Friday, August 26, 2005

It happened to me... I was famous for about 13 minutes.

"Single? Want to find love on a reality TV show for MTV? You can make $10,000 dollars!"

Molly was visiting from Seattle and we had just finished sweating to Cher at a neighborhood transvestite bar when I saw two women on the corner of Connecticut and N handing out flyers. I thought it was for an after hours party. But as we approached it became apparent they were something entirely foreign to the clean and orderly streets of Washington DC.

"Can I have 5 minutes of your time? Your cute, come talk to me."

I looked down at the flyer.

MTV looking for willing men and women to try out for a new reality TV series !
$10,000 if your cast
Come hang in Cali

I was 30. Sober. Depressed over a recent break-up with a man I knew I was getting back together with in about two weeks. 'PARTY! PARTY!! PARTY!!!' was hardly my thing. But I was exhausted trying to entertain my BFF with DC's slim offerings and this little adventure would tie our night up perfectly.

"Yeah, sure, okay. What do I have to do?"

I thought perhaps a questionnaire, a photo... But within moments, a camera and microphone hung ominously over my head.

"So who ended the last relationship? You, or the guy?"

"Do you have any hidden talents?"

"What is your father like? Do you guys get along?"

"So, like, do you think, like, we should, like, be at war with Afghanistan?"

Cameras, terrify me.

I saw the red light and could feel my lip begin to quiver. Like an alcoholic tremor, the more I tried not to let it happen the more it seemed to reveal my utter insecurity. Off went the light and my face relaxed. Like anesthesia wearing off after a visit to the dentist for a root canal.

I walked away and tried to cover up my embarrassment with sarcasm. I took some comfort in the theory that my three minute clip was so bad it would probably be recorded over by the nights end.

No such luck.

The following Friday, I got a phone call.

"Hi, I'm a casting agent calling from LA. We saw your tape. The one you recorded in the street last week in DC. We want to talk to you more. Can you come out this weekend for a casting call?"

She told me she was casting for an MTV Bachelor take-off. Some in descript number of single men and women, all living in a house together. She wouldn't tell me how many people. She wouldn't tell me where they were filming. She wouldn't tell me the name of the show. She cautioned me that every step of this process needed to be strictly confidential.

I hung up the phone, called and told Molly the whole story.


When I arrived in LA, I was driven to a hotel about two blocks from LAX, told I wasn't allowed to leave my room for any reason unless escorted by a member of the crew and given $25 to survive on for the next three days eating nothing but room service.

Over the next two days of casting calls I met five other women. We were nothing alike. They were young, average pretty and innocent. They had wide eyes and giggled a lot.

The casting agent phoned two weeks later.

"Hi there. Good news. Guess what? You have totally been cast on the show. Congratulations! Are you just totally psyched or what? Oh my God. Isn't this great. Are you crying?"

I packed my bags, told my friends I was going to Liberia for two weeks and set out for the West.

My plane dropped down at LAX and I was met by a production assistant. She drove me to a hotel and the next morning a young woman arrived to be my chaperone for the day. We took a walk up to the Hollywood Hills. She called it hiking. I learned the premise of the show. A bunch of single men and women living in the same house, competing for the affections of a 'bachelor and a bachelorette'.

It sounded cheesy. Christ, this is going to be a career killer.

But c'mon, what a story.

Two days later, I stepped out of a Lincoln Town car in front of a house in Agoura Hills California. A crew of a least thirty stared at my quivering lip and the sweat dripping down my arms. A dozen halogen lamps illuminated my already shiny forehead. Bulbs flashed. Photos were taken. Six different cameras pulled focus with every step I took. Someone called for silence on the set. And then another car pulled up and an average looking man stepped out.

Oh Jesus, I've been cast on Average Joe. I fucking knew it. How could I think I was good enough for this MTV shit. How humiliating.

"Hi, nice to meet you. What's your name?"

More cars pulled up to the house and more people emerged to soak in the lights and take the glare off my plastic smile. When I am nervous, I make conversation. Usually coupled with awkward laughter.

I asked everyone their name, occupation, home town. Periodically, someone from the crew would yell for quiet. But my anxiety propelled me to continue.

I whispered under my breath to the unfortunately named Ferrari standing next to me, "where did they find you?"

"My agent. I just got the call yesterday."

The director called for complete silence and ordered a re-shoot. Disbelief measurably registered on my face.

Three days of casting calls, interviews with a psychiatrist, blood tests and a thorough doctor's examination and she just got the call yesterday?

By the time the shows host arrived to formally introduce the fourteen strangely average men and women to the most superficial woman and two dimensional man I'd ever met, I had been stewing over Ferraris answer for thirty minutes.

