She doesn’t do a lot of interviews. TMZ keeps reaching out. She ignores them.
An Auburn website, she says, is different.
“Auburn — I know they have my back and they’re my family at the end of the day.”
Ashley Salter didn’t say “bye” when we hung up, she said “War Damn.” Onion Girl is an Auburn girl. Her family is an Auburn family. Her grandfather went to AU. Her brother attends AU. Her dad graduated in ‘84 and hates Bama with the best of them. They tailgate at the official alumni tent. They’re pretty hardcore about it. She gets back when she can.
Those four years on the Plains (2008-2012) were the best times of her life.
Friday nights were spent hanging out at bars with her sorority sisters (Alpha Chi Omega). Or maybe at Acapulco’s. Or maybe just back in someone’s apartment with Hungry Howie’s.
She posed for a Plainsman photo spread on gameday fashion her sophomore year. She worked at one of the boutiques downtown for a little while. (Speaking of Auburn boutiques– her Bachelor wardrobe was sponsored, in part, by Therapy.) She went to games.
Best of all, she went to Italy.
Being one of the most talked about contestants ever on one of the biggest reality shows ever was a big deal as far as life experiences go, but compared to being an Auburn student in Italy? It may as well not have even happened.
The 24-year-old calls the three months she spent in Ariccia under the auspices of AU’s College of Human Sciences during her junior year in 2011 “literally, hands down, the most amazing and impactful trip I’ve ever taken.”
She can’t stop talking about it. She’d rather talk about the Amalfi Coast than the Bachelor mansion any day, or even Mesa Verde. But it wasn’t just the culture or anything. She was just as affected by how at home—how at Auburn—she felt over there. She’s laying low these days, public appearance wise, but she’d step up to the mic for the Joseph S. Bruno Auburn Abroad in Italy program in a heartbeat.
In 2012, she graduated with a degree in Human Development and Family Studies.
“I became kind of an advocate for what I was studying and doing charitable things (related to it) around Atlanta,” the Alpharetta native says. “I was really passionate about my major but I really didn’t want to make it my field of work.”
What she wanted to do—what she kind of always wanted to do—was hair. So she did. She enrolled in a one-year cosmetology program in Buckhead. It was tough and the commute from Alpharetta was brutal. When she finished, she rewarded herself with a bite of the Big Apple. That was January 2014.
It was just a vacation. But she was having fun, hanging out with old friends, meeting new ones, meeting people plugged into the salon scene. Next think you know, Parlor, the one in the East Village, had a new stylist.
Four or so months later, ABC had a new bachelorette.
If it looked like it was all just a joke to her, it’s because from the get-go she could never escape the feeling that in some weird, cosmic way, it was.
She’s a lifelong fan. The Bachelor is her favorite show.
And they were calling her on April Fools’ Day.
“A friend from hair school knew that I loved the show so much and always watched it. It was my number one TV show. She nominated me to be on the show, but it was while we were still in hair school, even before I moved to New York. And then on April Fool’s Day 2014 I get the phone call saying ‘you’ve been nominated to be on the next Bachelor and we’re calling to see if you’re still interested.’”
“I was like, ‘did my Dad tell you to call me?’ I thought it was a freaking joke. I was like, ‘call me tomorrow.’ My dad is the king of April Fools’ jokes—the king. I’m not even joking. He gets the entire community in on April Fools’ jokes. I was just like, this is bullshit. But it wasn’t.”
Yes, she told the Bachelor casting folks (if that’s really who they were), to call her back the next day.
They did. They passed her test. Ashley flew out and passed their test.
It was intense. From the sound of things, it’s probably easier to get into the FBI. But she hoped it’d be worth it– not for love, for the experience.
“I really just did it because I was curious. It wasn’t dying to find a husband. I was just curious about the whole thing.”
It’s one thing to see how the sausage is made. It’s another thing to be the sausage, to be the person who, as one reviewer put it, “undoubtedly topped the list for oddest contestants in the 19 seasons of the show.”
