Chastity Bono has withstood the harsh gaze of the public eye since her first television appearance in 1973 in the arms of her adoring parents on The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour. Since then, she’s been a film student at NYU, a singer-songwriter with the band Ceremony, an acclaimed activist with the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, and the author of two memoirs. Along this well-documented way, she’s also endured a tabloid outing, the devastating loss of a partner to cancer, and a decade-long addiction to painkillers.
Now, nearly two years after her successful rehabilitation, this multi-talented lesbian is deftly navigating the terrain of celebreality as a contestant on VH1’s Celebrity Fit Club 3. Bono joins the ranks of luminaries like Flavor Flav, the Osbournes, and Anna Nicole, who all have revamped their images and rejuvenated their careers in the wildly popular genre of celebrities on reality television.
Over the course of 100 days, Bono pursues an emotionally and physically demanding training program under the direction of a Marine drill instructor, Harvey Walden IV. His obstacle courses range from the traditional (track and field) to the terrifying (the Volkslauf, a muddy Marine training course that takes Chastity a punishing 18 minutes to complete after she gets stuck on a rope ladder and falls into a mud pit).
The remaining episodes of CFC3 hold a great deal of suspense. Will Bono reach Dr. Ian Smith’s goal of shedding 40 pounds? Will she overcome the mental obstacles of her body image with the help of psychologist Dr. Laura Papadopoulos? Will she, as captain, lead her team to victory with the most weight loss? Will she and teammate Bruce Vilanch make lots of gay jokes? Will she please talk about her superstar parents, just a little? Stay tuned…
You’ve kept a low profile since entering drug treatment in 2004. What is it like to be back in front of the cameras?
God, I don’t know yet. It feels good to have done the show. It’s good to be back, working again.
Fellow participant Bruce Vilanch is hilarious. Did you and Bruce bond over being in the “gay row,” as he referred to the two of you in the first episode?
Yeah, I know Bruce, so it was great to do the show with him, and I was really hoping that he would do it. He’s just so funny, especially in that kind of a pressure situation, it’s great to be able to laugh.
You named your team “Ebony Flame” because it consisted of two black and two gay participants. What was it like being captain?
It was a tremendous amount of pressure. I felt like, of all people, I had to do well and lead by example and that definitely put extra pressure on my shoulders. It was really hard.
The other team ends up being extremely competitive—in a positive way, but definitely more fit than my team was. You get to the point where you have to kind of check your ego really, and just take an attitude of “I’m just going to do the best that I can and that’s gotta be enough.” You’re put in these situations physically [that], if you were thin and in decent shape, would be difficult. But to be overweight and out of shape, it’s next to impossible, and you’re just not going to look good doing it, and so you kind of have to just resign yourself [to the idea that] completing the task is good enough.
In the final episode, the cast will repeat the obstacle course from the first episode. The team that improves the most will get a 10-pound weight loss credit towards the final results. Give me a hint—do you go for the gold?
I’ll just say that everybody improved. You’re carrying less weight, and you’ve been diligently exercising for three-and-a-half months, so that was actually a really nice thing, to go back there and have everything feel so much easier and feel so much better physically doing those things.
You’re shown baring a bit of skin. Was that a bikini you had on?
Well I’m not actually in a bikini, I’m in the dyke-ini. You know, board shorts and a sports bra. There’s not enough money in the world to get me in a traditional bikini. [laughs] Even if I were thin, I wouldn’t put on a bikini.
Participant Jeff Conaway had to leave the show to check into drug rehab, after overdosing on painkillers and alcohol. In his earlier episodes, he has an outburst in front of the rest of the cast. What was it like working with him on those episodes?
It was really, really crazy. He was very combative. He just wasn’t in any kind of shape to do the show basically. He made us feel incredibly uncomfortable. One of the things he kept doing was flashing all of us, which was very unpleasant. I went 36 years without ever seeing a penis and testicles up close until doing Celebrity Fit Club, and really, Jeff Conaway’s just weren’t the first ones I wanted to encounter, let me tell you.
I know there have been drug problems in his life, but you hope that they’re not going to affect his work ethic. But he’s just too far-gone to be thinking about doing this kind of a thing.
On the show, you were very open about your own history. You spoke about your own prior abuse of drugs. And when you stepped onto the scale at the end of the first episode, you mentioned that your weight problems may have been related to rebellion in your life. Could you explain that connection?
I’ve never consciously rebelled. Linda [the show’s psychologist] asked me…about my mom being so thin and could there be any type of rebellion against that, and I said perhaps there could have been, but again, it would be on a totally subconscious level. Mostly it was just drug abuse and not caring.
One of your goals on Fit Club was to quit smoking, but it sounds to me like you’ve been taking a few puffs during this conversation…
Yeah, it’s just really hard losing weight and quitting smoking at the same time. I’ve cut down. I still want to lose a bunch of weight so I’m kind of focusing on that. It’ll happen.
Now that you’ve finished with the show, are you still exercising regularly?
Yeah. I’m kind of continuing to do what I did, which is a lot of cardio, four to five times a week for an hour a day. I’ll probably start to do a little weight training along with it. I also started doing on the show some martial arts training, which I’ll continue to do.
Overall, do you feel healthy?
I feel healthier. I let myself go, so it’s going to take time to get it all back together, but I definitely made a really good start on the show. I know what to do now and so I just kind of keep trudging along. But I feel much better physically, I look better physically. I had to deal with a lot of the emotional things that come along with putting yourself in that position [being on a celebrity weight loss television program], got to learn a lot about myself, and they are circumstances that I never would have been in, in normal life. Having dealt with all that stuff, now I can start to do the fun stuff and get out there again and work and go for some of the things I’ve wanted to do for a long time but was either too fucked up or too scared to do in the past.
What are some of your plans? Do you anticipate further ventures into singing, activism or celebreality?
Probably none of the above. I don’t know exactly. I’ve got a deal in the works right now with here! TV for a movie that I wrote, and I’m trying to go more in the film and television direction.
What about love? Who is your Valentine?
My girlfriend, Jennifer. We started dating right before I did the show. She’s actually on the show a few times, which is nice. I’m very happy. The personal relationship side of my life is going very well. Mentally and emotionally I feel really good, my life is just exciting now.