Get Real. Get Maine.

That’s a promotional slogan used by the state’s agriculture department to push local produce. But it could just as well be the mantra of reality TV producers all over Hollywood.

Mainers show up on major reality TV shows an awful lot, considering how small the state’s population is. It’s as if producers think Mainers are the right kind of ”real” people for optimum reality drama.

Since January, no fewer than five Mainers have played prominent roles on reality shows: Ashley Hebert of Madawaska on ABC’s ”The Bachelor” and ”The Bachelorette” (premiering Monday); Jessica Cunningham of Portland and Danielle Pease of Winthrop on Fox’s ”American Idol”; Adam Royer of Falmouth on MTV’s ”The Real World”; and Ashley Underwood of Benton on CBS’s ”Survivor.” (None of them won, and Royer was kicked off ”The Real World, ” which doesn’t award a prize.)

Is there something in the water that makes Mainers better suited for, and more enthusiastic about, reality shows than folks in other parts of the country?

”There’s an easy answer to that: We’re special people and we stand out, ” said Bob Crowley of South Portland, a retired high school physics teacher who won $1 million on ”Survivor” in 2008. ”We’re unique and hardy. The only people hardier are the Canadians who come down to go swimming in the warm water of Old Orchard Beach.”

Crowley is one of a half-dozen or more Mainers who had been part of reality TV shows before this year. They now have the benefit of time and distance to look back on their television adventures and reflect on how they unfolded, and what the experience has meant to them.

Here’s a look at what they’re doing now:


When 35-year-old lobster-boat captain Zoe Zanidakis of Monhegan became the first person from Maine on ”Survivor, ” in 2002, it was such a point of pride that she was honored with a ceremony in the Maine Legislature.

Zanidakis didn’t win ”Survivor, ” and didn’t make it to the finals. But the experience of æspending time on the South Pacific island Nuku Hiva whet her appetite to see the world.

And being on TV and recognized by fans rekindled her childhood dream to work in show business. So after ”Survivor, ” she worked for a commercial production company in Los Angeles and lived for a while in Australia.

For the past four years she’s been back in Los Angeles, where she hoped to ”pursue acting, ” but it hasn’t worked out. Instead, most of the time she’s working two jobs – as a barista in a coffee shop and on a landscaping crew.

But she has no plans to come back to Monhegan any time soon.

”I’m on my bike or my motorcycle most of the time, and that’s hard to do in Maine, ” said Zanidakis, speaking from Los Angeles last week. ”I had never really been off Monhegan very much before I was on the show.”

Zanidakis called her time on ”Survivor” a ”great experience” to see the world and try new things. When she sees all the Mainers like her who have been on reality shows, she can’t help but think there’s something in the Maine character that makes them appeal to producers.

”We’re rooted, we have strong personalities, and we don’t mind speaking out, ” she said.


Bob Crowley, a long-time physics teacher at Gorham High School, is Maine’s most successful reality contestant, having won the $1 million prize on ”Survivor” in December 2008.

Winning allowed him to retire early from teaching, in June 2009, at age 58. But he still lives in the same house in South Portland, and still does a little fishing with the same lobster boat he’s had for years.

But it’s not as if he hasn’t enjoyed both the money and celebrity status that came with winning ”Survivor.” He’s been able to travel the world with his wife, visiting Italy, Greece and Australia. He’s also traveled the country, appearing at fundraising events as ”Survivor Bob.”

Crowley has enjoyed the fundraising immensely, and loves the fact that his name helps raise money for good causes.

”That’s probably the thing I’m most proud of, and when I went on the show, I didn’t know the possibility of this was even on the table, ” said Crowley, 60. ”I’ve helped raise money for the American Red Cross, Make a Wish, for a breast cancer group in California. What happens usually is they call me up and say they’re having an event with a bunch of reality people.”

Crowley – who also worked as a wildlife handler, tree pruner and surveyor before being on ”Survivor” – has also started a consulting business to help people eradicate browntail moths.

And he’s got some land in Durham, which he owned before ”Survivor, ” where he plans to open a wilderness camp that would cater to, among others, disabled veterans.

Between all these tasks, Crowley still makes time to talk about ”Survivor” to anyone who asks. ”I was on vacation, and this woman said she told her kids not to bug me, ” he said. ”But I told her I love to talk about the show.”


Julie Berry is a Gorham native who was on ”Survivor” in 2004. She didn’t win, but she did become one of the most written-about contestants due to her romance with the shows’s host, Jeff Probst.

Berry, then 23, started dating Probst soon after the show’s season wrapped. They dated for three and a half years.

”There is immense love and respect that we have for each other, but we have both moved on, ” said Berry, 30, from Los Angeles, where she has lived since ”Survivor.”

After being on the show, Berry went on to get her master’s degree in psychology and now works as a marriage and family therapist.

Dealing with people’s problems confidentially is different from having your own emotions exposed on a TV show. Or your romance documented in tabloids.

