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J.P. Calderon: Surviving (Quite Well)
by Ross Forman
2007-09-01

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J.P. Calderon has known for years that he was gay, even while in high school. He just didn't come out; he didn't really know how to, and was convinced he'd never come out and actually would get married—to a woman. Especially since he 'looked' like he was straight—completely. We're talking ultra-macho straight. Just consider:

*He played Division I volleyball and, as a senior at Long Beach State University in 1998, was the team captain.

*He dated a Long Beach women's volleyball player.

*He moved on to a professional volleyball career.

*His Hispanic family was religious and the men of the family, namely his dad and uncles, were playboys, he admits.

*His roommates now are a professional volleyball player and a member of the U.S. National Volleyball Team.

'I don't live in a stereotypical gay world,' said Calderon, 31, who still lives in Long Beach. 'I don't have a lot of gay friends, just a handful. Sure, I would sneak up to West Hollywood every now and then to go out, but was always very closeted and very careful, to prevent from being exposed.'

And even when he worked at a gay bar, he told everyone he was straight.

Despite his denials, there were rumors. Internet gossip sites went into overload, especially when he appeared last summer on Survivor: Cook Islands ( shown on CBS ) .

'I was getting to a point in life where I was just hating the lies, and thus got very depressed and angry because I was wasting so many years of my life and just couldn't be me,' said Calderon, who says he is a mama's boy.

'I was at a point that I wanted to be out; I just didn't know how to come out.' He first came out to his close friends, and all accepted him.

He confirmed his sexuality to the world this past February, long after getting voted out of the Survivor tribe. He revealed he was gay on The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency ( Oxygen Network ) and on a cover story for Instinct magazine.

'The past three months [ since coming out ] have been great. All of my fears, everything that I was scared of … it was the complete the opposite,' he said. 'It's been great. All of my friends, the volleyball world, absolutely everybody has been supportive. No one has shut me out.

'Some of my friends even joked, 'It's about time; we've known for the longest time.' 'I've gotten so many letters saying how much of an inspiration it was that I came out. My goal now is to thank everyone else for being so supportive of me.

'I'm so glad I came out. I just wish I came out earlier in life. I wish I had the confidence and wish I knew more. I was just really, really insecure.'

HE'S A SURVIVOR

John Paul Calderon is the second son of Edwin and Xinia. His brother, Peter, is nine years older than him. His mom died in 1984, when he was 9, and his dad, then-divorced from Xinia, came back into his life full-time, so to speak. Few call him John Paul. His family and college teammates usually just call him Johnny.

But to the world, he's simply J.P., thanks to his run—albeit a short one—a year ago on Survivor.

He was the fourth voted off the Cook Islands, long before many so-called Survivor experts and even some CBS executives predicted.

'Obviously I didn't do as well as I should have,' Calderon said. 'I think I looked at [ the game of Survivor ] too much from an athletic standpoint, and not from a social standpoint, which probably is a bigger factor.

'Survivor brings together people from such different backgrounds, from such different upbringings. Plus, people's feelings and popularity come into play. I think some of the women saw me as a little over-assertive and too dominant. And yet that wasn't my [ approach ] at all, nor did I think I was being that way.

'Being the fourth eliminated really stunned a lot of people, including me. It really messes with your mind when you get voted off. You're angry and sad, and maybe a bit relieved, too. Everything goes through your mind, every possible emotion.'

Calderon lost about 15 pounds during his 12 Survivor days, though he put the weight back on—plus some—once he was voted off. After being eliminated, Calderon said he, 'started eating like food was going out of business, like there's going to be no more food left on earth because that's the way you kind of felt when you were out there.'

Calderon's road to the Cook Islands started literally out of the blue in Hollywood, Calif., after breakfast one day with some friends. That's when a CBS recruiting coordinator approached Calderon's table, where he sat with a friend. She asked for a few minutes of his time, and then probed his personal and professional life.

