January 21, 2003 12:02 PM

“Joe Millionaire” center of attention Evan Marriott (who appeared shirtless in three out of the four photos of him in PEOPLE last week) says he finds his newfound fame “freaky” but shrugs off tabloid rumors that he is gay, mean or even secretly wealthy.

But first, what he did on Monday night: He gave contestant Alison the boot, while allowing MoJo, Sarah, Zora and Melissa M. to hang around the French chateau, still believing the fellow with the big muscles also has big bucks.

As for last weekend, the hunky 28-year-old construction worker and faux millionaire appeared at the FOX network’s winter showcase for TV critics, where he said that, thrown into the spotlight, what embarrasses him most is the press revelation that he dropped out of high school.

“Being called gay or being called a woman hater, I’m not any of those,” said Marriott, as quoted by the Associated Press. “When I made the tabloids, my article was right next the three-headed baby from Indiana. How seriously can you take that?”

He added, “The thing that bothers me is this thing about not finishing school. I don’t like looking my parents in the face a lot of times.”

Besides construction work and odd jobs, Marriott acknowledged a brief stint modeling skimpy underwear for a male catalogue company, a gig he said he “hated.” But he held fast to the fact that, despite being described in the press as having been brought up in very comfortable middle-class surroundings, he was a man of modest upbringing and financial means.

Born in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Marriott said his parents had struggled to ensure that he and his sister “had nice things” growing up, and he stressed that both of parents worked — with his father holding down two jobs while serving in the Marine Corps Reserves.

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