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Weakness for fame; student art Capitolized

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By ERNEST HOOPER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published June 27, 2002

Lisa Ishi looked at the seven contestants to her right and decided she would designate the woman with the Vinny Testaverde New York Jets jersey as "the weakest link."

After all, she explained, "we didn't like Testaverde when we had him. That's why we sent him packing."

Ishi's decision proved to be a tactical error, however, when the Testaverde fan turned out to be the strongest link and got to break a tie between Ishi and another contestant. Suddenly, Ishi found herself in front of the camera, explaining why she was the weakest link.

"It doesn't matter because I'm going to end up being on the show anyway," Ishi laughed.

The 38-year-old Dover mother of four was among the more than 250 Tampa Bay residents who auditioned for the syndicated version of The Weakest Link game show at the downtown Hyatt Regency Wednesday.

The producers had initially planned to have one session with 120 participants at 10 a.m., but after 240 people had arrived by 10:30, they expanded to three sessions.

Hardly anyone expressed angst about the biting criticism of host George Gray.

"I've been insulted before, I can take it again," said Tampa sales rep Lee Mowry.

The initial sessions consisted of the participants introducing themselves and a 20-question general trivia quiz. Kristin Fortenberry, a 23-year-old senior contestant coordinator for the show, said equal weight is put on intelligence and personality.

Ishi was among the 31 hopefuls from the first session who made it to the second round, in which they were filmed playing a mock version of the game.

"If you're not a funny person, don't try to be funny," said Fortenberry, a former Family Feud winner who said that high energy was key to impressing producers.

A credit card fraud investigator, an Air Force medic and a waitress also were in the second-round group.

Tampa bartender Tony Chavero, who explained he occasionally moons people when he goes out drinking, was declared the weakest link among the first eight contestants. But he wasn't complaining.

Did he think his mooning habit might get him on the show?

"I think it just might," Chavero said.

David Capps of Land O'Lakes boasted about water-skiing in alligator-infested lakes. Then he finished his session and waited for his wife, Sandra. The couple took turns babysitting their 8-month-old son Jake.

By the time they find out whether they made the show, Jake may be walking and talking in complete sentences. Fortenberry said some participants may be called in the next two weeks to be on the show in California, while others could wait up until a year to find out if they made the talent pool.

"Just to be voted off was worth it," Ishi said.

Kudos to Academy of Holy Names sophomore Kelly Versaggi, who participated in the opening ceremonies of the Congressional High School Art Competition exhibition Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

As the 11th Congressional District's winner, Kelly's pen and ink drawing, Down the Rabbit Hole, will be on display in the U.S. Capitol for one year along with other winning entries from across the country.

Kelly met with U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, the honorary chairman of the competition, during her visit and now has the choice of a $12,000 scholarship from the Savannah College of Art & Design or a $10,000 scholarship from the University of Tampa.

Let me point out that the latest vitriol between the County Commission and Swiftmud once again indicates the board's difficulty in building consensus ... never mind. The County Commission has become too easy a target.

That's all I'm saying.

-- Ernest Hooper can be reached at 226-3406 or

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