February 23, 2007

When He Stopped Being Polite and Started Being Real

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Daze sits down with Evan Starkman ‘07, the Cornellian who has competed on two MTV reality series.

Daze: Why did you decide to be on a reality TV show, and why did you choose this one?
Evan Starkman: I don’t know. Well, I mean, I guess it wasn’t a dream of mine to be on a reality TV show. They had casting at Stella’s two years ago, in the basement of Stella’s, so everyone was going, so I thought, I’ll go too. That’s how it started, and then six months later the process ends. You get offered something, and I feel like, what twenty-odd-year old wouldn’t do it. You get your 15 minutes of fame, and that’s sort of like the American dream, right?
Daze: Some of the people have been on this show for years, so did you feel awkward going into it because they all kind of knew each other already?
E.S.: Going into it, I didn’t really know the setup of the show and stuff. And they don’t really tell you anything. It’s pretty exciting because every show I’ve done they bring you to an airport, and you have no idea where you’re going. They’re not like, “come to Australia or come to Brazil;” it’s like, “just come to the airport.”
It’s a pretty neat thing, and I didn’t really realize how sort of clique-y [it was] … I wasn’t really like a fan of the show and stuff, so I didn’t realize, you know, how close knit of a group it was.
So, I guess once I was there, it was a little more awkward because those people had sort of been living this weird lifestyle for so long.
Daze: So was the experience anything like you expected?
E.S.: It’s entirely different than what you expect. When you watch on TV, you’re like “oh it’s going to be one big party the whole time, and it’s going to be this insane experience.” But it’s a much more intense experience than I expected, for sure. Sort of socially, I mean. There’s so much that goes into the production, so it’s not one big party at all. It’s almost like a job.
Daze: That’s kind of a cool job, though.
E.S.: Yeah, I mean, I don’t want to paint a bad picture. I’m a kid who won the lottery, you know?
Daze: Do you think that they portrayed you accurately on the show?
E.S.: Yeah, I mean, reality TV is like a big joke. And when you’re on the other side of it, you’re in on the joke. So, when some kids get mad that they get portrayed wrong, it’s like no; there’s nothing scripted, there’s no funky editing.
I think it’s just that they can only use [a little] … like, they spend 24 hours a day filming. They probably have eight or 10 cameras filming 24 hours a day, so if you take that and condense it to 16 episodes or whatever, they’re really using like .0004 percent of the footage. So, they pick on a piece of your personality — maybe it’s one percent, maybe it’s 100 percent — and that’s your character. So, I mean, I feel good. I think it’s pretty accurate. I think most kids are pretty accurate. I think that some of the kids you see complaining … it’s more like you don’t really know who you are. That is who you are; you just don’t like to see it on TV.
Daze: So, is it awkward to know that people have seen you so close-up, since they do film you 24 hours a day?
E.S.: It is very awkward because part of production, it’s weird … like I said, what goes into casting is like 60 hours of interviews. They interview your family, your friends. Like, they have psychiatrists interview you, your family. So it’s like … they know everything about you. They know more than you do because obviously, like, everyone’s mom says ‘I love you, you’re special,’ but if a shrink asks them, they’re like ‘He’s afraid of his life and has all these complexes.’ So, they know a lot about you. And there’s this thing called the wall, where production, although they’re so intimately in your life — they’re in the bathrooms, they’re in the shower, they’re in the bedroom — they can’t ever talk to you. And you can talk to them, obviously, because they’re just standing there, but they can never [respond] … like, you could kick one of them in the shins, and he can’t say anything.
So it’s pretty weird to have people that know your background, know your personality so well and then watch you on a daily basis, and like, you know nothing … you don’t even know their first name. So, we come up with names for them. And it’s weird because at the end of the show, they take you into the room where it shows all the cameras that have been all over the house, and there are like 140 different screens and angles. And it’s weird because people know your habits … it’s one thing to be like oh they know you, they’ve seen you naked, or whatever, but it’s another thing to know that they know what sock you put on first.
This is how they study you. The people who run the show, they really study your personality. So it’s like, they know how you dress … they know your little quirks, what side of the bed you like to sleep on. It’s weird, for sure.
Daze: Do you get recognized around campus a lot for being on the show?
