it after. She gave me a hug, and she gave me support in that moment. And we were always supposed to talk about it, and, unfortunately, we never got the chance. And then after the moment, I go to confessional, and producers are like, 'What was that about?' I'm sure producers were like, 'Maybe he's ready to talk about it.' And again, I just wasn't. So I think that's why there were a lot of holes in my character story. Moments like that would have been impactful, but I couldn't do it. I couldn't cross the threshold."

All that is to say, if given a second chance to play, Deshawn is more than ready to cross that threshold. Discussion, naturally, turned to the announcement that the upcoming 50th season would be the first of the "new era" to feature returning players in a major way. So, would Deshawn grab the chance to play again now that he has taken a significant step forward in expressing himself?

"I would feel very liberated," he answers. "Even if I went out in the premerge, it would be so liberating to go out there from every lens. From the lens of my interactions with the producers out there, who I love so much, for them to get to see me authentic. And then for Jeff to get to see me authentic, and then whoever I'm playing with, and then ultimately. I feel like the win would be to be able to go back out there and do what I feel like, in my heart, I should have done the first time."

Next, check out our interview with Survivor 46 winner Kenzie Petty.