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Matt Kennedy Gould proves to be no Joe Schmo

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Spike TV's "The Joe Schmo Show," which seemed at the outset to be the cruelest reality show yet, turned into one of the most entertaining and ultimately uplifting series as it introduced viewers to the nicest, most down-to-earth reality show contestant ever.

Matt Kennedy Gould of Mt. Lebanon receives a $100,000 check on Spike TV's "The Joe Schmo Show." He also received a spa vacation, a trip to Tahiti and a flat-screen TV. (Janet Van Ham, Spike TV)

On last night's finale, the show's star, Mt. Lebanon resident Matt Kennedy Gould, was let in on the big secret of "Joe Schmo": It was all about him.

Gould thought he'd signed on for "Lap of Luxury," another run-of-the-mill reality series. But on last night's finale, taped in June, he learned that all the other "contestants" in this rigged reality show were actors working from a script outline. He was Joe Schmo, winner of a spa vacation, a trip to Tahiti, a flat-screen TV and $100,000.

He took it well, smiling and shaking with emotions that ran an upbeat gamut from laughs to tears of joy. This good guy was in shock, but he still had the wherewithal to continue his role as Pittsburgh's unofficial ambassador, talking up the town with genuine enthusiasm.

"Ask me now that I've won where I'm gonna go," he said to his co-stars in the finale. "I'm going to Pittsburgh!"

"Did that come off as good as I felt?" Gould asked yesterday in a phone interview from New York. "Did you get the 'Yeah!' feeling? It's really the way I felt. That's the one place I wanted to be at that moment."

Many of his co-stars were in tears too.

"We searched all over America to find the warmest, kindest, most genuine man we could," said host Ralph Garman.

Gould, the butt of this extended practical joke, never ceased to be the genuine, slightly goofy, considerate guy he was throughout the show's run. He even apologized to the people who'd deceived him: "It's so amazing. I feel bad if I did anything wrong."

As he was preparing to run a gantlet of interviews today, Gould said he had no regrets about signing onto the show.

"I love the show," he said. "I loved what I did. I wasn't sure how things were going to play out on screen, but I was happy with the job I'd done. Watching the show, I just think it's such a great show, and not just because I'm on it. The actors do a great job. It's over-the-top and cheesy, but that makes it funny for so many people. I've gotten nothing but positive feedback."

He still has difficulty expressing the mix of emotins he felt when it was revealed that he was the star.

"I was so utterly shocked and surprised and very happy at the same time," Gould said. "But yet, I was still kind of mad, like, what's going on? ... It was overwhelming and confusing and touching and emotional to realize that although everybody thought you're the schmo, they saw something in me.... Not that I needed a reality show to validate me by any means, but a compliment of that nature is always welcome in my world."

Gould was interviewed by Garman in last night's finale. The interview was taped in August, two months after production on "Joe Schmo" concluded and before Gould saw any of the episodes. In that interview, he expressed some hesitancy about building friendships with the co-stars who deceived him.

"It's not that I had hard feelings, it's just that it's a tough pill to swallow," Gould said yesterday. "You live under the guise of this world I was in, and these actors, while some of them were doing their best during the day to make me hate them, were crying at night about the fact they loved me.

"So when the show is over and I'm blown away and I learn she's not Ashley, she's [an actress named] Melissa, that's a totally different girl. I don't know Melissa. ... And it's weird, because I might not like the real people once I get to know them. We might not jibe. I think it will be interesting to see. They're definitely great people."

Gould, 28, has kept in touch with most of the other cast members, and he's considering following in their footsteps. A 1999 graduate of Pennsylvania State University, where he majored in speech communications, Gould has always had an interest in entertainment. (He's also the nephew of local actor Bingo O'Malley.)

"I'd always, like many people, had dreams of being in the world of entertainment, but I didn't want to think just because I got cast on this show I could do anything," Gould said. "But I've gotten so much good feedback, it's just something I feel I should try my hand at."

Gould wouldn't discuss concrete plans, but he's getting a taste of the limelight. Last week he sat at the same table as pop singer Justin Timberlake at Spike TV's "GQ Awards."

"It was me, my girlfriend and then Justin Timberlake at the front table," Gould recalled. (He's been dating Lacey Cass, a second-year law student at the University of Pittsburgh, for three months. They'd been friends before he dropped out of law school, and she called to congratulate Gould on "The Joe Schmo Show" after reading an article about him this summer.)

He gets recognized in Times Square when he's in New York doing press for "Joe Schmo" and even at a gas station in State College at 3 a.m.

"I was visiting a buddy who's a graduate student there, and I stopped to get a hoagie, and then we were going back to his place and I could have sworn someone was following us," Gould said.

When they arrived at their destination, another car pulled up and three Penn State students emerged to express their enthusiasm for Gould and "The Joe Schmo Show."

Gould never auditioned for "Joe Schmo" or any other reality show. He was playing basketball at a gym in Arlington through a league organized by the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project when a casting director spotted him.

"It was so serendipitous. How can I not take this to the next level? I felt like it was meant to happen," Gould said.

Throughout the show's run, Gould said his friends and family members have all been supportive.

"My mother sat me down the other day and said, 'At every turn on the show, you acted with character and integrity, and I'm so proud of you for that.' "

Unlike some reality show contestants who whine about how they were edited, Gould has no complaints. He acknowledges some things were misleading -- he actually recognized the porn star in the "Hands on a High-Priced Hooker" competition by name, not from seeing her in an adult film as the series implied -- but doesn't mind.

And for anyone who thinks Gould should have figured out what was going on, he says few people would have guessed.

"If they wanted me to stand up and say, 'This whole show is fake and these are actors,' few people in the country could do that. If you're saying, 'How did you not know something was up?' well, I thought I was on the weirdest reality show in history of mankind. I thought, this show is going to be a flop. You have naked women, but there's nothing going on. ... I had all the pieces to the puzzle, I just didn't have the picture on the back. You just chalk everything up to the oddities of reality television."

Rob Owen can be reached at or 412-263-2582. Post questions or comments to TV Forum.

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