Australian Adventurers Tim and Rod Sattler-Jones Reflect on Their Travel Escapades
The winners of The Amazing Race Australia 2019 on exploring the world together, their favorite queer-friendly travel destinations and the importance of being role models for the LGBTIQ+ community.
When Tim and Rod Sattler-Jones were crowned the winners of The Amazing Race Australia in 2019, they expected the A$250,000 they took home with them to be their greatest reward. But as messages and comments from viewers of the popular reality television show – in which teams of two people race around the world in competition with other teams – flooded their social media, they soon realized the most important prize was the platform it provided for them. This allowed them to become role models and support figures for the LGBTIQ+ community – particularly younger queer people in the early stages of navigating their lives.
Being LGBTIQ+ role models
“It was the feedback that really made our Amazing Race experience so special... especially all of the younger audience that say we helped them come to terms with who they are, or who have asked us for advice on how to tell friends and family. We have received hundreds and hundreds of those messages,” says Tim.
“And also just realizing that all these young straight kids and families, straight dads, that they were all rooting for the gay couple, meant a lot to us,” adds Rod. “It shows how far Australia has come. We spent such a large chunk of our lives thinking these people didn’t like us, so this really meant the world to us.”
As the first legally married gay couple to appear on Australian reality television, Tim and Rod felt it was important that the diversity of Australia was reflected in The Amazing Race, and that they had a responsibility to help inspire others to be their most authentic selves whilst traveling.
Growing up in Newcastle
The pair both hail from Newcastle, a large, former industrial port on the east coast of Australia famed for its breathtaking surf beaches and rich history as the country’s second oldest city. Just a two-and-a-half hour drive north from Sydney, it was once an industrial hub, but has transformed into one of Australia’s leading “smart cities” with its cleverly planned, scenic cycle paths, landscaped public spaces, gardens and great cafés. With its proximity to the lush Hunter Valley wine region and vast stretches of golden sand beaches, it’s little wonder that outside of the pandemic, Newcastle was on the path to experiencing a tourism revival – just a month ago, the city’s first five-star hotel, the architecturally striking Crystalbrook Kingsley, opened.
Although they didn’t know it at the time, as children Tim and Rod lived minutes away from each other, both leaving for the city bright lights numerous times but always being drawn back home.
“Newcastle is a big city with small-town syndrome: growing up, you always knew most people, which is lovely. I do think Newcastle is the best place on the east coast of Australia for beaches – long stretches of sand, all the way up to Port Stephens where we got married,” says Rod.
“We’ve traveled all around the world and honestly, nowhere beats Australia for beaches. It’s not until you travel that you also realize how wonderful your own backyard is or how lucky we are,” adds Tim.
Hitting the trail together
Travel had been important to both of them from an early age: for Tim, some of his most special childhood memories are summers in his family’s holiday house in Port Stephens; taking in the awe of Uluru in Australia’s center for the first time; and a trip to Disneyland that sparked a lifelong fascination – and plenty of trips – with the US. As one of four kids, Rod’s family travels were closer to home, “spent camping out on the lake not far from Newcastle, with a few terrific trips to Fiji where we really immersed ourselves in the culture.”
The couple met through mutual friends and connected on Facebook, and while they say the second they met in person they “were inseparable”, Rod says he was dubious when Tim first reached out.
“I thought Tim was a catfish actually – there’s not a huge gay scene in Newcastle, not even a gay club to go out and meet people. I had seen him on a dating site before and thought he was a fake profile. Once he added me on Facebook I thought, there’s that catfish again. I turned him down three times, but finally met up and we’ve been together ever since,” he says.
“I didn’t know many gay people growing up but I always wanted to fall in love with my best mate, and when I met Rod, we realized we had so much in common. We are so similar in all the best ways possible. He didn’t judge that I listen to Britney Spears,” adds Tim, grinning.
Given the intrepid, no-holds-barred concept of The Amazing Race, it’s not surprising many of the couple’s most adventurous – and most bizarre – travel experiences were encountered on the show: from milking goats in Mongolia and eating duck embryo eggs in Thailand to attending a military camp in South Korea and kayaking in a river close to the DMZ.
But the couple say it was the people they met on The Amazing Race that had the biggest impact. One challenge took the contestants to a remote village in Zimbabwe, where they were tasked with plowing a field so that villagers could plant crops for the season. “This will stick in my mind forever,” says Tim. “As soon as we got to the village, the children were just so excited to see us, they were so joyous. Once we finished the task, they held our hands and ran with us as we raced on to the next challenge. These kids were the happiest children I have ever seen, yet they had so little. It was a wake-up call to our privilege and gave us so much perspective.”
Navigating the globe as a married gay couple
Despite so many tough physical challenges in the race, it was traveling to the less LGBTIQ+-friendly countries that was most confronting for the couple, with Tim and Rod forced to hold back on their displays of affection for each other at times.
“It was a wake-up call that there is so much of the world that is quite behind the times and really, really conservative,” says Rod. It grated on Tim too: he says part of the reason they applied for the show was to help inspire other LGBTIQ+ people and break down stigmas.
“For most of the show, we really made an effort to hold hands, show that affection and be our authentic selves. It was sad to have to censor that at times,” Tim says. “But I do hope that by us going to these more conservative places, being on television, that it really does break down stigmas... even our social media is all about expressing the fact that love is love, gender doesn’t matter.”
Tim and Rod’s mixed experience of LGBTIQ+-friendly destinations reflects recent Booking.com research that revealed both significant opportunities and barriers for LGBTIQ+ travellers. Booking.com’s research found almost half of Australian LGBTIQ+ travelers had faced discrimination when traveling, while two thirds said they had to consider their safety and wellbeing as a queer person when picking a travel destination. Over 60% said that their sexuality impacted how they behaved with their partner when traveling, and the same amount said that being LGBTIQ+ impacted on who they chose to travel with.
“But I do hope that by us going to these more conservative places, being on television, that it really does break down stigmas... even our social media is all about expressing the fact that love is love, gender doesn’t matter.” - Rod
Re-discovering Australia’s many wonders
Like all of us, the pandemic has put a pause on Tim and Rod’s international travel plans, but the silver lining has been that they’ve been able explore their own backyard of Australia. In the last year, the couple have been to the coastal town of Noosa on the Sunshine Coast twice and cruised – also twice the idyllic Whitsundays and spectacular Great Barrier Reef on a catamaran. “Because of the pandemic, we had all of these beaches to ourselves. We were the only ones on Whitehaven beach!” says Tim.
The pair have also been on numerous trips around the Hunter Valley and out past the rugged Blue Mountains on a glamping trip in Mudgee. “We were so used to heading overseas, it’s been wonderful to see more of Australia – and there is just so much of it, the list is endless,” says Rod.
Dealing with social media trolls
Spending more time at home has also allowed the couple to devote more time to their social media and engage with their fans in more meaningful, authentic ways. But Tim and Rod’s public profile has unfortunately meant they are also subjected to significant harassment – predominantly online abuse and trolling.
“On the flipside, we were really attacked [for being gay] when we were on The Amazing Race, and we still are – every day there will be at least one vomit emoji left on our Instagram account. We have had parents – even grandmothers – accuse us of making their sons gay and our hearts break in those situations, because our whole purpose of going on the show was to normalize same-sex relationships. We want the world to be a place where people don’t need to come out. Why is the default setting straight?” says Rod. “But the great thing is that we have each other, and we are happy to take all the hate if it can help one kid out there struggling with who they are and how they identify”