September 10, 2001 12:00 PM

Sure, the airwaves are flooded with trash. “But we are the only representative of real rubbish on TV,” says Junkyard Wars co-creator and cohost Cathy Rogers. The Emmy-nominated contest, starting its second season as the Learning Channel’s top-rated prime-time series, is even shot on a scrap heap outside L.A. Each week rival teams assemble an outlandish but functioning piece of machinery—a dune buggy, a medieval siege engine, a cannon—from old carburetors, pipes and spare parts, with a trophy going to the most successful version. Rogers, 33 (with cohost Tyler Harcott, also 33), presides over this Mad Max-meets-manic-engineer concept, which she helped develop in her native Britain in 1998 before producers moved the show to California this year. (Her inspiration: the 1995 Tom Hanks space epic Apollo 13, in which the astronauts are saved by repairs improvised from odds and ends.) Enthusiastic but unglam, “she’s not Leeza Gibbons,” says Sam Anthony, an executive with series coproducer RDF Media. “She is what she is.”

Back home, oddly enough, people used to tell her she resembled Princess Di. “There are a few incriminating photos of me,” she says, “in a black turtleneck looking doe-eyed.” But she had other things on her mind than royalty. Born in Kent, England, she graduated from Oxford with a degree in human sciences, briefly studied medicine and played keyboards in a band before making TV documentaries. “I’m a total geek,” says the unmarried Rogers, now living in L.A. “Watch out—we are all around you.”

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