Justin Dreyer joins a romance academy on a reality show.

Kona native finds his
inner Fabio-ness

Justin Dreyer is a private guy. Ask him how he got onto a reality show, and he won't even name the friend who made his audition tape. Ask him to describe himself and he says: "I'm not really the type of guy who likes to talk about myself. I'm creative but I'm not incredibly outgoing."

"Mr. Romance" airs at 8 p.m. Mondays on Oxygen. Check oxygen.com for repeats of the show throughout the week.

So what is a subdued, creative guy -- a graphic designer, actually -- doing on a reality show, the most public and subversive arena of all?

"Maybe I'm the normal guy," he said about his role on a new reality show, "Mr. Romance." "Maybe my uncomfortable-ness on the show makes for good TV. ... A lot of (the cast was) way out there."

Out of the genre that brought us shows about Americans coping on vacation without luggage or loved ones ("Survivor") and couples bickering as they race around the world for quick cash ("The Amazing Race"), comes the reality TV series "Mr. Romance."

"Mr. Romance," which airs Monday nights on the Oxygen channel, follows host Fabio and 12 would-be Fabios as the protégés join a romance academy and compete for the covers of Harlequin romance novels.

Billed as a comedy/romance, the program not only brings you the pairing of a professional Lothario, Fabio, with comedian Fred Willard, it's also the brainchild of Gene Simmons of Kiss. A jury, including Willard, Simmons and Cindy Guyer, a former Nancy Drew book cover model, will pick the winner.

Viewers will get the chance to see Dreyer, a Kona native, in six episodes of the quirky reality show, which finished filming in December. The winner will walk away with a $50,000 cash prize.

"It's so strange," Dreyer said of the taping experience via phone from his back yard in Kona. "The cameras are in your face. It's so weird, and it puts you way out of your comfort zone. ... They take away all books, credit cards, everything.

"You learn a lot about people pretty quickly. The (cast mates) were real cool, except for a couple of people."

DREYER RETURNED home to the Big Island the night after the show's premiere March 14 in Los Angeles. He described the show as upbeat and fun, although he is still stunned by seeing himself on TV.

"That's a whole other thing. I've never heard myself talk," Dryer said. "I guess I'll get used to it. (But) I don't know what they'll do to me on the next show. You hope the editors are nice to you."

Dreyer, a graduate of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, doesn't watch much TV. But one show he does like is the loopy reality show "The Surreal Life," in which house guests such as Dave Coulier of "Full House" and M.C. Hammer are put in a studio house and filmed 24/7.

A reality show might not be the perfect setting for a private guy like Dreyer, but it is perfect for TV producers who get to capture his panicky reactions to whatever situation they decide to put him in, like when contestants are asked to mug for mirrors and come up with their best sexy expression in the first episode.

"Who makes faces in their mirrors?" asked Dreyer. "Who does that, whether it's in public or private? Not ever! First of all, I don't even own a hand mirror, and I don't make faces."

Dreyer didn't know much about the show's premise during auditions, in which he and other contestants had to undergo intelligence and psychiatric tests and background checks. A producer did tell him there would be romance, and that was about all he learned. She also told him that there would be a man-pageant during the finale of the show. He thought she was kidding.

Dreyer's comfort level was routinely tested after he was put into new situations for the 2 1/2 weeks of taping. "Every day was an oh-my-god day. I thought, 'I going to get beat up when I go home.' The daily stuff was hard to deal with."

He found the confessions portion of the show cathartic. While a cameraman stood behind an interviewer, contestants were asked specific questions about the day's events as their answers were taped.

"I actually enjoyed it. It was like therapy. You know, you do these crazy things all day, and then you can talk."

The show can be far from spontaneous. Some scenes have to be shot more than once. "You have to do take two of walking through a hallway," Dreyer said. There's also a schedule for the day's shoot at the romance academy and other places. "They have you set up on a schedule. It's not completely real -- you have to go to class at a certain time. It's not like they put you in a box and walk away and start filming."

And Dreyer's thoughts on Fabio, a veteran of romance-cover modeling?

"He's a nice guy. He's super-cool."

Dreyer's experiences at the L.A. house and with cast mates were mostly positive. The not-so-outgoing guy said he would do it all over again.

"I liked it a lot. You take away all my responsibilities, and you feed me and put me in a cool house. You're asked what you need on a daily basis, and your needs are taken care of. I'd do it again -- maybe for a day, not forever. When you're done it's a huge relief."

Model aspirations

TV watchers can also be on the lookout for Maui waitress Tatiana, 18, who's one of the contestants on "America's Next Top Model," airing 5 p.m. Wednesdays on KIKU and repeating 5 p.m. Fridays.

The search is hosted by supermodel Tyra Banks, with the contestants vying for a grand prize of a $100,000 contract with CoverGirl, a spread in Elle magazine and an opportunity to be managed by Ford Models.

KIKU is a UPN secondary affiliate, airing the UPN network from 4 to 6 p.m. Mondays to Fridays.

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