Enjoying the Ride

Febuary 7, 2004

Bareback rider David Smith, aka reality TV's Joe Millionaire, doesn't mind the spotlight

By Brett Hoffman

FORT WORTH - As David Smith was competing at the Mesquite Championship Rodeo last summer, his life began taking faster jumps than any rampaging bronc he would face.

A Fox network scout approached the tall, muscular, Stetson-wearing Smith at the weekly rodeo and informed him that the network was casting a reality TV show. Suddenly, Smith was in Southern California being interviewed for the prime-time show, The Next Joe Millionaire: An International Affair, a sequel to Joe Millionaire.

A year ago, the friendly and easygoing Smith was a promising bareback bronc rider of humble means who finished in the money at smaller pro rodeos.

Today, Smith, who is scheduled to compete this weekend in the Fort Worth Stock Show Rodeo at Will Rogers Coliseum, is a familiar face. He's famous for appearing on national TV pretending to be a rich Texas bachelor looking for love among 14 European women who vied for his attention at an Italian villa.

"It's very intense," Smith, 24, said of the pressures of national stardom. "But, I've gotten somewhat used to it after getting off the plane, being on the red carpet, doing interviews and taking millions of pictures.

"Now, I really feel for those movie stars like Tom Cruise because your privacy is lost."

In Fox's fall 2003 episodes, which were filmed mostly during the summer in Italy, Smith told the women that he was wealthy, and the network enabled him to take them on expensive shopping sprees. But throughout the series, Smith admitted to each woman that he had not, in fact, inherited an $80 million oil fortune.

After an elimination process, Smith chose Linda Kazdova, a brunette from the Czech Republic. Kazdova, who received $250,000 from Fox after becoming Smith's top pick, was in California this month trying to expand her modeling career.

Smith said that he and Kazdova talk regularly but haven't developed a serious romantic relationship.

Meanwhile, Smith has resumed his rodeo career and owns a 90-acre ranch near Austin that was purchased by Fox. He has also hired publicity managers in California as he tries to move forward in the entertainment industry.

Jimmy Villarreal, Smith's public-relations manager in Hollywood, said he's working to get Smith small TV and movie roles such as a feature film scene of a cowboy riding a horse or an appearance on a TV comedy like Reba, which features country-western star Reba McEntire.

"The trademark that sets David off is his cowboy hat," Villarreal said. "It doesn't matter if we are in New York or Las Vegas, people spot him and say, 'I know him.' When we were recently in Las Vegas at the Billboard Awards, David really stopped traffic. We were literally stopped by fans every 20 minutes."

A cowboy at heart

Unlike most pro rodeo competitors, Smith didn't begin busting broncs in the junior ranks. He first enjoyed success in mainstream sports.

As his father worked in the West Texas oil patches during Smith's boyhood years, Smith became a starting quarterback at Midland Lee High School. After graduating in 1997, he attended McMurry University in Abilene and played on the school's baseball team.

He left McMurry to concentrate on rodeo but later earned a scholarship as a bronc rider at Wharton County Junior College. In 2002, he qualified for the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyo.

Also in 2002, Smith joined the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. And last year, he qualified for the PRCA's Texas Circuit Finals at Waco in bareback riding after finishing in the money in smaller rodeos, including ones in Pampa, Big Spring and Perry, Ga.

In 2003, Smith earned $7,629 at PRCA shows. His total earnings the past two seasons are $10,739.

"I would never give up rodeo," Smith said. "It was rodeo that got me a spot on Joe Millionaire, and I love to compete. Considering my age and athletic ability, if I'm going to succeed in rodeo, it probably will have to be over the next three years. If I don't make it to the National Finals by then, I might never make it."

At the Fort Worth Stock Show Rodeo, Smith turned in an above-average bareback score of 76 on Jan. 23. But the next day, he was bucked off. He is scheduled to face his third-round bronc Sunday in the matinee performance.

Six-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier James Boudreaux said Smith has the potential to raise his rodeo profile.

"David rides really well and very aggressively," Boudreaux said. "With the right breaks, he someday could go to the National Finals."

Transcending rodeo

When Smith competed in the Fort Worth rodeo two weeks ago, he was sought by fans for autographs.

"The most common question that people ask is, 'Where is the girl you chose?' " Smith said. "They also ask about the horse, Hurricane, that I rode in the show."

Smith's father, Ron, an oil field drilling fluid salesman who now lives in Belleville, near Houston, said the stardom has helped his son become wiser.

"David likes the laid-back life instead of the fast lane," the elder Smith said. "He's matured a lot as a result of being on Joe Millionaire, but he hasn't changed his values."

Smith said he hopes his celebrity helps promote rodeo. In the first episode of Joe Millionaire, cameras followed Smith on the circuit and featured a segment that carefully explained his bronc-riding career.

"I feel like rodeo athletes aren't given enough credit," Smith said. "They compete, exercise and work just as hard as athletes in the mainstream sports, but they don't get paid the $1 million like football and baseball players."

PRCA Commissioner Steve Hatchell said Smith's celebrity has presented rodeo to mass audiences with no agricultural background.

Hatchell said that as Smith's rodeo career was featured on network television, "it brought up a lot of questions about rodeo. We had people calling and asking different questions about David, such as, 'Is he a good cowboy?'

"Anytime we can have an opportunity to showcase rodeo in the mainstream media like we did through Joe Millionaire, it really helps us in a global sense."

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