Reality television can sometimes feel pretty ephemeral. It’s designed that way — meant to be a flash in the pan that captures our attention for a little while and then goes away.
And yet, because reality shows tend to really suck us in while they have us, we occasionally develop a fondness for the characters involved. Recently, when Fox brought back its Joe Millionaire franchise after nearly two decades for a brand new season called Joe Millionaire: For Richer or Poorer, it was hard not to think about the original Joe from back in 2003.
The premise of Joe Millionaire was simple and kind of brilliant. The idea was that a bunch of women were brought in to compete, in classic reality show fashion, for the affections of a millionaire. Great, trashy concept, right? The twist was great too: the bachelor wasn’t actually a millionaire. He was a regular, working-class guy, so the show was really about his attempt to figure out which women were just interested in him for the money he didn’t actually have.
The original Joe Millionaire came in the early days of the explosion of reality television. These days, we have so many trashy reality show options that it’s hard for any given one to really stand out in the culture. Back in 2003, that wasn’t the case quite yet. When the finale of Joe Millionaire’s first season aired, it pulled in more viewers than any non-Super Bowl network show since 2000. A gigantic percentage of people watching television in the U.S. that night were watching Joe Millionaire.
Who Was the Original Joe Millionaire?
The original Joe Millionaire bachelor was Evan Marriott, a construction worker who was, at the time, making around $19,000 per year. He had, however, dipped his toes into the world of using his good looks to make a buck, working briefly as an underwear model in the years leading up to his reality TV break.
Maybe because of his good looks, or maybe because of his last name (though he did not actually have any ties to the Marriott brand), the women who were contestants on Joe Millionaire had no problem believing that Evan was a wealthy heir who had just inherited over $50 million.
That was also in part because the show went through the trouble of teaching him about things like dancing, wine and horses — making for some excellent and charming content. It was due to the setting, too: a French mansion called Château de la Bourdaisière that looked like it was cut right out of a fantasy.
The Success of Joe Millionaire
The show itself was a major success, and it picked up more and more viewers over the course of its nine total episodes. There was something undeniably delicious about watching Marriott struggle with the lie he was telling while, at the same time, watching the women vying for his affection talk about how important honesty was to them. Viewers couldn’t look away.
In the end, Marriott chose the contestant Zora Andrich, a 29-year-old substitute teacher, out of all the women on the show. At the time, he said, “I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that Zora wasn’t into my money.”
For her part, Zora claimed she felt the same way, saying to Marriott during the finale, “I was really turned off by the fact that you had inherited all that money.” And although the couple got to share the $1 million prize, they split up soon after the mandatory post-show media tour.
Joe Millionaire Behind the Scenes
Although the ruse worked, at least as far as the show went, Marriott himself struggled a bit with the lie. At one point on the broadcast he said, “Now I’m living the biggest lie in front of America and I think it’s the most ironic thing in the world…and the more I think about it, the more it eats my brain out.”
Beyond that, the whole experience was just a bit surreal. Sitting in a beautiful setting in the French countryside, Marriott was living two lives at once. As he put it to Vulture in 2015, “I had this beautiful view, and I would sit there every night with a beer in my hand and the phone in my ear. I was talking to a girl named Amy, who I broke up with before I went to do the show, because I was trying to get back together with her.”
What Happened to Evan Marriott After Joe Millionaire?
These days, multiple decades into the reality TV boom, stars have it somewhat easier in the aftermath of their huge amounts of success, at least in some ways. For Evan Marriott, there were some difficult years. He admits that fame made him somewhat paranoid for a while, and that it became an ordeal just to try to go out for a beer like a regular person.
Marriott’s last attempt at television stardom was a brief gig hosting a now-forgotten game show called Fake-a-Date; it didn’t last, and Marriott referred to it as the “worst show ever in the history of television.” Once he was fired, he began to realize that it was time to do something else with his life.
Where Is Evan Marriott Now?
What Marriott did after the failure of Fake-a-Date was actually surprisingly prudent given the horror tales of many Hollywood careers gone awry. He invested his winnings from Joe Millionaire and subsequent gigs like Fake-a-Date in a business: an equipment rental company in Orange County, California.
At a panel on reality shows in 2015, Marriott said of his shift to running his own non-Hollywood business, “I did my first job … and literally almost was in tears. I called my dad and said, ‘I feel like I’ve just been paroled. This is where I should have been.’ ”
These days, he seems to have some pretty good perspective on the whole thing. He’s joked about how ridiculous it is to him that 40 million people tuned in to watch him on Joe Millionaire.
In the end, the story is even a little heartwarming. Marriott’s perspective on the perils of reality stardom, and his ability to use the experience to get back to a more normal, comfortable life, is hopeful. Hollywood is famous for chewing up and spitting out folks after their 15 minutes of fame are up, but the star of the original Joe Millionaire has managed to get back to being just a normal guy in the nearly two decades since the show aired.
What About Joe Millionaire’s Butler?
Paul Hogan, who appeared as the butler on the original Joe Millionaire show, also had a brief run of fame in the years after the show. The Australian American (not to be confused with the even more famous Paul Hogan who starred in the Crocodile Dundee films) was skeptical the show would work, remembering, “The whole time we were shooting, I thought, ‘How in God’s name will they make an entertaining program out of this?'”
Hogan went on to host the 2006 show Groomed, a Canadian show in which Hogan would use his special butlering skills to teach guys who were a little rough around the edges the finer points of gentlemanly decorum. Groomed only made it through one season.
Hogan became a U.S. citizen in 2012, and in 2013 he used his new status when he ran as a Democrat for a spot in the legislature in New York State. Unfortunately for Hogan, he lost in the primary.
What’s the Latest for the Joe Millionaire Franchise?
After the astronomical ratings success of the first season of Joe Millionaire, Fox quickly got a second season going. Season 2 premiered in October of 2003, just eight months after season 1’s finale aired. Season 2’s ratings, however, were much, much lower than Season 1’s. The magic seemed to be over.
Fast forward nearly 20 years though, and Joe Millionaire is back. Sort of. Joe Millionaire: For Richer or Poorer aired from January through March of 2022. The new version added a new wrinkle to the original formula. Instead of one fake millionaire, there were now two bachelors, one a real millionaire and the other a fake. You can imagine the chaos.
Unfortunately, the latest Joe Millionaire experiment seems to have been mostly a dud. The fun of the original premise now comes off as just kind of sad. The ratings weren’t terrible, but it hasn’t yet been announced whether or not there will be a future season of the show in any form.
Looking back, it’s clear that in the world of trashy reality TV shows, the original Joe Millionaire caught a little bit of lightning in a bottle. The 40 million people who watched the finale of that first season is proof that for a brief moment Evan Marriott’s bachelorhood was someplace near the center of the public consciousness. I’m not really sure what that means about us, but Marriott’s life is proof that there is hope after the glow of reality TV stardom wanes.