After reality TV, cashing those reality checks

Pop Culture

May 05, 2002|By Jonathan Storm | Jonathan Storm,Knight Ridder/Tribune

Things aren't working out for Survivor veteran Jenna Lewis in her new office job.

"You're really weird," her boss explains as he fires her. "The show is over. You don't need a camera crew following you around."

"But I like it," she whimpers.

It's a scene from Survivin' the Island, a hilarious short film starring Lewis, the ninth person voted off the island in the original Survivor, as herself. (You can catch it at As with all good satire, it underlines reality.

It's also the first film that satirizes an unseen component of reality TV. Contestants who have traveled to the ends of the Earth to reveal their inner selves to millions of strangers are discovering that life after reality can be one strange trip.

"We really had no idea," says Lewis. "I have had a great adventure for the last two years."

Some found fortune. Some maintained their fame. A lot depended on luck. Veterans of the early Survivor episodes are doing best at manipulating the limelight. Competitors from other TV reality shows are having a tougher time.

Their 15 minutes

Maryland native Colleen Haskell, cuter than a bunny even as bugs ate into her legs, co-starred last summer in the Rob Schneider movie The Animal, and has found TV roles, too. She was in Baltimore yesterday to introduce a film at the Maryland Film Festival.

Elisabeth Filarski, from Survivor II, not only landed her own TV series, but, on the Style Network's The Look for Less, she gets a cable network to help her shop for clothes. Her castmate Keith Famie plays host to a taste-and-travel show on the Food Network. Original Survivor crusty curmudgeon Rudy Boesch has turned himself from a dry-docked Navy Seal into an entertainment conglomerate with a book and a succession of TV shows. He now is host of USA Network's Combat Missions.

Like almost all Survivor survivors, million-dollar man Richard Hatch gets big paychecks for personal appearances. But he has also been hired as a morning radio personality in Boston. He's not the only one. Other Survivors have landed jobs on local TV news shows.

Straight-talking Susan Hawk figures her run after Survivor has so far earned her what she would have made in six years in her old job driving trucks. She has moved from Wisconsin to Las Vegas. In the gambling mecca, she combines real-world business with showbiz razzmatazz. Last month, she closed a deal to buy Juices Wild, a smoothie shop she plans to run herself. The next day, she shot a Dockers ad that will air internationally, beginning in June.

Alumni of other reality shows, such as NBC's Fear Factor and Fox's Temptation Island, have had less luck.

William "Will Mega" Collins vanished into obscurity after making a racial fuss when booted from Big Brother nearly two years ago. Justin Sebik, the man who took a knife to one of his Brother cohabitants last summer, is out on bail after being arrested in January and charged with assaulting his girlfriend. Alumnus Bill "Bunky" Miller was kicked out of the Christmas parade in his North Carolina hometown because the mayor and an influential pastor objected to his homosexuality.

Saddest of all is the story of Angel Juarbe. On Sept. 4, he emerged as the $250,000 survivor/winner on Fox's low-rated Murder in Small Town X. One week later, the New York firefighter was killed in the World Trade Center terrorist attack.

The buzz quiets

Some of them have agents. Some have publicists. Some have managers. Some have all three, even though the demand has dried up somewhat as the reality buzz has subsided.

"People have gotten wary about hiring a reality-TV personality," said Lewis, who, like many of her confreres, has moved to Los Angeles, showbiz central. "We were being thrown everything when we first came off, and now it's like they don't dare touch you."

Reality vets seeking acting careers have distancedthemselves from their bug-eating pasts.

Colby Donaldson, who finished second on Survivor II, is incommunicado, studying acting in Los Angeles. Haskell, and even Hatch, are extremely choosy about Survivor publicity. But others continue to tout their Survivor resumes.

Gervase Peterson is concentrating on acting and writing TV treatments. He and a partner have written a comedy, a dramedy, a drama and a movie they're shopping around. "We have a whole Wednesday-night lineup," he said with a grin.

Peterson estimates that the pay for a personal appearance starts at $2,000 a day and can climb past $20,000, depending on the type of event. He says he still does one every month or so.

His Survivor castmate Gretchen Cordy is now a morning radio personality in her hometown of Clarksville, Tenn. (pop. 100,000). "Initially, I was doing a lot of high-paying things and traveling a lot, speaking engagements - $3,500 for an overnight deal," she said. "I couldn't make that much if I was a hooker."

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