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NBC looks to Boston for more `Average Joes'

Boston is renowned nationally for its hospitals, its universities, its beloved Fenway Park.

 

Now add mediocre-looking men to the list.

For "Average Joe: Hawaii," the new season of the hit television reality series -- in which 18 ordinary-looking bachelors will woo a former beauty queen -- NBC deliberately targeted Boston and selected almost half of the show's contestants from the area.

The eight Boston Joes who'll vie for the top prize include an administrative assistant, a sewer contractor, an environmental scientist, and two accountants. All of them are big in the personality department, but they'll probably never land on the cover of "GQ."

As the series sets to debut Jan. 5, area residents are left to wonder: Is this the home of the homely?

Don't feel too bad, says Brandeis University film studies professor Thomas Doherty. He figures that NBC was probably drawn here by Boston's "blue-collar mystique."

"Think of `Cheers' or `Mystic River.' Boston's image is a blend of the blue-collar and the savvy," suggests Doherty, who says the city has every reason to be proud of its image. "We're not `Below Average Joe,' " he says. "Our men are the kind of guys who pull over if they see your car has broken down. Even if some of us don't have the money or the looks, we're still decent."

Joseph Boskin, a professor emeritus of American culture at Boston University, has a different explanation. He points his finger across the Charles River.

"This is MIT's fault," he says. "[The producers] are honing in on MIT's nerdiness. Boston is the hub of academia, and theoretically, academics are supposed to be the opposite of Tom Cruise. I have news for NBC. Underneath our glasses, we are all Cruises."

To be sure, the show's producers say, they never meant to offend anyone. "We were looking for larger-than-life personalities, people who are memorable. Boston is one of those urban meccas which breeds people who say what's on their mind," says Stuart Krasnow, an executive producer.

In the last "Average Joe," which concluded Dec. 8, there was just one contestant from the Boston area, accountant Dennis Luciani of Quincy, who was cut in the second round.

In this series, Larissa Meek, an artist and former Miss USA contestant, will spend several weeks getting to know the regular guys before eight hunks arrive to join the competition. Where did NBC recruit them?

Miami and Aspen, Colo., Krasnow says. "Those are cities where people who want to model end up."

Mary Lou Andre, an image and wardrobe consultant based in Needham, says she travels nationwide doing corporate seminars and finds that Boston's reputation universally is one of a "conservative, geeky, high-tech area."

"That's the image out there even though I think Boston has come a long way. With so many European students here, I think Boston is very hip. But people are intrigued with Harvard and MIT. They can't get past that."

Brian Worth was recruited while sipping beers with a buddy last May at Ned Devine's/Parris in Faneuil Hall.

"My reaction was, `What are you talking to me for?' " says Worth, who at 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds ranks himself a 7.5. "I'm no supermodel."

Worth listened carefully as the recruiter spent 30 minutes selling him on the idea of a free vacation in a tropical setting. "Would you have a problem getting in a hot tub with women on national television?" he was asked. Worth replied, "That's what I'm all about!"

Seven months later, Worth, a 31-year-old East Boston resident who works as an auditor for the US Department of the Treasury's Office of the Inspector General, is preparing to watch the series. Although he can't reveal whether he was eliminated from the show or became Meek's final choice, he will admit that he didn't have a "very good vibe" when he met her the first night.

"I thought she seemed unhappy and very rehearsed. At that point, I went to the bathroom and left all the guys standing around her. I looked in the mirror and said, `What is going on here? Is she going to be acting or is she genuine?' I don't date women who are fake."

Worth won't say what happened next.

Anthony Calandra landed on the show after impressing a casting agent with his sideburns, cut in the shape of stars, and his friendly personality as a bartender at Encore, a lounge in the Wyndham Tremont Boston Hotel. "I didn't want to say, `Oh, let me get on your show!' but I wanted a part," says Calandra, who was unaware of the plot twists involved. (The show was taped before this season's "Average Joe" aired.)

When he arrived in Hawaii and saw the cast, Calandra wasn't too thrilled, he says. "I was a little bit offended that I would be grouped in with these guys," says the 24-year-old North End resident who is also a dental technician and graphic artist. "I don't consider myself a 10, but I'm not a 3 either. I really considered leaving."

Calandra stuck around, however, and is now happy he did. "I think it was a very original concept. It will bring to light how people obsess about looks. It definitely challenged the girl. And when I was there, I worried about not looking like a dork."

For his part, Phuc Lee, a 26-year-old Brockton resident and accountant, says he had the time of his life on the show.

Spotted at The Rack during a pool tournament, the boisterous Lee couldn't resist the chance to appear on TV. He arrived in Hawaii knowing there would be a twist to the show. "I was expecting someone who didn't speak English," he says.

When he saw the group he was lumped in with, all he could do was laugh. "Society judges a book by its cover, which is a shame," he says. "But life isn't fair. Hey, this is who I am America. If you don't like me, whatever."

Suzanne Ryan can be reached at sryan@globe.com.

Average Joe Contestant Anthony Calandra (Mario Perez Photo)
Average Joe Contestant Brian Worth (Mario Perez Photo)
Average Joe Contestant Phuc Lee (Mario Perez Photo)
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