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Reality check

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Reality check


By Jamie Kritzer, Staff Writer

News & Record

GREENSBORO — Some call it reality television. Others prefer language that’s ... well, not suitable for a family newspaper.

Call them what you will, unscripted TV shows are as popular as sitcoms. They’ve given birth to survivors and bachelors, dating games and corporate shames.

They’ve also spawned a puzzling trend in the Triad. Seven people with ties to the region have landed on unscripted TV programs since 2000. And by January, we could see three more local folks, who flew to Hollywood this week for the taping of the finals of NBC’s third installment of “American Idol.”

“When I was back on one in 2001, it was a small fraternity,” says Kent Blackwelder, a Guilford County native who starred in “Big Brother 2.” “Now, there’s so many ... shows, you can’t swing a duck over your head without hitting a reality contestant.”

Because TV experts predict we’ll see many more reality programs, one can reasonably figure that we’ll also see more of our neighbors on the boob tube.

But before we look ahead, let’s take a look back to ask some of the Triad’s reality TV pioneers some questions. The most obvious question: Why have the reality-TV gods taken a particular shine to folks from the Triad?

Guilford County’s most notable reality TV alum, Kelly Wiglesworth, has a few thoughts on that one.

Wiglesworth is the free-spirited river guide who nearly won $1 million on the first “Survivor” in 2000. She ended up losing on the final episode to a corporate trainer named Richard Hatch, but not before 51 million TV viewers tuned in to see this exotic version of office politics.

“I guess we’re so damn interesting,” Wiglesworth, 26, said in a phone interview from her home in Hawaii. “I think when they are casting people, they say, 'Here’s one from California. Here’s our Midwest person. Here’s our loud New Yorker.’ But they’ve gotta have that Southern person in there, too.”

Since Wiglesworth, six other folks with links to the Triad have landed on reality programs, including “Big Brother 2,” “Temptation Island” and USA’s “Cannonball Run.”

Greensboro’s Chris Roseboro, who competed in the second episode of “Fear Factor” in 2001, thinks folks from the area keep getting picked because they are more opinionated than most.

Two years ago, Roseboro headed down to Charlotte on his day off from work as a camera operator at WGHP (Channel 8). As he stood in line along with 1,000 other people trying out for “Fear Factor,” Roseboro wondered how to impress the casting director with something other than his well-sculpted physique.

“I insulted the guy at the interview,” says Roseboro. “I said, 'You really look like a hippie.’ He loved it. He said, 'You’re just what we’re looking for.’

“Normally, I wouldn’t act like that. But that’s part of the role I personified for TV.”

Which brings us to our next question: You mean reality TV isn’t real after all?

“When I was on the show, I would always wake up early, do some crunches and light calisthenics,” Blackwelder says. “But whenever they showed me, I looked like this slob that just sat around all day and ate and smoked cigarettes.”

That’s not to say that the show’s portrayal of Blackwelder was inaccurate. He did eat and smoke, and he is the socially conservative Ronald Reagan lover that “Big Brother 2” portrayed him to be.

“I feel like this nation’s morality is going to hell in a hand basket,” Blackwelder ranted during a phone interview. “There’s all these people saying, 'You’ve got to accept homosexuality.’ I think anyone has a right to do what he wants. But just don’t push that on me.”

So, why did these folks decide to go on reality TV?

Reality TV offered Roseboro a chance to grab that 15 minutes of fame that Andy Warhol said everyone can expect at least once in life.

“I am not a celebrity, but I get a gist of what’s like to be one,” Roseboro says. “I’ve signed autographs and everything. And I lost on the show.”

Wiglesworth says she gave “Survivor” a shot because she wanted to experience an adventure on an island in the South Pacific. And she couldn’t pass up a shot at $1 million.

“I auditioned for it because I wanted to see if I could live in the jungle for 39 days and not have anything,” she says. “The whole TV thing was a weird, freakish thing. Nobody thought it was going to be that big a deal.”

It was a big deal nationwide and at home. One out of two television sets in use in the Triad was tuned in to the finale — numbers comparable to the audience for the Super Bowl, the most-watched event of the year.

Reality TV accounted for about 20 percent of the prime-time TV schedule this past summer.

“The payoff for the network has been that these shows bring good ratings and are inexpensive compared to sitcoms like 'Friends,’ which cost $1 million per friend per episode,” says Bob Thompson, director for the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University. “They don’t have to pay people on reality television anything because they’re not actors.”

For that reason, Thompson believes that reality TV programs are here for the long term.

“It’s not going anywhere,” Thompson says. “It’s going to join the sitcom, the soap opera and the talk show as one of the things that television does.”

