How a scandal-sniffing site keeps reality TV smokin' -- Networks now see The Smoking Gun, which has unearthed the unsavory pasts of several contestants, as additional publicity

By Lynette Rice
Updated February 26, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

Fox reality guru Mike Darnell feared his genre was dead after the scandal diggers at The Smoking Gun posted a report in 2000 exposing the unsavory past of ”Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?”’s Rick Rockwell. But the website that should have extinguished the genre only fanned its fires. A record 1.5 million people visited recently to read how ”Joe Millionaire’s” Sarah Kozer had appeared in fetish films; meanwhile, Fox enjoyed its best-ever ratings on the show.

”You cringe whenever the site calls,” says CBS rep Chris Ender — who had a lot of ‘splaining to do last year when The Smoking Gun revealed ”Survivor: Thailand”’s Brian Heidik was a porn star. However, ”they really serve as another PR vehicle…. It’s not always publicity you want, but you get attention.” As does the site, says editor William Bastone — so it’s only a matter of time before his staff takes on the ”Survivor: The Amazon” crew. ”It’s almost like we have to now,” says a resigned Bastone. ”Everybody has something dirty in their background.” (Additional reporting by Dan Snierson)