CLEARWATER — Dawn Clark and Jeremy Teabout tied the knot on Feb. 17, at Sand Key Park, before God and a film crew from WE tv's hit show Bridezillas.
Dawn had seen a Bridezillas ad online. She submitted an application, talked to producers, and pretty soon, cameramen were standing in her living room, white lights burning. Dawn and Jeremy agreed to let the film crew tag along for 10 days before the wedding, to capture their fights, their tension, their warts-and-all relationship.
In turn, they'd receive $2,500 for their wedding and 15 minutes of fame.
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They weren't allowed to see the show before it aired. So this summer, Dawn and Jeremy invited friends and family to watch Bridezillas in their living room.
Dawn performed her role with flair. She appears in two episodes, now airing in reruns. In them, she wakes Jeremy at 5:30 a.m. and makes him exercise with a personal trainer while she eats doughnuts and calls him fat. She hires an etiquette coach to teach him table manners. She blows up when her mother is taken to a hospital.
She insults him and criticizes him until he's a quaking, slobbering mess on their wedding day.
Soon, a storm gathered online. On WE's Web site, someone started a post called: "The worst Bridezilla …" Hundreds of comments piled up in blogs and on chat boards.
Dawn was called a sad excuse for a human being, a HORRIBLE HORRIBLE person, MEAN and NASTY, the WORST bridezilla, hypocritical, nasty, mean, crude, fat pig, a miserable pig and pure evil!!!
Someone found Dawn's MySpace page and posted a link. E-mails poured in.
July 28: I hope one day your walking down a dark alley and someone recognizes you and they beat the (expletive) out of you.
Aug. 8: Choke on a donut you (expletive) pig.
Aug. 10: jeremy is too good for you. you actually should die!!!!!!!i hopeyouhave a heart attackyoufat (expletive) beast.
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At their tidy home in Clearwater, photos of Dawn and Jeremy, smiling, line the shelves. Jeremy sits at the kitchen table waiting for his wife to get home from work. He's a security guard. She works for Pinellas County. They met seven years ago when they both worked at the old Crossroads Mall. They've dated since.
Dawn's mother is in the living room, within earshot.
"To tell you the truth," Jeremy says quietly, "I liked it."
After the show aired, he got a lot of messages from sympathetic women telling him that he deserves better. Someone recognized him at the Poison concert.
"To go somewhere and have someone notice you, it's a good thing for me," he says. Besides, "It's something I can pass on to my son and he can pass on to his son," he says. "Who around here can actually say their wedding was on national television?"
When Dawn arrives, she tells a different story. She says the producer encouraged her to be herself, plus 110 percent.
"I had no idea what we were getting into," she says.
She's says she and Jeremy signed a lengthy contract that prohibits them from suing WE tv for defamation of character.
"But it almost is defamation of character," she says. She has a stable job, drives a nice car and owns her home. "I'm a decent person. I have morals."
She read the comments online.
"I could only make it through the first few of them," she says. "The bloggers are just mean and spiteful. When I stopped reading was some comment about how my parents didn't raise me right. It's uncalled for to watch a show about a bride and groom and bring in my mom."
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Dawn and Jeremy thought the reality show would show reality. Were that the case, Dawn admits, Bridezillas would have had plenty to work with. But the closer they came to wedding day, the fuzzier the line between reality and fiction became. She says the show set up Jeremy's etiquette coach and early-morning exercise outing. And they made her eat the doughnuts while he sweated through the workout.
"I don't even like doughnuts," she says.
Dawn and Jeremy say they were often fed lines. And if you look closely enough, if you know Dawn and Jeremy, you can see them smirking.
Danielle Ostroske, a senior producer at WE, says the show does not create situations or personalities, and nothing in the show was concocted.
"It can be very eye opening to see yourself on television," she says.
Dawn and Jeremy never expected the venom.
Did it hurt?
"You were devastated, Dawn," says her mother on the couch.
The couple has been recognized at Perkins and Red Lobster. Most folks just whisper and point. No one has been rude.
Dawn says she doesn't regret doing the show, "but if I was ever asked to do another reality show, I wouldn't."
"He's obsessed with reading the blogs," Dawn says. "He likes how famous he's become."
Outside, a light rain is falling. Jeremy walks a reporter to his car and climbs into the passenger seat.
"A lot of it was fake," he says, "but a lot of it was right on."
"She can be a real …"
He spells it.
Ben Montgomery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8650.