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Corey Lay reflects on The Challenge season 39 finale & queer representation

Corey Lay reflects on 'The Challenge 39' finale & queer representation

Corey Lay on The Challenge season 39; via Instagram
Instagram (@coreylay); MTV

In an exclusive interview with PRIDE, Corey Lay shares his experience getting to the grand finale of The Challenge: Battle for a New Champion and explains why he thinks LGBTQ+ representation makes such a difference on reality TV.

simbernardo

Despite having a successful career as a video game producer and being very comfortable with himself as a queer man, Corey Lay has faced a truly wild roller-coaster ride when it comes to his time on reality television.

Lay made his reality TV debut in season 1 of the LGBTQ-inclusive dating series 12 Dates of Christmas, which premiered on Max (née HBO Max) but was subsequently deleted from the streaming service’s catalog for all eternity. On the show, Lay was one of six love interests vying for Garrett Marcantel, the gay leading man of 12 Dates. While Lay didn’t find love on the show, he did make friends and made a splash as a reality TV star, which led to his casting on The Challenge: Spies, Lies & Allies in 2021.

Unfortunately, Lay went home in episode 4 of Spies, Lies & Allies, and it took him two full years to get cast in his second season in the franchise: The Challenge: Battle for a New Champion. He had something to prove, understandably so, and that he did.

“I went home so early on Spies, Lies & Allies that I was like, ‘I have to do whatever it takes to get to the end.’ And I made it across the finish line. It’s such a crazy feeling,” Lay tells PRIDE. “I’m actually really proud of myself. There was a moment in the final where I got scared of heights. I’m terrified of heights. But the fact that I was able to push through with TJ’s guidance, get down the mountain, and continue to go… I crossed the finish line, and it just feels great. I think people are [now] starting to see who Corey is, seeing that I’m more athletic than I come across.”

Lay made it to the grand finale on Battle for a New Champion and finished in 4th place — a milestone achievement for a newer cast member on The Challenge who went from being eliminated in episode 4 to placing 4th overall in his very next season.

Lay explains, “I don’t know why people expect me to not do well athletically. I’m a pretty strong guy. I’m pretty fit. I run a lot. I do so much stuff! So to have this representation of myself [from fans on social media] like, ‘Corey is so bad. Corey is a layup.’ I’m like, ‘In what world am I a layup?’ (…) I think it’s because… I don’t know. I am an emotional man. And I think when you’re an emotional man, maybe you come across as weaker. I’m just glad I could prove everybody wrong.”

Watch PRIDE’s interview with The Challenge season 39 finalist Corey Lay

Besides feeling judged by fans for showing his emotions, Lay is also honest about the unspoken challenges of assimilating with the cast while competing on shows like these.

“It’s interesting because no one on the cast makes it harder for us as queer people,” Lay says. “Everyone is so friendly. Everyone is so open. We had Hughie [Maughan] this season, who is another gay man. We also had Big T came out this season. There were a couple of us there… but, for me, I have such a chosen family. I came out when I was 14 and I kind of built my friendships around that. I’m around a lot of queer people in my day-to-day life. So there were times when I’d be in that house and I was like, ‘I don’t know where to go. The girls are doing girl things. The guys are doing guy things. And I’m just this weird anomaly that's in the middle. Oh, and I have to watch other people hook up.’”

He adds, “It’s this weird social dynamic. In this game that’s about voting people out, who do you vote out? You vote out the people that you’re not connected to. And I felt like there was a limit to me connecting with other people because I’m a queer man. The dudes are going to bro-out together because they’re straight guys. They’ll talk about women, or whatever they talk about. They also make punching bags out of everything. And I’m like, ‘I don’t do that. That’s not what I do.’”

“And then on the flip side,” he continues, “you have all the women, who [are also] doing their thing. It does make this game a lot harder because your social game has to be really on top of things, or no one’s going to fight for you. And it’s not because they don’t like you, it’s just because maybe their bond isn’t as deep as it is with somebody that’s just like them. So it’s this weirdly unspoken [thing].”

As we’ve seen with contestants like Peppermint going home early on The Traitors season 2 and many LGBTQ+ players on Big Brother being dismissed by powerful alliances, Lay believes that queer competitors on mainstream reality shows still have the odds stacked against them, despite significant efforts from networks and casting producers to make recent seasons more inclusive.

“This game is twice as hard for queer people, especially men,” Lay says. “I just react differently than a straight man would react to things… and that upsets people. It’s like, ‘Why is Corey so emotional? Why does he yell?’ Well, because I’m more feminine than your average straight man, that’s why. But when it comes across, I don’t think people know how to receive it as much.”

In the grand scheme of things, Lay loves his regular job as a video game producer, but also has the time of his life competing on shows like The Challenge. And even though one could assume that making it to the grand finale has Lay even more excited to come back and compete… he’s definitely keeping his feet closer to the ground (he’s scared of heights, if you recall).

“I have so much fun being on The Challenge and being on reality shows, but I also have so much fun being a video game developer,” he says. “There are Challengers who take a couple of seasons off and then come back now and then. Maybe I can be one of those people who can come back occasionally… if it permits.”

Upon further reflection, however, Lay goes on: “But I want to find a way to work The Challenge and being a video game developer into my life. I don’t want to choose one over the other. I want them both. I’m very greedy. Give me both. Let me do both things! Let me go win something and then go back to my job. [laughs] But it’s going to be hard. I don’t exactly know how to balance that. We’ll see what I can do.”

We have a feeling that we haven’t seen the last of Corey Lay on reality TV. And thank gawd for that!

The Challenge: Battle for a New Champion airs Wednesdays on MTV.

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Bernardo Sim

Editor

Bernardo Sim experiences and explains queer multiverses. Born in Brazil, he currently lives in South Florida.

Bernardo Sim experiences and explains queer multiverses. Born in Brazil, he currently lives in South Florida.