IT SOUNDS a little like an old joke: A salesman from Tampa walks into a Miami bar with friends, hoping to have a little fun.
Even now, Joel Rush admits that when a woman came up to him in that bar, claiming to be a casting agent for a new reality show on ABC, he reacted like it was a joke, buying her a drink and thanking her for the funny story.
But then he noticed the line of people crowded around. The casting agent explained that Rush seemed perfect for a new, unscripted "reality TV" show that the network was developing on beautiful people.
Six months later, Rush is planning a quick exit from his sales job at Pegasus Imaging in Tampa, calling news outlets and readying a move to Los Angeles following his role on "True Beauty," a new reality-competition show developed by actor/entrepreneur Ashton Kutcher and model/mogul Tyra Banks.
"It truly was a fluke," said Rush, 27. "But if there was one word I would use to describe the experience, it would be, extremely rewarding. And anything that Tyra Banks and Ashton Kutcher are involved with is going to be amazing."
Rush eventually spent six weeks this past fall in Los Angeles hanging with nine other beautiful people, host/judge Vanessa Minnilo ("TRL," "Entertainment Tonight"), sixtysomething supermodel and judge Cheryl Tiegs and judge/fashion consultant Nole Marin ("America's Next Top Model").
The contestants were given one outer beauty challenge and one inner beauty challenge for each episode as their behavior was captured by hidden cameras and evaluated by the judges.
Only after a contestant was eliminated was the truth of the competition revealed to them. The prize: $100,000 and a spot in People magazine's 100 most beautiful people issue.
Rush described the new production's unfolding as a mishmash of existing reality shows - a bit of MTV's "The Real World" here, a little of Banks' "America's Next Top Model" there, with a dash of Kutcher's signature prank show "Punk'd."
Contestants had no clue as to the show's true endgame until they were ejected from the contest.
"The only surprise for me was that there was no such thing as downtime," Rush said. "You are on camera from the moment you wake up until you go to sleep, up to them following you into the bathroom. It's an experience you can't train yourself for. You have to have some amount of inner beauty to not have it eat you up."
An Indiana native, Rush moved to Florida six years ago after college, chasing opportunity. As "True Beauty" airs its eight-episode season in early 2009, he'll be chasing it again in Los Angeles, trying to further his modeling and acting career on the connections he made doing the show.
Since the show debuts Jan. 5, Rush hasn't seen any episodes. But he is uncomfortable about material on ABC's Web site depicting him as a cocky jerk who: "already acts like a celebrity so it is only a matter of time before he is truly famous"; "knows he looks good and insists on surrounding himself with only the hottest people"; calls himself the "Crown Prince of Cool"; and "says his workout regimen is all about looking great naked."
Of course, that doesn't mean he didn't play to win the game.
"I told everybody if you didn't come here expecting to win and send me home, shame on you, not shame on me," he said. "You're in the top 10 of all these people who auditioned, you're working with Tyra and working with Ashton. If you can't make something out of that, that's your problem." *