Former Finding Prince Charming contestant talks about life after the show
In 2016, Logo Television aired a new reality show called Finding Prince Charming. Thirteen gay men lived together in one house, competing to become the ultimate choice for Robert Sepulveda (Prince Charming).
In the end, hair stylist Eric Leonardos was picked, leaving Brandon Kneefel a close runner up. Here at GPB, we wanted to reach out to Brandon specifically because our hearts broke for him after he snapped his tendon on the rainbow crosswalk in Palm Springs.
Now that the show is over and Logo prepares for season two, we caught up with Brandon to ask him what it was really like to be on FPC – plus what his life has been like since.
What follows is our 10-question interview with the former contestant. Nothing has been edited. What you will read are his exact words.
Let’s jump right in!
Leo-Sun, Gemini-Rising, Aquarian-Moon | Born in Dearborn, MI | Grew up in Livonia, MI | Moved to Los Angeles in 2008 to work for EQCA and LA LGBT Center to fight Prop 8
1. What's life been like since FPC?
I had to take a 7AM flight around the holidays, and when I fly (when I do anything, actually) I’m comfy: glasses and hoodie on and noise-cancelling ear-phones blasting my Spotify travel playlist. This trip I was stopped twice. I was stopped by people wanting to reflect on Finding Prince Charming with me.
I secretly love that part of this process of being on reality TV. Any level of attention or fame is cute, right, but it’s another level when people actually got to see a close-to accurate example of you on TV, and feel comfortable enough to come up and ask about my injury or broken heart while I am eating a burrito. It’s a freeing feeling to be known on any scale.
As time when on I knew we weren’t getting uber-famous from this show, nor were we making money—some of us actually lost money because we weren’t working while filming. But, there was still something to the experience that felt intangible, and I wanted to figure out what it was.
So I wrote a lot during that time. I wrote to separate the true from the false—because for a second I thought I was losing my mind. I wrote to get clearer about what I wanted and who I wanted to be. I wrote to create a product from that experience that was honest and mine. I also had become fearless in many ways. I think it’s laughable when people say “don’t let this experience change you.”
Let it! I said yes to Finding Prince Charming at a time when I desperately needed an adventure and I wanted to change.
There were times leading up to the show when I just wanted to leap out of my life because it had gotten so predictable and after awhile it’s like, “what’s the point?” I wanted things to be different than they were, if even for a summer.
And, surviving reality TV bolstered my courage. I go after what I want more directly now. Not because I believe I deserve it more than I did before, but because the show taught me that life happens no matter what, why not let it happen for me.
I’m in the middle of a book project that I am madly obsessed with. It's unrelated to the show, but still bridges perspectives that I gathered from the reality TV adventure. It feels like my most cumulative and frank work to date.
I’m clearer about my perspectives on the writing and with my public office goals that I set before the show, that, to be honest, have been a long time coming.
2. What was the best part of being on the show?
You know that feeling when you hear a song come on the radio reminding you of that one summer, that one fine summer of warm nights and adventurous friends, crispy tan skin and hot romances?
The song that just takes you back to the time when you knew life was never going to be the same? There’s a cozy nostalgia feeling and it does something to us that allows us to remember the moments, perhaps, more fondly than they actually were.
Well, while I was in the show, I actually was in that nostalgia-vibe for most of the days. My days consisted of hanging out with hilarious new friends, cooking, laying by the pool and getting ready for exciting dates with Robert.
Differently from the nostalgia I initially described, the kind I had from last summer on Finding Prince Charming, dare I say, is often recounted less magically than it actually was.