She tried to cope as best she could, to stay centered, to stay herself. Sure, there was some definitely drinking, she says, “but I always kept God in my heart and did my devotion every day”—she borrowed that line she laid on Prince Farming in the second episode from the Lord, whom she “totally loves”—”and tried to be as real as I could.”
And the thing is, she succeeded. And that’s why she made for such great, OMG Reality TV–she was too real, so real she couldn’t laugh or sob or pretend her way past how awkward, how forced, how staged, how surreal her new reality was.
The first day of filming, which became the first night of filming and then the first day again was like a 20-hour “out-of-body experience,” she says.
“We didn’t finish until 11 in the morning.”
Sleep deprivation. Alcohol. Bright lights. Cameras. Microphones. Strangers. Hidden weirdos making bets on you behind walls. Boredom.
“They don’t prepare you for how intense the feeling is but once you’re on there there’s no turning back. That first night I felt I was totally myself. I was like ‘everything’s so planned, this is so freaking boring. When are we going to have this damn rose ceremony? Why are we still sitting here doing nothing?’ That’s when I walked outside.”
That’s when the cameraman followed her. They always followed Ashley S.
“I mean, it’s not like I thought an onion grew from a tree,” #OnionGirl says, “but everything was so set up, so perfectly timed out. I was thinking ‘is anything real here? It looks like a freaking onion hanging from the tree.’ And when you have these huge cameras in your face. I mean, you have a camera on you, and I tend to think I acted even more goofy and silly than usual, but they edit you and make you seem like you’re freaking insane. I was shocked. I was not expecting that.”
Or at least she wasn’t expecting it like that, not to that extent.
She can’t reveal just how — it was kind of by accident, she wasn’t supposed to find out — but she had an inkling early on, before they even started filming, of who she was supposed to be on the show, i.e. who the producers wanted her to be, who they were going to make sure she was. It’s probably safe to say that the discovery affected her instantly hashtaggable behavior, to a certain extent at least. Not that she was intentionally living it up to their expectations, but when she was in front of the camera, it was always in the back of her mind.
At the end, it was all she could think about. (Which is why she felt “….nothing.”)
“I was actually really pissed [when she left] because I realized at that point how they were making me look and I didn’t want to give them anything more to work with.”
She did however, give them something they couldn’t work with, something they couldn’t include in the footage of her epic exit. It would have been too behind the curtain. And there just would have been too many bleeps.
“I will say that the last night, when I left, I literally cussed the producers out because I was so worried about how I was going to be portrayed on TV. I gave it to the producers.”
But to be clear, they were not giving it to her. No lines. No instructions.
Take the zombie paintball episode. I wrote this right after it:
“…there’s Ashley on the group date at the paintball haunted house, not squealing like the others, not pretending to be scared, but walking straight into the zombie hordes, emptying her gun into the corpses of actors just trying to earn a buck as target practice. They were already shot, on the ground, just waiting for the cameras to leave. Ashley didn’t care. There was gusto in her goggled eyes, a palpable purpose in her walk. She didn’t care about winning a reality show. She cared about killing.”
Just Ashley being Ashley.
“People think it was the producers telling me what to say, but I just thought it was a freaking joke ever since they called me on April Fool’s Day.”
She says she can laugh about it now, embrace the nicknames, even grow onions. But she’s not going to lie—a lot of it hurt. At least at first. She was crazy. She was creepy. She was hired. She was high.
“I look drunk because they always show me doing really weird, random things. But if you were actually in that moment, it wasn’t that awkward. But that’s the editing again.”
(And man, that pomegranate did look like an onion. The paintball place did look like Mesa Verde. Google it. That’s what it looks like. She was there, 2007. Learn how to have a conversation, dude.)
So OK, going off-road to interrupt Chris Soules’ status update interview (which probably was being massaged) was maybe weird and random in terms of Bachelor protocol, but what did she tell him when got there?
“I don’t want to be fake with you.”
Other girls may have said that before, but I guarantee none of them meant it more than Ashley S.
