In February 2003, the finale of “Joe Millionaire” on Fox upended America as 40 million viewers watched Evan Marriott choose Zora Andrich.
Nineteen years later, on Jan. 6, Fox is launching “Joe Millionaire: For Richer or Poorer,” recalling a time in which Marriott and Andrich (now Zora Sabrina) were TV’s reigning reality stars.
In the original series Marriott, 28, wined and dined a group of 20 women at a chateau in France. They believed that he was Evan Wallace, who had inherited $50 million — and not a construction worker who’d earned $19,000 the year before. During the series, he endeavored to find a partner he felt wasn’t interested in him solely for his (faux) wealth.
That turned out to be Andrich, a 29-year-old substitute teacher. “I was really turned off by the fact that you had inherited all that money,” she told Marriott once the ruse was revealed in the finale, which drew the biggest primetime entertainment audience in three years.
Marriott and Andrich split the show’s $1 million prize money, embarked on a media blitz and parted ways shortly thereafter.
Zora Sabrina answered some questions for The Post about “Joe Millionaire,” how it impacted her life and her thoughts on “Joe Millionaire: For Richer or Poorer” — in which two single men will date a group of women who don’t know that only one of them is wealthy.
Why did you choose to appear on “Joe Millionaire”?
I actually didn’t choose to be in the show initially. I still, to this day, don’t know who submitted me. The interview process was very long, elaborate … I ultimately decided I should participate in the show, based on the time investment alone.
Did you feel duped when you learned that Evan Marriott was not a millionaire?
I never felt duped. If anything, I felt relieved. Having had a very modest upbringing, I felt very intimidated by “his” lavish lifestyle. I don’t think I could ever fully accept the “reality” due to my own insecurities.
What was it like to be in the media spotlight?
It was incredibly overwhelming. By nature, I’m a homebody, more introverted. Being in the spotlight and all that entailed was more than I was ever prepared for … I believe certain personalities would be much better-equipped to navigate that experience.
Looking back through the prism of nearly 20 years, do you think you made a mistake by appearing on the series?
I feel like reality show “stars” are generally perceived in a negative way … as though we are all seeking our “5 minutes of fame.” I had enough foresight or awareness to understand this would my compromise my credibility, but I didn’t necessarily know to what extent. I was naive. Fellow participants [on “Joe Millionaire”], younger than myself, seemed more savvy, mature and overall better-equipped to be on the show. However, most people have been/are very kind and share favorable, complimentary feedback.
Are you in touch with Evan, or with anyone from the original series?
Evan and I have talked over the years. We share an experience of which few others can relate. Despite our differences, I really like Evan. His heart and character are intact — and I appreciate his unapologetic, bold personality.
Do you find yourself being asked about the show, or is it now just a blip on your resume, something you did “in another life“?
The days of people crying, chasing, going into hysterics over my autograph are certainly behind me — and it’s rare that people recognize me these days, although I’ll still occasionally get stopped at the grocery store. Sometimes, I’ll be asked which season of “American Idol” I appeared on … I politely offer, “I’m sorry, you seem to have mistaken me with someone who appeared on a show requiring talent.”
Do you have any words of advice for the women will appear on “Joe Millionaire: For Richer or Poorer”?
I don’t have advice. Offering advice suggests I’m an expert and that’s something I cannot claim to be. I only hope they’ll feel comfortable and proud of how they’re portrayed.
Can you tell me a little about you life now?
I’m a busy mom of two (and a half). I am currently caring for a 1-year-old foster baby — hence the “half.” I work in healthcare and teach yoga on the side, as a hobby.