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Season 17 of The Bachelorette premieres June 7, with Tayshia Adams co-hosting after longtime host Chris Harrison stepped back due to his problematic and insensitive comments during an Extra segment with former Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay. Last year, Adams became only the second Black Bachelorette in the franchise’s 18-year history (following Lindsay in 2017), and this coming fall, Michelle Young will become the third. But avid viewers of the golden era of VH1’s “Celebreality” programming will argue that another trailblazer preceded them: Tiffany “New York” Pollard, who after two breakout seasons as the runner-up on Flavor of Love became the star of her own hugely successful spinoff, I Love New York. When that dating show debuted on Jan. 8, 2007, it was the most-watched series premiere in VH1 history with 4.426 million viewers, and both its Season 1 finale and reunion show drew 5 million each night.
“Those [numbers] are very humbling to me, because it was a time in my life when I don't think I was even paying attention to stuff like that,” Pollard, now age 39, tells Yahoo Entertainment/SiriusXM Volume. “You know, I was just living it up and allowing that portion of my life to just exist. I was just rolling with it and having fun in the moment. But wow, that is some statistic. Whoa.”
Pollard swears she hadn’t intended on becoming a reality TV superstar when she was discovered by a VH1 casting director while “shopping for a knockoff purse” on Hollywood Blvd., wearing just “blue jeans and a little halter top” and carrying “$25 in my pocket” 15 years ago. “I will never forget, the man's name was Terrence Martin,” she recalls. “He was like, ‘You'd be great for this show. Give me your information. I want to cast you.’ I told him no! And I walked into another store. He followed me in! He goes, ‘Please, just trust me. You have what it takes.’ And I gave him my number, and the rest was history. Me being on Flavor of Love, it was fate.”
Pollard insists that she really was “single and really looking for a bachelor at the time… This guy seemed really, really nice, so I was genuinely there for him the whole time.” But even though she was in rapper Flavor Flav’s flashy TV bachelor pad for — as they say in the reality world — all the right reasons, she was certainly going to enjoy her screentime and perks for as long as she could. “I think the word is, I was green. I came from upstate New York [Utica], a very small population, and here I was in Hollywood, Calif.,” she says. “So, I went to that mansion — at the time was living out of a suitcase on my own, but now I'm in a mansion! — and I was going to drink all the champagne and eat all the shrimp and lobster they served. … I was drinking tequila and vodka shots all night long, going crazy. I mean, it was just the time of my life. I lived like a rock star.”
Pollard’s unfiltered and sassy personality, whether she was enjoying the spoils of Flav’s hip-hop lifestyle or actually pursuing Flav in earnest, instantly made for TV gold, just as Martin had predicted. “To be honest, I didn't really have time to think in these situations. I was like, ‘There he is, you better strike while the iron is hot! You have 19 other women vying for his time and affection.’ So, it was just competition mode the whole time,” Pollard says of her tendency to pull focus whenever she appeared onscreen. “I had to do everything I could to get [Flavor Flav’s] attention and to make sure I'm staying in this house. So it was just always really high, intense feelings. I was always trying to stay in his face and not fall to the back.”
Ultimately, Pollard didn’t win the heart of the Public Enemy hypeman on Seasons 1 and 2 of Flavor of Love, but she won the hearts of millions of VH1 viewers and got all the hype; she really became more of the breakout star of that series than Flav himself. In fact, when Bret Michaels’s Flavor of Love-inspired VH1 dating series, Rock of Love, premiered in July 2007, that show’s resident red-haired villainess Lacey Sculls revealed to SiriusXM Volume that she modeled her own over-the-top onscreen persona on Pollard. Pollard realizes that a lot of her Flavor of Love antics “wouldn’t fly now,” saying, “It was a different era… you have to be a lot more careful and guarded and not disrespect certain groups, and you have to be really aware of your words. And back then, my vocabulary was all over the place.”
(Video below contains profanity)
However, when she talks about her most notorious TV moment, the one still lands on various rankings of the craziest reality TV moments of all time all these years later, she places the responsibility squarely on her assailant. During the Flavor of Love Season 1 elimination ceremony that aired Feb. 26, 2006, an escalated argument between Pollard and third-place contestant Brooke “Pumkin” Thompson led to Thompson shockingly spitting in Pollard’s face. Pollard instantly went on the attack, shoving Thomason into the cameras, as she understandably felt she had no choice but to defend herself.
“I did not start it. Thank you for saying that; I appreciate you saying that, because I didn't see that coming. That was just so bad,” says Pollard with a frown, her upbeat demeanor noticeably shifting. “I mean, [Thompson] just hated me, and she just wanted me gone. It was like she thought, ‘OK, this girl is getting too much shine.’ And I didn't expect it. I really didn't see that coming.” As for speculation that the scandalous scene was staged for a watercooler-chatter moment, Pollard retorts, “Oh, it was real, honey. I had to live through it and wash my face, because she had gingivitis and everything else you could think of. That was wack.”