She told Chris tons of other stuff, too. And he told her stuff. They didn’t show that. (She says they didn’t show even a fourth of what was filmed.) In her mind, they hit it off well enough for her to think it may actually have been him keeping her around rose after rose, and not the producers. Maybe.
“I don’t think it was Chris really keeping me around, but at the same time I kind of do. Because we had a lot of good conversations not shown on TV.”
Like the final one, for example.
“I told Chris ‘I’m over it, I miss my freaking brothers, I miss my family. I don’t even know you.’ He just looked at me and kind of shook his head,” she says. “The whole situation was really weird and I didn’t handle it very well and I was just over it…. they all knew I was so over it.”
Here’s a line from her final one-on-one time with Chris, at least the last that made it on air: “Look at the moon. That’s so weird to me. And we’re sitting here. Like, that’s weird to me.”
The camera cuts to mansion mate Kaitlyn, who repeatedly called her crazy, and who I think made it pretty far (I stopped watching after Ashley left).
“I don’t think Ashley S. is here for the right reasons,” she says “because I don’t even know if she knows where here is.”
She was over it. It was over. But it wasn’t.
“After the show I didn’t even have the money to go back [to New York], or the energy to go back to fast-paced life in the city and living on bare minimum and freezing cold with no family.”
So she moved back South. She started cutting hair again. She went to an Auburn game.
“Not knowing what was going to be played… it was a fear,” she says. “What are they going to put on TV, what are they not? Not knowing how I was going to be portrayed…”
(Let’s see, how did ABC put it… ah, yes: “Flying her freak flag.”)
“I’m lucky to have a good support group because if I didn’t I would probably be upset.”
But sometimes the edited Ashley S. was even hard for the support group to handle. She says she occasionally gets into fights with her parents trying to convince them that it just wasn’t like that, wasn’t that bad.
“I honestly think they don’t believe me, half the stuff I tell them.”
She’s regularly recognized at the salon where she works, “which is fine,” she says, “but at first it was weird. ‘What are they going to say to me thinking I’m this crazy person?’ But they’re usually really nice.”
“I actually live a very simple life back in Atlanta now. I’m just kind of low-key, not very dramatic.”
Ashley seems fine with her life staying that way. Sure, pretty much everyone who does reality TV thinks it could maybe open bigger doors in the future. But that doesn’t mean she has to walk through them.
“I mean, I would love to get more exposure in the public eye. But I don’t want fame out of it. I would love a career for who I am.”
Can she be who she is on the Bachelor in Paradise? It’d be the second season of the spin off. The money would be nice at this point (you apparently actually get paid for that one). And they definitely want her. A producer called to offer her the gig, making sure she knew that his reaching out directly like this was a big deal, not something he does for just any girl. “But producers tell you what you want to hear,” she says.
Host Chris Harrison (she played along and brought him an onion; “he cool,” she texted) put her on the spot by asking her point blank, begging her, if she’d do it during the Women Tell All show she had to do last week. The other contestants, whom she says she has no animosity towards, went wide-eyed. The audience chanted “do it!” Anna Kendrick (who got it, who gets it, who later called her ‘the best human‘) asked her on Twitter if she’d be her TV interview coach.
She just looked around and smiled. When she finally opened her mouth, it was classic Ashley S. — classic Ashley Brooke Salter.
“It’s so weird,” she said.
“What is?” Harrison asked.
“Just that we’re on TV.”
College photos courtesy Ashley Salter. Mesa Verde photos courtesy Mrs. K. Salter.
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More Auburn Folks On Reality Show stuff:
* Cast member not allowed to wear Auburn shirt on History Channel’s ‘Bamazon’
* ‘Survivor’ contestant Krista Klumpp tells all; former AU cheerleader says LSU bad boy Russell thinks Auburn is ‘the best school of all time’
* ‘Amazing Race’ contestant Brittany Fletcher no stranger to television—watch the Auburn grad win ‘The Price Is Right’ on her 18th birthday
* Bama fan refuses to remove ‘Go to hell Auburn’ sticker on TLC’s ‘On The Fly’