A former Bachelor contestant watches as Sex and the City’s Charlotte asks a former Survivor contestant and 14 other guys to masturbate into cups to have their sperm tested. That happens in the first 15 minutes of Labor of Love (Fox, Thursdays at 9), which is The Bachelorette except with a star whose auditioning men to conceive a child with her.
It’s a show on which “15 sexy and sophisticated men” are there to “show off their parenting and partnership skills.” All the men are in their late 30s and 40s, so it’s an older cast, like Clare’s Bachelorette would have had. One of those men is Survivor Gabon’s Marcus Lehman, who’s also an anesthesiologist, and recently got an MBA to go along with his M.D.
Twelve years ago next month, I sat across from Marcus in Africa, several days before Survivor began, interviewing him at Ponderosa, the contestants’ holding area.
As the Atlantic Ocean lapped nearby, one of the things that he told me was that he “definitely considered” the possibility of an intimate relationship forming while playin the game. “I love flirting with girls, so it’s going to happen,” he said. (Read our full conversation.)
Who knew that 12 years later he’d be back on network reality TV, looking for an intimate relationship? Marcus certainly didn’t.
He was cast for Labor of Love in the same way he was cast for Survivor Gabon: he was recruited. In 2008, he was discovered because his mother sent his photo in to Cosmopolitan and he became one of its bachelors for 2006.
This time, Marcus told me that he was on a dating app, “a nice way to meet people,” and that’s where a casting producer approached him. “I actually connected with somebody there that thought I might be a good match for the show. So it’s a little bit like Survivor, in the sense that I wasn’t really out looking for it.”
In fact, he initially declined: “My first response to the opportunity was no thank you. I feel like I had passed my 15 minutes a while ago.”
After talking to producers, though, he said the concept of the show “was really compelling to me, because I think for the last couple years, especially, I’ve been struggling to juggle career aspirations.” At the end of his MBA program, he realized that he was missing something in his life. “I finally feel like all the blocks are in place, and I’m just a little slower than everyone else.”
“The fact that this show was an opportunity to get together with a bunch of like-minded people—granted, competitors in a sense” was appealing, he told me, as was the chance “to meet a likely very charismatic and attractive possible partner in Kristy.”
Kristy Katzmann was on Brad Womack’s season of The Bachelor, but Marcus didn’t recognize Kristy, nor did he recognize the show’s host, Kristin Davis, because he didn’t watch Sex and the City.
“We’re all standing there for the party, and suddenly everybody gets quiet, start elbowing each other and pointing,” Marcus said, talking about what you’ll see in the season premiere. “Out walks this beautiful woman, and she’s standing there and she says, Welcome to the show. I’m like, holy cow, Here she is; this is amazing. I didn’t realize that was Kristin Davis; I thought it was Kristy.”
Marcus said he also “didn’t want people to know I had previous reality experience, other than I wanted Kristy to know that I’m not here on this show for what might be tantalizing to other people. I have had that experience of seeing myself on TV.”
Marcus is very aware that dating reality shows rarely produce lasting relationships. “Like you, I’ve seen the other dating shows and kind of scoff at the long-term proposition, but this this really struck me as approached from a different perspective, and looking to open a conversation that I think a lot of people out there are having with themselves, just like I had been before the show,” he said.
With his actual interaction with Kristy, Marcus said, “what I was trying to do was put it in the context of real dating,” because it’s similar to “what you’re doing in real life when you’re casually dating and getting to know a set of people.” He did add that “it’s a little more PG dating, because there’s not a lot of private time.”
“This is certainly not my typical way of getting to know somebody,” Marcus told me, but “there’s a lot of upsides. And actually, some of those I took as ways of feeling even more confident about my feelings as I went through the show, because I kind of knew the type of investment I’d be willing to make. Let’s be honest: at this point in our lives, all of us have gone on quite a few dates.”
While there are some guys who immediately fall flat, that’s not the case with Marcus. In the premiere, after Kristy meets Marcus, she says in an interview, “He’s totally cute, he’s a doctor,” and adds, “big-time crush happening.”
How Survivor prepared Marcus Lehman for Labor of Love
A show on which contestants are scared by a fake bear and delivered sperm sample cups by waiters might not seem like the most serious relationship show, and those are the two challenges—drills, they’re called here—that Labor of Love’s cast encounters in the first two episodes.
