Life After Reality
The Bachelor's Alex Michel
Reality is all the rage, but what happens when the show's over? We caught up with your favorite stars to find out how they're handling fame and fortune.
Name: Alex Michel
Appeared on: The inaugural season of The Bachelor
How we knew him: He's the slick, smooth businessman who picked Amanda Marsh over a tearful Trista Rehn — and then, sparked a tabloid firestorm when he allegedly canoodled with Rehn behind Marsh's back. Not true, says Michel: "I was happy with my choice. There wasn't any buyer's remorse." And who knew that by picking Marsh, Michel would launch The Bachelorette franchise? "My decision helped Trista end up with her husband!" marvels Michel. "Me, I found a great girlfriend but I didn't find a wife."
Lives in: New York's Greenwich Village, where he moved six months ago.
Marital status: Very single.
What he's doing now: Michel works as a management consultant and a TV producer, but he's most passionate about being the spokesman for online dating site Match.com. "I was willing to try something untraditional with my dating life!" says Michel, who's not currently using the site himself. "I went on a Caribbean singles cruise. I'm the master of ceremonies at speed-dating events, which lets me meet lots of single people." And there, he becomes a de facto Dear Abby: "People ask me for advice, which I find kind of funny. What do I know?"
How it changed his life: Professionally, says Michael, "I'm doing what I would have been doing anyway. But I'll always be grateful to the producers for introducing me to someone who became my serious girlfriend."
Would he do it again? Probably not. "I've done my reality-TV stint," he says.
The fallout: "I'll meet parents who want to set me up with their daughters, which I find strange," says Michel. "They feel like, this is someone who goes on blind dates!"
Names: Kevin O'Connor, Drew Feinberg
Ages: 38, 39
Appeared on: CBS's globe-trotting game, The Amazing Race 1
How we know them: They were bald, weight-challenged comic relief who never met an obstacle they couldn't make a joke about.
Their defining moment: Feinberg swinging from a bungee cord over a canyon in Zambia while O'Connor yells, "Swing, you fat bastard!"
Live in: Bayone, N.J., Staten Island, N.Y.
Marital Status: Both are engaged.
What they're doing now: They've both kept their day jobs — O'Connor is a forensic accountant and Feinberg is a Brooklyn court officer. Thanks to their Race notoriety, though, they've also developed their own series for the Discovery Channel, which debuts July 8. "We have a show called Kevin and Drew Unleashed," says O'Connor. "It's the Discovery brand of MTV's Jackass. The network refers to it as The Simple Life for guys. We travel to unique places, meet eccentric people and perform offbeat jobs. We do alligator wrestling, work on a shrimp boat and teach aqua aerobics to women."
How it changed their lives: If it hadn't been for The Amazing Race, O'Connor and Feinberg wouldn't be serenaded by shouts of "Swing, you fat bastard!" when they are out in public. "People treat us differently," O'Connor explains. "We've been to L.A. a dozen times now. Four or five times, we've been bumped up to first class. It's changed our lives in that we never had the ambition to do what we're doing now."
Would they do it again?: Without a doubt. "And we wouldn't do a thing differently," O'Connor says. "We flew by the seat of our pants. Some people memorized maps of the globe. Others got into fitness. We did nothing. That was our philosophy going in and that's our philosophy now."
The fallout: Sure it's been fun "dragging out our 15 minutes for two and a half years," Feinberg jokes, but the notoriety has been worth it. Once on an airplane, "Neil Patrick Harris asked for our autograph. It's funny stuff."
Name: Pete Jones
Appeared on: HBO's movie-making melodrama, Project Greenlight
How we know him: He was the poor, put-upon schmo who won the chance to write and direct his own feature film, courtesy of Greenlight producers/creators Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. As the project moved along, though, Jones seemed more like a puppy in the process of being housebroken: he was constantly messing up and getting yelled at.
Lives in: Los Angeles, Calif.
Marital status: Still married, with two young daughters. "The second one was conceived on the night I won the contest," Jones says.