The disgusting attack was shown in slow-motion, over and over — for laughs — on various clip shows, but as Pollard has noted, it was a different time, and the troubling optics of a white blond woman spitting on a Black woman on national television would be received be met with more outrage in 2021. “You know what that would happen today. We'd have the Reverend Al Sharpton coming out,” Pollard quips. “I don't think any of us, myself or the audience, was ready for that. We didn't know what to do with it. We're like, ‘Did we just see that? Do we just witness that?’ And I'm like, ‘Did I just experience that?’ Oh my goodness. It was just, it was a shocker for everyone involved.”
Pollard emerged from that potentially humiliating incident, got her own show, and finally seemed poised for her happy ending. She became engaged to both I Love New York winners, first to Patrick “Tango” Hunter, then to George “Tailor Made” Weisgerber, but like most reality TV couples — from The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, or any of the VH1 dating shows — their love was not destined to last. Pollard and Hunter broke up in a characteristically dramatic and explosive fashion during the I Love New York Season 1 reunion, and while her engagement with Weisberger seemed to have more potential, with them even living together for a few months, they split more amicably in 2008. I Love New York was still the gift that kept on giving for Celebreality fans, spawning the additional dating spinoffs Real Chance at Love and Frank the Entertainer in a Basement Affair and Pollard’s own unscripted fish-out-of-water comedy shows New York Goes to Hollywood and New York Goes to Work. However, a third season of I Love New York was canceled after the gruesome murder-suicide case involving Ryan Jenkins — a bachelor from the aborted Rock of Love spinoff Megan Wants a Millionaire and the winner of the shelved I Love Money 3 — effectively ended VH1’s entire slate of dating-oriented programming.
But nostalgia for the New York era still flourishes years later (as evidenced by the dozens of Pollard memes all over Twitter), and in November 2020, Pollard returned to VH1 for I Love New York: Reunited, on which she got to clear the air with Tango and take responsibly for her part in the breakup with Tailor Made. On that special, she excitedly revealed that she is now happily engaged — but this time, she’s keep her relationship very much off-camera. “I kind of did learn those lessons,” Pollard muses, as she reflects on having so much of her twentysomething love life play out onscreen and in the tabloids and blogs. “But at the same time, I literally was blessed to meet my [current] soulmate. My fiancé is literally my soulmate, and what I mean by that is he really completes me and he wants no part of the clout. He is literally there for me, Tiffany, the girl without her lashes and her lacefront. Like, he really knows me, and that kind of structure we have, we don't want to mess it up. So, I just feel like keeping my relationship where it is [out of the public eye]. It's working, and I love the way it feels.”
Pollard continues to do television, hosting VH1’s Brunch With Tiffany and famously breaking the internet during a bizarre misunderstanding with Angie Bowie on the U.K.’s Celebrity Big Brother— and she teases that she is working on a long-time-coming music project with a hip-hop “legend in the game.” (Spoiler: It’s not Flavor Flav.) She also has a huge following in the LGBTQ+ community. Not only did she serve as a mentor to transgender talk show star Ts Madison on Madison’s WeTV reality series The Madison Experience and as a guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race, but even that outrageous spitting incident has become part of drag culture. “I’ve seen so many wonderful [drag queens’] impressions of the classic spit scene,” Pollard chuckles. “I've been to appearances where they reenacted it in front of me or played it for me later, and they just kill it. One time, somebody did do Pumkin in drag — but it was an actual pumpkin and they kicked it off the stage. I really enjoyed that!”
Pollard says she still gets love from all sort of longtime fans who’ve followed her since her wild Flavor of Love days. “People tell me, ‘Thank you, girl. You helped me find my voice. You helped me to speak up for myself and stand up for myself and be very confident with what I want and how I want to portray myself.’ I hear that all the time, and it feels so good.” However, now the surprisingly self-described “homebody” admits with a laugh that how she was portrayed on TV in the aughts wasn’t 100 percent accurate. “I think a lot of people, when they see me, they think I'm crazy! But then they talk to me, and they're like, ‘Wow, you can really form some sentences! And you're smart!’ People do not expect me to be the person that I am. I guess I didn't come across that way to others, because they're really always so shocked. They think I'm crazy and ready to fight at any minute.”
Pollard credits her post-VH1 spiritual growth to a life-changing trip to Calcutta, India, and says, “I feel like I evolved in a way where I feel like I should try to understand people more… it really changed me. I feel really good about the direction that I'm going in, speaking to people, being uplifting, and I can see myself being a motivational speaker — or a televangelist, even. I'm going into that phase of life, and it doesn't feel forced, it just feels real, like I should be pursuing that path. So I'm letting life get me to where I need to go.”
And while it “but it took years to get to that level,” Pollard does the sense that public’s perception of her has finally changed as she settles down and nears age 40. “People, they actually value my opinion. They see me as a reality pioneer. They see my face, and they respect it. They’ve seen the struggle; they remember the spit. They remember the young girl that came on the scene and had to really make her way to the top. So now, when I walk in the room, it's like, ‘Oh, we acknowledge you: the HBIC.’”
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This above interview is taken from Tiffany Pollard's appearance on the SiriusXM show “Volume West.” Full audio of that conversation is available on demand via the SiriusXM app.