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Culture Vulture: 'Survivor' trots out its latest 'gay Mormon'

Published September 25, 2007 12:00 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The cast of the new "Survivor: China" includes Todd Herzog, a self-described openly gay Mormon from Pleasant Grove who, according to his profile on CBS's Web site, believes he will succeed on the show because "he's willing to gather wood and sh-t."

The 22-year-old former UVSC student also lists "drinking coffee" as a hobby, which, along with the "openly gay" thing, makes me wonder how Mormon he really is. Can Mormonism be a pose or a gimmick, tried on like a costume to titillate TV casting directors? Oooh, you're gay AND Mormon? How deliciously conflicted! You're hired! And is "gay Mormon" becoming a Hollywood clich?

Herzog isn't the first openly gay LDS castaway on "Survivor." In 2005, Salt Lake City-born Rafe Judkins made it to the final three of that season's "Survivor: Guatemala." Judkins approached the show with sincerity and a positive attitude, traits he attributed in part to his Mormon faith. Herzog claims to have a similarly enthusiastic outlook, although it's not clear whether that stems from his religion or his excitement over the upcoming Spice Girls reunion tour, which he calls "the most significant historical event of the past 100 years."

To anyone who's lived in Utah for a while, the gay Mormon has become a stereotype. Witness the swishy missionaries each summer in Salt Lake Acting Company's "Saturday's Voyeur." But to Hollywood, gay Mormons are still a novelty - tormented characters with potential for drama. The 2003 movie "Latter Days" was about the romance between an L.A. party boy and a LDS missionary. Tina Majorino's devoutly LDS character on HBO's "Big Love" appears to be a lesbian terrified of being outed for her secret crush on a girl pal. Then there was Joe Pitt, the closeted Mormon Republican (how come they're always Republicans, Larry Craig?) who fought to reconcile his faith with his sexuality on HBO's miniseries, "Angels in America."

If Herzog has any such internal struggle, he's not saying. But "Survivor's" producers are only too happy to create some external fireworks. Was it just a coincidence they stuck Todd on the Fei Long tribe with Leslie, a Christian radio-show host? I don't think so.

Nothing Compares 2 Me: You know how rock bands and other musical performers play recorded tunes through a venue's sound system to warm up the crowd before a concert? Well, last Thursday's Sinead O'Connor show at the Capitol Theatre may have marked a first. Its pre-concert music was by Sinead O'Connor.

griggs@sltrib.com