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Interview with Tawnya Cooke of the Swan

by Panndyra, Goddess of Chaos

[b]Tawnya, what made you decide to try out for the Swan?[/b]

I was happily married, in a great paying career (except for a boss who was total pig), my family was my backbone. Then, 9/11 happened. My husband (now ex) was a Navy reservist & got called away for Homeland Security in Washington. He left on my 38th birthday 9/24.

While I was @ home handling all the finances, taking care of my kids, paying child support (for his kids in Indiana), he was up in Washington. On occasion, when I flew up there to see him, he was very secretive & didn’t want to go out in public with me.

I didn’t think much of it, as I was just enjoying being with him. On April 19, 2002, my world came crashing down. my brother, Brent, age 32, was in a tragic farming accident and was burnt over 80% of his body. His 3 little girls, his wife and his stepson saw him burn up right before their eyes.

My mom & dad were devastated. He was the kind of person who had many friends and had lived with his older sister –me- a couple of times in his adult life. So, needless to say our whole family was turned upside down. As if this wasn’t sad enough, his wife was pregnant with his son, Luke, who was born on September 23, 2002.

While trying to handle funeral arrangements for my parents, console my sisters, my now ex decided after the funeral to turn off his cell phone and not answer his apartment phone in Washington.

And then his military paycheck stopped coming into our joint account to pay our mortgage. He asked for a “legal separation” because he couldn’t handle my grief. Once again, not knowing “why” he wanted this, I got an attorney and set the wheels in motion for a divorce.

After the papers were served to him, he decided he didn’t want a divorce, he was sorry for all the hurt and finally admitted to having an affair with a 24 year old “navy girl” (who by the way was also married).

Then on 12/1, my pig of a boss decided I had been thru too much personally and didn’t fit the firm’s image of a “perfect married career lady” and laid me off.

My sister was listening to a radio station and heard about a casting call here in Denver for [b]The Swan[/b] & called me and thought I’d be a good candidate for this. I told her I didn’t want to waste a Saturday that I needed to clean my house and basically sit around and feel sorry for myself. Well, she talked me into it by going up there with me.

[b]Why do you think the producers chose you for this competition?[/b]

I think the producers choose me because I had a good story and was in desperate need of something “good” to happen to me. I didn’t have a lot of weight to lose. I didn’t always feel like an ugly duckling; it was just the past 2 to 3 years that took its toll on me and I felt ugly.

[b]How did it feel when you were told that you would be a Swan?[/b]

When they told me I was chosen to be a SWAN, I think I was in denial. I kept thinking ‘this can’t be happening to me’. ‘Something is going to go wrong and the producers will call & tell me so sorry… unpack!’

It finally hit me when I was out in LA living in the Swan apartment that I was, in fact, a Swan.

[b]You were one of the ‘rebel swans’. You resisted having so much plastic surgery. Why? Do you feel that resistance kept you from going to the pageant?[/b]

When I initially signed on for the show, it wasn’t about a pageant. It was about a change to make you feel good about yourself. We were supposed to tell the plastic surgeons what we would have done, if we had a wish list.

I wanted to mostly work on my body & a few tweaks to the face. I didn’t want to look in a mirror after the past 3 years I had and not see me. I didn’t want facial contouring, lip conturing…etc. It would be very painful & just not me!

I didn’t want my nose totally revamped to an extra-small version. Believe me I saw a computer image of what I was supposed to look like 3 months later and it was a pretty girl but it wasn’t me and that really scared me. My producer at the time was kind enough to tell me, “Talk to the surgeons. You don’t want to have to go through years of therapy just because you look like someone else.”

I think my resistance to the surgery did hurt me. They wanted someone to totally surrender to the process.

Maturity, I guess, made me read all the fine print regarding the surgeries and I didn’t want all of the face re-designing. And my daughter(s), sister(s), mom, dad and all my friends were like, ”WHY DO YOU NEED PLASTIC SURGERY? You are beautiful.”

But, you see, I didn’t feel beautiful inside anymore. I needed to get my spirit back.

[b]How is your daughter doing now? She had a car accident before your surgery, correct?[/b]

My daughter, Kaleah, is doing great. She hit a slippery spot on the side of a mountain and went flying down about 50 feet. She had a slight concussion & the jeep sustained about $2000 worth of damage.

My oldest daughter, Lacia, was in a worse car accident about my 8th week in LA, however, by then I had healed almost altogether so that part of my story wasn’t aired. She is okay too, but her car was totaled.

The producers were calling my kids the “CRASH” kids. Both girls were scared that all of America would think they were lousy drivers. (Ha! Ha!)

