NEW YORK – With the laundry list of reality "stars" growing longer by the month, it seems like one of them would find more than 15 minutes of fame. But so far, reality programming has produced nothing but a disappointing array of bit actors and publicity hounds.
If they had dreams of movie or music stardom, yesterday's reality personalities were barking up the wrong tree. The closest anyone has come is Survivor's Colleen Haskell, who starred with Rob Schneider in the flop The Animal, and of course, American Idol's winner Kelly Clarkson, who landed the promised record deal.
"It doesn't seem to be a good jumping-off point for actors," said E! Online columnist Anderson Jones. "I don't think the next Julia Roberts or Tom Cruise will make a detour in their career to be on a reality TV show."
Instead, many fade away at the end of the program, while a few find marginal work as commercial actors, music video extras or contestants in other reality shows.
One of the biggest reality stars has turned out to be rejected Bachelor finalist Trista Rehn, whose turn in The Bachelorette premiered Wednesday on ABC. Meanwhile, the original Bachelor Alex Michel is now a spokesman for online dating service Match.com.
Others from reality's ranks include American Idol semi-finalists R.J. Helton, Nikki McKibbin and Christina Christian who are in Old Navy commercials; Bachelor contestant LaNease Adams, who landed a bit part in a Dirty Vegas music video; and Survivor winner Richard Hatch, who did some "Got Milk?" print ads.
"Reality TV isn't looking for talented people," Jones said. "They're looking for people who want to be on TV, have no boundaries and are willing to make fools of themselves."
So if you want to get a little exposure — or if your goal is to find love, test your fears or win the competition at hand — then a reality-show appearance might be a good fit. But don't expect the world.
"Going on a reality show is much like writing your first novel – you should appreciate the advance and not worry about the royalties," Jones said. "You shouldn't assume that 15 minutes will lead to an hour. But it certainly does raise your profile."
Rehn is a case-in-point. The 29-year-old physical therapist and former Miami Heat dancer, who was dumped in the last episode of The Bachelor in favor of the younger, doe-eyed Amanda Marsh, now stars in The Bachelorette.
"I just signed up originally for fun – and now all this," Rehn said Tuesday on Fox News Channel, adding that when producers came up with The Bachelorette idea, "I said, 'Definitely.'"
As for the man who rejected Rehn, Match.com decided Michel was the perfect spokesman for their cause.
"We thought there was a parallel between what he had done so publicly and what our members do in their romantic lives on a day-to-day basis," said Match "Vice President of Romance" Trish McDermott.
As a representative of the dating site, Michel does interviews, publicity events and tours.
Apparently, Match didn't worry about all the criticism leveled at The Bachelor as sexist and harem-glorifying, Michel's post-show reputation as an egotistical actor-wannabe or reports of his less-than-chivalrous treatment of Marsh after the show ended.
"He really is a nice guy," said McDermott. "As much as he may have insulted the sensibilities of some singles, the best thing he's done is to get people to talk about dating."
And whether or not they're making it big, those who have the reality-show craze to thank for their fame are walking away with more than just fleeting publicity: money, new chances for TV appearances and the experience of being part of one of the most unlikely eras in television history.
"You get something for being on TV," Jones said. "It's a one-in-a-million shot, but who knows what can happen? If you're smart, you may be able to find a way to capitalize on it."
Rehn has never mentioned ambitions of stardom as the reason she's been on the shows. Instead, she said she did the first Bachelor for the free trip to Los Angeles, the chance to meet people and the prospect of living in a mansion for six weeks. Oh — and for the possibility that she'd meet Mr. Right. Enter The Bachelorette.
"I have searched for a love for so long, I thought, what a great opportunity to meet some great guys," she said. "They're hand-picked for me, kind of like ABC playing matchmaker. People think it's crazy, nontraditional — but it's the opportunity of a lifetime."