A lifelong dream came close to being a reality for one Fairfax resident. Valerie Hawrylko recently spent several weeks in New York City, shooting three episodes of the ESPN reality show “Dream Job,” where she competed with nine other contestants and two “wild cards” for the shot at a yearlong sportscaster job.
“It was a different experience from being on something like ‘The Apprentice,’” she said. “They didn’t follow our personal lives at all.”
For example, during the competition Hawrylko was in Fairfax from Thursday until Saturday evening, then returned to New York City for “taping filler scenes” on Sunday and Monday, she said.
On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the hopefuls would spend the day in the studio from 8 a.m. until 2 a.m. the next morning.
“All in all, the experience was incredible,” Hawrylko said.
HER EXPERIENCE started with an open casting call for the show in Washington.
“I was working on a project and heard about the casting call and just had to go,” Hawrylko said. She was a fan of the show last season, and her friends had encouraged her to try out because of her extensive knowledge of baseball and other sports.
“I have no background in broadcast journalism at all. I have a degree in business marketing,” she said.
It was only when Hawrylko had been accepted for the final audition in New York City that she told her friends she’d tried out for the show.
“It was surprising in some respects, but not that she got as far as she did,” said friend and co-worker Norma Nietl. “Valerie’s always wanted to get involved in sports and has looked for opportunities to incorporate sports into her regular life."
The further in the competition Hawrylko got, the more convinced she was that she “could really do this,” Nietl said. “She’s very witty and very into sports. This was an opportunity she knew she had to take.”
“The first time we all saw each other was in New York,” Hawrylko said of meeting her fellow contestants at the last audition. “It gave us a chance to size each other up after we’d been announced.”
Hawrylko got a chance to find out what she was up against during the early rounds of competition, which included a sports trivia game and a practice broadcast.
“That was the first time I had ever been on camera,” she said. “There were three of us who had never done any of that. It was kind of hard to get comfortable being in the studio and knowing which camera to look at,” she said.
The highlight of the experience, Hawrylko said, was getting to interview New York Yankees player Gary Scheffield.
“The Yankees are my favorite team,” she said, “and he’s a candidate for the American League MVP this year, so that was great.”
“This was one of those life experiences that some people get to have, and I’m so grateful I got to do it,” Hawrylko said.
Unfortunately, she was cut from the show following last week’s episode, the third in the series.
“There are seven more finalists,” she said. “Not having any experience in that field was my downfall.”
NOW THAT the show is done for her, Hawrylko is heading back to the real world.
“I have a great job,” she said. She took a leave of absence from her position as a management consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton in McLean for the show, a risky move for someone who’d been there only four months at the time.
“They looked at it as an opportunity and a chance I had to take as well,” she said. “They were so cool about it. The partners were both supportive and told me to follow my passion.”
Hawrylko was even told that, if she won the sportscaster position and wasn’t happy with that job after the year was up, they’d hold her job open.
“Some of my co-workers were joking around with me and saying they hoped I’d lose and come back to work,” Hawrylko said. “The company had watching parties for the employees, where they’d go out and pay for appetizers and everything.”
Even their clients got a kick out of having a celebrity to work with, she said.
“I cannot express enough gratitude to my company,” Hawrylko said.
Her company is very proud of her as well.
“We’ve known her aptitude for sports knowledge since her initial meetings for the position,” said Pam Webber, a principal in the organizational design change management area at Booz Allen and Hawrylko’s immediate boss.
“She did it on a lark but kept me posted, which did allow me to do some contingency work in case we lost her for the year, and it was a good representation of what a professional she is,” Webber said.
The company gathered to have watching parties when the show was broadcast, even though it’s difficult to get people together at 7 p.m. on a weeknight, she said.
“We had a strong turnout to watch her. I was surprised with the number of people from my level and above who came to see the show,” Webber said. “It’s clear she had captured the imagination of the people she worked with.”
Webber said this experience will not negatively affect Hawrylko in her present career. “If anything, it highlighted a talent of hers and showed off her strong communication and writing skills,” she said.
“I would never bet against Val,” she said. “She puts her best behind her talents to capitalize on them. She’s one of the most capable people I’ve ever met.”