Ultimately, she asked if he'd be interested in appearing on Survivor.

She gave him her business card and left, 'and I never really thought anything of it,' he said.

Two days later, Calderon got a phone call from CBS; they wanted a video of him.

'My first impression was, 'This is weird. Is it for real?'' said Calderon, who created a quick video with the help of a fellow pro volleyball player.

Two days after that, CBS called back and told Calderon he was among the 50 finalists—from literally thousands of applications—for Survivor, 'yet I was still very skeptical.'

The final interview process was a 12-day, high-intensity, super-secretive, well-organized event at a Southern California hotel. He even had an alias name at the hotel and wasn't allowed to speak to anyone. He had blood work done, medical exams and extensive background checks. He eventually met all of the show's higher-ups, including Mark Burnett.

'They're really smart about [ the interview process ] . They give you just enough information that you need to know, but not anymore than that. You're always wondering and guessing,' he said. 'I never imagined [ getting on Survivor ] would happen. It's just really weird, really surreal—and still is today when I think about it.

'As crazy as it was, starting with the [ 12-day ] interview, it was such a great opportunity, such an amazing time.

'When I was ultimately selected, I couldn't believe it. All I could think was, I was going to be on TV and [ stranded ] out in the middle of no-where; this is crazy; game on; now it's for real.'

Calderon did not reveal his sexuality on the show, although his season of Survivor also featured Brad Virata, who is out.

After Survivor, Calderon appeared on the second season of The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency ( shown on the Oxygen Network ) .

'She gets you to do some pretty crazy things, [ such as ] getting naked on TV,' Calderon said, laughing. 'Especially since my dad passed, I've learned take opportunities, take callings in life, stop abandoning things because you're afraid or fear the worst instead of hoping for the best.'

Calderon stripped to his underwear in an open call. And he was seen on-air modeling while holding a carefully placed towel—and nothing else.

' [ The show ] was a fun experience,' Calderon said. 'Janice is pretty crazy; she makes you do some things that you never thought you'd do. Half of the time you're in your underwear on national television. After a while, you're just used to it; it's no big deal.

'The show was fun; I really liked it. It was a really good experience. It helped expose me to a world that I'm not exposed to, and I always wanted to model as a kid. It's like God was giving me a second chance.'

VOLLEYBALL

Calderon attended Santa Monica City College for two years, and then Long Beach State for his junior and senior seasons, 1996-98. A setter, he was the team captain as a senior and the team advanced to the NCAA Tournament.

'I'm a leader; I'm a team player,' he said.

After the '98 season, Calderon had the opportunity to play professionally in Barcelona, Spain, yet had not completed his degree. 'In my heart, I wanted to travel, to play, to see the world,' he said.

But ultimately, he rejected the overseas offers and stayed at Long Beach, where he was offered the volunteer assistant coaching position for the women's team.

'I always had a respect for the women's game, but it's very, very, very different from the men's game,' he said.

While helping with the powerhouse Long Beach women, he also landed a local club volleyball coaching gig, and so began his head coaching run.

'I had to re-learn women's volleyball while I was coaching it and, ultimately, I became good at it, really good at it,' he said.

Calderon worked at Long Beach under volleyball coaching legend Brian Gimmillaro, a three-time national champion. Calderon was a volunteer assistant for three years, then a paid, full-time assistant coach for his last two seasons with the team.

'I was so fortunate; I was able to be around the best of the best, and learn from some really great people,' he said.

Calderon is now in his ninth season coaching the Mizuno Long Beach Volleyball Club, and two of his teams ( Under-18s and Under-15s ) are No. 1-ranked in southern California. They will be competing at the end of June in the 2007 USA Junior Olympic Girls' Volleyball Championships at the Minneapolis ( Minn. ) Convention Center.

'I guess coaching was my calling,' said Calderon, who also spent two years ( 2004-05 ) playing on the AVP circuit. 'I'm really blessed with the people who I've gotten the chance to coach, on all of my teams.'


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