When Glen Foster tried out for Fox Television's The Littlest Groom, he set out to find true love. Will he find everlasting fame as well?
"I'm hoping to parlay this into an acting career, a career in show business," said 4-foot-5-inch Foster, who left his tech support job in a cell phone company to participate in The Littlest Groom. "But I come from a simple background, and if it's not my calling, then I'd be perfectly happy going back to the cell phone company. I was happy doing that, too."
The 23-year-old Foster is the just the latest in a string of reality TV stars. Fox pushed the love-match genre envelope as viewers watch Foster try to connect with a fellow dwarf or — in a surprise sprung on the bachelor and those vying for his affections — with an average-sized woman. The fate of Foster and his would-be paramours will be revealed in the final installment of the two-part series tonight.
But another cliffhanger surrounding Foster that will not be answered so quickly or easily — will he be able to extend his moment in the spotlight?
Some of the most recognizable alums from Survivor, Joe Millionaire, The Bachelor and The Bachelorette have landed guest spots on other television programs and commercials or returned for reunion-type shows such as Survivor: All-Stars. But none have been able to break through to stardom.
Elisabeth Hasselbeck (formerly known as Elisabeth Filarski on Survivor: the Australian Outback) has perhaps come closest with her regular co-hosting duties on ABC's The View and the Style Network's The Look for Less and guest-host appearances on MTV programs.
Still, nearly four years after the first edition of Survivor captivated the nation — and 12 years after MTV premiered The Real World — real breakout stardom has eluded the newest kind of celebrities. Their biggest obstacle, some experts say, has been that they've been typecast — they can't escape their own shadow.
"A lot of the people you see are good at doing what these reality TV shows need them to do, but do not have the 'stuff' to take their celebrity to another level and make a career of it," said Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University.
"Richard Hatch on Survivor 1 [Survivor: Borneo] was probably one of the greatest characters in TV history. He got his book deal and had a run for a while," added Thomson. "But then he kind of fizzled out when people saw that he really didn't offer too much more beyond his Survivor character."
The Allure of the Rich and Famous
Reality TV stars haven't been able to make people forget the reason they became famous, and can't avoid playing themselves on other shows.
Trista Rehn of The Bachelorette guest-starred as herself on ABC's According to Jim. Survivor's Rudy Boesch, a former Navy SEAL master sergeant, was a host of a four-part series during The History Channel's "Modern Marvels Survival Guide Week" in 2001, hosted a reality show called Combat Missions for the USA Network.
Evan Marriott of Joe Millionaire went from construction worker to host of the Game Show Network's Fake-a-Date and aspiring actor. He made his acting debut last year in ABC Family's See Jane Date, playing a potential love match for the title character — not a big stretch for Marriott. He will reportedly star in Miss Cast Away, an upcoming comedy, and can be seen in Ragu Sloppy Joe commercials with Joe Theisman, Joe Frazier and Joe Episcopo.
Unlike most traditional celebrities, the launch pads of fame for these "reality" celebrities came relatively gift-wrapped. But, some say, the opportunity for a lifestyle of the rich and famous is what attracts them to begin with.
"These shows offer two things: the possibility for fame and the possibility for wealth. These are not hard sells in our culture," said Thompson.
Pitfalls and Perspective
Still, there are pitfalls to fame, even it lasts little more than 15 minutes. You might be recognizable, but then lose your privacy. There are long stretches away from home and loved ones. You become fodder for tabloid gossip.
And you can get sued. The Bachelor's Bob Guiney was sued last year by the show's producers, And Syndicated Productions — a division of Telepictures Productions — for alleged breach of an exclusivity clause in his contract for promoting his 3 Sides CD without permission.
A federal judge ruled in favor of Guiney in December, and while "Bob the Bachelor" considers the lawsuit a low point in his celebrity odyssey, he wouldn't trade his experience for anything. A longtime musician before his first appearance on The Bachelorette, Guiney wrote a book, What a Difference a Year Makes, frequently appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show and was able to expand the platform for his band, Fat Amy.
His Bachelor relationship with Estella Gardinier didn't last, but Guiney says he made many new friends — and found a new love, actress Rebecca Budig of All My Children.
"It [my Bachelor/Bachelorette experience] was pretty awesome. I really established relationships with a lot of people and also become friends with the producers and a lot of people at ABC," he said. "I was really awestruck by the outpouring of affection and support. … But the best thing that came from all of this is I got to meet Rebecca."
Guiney, who owned a mortgage company before appearing on The Bachelorette, also keeps his fame in perspective as he is currently touring with his band. "Just as quickly as fame comes to you, it can also go away just as quickly," he said. "That's why I keep my day job with my mortgage company."
The Reality of Reality TV
Reality TV and its stars seem like they're here to stay. Shows such as Survivor: All-Stars and The Apprentice are among the most watched shows in the most recent prime-time Nielsen ratings.
"I don't think it's going away," Thompson said. "My grandchildren and my grandchildren's children will not know a time without some kind of reality television."
Meanwhile, Glen Foster is trying to enjoy his initial taste of fame. He said he wanted to find that "special someone" on the show — and he has. He says he enjoyed his experience on The Littlest Groom and wanted to give the nation insight into the daily lives of little people. Foster said he did not feel taken advantage of, despite the surprise twist by the show's producers.
As far as his chances for everlasting stardom, Foster is encouraged by the success of Vern Troyer, who played Mini-Me in the Austin Powers movies and Peter Dinklage, the star of the film The Station Agent.
"I think little people are ready to make their footprints on the Hollywood Walk of Fame," he said. "Who knows?"
Maybe a star is born.