Michael Binkow stands onstage in the event room at Valley View Casino wearing a headset, gray jeans, and a black zip-up jacket. A seven-piece band stands quietly at stage right while Binkow instructs the audience of 200 or so to clap and cheer according to his directions.
“You guys are doing a great job not looking at the cameras,” Binkow tells everyone.
He pauses to listen to the voice in his headphones. “You need a small clap?” he asks into the mouthpiece. He listens again, then turns his attention back to the audience.
“Okay, let’s do a small laugh, like I told a joke,” he says. “I’m going to tell this joke, and if you think it’s funny, laugh. If you don’t, pretend.”
The woman next to me laughs as if this is the joke. But it’s not. When Binkow does tell his joke, it’s lame. But the audience laughs as if it’s hilarious.
When the fake laughter dies down, Binkow mumbles something about not being good at anything except producing and doing chores around the house, which causes more fake laughter.
Tonight’s taping of local reality/talent show 3 Minutes to Stardom will air a week from tomorrow, and the fake cheering Binkow generates now will help with the editing process.
His next instruction is for us to boo the judges.
“For example,” he explains, “if someone you brought [here] sang, and you thought they were great, and the judges gave them, like, a five — what would you do?”
The three local music dignitaries who serve as the show’s judges aren’t even in the room yet, but there is an eruption of loud, angry booing.
“No, not that big,” Binkow shouts over the sound. “You wouldn’t do it that much.”
He changes tactics with barely a breath in between.
“Okay, if your birthday is before July, I want you to boo. If it isn’t, don’t. Okay, three, two…” He points to the audience to indicate that it’s now booing time.
My birthday is not before July, and, therefore, I don’t get to boo. Instead, I lean over and whisper to my friend that this whole thing is absurd and bizarre. Inside, I’m secretly hoping that our seats directly behind the judges’ table will get us lots of air time, and that a producer will notice the subtleties and nuances of my fake cheering and booing and offer me a guest spot on Law & Order, or (at the very least) the chance to sit in another studio audience.
It’s not that I’ve done anything grand or great or contributed much to the world
Picture this: on the lush, tropical island of St. Lucia, a woman in a gold floor-length strapless gown walks toward the man of her dreams. A camera close-up shows her smiling while a voice-over projects her narration into the living rooms of millions of viewers.
“I’m in love, and I’m happy, and I really trust Jake with my heart,” says the voice-over as we watch the woman approach the man wearing a blue suit and a crisp white shirt who stands waiting for her. “I really believe that he’ll get down on one knee and ask me to marry him.”
When she reaches him, they hug.
He tells her she looks beautiful.
Thirty seconds later, after a few unconvincing words about how much he loves her “positivity,” he says, “I do love you, and I don’t know what it is, but something just doesn’t feel right.”
The idea of such public humiliation sends my inner fame-monger back into hiding. But Encinitas resident Tenley Molzahn, the season 14 runner-up on The Bachelor, not only lived through the aforementioned embarrassment in front of 15 million viewers, she also went on to compete in another reality show a few months later.
Despite her on-camera good-girl persona, when I first speak with Molzahn on the phone, I expect hard edges and blatant narcissism. This might have something to do with the fact that our conversation has been arranged by a third party, who informed me that Molzhan is unavailable for in-person interviews.
But Molzhan surprises me with the news that she’s in school studying holistic nutrition and plans to become a health counselor. That’s about as far from a fame-seeking career choice as I can imagine, and suddenly I’m curious about how she ended up on reality TV.
At 25, about a year after her 15-month-long marriage ended, she and her sister saw a casting call for The Bachelor.
“At first, I was not into [the idea of auditioning], and then I thought it was funny. My sister and a friend encouraged me and kind of dragged me there, dropped me off, and said, ‘Go.’”
Two weeks after auditioning, she got a callback. A week later, she was on the show.
“It didn’t really give me much time for expectations. I hadn’t really gotten to ask myself, Why am I here? Am I going to fall in love? It was more like, Well, these doors have opened, and I’m in transition in my life, and there’s nothing wrong with it. Why not?”
When she got to The Bachelor mansion, she realized that many of the other competitors were strategists: either they were going to get the bachelor’s attention or the show would help launch their careers.
“I felt naive on The Bachelor. I kept scratching my head and thinking, How many of these girls are paid actresses? There were probably a good handful of girls on my season who were there because the cards just fell that way. And there was more than a handful who were there with [ulterior motives]. I still wonder to this day, Were they paid [actors]?”
For the next several weeks, Molzahn competed with 24 other women for the “love” of 34-year-old pilot Jake Pavelka (and the three-carat diamond ring he would eventually not give to her). She went dune-buggying and sand-surfing in Pismo Beach. She ate suckling pig in San Francisco’s Chinatown and snorkeled in St. Lucia. She introduced Pavelka to her family and he introduced her to his.
Author Elizabeth Salaam's Backstory