Chris Bukowski says knew he was done with reality TV after he woke up in a Mexican hotel room with no recollection of what had happened the night before.
"I just drank so much," he tells Business Insider. "I honestly didn't remember my time there. That's when I knew I had to be done with it."
The "Bachelor" franchise alum had just left his second season of "Bachelor in Paradise" after one night.
The departure marked the culmination of a few rocky years of reality TV show appearances that Bukowski says nearly ruined his career — and his life.
After graduating from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas with a degree in hospitality management, Bukowski had kicked his career off working in sales, first for the New York Islanders and later for Front Row Marketing Services.
"From a career side, I'm going to say I was doing better than 99% of the people my age," he says. "I was really enjoying my job and I was doing well and making good money. I was only going up from there."
Then, in 2012, he says he got an email from the casting department of "The Bachelorette," a show he'd never watched. One of his friends had submitted him as a candidate for the show. With the support of his family, friends, and employers, he says decided to give it a shot. When he was selected as a contestant for the eighth season, he says his supervisors even gave him the time off to pursue the show. Bukowski ended up making it to week eight out of ten and was one of the final four contestants when he was eliminated.
As soon as he returned home, he received another opportunity, this time to appear on the third season of the spinoff series "Bachelor Pad." The season would start shooting in four weeks, and he decided to quit his job. Unlike "The Bachelorette," contestants on "Bachelor Pad" were paid — and given the chance to compete for $250,000.
"I had no idea what the heck I was doing when I was on 'The Bachelorette,'" he tells Business Insider. "I think that's why it was probably my favorite experience, just because I didn't know what to expect. Going on 'Bachelor Pad,' I felt like a pro. I was just on camera for 30 to 40 days and I was confident in myself because I made it all the way to the hometown dates. Going on 'Bachelor Pad,' I kind of went in there confident and more of looking to just have fun, enjoy myself, and maybe win some money."
However, that's not how things played out. Bukowski ended up getting labeled one of the season's villains.
"I didn't even have a Twitter account before these shows and all of a sudden I had 60,000 Twitter followers," Bukowski says. "People are saying things not only about you, but about your family members. That's just the most disheartening thing that you'll ever have happen."
This is when Bukowski says his career really began to suffer.
Bukowski's dream since college had been to open his own restaurant. After "Bachelor Pad"' he pursued that goal with his business partner and in 2013 opened up the Bracket Room in Arlington, Virginia.
But despite the time commitment it took to run his own restaurant, Bukowski says he still couldn't get the siren song of reality TV out of his head, and he made the "awful decision" to go back on "Bachelor in Paradise" twice and to "party crash" the tenth season of "The Bachelorette," in an appearance that he says was staged.
His TV appearances could help drive revenue and attract customers to the restaurant, he reasoned. But ultimately, he says, he wanted to redeem his villainous image from "Bachelor Pad."
"I just wanted to fix my mistakes that I made from being on the show previously," he tells Business Insider. "There was just no fixing that, but I thought it was possible. By continuing to go back, I just kept taking steps backwards instead of forwards."
The TV appearances took their toll on Bukowski. While the restaurant itself didn't suffer, Bukowski says his ability to run the eatery began to fray.
"It was hurting me mentally and physically," he says. "When you're not at full strength mentally and physically, then your career will be affected no matter what you do."
After his drunken appearance on "Bachelor in Paradise," Bukowski decided to call the reality TV portion of his career quits. He got the chance to retire on air and read his letter of resignation to the cameras.
"It was a good therapy session for me, where I could just kind of write how I really felt about everything," he says. "That's the best medicine for anything."
Bukowski also decided to switch up his career and move out to LA, where he says there are enough "real celebrities" that he doesn't get recognized as often. He is still involved with his restaurant, but he's no longer runs day-to-day operations.
Today, Bukowski works on his digital web development agency KCM Create, which he cofounded. He is also the head of investor relations at fitness startup Forte and an advisor for the dating app The Catch.
He says that for many reality TV contestants in "Bachelor" franchise shows, and similar programs, taking time off from work to go on camera can be professionally risky and disruptive. But Bukowski says that many contestants see these shows as an opportunity to really launch their careers. And once seasons wrap, some contestants become reliant on earning income through things like social media promotions.
"It's like a spell," he says. "You get a little taste of it and things are easy. You're just hanging out at home, traveling a lot, doing appearances, posting things on Instagram, and getting paid five grand for it. You're like, 'This is great.' Then six months later, that's not happening anymore. That's another reason why people get drawn back into shows and are always trying to stay relevant."
Today, Bukowski says that he does not regret going on the show in the first place.
"I'm definitely happy where I'm at right now," he says. "I wouldn't change anything because everything has somehow benefitted me or made me learn from my mistakes."
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