SALISBURY, MD---When Edgewater, MD, resident C.J. Fegan earned his B.S. in communication arts from Salisbury University in 2007, he hoped to put the skills he learned to use as he pursued a firefighting career.
The sagging economy, however, meant there were few paid entry-level firefighting positions available at the time. Instead, he joined his father at the family business, Fegan’s Taxidermy. He never thought it would make him a star.
Last year, Fegan was one of 12 taxidermists selected from a nationwide search to appear on Immortalized, a new taxidermy competition reality show on AMC. He is scheduled to be featured on the second episode, “End of the World,” slated to premiere 10 p.m. Thursday, February 21.
As the title suggests, Fegan was charged with creating a taxidermy-based diorama depicting Armageddon. He designed the pieces in his shop, then flew it to Los Angeles for an in-studio showdown against fellow taxidermist Page Nethercutt.
Fegan was chosen to challenge Nethercutt after a series of interviews with the show’s producers. After being told the theme, he had to submit a design for approval. Once his idea was green-lighted, “They sent a film crew out, gave me $5,000, and told me to go crazy and create something awesome.”
“The only thing that’s missing is, like, a boom box playing Metallica,” said judge Brian Posehn, a comedian best known for his recurring role on The Sarah Silverman Program. “It’s super cinematic. I want to see this movie. When the ride comes out, I want to ride in the front of the ride with my shirt off going, ‘Woooo!’”
Fegan is no stranger to taxidermy competition, which he said is all about small details. A commercially mounted deer head, for example, traditionally takes about 15 hours. A similar piece created for a competition could take up to 80 hours to get every angle just right, he said.
For the show, however, he was encouraged to look past the little things and “go big.” He added money from his own pocket to his $5,000 budget and worked approximately 500 hours to make his vision a reality — a deed made even more poignant considering the competition was for bragging rights only — there was no prize money.
He also had to sign a contract stating he would not sell the piece he created for the show. AMC owns the rights “in case they want to put it on a T-shirt or whatever,” he said, but he did get to keep his creation and plans to display it in his shop for promotional purposes.
Founded in 1984 as American Movie Classics, AMC originally served as a popular repository for vintage films before becoming known in more recent years for original programming such as Mad Men and The Walking Dead. Immortalized is the network’s first foray into reality television.
“They’re just as new to this as I am,” said Fegan, who predicted prizes may be added if the show becomes a success. He also said he had been promised an ongoing role if the program is picked up for a second season.
In the meantime, buzz about the show has been good for business. Three weeks before the air date, the Fegan’s Taxidermy Web site — which includes a link to the video posted on AMC’s site, as well as the Immortalized Facebook page — was receiving an average of 600 visits per day.
Fegan is not the first reality show competitor to come from SU. In 2011, Carl Whyte, who earned his M.B.A. through a satellite program offered by Salisbury at the Eastern Shore Higher Education Center in Wye Mills, MD, was a contestant on the Golf Channel’s Big Break.
Whether his Immortalized appearance is the beginning of a long television career or just a fun one-time opportunity, Fegan said he still enjoyed keeping in touch with his Alma Mater and seeing what had changed since his time as an undergraduate.
“Salisbury is growing,” he said. “My degree is getting more valuable every year.”
For more information call 410-543-6030 or visit the SU Web site at www.salisbury.edu.