Reality-TV Porn

When their reality-TV star fades, some male contestants turn to gay porn

Snooki. Kardashian. Bethenny. The Situation. Television cameras have turned these once-nobodies—and, many would say, no-talents—into brand names. We drink the Skinnygirl Margarita, promoted by Bethenny Frankel (of The Real Housewives of New York City). We work out to several of their DVDs. Rutgers University group paid Snooki $32,000 for a speaking engagement. What attracts us to these foul-mouthed, over-sexed, orange-tanned misfits isn’t just their (staged) oversize personalities. It’s that each week they expose their personas for our titillation.

Sex included. When we snicker to Jersey Shoremembers frolicking in a hot tub or ogle lesbians performing oral sex on Showtime’s The Real L Word, reality television intersects with pornography. But it’s not just the actual sex: In both professions, actors (and reality stars are, above all, performers) bare it all—in every sense. These shows even resemble the low-end production values of their porn counterparts. Recent years have seen a cross-pollination between reality and porn personalities. Although there are several examples of women and straight men, nowhere is this more apparent than in the much smaller (but, for men, far more lucrative) world of gay porn.

Today, it seems almost quaint to imagine a time when reality stars’ porn past could radically alter their personal lives. Mikey Verdugo, who competed on the HGTV design competition series Design Star in 2008, was fired from his 10-year job as a police officer when his porn past came out due to his exposure on the show. “If I had gone to my police department that day and said, ‘I did this for fun, and I never got paid for it,’ I would still be there,” Verdugo told the Voice. “But I went in and said I got paid for it, and they used that as ‘OK, it was a job you didn’t list so you lied on your application,’ so that was their route for getting me fired.”

Flash-forward three years. In our current post-Tiger, -Elliott, -Arnold, -John (Edwards), -Weiner era, when the phrase “hiking the Appalachian Trail” refers to a conservative Southern governor’s affair with a sexy Argentinian, and two world bankers stand accused of forcing themselves on hotel chambermaids, the real world has made reality stars’ peccadillos seem tame. Recently, Dustin Zito, 24, a cast member on The Real World: Las Vegas, was revealed to have done gay-for-pay porn. He was 19 at the time and—like all gay-for-pay actors—did it solely for the money. “Whenever I close my eyes to think about a lot things, I think about girls,” he tells the Voice. “It happens every time.” The term “gay-for-pay” explains straight men who perform in gay porn movies. Such guys, often down-at-their-heels bodybuilders, have been a staple of the industry since the 1980s.

Zito’s coming out as a gay-for-pay porn actor was no surprise to the producers of the The Real World. It actually became part of an overall plan to use the revelation as one of the show’s story arcs. Real World co-creator and executive producer Jon Murray tells the Voice that he was aware of Zito’s intentions from the first interview. “We are very thorough in our casting,” Murray says. “Each person that comes on The Real World undergoes multiple interviews. We talk to their family and friends, and we talk to people they don’t know we’re going to talk to. We do a criminal background check and they talk to a psychologist so we have a pretty good sense of people. We don’t expect to have perfect people. Quite honestly, flawed people are more interesting than perfect people, but we want them to be honest about who they are.” In other words, a criminal past? A no-no. But porn? No problem.

It was only an unexpected romance with a female housemate that threw Zito off the original plan of when to reveal his big secret. “We had no idea that he would run into that situation of liking Heather [Zito’s roommate] and not knowing when he’d be comfortable telling her,” Murray recalls. “Then, of course, worst-case scenario, she’d find out from her mother before he got comfortable telling her.” The plot played out over the just-completed season.

More and more reality stars are attempting to cash in on their fame by doing porn. During the summer 2008 season of Big Brother, Steven Daigle was cast as “Gay Cowboy Steven.” Handsome and well-built, he might have lost the competition, but his post-reality-show career began at the wrap party where he met legendary gay porn director/producer Chi Chi LaRue, a big fan of the show. “I was star-struck to meet her,” Daigle tells the Voice. “And she was star-struck to meet me. We clicked instantly and became friends and, over the course of the year, we stayed friends.”

The larger-than-life drag queen directed Daigle’s first porn feature, XXXposed, and used Daigle’s reality-TV experience to hype the film, with “Reality Star to Porn Star” and “From TV’s Big Brother” prominent on the cover box. Daigle wanted to do porn for the same reason he did a reality-TV show: “He definitely, definitely likes the attention,” LaRue says. In fact, Daigle is clearly a bigger name now in the world of pornography than he ever was on TV.

Porn is actually a lot less murky than reality TV about what makes a person famous, according to Jenn Pozner, author of Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV. “There are people who go onto reality shows because they think this is their big break and they’re going to have a career based on this,” she says. “They see Snooki or folks who go from one reality show to another. But those are the very few people who actually make a legitimate career.” In porn, actors may have a short shelf life—but everyone is labeled a “star.”

Now some reality shows, like Showtime’s Gigolos, have combined both demi-art forms by skirting the limits of softcore porn. On the second season premiere of The Real L Word, also on Showtime, one woman goes down an another to climax. Cast member Whitney Mixter justifies her participation as more educational than prurient. “I’m a consenting adult with another consenting adult,” she tells the Voice. “So I’m definitely not ashamed or embarrassed, and hopefully it can be a learning experience for someone.”

Whatever. As inevitably happens on TV, the bar continually gets lowered. Pozner cites the popular TLC series Toddlers and Tiaras as reaching the nadir. “You have five-year-olds running around in bikinis and doing Dallas Cowboy cheerleader–style dance/stripteases for the judges,” she notes. “That show is extremely influenced by kiddie porn even if they don’t intend it to be.”

Whether we’re seeing people bare all on reality television or pornography, the one common thread is that voyeuristic thrill we get watching other people act out—even if, as Daigle points out, both forms of entertainment are as staged and phony as a World Wrestling event. “It looks glamorous when you’re watching a porn scene, but when you’re actually doing it, it’s not at all,” he says. “I say the same thing about reality TV. I can’t watch reality TV without looking at every aspect and going, ‘That’s fake, that’s staged, that looks set up’ and you realize how much is not real. Same with porn.”

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4 comments
glenn
glenn

dustin has lied through his teeth regarding the extent of his gay interludes.....this boy has been in every sexual position imaginable with plenty of other guys.......and his enthusiasm was far too obvious to insist it was just for the cash......

Stevedumford
Stevedumford

Surely the writer of this article didn't mean to promote that rediculous idea of "gay for pay".......did he?? Gay sex solely for pay? Give me a break! The human mind doesn't work that way where it suddenly is sexually attracted to the same sex because someone waived a dollar bill in their face.

 
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