Debbie Travis builds new home series

ANN MARIE McQUEEN - Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 3:55 AM ET

Debbie Travis wants you to believe former Ottawa beauty queen Lynsey Bennett has coasted through life on her looks while feeling terrible about herself.

Either that or Travis is already busy moulding Bennett into a one-dimensional reality show character for her new Global show, From the Ground Up. That's what a profile of Bennett, one of 12 twentysomething "proteges" Travis handpicked after a cross-Canada search, suggests.

"This former beauty queen has no job and little self-esteem," it reads. "She can't rely on a pretty face to get her a future."

The description was news to Bennett, who tried to avoid drama and typecasting during five weeks spent hammering and drilling while building a luxury home in Oakville during shooting last fall.

"Some of my friends read the website, and they e-mailed me and said 'Um, you have low self-esteem?' " recalls Bennett.

Bennett asked for a profile rewrite and braced herself for the show's debut Sunday at 7 p.m.

Travis, who was at the forefront of the home renovation/design television genre when her show Painted House hit the W Network in 1995, stresses From The Ground Up is a radical departure. She got the idea after watching young interns file through her Montreal-based production company. She realized they had been given everything and expected everything in return -- immediately, without paying dues.

"I started at the BBC, and you know, I would have done anything, I was so eager to learn," Travis says. "We had kids coming from film school, you know, 'What time do I start directing?' "

At the end of the 10-episode series, the audience will vote via Internet and cellphone for the winning protege. During filming none of the competitors knew they were in the running for the top prize: Up to $250,000 in profits from the mansion's sale.

Bennett, who is now working for her family real estate business, says she loved getting out of her element.

"I'm just like any other person in my 20s," she says. "I'm trying to find something I'm passionate about."

Travis says Bennett is "typical" of young girls.

"Thirteen-year-old girls with Prada bags having manicures, and they really feel their looks are going to carry them through," she says. "They don't need to work. So she really represents that attitude."

If Bennett has been coasting -- though in Sunday's debut episode she instead emerges as one of the more grounded and capable proteges -- she didn't let any grass grow under her feet while doing it. Since losing her Miss Canada International crown in a dispute with the event's organizer four years ago, the 26-year-old has completed a geography degree, earned a broadcasting diploma, started working towards a personal training certificate and bought a Dow's Lake-area townhome.

Four years later she just laughs at how Travis has portrayed her -- "it's totally not me" -- but says it's also typical.

People often stereotype her because of her blond hair, blue eyes, and pageant past, most recently last summer during a series of disappointing job interviews. She doesn't expect sympathy, but is hoping the show will help her buck the beauty queen image.

"I'm not the ditzy person people thought I was," she says.


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