ORLANDO, Fla. – There were catty remarks. There were spray tans and spiked heels and so much hair spray that one young woman had to fan the air with a decorative pillow from the tell-all couch. And this was for a reunion show about golf. Imagine how the scene would’ve played out if an engagement ring had been at stake rather than a season’s worth of Symetra Tour entry fees and various cash prizes.
They’d probably still be taping.
The Golf Channel’s “Big Break,” like “The Bachelor,” is one of the longest-running reality shows on TV. “Big Break” producers put together a reunion show for the first time in 15 seasons, flying in the all-female ensemble that filmed at the Caribbean’s famed Atlantis Resort.
The 12 girls reunited to watch the finale together on Monday evening and then taped the reunion show at Universal CityWalk’s Latin Quarter the next morning. For those who missed it, Mexico’s Marcela Leon took home the top prize, defeating Selanee Henderson, 5 and 4, in a championship match. (The show will air show at 9 p.m. EDT Monday.) Leon had no trouble keeping the big secret, even from her parents.
“My mom was respectful, but my dad pressured me,” Leon said. “‘C’mon, Marcela. What if I died tomorrow?”
Leon still didn’t budge.
With 10 years of Symetra Tour experience under her belt, Leon was by far the most experienced player in the bunch. She walked away from the game in 2009, withdrawing from a tournament and driving home to Monterrey, completely burned out. Leon regained her spark by teaching children at a local country club.
“(The kids) helped me to see a simple kind of life,” Leon said.
A life that finds joy in all circumstances.
Leon returned to the developmental tour and, at the encouragement of friends, auditioned for “Big Break.” Her boisterous personality and big game helped Leon immediately stand out from the crowd. She made it a point to memorize the names of every single member of the production crew. If professional golf doesn’t work out, she might want to consider politics. Leon’s poised delivery and well thought-out responses sound almost scripted. But there’s such a warmth behind her kind eyes and wide smile that people become instant fans.
On the opposite end of the reunion couch sat Meghan Hardin, the youngest cast member in show history. Leon was the last woman standing, but Hardin was the first one to go. The now 20-year-old spent a great deal of time experiencing Atlantis excursions last January. Cast members can’t leave the island until taping has concluded so that results aren’t revealed.
While everything Leon said was a PR expert’s dream, Hardin filled the role of producer’s dream by stirring the reunion pot. Wearing a skin-tight colorful number that highlighted her can’t-miss curves, Hardin called out players who hadn’t competed much since the show finished taping.
Hardin said she resented the fact that some players who lasted longer than her on the show didn’t care as much about golf, saying she wanted more than her 15 minutes of fame.
“I think it makes the show look bad, in a way,” Hardin said once taping had finished. “It looks like they chose 12 pretty girls who can kind of golf.”
It’s no secret that these players weren’t chosen for their extensive resumes. Shannon Fish, a former Texas player, was eliminated early despite being one of the most talented. Fish delivered a zinger to Zakiya Randall during the reunion show that caused a few awkward moments. Fish, from Spring, Texas, even drew her hand up to her mouth in the shape of a gun and pretended to blow out the smoke after calling out Randall. It was a classic reality-show moment, though few probably caught the quiet gesture.
As for Leon, she’ll be teeing it up via a sponsor exemption at the LPGA event in Kingsmill in early September and will then head back to LPGA Q-School. While she’s grateful for the confidence she has gained from her “Big Break” experience, she hopes at least one of the prizes will go unused next season.
“Would I like to see myself in 2013 on the Symetra Tour?” Leon asked rhetorically. “No, I’ve been there for a long time. I am ready to be on the next level and be with the best players.”