Hopkins County woman in the running for reality show

Series promises biggest payout in reality history

By PATTI SELLS | News-Telegram Feature Writer

Sept 13, 2007 - Something big is stewing in reality TV for spring 2008, and Hopkins County resident Julie Barrows' name is in the pot.

Staff Photo by Patti Sells

Julie Barrows used local landmarks like the giant stew pot in front of the Hopkins County Chamber of Commerce in an audition video for the reality show "Tontine," billed as a blend of "Survivor" and "The Amazing Race."

She and 149 others from across the nation are vying for one of 15 spots on an upcoming reality TV show contest called "Tontine," described as a blend of "The Amazing Race" and "Survivor." She's hoping she has just the right amount of spunk and personality to make the mix and possibly win the biggest cash payout in reality television history — $10 million dollars.

"I don't know exactly what I would do with all that money," said Barrows, a member of First United Methodist Church who also serves on the local child protective services board and has been active in the community since she moved here seven years ago. "There are things that mean a lot to me. My community, I have a passion for people who tend to fall through the cracks, children, families of Hurricane Katrina still trying to rebuild their lives — that's a situation close to my heart. A lot of things come to mind about what I would like to do with the money. But I would really like to make a difference."

The show is based on its namesake, "tontine," an annuity scheme in which a group of individuals share a common fund, of which the hefty sum is awarded to the last surviving investor. Or in the game's case, the contestant who makes it to the end of the competition.

Each competitor will be given a "special key" that unlocks a portion of the grand prize money. Over the course of 100 days and across all seven continents, the cast will be put through a series of mental and physical challenges with the possession of the keys constantly up for grabs, according to Rob Mariano, who is the show's host. Mariano burst onto the reality television scene in 2002 as a castaway on "Survivor" and then later appeared as a contestant on "The Amazing Race."

"I'm guessing it is a pretty intense contest," Barrows said. "And I'm assuming that when your key is taken, you are eliminated, but I really don't know what to expect. They have been very vague."

Barrows' shot at the reality show came purely by chance.

While killing time in a Dallas mall this summer, she happened upon an area where applications were being taken and interviews conducted with people interested in being selected for a new reality competition. 

On a whim, she decided to go ahead and give it a try.

After filling out the application, she was then directed to an interview room where a video camera was set up. 

"Honestly, I don't even remember a word I said," laughed Barrows, who explained she was asked to talk to the camera as if in one of the "confession rooms" that have grown popular on reality TV. "I'm sure I just babbled for a  complete minute. I never really thought anything would come of it. I got my T-shirt and went on my way."

To her surprise, she was contacted by e-mail later in the summer, directing her to produce and submit a  creative video depicting her personality and style.

"Immediately bells went off in my head, because my daughter Tina is an amateur film maker in Dallas. Well, really she's very good and done very well with short films in festivals," explained Barrows. "So, really I was thinking this would be a good opportunity for her." 

The making of the clip became a family affair, according to Barrows, who featured her 107-acre homestead, as well as points of interest throughout Sulphur Springs, such as the county courthouse, dairy museum, and the oversized, swinging stew pot on the Hopkins County Chamber of Commerce grounds. She pops out of the stew pot on the film short.

"I want to represent Sulphur Springs," she said. "I want them to know where I live, where I come from, and the kind of person I am."

Barrows describes herself as happy, enthusiastic and full of life.

"I'm very outgoing, positive, competitive and always want to see things through to the end," said Barrows. "They're looking for personality, certain demographics, what they perceive as what they want on the show. I hope they want me."

According to Barrows, video votes will count as 20 percent of the selection process. Currently her's is ranked number 28 out of the 150 that can be viewed and voted on YouTube.com.

"It's important to know that you can vote one time every day and it doesn't cost you a dime," she said. "You just set up your username and password and then you can rate the videos. Our's is really making good progress."

The voting ends Friday, Sept. 14.

Married to her husband, Bob, for 29 years, the 49-year-old mother of two stepdaughters, a son and grandson said she is somewhat concerned about how physically able she would be compared to younger contestants. 

"I really can't worry about that too much," she said. "I am what I am. I'm 49 years old, but I think I'm in pretty good shape. I work out almost every day."

Even so, Barrows said she has "stepped up her game" by joining C.J. Duffey at his boxing gym on Industrial Drive.

"He says that I have heart, and I believe him when he says it," she said. "He says winning is not always about who can hit the hardest, or who has the most ability — it's about heart, pushing yourself to a place a lot of people can't go. He has been so supportive and encouraging. A big part of me feeling good about this comes from him. He makes me feel like I can do anything."

According to Barrows, one thing she won't do, however, is compromise her moral values.

"I'm not willing to die, or kill anybody," she said with a chuckle. "I'm not willing to sacrifice my ethics or values. The only thing we really have in life is our integrity. I don't really speculate on the challenges that may lay ahead. I don't want to waste my time on 'what ifs.' 

"I'll just deal with everything as it comes and follow my instincts," she added.

Barrows said she never expected anything to come of her application, but since it has she plans to give it her best shot.

"I don't know why this opportunity came to me," she admitted. "I wasn't looking for it, but because I am always looking for open doors I just felt like I need to follow through with this. I know I'm not the person who needs the money the most,  but perhaps I'm the one who needs to bring it home the most. Perhaps I'm the one who could really make the most difference with it, and I want to do that. And the fact that I've made it this far says something. This is just one of those things that has presented itself, and I want to try to do it. I'm going for it."


Barrows' audition video can be seen on YouTube.com at:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=jw8W3tpj3IA

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