Scott D. Pierce: It's tough when 'reality' is over

Published: Thursday, Sept. 30 2004 12:00 a.m. MDT

Seemingly the last thing television needs these days is another reality show. And yet "Survivor" host Jeff Probst has an idea for a good one.

"I think the show that has yet to be done is the 16th minute (of fame)," Probst said, "and that is what happens to relatively normal people who are put on a television show that is popular and watched by millions of people and scrutinized by millions of people. And then they have to go back into the real world."

After nine seasons of "Survivor" — the most successful of the TV reality shows — Probst has seen it happen to a lot of people. First, they're shocked by the amount of attention they receive. Then they're shocked by the amount of attention the don't receive anymore.

For a while, the contestants are "invited to parties, and for five minutes they're on guest lists at premieres that they couldn't get into normally. It's heady waters, and I think I see that in a majority of the people."

Probst knows that some of the contestants on his show — and, presumably, all the reality shows — go into it craving that kind of attention.

"It's always kind of a game going in with me — who's here for what reasons and are they going to get what they want and how is it going to affect them? And sometimes I think it's a little tragic," he said. "There are many people whose lives are not the same as they were before 'Survivor' because they can't go back to their real lives. They want more. And, for a lot of them, there isn't any more. That was it. And we're sort of done with you in that sense, and it's time for a new group."

Which can be tough on people, not all of whom went into the game looking for fame but who found it nonetheless.

"You take somebody like Rupert (Boneham), the guy's whole claim to fame on the show was no self-esteem. 'I'm the fat kid who got picked on,' " Probst said of the guy who became a fan favorite on both "Survivor: Pearl Islands" and "Survivor: All-Stars" — where he was awarded a million-dollar prize by on-line fan voting after the end of the show's regular run. "And, suddenly, you're the fat kid that everybody loves. How equipped could he possibly be to handle that kind of fame? Unless he's got somebody solid in his life, saying, 'Rupert, you're not king of the world. You're just a guy who's liked by a lot of people,' it could be really damaging.

"I haven't been in touch with Rupert lately, but with a guy like that, you hope he's all right."

Not that he's entirely sympathetic to the plight of the reality-TV has-beens. "At the end of the day, I say to myself — there was something inside them that wanted this experience and that's why they sought it out. So they're doing what they need to do and getting what they want out of it."

And Probst figures they should all get what they can out of it while they can. Like Amber Brkich and Rob Mariano, the winner and runner-up of "All-Stars" who are planning their wedding after reality-show romance. "A guy like Boston Rob is one of the ones who makes me smile because I've become friends with him, and I've watched him and Amber," Probst said. "And their attitude is really clear, and that is, 'We're going to make as much money as we can. We're going to go to as many parties as we can get invited to. And if I can throw the (first pitch) out at the Boston Red Sox game, that is a dream come true. And when it's over, I've got my sweetheart and I'm going to go back to my construction job.' And I think he will."

Mariano and Brkich are wavering about offers to turn their forthcoming wedding into a TV special or even short-run series. "It's our wedding. We have to be careful," Brkich said.

"I don't know if we really want to do that," Mariano said.

But Probst figures they should take the money and run. "I'm certainly in their ear saying, 'Don't be foolish. Take every dime you can get from this experience, because you're a laborer who makes $50 grand a year, Rob, and if somebody's going to pay you a million dollars, who's the joke on?' " he said. "And they're an adorable couple. I've spent time with them. They're truly in love and they get it."


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com