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IMAGE: Jennifer C
NBC
Did reality TV ruin Jennifer Crisafulli's life? She should have listened to Bill and Carolyn.
By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 10/22/2004 2:49:01 PM ET 2004-10-22T18:49:01
COMMENTARY

It has finally happened. Being on a reality TV show has ruined somebody's real life. Jennifer Crisafulli, a.k.a. Jennifer C., lost her regular job as a Manhattan real estate agent the day after she was fired on "The Apprentice," and all over something she said on the show.

After losing the running a restaurant competition, Ms. C. was seen blaming her loss on bad reviews from "two old, Jewish fat ladies ... the pinnacle of the New York jaded old bags." Donald Trump gave her the famous dismissive hand gesture a few minutes later, and Jennifer C. returned to her day job selling and leasing big-ticket office space for New York's Prudential Douglas Elliman. But when her bosses saw the scene on TV, they decided she had become a liability for the firm. Apparently, "old, Jewish fat ladies" and other "New York jaded old bags" of various backgrounds are an important part of their client base.

They didn't actually say "you're fired" in so many words (maybe something about violating Trump's trademark on the phrase), but they did relieve her of her property listings, essentially making it impossible for her to actually make money on her commission-based job.

Interestingly, the media got word of her real-life job loss before she did. While Crisafulli was doing the rounds of day after the firing talk shows, a writer for Crisafulli's hometown paper, the Albany Times Union, called her office and was told "We do not intend to have an individual in our organization who subscribes to this point of view."

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Winning Immunity?
But what is most surprising about this turn of events isn't that it happened, but that it didn't happen many times before. Ever since Richard Hatch won the first "Survivor" competition by being manipulative, obnoxious and underdressed, then used his infamy to build his business consultancy (teaching others to be manipulative while keeping their clothes on), we haven't really seen anybody's career suffer because of their reality-TV behavior.

Before Crisafulli, perhaps the biggest trouble a reality-TV contestant got into with his/her employer was when firefighter Eric Ouellette traded several weeks of work shifts with others in the small Poquonnock Bridge Fire Department to appear on the third season of "Big Brother," and still overstayed his time in the house. Ouellette was suspended from his job for two weeks, which wasn't that bad, giving him time to rest up before working double-time for the next month. And having his fan club show up at the disciplinary hearing didn't hurt him any.

Not that there haven't been other kinds of repercussions. Couples brought together by Matchmaking shows rarely stay together (familiar factoid: the only "Bachelor" match-up that resulted in a marriage was when the "Bachelorette" selected her match).

And team efforts like "The Amazing Race" can be real relationship-testers. Yet arguably the series' most famous fighting couple, Season two's Tara and Wil, had actually separated weeks after they were married, never bothered to divorce, and were accidentally reunited years later while trying out for the show. From the outset, they weren't going to stay together after the "Race" was over.

Season five's Alison and Donnie, a relationship previously tested by Alison's flirtations on "Big Brother" a year earlier, didn't last long enough in the game to make much difference. They actually broke up months later, apparently after Alison ran out of reality shows to keep her distracted.

And nobody to date has ended up permanently injured from an accident on an American reality show, which is not surprising when you catch a glimpse of the 'safeguards' on the most dare-devil-oriented show, "Fear Factor."

Whenever a stunt involves a risk of falling, the player is attached to more wires than a "Team America" puppet. And what about the most famous accident on "Survivor", when Mike Skupin received severe burns falling into the tribe's campfire? Well, Skupin was already a successful salesman, motivational speaker and Christian software developer. He not only recovered fully, but his personal Web site now sports a logo of a stick-figure man surrounded by flames. Forget the lemons and lemonade; when life burns you, set yourself on fire!

Many reality-TV contestants have tried to extend their 15 minutes of TV fame, most with little success, but it's no tragedy that "Big Brother's" self-proclaimed Evil Doctor Will Kirby can't sell his own reality show ideas to the networks (as he demonstrated on Bravo's "Reality of Reality" miniseries). There have been enough success stories to keep the TV-star wannabes encouraged, although I'm not ready to declare that becoming the announcer for Tony Danza's talk show (Ereka from "The Apprentice") is a big break. It's show business, and there's no business like show business.

Blame the editors
From the early days of reality TV, one perfect excuse has been available to the contestants who looked bad on the air: "I'm not really bad; I was just edited that way." And Jennifer Crisafulli may have a stronger basis for that claim than most.

After her on-air firing, she told reporters that one of her teammates took her to task for her comments, and she explained that she really meant no offense, and despite her Italian-sounding surname, her family was part Jewish. If true, that scene was left on "Apprentice's" cutting-room floor.

Most of the people who really know somebody on a reality show have probably seen them act the way they do on TV; just probably not as frequently (real life has fewer commercials). But in the case of the loose working relationship between real-estate agents and their managers, it's actually quite likely her bosses hadn't ever heard her talk like that. Come to think of it, there's no business like real-estate business, either.

Still, in the long run Crisafulli will probably get another good job just because of her notoriety. After all, how much money has "Apprentice's" designated Evil Diva Omarosa made in the last few months by just being Omarosa?

Meet the new boss
But Fox has a new show debuting right after "Arrested Development's" Nov. 7 season premiere that may change things.

In the dishonorable reality hoax tradition of "Joe Millionaire" and "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance," the show "My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss" (secretly filmed over the summer) will feature real Apprentice-type contestants trying to please a fake CEO played by an actor as the boss from Hell." One who instead of saying "You're fired", yells "Get the hell out of my office!"

The first day after that debut will definitely be the Worst Monday Ever for the CEO-wannabes who fell for the hoax. The first words they will all hear upon entering their offices will be "And you took time off to do THAT?"

And if Jennifer C. is still job hunting, she might find some new job openings.

Wendell Wittler is the online alias of a writer from Southern California.

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