Now, three more Triad folks look to embark on a chance at TV stardom. Fantasia Barrino, 19, of High Point, Steven Potts, 22, of Haw River and Frances Nicole Day, a Burlington woman whose age was not available at press time, earned spots in the finals of the next “American Idol,” the drama-filled talent contest for unsigned singers.

All three are under contract with Fox not to speak to the press until after the show airs. But their parents aren’t.

“I’m not really into reality TV programs,” says Donald Potts, Steven Potts’ father. “I’ve not really watched 'American Idol’ before. I guess I will now.”

But what can these reality TV wannabes expect after their time on TV?

Few of the 800 or so reality-TV celebs have made a go of it in show business. That’s true for the Triad’s alums of reality TV, too, whether they wanted it or not.

Jeff Varner, who followed Wiglesworth on Season 2, “Survivor: Australian Outback,” began reporting for the cable entertainment channel E! during the summer.

He says if it weren’t for reality TV, he probably wouldn’t have had the success he’s had. Nevertheless, he has removed all of his reality TV experiences from his resume because he says he was pretty sure he lost many show-business jobs because people resented reality-TV contestants.

“I didn’t get on 'Survivor’ because of my talent,” says Varner, a 1984 graduate of Southern Guilford High School. “I got picked because the casting agent liked my personality and thought I’d fit in well on the show.”

So, if you’re a considering getting your show-biz career started with a stint on a reality television show, think again, Varner says.

“I’m glad I did it,” Varner says. “I just don’t like it following me around.”



Name: Omar Payne

Age: 27

Triad connection: His mother is an executive assistant to the vice chancellor for student affairs at N.C. A&T.

Reality TV resume: Appeared on “Temptation Island 2’’ in Costa Rica in 2001; voted off the island after five episodes. He didn’t find love on “Elimidate’’ or “Extreme Dating’’ in 2002.

Now: Teacher/counselor at an alternative school in California.

Name: Jeff Varner

Age: 37

Triad connection: Grew up in Guilford County; 1984 graduate of Southern Guilford High School.

Reality TV resume: Appeared on “Survivor: Australian Outback” and USA network’s “Cannonball Run.” Has hosted two CBS specials, “Countdown to Survivor.”

Now: Lives in Los Angeles and works as correspondent covering the Hollywood beat for the entertainment network E!, appearing most nights on E! News Live at 7 p.m.

Name: Kent Blackwelder

Age: 48

Triad connection: Grew up in Guilford County; 1973 graduate of Central High School in High Point.

Reality TV resume: Voted off “Big Brother 2” in summer 2001. Viewers voted him the least-liked house guest in the show’s online popularity.

Now: Lives in Powell, Tenn., and works as business analyst.

Name: Kelly Wiglesworth

Age: 26

Triad connection: Attended Page High School and spent part of her childhood in Guilford County.

Reality TV resume: Runner-up to “Survivor’s” first winner, Richard Hatch, winning $100,000. Worked for E!’s “Celebrity Adventures’’ and raced in the Eco-Challenge Fiji, an 11-day expedition that aired on the USA network.

Now: Lives in Maui, Hawaii, learning to surf; hopes to pursue writing career.

Name: Steven Potts

Age: 22

Triad connection: Graduated from Alamance Christian School in Graham.

Reality TV resume: Has made the finals of “American Idol” to be broadcast from Los Angeles in January.

Now: Lives in Haw River. Works at Truliance Credit Union in Burlington and as music director at Integrity Church in Burlington.

Name: Fantasia Barrino

Age: 19

Triad connection: Lives in High Point

Reality TV resume: Has made the finals of “American Idol” to be broadcast from Los Angeles in January.

Now: Attends GTCC

Name: Katie Ross

Age: 21

Triad connection: Northeast High School graduate

Reality TV resume: Lost to another contestant on “Fear Factor” during a stunt in which she had to crawl across the surface of a giant horizontal pendulum and move flags from one side of the swinging disc to the other.

Now: Wrestles at the University of Minnesota at Morris.

Name: Chris Roseboro

Age: 29

Triad connection: Lives in Greensboro

Reality TV resume: Lost on “Fear Factor” in the fall of 2002 when he fell from a wire and into his harness while trying to traverse a dam 300 feet high.

Now: Cameraman for WGHP (Channel 8) in High Point. He’s also a model and aspiring actor.

Name: Carlyle Clyburn

Age: Unavailable

Triad connection: 1992 graduate of Dudley High School

Reality TV resume: Appeared on NBC’s “Fear Factor” in 2001. He became the first person to quit “Fear Factor” during an episode in which he refused to lie down in an elevator shaft with 400 rats.

Now: Unavailable

Name: Frances Nicole Day

Age: Unavailable

Triad connection: Lives in Burlington

Reality TV resume: Has made the finals of “American Idol” to be broadcast from Los Angeles in January.

Now: Unavailable

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