A.J. was supposed to be here. Y'know, our favorite survivor, A.J. McLean, the one who waved the "alcoholism/ depression" banner in the ever-replicating storyline of the Backstreet Boys. Tellingly, "here" is a dress-up benefit for the Lisa Merlin House -- a substance-abuse rehab situation for women -- being held on a glamorous Saturday night at the downtown Expo Centre. Tellingly, A.J. had other obligations.
No worries, though. We've got some real Survivors on site, the ones who populated Africa in the ever-replicating storyline of CBS' reality television phenomenon. They may not sing or gyrate, but damn if they can't eat bugs. Even Ethan, the winner, whose ruggedly winsome good looks are surely worth a million dollars ... to me.
"We have similar hair," mistakes Ethan.
"We have very similar hair," I play along. "Except yours is a little "Greatest American Hero" meets Larry from "Three's Company.'"
"I was thinking more of the, um ... Screech from "Saved by the Bell,'" he wins. "Or Peter Brady."
Me? I'm Chrissy and Cindy.
OK, let's talk career. As a millionaire, do you even think of the word "career"?
"Well, once all of this hoopla from "Survivor" dies down, which is probably in a matter of minutes," he wises. "Y'know, I have to have a life after this. Fortunately, I have a cushion."
Lady, you have a couch.
"But I don't want to just sit back and do nothing with my life," he lies. "I'm huge into soccer. Since the show, I've already started a nonprofit; it's called Grassrootsoccer (grassrootsoccer.org). I lived and played in Zimbabwe for a year, so we go over to Zimbabwe and educate the soccer players about HIV and AIDS awareness, and in turn they educate Zimbabwe youth about AIDS."
Well, er, OK. Let's forego formalities, and just say that I love you. Are you busy later? I mean, are you always busy, what with your crazy-haired, big-hearted, post-TV celebrity self?
"Right now I'm doing a lot of traveling. I haven't been home to New York in about a month and a half. I'm doing a lot of charity work, a lot of public speaking, a lot of motivational speaking and things like this."
Is it weird being stranded and then coming back to people?
"Coming back to people was strange. You're out there for 39 days, you're competing, you're all wrapped up in this friggin' game, it's screwy. You come back to society, and you're just looking around like, Ã?oh my god.'"
Do you think that in 20 years there will be some paranoid anxiety complex associated with "Survivor" survivors? Maybe a themed halfway house?
"They should definitely follow up on us."
When I ask him how it feels to be a sex symbol, our Ethan unexpectedly thrusts his hips at me with a wink. If this is mockery, I'll take four.
"All my friends are in love with you," I cooh.
"Really. Any cute girls?" he bores me.
"Any cute guys?" he excites me.
"Well, that's what Brandon's for."
Brandon was the gay one, you see. He didn't win, but he did make quite a name for himself, as the gay ones do.
Brandon is arching his back in clever conversation all over the room, simulating my movements to be sure, except in burnt-orange pants. Anyway, a celebrity stumble brings me face-to-face with the darker-haired version of myself, and I am able to momentarily pull Brandon away from talking about himself to talking about himself to me. Phew.
"I'm so flustered after the magician swallowing the balloon that long," he references to something of which I'm unaware. "Hell-o!"
I explain that Ethan sent me over, to which Brandon replies, "Oh, bless his sweet Jewish heart," then adds, "I want a nice Jew. No, I just want a magician who swallows large balloons!"
Eew. What are you doing with yourself, dear. How will you milk your fame?
"It's funny, I'm exactly the same, and I still do exactly the same things," he graces. "It's just that strange things come to me. I'm doing a movie in July, and I'm doing another movie next month."
And just what sort of movies would these be?
"Well, I'm a pimp in July, and I'm the guy that gives the lead `actor` crabs this month," he résumés.
Not exactly a stunning repertoire, for which Brandon confesses very little research was required.
"Sadly, I just had to be myself for both of them," he quips, scratching his African bush wildly.
EEE-than! Oh, EEEEEEEE-than!