In three years, Rick Rockwell has gone from TV pariah to TV pioneer.

The irony that reality-relationship shows are all the rage today is not lost on the hapless groom of Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire? whose on-air marriage to emergency-room nurse Darva Conger on Feb. 15, 2000, crashed and burned just a few weeks later.

"This stuff has just become de rigueur!" the self-effacing Rockwell said yesterday when reached by phone at his waterfront condo in Vancouver, where he lives for part of the year. "It's just old news, so nobody gets their feathers ruffled."

Rockwell, who reports that he's still working the corporate-meeting circuit as a comedian as well as dabbling in real estate, would likely never watch Joe Millionaire and The Bachelor/Bachelorette if it weren't for journalists calling him every so often for a comment.

As a result, he's had ample time to think about today's reality shows in the context of his own experience on Multimillionaire.

While Joe Millionaire and The Bachelor/Bachelorette are both widely accepted by audiences today, Multimillionaire was roundly criticized (though highly rated) for daring to present the spectacle of a single guy choosing a bride from among 50 eligible single women on a live, two-hour, televised pageant.

The show was so reviled that it wouldn't have seemed possible that three years later, such shows would be taking over prime-time television.

Rockwell sees his role as the guy who loosened the lid on the jar, making it easier for those who followed.

"My take on it is that I'm the second oldest of six kids, and when I did everything, I was always the guy that had to do something first," Rockwell said.

"By the time my little brothers went through the same phases in their lives, it was so much easier for them because mom and dad had been there, done that."

Although he watches the reality shows, Rockwell insists he's not a fan, and warns would-be participants that a TV show is the wrong place to look for love.

"People really need to get a life," said Rockwell, who's still single but ever hopeful of finding a mate.

"Chemistry is such an elusive thing and if you think that you're even going to discover what a person's all about [on a TV show], it ain't gonna happen . . . especially when the cameras are rolling. The fishbowl effect takes over so people's behavior ceases to be real when they know they're being watched."

Rockwell, who was widely ridiculed three years ago for participating on Multimillionaire, has found that people's opinions of him have mellowed over the years.

"The public and even the media now are generally very kind to me," he said. "I have a funny joke -- I tell people, 'I don't have much to live up to, and I can do that!' "