Jeff Jenkins might describe himself as a “chubby black guy,” but it’s not his weight or the color of his skin that defines him. Jenkins is genuine, funny, and inspirational—and now he’s famous too. He’s the star of Never Say Never with Jeff Jenkins, available on National Geographic, Disney+, and Hulu. Jenkins’ goal is to be a role model, encouraging people “who look like him” to do what he does on the regular—push himself outside of his comfort zone.
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In the show, Jenkins travels the world participating in thrilling outdoor adventures and taking part in rich cultural experiences. He overcomes personal fears, challenges specific to his body size, and biases against him as a plus-sized black man—and he has a lot of fun doing it. Viewers have fun too, because Jenkins is not only entertaining but also endearing.
Jenkins grew up in Orlando, Florida and first entered the professional world as a high school choir teacher. After nine years and an unexpected loss in his family, he decided to start living his life where his comfort zone ends. Specifically, he started traveling.
In an interview with Outdoors.com, Jenkins describes a eureka moment on one of his trips: “I was in Rwanda building water wells [and] I was like, you know what? I kept asking myself the question, if money wasn’t an option . . . what would I do? And my answer, it took three days, was to travel the world, get paid to do it, and help people. And so that was how I got started.”
Jenkins started Chubby Diaries, a blog and social media platform, and began sharing his experience as a plus-sized black man. “Then I started realizing, you know what, I don’t know anybody that’s talking about this,” Jenkins says. “I don’t know anyone that’s actually saying oh, this is my experience as a plus-size person traveling the world, and I wanted to bring light to that.”
His message struck a chord, and then he landed a Nat Geo show.
Never Say Never
In Never Say Never, Jenkins accomplishes some awesome physical and mental feats in incredible outdoor places. “We climb a rock face—like, actual mountain climbing. [. . .] I think I’m the largest person I’ve ever seen do it, but we go mountain climbing in the Adirondacks. We do scuba diving in a couple of places . . . and in Mexico I swim with sharks. I class-5 whitewater raft off of a waterfall—[a] 23-foot drop waterfall,” he says. “We do a lot of kayaking, climbing glaciers, [and] paddle boarding.”
In the show, Jenkins visits places like New Zealand, Iceland, Japan, and Vietnam. In addition to his outdoor adventures, he also takes part in cultural activities, like sheep shearing in New Zealand, sumo wrestling in Japan, and taking a street food tour in Hanoi.
“We did this food tour, street food tour, and that was just epic,” he says. “I was like, I can’t believe this is my life. Like, I am living it up. And it was just great times. I met so many people [. . .] so that was a lot of fun. I felt like Anthony Bourdain a little bit, you know?”
Amidst all of this fun, Jenkins also gets raw emotionally. The show brought out a spectrum of emotions, he says, and he had to get comfortable expressing himself and working through all this on camera. “I’ve had to learn how to just embrace some of the stuff I’m going through, but then also how to process [it],” he explains. “I think that’s what people are really going to connect with on the show.”
While Jenkins didn’t have people in his life explicitly telling him he couldn’t or shouldn’t travel, he admits he felt weighed down by other people projecting their own fears onto him. Traveling wasn’t part of his family’s culture growing up, and he’s faced bias as a travel blogger because of what he looks like.
“I know that there’s a lot of bias when people see me as well, so they just automatically assume that I can’t do something, and I don’t try to prove anybody, but I know I know my abilities and what I can do, and I’m pretty athletic—like, people are very surprised every single time, and that’s what I want to change,” he says. “I want to show that, like, I can be this size and still get at it.”
Other hurdles Jenkins says he’s faced include people staring, people asking questions, size restrictions for excursions, and the mental barriers of getting on an airplane in the first place and not feeling like he’d be able to keep up with friends on physically demanding adventures. He says through his travels, he’s learned tricks and hacks—like using credit card points to upgrade to first class so he fits better in the airplane seat—to improve his experience.
Asked what he wants viewers to take away from Never Say Never, Jenkins says: “I want you to question yourself [. . .] like where is my comfort zone? Am I stepping outside of my comfort zone? What does it look like to step outside of my comfort zone? And just then just be inspired, be motivated, be encouraged.”
Are you watching Never Say Never? Share your favorite moment from the show in the comments below.