In Netflix’s Queer Eye, there is no place for cynicism. The reality show, which became the feel-good hit of the year when it dropped back in February, brims with positivity. It thrives upon the belief that, with a little work and a lot of love, each and every one of us could be as free, happy and as stylish as its immaculately-presented hosts.
Each episode centres around a lost soul who is led on a journey of self-realisation by Fab Five Karamo Brown, Antoni Porowski, Tan France, Bobby Berk and Jonathan Van Ness.
Over the course of a few days, it builds, without exception, towards an unlikely crescendo, a teary-eyed expression of gratitude. The subjects of the makeover, the ‘heroes’, finish the episode spiritually and stylistically evolved. It’s lovely, really.
But, as a naturally skeptical person, I could only ever let myself get 90 per cent invested. The tears still came, but they’d often be followed by shame: the lingering thought that I had been manipulated by a reality TV series that was craftily composed to produce exactly that reaction.
I wanted to believe that the level of compassion and interest the Fab Five displayed in the series was real – and my meeting with the charismatic Karamo Brown nearly had me convinced – but I needed to speak to someone who had actually been on the show to find out for sure.
So, I tracked down two of season one’s heroes, Neal Reddy and Cory Waldrop, and asked them to talk about what happened next.
Thankfully, they had nothing but good things to say – and they went into extensive detail about how the Fab Five have all made a concerted effort to stay in touch and keep track of their progress. They also both confirmed that, almost a year after their episodes had been filmed, the changes that they pledged to make during the show – whether they be related to their style or their relationships – had stuck.
Of course, it’s still reality television. Cory told me that they sometimes re-shot scenes to ensure the emotion was delivered in the right way. It’s undoubtedly still built to induce the waterworks. But now, I feel like I can watch the show without being plagued by doubt, and take it at face value – as a joyous, Instagram-filtered snapshot of the real world. It’s certainly better than reading the news.
Find out everything Neal Reddy and Cory Waldrop had to say a year on from their Queer Eye experiences below.
Neal Reddy – Queer Eye season 1 episode 2
Tech entrepreneur Neal was very apprehensive going into Queer Eye; he very nearly backed out at the last minute.
“I was doing a comedy show,” he says, “and one of the producers saw me and started talking to me after and they wanted me to try out for the show. I told them, ‘No thank you’, because I hate reality TV and I just didn’t want the spotlight on me like that.” After being rubber-armed by the kindness of the show’s producers however, he signed up – and then almost immediately had second thoughts.
“I agreed to do it and then I kind of backed out. I was like, ‘I can’t do this because I know how it’s gonna work out, you guys are gonna make me look like shit, and I’m just not gonna be happy with the final product’.
“But everyone that works on the show is super sweet and very caring, like genuinely caring. I still talk to all the producers that I talked to when I started on the show, I still talk to [the Fab Five]. They found a way to get me to do it by not pushing me to do it, if that makes sense.”
Still, it took a while to overcome his cynicism. Heading into filming he was prepared to go to war, and you can see in the early stages of the episode that his guard is firmly raised.
“I was going to outsmart these producers,” he says. “I thought, as long as I can hold out for a day or two, I can beat these people. They basically wore me down! The first two days was a complete battle where people like Karamo, I would talk with him and try to joke my way out of everything. And he wouldn’t let me – he would sit there and have a two hour-long conversation with me and wait for me to answer his questions for real, and that’s the moment they showed.”
Tan France and Neal Reddy
Both the producers and the Fab Five had done their research. Interviews with his friends all came back with the same answer: that he had been progressively shutting himself off emotionally from them. By helping Neal to confront this, the Queer Eye stars managed to convince him that he wasn’t on any ordinary reality TV show.
“For whatever you see on the show, they put in so much extra work trying to figure me out before they even started filming,” he says.
And he has since reaped the rewards.
