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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?
We circle up and introduce ourselves. Maria de Jesus Castellon, 23, a voluptuous Nicaraguan actress -- er, waitress -- is there because she thought the class could help her with auditioning; agents have frequently told her that she needs to bring more of herself to castings. "I've always loved to hate reality TV," she says, "but I have an open mind."
Standing next to Maria is Lobke Huijs, a soft-spoken and sweet 13-year-old whose parents drove her in from Connecticut after seeing Galinsky on "The View." When asked to describe herself, Lobke cloaks herself in the familiar teenage banner of being, you know, different. "I'm pretty crazy," she says. But, besides her penchant for neon colors and combat boots, she seems rather average, if not borderline shy. Deborah DiFronzo, a blond middle-aged packaging designer, enrolled because she's looking for work and thought the class could help her think on her feet during interviews. "I've been trying to try something new every week or two, so I thought I'd give it a shot," she tells me.
La'Verne Perry-Kennedy, a sassy fifty-something who was once a vice president at Sony Urban, says that she came because she was the co-star of a soon-to-air Internet fashion commentary program, and is hoping to get tips that would help her on the show.
La'Verne is my partner in our next activity. We have to walk together in front of our classmates while they harangue us from both sides. This is what Galinsky calls the "gantlet of shame." It is supposed to simulate some of the tenser moments that the producers-cum-puppet-masters create for contestants on a typical reality show. "Step into your fear! See what you discover!" says Galinsky. Thing is, it can be hard to come up with really hurtful ways to insult someone you've only just met. So Galinsky feeds us reasons to dislike one another. "Pretend she just threw your mother under a car!" he says. I can't say I've seen anyone commit this particular offense on "Top Model," but no matter. A chorus erupts: "I hate you! You suck! You're awful!" La'Verne and I stifle smiles as we do our perp walk, but Galinsky tells us to try harder to really feel the emotions. "This is how you build up emotional immunity," he says.
Robert Russell then asks a handful of us to give an idea for a new reality show. I suggest a show that a friend of mine thought of: A "Biggest Loser" reversal, it would be called "Big House," and people would gorge themselves with food to try to see who can put on the most weight. I'm faced with a room of blank stares. Tough crowd. For the next activity, Galinsky's younger brother, Philip Galinsky, stands in front of the class donning a mustache, a yellow polo shirt, a polka-dotted apron and oven mitts. He darts around the room like an evil cartoon character, inviting students to say why they want to be on reality TV. The best contestant will win his silver spatula! "You're either hot or your not -- and if you're not, you're flipped!" he shrieks. Galinsky the senior refers to this activity as "On The Grill With Phil." He created this part for his brother because, "I felt like there needed to be some kind of hyperactive quasi-casting session," he tells me. "Something in the school has to be mean in order to convey the idea of 'I don't care about you.' "
When she's called up, Jayme Girard, a spandex-clad 22-year-old from Boston, says she'd be a good participant on "The Real World" because she's willing do anything that anyone asks her to do. Someone suggests she take off her shirt, so she does -- but she's wearing a tank top underneath, so it isn't that exciting.
After class, however, Jayme admits to me that she's not just your average student: She's actually there with a Canadian TV crew that's doing a show about people who want to be on reality TV shows. They're featuring her -- and flew her in to take the class -- because she has auditioned (unsuccessfully) for more than 20 reality shows. Was it fame that she wanted?
"Yeah," she says, "But that's not all of it. That's not really it. I don't know what it is." I suggest she take Tanania's advice and try to be specific. "I have no filter whatsoever. I'm honest. I can be crazy. I can be a bitch if I need to be, or I can be a sweetheart, I can be loyal, and I just really love reality TV! It's what I've always wanted!" she says.
"So how does it feel to have gotten your dream?" I ask. She looks confused; I gesture to the crew training their cameras on her.
"Oh, that doesn't really count," she says. "It's just Canada."
THE SCHOOL'S WEB SITE promised that, in the subsequent weeks, we'd make an audition tape that would then be critiqued by casting guru Russell and collie guru Bendersky.