Kathy Vavrick-O’Brien has twice put her career as a real estate agent on hold to spend several weeks roughing it in remote islands with a group of castaways hellbent on outwitting, outplaying and outlasting each other for a $1 million prize.
She took third place in “Survivor: Marquesas,” the fourth season of the “Survivor” reality TV competition, and she also went far on “Survivor: All-Stars,” the show’s eighth season which featured former contestants of earlier “Survivor” shows. On “Survivor,” one contestant is typically voted off during each episode, and a jury of some former contestants selects the ultimate winner.
Vavrick-O’Brien, 50, is not the only real estate agent to appear on reality TV. The current season of “Survivor” features Lisa Keiffer, a Realtor for Prudential Gardner Realtors in Mandeville, La. Richard Hatch, 43, of Newport, R.I., is a licensed real estate agent who won $1 million in the first season of “Survivor” and also competed in the “Survivor: All-Stars” show. Erin Collins, who competed in the show’s fifth season, listed her occupation as a real estate agent, and she was also a student and bar manager.
The first and second seasons of “The Apprentice,” a reality show that features a group of people vying for a management spot at one of real estate magnate Donald Trump’s companies, also featured Realtors among its competitors. Real estate agents and brokers have also appeared on “Average Joe,” among other reality shows. And, of course, there’s a full lineup of home improvement-related reality shows that feature real estate agents in various roles.
So what is it that makes real estate agents prime candidates for these prime-time shows? Is it their natural ability to market themselves? A tendency toward fierce independence? Or is it just the fact that there are so many of them around that some of them are bound to end up on television?
“I think most of us are ‘A’ personalities,” said Vavrick-O’Brien, a Realtor at Lang Associates in South Burlington, Vt. “We also know the human element. And we know the ‘art of the deal’ when it comes to negotiating.” Patience, a positive attitude “and a lot of ‘schmooze,’ ” are also real estate traits that can be useful on reality TV shows, she said.
Vavrick-O’Brien said her experience in real estate has taught her to study the personalities of her clients and remain flexible. “I feel (that) to be a good agent you must bend to the needs of your client. ‘Survivor’ is very similar if you don’t want to be voted out.”
Her real estate Web site features a link to information about her “Survivor” experience, though she said she has toned down the reality show connections in her marketing materials. It’s hard to shake the “TV star” image, Vavrick-O’Brien said, and she is more often identified for her appearance on television than she is for her career in real estate.
But her stint on two “Survivor” seasons certainly hasn’t hurt her career. She said about one-quarter of her real estate business is linked to the publicity she received from the show. It has helped her to expand her consumer base, and she has plans to extend her real estate services to Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Burlington, Vt. She said her experiences have also encouraged her to pursue larger challenges, “perhaps in the corporate or international real estate world.”
“Survivor” was far more than a television show for her, she said. “It was an adventure and transforming experience. I learned countless lessons on human nature and the will to survive and win. ‘Survivor’ is about the real world. It is about the game of life.”
Teresa “T-Bird” Cooper, now an associate broker with RE/MAX Advantage III in Jackson, Ga., was among the final five competitors in “Survivor: Africa,” the show’s third season. She has also worked as a flight attendant, though these days she spends most of her time grounded in the real estate business. “Real estate’s keeping the lights on for me. The growth down south of Atlanta has just been incredible. I’ve been very lucky,” Cooper said.
While Cooper said she doesn’t believe there is any special reason that several real estate agents have appeared on “Survivor” and other reality shows, agents do tend to have strong people skills and strong personalities. “The kind of characters they’re looking for (on reality shows) are not shy introverts. Real estate agents are generally not shy introverts.”
Also, real estate agents’ ability to be diplomatic can come in handy on a show like “Survivor,” she said. “In real estate you can get very, very frustrated at times for whatever reason – you really have to keep that in,” she said.
Her appearance on “Survivor” has helped her career, she said, and she is now well-known in her small town. “The whole thing has helped tremendously.” She said she chooses not to drum up her television appearance in her own marketing efforts. “Being on a reality show doesn’t make me good (at) selling real estate,” she said. “I’d like to think my real estate profession is a very professional business.”
Cooper has worked in residential real estate for about four years and is now branching into land and commercial real estate sales. Cooper’s sister is also a real estate agent, and her sister handled her real estate business while she was participating in “Survivor.”
“I was gone during the summer – a very busy time,” she said. The shock of returning to normal life after eking out a bare existence while competing with others in the wilds of Africa was more than she expected. “I told (my sister), ‘Just give me one day when I get back and I’ll be ready to go.’ It took me a good month. We went through a huge ordeal. I knew it would be a life-changing experience and it was.”
Like Vavrick-O’Brien, Cooper said that she regularly keeps in touch with fellow competitors on “Survivor.”
“When you go through something like that there’s such a bond. You can’t help but build very close friendships with people,” Cooper said. Since appearing on the show, Cooper has participated in promotional efforts for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, an organization that supports AIDS prevention, treatment and research efforts.
Katrina Campins, a real estate agent who competed in the first season of “The Apprentice,” is now the principal of The Campins Co., a boutique real estate brokerage firm that focuses on high-end and luxury real estate markets in South Florida. Its clients include business executives, diplomats, celebrities and athletes. The firm also represents developers of high-profile residential projects in South Florida. Prior to her appearance on “The Apprentice,” Campins was a top producer at Jeanne Baker Realty and earlier worked at Wimbish-Riteway Winners Circle. She was 18 when she received her real estate license.
While some real estate agents have said that their time on a reality show has boosted their career, Jennifer Crisafulli may have something else to say about reality TV’s impact on her real-life career.
Crisafulli, 32, a real estate agent for Prudential Douglas Elliman in New York City who appeared in the current season of “The Apprentice,” was “fired” by Trump in an episode that aired a few weeks ago – and soon after lost her real-life job, reportedly for comments she made on the show. Prior to her sudden exit from Prudential Douglas Elliman, the company’s Web site promoted her appearance on “The Apprentice.”
Douglas Elliman’s Web site had proclaimed, “We’ve always known that our agents are special and apparently Mr. Trump does, too. Follow Jennifer’s progress as she vies for a top spot in the Trump Organization right here on the Prudential Douglas Elliman Web site, give her your encouragement and let her know how she’s doing.”
Prior to Crisafulli’s departure, Dorothy “Dottie” Herman, CEO at Douglas Elliman, said Crisafulli was employed at the brokerage for about a year before taking the leave of absence to compete on “The Apprentice.” “I think it’s a good thing for our company and a good thing for Jennifer,” Herman said, adding that there are some valuable lessons that all contestants can learn on “The Apprentice.”
“I don’t think there are any losers. I think it’s going to help them throughout their life no matter what they do. It teaches people about teamwork, business opportunities. If something happens that you didn’t expect to happen, I think it’s a great lesson for anybody,” she said. Real estate agents are perhaps good candidates for competitive reality TV shows, Herman said, because they have an uncommon drive. “You have to be a survivor to be successful in this business. It’s not an easy business.”
Herman’s remarks came before the show aired in which Crisafulli made a comment about two restaurant-goers, calling them “old Jewish fat ladies” and “like the pinnacle of New York jaded old bags.” Crisafulli was reportedly asked to resign after the show aired. Steven James, senior vice president and executive director of sales, said in an Albany Times Union article, “We do not intend to have an individual in our organization who subscribes to this point of view.”
Officials at Douglas Elliman did not respond to calls from Inman News for comment about Crisafulli’s departure.
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