Some insights from a few of the fellas...
When it comes to a shot at reality television, these brutes are made for walking . . . in heels
By JOANNE WEINTRAUB
Journal Sentinel TV critic
Posted: Oct. 18, 2004
From the jokey familiarity and real warmth they show each other over drinks at a Milwaukee bar, you wouldn't guess Nathan Troutman of Walker's Point, David Zurawski of Glendale and Rick Russell of Oconomowoc were strangers just a couple of months ago.
"I'll be honest. I weigh 260. Jamming that into a pair of heels is one of the most excruciating things anybody could imagine."
- Dave Zurawski, of Glendale,
"For a quarter of a million dollars, sure I'll put a dress on."
- Rick Russell, of Oconomowoc,
Type A girlie man
"It was like being Edward Scissorhands. Or having chopsticks glued to the ends of your fingers."
- Nathan Troutman, of Milwaukee,
Wearer of glue-on nails
Then again, they did go through some powerful male-bonding rituals together.
Oh, you know, the usual. Getting their legs waxed. Having their wigs styled. Learning how to apply mascara without poking an eye out.
"And the shoes," says Zurawski, 37, putting down his beer and shaking his head.
"The shoes!" echoes the 46-year-old Russell, groaning, and the 28-year-old Troutman, grinning.
"I'll be honest," Zurawski continues. "I weigh 260. Jamming that into a pair of heels is one of the most excruciating things anybody could imagine. And walking was worse."
That these three lifelong non-transvestites would squeeze their big feet into little pumps, lie still while their body hair was ripped out by the roots and endure dozens of other small tortures to appear on TBS' "He's a Lady" will surprise only those who have never watched reality TV.
So what if each of them had only one chance in 11 of winning the $250,000 prize for best girlie-man?
Who cares if, in their after-work clothes, tile contractor Russell, warehouse manager Zurawski and bartender Troutman exhibit all the womanly charm of the Packers' linebacking corps?
"It's the money, No. 1," says Russell. "For a quarter of a million dollars, sure I'll put a dress on."
A little deception
Actually, the three Wisconsinites knew nothing about the cross-dressing part until after they had applied to compete in a weekly cable series, been selected along with nine other men (including one who later dropped out because of a family emergency) and flown out to a Los Angeles suburb in August.
Back in June, along with a crowd who'd gone to a local watering hole for the occasion, they thought they were auditioning for a reality show called "All-American Man."
"The only requirement was that you have a wife or significant other," recalled Troutman, who has been dating the same woman for two years.
"From the title and some of the things (the production staff) said, we thought it was going to be about climbing mountains and eating bugs," said Zurawski, a married father of two.
"Or some macho thing like that," said Russell, who has a wife and five kids.
Notified that they were among the chosen dozen, the stocky Zurawski and the taller, leaner Troutman and Russell all figured they'd been selected as typical examples of Midwestern manhood.
It wasn't until they'd been in California for four days, filling out psychological questionnaires and wondering why the producers were being so mysterious, that the bait-and-switch was revealed - on camera, naturally.
Not one of them says he thought seriously about fleeing, even after the group was told they'd be judged on their femininity by actress Morgan Fairchild, TV personality Debbie Matenopoulos and former NBA star John Salley.
"It's a quarter of a million dollars," Russell says again, emphasizing each word. "And I'm very competitive. I thought I had as good a shot at winning as anyone."
One of the first steps in the transformation was choosing a new name. Dave became Wynonna ("Yes, for Wynonna Judd"), Nathan chose Amber ("My girlfriend wears a lot of amber jewelry") and Rick adopted Chiquita ("I don't know, it's kinda different").
In three weeks of taping, scheduled to be shown in six weekly installments, they were coached in dressing, grooming and voice ("I actually developed kind of a Southern accent," reports Zurawski); sent to "model boot camp" to prepare for a shoot; and challenged to shop for a wedding dress, bake an apple pie from a recipe provided by their wife or girlfriend, and design their own evening dress for a pageant.
More accurately, some of them did some of those things. Others were eliminated before they ran the full gauntlet, but the Wisconsin trio - having signed the usual secrecy agreements- won't say if any of them grabbed the gold.
They will say they found the drag act a pain. Literally.
For Zurawski, it was those heels.
Russell - "I'm a very hairy guy" - felt like he was being flayed alive by the waxing.
"I broke out in hives," he says, with a laugh and maybe just a touch of manly pride.
Troutman loathed the glue-on nails: "It was like being Edward Scissorhands. Or having chopsticks glued to the ends of your fingers."
Perfectly understandable. But was there nothing they would miss from their lady days? Not one thing?
Two of the three react to this question as if it were either insulting or insane.
Russell: "You're kidding, right?"
Only Zurawski seems to have gotten in touch with his inner woman, however fleetingly.
"You know, women wear different fabrics than men - better fabrics, sometimes," he says thoughtfully. "They gave us these sweat suits - I don't know what they were made of."
"Velour," Troutman supplies helpfully.
"Whatever they were, they felt good," Zurawski says bravely.
But the velour was a small thing. A bigger one, he acknowledges, was walking in the shoes of "the overweight woman. To be crude, I was the fat, ugly girl."
"I love you, man," Russell interjects, mock-tearfully, but Zurawski is serious.
As Dave, he says, he's not movie-star material, but that has never bothered him. As Wynonna, the big and not so beautiful woman, it was different.
"It was contrived, granted," he says of the competition, "but I was aware that (in a group) I wasn't the first person to be spoken to. And it hurt my feelings a little, I'll be honest.
"Men focus on the superficial. I mean, I knew that. Everyone knows that.
"But now I know that in a different way.
"Does that make sense?" he asks.