The following is an explicit exposé of the dark, duplicitous underworld of reality television, a tell-all tale of the manipulation of facts, timelines, motivations. It’s pretty stygian stuff, so hold on to your seat.
In case you didn’t know, we were on the popular HGTV program “House Hunters International.” Also in case you didn’t know, the show is, like all ‘reality’ television, somewhat less than 100% ‘reality.’
Truth is, as we live outside the States I’d never even heard of the program, and when a producer got in touch with me through the blog I had to google the thing to make sure it wasn’t just more spurious spam mail.
Turned out it was a real thing. It also turned out that it is one of the most popular cable television programs in the US, each episode garnering millions of viewers. Wow, what you miss when you don’t have 177 channels to spin through daily.
The producer sent me a link, and I watched a handsome young couple browsing multi-million-dollar homes in Helsinki or Copenhagen or something, and wrote to her, “Having watched an episode, I’m not sure that we’re really what you’re looking for.” In short, I told her that we weren’t really interested. We weren’t even looking for a house at the time.
Well, we Skyped and she let me in on what she called “the worst-kept secret in reality tv,” namely that the majority of participants in the show have already found a house, and the show is essentially an imaginative ‘recreation’of the house-hunting process.
In a piece in the Huffington Post, K. Emily Bond concludes (among other things, such as “Reality stars who parade their children in front of reality television cameras as a rule should probably be investigated by child protective services.”) that the fact that HHI is somewhat scripted and heavily edited simply “really doesn’t matter.”
On the website Hooked on Houses, a reader wrote to the site: “I’m surprised more people don’t know how House Hunters really works. I was so mad when I found out!”
First of all, perhaps this person needs to reevaluate the things that incite him or her to fury. Poverty, starvation, the wholesale destruction of the planet – these things make me angry. Reality tv shenanigans do not.
Slate, predictably, took a grimmer view of the issue in an article entitled Why it Matters that House Hunters is Fake, stating that by “showing houses that aren’t even for sale at prices divined by its producers, House Hunters is presenting dangerous misinformation about the home-buying process.”
The article goes on to rhetorically and rather stridently ask, “Doesn’t HGTV have some obligation to portray the housing market as it is, or, at the very least, offer a pronounced disclaimer about the producers’ creative and logistical liberties?”
Well, diving into the home buying process thinking that it’s like an episode of HHI is like basing your marriage decisions on what you’ve gleaned from”Real Housewives” or choosing to become a heavy metal musician because you really enjoy “The Osbournes.” Most sensible people don’t do it.
I’m not sure – as Slate claims without any supporting evidence – that “it seems likely that viewers use the prices, locations, and home criteria discussed on the show as barometers for their own house hunts because the information is presented as fact.” If they do, no doubt they are soon set straight without any lasting damage to their mental or physical well-being.
Anyway, we went into it without any illusions, and this was our experience:
- We filmed for 5 days, twelve to fourteen hours at a stretch, in unseasonably sweltering heat, trying to look fresh (and freshly surprised) on the second, third, fourth takes of a scene. (You quickly learn 2 things – One, “That was great” is always followed by “Let’s do it again” and two, the joke you spontaneously made on the first take gets pretty tired by the third.)
- Our film crew – Michael the director, Mike the cameraman, and Tom the sound man – were just about the nicest folks we’ve ever met. Professional, casual, easygoing but businesslike – they quickly became our friends and partners in crime.
- While you are coached a bit, nothing we said or did on the show was in any way scripted, and everything you see on the final program was, in a heavily edited way, “reality.”
- They left out bits where I was really funny, dammit.
- It’s hard to find positive things to say about a flat that you would in no way, in a million years, even consider renting.
- Even when they’re not actually trying to rent you a property, when it’s all only for a tv show, real estate agents will say anything to get you into a place.
- Having all of your stuff moved out then back into your house in the same day is a small slice of insanity.
- Filming what will ultimately be ostensibly different days in the final show on the same day requires wardrobe changes and a bit of imagination. (Filming “Four Months Later” before you film “Day One” can be confusing.)
- And finally, writing this is probably a breach of contract and my next post will be about how we’re on the receiving end of an ugly lawsuit.
Ultimately, filming the show was an interesting, entertaining experience, and I’d do it again without hesitation. If any of the revelations here have shattered your faith in the world, please, please, pick up the shards of your credulity, paste them together with a mixture of skepticism and good humor, and get on with your life.
And if, even after all of this, you still want to see the episode, well, here it is: