Arkansans find fame, fun on hit reality TV shows


Nothing compares to learning one of your favorite reality stars is from Arkansas. It brings forth childlike excitement to have a Natural State native, Razorback-lovin’, Buffalo River-floatin’, biscuit-bakin’ contestant on prime-time television. Whether they’re surviving on the Fijian islands with Jeff Probst, winning over the hearts of strangers in paradise or keeping it real on the “Real World,” it’s fun to watch our underappreciated state get some overdue recognition.

Cole Medders
“Survivor,” Season 35

John David Pittman
COLE MEDDERS

A Little Rock native, Cole Medders took his Arkansas-grown adventure skills and ran with them. As a kid, Medders would skip school at Little Rock Christian Academy (we can let that one slide) to go to the climbing gym. He made countless trips to Northwest Arkansas to soak in its natural beauty and grow his skills. As a survival and wilderness coach it would make sense that he would end up on a show like “Survivor,” right? Surprisingly, he was scouted for the show at a Chipotle while visiting Los Angeles. It’s crazy how life works out. Since braving the Fijian elements on Season 35, Medders also made a recent appearance on “Bachelor in Paradise” and is set to head off again to the South Pacific for another survival show in August. Between being a reality star, personal trainer and competitive rock climber, he’s a pretty busy guy. Still, he makes time to come back to Arkansas and unwind with his family. MH

Matthew Garland
“Naked and Afraid,” Season 12

Brian Chilson
MATTHEW GARLAND

“Naked and Afraid” isn’t one of those shows you go on just for the fun of it — it’s raw, real and tough. Matthew Garland took on the challenge twice — 14 days in the Arizona desert and 21 days in the African forest. He admits he thought, “What idiot would do that?” when he initially heard of the show, but soon he was addicted to the grueling feat of surviving in the wilderness with next to nothing. He became the first Arkansan to complete their endeavor. He mixes his tech day job with Advanced Alarm Technology in Benton with his passion for the outdoors. This third-generation Eagle Scout takes pride in life’s primitive aspects. He’s already excited to see his 2-year-old baby boy splash in puddles and play in the mud. MH

Kelley Wolf
“Real World: New Orleans”

Carla Boecklin
KELLEY WOLF

Kelley Wolf was waiting tables at Bordino’s in Fayetteville around 1999 when her boss said, “MTV is on the phone.” The Indiana-born, Fayetteville-raised Wolf (then known as Kelley Limp) was soon cast on MTV’s “Real World,” a forerunner to the reality TV craze. The show placed young, attractive singles in a house and let viewers observe their lives inside the bubble. Wolf admitted in a recent Arkansas Times interview she was a little “withholding” in her interactions in the house, believing that her actions on TV could follow her in the real world even after “Real World.” After the show wrapped, Wolf went back to waiting tables (this time in New Orleans) where she had plenty of fame but not much cash. She hadn’t gotten paid to be on the show. Wolf later with her husband, actor Scott Wolf of “Party of Five” fame, on a blind date and got married at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville in 2004. Wolf regularly visits her family and friends in Arkansas where her dad recently retired as a University of Arkansas professor. “As much as I’m away, Arkansas remains one of the most special places I’ve ever been on planet Earth,” she said. Wolf, who has three kids, lived in Vancouver, British Columbia, where Scott was shooting a TV show during the pandemic, but the family is moving to Park City, Utah. Wolf’s Utah neighbors should get ready for her brand of Arkansas hospitality, because she said she regularly bakes biscuits for new neighbors. Wolf, who has a psychology degree and works as a life and executive coach, recently published “FLOW: Finding Love Over Worry” about finding joy in life. JGC

Keauno Perez
“Twentysomethings: Austin”

Kelli Anne Pratt
KEAUNO PEREZ

Keauno “Keke” Perez is a Texan-turned-Arkansan-turned-Texan. On the Netflix original “Twentysomethings: Austin,” Perez said he was from Fayetteville — so we’re going with it. His time in Northwest Arkansas was short, four years for work at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, but Perez said some of his most transformative moments were in The Natural State. Although proudly out now, Perez grew up in an intensely Catholic environment. When he came to Arkansas for work in higher education, he found students sought advice from him about being queer — even though he was closeted at the time. In addition to being surrounded by incredibly accepting co-workers, giving students that representation was part of what encouraged him to embrace his true self. He’s an enneagram two, also known as “the helper,” and would describe himself as positive, futuristic and empathetic. These days, Perez is back in Texas working for TikTok, but said he still gets teary-eyed when he thinks about his time in Arkansas. MH

Raven Gottschalk
“The Bachelor,” Season 21 and “Bachelor in Paradise,” Season Four

Adam Gottschalk
RAVEN GOTTSCHALK

Only a true Arkansan would make her future potential husband call those hogs on their first meeting. Sweet, southern Raven Gottschalk (nee Gates) of Hoxie charmed her way into the hearts of America on Season 21 of “The Bachelor.” She brought relatable values ​​of family, faith and football to viewers and offered an alternative to the more common “city girl” contestant. Gottschalk’s Jonesboro-based boutique, Gray Suede, got quite a bit of attention from her TV presence, and online orders became the shop’s main revenue. But recently, she sold the boutique and started a new chapter in life. Five years ago, Gottschalk with her husband on Season Four of “Bachelor in Paradise.” After multiple pandemic-pushed-back wedding plans, she’s now a wife and mother of a 6-month-old baby boy, Gates. The small-town girl now resides in big-city Dallas, but tries to make monthly visits to her hometown. Gottschalk said she still keeps up with “Bachelor” friends, including the iconic shark-costume-wearing Alexis Waters. MH

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