For a few crazy days, it was as if Tareq and Michaele Salahi were back on reality TV.
Michaele went missing, only to turn up on tour with a rock guitarist from Journey. Tareq filed for divorce, and claimed the rock star, Neal Schon, sent him humiliating raunchy photos. Schon’s ex cried foul. Tareq blamed his wife for their dog’s illness — then turned out Sunday in Hume, Va., to watch pieces of his family’s bankrupt winery go to auction.
But instead of on TV — “Real Housewives of D.C.” got canceled, remember? — these juicy episodes all played out in the world of online gossip. You don’t need to be on TV anymore to live a reality-show life — potentially, a lucrative one.
A New York Times investigation in May described how the round-the-clock gossip industry is flush with cash for anyone who can offer dish on a B-lister, including the B-listers themselves: Jon Gosselin, ex-reality star/father of eight, received at least $365,000 for interviews in 2009, the Times reported; and Michael Lohan, father of Lindsay, acknowledged to the paper that he’s taken money for talking about his family’s woes. Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag — whose feuds and breakups spilled out of the reality show “The Hills” and into the gossip world — last month renounced their villain personas in a Daily Beast interview and said their antics were just a big show to keep the checks rolling in.
A rep for the Salahis denied that the White House’s most famous uninvited guests are playing any such tricks here. TMZ — responsible for most of the recent Salahi micro-scoops — last week posted several videos shot by Tareq: One of his wife hugging Schon at a concert, another of her with ailing pooch Rio, just hours before she “vanished.” A TMZ videorazzi also got access to Tareq as he was being consoled by, of all people, Michael Lohan.
But the rep, Gina Rodriguez, said that Tareq has not been compensated by TMZ. (TMZ did not return an e-mail and call over the weekend.)
Still it’s clear that, whether they want it or not, the Salahis are back in a game that had passed them by. Dan McDermott, editor of the bi-monthly Warren County Report (circulation: 9,000), recalled the massive media stakeout of the couple’s Front Royal home after the White House incident in November 2009. “Camp Salahi,” he called it. Last week was the first time the media horde was back, he reported.
McDermott said he had an inkling that a new Salahi narrative might be developing. A week before Michaele ran away, he said, Tareq contacted him from a new, solo Facebook account, separate from the joint one operated by the couple. “They always do everything together, so my first thought was, they’re breaking up,” he said. Tareq tried to put him in touch with his lawyer, McDermott said, saying that they had a story “opportunity” of some kind. (McDermott didn’t follow up.) Rodriguez, though, maintains that “Tareq was unaware Michaele had left him until it was announced in the press.”
Question is, will this narrative take flight? RadarOnline, usually an aggressive competitor of TMZ on Salahi news, has mostly ignored the Runaway Michaele saga.
“There’s a healthy dose of skepticism,” said Managing Editor and Executive VP David Perel. “We found it to be a boring story.”
The drama continued at Oasis Winery on Sunday, where assets from the Salahi family property went on the auction block. A heavy-duty bottling machine went for $59,000, but entire cases of wine sold for a mere $5 to $15.
“That’s cheaper than Ripple,” the auctioneer sighed. (State law required wine bidders to have an ABC license.)
Tareq stood in the back of the crowd. He said he was hoping to buy back some equipment. Last month, he and his wife had hyped a gala reopening of the winery, scheduled for next week. Does Michaele’s departure change those plans?
“I can’t talk to the media about that,” he told us. “It’s under an embargo.”