"Marin's TV Bachelor Disputes Portrayal"

by Rick Polito, Marin Independent Journal, 17 January 2003

Spotted on Fourth Street in downtown San Rafael, Russell Woods confesses to his notoriety in a flash of white teeth and precisely trimmed hair. "Yes," he is "Russ" from "The Bachelorette," ABC's Wednesday night reality hit.

But not really.

The "Russ" the two women scurried across the street from their bank jobs to see is not the man standing before them, he explains. ABC's show about 25 men competing for the affections of a stunning blonde physical therapist may come with a "Reality TV" tag, but Woods insists the reality he remembers is not what the women saw on screen.

"I'm really, actually, a nice guy," he says.

Woods, a 30-year-old fourth-generation San Rafael native, is experiencing a brand of post-millennium celeb-rity peculiar to a small-but-growing population of reality TV veterans. In the space of 40 minutes at the corner of Fourth and A streets, he is recognized five times.

But it's not Russell Woods the passers-by, all women, see, says Woods. It's a "character."

"You're a character on the show," Woods says. "They break you down into characters."

Hours of footage are whittled down to out-of-context sound bites and the surviving suitors are molded into personality pigeonholes, he says.

In Wednesday night's show, Woods was portrayed as the lady-killer with an edge, an aggressive romantic with Trista Rehn in his sights.

photo: Marin I.J. / Drew Meadows
Russell Woods, cast member of 'The Bachelorette,' is recognized as he walks along Fourth Street in San Rafael. Jennifer Adams (center) and Florette Eugene work at Bank of Marin and are fans of the show.

"They put him off as kind of cocky," chirps Florette Eugene, one of the Bank of Marin tellers who came across the street to confirm their celebrity sighting.

It isn't the sort of fame Woods was expecting when he stumbled into the world of reality TV.

Until the technology downturn, Woods was the vice president of a software company in San Jose. He'd never been on camera, not so much as a school play. But while traveling as a consultant after his company went under, a former co-worker sent Woods' name in to ABC during the search for "The Bachelor."

Woods wasn't chosen. But he was one of three finalists. He went back to his current project, a book about his travels and his thoughts on the search for love.

ABC kept his name.

When the tables were turned and "The Bachelorette" put "Bachelor" runner-up Rehn in the catbird seat, Woods was on the short list of suitors. He'd seen Rehn on the first show, and thought she was beautiful.

"I thought she'd be somebody I'd be interested in dating," Woods says.

After surviving an "intense background check" and the first cut — at the end of each episode, Rehn gives roses to the men she wants to remain in her stud-stacked dating pool — Woods found himself sequestered in spacious Southern California digs with 15 other men.

He won't say a word about future episodes. He's still on the show at least through next week's episode and the 17-page contract he signed ensures his silence.

But he will say he had fun — even if he "wasn't too pleased" with his portrayal in Wednesday's show.

Woods' sister, Judy W. Tuatagaloa of San Rafael, thinks her brother is coping well with his twisted Hollywood reflection.

"Is it him? Maybe not. It's the way they want you to see him," Tuatagaloa says. "It's more of a comedy. We just think it's funny."

Outside the Starbucks at Fourth and A, Woods is still in spin mode. The two women from Bank of Marin are quizzing him about the charm bracelet he gave Rehn in the first episode. On the show, his gift looked like a slick move from a smooth operator.

But not really.

"Here's the story behind that ...," he begins.

Question: Is it really that hard for you to get a date?

Woods: It's not that difficult to get a date. It's difficult to find the right person to date.

Q: What's real about reality TV?

Woods: It's very hard to be real on one of these shows because of the cameras and all the things that are going on. What's real about it in this situation is the emotions and what's being said. They can only play what we give them. It is what we are thinking in the moment. That is real. How it gets shown on TV and edited is a different story.

Q: What do we not see?

Woods: There is only so much they can show in a one-hour episode and there are hours and hours and hours of footage. What you miss out on as viewers is a lot of the camaraderie and a lot of the relationships that are building.

Q: What was your favorite reality show before "The Bachelorette"?

Woods: I think the only reality show that I ever watched was the first "Survivor." That was it.

Q: What was the selection process like?

Woods: It was the most intense process I've ever been through, harder than any job interview or anything. There were background checks including high school, college, work, financial; checking your W-2s to make sure you don't have any kids; contacting high school friends, college friends, co-workers, even the chairman of my last company; blood tests, drug tests. They make sure you're clean all the way around, squeaky clean.

Q: What advice would you give contestants on "Bachelorette 2"?

Woods: Just be real and have fun with it. That's what it's all about. If you're real and you're having fun and there's a relationship that's going to blossom between you and whoever the girl is, it will happen. Let it happen. Have fun.

Q: What reality show are you going to be on next?

Woods: Hopefully, the next show that I'm on will be something where I can actually promote my book. I'm done with the reality business.

Q: What's the worst thing you've read or heard said about you?

Woods: They tell us not to really read or listen to all that stuff. We get 20 million viewers so there will be 10 million who hate me and 10 million who like me, so you just have to keep that in check. My friends keep me grounded by giving me a hard time about it every single day. Every time they watch the show I get 20-30 phone calls from friends across the country. I don't care what people who don't know me say. It's the people who know me and what they say (that counts). And they're all having fun with it — so am I.

©2003 Marin Independent Journal

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