Paulie Calafiore is feeling like a new man after publicly coming out as bisexual.
Paulie, 34, opened up about his bisexuality for the first time during the Thursday, August 17, episode of The Challenge: USA. One day after the episode aired, he spoke exclusively to Us Weekly about how not expressing his sexuality in the past negatively affected him.
“When I got out of college and went into professional sports … I was like, ‘Alright, let me bottle this back up inside,” said Paulie, noting that he was able to “express [himself] a little more” during his college days. “And then when I went on national television for the first time, I was like, ‘Let me definitely bottle this up inside.’ And by doing that, I kind of showed, like, that really aggressive athletic side of me. And I never got to also show the softer side of me, which I feel came from suppressing that again.”
Paulie, whose reality TV career on Big Brother and The Challenge has been marked by explosive fights with his competitors, added that people who knew him in high school and college said he had “a light to him.” But after he began hiding his authentic self, that side of him was “completely gone and suppressed.”
Although the CBS personality admitted it was a “little scary” making the decision to tell the world about his sexuality, he felt it was important for him to do so.
“I want people to understand other layers of me. I want people to understand me so that I [can] just be my true self and really just kind of let that shine through,” he said. “No matter what really happens from a competitive standpoint from here on out, I just know that I’m staying true to myself. And that’s the only thing that I think we can do in life.”
Paulie also credited fitness trainer Shaun T and fellow Big Brother alum Frankie Grande, who are both openly gay, with helping him embrace his sexuality. “They really kind of helped me along the way. They knew way before everybody else,” he said. The New Jersey native added that his girlfriend, Cara Maria Sarbello, has also been a source of support.
“We both are bisexual. We just get it,” he said of Cara Maria, 37, whom he’s been dating for five years. “I didn’t have to have those conversations like, ‘What do you mean [you’re bisexual]?’ It was just kind of understood. She understood.”
In addition to sharing insights about his personal growth journey during Thursday’s episode, Paulie had to fight for his life in the game when he faced off against Johnny “Bananas” Devenanzio during the elimination round.
Johnny, 41, ultimately emerged victorious from the tense competition, which forced the two men to hold one arm above their heads as long as they could while standing on a block of melting ice.
The two Challenge vets have feuded in the past — Johnny, 41, once called Paulie “sociopathic” and “narcissistic” during a January 2019 interview with HollywoodLife — but Paulie wanted to put their differences aside at the start of this season. The former enemies even shared a hug after the elimination round.
Although “old feelings” about Johnny came up from time to time during the season, Paulie told Us that he relied on the inner work he’s done to let those feelings float by without acting on them.
“I brought a journal,” he said. “I wrote about the feelings that I was feeling there just to kind of, like, get them out.”
As for what sparked his desire to change his behavior, Paulie said it came down to feeling like his “off the field antics” had jeopardized his chances of returning to The Challenge.
“Once it went two seasons [without me being asked to participate], I was like, ‘[I] gotta make a change, like, now. And thank God I did because I’m so happy to be back. I wish I would’ve lasted longer but the growth and the mindset change has been everything to me,” he concluded.
Sign up for Us Weekly’s free, daily newsletter and never miss breaking news or exclusive stories about your favorite celebrities, TV shows and more!
The Challenge: USA airs on CBS Thursdays and Sundays at 10 p.m. ET and 9 p.m. ET, respectively.