Season 5 of America’s Next Top Model is the third time that the reality series has included an openly lesbian or bisexual contestant, but it’s the first time that two contestants have developed a relationship with each other during the show. After ostensibly straight Sarah Rhoades kissed openly lesbian Kim in the season premiere, their relationship quickly heated up and led to nighttime swims in the Top Model pool capped off with under-the-covers shenanigans caught by an optimally placed night-vision camera.
But though it might have all seemed like fun and games until then, Sarah’s teary-eyed confessional revelation that she was genuinely confused by the experience won her many lesbian fans who recalled their own early experiences in coming to terms with their sexuality. Unfortunately, after tripping one too many times on the runway, Sarah was cast off the show just as things between her and Kim were getting interesting.
We recently chatted with her about what really happened between the two of them, whether she considers herself to be gay, and what it’s been like dealing with the issue in her conservative Midwestern home town of Boonville, Missouri.
AfterEllen.com: I think that a lot of lesbian viewers really identified with you when you said that you felt really confused.
Sarah Rhoades: Yeah, that’s like kind of a constant state of mind (laughs). … I guess I was confused about … everything. Really, being there is so intense and so stressful and it’s so different from my life, and me and Kim, we just kind of became each other’s support system, and I went to her for comfort and vice versa. And through that we kind of developed feelings—I know I did for her—and that confused me even more. (Laughs) It helped me, and it confused me, and—I mean, I don’t know. Even now, I’m like, whatever (laughs).
AE: Well, dealing with those feelings for the first time can be really, really distracting. Do you think that they distracted you from the competition?
SR: I don’t. Mainly when you watch the show, it looks like it’s all one big jumble … but really, when you’re modeling and when you’re in the house, they’re two very separate things, and if you can separate those—which I can in my head—then you’re fine. And I don’t think that hindered me at all in the competition. The initial tripping is probably what was worse for me, because it was kind of in my mind that “I’m gonna trip, I’m gonna trip,” so then every time I went out there I was like, “Oh I know I’m gonna trip,” and that’s what they want me to do, so I just always did. Not intentionally, it just kind of happened. So I don’t think it was Kim—I think it was more in my mindset at the time.
AE: You’ve said in some interviews after you came off the show that you couldn’t stand Kim during the semifinals.
SR: Yeah (laughs).
AE: What changed?
SR: I couldn’t stand her just because it seemed to me like she was using her lesbianism—(laughs) I don’t know the proper terminology for that—just to get on the show. I still don’t even know whether she did or not, or whether that’s why they chose her. Um, but to me it was constant, always like “Yeah okay, Kim, we know you’re gay, like shut up,” you know, ’cause that’s all she talked about. So I wasn’t really that happy when I found out we were going to have to live together, but she’s just one of those people [where] once you get to know her, she grows on you. And she’s a great person. I care about her a lot now as a friend. We’re friends still. But at the time I wasn’t her biggest fan.
AE: On the show you made a phone call to someone who was identified as your boyfriend, but I think you’ve said since that he wasn’t actually your boyfriend?
SR: Yeah … he wasn’t actually my boyfriend. We had dated before, and maybe that’s why the show labeled it as that, but yeah. (Laughs) That wasn’t really an issue when I got back because we weren’t together at the time.
AE: Do you think that you were portrayed accurately?
SR: Yeah, I mean, yes and no. They take tidbits out of your interview and just use the words they want you to say [when] really you have much more to say on the subject, but overall, I think I was portrayed okay.