What he's doing now: Considering how he was abused on the show, and how poorly the movie he made — Stolen Summer — was received at the box office, it seemed Jones had as much of a shot at getting work in Hollywood as Yahoo Serious. Nonetheless, he's just finished writing, directing, producing and starring in a film calling Outing Riley, and is currently trying to sell it to a distributor. "It's the story of a guy who comes out of the closet to his siblings and they don't believe it, so he has to prove it," Jones explains. His costars include Nathan Fillion (Firefly), Jeff Garlin (Curb Your Enthusiasm) and Mike McDonald (Mad TV).
How it changed his life: The doors that slammed in his face before Project Greenlight now swing wide open for him. "Before the show, I couldn't get the assistant to take my call," says Jones, laughing. "It's still tough, though. I walk in hoping to get a job and feed my family, and people want to know the ins and outs of the show. Of the hour I'm with them, 50 minutes are about Greenlight. I'm not going to bitch about it. Those 10 minutes... I never got that before." The men who made all this possible haven't forgotten him, either. Affleck and Damon have signed on to produce a film Jones is hoping to sell, and they recently invited him to Las Vegas for a friend's bachelor party.
Would he do it again?: "I'd do it again in a heartbeat," he says. "The prize of being able to direct a film you wrote, especially when you are nowhere, is worth it."
The fallout: Having endured the surreal nature of reality TV, Jones has learned more about how Hollywood works than if he'd produced a dozen screenplays. "The show was true, but it was an edited reality," he explains. "I remember people on The Real World coming out and saying, 'That's not who I am!' I thought it was such BS but now, I have to say Greenlight was not really who I am. The TV show was good and bad but ultimately, I got what I wanted."
Name: John Carpenter
Appeared on: ABC's winning quiz show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
How we knew him: He was the IRS agent who became an instant millionaire simply by knowing that Richard Nixon was the U.S. president who once appeared on Laugh-In.
Lives in: Hamden, Conn.
Marital status: Still married, with his first child due at the end of August.
What he's doing now: He still works for the collection department of the IRS, but "I'm not in the field. No more knocking on doors. It's a lot less confrontational." Looking for a new challenge, though, he's also started attending law school at night.
How it changed his life: Immediately after winning, he became an instant celebrity, appearing in magazines and even showing up on Saturday Night Live. The money, which he says amounted to about $400,000 after taxes, helped him and his wife buy "a slightly bigger house." He also made a few recent appearances on the new Super Millionaire as a guest Wise Man. Most importantly, though, his victory inspired him in an unexpected way. "Going to law school is something I'd thought about doing for a long time," Carpenter explains. "Had I not won, I wouldn't have done this. Winning gave me the idea that I don't want to really do what I'm doing now for the next 20 years."
Would he do it again?: Absolutely. "If I could go back, maybe I'd have tried a little more to turn the fame into something," he says. "But in a way, I'm glad I didn't. I'm comfortable with what this turned into."
The fallout: Being smart on national television does have its advantages. "Friends believe me a little more now when I say something off the wall," Carpenter says, chuckling. "I can get away with more."
Names: Chip Arndt and Reichen Lehmkuhl
Ages: 37, 30
Appeared on: CBS's globe-trotting game, The Amazing Race 4
How we knew them: They were the gay married couple who tried — with little success — to keep their lifestyle a secret for as long as they could. Their business-like approach to the race eventually landed them on top, in spite of Chip's driving skills (or, more appropriately, his lack thereof).
Live in: Miami Beach, Fla., Los Angeles, Calif.
Marital status: It turns out they could make it through everything from leaping off a skyscraper to getting pulled by bulls, but their relationship could not. Shortly after America learned that they'd won the race, they announced their separation. "We spent the better part of a year trying to reconcile," says Arndt. "We still support each other."
What they're doing now: They've gone their separate ways personally and professionally. Arndt used his half of the million-dollar prize to help launch his own management company, and has invested in new business ventures such as Gay Fuel, "an energy drink for the gay marketplace that is available online and in selected cities." Lehmkuhl has continued his dream of acting, appearing on Frasier, The Drew Carey Show and in several episodes of The Young & the Restless. He's also turned his life into his art: he's peddling a reality show called Get Out of My House, which he created with fellow Race-er Jeff Strand. "The only tease I can give about it is that I co-host it with Erin Brodie from For Love or Money. Reality TV is more a part of my life now."
How it changed their lives: "Winning the race suddenly puts you in a position where people suddenly know your face," says Arndt. "Now I have an opportunity to use that exposure to do wonderful things. You can affect people." To that end, he's constantly speaking on gay issues. "I'm dedicating the rest of my life to helping gay youth talk to people so they can figure it out." Meanwhile, Lehmkuhl has noticed the lighter side of post-Race fame. "There are some select places in L.A. where people give me a little more slack on things. They give me a discount in buying a new boat or car. You realize that the people who get the biggest breaks are the ones who need it least. It's nice to be on the other side for a change."
Would they do it again?: Even though they both realize the Race experience didn't help their relationship, neither would hesitate to do it all again. "I'd do an all-star Amazing Race, reunite with a partner I'm no longer married to," says Arndt.
The fallout: Winning $1 million was nice. Getting recognized at airports around the world is fun. But both men say the best thing about Race is how it made them better people. "People say it's great to see your smile. I learned a good lesson watching myself on TV," Arndt explains. "You need to laugh at yourself."
Name: Dan Wells
Appeared on: Boy Meets Boy
How we knew him: He camped it up and showed off his toned heterosexual butt to a room full of his mostly gay fellow contestants. Preparing for his walk on the other side was "a blast," says Wells. "I went to all the West Hollywood places to try and pick up as much of a gay vibe as I could."
Lives in: Hollywood, Calif.
Marital status: He's in a "very good relationship" with actress Rachelle Pettinato.
What he's doing now: "I was acting before the show and I'm still acting." His recent roles include a gig on Gilmore Girls as a stripper in red speedos, a college jock in the screamer Species III, a dim-bulb lifeguard in a failed Fox pilot and "the rich kid you love to hate" in the upcoming movie Walking on Water.
How it changed his life: Playing gay gave a boost to his career. His performance attracted a new management company and his somewhat familiar face opened "some doors in this business." He had a "blast" until halfway through the show, he says, when he realized "somebody's emotions are involved here and I needed to pay this off in karma for the next three lifetimes."
Would he do it again?: "No way." Unless he wants to be known as a reality whore. Even before he mugged it up on BMB, he won the top prize of $130,000 on the NBC adventure game Lost and auditioned for The Next Action Hero.
The fallout: "I got thousands of e-mails from fans of the show, who appreciated my openness and my willingness to have fun and roll with it. Maybe three out of a thousand were negative."
Name: Michael Skupin
Appeared on: Survivor: The Australian Outback
How we knew him: He was airlifted out of the game after he fell into a fire and severely singed his hands. But first he roiled PETA by gleefully slaughtering a wild boar and smearing the pig's blood on his cheeks. "I have no regrets that after nine unsuccessful days hunting, I was able to feed my tribe," says an unrepentant Skupin.
Lives in: White Lake, Mich., with his four children Michael (15), Kalyn (12), Emily (6) and Leo (2).
Marital status: The single dad is twice divorced.
What he's doing now: He's a full-time faith-based motivational speaker, who claims he's spoken 763 times in the last three years. "I take the Survivor experience and I wrap it around life's lessons," Skupin says. He also runs programs for troubled kids and has a book due in October, aptly titled Fireproof.
How it changed his life: "I went to Survivor for the adventure. I had no idea I would be famous. I was a corporate guy and now I can't keep up with [speaking] requests. I'm much different than the person who went on the show."
Would he do it again?: "Survivor has been trying to get me to go back on the show for a long time. Not just All-Star. We talked about All-Star for a year, but they wanted me to quit my business for eight months. I said I have 50-75 appearances planned and people are depending on me. They pulled the plug."
The fallout: "All the tabloids said Mike Skupin was headed to the winner's circle until he tragically fell into a fire. Life doesn't always turn out like you planned. I was thrown that big curve ball, but it's not what happens to you, it's how you react to what happens." — Reporting by Shawna Malcom, Cathy Piedmont, Ileane Rudolph, Deborah Starr Seibel, Craig Tomashoff and Janet Weekshttp://tvguide.com/tv/coverstory/