Twelve years have passed since Joe Millionaire tricked 20 women into thinking they were in the running to marry the heir to a multimillion-dollar fortune, and star Evan Marriott looked every inch the average Joe this Thursday at WE tv’s Evolution of Relationship Reality Shows panel at the Paley Center for Media.
Now 40, the construction worker – and, briefly, underwear model – was not particularly talkative at the Beverly Hilton-hosted event and did not stop for reporters on the red carpet.
When asked about his beard, Marriott joked that he “grew this overnight. All I do is think about a beard and it comes in.”
He did not seem to want to talk too much about his reality-show past, however, and appeared to regret starring in the first place.
That said, he’s happy in his new life: “I started a business for myself, and everything is great. I did my first job I got it and literally almost was in tears. I called my dad and said, ‘I feel like I’ve just been paroled. This is where I should have been.’ ”
Marriott chose substitute teacher Zora Andrich in the finale of Joe Millionaire, which was watched by 36 million people. “I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that Zora wasn’t into my money,” he told PEOPLE at the time. “Zora was an innocent girl who was sweet and nice, and she was kind.”
They couple split the $1 million prize, and parted ways not long after.
Until recently, a source says, Marriott was adamant about living an anonymous life. “He had no interest in revisiting that part of his life,” a source told PEOPLE.
For her part, the winner – who now goes by Zora Sabrina and works as a yoga instructor and model – “never felt bothered by the premise of the show,” she told PEOPLE last year.
• Reporting by NICOLE SANDS