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In reality, she's the game player

Seminole native Dawn Olivieri stars in UPN's sexy new show, which airs Wednesdays after Amish in the City.

Published August 16, 2004

As reality television shows go, it's too early to know whether The Player will emerge as a hit on the level of Survivor, The Apprentice or American Idol.

Nonetheless, the new UPN show is a shot at the big time for its 24-year-old star, Seminole native Dawn Olivieri.

Here's the story line:

Dawn and her girlfriends Ananda and Jinelle (the show uses no last names) move into a South Florida mansion along with 13 men who compete for Dawn's affections.

"Throughout the hot spots of South Beach and Miami," a press release for the show says, "these self-proclaimed "masters of the opposite sex' will attempt to win over Dawn, with the approval of her girlfriends, as they are thrust into a variety of scenarios with the possibility of sudden-death eliminations."

The multicultural, twentysomething cast features sculpted bodies and wardrobes designed to maximize those attributes. Only two of the eight taped episodes have aired thus far, and Dawn and her pals have eliminated three swains.

"Don't hate the player," Dawn says as she sends each man on his way. "Hate the game."

The show is a game, says Dawn's mother, Nancy Olivieri, and she expresses a certain amount of relief at that.

"It isn't a "death-do-us-part' show," she said in a telephone interview last week. "It's a game show."

The Player is getting traction, having been moved to follow another hit reality show, Amish in the City, which airs at 8 p.m. Wednesdays on UPN, locally on Channel 44. The Player airs at 9 Wednesdays.

As they have seen promotional advertisements for the show, Olivieri said, friends and family have called and visited the family business, Sal's Seminole Jewelry & Pawn on Seminole Boulevard.

"A lot of them will say, "Oh, I saw Dawn on TV,' " said Olivieri, who helps Sal, her husband and Dawn's father, run the shop. "They'll say, "Is that Dawn? Yeah, it's Dawn!' "

Even people who usually don't follow reality shows are tuning in, Olivieri said, remembering Dawn from their days at Seminole High School, where she graduated in 1998.

She was active in the Warhawks marching band, chorus, and in school and church plays.

"The popularity thing didn't really happen for me when I was younger," she said in a telephone interview last week. "I sat alone at the lunch table. I really didn't latch onto anybody. I just did my own thing. I'm comfortable with myself. I don't really mind being alone."

During her senior year, she participated in an Atlanta model search and got some call backs. An agency wanted to send Dawn to Milan. In January 1998, at age 17, she left school and headed to Italy.

"She'd make it to castings and photo shoots. She didn't have a chaperone. She didn't know the language. She was there, by herself, for three months," Nancy Olivieri said. "I thought she did well to do that at 17."

And Dawn learned a hard lesson.

"She let her earnings pile up with the company" that hired her to model, "and they never paid her," Olivieri said.

"She's had her share of disappointments. I think it makes her in better shape for that show she's doing now."

Dawn returned home, took night classes and graduated on time. She enrolled in the University of South Florida and majored in biology, figuring she'd study veterinary medicine if her career in entertainment failed to work out.

Last December, she and her mother auditioned as a mother-daughter team for CBS's The Amazing Race. Olivieri said officials made it clear they did not want them for that show, but the casting staff for Survivor called Dawn to set up an audition. She emerged as a finalist and got the lead role in The Player.

"You know what? It's just the next step for me," Dawn said by telephone in a rental car en route to the airport and a flight to Los Angeles. "We are on our way to L.A. and, hopefully, we'll ride this wave.

"It's very crazy. We know we have to be there right now," to pitch the show, which was taped in South Florida in May.

The most difficult day, Dawn said, was the last day of shooting.

"It was so much fun," she said. "Then you think, "God, this job is over, and you just try to find the next one.' "

The show had a stylist, but Dawn did most of her own makeup. "Most of the dresses I get to keep, which is really nice, because they were really cute."

She lives out of "a couple of suitcases," she said. "I only take (clothing) out to wash it or put in a drawer in a hotel."

An elderly stuffed lion is her reminder of home when she is on the road. "He's all raggedy, and I've had him since I was, like, 6. He's so soft, and he just fits perfectly when you're sleeping."

Her menagerie, which includes five dogs, stays with her parents in Seminole, and Dawn visits when she can. On her recent visit, she got her Web site up and running. The address: The home page shows her in a strategically posed, artistic nude photograph. The site features her portfolio and resume.

Olivieri says the family business has taught her a lot about the disappointments others sometimes face.

Dawn, she said, "has been in the worst kind of tempting situations and has never faltered. She's a good kid. She's real assertive. She doesn't take a back seat if she doesn't absolutely have to. She knows what she wants, and she goes for it."

A player, in other words.

[Last modified August 16, 2004, 01:20:21]

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