By Norma Meyer
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
October 4, 2002
WEST HOLLYWOOD – Mike "Boogie" Malin of "Big Brother 2" gives an understanding hug to girlfriend Chiara Berti of "Big Brother 3," at Belly, the cocktail lounge he co-owns and where Gabriel Cade of "Survivor 4" is a bartender.
Seems like you already know the patrons knocking back drinks. Castaways and cast-offs from "Survivor," "Big Brother," "Temptation Island," "Real World" and "Road Rules" regularly come here, sometimes to fixate on a big-screen TV flickering their reality shows or "Fear Factor" and "Dog Eat Dog."
"Belly is like the reality halfway house," says Mike, who was evicted from the "Big Brother" abode in August 2001 after 33 days. "People have high expectations after they get off a show that they're going to have a Hollywood career. But the opportunities aren't there. They come to discuss how to parlay their 15 minutes of fame or they come to drown their sorrows because they're only going to get their 15 minutes of fame."
He's the resident reality shrink. "Right now, I'm trying to help Chiara through it. I know what it's like to go from a nobody to a quasi-celebrity."
On this night at Belly, there's a "BB3" finale party, and most of those back-stabbing booted houseguests are breathlessly babbling about agents and deals and taking Tinseltown by storm.
No matter what the CBS show wants you to think, these exhibitionists have had head shots and acting resumes in their drawers for years. (For example: Josh Feinberg, "the waiter from Long Island," is really an aspiring L.A. actor who did extra work on "Ali" while waiting tables at the Dodger Stadium restaurant. Before "BB2" made him famous, Mike had a credit on the TV series "Jack & Jill.")
"I have a deal on the table for a lifestyle, travel and fashion show," enthuses Marcellas Reynolds, just hours after "BB3" wrapped.
Although some ex-reality stars have landed cable TV or local DJ jobs, the reality is few reality players make it big. Colleen Haskell of the original "Survivor" somehow snagged a co-starring role in the Rob Schneider comedy, "The Animal." And Will Kirby, the boyishly cute Miami doctor who won the half-mil on "BB2" a year ago, is the host of NBC's upcoming reality show "Love Shack."
But Will had less luck selling a fraternity reality show he conceived or a medical thriller screenplay co-written with Mike. The bonded "BB2" buds, though, will soon open an Italian restaurant-bar in the chic Melrose area. And Will also has plans for an L.A. medical clinic, which will focus on his favorite cause: making men look and feel good.
"We'll be doing a lot of Botox, a lot of Viagra, a lot of Propecia," he says.
Suddenly, a bubbly blonde at Belly – which is designed to look like "the inside of a genie's bottle" – leans over and kisses Will's cheek. "That's Jennifer from 'Love Shack,' " he explains.
He identifies with this contestant on his dating game. "Reality TV is a pathetic attempt to get your life validated by strangers. You wouldn't go on a show unless you have mental problems."
Who would've thunk it? "I love attention," he gleefully says.
This accounts for the Post-Traumatic Reality Show Stress Syndrome. Millions of flies on the wall have been watching you for weeks; for "Big Brother," there's also a 24-hour Web feed. There are Internet fan club shrines in your honor, and mountains of lovesick mail: Will even got half-naked photos from a 76-year-old woman.
Strangers hug you at airports and stop you on the street for autographs because it's not as if you're a bona fide celebrity and off-limits. Chiara was mobbed outside a Hollywood supermarket, while Charlize Theron strolled by unaccosted.
The TV experience and aftermath is so weird, Chiara says, she can only relate to former prisoners of the "BB" house, which is what attracted her to Mike.
"I have my good days and my bad days," she admits. With no Hollywood bites, she may return to her real job in marketing.
Sean Rector of "Survivor 4" – an aspiring actor who appeared on "Roswell" before joining the tribe – can commiserate. He's back to teaching middle school in South Central Los Angeles.
"Most reality stars are broke celebrities," he says.
So reality bites. But don't tell that to the latest flood of fame-seekers, like Roddy Mancuso, a "writer from Morristown, N.J." according to "BB3." Roddy was actually a struggling screenwriter living in L.A. for the last two years. Before going on the show, he sold a script for an indie psychological thriller and now he plans to star in it.
Roddy is outside Belly, rattling on about this and an offer to pose in a hunky-guy calendar, when Monica Bailey, who was banished from the "BB2" house a year ago, sashays by. From the sidewalk, a male fan shouts, "Monica, you look gorgeous!"
The one-time candy store manager flashes an Oscar-worthy smile. So far, Monica has done health-and-fitness spots for a New York TV station and voice-overs for a PBS special. But the scheming houseguest who ate only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for days on end wants most to do a one-woman play about her life.
"They say 15 minutes. I say 15 years," she confidently says. Then, she saunters up to the bar at Belly – for a reality check.