I asked Marcus what he thought when, after the opening cocktail party, Kristin Davis said they were going to collect sperm samples from everyone, meaning they’d all be masturbating, on cue, while everyone else stood around and waited, watching a closed door.
Did you think, I asked Marcus, “What have I signed up for? in that moment, or did that feel like an organic part of the process?”
He immediately joked, “more of an orgasmic part.”
I love the sense of humor he has about nationally televised moments that might embarrass some people, like this moment from Survivor: Gabon. And I also appreciate how thoughtful he is about television. When he was voted out of Survivor, I interviewed him again, and he had a strong critique of the show’s editing of his friendship of Charlie, in particular.
Survivor, it turns out, prepared him well to be on a dating show—or at least prepared him for the show’s twists.
“That’s kind of where I was very grateful for my Survivor experience, to be able to roll with some of the surprises and the punches of the show. I will say, nobody experienced that and was not completely caught off guard. I think once we kind of got through the embarrassment and, you know, the rocking back and forth of the actual semi [the truck with individual rooms where several of the men produced samples at the same time], we all kind of realized this is part of a serious conversation. And absolutely necessary.”
During the episode-two drill, when the men are surprised by an overnight camping trip—and then surprised yet again when their fireside one-on-one time with Kristy is interrupted by a crew member wearing a bear suit, Marcus wasn’t thrown off. The camping experience especially was something he could handle, having lived outside for weeks.
“I couldn’t help but think, Man, this is just straight out of what I did a few years ago and boy do I have some stories. It’s pretty hilarious to be doing that, and it was so tempting to kind of want to spill the beans” and share his Survivor experiences.
As to the sperm samples, Marcus said, “I was actually really grateful that this was a seriously as we were taking it. It wasn’t going to be this like macho, I’m virile, trust me, I got my muscles. … Let’s just talk about the ability to reproduce, frankly, and directly.”
While the biological ability to reproduce came first, host Kristin Davis does mention that she worked in her 30s and then decided to adopt kids, and Marcus said that biological reproduction wasn’t the only focus of conversation in the house.
“I don’t know exactly how the show will approach it, based on what we see versus what was talked about,” he said, but “one of the coolest parts of this whole experience was, you’re not around a bunch of like, yokels. Kristy’s extremely successful, and the expectation for partners was similar. So I felt like we were getting to have these very in-depth conversations with each other. With my roommate, Keith—-super-intellectual guy—we never stopped talking about the different things that we think about with fatherhood, especially in this day and age and that that range from adoption to co-parenting to doing it on our own to dating people who already have kids. Everything was on the table.”
In the premiere, Marcus tells Kristy that he’s recently gone part time, though it’s an obvious frankenbite, with the second half of his sentence clearly coming from another interview, so the show makes it sound like he went part time to have a family.
Instead, Marcus said, he “backed off of work so that I could do more for the hospital system, and be a little more available for the other parts of my life.” That’s when he was approached by casting producers, which he said was “amazing” timing.
“Life really demands that we learn to multitask, and that’s something that as a physician, with the hours of education, the time that’s invested, is really challenging. A couple years into practice, I also needed to help that be more effective, and so the MBA is one of the ways I learned to speak the administrative language to try and make hospital systems more efficient,” he said.
“My whole goal is to help people, and then have the energy left over at the end of the day to give to my loved ones. That includes, for me in my head, a partner and kids.”
The pandemic this spring has made “work a little more intense and challenging,” Marcus told me. He works at the University of Cincinnati.
“I’m an anesthesiologist so we literally put tubes into people, breathing apparatus their airways—it’s like being at the core of the nuclear reactor with all this disease. And it’s a really scary place to be. Thankfully I have amazing leadership in my department, especially,” he said. Still, “when suddenly someone asks you to take care of a patient with this, and you’ve got to go put a breathing tube in or something, you really panic. It’s like everything goes out of your head, even if you are a trained person.”
What he’s been dealing with over the past few months led him to start a new project: a website called ImperviousGown.com, which describes itself as “made by an Anesthesiologist who thinks he knows everything because he has an MBA, too. … [who] is trying to make a website to make it easier for the human beings he loves and works with, and Stuart, to get info quickly and easily as possible.”
As to Labor of Love, Marcus said that he appreciated the opportunity “to meet other people that are struggling to juggle everything and add family into it. I’m just hopeful that all the people that were involved in the show, get to experience the parenting that they want to experience.”