”I’m a very private person, so as a therapist, I felt that (‘Survivor’) was part of my life that is in the past, that being a therapist is not about my life, ” said Berry.

”But now I am thinking more about ways I can use that experience in my work. My ideal job would be to work as the psychologist who travels with ‘Survivor’ and meets with all the contestants.”

Berry said she applied to ”Survivor” out of a sense of adventure. It worked, as she got to spend a month on a remote island in the South Pacific. She applied to the Peace Corps around the same time.

”In hindsight, there were no bad parts. It was such a one in a million experience, ” said Berry. ”Two or three of my best friends are people I met during the show.”


Alex Romanoff of Falmouth was in college at the University of New Hampshire when he started appearing on the bizarre MTV reality show ”Bromance” in late 2008.

The premise of the show – it only lasted one season – was that a bunch of young men would live in a house together in Hollywood and compete for a slot in the entourage of celebrity Brody Jenner, Bruce Jenner’s son.

”I think my personal motivation was the experience, getting to live in California for free, ” said Romanoff, now 24 and working in Portland. ”They cast me as a kid from the back woods of Maine, even though they knew I grew up in Falmouth.”

Like a lot of MTV reality shows, ”Bromance” showed the competing young men drinking in nightclubs and, well, acting like young men at nightclubs.

Romanoff said he didn’t really get to know Jenner, as he was only with the others to film most scenes, so the whole thing felt ”artificial.”

But he believes the experience helped him learn to ”know who I am and how to handle situations.” He didn’t win, but he remains in touch and friendly with several other young men who were on the show.

”They take the footage they shot and basically show the best and worst parts of your day, ” said Romanoff.

A musician, Romanoff also got to perform one of his original songs on the show. But being on ”Bromance” has its drawbacks to this day – like the fact that his employer does not want to be named in stories about Romanoff’s time on the show.


Winthrop native Kelly MacFarland makes it clear she has no regrets about sharing her battle with weight with the world on the NBC series ”The Biggest Loser” in 2004.

But she’s also quick to point out that she never thought it would air, and she’s constantly surprised by how many people know her from the show.

”The hardest part of reality TV is that it will follow you everywhere, ” said MacFarland, a stand-up comedian who lives in Boston. ”It’s really such a small piece of my life, and I’ve moved on. I’ve done some great stuff, been on Comedy Central, went overseas to entertain the troops.”

But a lot of people want to say, ”Remember back when you were on that show?”

MacFarland started performing as a comedian at Portland’s Comedy Connection in the late 1990s. She was firmly entrenched in that business when she got an opportunity, through a casting agent, to try out for what was then a pilot for a reality show about weight loss.

”I thought no one would ever pick this show up. That it would never air, ” said MacFarland, who is now in her late 30s.æ”To me, it was a great way to lose weight and get healthy. You get to live in Malibu, you get free trainers, and you can concentrate on losing the weight without working.”

MacFarland did not win. But she did lose 72 pounds and get in shape, although she says it’s a struggle for her to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The show became a hit, and in the process, helped her comedy career at least a little bit.

These days, MacFarland has two careers. She’s worked for Unum insurance for 13 years, and continues to work for that company as an account manager. She also continues to tour and perform comedy, and does motivational speaking engagements on behalf of the American Heart Association.

”I lost weight on TV, but there’s a real world out there, with partners, spouses, kids and other commitments, and it’s hard to find the extra time, ” said MacFarland.


When ”Timber” Tina Scheer was announced as a contestant on ”Survivor” in 2006, it seemed she’d be a natural to win.

The Wisconsin-born Maine resident had made a career out of competing in lumberjack sports – log rolling, wood chopping, sawing – and had successfully run an attraction in Trenton, near Bar Harbor, called the Great Maine Lumberjack Show.

But when the show aired, Scheer was the first person voted off.

She got to stay in Panama for a month while the rest of the contestants played on.

Even so, someone asks her about ”Survivor” almost every day. They want to know whether contestants are given food off camera (no) or if they’re given toilet paper (no).

So in that regard, Scheer accomplished what she set out to do by applying to ”Survivor.”

”When the producers asked me why I wanted to be on the show, I told them that I wanted to promote my business and lumberjack sports, ” said Scheer, now 50.

After her time in Panama, Scheer came back to run the Great Maine Lumberjack Show, now in its 16th year, with nightly shows from mid-June through the summer.

She also manages a traveling performance troupe called Lumberjills: Chics with Axes.

Scheer was supposed to go on ”Survivor” a season earlier, but days before her scheduled departure, her 16-year-old son, Charlie, was killed in a car crash.

On one episode of ”Survivor, ” she was seen spelling her son’s name in the sand on the beach.

”I feel like I have a healthy attitude about the show. You are whoever you are before you ever go on a show like that, ” she said.

”It was a game. Somebody wins, and somebody gets voted off first.”

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]