Local woman completes run on NBC reality show

Photo by Dave Boyd
Jessica Townsend and Bridgit Singleton, Hampton High School students, take three giant steps away from the bus as they watch for vehicles.
By Abby Morris
Star Staff
While she was drafting beers and mixing drinks in New York, opportunity knocked on Heather Snell's door.
Snell, 23, an Elizabethton native and 1999 graduate of Happy Valley High School, was working in New York when the opportunity of a lifetime came her way.
"I moved to New York two years ago. I started modeling when I first got there," said Snell, adding that she did modeling work for Abercrombie and Fitch and had even traveled to Hawaii for some of her modeling work. "While I was modeling, I was also bartending about three nights a week to help pay my bills and my rent. Rent is so expensive up there."
It was while she was working that part-time job that Snell was approached about an acting job. "While I was bartending, some producers from NBC approached me about being on the show," she said.
The show Snell is referring to was NBC's reality show called "The Restaurant" which was based around the real life challenges of opening a restaurant in the heart of New York City.
"I went to the NBC studios and went through a series of interviews and auditions and was selected for the show," Snell said, adding that more than 3,000 people tried out for the various roles on the show. "Just being selected was exciting."
According to Snell, "The Restaurant" is like no other reality show on television. "It's not a show where you're voted off or there's a prize. It's a real job that they are filming," she said. "Our prize was our exposure. Anyone who works in the (entertainment) industry -- whether they are modeling or acting -- wants that exposure.
"This is the first show of its kind. Yes, it's a reality show, but it's a different kind of reality show. It's an unscripted drama."
The show was based around Rocco DiSpirito, a first-generation Italian-American chef who has gained a following on the New York scene. "He puts his reputation on the line and risks everything to fulfill his lifelong dream to create, launch and operate his own ultra-chic Manhattan eatery," proclaims the Web site for the television show, which ran on Sunday nights on the network during the summer. The drama of the show was based around the challenges of opening the restaurant and making it a success.
"It was probably the most difficult thing I've ever done," Snell said. "Opening a restaurant is difficult as it is anyway and we did it in five weeks instead of five months."
Being on television for the show was a new experience for Snell. "You get upset or mad and you don't want to come across the wrong way on TV," she said. "It's always in your head that you're being taped."
In addition to the stress of getting the restaurant open, long hours of hard work were also involved. The long hours were the worst part of the experience, according to Snell.
"We would go in before noon and sometimes we would have to stay until 1 or 2 in the morning," Snell said. "Then the TV crew would want us to go out and we would go out and we weren't getting to bed until 4 or 5 in the morning. Then some of us would have to get up for interviews at 10 or 11 in the morning.
"We were going around the clock. I don't think any of us got any sleep the whole five weeks we did the show."
At times, the stress of both the job and the show got to Snell. "There were times that I wanted to leave or just not be there, but I hung in there," she said.
As the nation watched the show to see what surprises lay in store for Snell, DiSpirito and the rest of the crew from "Rocco's," the name of the restaurant, Snell was just as surprised as the rest of the world when she saw the shows. "Every show I watched was a surprise to me the same as everyone else," she said, adding that the producers filmed so many things and then edited it down to the finished product which was broadcast on television. "I wish we (the cast) could have gotten to see the show before everyone else did. That's the one thing I wish was different about it."
Looking back on the entire experience, Snell said that if she had it to do over, she would still choose to be on the show.
For right now, this local native is content to remain at her job mixing drinks and drafting beer at Rocco's. "I'm not sure where I'm heading with my career right now so I will probably stay on for a while," she said.
Snell is the daughter of Tami Snell and Timothy Snell, both of Elizabethton.