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Reality Check: The New York Reality TV School has been featured in dozens of television shows and publications. But how real is it, after all?
"I'M JUST HERE TO GIVE BACK TO THE COMMUNITY," says my seat neighbor at class No. 1. He is Billy Garcia, a former contestant on "Survivor: Cook Island," which aired two years ago. (Lest anyone forget this fact, he wears a doo-rag emblazoned with the "Survivor: Cook Island" logo at all times.) Garcia, a blimp of a man with a goatee and a T-shirt bedizened with elaborate skulls, is part of a collection of reality castoffs and casting directors who field questions at the end of each seminar. Galinsky's panel participants get paid solely in adulation, but Garcia says he is well-compensated for his other appearances. He attends conventions, corresponds with fans and brokers sponsorship deals -- all of which amounts to a little more than doing nothing . . . but not by much. Since the show aired, he says, he's been able to support himself solely on his celebrity, even though he was eliminated in the season's second episode. "But those first two episodes," he says, "they were really all about me."
Other notables who are there for the Q and A, or "press conference," as Galinsky insists on calling it, are George Weisgerber, a.k.a. Tailor Made, the winner of VH1's "I Love New York" show last year, and Suzanne Siegel, who a few weeks after this class would be announced as the winner of another VH1 effort, "I Want To Work For Diddy." Bendersky was also present -- he remains Galinsky's star pupil. (The runner-up would probably be Jonathan Fable, a construction worker who took the class and then joined a winning team on "Hole in the Wall," a Fox show where contestants in unitards try to figure out how to fit through holes in a moving yellow wall. Really.)
Class is filled with others who seem to share that drive to be successful with minimal exertion. Next to Garcia is Crystal Marcelle, 23, a home health aide who tells me that she is there to learn how to create a reality TV show about herself. "It'd be called 'Everyone Loves Kiesha,' and it'd be about me going around the country and all the men who want to be with me," she says, explaining that she'd be Kiesha, because that's a more glamorous name than Crystal.
"So what would you do on the show," I ask. "Um, nothing?" she says. "Just be myself?"
Next to her is Tommy Lyons, a small, bristly 40-year-old taxicab dispatcher with a thick New York accent, who tells me he's come to better his chances of getting on "Big Brother" -- he's applied to be on it every season since it first aired. "I think I'd be good on it. I have mood swings that I think would be entertaining," he says. But, like Crystal, he would ultimately like to have a show about himself. "It'd be about me and all the people I interact with -- my friends, my family, my co-workers, and all the crazy things that happen in my life." When asked to elaborate in front of the class, he recounts the time that he went over to talk to an attractive woman at a bar and then realized it was a guy.
CLASS BEGINS WITH MINI-LECTURES from Bendersky, Galinsky and Risa Tanania, a casting director who has worked on "Cash Cab" and "Wife Swap." They all give us a few tips on drawing a producer's attention. Bendersky, who intones several times that "coming in third on the first season of the first reality competition ever aired on Animal Planet makes me reality royalty," hands out a tip sheet featuring a cartoon of a shirtless man blow-drying a dog, tight jeans open at the waist. Galinsky, he says, taught him to "find confidence and pull it out when it's most needed -- like when you are stuck with people you don't like, with one bathroom and no TV."
Tanania then preaches the pitfall of being unspecific about yourself.
"If you say, 'I want to be on this show because I'm interesting,' that is the most boring thing. It's a turnoff," she says. "If you say, 'I'm here to piss off my parents,' that's real. That draws me in."
They all warn us to never, ever say we are actors. SAG cards should be used purely for tooth-picking. "If I wanted an actor, I'd hire one," says Tanania. This line gets a big laugh.