Person to Watch: Lina Carollo
Conquering television’s “The Quest”
By Erin Bell

Lina Carollo always loved stories, video games and the world of make believe, though she never thought she’d actually fight monsters in an ancient stone castle one day. But that’s where she found herself while filming ABC’s half-scripted/half-reality show, “The Quest.”

“The Quest” pitted real-life contestants like Carollo against the show’s scripted villain, the Verlox

“The Quest” pitted real-life contestants like Carollo against the show’s scripted villain, the Verlox

“It’s unlike any other reality show you’ve ever seen,” says Carollo, 27. The Delran native had been living in Los Angeles for three years, earning a master’s degree in school counseling and following her dreams of being an actress. She decided to audition for the show even though she didn’t fully understand what she was getting herself into.

Carollo was the last to audition on the last day of casting. She spent an hour and a half talking with casting directors about her life, her interests and what qualities she thought made her a hero (empathy, commitment and unpredictability). The directors liked Carollo, but they issued her a challenge.

“They told me, ‘We have to submit video to the producers by tomorrow morning – we want a video of you running and playing with kids at the park, playing basketball, things like that,’” Carollo says. “I didn’t even have 10 hours to do it.”

She scrambled to a park near her home and filmed herself playing a pickup basketball game and interacting with a woman and a child she just met. She submitted the footage on time. “The competitive side of me came out, and I wanted to do all I could to make it happen.”

Carollo soon found out she was selected as one of the 12 contestants for the first season of “The Quest.” Of course, she had no idea exactly what that meant.

“I thought, ‘I’m going on this amazing journey, but I don’t know what this journey is,’” she laughs. “I had no idea at all. I got to the airport, and the producers said, ‘Well, enjoy Austria.’”

Once Carollo and the other contestants – called Paladins – landed, producers took away all their technology. The Paladins moved into a castle outside Vienna and were given Renaissance-era clothing. All the while, cameras were rolling.

“They wanted us to have a truly immersive experience,” Carollo says. The Paladins learned they had been summoned to “Everealm,” a beautiful land plagued by the evil Verlox. Their job was to protect the land and its queen. After a series of challenges, the champion and “One True Hero” of the 12 Paladins would be revealed, and it was the destiny of that hero to defeat the Verlox. Carollo says the contestants knew they had to create the ultimate role-playing adventure.

“The producers just told us to go with it. They picked an amazing group of people to be the Paladins,” Carollo says. “Each of us were so different, but we all loved that fantasy world and were capable of getting immersed in that world. When the cameras were off, we’d talk amongst ourselves. We were putting things together, and little by little, we started to understand what our mission was.”

Carollo says the contestants grew close over the nearly five weeks of filming; without technology, there was little to do when the cameras weren’t rolling. And, Carollo says, it was easy to bond when you were going through the same strange experience.

“There was no working electricity. They literally gave us a bucket with water and soap to wash clothes if we wanted to clean them,” she says. The Paladins ate Renaissance food like turkey legs and barley, so it felt like they were constantly in the world of “The Quest.” Even the actors who played the show’s supporting characters, like Queen Ralia and Sir Ansgar, stayed in character at all times.

“What viewers were experiencing while they were watching was what we were experiencing,” Carollo says. “We didn’t know what was going to happen, what was going to pop out next, what the next part of the story was. It forces you to get into the plot and get into the story. I was excited to be there, but always on my toes.”

In each episode, a Paladin who fell short during a challenge was banished, but Carollo endured. Eventually she was in the finale, facing two male contestants.

“I was going up against two huge guys, Shondo and Andrew,” Carollo says. “They were always the high achievers, finishing every challenge on top. Part of me was thinking I didn’t know if I could do it. But then another side of me knew I had to try my best.”

Carollo says she thinks her advantage was the two men were absorbed with how to defeat each other. “They weren’t focused on me. And then when I was getting ahead of them in the challenges, that freaked them out even more.”

She credits those wins with being the younger sister to three brothers. “That’s what kept me in the game. I’ve been challenged my whole life being the little sister,” she says. “I wasn’t picked on, but three older, bigger brothers? They messed with me. And it was the same setup on the show. I even started relating each one of the guys to my brothers.”

Lina Carollo was named as the One True Hero of “The Quest”

Lina Carollo was named as the One True Hero of “The Quest”

In the finale, Carollo won by assembling the Sunspear, the weapon that summoned the fallen Paladins. Then began the scripted portion of the show, when banished Paladins returned to join the army Carollo was leading and defeat the Verlox.

“It was inspirational and empowering. A lot of people didn’t think I was going to win, which I think makes great TV,” Carollo says. “I’m so happy I was part of a show that’s empowering and positive. That has always been one of my goals. Being a school counselor, I felt everything fit into its place.”

 As the only daughter of Italian immigrants, Carollo says her upbringing in Delran lent itself to playing pretend for the show. She remembers racing outside after dinner to play with her cousins in their small neighborhood.

“We were known on our block as the Italian kids. We would be creative and do these fun things – people must have thought we were so strange,” Carollo laughs. “We would get pillowcases and turn them into Indian costumes and then run around the neighborhood like we were little Indians.”

Carollo says her parents, who own the restaurant Casa Carollo in Marlton (“My second home, where my journey started”), were her inspiration for working hard. “They didn’t finish school, and they came here and didn’t speak English. But they were able to do what they wanted to do by setting goals,” she says.

So Carollo made goals too – she earned her bachelor’s degree in international trade and marketing from the Fashion Institute of Technology, and pursued a career in fashion before becoming a school counselor, and ultimately deciding to follow her acting passion in LA.

“The Quest” – which had 1.97 million viewers tune in for its finale, low for a major network – hasn’t yet been guaranteed a season two, but Carollo is hopeful the show’s fans will change that.

“They call themselves The Quest Army,” she says. “They’re great. They’re doing all that they can to push for a second season.”

 In the meantime, Carollo is using her reality-show reign to expand her career; she quit her job as a school counselor and has started auditioning more. She’s also working on an autobiography and starting to give speeches at schools. Carollo says she thinks it’s the perfect way to combine her experience on “The Quest” with her love of counseling.

“I hear it all the time when I’m meeting with kids. A lot of their passions are reading fantasy novels and watching fantasy stories,” she says. “Especially for kids with big imaginations, it’s a world where they can escape. The real world can be harsh and cruel, and being able to go to a place where anything is possible and your dreams can come true – why not?”

November 2014
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