Naturalist, adventurer, actor, activist, environmentalist and horse-trainer – all of them appropriate words Jake Nodar uses on his website to describe himself. He’s also an out athlete and member of the International Gay Rodeo Association’s (IGRA) Atlantic States Gay Rodeo Association. He has his own horse training business in Maryland where he does a lot of free lance training and also works for 15 different farms in the area. One of his specialties is dealing with horses with behavioral issues.
The last time I interviewed Jake was in 2012 not long after he had completed a run on The History Channel’s show, “Full Metal Jousting.” At that time I called him a modern-day Indiana Jones. However, I now realize that description was too limiting. To say he has a penchant for adventure is a gross understatement – he’s now into perhaps the most extreme sport around, the “survivalist” category.
Growing up in a very religious family in a rural area of Maryland, he says that “I would not let myself even think that I was gay, would not even let that word go through my head.” Talking about his strict upbringing, he says that some of the things he’d hear people say in public about gays were “a little alarming and made my struggle that much worse.”
Volunteering at a local horse rescue in exchange for riding lessons after high school, in 1999 Jake traveled to Parachute, Colorado to attend horse training school … and try to deal with his growing need to resolve the mounting realization that he was gay. When he returned to Maryland he began his own horse training business. While Parachute was not the place to come out, the gay rodeo certainly was.
Jake really has a deep appreciation for IGRA, the Atlantic State Rodeo Association and all the truly kind people he’s met there, and he’s competed in chute dogging, barrel racing and bull riding in a number of rodeos. From not knowing many gay men where he lived, he went to an IGRA rodeo school and suddenly met 30 guys who were going through or had already gone through their own coming out struggles. He was able to be himself. His self-confidence and belief in himself he attributes to finally accepting that he was gay and being able to come out.
No doubt about it, Jake loves horses, the outdoors and wildlife photography, maybe even obsessed with them. But just to keep life interesting, he tries to take an adventure trip at least once a year. He’s been backpacking through the Canadian Rockies, camping out with the Maasi people in Kenya and taken a solo bike ride from St. Augustine, Florida to Santa Monica, California. But now some of his adventures are part of the Discovery Channel’s assorted survival reality shows.
Now back home and fully healed from participating in season two of the Discovery Channel’s eight-part “Naked and Afraid XL” series that aired this past July, Jake is back training horses again. But don’t be lulled into thinking that just because it’s a “reality” show that it’s all fake, using the shock value of having naked men and women shown on TV just for ratings. It is, according to the 37-year-old Jake, “the most hard core survival show around.”
And he should certainly know. Prior to this 40 days and 40 nights challenge spent in the bush of South Africa, Jake’s first experience with the Discovery Channel was its “Out of the Wild: The Alaska Experiment” in 2009. While making plans to travel to Mongolia to photograph horses, something popped up on his Google search that didn’t have a thing to do with “Mongolia expeditions.” It was about Alaska.
Although the description was vague, he emailed an inquiry and got a call from casting the next day asking him to overnight them a video of himself. Within two weeks he was in Los Angeles and three weeks later Jake was “dropped off by the side of a lake in the middle of Alaska.” If you saw any of this series, you know that it was a very real survival setup. A group of strangers were dropped into the Alaskan interior with only the clothes they were wearing and a backpack at the end of autumn/beginning of winter. Their challenge was to survive long enough to find civilization.
Discovery never lets participants get to know one another before a series begins so there are no built-in preconceptions; they get to know one another at the same time the viewing audience is getting to know them. At that point Jake was the first openly gay man to be featured on the Discovery Channel but his fellow-survivalists and audience didn’t know that until episode seven. The production company had him read a personal letter that dramatically let everyone know that he, the rugged hunter and one of only four members who survived the entire journey, was gay.
The same production company recommended Jake as a cast member for Full Metal Jousting that aired on The History Channel in 2012. But his next two survival adventures have been back with Discovery and both in 2016; the Naked and Afraid 21-day challenge with a one man/one woman pair where Jake and his partner were dropped off in Amazonia, and then the recent Naked and Afraid XL with four mixed groups of three who were dropped into the South African bush.
Through all these adventures, Jake is always a favorite cast member. He’s funny and can pretty easily break any tension going on. But his survival skill set is really strong despite no real hard core training. What sets him apart above all is his mental toughness that often counts more than physical toughness in these situations. He was unable to finish this last challenge because he wound up with liver damage from eating fruit tainted by either bat or monkey saliva/urine. But he fought going to the hospital until the last.
There’s not a lot of money for participants in the TV survival series he’s been part of like there is in a program like “Survivor.” But it’s not about the money for Jake who’s not into the drama of plotting and backstabbing that’s involved in most reality shows. He loves testing himself to see what he can accomplish. In an early interview he did following the Alaska experiment for METROWEEKLY, Will O’Bryan asked him if he did this only for himself or was it also for the LGBT community.
Jake’s response to him is the same that he’s given to me and it reflects how important organizations like IGRA still are in promoting sports diversity:
I’m very proud of how I represented myself and how I handled myself. And I am really, really proud that I could represent as an openly gay man. That is huge to me. I can’t tell you how much that means to me. I’m very hopeful that it is helping some people out, just seeing me out there, and certainly to be Discovery’s first openly gay man on the air, that’s huge.
By Connie Wardman
Photos courtesy of Jake Nodar