Richard Branson picks Shawn Nelson in Fox's 'Rebel Billionaire' finale
By Reality TV World staff, 01/12/2005
In the end, Virgin founder and The Rebel Billionaire star Richard Branson selected the finalist that one fellow contestant described as his own "Mini Me" -- wild haired Shawn Nelson, the brash 26-year-old business entrepreneur that Richard nearly fired in the opening minutes of the show's premiere episode due to his arrogance.
Last night's The Rebel Billionaire finale broadcast began with Richard attempting to choose between Shawn, the CEO of upscale bean bag furniture manufacturer and retailer The LoveSac Corporation, and Sarah Blakely, the 33-year-old owner and CEO of footless pantyhose manufacturer Spanx, Inc., for what had been promoted as "the biggest prize in reality TV history" -- $1,000,000 and Branson's job as president of his Virgin Worldwide conglomerate.
After putting the two remaining finalists through a couple of final challenges involving water sports and a Survivor-like "final tribe council" in which the show's previously eliminated contestants were surprisingly allowed to jointly question Shawn and Sarah before Richard was to make his final decision. Richard revealed one last twist. Rather than decide the winner himself, he announced that two former contestants that each finalist had unknowingly selected as their "advocate" would instead decide the winner.
However, despite more than two hours of discussion, Gabriel Baldinucci, a 34-year-old real estate investor, and Heather Maclean, the 31-year-old CEO of a children's educational video production company, were unable to agree as to which finalist should win The Rebel Billionaire, forcing Richard himself to decide the winner.
In the end, despite acknowledging that Sarah was the more accomplished and successful of the two business entrepreneurs, Richard selected Shawn, citing his youth, creativity and energy as well as the potential to "harness his passions."
After presenting Shawn with the $1,000,000 prize check that had remained a mystery to the contestants, Richard revealed one other twist -- that Shawn could either take the $1,000,000 or choose a coin toss that could see him win "a once in a lifetime opportunity" or lose everything. Debating the risk for over 45 minutes, Shawn ultimately decided that his financially struggling business couldn't chance the loss of the sudden $1,000,000 check, opting to pass on the coin toss opportunity.
Confessing that if he had chosen the coin toss, Richard would have lost all respect for him, Richard then proceeded to reveal The Rebel Billionaire's final twist. In addition to keeping the $1,000,000 prize, Richard also offered Shawn a newly-created three-month position as that would "effectively" make him "President of Virgin Worldwide." Additionally, assuming Shawn accomplished an "outstanding job" in that position, Richard would also name Shawn president of (and give him an equity stake in) a new to-be-determined new Virgin company.
After eagerly accepting the opportunity and celebrating his victory with a surprise visit from his wife Tiffany, Shawn was also allowed to select one former contestant to serve him as his "right-hand" and keep him from getting "too cocky" in his Virgin endeavors. Despite the fact that Gabriel twice opted to side with Sarah over Shawn during the two-hour finale broadcast, Shawn opted to select Gabriel, citing his "humble means" background in which he didn't "have everything handed to him."
Richard also rewarded Sarah for her runner-up efforts, giving her $750,000 to finance the start-up a charitable foundation for women, a goal that she had frequently cited during her finale questioning.