'Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?' Winner on Fleeting Reality TV Fame

by Raphael Chestang 5:17 PM PDT, May 11, 2015
Playing 'Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?' Winner on Fleeting Reality TV Fame

Before The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, there was the reality dating show that started it all -- Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?. Now 15 years later, ET caught up with the show's selected winner, Darva Conger, who talked about the unintended consequences of her instant fame.

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"I thought my show was kinda rigged, like they had the girl all picked out already," Darva tells ET. "I was unprepared for what happened."

The premise of the two-hour TV special was simple: 50 women compete in beauty pageant-like contests to become the bride of an anonymous multi-millionaire. As one could imagine, the show came with a fair amount of controversy.

The show highlighted the importance of thorough background checks as groom Rick Rockwell's net worth was questioned. His character was also put under the microscope when it was discovered that one of his ex-girlfriends had filed a restraining order against him, claiming that he assaulted her. Rick denied the assault allegations.

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Prior to these reports coming out, Darva reveled in her victory. The emergency room nurse from Carbondale, Illinois, received a three-carat diamond ring, as well as a free Caribbean cruise honeymoon and an Isuzu Trooper.

"Twenty-three million people watched this show," Darva says. "I was on the cover of the New York Times. I was on the cover of People. I was on Time. We didn't know there was going to be negative aspects of what happened, so it was this story that kept going and going."

Darva sought an annulment soon after the honeymoon and admitted on Larry King Live in 2001 that being on the show "was a dumb thing to do."

"I was thrust into the public eye," Darva notes. "For the first time in my life, I was having to defend myself. I'm being called a gold digger and a this and a that and being ripped apart in the media. And I'm like, 'But I'm not a celebrity.'"

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Darva used her newfound fame by booking gigs posing for Playboy and fighting on Celebrity Boxing, but she explains that this was more out of necessity.

"I couldn't work," Darva says. "I work in a very public environment. I worked in the emergency room around lots of people, so I couldn't just go back into that. I tried. There was media everywhere. There were paparazzi in emergency rooms."

In 2003, Darva wed again -- this time for love. She and physician assistant Jim Arellano said "I do" and had a son, Cassius. Though divorced now, Darva is happily doing what she loves.

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"I actually went back to school and became a nurse anesthetist," Darva says. "And that's what I do for a living, and it's a wonderful living."