View this post on Instagram
📸 by @esjmanuel It seems like I always have lightbulbs at my feet. Glowing. Flickering. Spitting light in all directions. Polluting a space. And each bulb is so indiscriminate that its light lands evenly in all directions. I'm often struck by how ill-equipped my "lightbulb moments" are at lighting a specific path, instead, they light all. There's always an idea and a path and a spark and I'm coming to know that it doesn't mean all that much. When I was a 18, I had a early-life crisis. I packed books and clothes into my Chrystler Lebaron and drove south from Detroit in the middle of a snow storm. Close to Indiana, I hit a patch of black ice and was run off the road by a 18-wheeler. My car was lodged into a frozen wheat field. A tow truck took half of the money I had to my name just to get my car dislodged from the terrain. My car with wheat field whiskers coming out of the front bumper got two flats in Illinois the next day and I changed them on my yoga mat by the side of the freeway. I arrived nowhere in particular and stayed for 8 months. But I had just made, what I came to know as an "about-face." I had left my Army ROTC scholarship and decided to leave everything else, too. About-faces have come easily to me since then. I have ideas and it lights in all directions, and suddenly I feel like I have to start anew because it changes my perception of myself too dramatically. Sometimes things, simple things, mean too much to me. Sometimes I wonder who I am and in the obsession of figuring it out I just wish I could get so far out of myself that I won't have to return, at least not to the auto-corrected parts of me, the managed and controlled parts of who I think I should be. Sometimes I would be willing enough to make an about-face to myself, stepping so far away from my personae that the only hope for return would be a knowingness guided by the faintest light of the truest self. Sometimes my best intentions cluttered my path. And sometimes the good needs to be set aside for the great. #instagood #weekendvibes
3. What was the worst part?
Hands down, not having enough facts about Robert was the hardest part of the show. He was too cloaked and we had zero alone time with him, so I think I and maybe one or two of the other guys fell for a mask. I tell ya, I could not read that man through the whole process of filming.
I will say, however, right after the finale while we were still sequestered, Robert found me and gave me the largest dose of realness that I think he had or ever would give me in a 15-minute conversation. That was a powerful talk and the first true opportunity to see this dude, Prince Charming, as a regular human.
4. What's your insight about why it didn't work out with Robert?
Aside from not being chosen in the finale, reality TV creates unique barriers to real relationships. Robert didn't choose me, and whatever thoughts he had about us after filming were and probably will be indefinitely lost on me.
We were never an official couple. I spent time with him afterward, after I made it clear that I wouldn't see him if he was seeing other people still. Super blunt: I never got to a place where I trusted him and he knew it.
I still think about him from time to time, not longingly, though. I never felt like I truly knew him enough to honestly miss him that way; it never felt real enough.
However, because his personae inhabited so much of my life in the past year, sometimes I find myself giggling realizing that with distance it all felt surreal.
And whatever people bring up to me about the whose, whats and wheres of the cast and Robert, I smirk and get to enjoy now as a spectator, no longer a participant.
5. What's one thing most people don't know about you?
I love figuring shit out—from a macro perspective, ultimately. My close friends know that I will spend hours and sometimes whole weekends just by myself surrounded by books filled with post-it notes and journals.
I was basically Matilda growing up, because you could find me marching out of libraries with an arm full of books that had nothing to do with my 9-year-old life. But I was fascinated that the world had so many issues, oh my God, there are so many problems, I’d think—and still do think!—and I’d be equally fascinated by the lack of solutions.
This has sort of followed me my whole life. My first big boy job was in activism. And then sometimes activism doesn’t feel quite right. Cuz, you know activists know that they are always right. But if activists opposing said activists also know that they are right, then who is ultimately right? And are we playing at this the wrong way.
I think about the #Resist movements springing up in a a similar way. Sure, yea, resist if you must, but is marching down the streets of your own friendly towns the same thing as true civil resistance? Stop telling me what you’re against and tell me what you’re for.
This is the shit I think about daily. I write to sort things out. I don’t have the answers but some of the answers do find me when I am writing. When I do find a potential solution, I’m interested in sharing it. Now I am comfortable being more public and boisterous about not having all the right ideas.
