Jon Gosselin in the Wilderness

As part of the headlining duo of Jon & Kate Plus 8, he ruled the reality-TV roost. Then his life crashed and burned, and five years later he’s working as a maître d’ and living in a cabin in the hinterlands of Pennsylvania.

Jon Gosselin's cabin in the woods

Photography by Chris Crisman, Prop Styling by Lauren Payne, Styling by Kara Bettie Speckhals, All Wardrobe Provided by Sugarcube and Barbour.

WHICH IS ESSENTIALLY why we care about Jon Gosselin again. But let’s get something straight, people: Jon may be punching clock at a podunk restaurant, and he may be living in a cabin in the woods on a 28-acre plot that once hosted a nudist colony. But that doesn’t mean he’s hit “rock bottom,” as one interviewer recently suggested. On the contrary, he’ll tell you, this Walden phase he’s going through, it’s all part of the plan.

But first, for the uninitiated: Jon and Kate get married, have twins, then have sextuplets in 2004. The Discovery Channel offers them a contract, starting at $2,000 an episode, to let a camera crew document their lives. As their paychecks grow more substantial, Jon and Kate quit their jobs, she as a nurse, he as an IT guy for Governor Ed Rendell’s office. In print, Kate is often described as “shrewish,” which sounds mean and possibly sexist, until you watch the show and realize it’s accurate. In 2009, Jon is photographed with a string of younger women; the marriage falls apart. He becomes a tabloid sensation and forfeits most of the goodwill he generated over five seasons of masochistic subservience to Kate. The episode in which the couple announces their separation breaks the all-time viewership record for a reality TV series.

After Jon left Jon & Kate Plus 8, Kate busied herself with Kate Plus 8, followed by stints on Dancing with the Stars and Celebrity Wife Swap. She’s been out of work since losing her blogging gig with, but has expressed interest in returning to television.

As for Jon, he partied in New York City, the Hamptons and Park City, Utah, making money by doing personal appearances and selling tips about himself to the tabloids. After that burned off, he installed solar panels in New Jersey, but all the good renewable-energy work was in New England and he didn’t want to be that far from his kids. So he returned to his roots in IT, doing “Help Desk Level 3 and Inside Sales” for Omega Systems in West Lawn, Pennsylvania. His LinkedIn page hasn’t been updated to reflect his most recent gigs, at Black Dog and another restaurant called Emily’s. Seems a little ungracious; without them, there might never have been a comeback.

Last August 26th, Kate sued Jon and a former tabloid writer named Robert Hoffman for, among other things, violation of section 18 U.S.C. § 1030 of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (in federal court, as Jon likes to point out). According to Kate, Jon stole a computer hard drive from their house and hacked into her email, giving Hoffman personal information—including a typed-out diary that allegedly indicates she abused her children—that Hoffman then self-published in a book called Kate Gosselin: How She Fooled the World. Amazon quickly pulled it when legal issues surfaced in 2012.

Three weeks after the suit was filed, Entertainment Tonight caught wind of Jon’s new job and rolled into Stouchsburg to film a three-minute segment called “Jon Gosselin Today: Waiter & Cabin Dweller.” Two days after that aired, a British paparazza tailed Jon after his shift at Emily’s to take a picture of the cabin. She got the shot, along with one of Jon pulling out a .45 caliber handgun, which he then fired to chase her away. (“It is a great shot when I’m pulling out my weapon,” he admits.) The View and Oprah came calling.

Even aside from the usual questions about how to brand and market oneself, Jon’s been doing a lot of thinking about the meaning of his new life as Waiter & Cabin Dweller. “It’s called: going into the woods,” he tells me 10 days later, as we’re cruising around Berks County. “Like, I always look at it like, if you’re in the woods, you take a path out of the woods. It doesn’t work? You come back in the woods, ’cause you’re comfortable. And then you figure out your shit—out of the woods again. Everyone does it. CEOs lose their jobs, they go back in the woods, they think they hit rock bottom because their lifestyle changed. But in actuality, they go and invent shit. Like Steve Jobs. Or Bill Gates, or, you know what I mean? Recession breeds innovation. So I just start thinking what I can do.”

What he’s doing is coming out of the woods.