Friday, September 17, 2004

Tech's Playmates don't shed reality

Despite the exposure and the autograph session, the women said life hasn't changed much.

BLACKSBURG - Deli Mart. Sold out.

Food Time. Sold out. Sheetz. Sold out.

Barnes & Noble? Sold out in four days.

Playboy magazine last Friday flooded the Virginia Tech-area market with more than 3,000 copies of its latest edition, which features five Virginia Tech students in its "Girls of the ACC" feature layout.

But even with so many photos of their unclad bodies floating around the campus and town, three of Tech's five Playmates say life hasn't changed so much. They've had few, if any, strangers stop them on the street to offer praise or criticism.

"One guy asked me to take a photo with him and sign his hat at the game Saturday," said Melissa Favorito, a 21-year-old marketing management major who posed at her health club for the Playboy shoot. "Other than that, it's mostly been friends. I go to class so early, I guess most students are still half asleep."

The story is mostly the same for Tech juniors Mellisa Morris and Erin Jenne. The two other Tech Playmates weren't available for a brunch interview Thursday over eggs, potatoes and toast at Gillie's in downtown Blacksburg.

It was a morning of media celebrity for the students. There were also interviews with the school newspaper, ESPN's Graverobber radio show and The Bear. The day was capped off with an autograph signing event at Wade's Supermarket on North Main Street.

"I spent downtime in class this week practicing my signature," Favorito said.

By 4:30 Thursday afternoon more than 100 people, mostly college boys but also a sprinkling of college girls, middle-aged working stiffs, some businessmen in pressed shirts and ties and at least one wife who planned to surprise her husband, stretched in a line around the Wade's beer island display and down the frozen foods aisle, gingerly flipping through the pages of Playboy as other customers drifted by hardly seeming to notice the commotion.

Morris, Favorito and Jenne sat at a table under a Hokie picnic tent with bottled water and Sharpie pens in hand, smiling, asking names and signing copy after copy after copy of the magazine.

Jerry Spangler of Anderson News Co., a magazine distributor, initially supplied his Blacksburg stores with 1,000 copies. He brought an extra 500 for the autograph signing.

Michael Ramey, a Tech junior who had to wait until he got to Wade's to buy a copy, eagerly waited with friends for his turn to get an autograph.

"I know two girls who auditioned but didn't get picked," he said. "But these girls did fine. I think they do a great job representing Tech. I'm happy."

Earlier at Gillie's, an eatery across from Tech's campus where the clientele tends perhaps toward more literary fare than Playboy, there were no gawkers as the Playmates ate brunch. Oh, there were plenty of sideways glances, but nothing too bold. Even cook Noah Gillie, who'd eagerly anticipated a chance to meet the women, remained kind of shy when the opportunity finally came. He asked them if they enjoyed their meal and thanked them for the autographs. It wasn't exactly a "deer in headlights" moment, but it was pretty subdued.

"Most guys end up getting a little tongue-tied when they actually get to meet a Playmate," said Playboy publicist Melissa Gorski, who flew down from New York to accompany the students at their various interviews and events Thursday.

"We've been in contact for a week or so," said Gorski. "I tried to prepare them on what to expect."

Playboy wouldn't allow a reporter to accompany the Playmates to class, though.

"We don't want to interfere with the schoolwork," she said. "Everything today has been arranged around their class schedules."

Gorski left Thursday night for Charlottesville, where she will walk the University of Virginia's three Playmates through a similar publicity mill today.

"The reality's starting to sink in that this is pretty much it," Morris said of her celebrity.

Except for a few awkward moments - like checking with her mom to make sure her dad didn't still subscribe to Playboy - Morris said the experience has been sedate. No catcalls across the Drillfield. No inappropriate propositions from students or locals.

But, really, does a regular guy stand a chance with a Playboy Playmate?

Sure, said Morris and Jenne, who are both single and still enjoy drinking or dancing at Big Al's or Woody's on weekends.

"If you come up saying 'I saw you in Playboy,' if that's your game, you're probably out of it," said Morris.

Jenne agreed.

"If someone came up and said, 'I've seen you naked,' I'd probably say, 'Don't feel special. So have 5 million other Playboy readers,'" she added.

So what's next? Appearances in Vegas. Or a trip to the "Mansion" with Hef?

Once again, reality sits in.

It's an exercise physiology test for Morris. Papers and essays for Favorito and Jenne.

"We still have the college thing to do," Jenne said. "I'm still just that girl that sits beside you in class."

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