Fifteen Minutes of Fame: Apprentice

Fifteen Minutes of Fame: Apprentice

"I went on The Apprentice because I'm an entrepreneur, and it seemed like the dream opportunity," says Sam, who was eliminated during the third episode. "When I came off the show, it was a whirlwind. I was on the Tonight show, the cover of People magazine. I was told by NBC that I was the first breakout character from The Apprentice."

 

Before appearing on the show, Sam says he was just the guy next door. "There's something about the instant gratification of having appeared on television. I found the camera seductive," he confesses. "Here I am this regular guy, and then the next thing, I'm showing up at the Playboy Mansion, and I've got Jack Nicholson behind me in a terry cloth robe.

"For two weeks, the fame was a lot of fun, but then it started to trouble me. Did I really do anything to be worthy of this attention? I started to find it creepy that people recognized me on the streets. It came to a point where I did feel used and exposed by the network," Sam reveals.

 

Shortly after The Apprentice premiered, Sam started having mood swings. "I still said yes to television shows calling me, but after that appearance was over, I felt incredibly empty. I found myself spending an awful lot of time in my home. I no longer wanted to see my friends. I started to no longer trust my decision making. It was my dream to have my own radio talk show. After The Apprentice, NBC said, 'You can have your show,' and I turned it down. Suddenly, it didn't hold the allure, because I had been on a show with 20 million viewers."

Sam's wife, Lori, keeps him grounded, but even she isn't immune to the pressures of instant stardom. "I was an elementary school teacher. Monday through Friday, I was Mrs. Levin, then Saturday, we were on the red carpet in New York. I felt like I was living a double life," she says. "There were times when I thought, do I really want to be a part of this?"

"If Lori was out of the picture, I'd probably still be running around chasing the camera. It's been three years now since The Apprentice. I like to think of myself now as a recovering addict," Sam says. "I'm very proud of what I'm doing now. I'm a successful charity auctioneer and real estate agent."

Sam wonders if he'll be able to evade the siren song of success. "If [Executive Producer] Mark Burnett called me tomorrow and said, ‘Sam, I'd like you to appear on The Apprentice All-Stars,' I'd like to think that I could say, ‘No, thank you, Mark,' but I don't know for sure," he says. 

"You said that by the time the show started airing, you were already feeling different," Dr. Phil notes.

"I went to bed on a Thursday night as regular, anonymous Sam, and woke up the next morning instantly recognizable. It was creepy from the very moment, the first episode," Sam says. "For a couple of weeks, it was kind of neat. I remember my autograph was put on eBay and sold for $5."

"You said you started having mood swings. You started really feeling empty after you would do these media hits," Dr. Phil says. 

"It was very exciting at the moment, but after each [media event], I'd get home and go back to doing what I was doing. You start to think, ‘Jeez, was it really worth going on this talk show or that talk show?' It just left me feeling, as you said, empty. I didn't feel worthy of the attention," Sam divulges. 

"If they called with an all-star show, would you do it again?"

"I'd like to think no. No," Sam says, then falters. "But see, that's the seduction of the camera." 

Lori adds, "I think there was a point where it lured him more, but now I think you're really at a point where you want to move on, and you wouldn't go back to that opportunity."

Dr. Phil sympathizes with Sam. "It's a long way to fall. You go from what didn't feel like obscurity at the time, because you loved your life, then all of sudden, boom! People in America know who you are," he says. 

Sam has some words of advice for the previous guest, Brian. "I had 20 million viewers looking at me every week. We were the number one show. I'll tell you, it's not what it's cracked up to be. You have this vision of what you think it's going
to be, and the glamour. And for a little while, it's OK, but it's not what you think it is," he tells the young man.

 

Noting that Brian has expressed a desire for acting, Sam says, "Go pursue it, and go after that. If you get famous, so be it. That's great. Putting yourself on there as a virgin who wants to lose his virginity, don't do it. You have nothing to gain."

Perry says, "Sam, do you feel like by putting yourself out there, you were at risk of destroying what it was that you'd become?"

"I didn't go on this show to become famous. I was an entrepreneur in real estate and auctioneering. I really wanted to work for Donald Trump. It was the after effect. It's what it became," Sam replies.

"The movie American Cannibal is basically about this, about how people will gobble each other up as entertainment," Perry says.

Sam was naïve when he first appeared on The Apprentice. "I had never watched television, never watched reality TV," he says. "If you're a regular guy who's not famous, you have no concept of what being recognized is like," he says. 

Michael says, "You became a disposable celebrity." 

"Fortunately, I had Lori," Sam says. He turns to Brian in the audience "I'd like to know where your support network is. Where are your parents?" he admonishes. "Where are the people to say, ‘This is insane. Don't do this.'"

"Fortunately, you had a career and a life and a focus before [the show] happened, so you had something to go back to," Dr. Phil tells Sam. "A lot of people never find their way back to what is a real life, so they're just out there … What you're telling people is, be very careful what you get seduced by."

 

"At some point, it ends. Everything ends. The fame, at some point, will end," Sam says. "It's hard because there's something seductive about it and alluring, and it's the instant gratification."

Lori says, "I think that's what helped Sam so much is he did have his family, and myself, and close friends and a support network. If you don't have that to ground you, it can really derail you."