Couch Potato gets a return gig at the fair

  • John Silveira, the official Couch Potato of the Sonoma County Fair, watches the Giants game in the E.C. Kraft Building on the fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, California on Wednesday, August 10, 2011. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat

And for his next performance, John Silveira may well kick up his heels, munch a few cookies and watch the Giants.

What else do you expect from the Sonoma County Fair's official couch potato?

"It's a hard job and someone's got to do it," Silveira, 47, said Wednesday afternoon from his "office" — a living room arranged next to the fair's art exhibitions where he's been spending nine hours a day as a human display — watching TV, snacking and cracking wise.

It's a reprise of the role that made him famous 23 years ago after his mom cajoled him to try out for what seemed like a harmless promotion, neither realizing the forces about to be unleashed.

Health advocates slammed the role as a glorification of laziness, some even carrying protest signs at the fair. Ardent couch surfers, meanwhile, were outraged the title went to a comparatively svelte 210-pounder, sensing judges were caving to the anti-obesity opposition.

"This spud is a dud," runner-up Dean Houghton complained to no less than People Magazine, which described Silveira's Rohnert Park rival as a "superbly slothful 300 pound unemployed maintenance man."

For reporters, the mix of anger and absurdity was hard to resist. Silveira first learned he'd won official couch potato status when an East Coast radio station called him at 5 a.m. It was just the beginning of an international media blitz centered on a man being paid $1,000 to loll about for two weeks.

"I had some buddies hitchhiking in Germany and they saw it on some show over there," he said. "I had a friend who read about it in Stars and Stripes. It was amazing."

Of course, such fame fades fast, which suits Silveira fine. In the 23 years since then, Silveira said he hasn't dwelt on his bygone glory. For the past seven years he's been residing in rural northeast Oregon, where he sells electronics and lives with his wife Gerri and sons Jack, 10, and Sam, 16.

His legacy, however, wasn't forgotten by the fair. In celebration of its 75th anniversary, organizers wanted to bring back one of its most unlikely draws.

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