As the new year begins and many set out to fulfill their resolutions, one Sonoma man will have his quest to find love broadcast on national television.
And millions around the country will likely indulge in one of America's most popular guilty pleasures, following Sonoma's own Ben Flajnik's triumphs and disasters, real or exaggerated, as he stars on ABC's "The Bachelor" on Monday night.
The North Coast has been home to many who have given up their privacy and gone on the airwaves to lose weight, find love or cook their hearts out, hoping for a glimmer of fame or major life change.
After the spotlight shone and faded, the lasting impacts and the reality of what goes on behind the scenes emerged.
Guy Fieri, co-founder of Johnny Garlic's and Tex Wasabi's, is probably the best known from Sonoma County. The famous restaurateur and TV personality launched into the public eye when he won "The Next Food Network Star," which led to a series of shows and best-selling cookbooks for the Ferndale-born personality.
Fieri declined to be interviewed through a spokesman, but tweeted last week to his more than 484,000 followers, using his characteristic spelling for "cool": "Kewl to roll through my local Costco and see they're carryin the tequila lime sausage and rosemary peppered tri tip."
Koli Palu, 31, of Rohnert Park lost more than half of his body weight on NBC's "The Biggest Loser," and he fell in love with co-contestant Ashley Johnston, 29. The couple now live together in Santa Rosa and are planning to open their own personal training and weight-loss coaching business.
But finding lasting love has eluded most who have appeared on "The Bachelor" or "The Bachelorette." Todd Hedrick, owner of Third Street Aleworks, was one of them, having appeared in a few episodes of "The Bachelorette" in 2004. He described the scene at the bachelor mansion as more like a fraternity party than a serious quest for a soul mate.
Behind the scenes
"It was fun. It was like a paid vacation, with lots of drinking," Hedrick said. "I'd recommend that people going on the show be careful what they say."
That's not only because alcohol was flowing freely. Hedrick said he felt pressured to say "cheesy things," especially when it came to professing his love for former bachelorette Meredith Phillips, who he had just met.
"There's a lot of manipulation," Hedrick said. "I wasn't portrayed badly, but I feel badly for people who were."
The most manipulation Hedrick felt was during "in-the-moment" interviews, when contestants were taken aside and asked leading questions by interviewers.
"I'll never forget that. Three or four times a day," Hedrick said. "It's just clear that they have story lines."
Not only story lines, but writers who focus on a plot line for each character. Hedrick knows because several months after the show wrapped, he met his story line writer at a party in Los Angeles. A guy was watching him from across the room, and eventually they met and the writer explained.
"I didn't know that there was one person who had nothing to do but to write my story line," Hedrick said. "If you don't fit with the story line they write for you, they have to squeeze you into it, through editing."
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