Three years ago, Surya Yalamanchili was told “you’re fired” by Donald Trump on national television. Now, the 28-year-old hopes Ohio voters will hire him for Congress.
Yalamanchili, who survived eight episodes of The Apprentice in 2007, is one of three U.S. House candidates running this fall after achieving some measure of fame as cast members on reality TV shows. Two others, Republican Sean Duffy of Wisconsin and Democrat Kevin Powell of New York, starred on MTV’s iconic Real World series.
“Reality TV shares a lot in common with politics,” Yalamanchili says. “It’s much more focused on ‘gotcha’ . . . as opposed to substantively talking about issues,” he says.
All three downplay their stints as reality TV stars.
Duffy, who has the backing of national GOP committees, is ahead in fundraising in a district represented by a Democrat since 1969. He stresses his time as an elected prosecutor and a champion lumberjack. Those achievements matter more to voters, he says, than his six-month gig on a show that installed a group of 20-somethings in a Boston house, left the cameras on 24/7 and helped fuel a TV genre that endures today.
“I don’t think people care a whole lot about a reality TV show I did nearly 15 years ago,” says Duffy, a 38-year-old father of six. “I’m concerned about the reality of northern Wisconsin, and the reality that my kids might inherit an America that is not as great as the one I inherited.”
One TV tie remains: His wife, Rachel Campos-Duffy, is a former cast member of The Real World: San Francisco.
Powell, a writer and public speaker seen in the first season of The Real World: New York in 1992, is making his second attempt to unseat Rep. Edolphus Towns, amid recent revelations that Powell owes back taxes. Powell says he has paid or is in the process of settling those bills.
Powell, 44, says he is better known as a Brooklyn community activist than for his TV stint. “This is my calling: to help people,” he says. “I just happened to have been on a show at a point in my life.”
Towns, a 28-year House veteran, beat Powell 68%-32% two years ago in a Democratic primary. The New York and Wisconsin primaries are Sept. 14. Yalamanchili faces Rep. Jean Schmidt, a Republican, on Nov. 2.
Another collision of reality TV and politics is coming next month. Running, a show about eight rookie House and Senate candidates, will air on RightNetwork, a new conservative TV and online brand.