Hunk or Skunk?
Not exactly. Few other single men have ever sought a soul mate by conning 20 women into thinking he's a château-dwelling aesthete worth $50 million, as Marriott does on the new FOX reality hit Joe Millionaire. Ultimately Marriott, 28, will narrow the field to one woman and reveal his true identity: a $19,000-a-year construction worker. "He has a way with people," says mom Charlotte. "I always knew if the right thing came along, he would do well."
Just how well remains to be seen. Marriott is mum about the show's ending (which airs Feb. 17), but he says that although he "started feeling guilty" about his deceit, "that died when I realized the innocence of it." He was tested more by his My Fair Laddie indoctrination in fencing, dancing and table etiquette. "Evan was pretty raw," says exec producer Jean-Michel Michenaud, "but he did great."
Marriott has always preferred forklifts to chilled forks. The son of Hank, 60, a Virginia Beach, Va., bank vice president, and Charlotte, 60, who manages a linen boutique, he graduated from high school in 1992 and modeled part-time while working as a hotel doorman in New York City. At 22, when his money ran out, he returned to Virginia and began working at his godfather's construction firm. On the job "Evan grew long hair and wore flannel shirts with holes to blend in," says Charlotte. "He didn't want to be this pretty boy." After a stint acting in L.A. (he won a bit part in Days of Our Lives in 1999), he returned to construction and occasional modeling jobs.
At a 2001 Christmas party Marriott met a production staffer for Joe and landed the job within months. During the show's run he'll live in a FOX-funded home outside L.A. to escape the media onslaught. Marriott, who plans on returning to a hard-hat life, has no regrets about his stint in luxury's lap. But "at the end of the day," he says, "I'm just a bulldozer operator from Orange County."