“It has stuck 100 per cent. It didn’t change my life 180 degrees; it wasn’t like that. It was more like, I was on this path, I was in this rut, and it was a cataclysmic change that just bumped me out of it. I still keep my place in order, I still dress better, now I get a haircut every three weeks – but all that is very superficial stuff. The deeper stuff is, this past year I’ve done so many things that I never thought I would do. I’m reading books again, I’m trying to reconnect with my friends… I talk to the Fab Five every week, at least one of them.”
Neal is genuinely appreciative of the support he has received in the months since filming on his episode ended. After our phone call had finished, he sent me a message on Twitter to re-iterate how grateful he was for the experience.
“All I want people to really know is that, yes, we filmed a TV show, but none of the guys did anything for TV because they’ve all made it a point to stay in my life and have been there for me, even when I start creeping back into a dark place,” he wrote. “And that was their doing. I thought things were going to end once the cameras weren’t filming. But all of them reached out initially before I reached out to them.”
Cory Waldrop – Queer Eye season 1 episode 3
Tan France and Cory Waldrop
Cory Waldrop starred in one of the most talked-about episodes of the first season. The Trump-supporting cop found himself in an unlikely conversation about relations between the police and the black community with African-American host Karamo Brown.
The discussion came about after the producers had arranged for Cory’s friend to pull the Fab Five mobile over as a joke – only for the situation to enter uncomfortable territory when Karamo inadvertently ended up in the driver’s seat.
The palpable awkwardness lingered throughout the beginning of the episode, until the two ended up on a long car journey together, where they touched upon their own personal perspectives of the Black Lives Matter movement. Cory assured Karamo that he did not support or condone the behaviour of cops who treat members of the black community differently, and both ceded that more discussion was the best way to move forward and improve relations.
In truth, it wasn’t all that groundbreaking, but it had an affect on Karamo – when I spoke with him in March, he told me that Cory had become a “lifelong friend” after the discussion.
It had an affect on Cory, too. It didn’t quite get him to throw his Make America Great Again Hat in the bin (he’s still a Trump supporter), but it allowed him to get his perspective across to a liberal audience, and encouraged him to open up the dialogue between police and public.
Cory Waldrop and Karamo Brown
“I wish I could get out there and that I had the resources to tour the United States and try to be the bridge that brings that gap between the black community and law enforcement together,” he says. “I’d love to be able to go around and hold conferences and meetings.”
He and Karamo speak regularly, he assures me, and he’s in contact with all of the Fab Five. “I probably stay in contact with Karamo, Bobby and Antoni more than any of them,” he says. “I’ll hit Antoni up and get some cooking advice from him, and Bobby is just one of the most laid back, cool guys that I can just call him and just talk bull crap about whatever; you know just talk about guy stuff, pretty much.”
A year on from his Queer Eye experience, Cory is unequivocally a changed man.
Not only is he keeping up the style tips he learned from the show’s style expert, Tan, but he is also putting a lot more work into his relationship.
“It’s like the show gave me permission to care again,” he says. “You can get into that rut, just like on the show: getting up, throwing on your t-shirts, your flip flops, and heading out the door. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to dressing the way I was.”
Cory Waldrop and Antoni Porowski
“I’m trying to do more with my wife – I’m actually sitting outside my camper, we’re in Hilton Head, South Carolina. We’re on vacation, we got here last night. I brought her here, our anniversary is on the 20th of this month. It’s just me and her; we’ve left the kids back hime with some friends.”
Remarkably, the Queer Eye effect has also bled into his friendship group.
“Henry, my nominator, he’s actually changed his total outlook on the way he presents himself – he’s completely changed his wardrobe. He’s wearing colourful socks and nice shoes and pants; he doesn’t go out with his beard not being groomed, and his hair is always perfect. He was the first one to go that route.”
Now student has become teacher. “Last week my buddy Matt called me, and he was like, ‘I’m ready for you to take me shopping’. So I took him shopping and helped him pick out a nice suit. He’s going to a wedding at the end of the month, so I helped him pick out a nice shirt, tie, pocket square, socks and all of that.”
“I’m a regular Tan France,” he says, jovially.
Queer Eye season 2 arrives on Netflix UK on Friday 15th June