Things weren’t looking good for Megan Albertus.
It was episode two of “Momma’s Boys,” the Ryan Seacrest-produced reality show for NBC, and the Spokane-born aspiring actress was one of three contestants who had been summoned to the swimming pool.
The whole point of the show was to eliminate all but the final three of 32 single women who had been cast as contestants. These women, who lived together “Real World”-style in a Santa Barbara, Calif.-based mansion, were the focus of three eligible bachelors, each of whom was accompanied by … yes, his mother.
No one had been eliminated during the first episode, which was broadcast Dec. 16 (the finale aired Monday). But the tone of the show had been set: The 32 women were a mix of airheads, models (a couple had even posed for Playboy and/or Penthouse) and professionals, all of whom were, to one degree or another, beauty queens.
Just to make things exciting, one or two possessed, it could be argued, some kind of personality disorder.
Not that the moms were much better. One, in fact, brightened the premiere episode by insisting that she was going to limit her son’s final choices.
“I cannot have a black one,” she said. “I can’t have an Asian one, I can’t have a fat-butt girl,” she said.
When episode two neared its close, the contestants – who were informed of their respective statuses by phone-text messages – were split into three groups: those who could stay, those who had to go, and the trio bound for their trial at the pool.
And so that’s how the 27-year-old Albertus, a 2000 graduate of Ferris High School and a 2004 graduate of Washington State University, came to be standing poolside with two other women.
But instead of merely playing along, Albertus surprised everyone. Except maybe herself.
We should take a second here to explain just who Megan Albertus is.
Born on Nov. 13, 1981 – “A Friday the 13th,” she exclaimed – Albertus spent her formative years with her mother and younger brother living in a remote area east of Spokane.
“You know Mica Peak?” she asked over the phone from her Hollywood-area studio apartment. “We lived way out there, long before it was developed.”
Being so isolated did little for her social skills.
“I was painfully awkward and shy as a child,” Albertus said. “I didn’t really socialize with anyone until I was about 8.”
Not that her mother didn’t give her opportunities. Sports didn’t work (“I am not athletically inclined at all,” she said. “It was a disaster”), but she did manage to connect with the Spokane Children’s Theatre.
“It was like I found my niche,” Albertus said. “The kids there were all a bit odd, and so was I. I felt a little more accepted there.”
When she entered high school, Albertus added journalism to her resume.
“I was on the newspaper staff for the longest time,” she said, “arts and entertainment. I did their movie reviews!”
Her interests shifted a bit when she entered WSU, and she ended up studying a double major: criminal justice and political science.
But Albertus’ love for the arts never deserted her. Over the years, she entered The Spokesman-Review’s annual Oscar contest and ended up winning it three times – making her one of the most successful participants ever.
And at some point, she began thinking of pursuing film as a profession.
“I don’t ever want to look back on my life and say, ‘Gosh, I wish I would have tried that,’ ” she said.
So she got a job, “hoarded some money,” and two years ago headed for Hollywood.
The poolside sequence worked this way:
The contestants who had been chosen to stay were busy squealing, those who had been dumped were departing (some in tears, others slamming doors behind them).
Albertus and the other two contestants, meanwhile, were called to the pool, where – with the remaining contestants and the three moms watching – they faced the trio of bachelors.
The producers had made it clear: Two of the three women had to leave the show.
Albertus’ chances of survival improved when the first woman was summarily dismissed. But then two of the bachelors voted to eliminate Albertus, and it looked as if the girl from Spokane was out.
Which was too bad because, as part of the buildup, some of the other women – most of whom were then looking on – had given Albertus a makeover, improving her status from merely pretty to … well, strikingly attractive.
Such manufactured drama is all part of reality TV, don’t you know.
“People say that was the moment I looked the most beautiful,” Albertus said. “To me, that didn’t feel pretty. That felt uncomfortable and a little awkward. That’s not my kind of pretty.”
Maybe not, but the final bachelor changed everything by saying that even though he hadn’t gotten a chance to know Albertus, he thought she was a sweet girl.
And he wanted her to stay.
All Albertus had to do was accept his offer.
To many movie-star wannabes, Hollywood is a life-sucking lure.
Think about it: You’re never too late to make it. Clara Peller was 82 when, in 1984, she earned national recognition by barking the Wendy’s advertising tagline “Where’s the beef?”
Albertus understands this. During her time in L.A., she’s barely made ends meets by working for $9 an hour at an animal-rescue organization, lived in apartments no bigger than your standard Spokane closet, seen her used car die on her, all while going on too many audition calls to remember.
It was after one of those auditions, as a contestant on the quiz show “Deal or No Deal” (she wasn’t chosen), that led, as they sometimes do, to something else.
“That was the most random, bizarre occurrence,” she said. “They must have saved my audition tape, because I got a call, just out of the blue, from the ‘Momma’s Boys’ casting people.
“They asked me, ‘Would you like to come in and meet with us?’ And I go, ‘Well, sure.’ ”
After that initial meeting, followed by another five or six, Albertus ended up on the show.
It wasn’t, she stresses, an easy process.
“The testing was rigorous, like you wouldn’t even imagine,” she said. “The CIA probably does less testing.”
Testing, then, was, part of the process, on-screen and off.
Back at the pool, Albertus had just been thrown a lifeline by the third bachelor.
And it looked for a second as if she were going to grab it.
But, in the end, she declined. Albertus shed tears (as did, it appeared, the bachelor, not to mention many of the television viewers) as she explained that she believed, in all honesty, she didn’t deserve to continue on.
And just that fast, Megan Albertus departed the national television stage that had provided her a quick look at a life, and lifestyle, that she had never even imagined experiencing.
Here’s the curious thing: She doesn’t express a single regret.
“I don’t think I’m cut out for reality television,” Albertus said. “I’m too honest.”
The problem with “Momma’s Boys,” she explained, was two-fold.
One, she said, involved the guys themselves.
“I loved the guys,” she said. “They were adorable and wonderful, all of them in their own ways. But they were waaaay too young for me. I felt like a tutor. One of them was 21, and I’m sure he’s vastly more experienced in the bedroom than I am. But still, he’s 21!”
And another wanted to have children right away.
“I mean, he could be a father tomorrow,” Albertus said, “and I’m not anywhere near that ready to procreate.”
Two, staying on the show meant compromising her values.
“I would feel so guilty if I were there for the wrong reasons,” she said. “Just because I have aspirations to be an actress doesn’t mean that I’m going to feign emotions on TV for more camera time. That’s disingenuous, and I could not respect myself if I did that.”
She is happy that she received that initial call.
“I’m thankful for the opportunity,” Albertus said. “It was a wonderful chance to do things that I would never get to do on my own.”
As for the future, she’s not worried.
“My idea of success is not to see my names in light or to see my name on a star on a sidewalk,” Albertus said. “It’s not an Oscar.
“If I could just get a commercial and the residuals could buy my new used car, that would be success to me. If I just eke out a living doing something that makes me happy, that’s all I need.”
And if it doesn’t happen, she’s got that covered, too.
“Having my education provides me with a solid Plan B,” Albertus said. “I don’t fear for my future because I know this business is fickle. If it doesn’t work out, I want to be able to pursue forensics, which is I always saw myself as doing.”
Then again, she could always combine the two and find a position on, say, “CSI” or “Law & Order.”
“Yeah,” Albertus said with a laugh, “I could be technical adviser and actor all wrapped up in one neat package.”