Which, I think politically, is a healthy place to start. More politicians should be more comfortable about not knowing every answer.
Naturally, I am interested in politics. So I love figuring shit out, and all this really means is that I have so much I haven’t figured out. Also, when the time comes, vote for me. I’ll speak for all of us when I say, I have no idea what I am talking about.
6. Can you tell us about your work
For many years I wandered around like some wounded warrior or half-realized writer or somebody who “just needed a break.” After I got sober I stepped out of myself and away from the ways I thought my life should look.
Paradoxically, this brought out the qualities that allowed me to finally feel like I was living my own life again. I certainly never wanted to be in the helper fields–where's the prestige in that?! [Laughs]
But I was broken and my brokenness brought me crawling into the field of addiction treatment and spiritual counseling at the very least, to re-learn some things about life and build a foundation. Nowadays, I see how my work in these two fields have helped me form a solid worldview.
Again, I am still figuring life out, but I think I know the beginnings of what can heal a person and I’m convinced that if you know what heals one life you know what heals the world.
7. Do you have any regrets about being on the show?
In a way, we all sort of knew the roles we had to play. The ones who didn’t get that suffered. I was grateful after the first couple of eliminations to learn that I wasn’t the villain or the jokester or the unstable one. [Laughs]
I think people were surprised at how intentional I was. I was low-key intentional. I knew what I was doing while others thought I was at risk of going home week after week. I knew that wasn’t realistic.
I kept my head down the first half of the season because I was playing a long game in the sense that I wasn’t going to make waves before I even got a chance to know Robert. It paid off well for me. The ending was painful, but it all played out brilliantly.
8. On a scale of 1-10, how “real” was what viewers saw?
Every single meltdown in the show whether tears, anger or just erratic behavior was a solid 10 in realness. That’s my gauge—the meltdowns. Also, every time someone did meltdown, I figuratively stepped off stage and grabbed some popcorn, because shit was nuts sometimes. Some of the realest moments weren’t actually aired.
The producers actually wanted to create a show that wasn’t trashy.
We got that. So the drama that didn’t further the story was axed. Not drinking and meditating definitely gave me some perspective during the process, of course, until toward the end and suddenly I’m falling for this dude I barely know.
After that, I was just as far down the rabbit hole as some of the others. Haha. I only know that by how emotionally painful the ending was for me. It actually boggled my mind for awhile. Like, “should these feelings even be possible at this stage?!” The feelings were real. That’s as much as I know.
9. Are you currently dating?
I am dating someone. I had to have a real heart-to-heart with myself about dating the “good guy.” For a long time, I thought my fear of commitment was simply “I’m not ready.” When, in actually, it meant that some part of me was panicking when I found someone that didn’t activate me in a fearful way. I thought feeling activated—the fireworks—was what I was supposed to be looking for.
It turns out, that this is often a red flag for someone like me. It means I am about to get on a roller coaster. I grew up a lot during and after the show. My interactions with Robert taught me a lot about what I wanted, didn’t want, needed and didn’t need, and now I am building a relationship that I wasn’t man enough for two years ago. [Sigh].
10. What's your spirit animal?
Tardigrade aka Water Bear (Look them up. These chubby, microscopic nuggets are the most resilient animals in the known universe). I am about to walk to the edge here with these comments, but I sense that culturally we have become too fragile. I'm interested in resilient people. Not hard people; hard people are fragile.
But people who are boiled, burned, torn apart and just when you think it's over for them, their spirit reemerges to live one more day. I've always been obsessed with creatures and heroes that should have been weak, but were seemingly indomitable.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is an obsession of mine because there is this image of a petite, blonde, clueless teenage girl who secretly has the instincts, heart and strength to save the world.
That theme has burrowed itself into me–the idea that on the surface you are breakable, and yet, your power is often unexplainable and ultimately invisible.
GPB would like to thank Brandon for his time! You can learn more about him and his background at www.BrandonKneefel.com