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Reality TV shows have a local flavor

Sunday, December 28, 2003

By Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

This year, reality TV smiled on Western Pennsylvania. Or was it a sneer? Either way, regular folks took to the airwaves for more than 15 minutes of infamy.

CLOSE-UP 2003
One of a series

Tony Tye, Post-Gazette
Matt Kennedy Gould, who won $100,000 on "Joe Schmo," pauses outside Bado's Pizzeria in Mount Lebanon, where he worked before going on the television show.

Tomorrow: The biggest best new building in Pittsburgh, the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, opened this year, but not without a touch of controversy

On "Joe Millionaire," Hunker native Sarah Kozer got tied up in knots over an attractive lunkhead with a small bank account. Holly Pastor, of Greensburg, checked into Fox's "Paradise Hotel" over the summer. Meadville native Alison Irwin got locked in CBS' "Big Brother" house with her ex-boyfriend, Pittsburgh headhunter Justin Giovinco. And several Pittsburghers were filmed out on the town for various syndicated dating shows.

But the biggest local names in reality TV were Jenna Morasca, $1 million winner of CBS' "Survivor: Amazon," and Matt Kennedy Gould, unwitting star of Spike TV's "The Joe Schmo Show."

Television changed the lives of both Morasca and Gould in 2003, and they both say it was for the better, despite some of the attendant hassles that come with being crowned a celebrity.

"I've gotten to do some really cool stuff," Morasca said earlier this month. "There's a big scrapbook my dad and I keep with everything that was written about me, good and bad. I can't believe I was on Letterman. You don't realize the magnitude of the thing while you're doing it."

Gould won $100,000 on "Joe Schmo," but he also was the butt of the show's overriding joke. He was the only real thing about the show. Every other "contestant" was an actor working from a script on a series that revolved around Gould.

"It's been the biggest year of my life," Gould said. He dropped out of the University of Pittsburgh's law school before he filmed "Joe Schmo." Now he has a one-year development deal with Spike TV and just signed with an agent, the same one used by radio shock jock Howard Stern. He plans to move to Los Angeles in January and enroll in acting classes.

"I try to keep things in the best perspective possible," Gould said. "I always tell myself, 'You have a new job. That's all this is. It's not a new life.' "

But there are new elements in his life, including hanging out with stars. Earlier this month, he went to the home of actor Shawn Hatosy ("Outside Providence") for dinner with Hatosy and Hatosy's girlfriend and other young actors. He met Hatosy at Spike TV's "Video Game Awards" and they hit it off.

In chatting with other actors, Gould came to understand that his fame differs from theirs.

"Approaching a reality star is much easier, because people know you're a regular person, than approaching Brad Pitt or somebody like that. People have more guts when it comes to Matt Gould than a star," he said. "It has some negative effects, but I really love it. From the day I found out the show was all about me, it's something I've prepared myself for."

Morasca has few complaints. She's become close to Ethan Zohn, winner of "Survivor: Africa," although she's hesitant to say they're dating because their relationship "didn't start off normal."

She's also not entirely accustomed to standing in line at the grocery store, thumbing through a magazine and coming across her picture.

"US Weekly just did the 10 most shocking 'Survivor' moments ever, and Heidi and I got No. 1 with the chocolate and peanut butter thing," Morasca said of the time she and a fellow contestant stripped naked to win a snack. "I was reading the National Enquirer and they had a big article on my mom passing away. That's especially weird to see."

Morasca's mother, Carla, lost a 12-year battle with breast cancer Nov. 19. That's around the same time the all-star edition of "Survivor," featuring past contestants, was filming. Morasca won't comment on whether she's a member of the cast for the next "Survivor," which premieres Feb. 2 after the Super Bowl (CBS will announce the cast Jan. 12). If she is, it's possible her mother's death will become a plot point in the show.

"She wanted me to play 'Survivor' when I went to the Amazon, and she assured me she'd be fine," Morasca said, sidestepping questions about the timing of the all-star edition. "She was a huge fan and very supportive of me and anything I did involving 'Survivor.' "

Should that confluence of events come to pass, it would be an eerie echo of the most recent edition, "Survivor: Pearl Islands," in which a contestant fabricated the death of his grandmother to gain the sympathy of fellow players.

"There's a special place in hell reserved for people who lie about the death of a family member," Morasca said. "You're not a good player if you have to go there. There's other ways to play the game."

Reality series, which diminished in number in late 2003 but never went away entirely, will stage a comeback in the next few weeks as the networks roll out midseason replacements for scripted series that failed to make the Nielsen ratings grade in the fall.

The reality genre extends into pornography Jan. 8 with the premiere of "Can You Be a Porn Star?" on InDEMAND pay-per-view, in which young women vie for a chance to win $100,000 and a one-year contract with an adult video distributor.

Press notes identify 20-year-old contestant "Brie" as a "former farm girl" and native of Pennsylvania. A spokesman for the show's production company said Brie grew up near Harrisburg. It's possible viewers have yet to meet the state's most revealing reality star.

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TV Editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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