11/03/2003 at 01:00 AM EST
At 28, Pittsburgh resident Matt Kennedy Gould wasn't exactly going places. He'd delivered pizzas, dropped out of law school, was living with the folks. Yet he knew there must be more to life. It was called reality TV. "I watched Survivor, Road Rules—that's the best, all the drama and good-looking girls," says Gould. "I always thought I'd be great on a reality show."
Dude was right, sort of. Thanks to Spike TV's Joe Schmo Show, which concludes its eight-week run Oct. 28, he's the unwitting star of an elaborate reality-TV parody. Gould thought he was spending 14 days in an L.A. mansion on a reality show called The Lap of Luxury, vying with eight other contestants for $100,000. What he wasn't told was that the other housemates were actors and the show was actually a cross between The Truman Show and Big Brother. Once taping started in June, the actors realized that Gould—goggle-eyed when required to participate in such outrageous "challenges" as "Hands on a High-Priced Hooker"—was a special soul. "He's so charmingly naive," says series writer Brian Keith Etheridge, 35, who played a housemate. When Gould sobbed during a Survivoresque eviction ceremony, "my heart dropped," says Etheridge.
The finale will reveal whether Gould ever caught on. Punked or not, "I love the show," he says. "Now I'm just hoping to make the most of this. It's not like I have to be famous. I just want a job where I don't have to go to an office." Or vote off coworkers.