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Local restaurant manager featured on reality show

Karleen O’Neal was one of the many women featured on The Week The Women Left.

Karleen O’Neal is back to the routine task of managing Courtney Bay Seafood and Oyster Bar in Walterboro… well it is routine because she is also one of the many females of the Town of Yemassee who are currently being featured on the TV reality show “The Week the Women Went.”

The show’s second segment of five was aired Tuesday night at 10 p.m. and will continue to air on the Lifetime Network at that time on Tuesdays until the series is over. The Town of Yemassee was chosen over 300 small towns nationwide for the show.

The show is based on all the women within the town leaving their families to go on a free vacation. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Worldwide Productions out of Los Angeles selected Yemassee as its choice to film the first U.S.-based episodes for its reality show.

“We went last year in July,” Karleen said. “The show’s producer called Mayor Goodwin, who at first thought it was a joke and hung up on him.” Yemassee Mayor J.L. Goodman, a retired judge and retired U.S. Marine, confirmed that the BBC, indeed, first sent three officials to town on a Wednesday and the rest of the crew arrived the following weekend.

Karleen said, “I was working at the Courtney Bay Seafood Company in the Round building at the Yemassee exit off I-95 with my two daughters. The business is in my daughter Lindsay’s name for tax purposes. Lindsay, Ashton and I were all working in the restaurant when people who were scouting for the show came in. They were fascinated that a single mom and her two daughters were working together to run a restaurant. They chose Yemassee because of my situation, and were hoping the show would help other women adapt to a single situation.”

Karleen noted that she and four other women from Yemassee were taken out on a yacht. “Five miles out in the ocean, Suze Orman, one of the biggest world financial advisors who works closely with Opra Winfrey, came topside. She told us that she was once a waitress, and told me and Josie Anderson, another restaurant operator in Yemassee, to shut our businesses down. There were five of us on the boat and four were in the restaurant business,” Karleen said. She added that Orman told them that, since they weren’t making a profit, they were basically working for nothing. She added that something good would come from doing this.

And something good did happen. Darleen was approached and asked to open Courtney Bay at the Dogwood Hills Country Club in Walterboro. The restaurant opened in late May. “Business has been very good here, and many of our customers are from this area,” Darleen said. She commended Proveaux Construction and Beach Electrical Service for their help in getting the restaurant up to par in a timely manner.

For the reality show’s vacation, Karleen and about 135 other women (some were extras for the show) went to the Omni Resort at Amelia Island Plantation in northern Florida. “It’s an excellent resort. The people there really catered to us.” Karleen said the group took an Amtrak train to Savannah, and then traveled the rest of the way to the resort by bus.

The ride was somewhat delayed by the threat of tornadoes, and the bus didn’t get to the resort until about 2:30 in the morning. “We had to get up at 7:30 the next morning, and we filmed until 9 or 10 at night,” Karleen said. She added the extras got off easily, because they didn’t have to participate in the filming. Karleen said the filming was done in over 100 degree heat, and there were interruptions. “An air force base was nearby, and, with the jets taking off and landing, we had to do a lot over and over,” she noted.

Karleen said the best part of the filming was the comradery. “The greatest part was all of us getting together as a whole and getting to know one another. We all ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the same time. And, one night, we all just sat on the beach, listened to music, roasted marshmallows, and just conversed.”

“Yemassee is a great little town filled with good people. The whole process was a very good experience, because I got to know people in the town that, otherwise, I would never have met. There was also a lot of reconnecting with people. We were close to each other for a whole week,” Karleen said.

Karleen also pointed out that the men and children who were left behind also benefitted from the experience. “The men and children also bonded. The whole purpose was an experiment as to how everyone involved would react to this situation. This is the best thing that could have happened for the Yemassee community. BBC Productions should be and are appreciated for what they have done. Everyone on the filming crew, Ali, John, and Kate, were wonderful to us. They really cared for us as a whole.”

The Week The Women Left first premiered in the United Kingdom in 2005 and has been filmed in Canada and India, according to BBC Worldwide Production’s website. The show sends a group of women on vacation and leaves their husbands behind to do housework, feed the kids and tend to other motherly duties.

But most of the people from BBC who came to Yemassee were not British. They were Americans from the corporation’s Hollywood, California offices, Goodman said.

The most recent filming wasn’t the first time Yemassee has been the site of a Hollywood production. And Goodman sees nothing but good has come from all of the filming. He recalled the impact of the town’s use for scenes during the 1993 filming of the Tom Berenger/Dennis Hopper movie Chasers, as well as nearby locations used for the subsequent filming of the now classic Tom Hanks film Forrest Gump.