It was a long, long time ago-spring 2003, if memory serves-and NBC was conducting a casting call at Margarita Rocks (now Bar West), in Pacific Beach, to find contestants for the upcoming couples series of Fear Factor, one of the network’s hit reality shows. I had arranged the venue’s advertising for the event, so my wife, Simone, and I went to check it out.
When we arrived, the place was packed. There were fit, good-looking 20-somethings everywhere, and a crowded bar meant a happy client, so I was pleased. Out of nowhere, one of the show’s producers asked me and Simone our ages, then told us we were just what they were looking for: married, able to travel to L.A. and older. He actually said that. I was 33. Simone was 29.
The guy gave us his card and said we’d be hearing from a second producer. A few days and a couple interviews later, they sent us to L.A. to see a doctor who took our vitals and asked if we had any allergies or propensities toward cardiac arrest. Then we got the call-we’d made the final cut. It felt like I had landed a starring role opposite Julia Roberts (who was a pretty big deal back then).
With six weeks to prepare, we were fired up. Ready to rock! Okay, let’s go. First thing, let’s...uh...what? How do you train for a show where you have to compete for time and quantity in sheep-scrotum consumption? What’s the ideal regimen for getting your body ready to almost drown in a vat of liquefied roach parts while tarantulas crawl across your face?
We didn’t know. So for six weeks, we worked out like crazy, and I ate nothing but lettuce, chicken, the occasional reduced-calorie Hot Pocket, carb-free protein bars and Metamucil. I was the picture of health. To complete the picture, I bleached my teeth and hit the tanning booth.
When Simone and I arrived in Long Beach for our first Fear Factor stunt, I had the skin tone of North County’s swarthiest Cougars. When they tethered us to the back of a monster dune buggy and dragged us down the beach at 50 miles an hour, we managed to hang on and make it to the next round-big, white-toothy smile for the camera, my orangey glow amplifying the effect.
The next day, I moved 20 pounds of earth worms and their excrement (with my mouth) from a plastic bowl to an acrylic box that Simone basically had to wear as a hat-the kind of hat that covers you from collar bones to forehead with worm sh!t-so I was less aware of the color of my teeth.
Simone nearly drowned the following day when they chained us to the bottom of a pool, so we didn’t win the his-and-hers Jeeps.
To maintain my tint and the consequent enhancement of muscle definition, I spent some of the subsequent day in the tanning booth again. That turned out to be the right move. For the next stunt, Simone hung onto the landing gear on the bottom of a helicopter that dropped her in the middle of a lake. She then swam to a kayak, jumped in, and I pulled her to shore. I was minus a shirt-and feeling smart to be plus a tan.
No way I could have guessed when we got married-Simone and I are quite adept at bobbing for cow hearts in pig bile. Sadly, we completed that stunt 20 seconds more slowly than the remaining couples did, so we were eliminated the next day. We returned home to San Diego without the million. Our hair smelled like bile for a week.
A few days later, the same desire to feel attractive that had fueled my year-round tan spurred me to consult a dermatologist. I had an irritation on my face and wanted to rule out any possible worm-dung virus. “You ever get these moles checked,” the doctor asked me? I hadn’t.
The rash turned out to be nothing, but what I had regarded as not-so-beauty marks proved to be melanoma, the kind of skin cancer that makes me a friggin’ idiot for having spent so much time in the tanning booth and in the sun without protection.
Today, I’ve been given the all-clear, and the dermatologist says it probably won’t be the skin cancer that kills me. Doctors can be so comforting. “You’re lucky you came to see me,” he says.
He calls it luck, but I know it was vanity. What other possible explanation could there be for my sitting here with a spray tan, still holding out hope that Julia Roberts’ people might call.
Please enjoy this body issue of PacificSD, which demonstrates that if beauty is only skin deep, we’re all in deep worm doo.