Keepin' It real in Reality TV school

Would you like to suffer sleep deprivation, live with unstable people and be publicly humiliated in front of millions on national television?

Me neither. But for those who do, now there's the The New York Reality TV School. No, it's not a weekly broadcast about a New York public school (though that's a good idea. And by good I mean depraved and horrible).
The school -- reportedly the first of its kind -- was founded in a moment of true American entrepreneurial chutzpah. In 2008 executive coach Robert Galinsky realized that the same skills needed for corporate success -- communication, leadership, team-building and a willingness to endure massive amounts of crap -- also applied to reality TV. As such, Galinsky's students tend to fall in one of two categories: professionals trying to expand their careers,and regular people who just want to be famous for being famous.

Among the professionals are clothing designer Angel Chang, who used the class to secure a spot on Bravo's The Fashion Show, and pet groomer Jorge Bendersky, who is now teacher's pet due to his third place win on Animal Planet's Groomer Has It. Bendersky reports that his increased profile has allowed him to thrive in a down economy: "I went in a with a big mouth and came out with a big voice."

In the regular people category is Brook Daly, a 40-year-old X-ray technician who watched guys like himself on The Bachelorette and thought, "Why not me?" (My answer: Because being paid to go on dates is technically prostitution.) Daly signed up for the training and was pleasantly surprised: "I thought it would be how to become a circus freak on television."

Instead, for a two and a half hour seminar ($179) or a five-week workshop ($449), Galinsky prepares students for the freaky circus of having up to a dozen cameras follow their every movement, bowels included. Exercises include the "emotional perp walk," where hopefuls learn to maintain composure while being verbally assaulted by the class. At the school's LA retreat, Daly and others were sequestered and slept together on air mattresses in order to replicate the claustrophobic living conditions of most reality shows. If the school doesn't work out as a business, Galinsky could start a religious cult.

But the effort seems to be paying off: Daly received his first callback for The Bachelorette.

Galinsky's primary goal is to get students to "look down vertically into themselves and see what makes them tick; to be honest with themselves." For instance, Galinsky had one student come into a seminar railing about how "he was going to rip his parents a new one on The Real World." But, after the emotional scrutiny of the class, not only did he decide he didn't want to do that on national television, he admitted he doesn't hate his parents.

Galinsky's honesty extends to students' financial dreams. "If your talent is showing your six-pack, drinking and picking up girls," Galinsky says, "there aren't many opportunities to capitalize on that." For every Lauren Conrad who's turned shopping into a career with the inevitable fashion line, there are scores of others who achieve what Galinsky calls "15 blocks of fame," meaning they're famous in the15 blocks around their house.

For lessons on leveraging notoriety, Galinsky hired Billy Garcia. Despite the humiliation of being the second castaway voted off of Survivor: Cook Islands (a unanimous vote for being lazy and possibly delusional), Garcia has cashed in on his memorable look and personality and become a full-time professional celebrity. In addition to emceeing public events, Garcia signs autographs for $20 a pop at celebrity conventions, where he claims to earn $1,700 "on a bad weekend." Then again, maybe he's still delusional.

Still, talking to him and the others, I was struck by their focus and how effectively they communicate their personalities in sound bites. "Everything you say and do is representative of your brand," Galinsky says.

I also found myself thinking about my career as a professional smartypants and asking whether I was doing everything I could to advance myself in our short-attention-span age. But after five minutes I gave up. Because I couldn't figure out which depressed me more: that our culture rewards people who just want to be famous for being famous, or that I haven't figured out how to cash in.

But for those of you who have, now there's a school. And, in a moment of true American entrepreneurial chutzpah, Galinsky promises a 25% discount on tuition to anyone who mentions this article.

And that, my friends, is The Upside.
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