Reality stars face true tribal council: 5,000 fans
By KEN BECK
Will 100 reality TV stars stand up to the challenge of wrestling 5,000 fans for two days in a Music City hotel?
Just call it Survivor: Nashville as the world's first Reality TV Convention shapes up for a two-day marathon with such events as autograph signing, hand shaking, camera-flash smiling and answer-the-same-question 100 times.
Joe Reality, aka Joe Blackmon, and Marc Ballard, organizers of the event, say approximately 100 stars of various reality TV shows are expected for the June 3-4 event at the Nashville Airport Marriott, and they anticipate 5,000 fans to attend.
"Fans will get the chance to meet the reality stars they have seen on TV, talk to them, get autographs and interact with them and other reality TV fans as well," says Brentwood's Blackmon, creator of the Web site www.realitytvmagazine.com
Players from such shows as The Apprentice, Amazing Race, American Idol, Big Brother, The Biggest Loser, Real World, The Real Gilligan's Island and Survivor have already signed on. (A partial listing of scheduled guests is at www.realitytvconvention.com
"So far 63 reality stars have agreed to come. About 25% of them are Tennessee residents: Tina Wesson, a Survivor winner; M.J. Garrett of Real World and The Gauntlet 2; several from The Biggest Loser; and Kimberly Caldwell and Jessica Sierra of American Idol," says Blackmon. "We've gotten a lot of early interest. A lot of reality TV fan clubs are planning to come. We're estimating in the neighborhood of 5,000 fans."
Ballard, who runs Comic City in Madison and has organized numerous comic book and horror film conventions, saw the idea of a reality TV convention as a chance to "do something that no one has ever done before." And with so many Tennesseans popping up on reality shows, Ballard thinks Nashville was a natural location.
"It just seems like every time you see a reality show, there's somebody from Tennessee on there. At first you think it's just a good ol' boy or girl, but half the time that person beats out the city slickers."
Nashvillian Maurice "Moe" Walker, who was a player on NBC's The Biggest Loser, thinks the time is ripe for such an event.
"If I'm not mistaken, this is the first time anything like this has been attempted. There's been Fan Fair (the CMA Music Festival) with country music. Now reality TV has just taken off. I look forward to meeting all of my fans out there," says Walker, a paralegal for the downtown law firm Higgins, Himmelberg and Piliponis.
Burton Roberts, a top five finisher in Survivor: Pearl Islands, is also enthusiastic. "Absolutely, this will draw a ton of fans. I believe it's going to be an excellent event. . . . In my case, Survivor was an amazing experience. The least I can do is talk with fans who love to hear more about behind the scenes."
Roberts has his own company in Los Angeles, Reality Trips, which offers fans adventure trips with reality stars.
Blackmon says his media venture began humbly. "I started out as just your average reality TV fan with an idea," he says. Today, his Web site draws nearly a million hits per month, he adds.
Blackmon's hobby hooked him up with stars and network executives, including Fox Reality, a charter sponsor of the event.
"We thought this would be a good thing to do," David Lyle, chief operating officer and general manager of Fox Reality, said from Los Angeles, adding that a crew from the cable channel would be in Nashville for the event.
"We have a daily show, Reality Remix, which covers the world of reality, and so this could be the biggest gathering of stars of reality since the genre began. We certainly need to be there. We think the reality genre is as healthy as it's ever been."
Fox Reality, which is dedicated to reality programming from all the major networks, goes into an estimated 18.5 million homes. •