[b]Is it more difficult to live without mirrors for 3 months or your family? Why?[/b]

The mirror thing was creepy. I was always asking my roommate Dawn (by the way, she was great. She missed her boys so much and would talk about them to me on our down time and was constantly sending letters back home to them)

*do I have stuff in my teeth?
*does my hair look scary today?

It’s not that I constantly look in the mirror but when you don’t have one, you take it for granted.

I was kind of glad to be away from my family while healing because I think they would have been scared for me by the way I looked. Especially, when I saw the “train wreck” that some of the girls looked like right after their surgeries. Wow! But they all came out beautiful.

[b]Would you describe in detail what the Swan program is like? What would a typical day be like for you?[/b]

After the surgeries were done, a typical day in SWAN world or, as some us referred to as PSP (PLASTIC SURGERY PRISON), was follow-up doc’s appointments, going to the gym, going to therapy, writing to loved ones, watching lots and lots of boring daytime TV, working out with a Jenny Craig walking video.

I wanted to start a new career so I discussed some of my options with Nely (Galan – life coach and creator of the Swan program). I do miss being in front of the camera…. I always liked it when the producers were close at hand.

[b]Who was your head-to-head challenger? Were you close with her? Did you get much of a chance to interact with her?[/b]

Cindy Ingle was my challenger and there is a funny story about our reveal. It was really screwed up because of lighting at the Mansion. We ended up living together for 2 weeks. She was the self-proclaimed witch, because of her nose…. but she is a beautiful person inside and out.

We got to know each other quite well and I knew that she was going to win, because she didn’t turn down any of the surgeries offered. She probably had close to $350,000- $400,000 worth of work done on her.

What I wish the series showed was that I was in the gym twice as much as any of the other girls because I wanted to “win”. I wanted to be in the best possible shape and wanted to show the world a 40 year old could still be in a pageant… but I guess it wasn’t meant to.

[b]Were you pleased with the results you received? What would you do differently, if anything?[/b]

I was very pleased with the results. Now that the swelling has gone down in my nose, I love the way Dr. Dubrow did it.

Dr. Haworth was the one who wanted to make a MICHAEL JACKSON nose on me, not Dubrow. The only thing I think that really didn’t work on me was the painful brow lift. My brow looked smooth and youthful for a while but now there are wrinkles again. My daughters call it “character lines”. When I get my first big acting gig, I’m investing in more Botox for it. (smiles)

[b]I understand that you’re acting now. How’s that going for you? What sorts of roles are you looking for? How can people contact you?[/b]

I’m reading scripts now through my manager/agent, [b]The Crawford Agency[/b], here in Denver. However, they also have offices in LA and NYC. I basically read for guest shots on shows like [b]Hope and Faith[/b],[b]CSI NY[/b], [b]CSI Miami[/b],[b]Third Watch[/b], and [b]The OC[/b].

I would love to land a part in a TV series. With no formal training my agent, Nancy Ward, says I’m a natural. And I absolutely love going up there pretending to be, well someone else.

I can be contacted thru the Crawford Agency and their website is http://www.thecrawfordagency.com

[b]So, besides acting, are you working now?[/b]

My real job, the one that pays the bills is back in the financial industry. I work as a Director of Operations/Compliance for a securities firm in Golden, Colorado.

I’ve been in the finance industry for 20 years and the acting dream would make my SWAN program a complete circle.

[b]How has this experience changed your life? Do you feel it has improved it?[/b]

The experience has changed my life. I started dating again. And my new boyfriend, who is gorgeous by the way, has asked me to marry him! He didn’t know anything about the Swan, but of course I made him watch my taped copy and the [i]WHERE ARE THEY NOW EPISODE[/i].

He thinks I’m an amazing person for coming from where I was to now. He also said he would have dated me before I went on [b]the Swan[/b]. He loves me for me.

[b]Would you recommend this program to anyone else? Why or why not?[/b]

I would recommend the show, if you are the type of person who has ALOT of patience and low self-esteem, but you also have to have the ability to STAND up for what you want and don’t want.

Of course you will have to be okay with the cameras being around when something bad happens (i.e. my girls car wrecks).

Wow! Tawnya, thanks so much for your candor. I really enjoyed this interview. Who knows, maybe we’ll see a “Swan” wedding with you and your fiancée. That’d be cool.

[Author Note: Don’t forget to watch [b]the Swan[/b], currently in its second season, on Monday nights at 8pm CST/9pm CST (FOX).]

And, if you’re looking for an actress, you can reach Tawnya Cooke via her agent at http://www.thecrawfordagency.com

**If you’d like to discuss the interview with me, or anything else – Swan-related, email me at panndyra@realityshack.com. Thank you.**


Freelance writer, webmaster of realityshack.com, chief editor at applemagazine.com, contribtor to TechLife News and maketecheasier.com, martial arts instructor, and mother of two.