E.S.: Cornell is like a weird bubble, I feel like, in a lot of ways. I mean, we get statistics and stuff from MTV, and it’s like, when the show is airing, you become the most-recognized face in America between 18 and 35. So, if I go to the mall in Syracuse or something, it really gets out of control. I’m just always surprised by how many people say stuff, but at Cornell, it’s not the same reaction that I get around the rest of the country. People definitely come up and say hi, and stuff, but they know that I’m just trying to go to school, and I’m just a normal student.
So, they know, they kind of look and whisper, but they don’t ever say anything, you know? But you definitely pick up [on it] … like, one of the skills you acquire after the show is, like, you can walk into a room and within 30 seconds you know who knows and who doesn’t. Even though they don’t think you know, you can just feel it. You get so used to it because it’s everywhere, it’s in planes, airports, malls.
Daze: That’s crazy … I didn’t realize so many people watched the show.
E.S.: Well, not only does it average … I think they get 33 million viewers, but they replay it every day, like three times a day. So for young people, even if they don’t like the show, they put on MTV as background noise when they do their homework, and then it’s just on.
So, yeah, it’s really wild how many people say stuff. It’s bizarre. It is bizarre to think that I know that some people have gotten to go on tour with famous people because it’s like you’re more famous than they are for a very small period of time. It’s very weird. But then, once the show’s over, it’s like you’re a flash in the pan.
Daze: Yeah, but then people go back on the show.
E.S.: Right, right. Some people pursue it.
Daze: You’ve already been on the show a couple of times. Are you going to do it again or have you had enough?
E.S.: They filmed another show in October/November, and they asked me to come, and I said no because I’m trying to graduate. So, I don’t know. It’s a question we get a lot, and I have no control over it. I know very popular cast members that, like, beg to come back and don’t get invited back.
I don’t know how they come up with this list. Like, they just come up with this list, and they call you and ask what you are doing in three weeks, do you want to come to the airport?
Daze: That’s kind of neat to have that opportunity though.
E.S.: It is, but I think that, for me, I don’t want it to be my life and my job. And I do see that it affects your life pretty intensely for about a year, so it’s like, now that I’ve already sat one out, if I sit another one out, I should just go away, and I can get a job and grow up, you know. But at the same time, you do make some money when you’re out there, so it’s sort of like, as a young guy, if they’re like after you graduate, do you want to come, you’re like what else am I doing … move home or go to Africa, you know?
Daze: So, how are you using your face and name recognition, if at all, now that you’re off the show?
E.S.: I started a foundation, about a year and a half ago, called Branch Out. And then recently, because part of the after-effect of the show is that you get to travel the country and give speeches to colleges and do bar appearances, so you speak to a lot of people. So I’m starting a non-profit clothing line called Branch Out Clothing, branchoutclothing.com.
Basically, each of the shirts, the art represents a different global issue, from safe drinking water in Africa to educational disparities in America, and that’s the art. And then, the inside of the shirt has a code, and you go to the website, type in the code, and it shows you where fifty percent of the money has been donated. So it’s a pretty neat thing, and it should be launched next week, so we’ll see how it goes.
Daze: That’s a great idea. How did that come up, how did you decide to do that?
E.S.: There’s a lot that went into it. I’ve always sort of wanted to, I don’t know, be a philanthropist in some way, and I think that there’s something in our society that volunteering or like being positive in your community, whether locally or globally, is not cool. You know what I mean?
Volunteering seems sort of a like a pain in the ass. People do it because it’s good for their college application or it’s good on their resume, but it’s not like wow, I can just do something at Cornell, I can to something in Ithaca, I can do something in the state and I can do something in the world. So I was like, how can I get a message to a large audience, and I thought that fashion’s a cool way.
If we’re just making t-shirts that not only express a good message but also this shirt means something, it goes somewhere. The money is donated somewhere. We could make change in the world cool; that’s the idea … I feel lucky to have the opportunity to go to Syracuse University and give a speech to two or three thousand people. So, it’s like, if that many people listen to what you say, why not speak about youth empowerment and leadership, things like that.

Starkman can be seen on two seasons of MTV’s Real World/Road Rules Challenge, Fresh Meat and The Duel. His non-profit clothing line can be found out at branchoutclothing.com.