The Host with a bad blonde dye job and fake British accent introduced the show. "You seven men and seven women will be living in this house together over the next two weeks. All the while, competing for alone time with this fabulous bachelor and bachelorette. At the end of two weeks, these two will be forced to choose someone with whom they believe they could pursue a future. Will it be you?"

Please. I wouldn't date a single man here. Ridiculous.

Ferrari had tipped me off. Something was not what it seemed.

Over the next 48 hours I was a skeptic. Ridiculous contests flowed out of the producers. I did a strip tease with a partner dressed as a dog and a T-bone steak. I wrestled with an inked stripper while trying to pop balloons filled with whip cream firmly safety-pinned to her breasts. I held a yoga position for twenty minutes, danced in a Conga line chained to fifteen people, and dug for hot dogs in a vat filled with a naked model and mashed potatoes.

The sexual innuendo threatened to make me unemployable in Washington DC. Exactly how much are people willing to do just to be on MTV? To add to the strangeness the other contestants never wanted to talk about themselves. What reality TV contestant is not completely self absorbed and attention seeking?

I was done when a Jessica Simpson look-alike pulled me into the bathroom to tell me about her former food fetish porn career starring in the ill titled 'Porked'n'Beans'. Mid-story, the camera man had to turn off the camera and change the battery. Cami stopped talking, patiently waited until the camera turned back on, and then flowed back into her emotional story.

I was Truman on the Truman Show. And I was done being made a fool of.

I approached the producers. They labeled me a conspiracy theorist. They told me I was killing the comedy. Relax. Enjoy.

Fuck off.

I think they knew they were losing my interest. Because later that night they staged an elaborate 'eviction ceremony' that fell apart in a dramatic twist. The bachelor and one of the bachelorettes started yelling obscenities at one another. I started laughing. And then the host looked at me and announced to the cameras.

"This almost seems rehearsed. Doesn't it?"


"We've been fooling you."

I was right. The show was a fake. Except for me and one of the single men, everyone living in the house was an actor playing a part in a grand practical joke set to air on Spike TV in three months. The producers explained that they were trying to parody reality TV and thought two innocent victims who thought it was all real would be really hysterical.

They brought me into a back room filled with cameras and directors and editors. They clapped like I had done something. But I hadn't. They clapped to make me feel better about what they were doing to me.

After they revealed the hoax, they offered me a script and the promise of a $100,000 if I could keep fooling the other guy. They needed me to help keep him convinced. But I knew they just didn't want to loose two days of film that had already been shot.

Of course, I said yes.

Why not?


I read my script, I signed some papers, and my experience quickly changed. No longer was I the center of attention amongst several other normal people living under a camera for the first time. Now I was odd woman out amongst a lot of LA character actors. I watched as they paced outside the trailer smoking cigarettes and talking on their cells to their agents about negotiating more screen time.

This culture of ego, professionalism and Hollywood drive were way out of my league. This experience took me from being the coolest kid in school, to being the new kid just transferred in from public school, completely isolated and completely unworthy to sit at the lunch table with the cheerleaders and jocks.

Not easing the transition, were the two geeky and sarcastic comedy writers that got some sort of sick pleasure out of convincing me various married and disinterested cast members harbored secret crushes on me. They took turns asking me every day who I was going to have sex with at the wrap party.

Unfortunately, I never got a chance to make that decision. Fourteen days later they taped the last episode, finally revealing the truth to my unsuspecting male counterpart.

He was stunned. But he got over it with a six pack and an oversized fake cardboard check.

Twenty minutes after the reveal, they shipped us back to the seedy hotel next to LAX and we never saw anyone from the production again. Unfortunately they made the mistake of booking the room on the network credit card and finally having a partner with whom to absorb the shock, Joe Schmo and I called in room service for ten, ordered porn on every channel, cleared out the mini bar and each stole the complimentary hotel robes. Then we went out and sat on the porch and relived every detail of the past 14 days with the benefit of hindsight.

I returned to DC the next day and began a consultancy with a governmental organization. After the show aired I enjoyed the occasional late-night talk show in New York City, repeat guest appearance on the radio, photo OP in STAR magazine (the cellulite issue) or shout out in the subway. But the poor ratings of the show meant that life quickly returned to normal.

In December of 2004, I moved to New York City and took a real job with a 401 k plan and insurance benefits. Besides the occasional double take on the street, I'm back to being just your average Jane Schmo. But occasionally I will pass by an old poster at a Subway stop that hasn't yet been spray painted over with a moustache and I'll smile.

I was famous, for about 13 minutes.

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posted by Pop Culture Casualty @ 8/26/2005 09:29:00 PM |


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