A couple years ago my husband and I were on a DIY show on the FYI network called House vs. House. We were one of two couples who were given $7000 to transform 2 rooms of their homes. After a grueling 3-day-process with no outside help, two judges would decide which couple deserved to take home an additional $10,000.
When I first saw the ad for this show- a tiny square on the ApartmentTherapy webpage- my head exploded. If there was a show for me it was this one! A DIY show in which we would be encouraged to complete as many handmade projects as we could? I got this. I had this. We would win this!
The 10K was secondary. I wanted the glory. This was my DIY Mt. Everest.
As soon as we were accepted as official contestants, Jonathan and I did what any normal couple does before they appear on a nationally televised competition show: we called our therapist. Oh no, we were not going to have fights and throw each other under the bus on TV, we were going to figure out our issues ahead of time, so we could focus on the most important thing: winning!
And it worked- when shooting began and we were sent into a creative frenzy, we did not take out our stress on each other- quite the opposite, we danced together under pressure. We understood what the other one needed and gave it to them, almost without words. Two of the three shoot days were all-nighters. In terms of pain I rank it up there with natural childbirth. But we were a team, and the experience of creating beautiful things with my husband will go down as one of my most favorite memories.
In our first challenge, the kitchen, we received a giant crate full of random items. The producers told us to use as many of these things as we could. “More is better!” They said. There were mason jars, paint, 3-D tiles, hardware, wood… We used all but one or two products in the box to create a completely new look in our kitchen. We painted all the cabinets and walls and attached adhesive 3-dimensional tiles to the soffit. We also created a built-in breakfast nook, a table, curtains, artwork and much more.
We lost that challenge. The judges said- get this- “You shouldn’t have tried to use everything in the box.” I was exhausted and frustrated. I wanted to scream, “The producers told us to!!” But I didn’t.
The loss didn’t affect our morale. We still had another challenge ahead of us and it was the only one that mattered: The Great Room.
We changed our entire layout. Switched our dining and living areas.
We built a wood slat wall, adding beauty, texture and a practical element to the room. It was the most involved and time-consuming project on our list.
We also built a bookshelf, wood veneer pendant lights, a stool, a chair from a suitcase and a coffee table. We created a wall of tilandsias floating in brass hoops. We made a chalkboard wall in the shape of the US. I converted a bubble lamp from hard-wired to plug-in. We decorated the entire room with fun vintage accessories including a telescope and items from IKEA, Target, Overstock, Ebay, yard sales and flea markets. We came in just under budget.
$7000 is a lot of money, but big ticket items still took up a big part of the budget. The couch was $2000, the fluffy moroccan rug was $1000, a George Nelson bubble lamp $500… We also had to purchase our own wood, hardware, paints and stains, table saw and other tools. And yes, we had time to do the shopping before filming started, we just couldn’t assemble anything or build the projects until the time came. Everything was cut, sanded, stained and sealed and assembled when they said GO!
Actual shooting took three days. That’s two challenges to completely transform two rooms, plus an extra challenge they threw in called “a wrench” which, if you’re familiar with reality television, is a device designed to create more stress for the contestants. It works! It’s also impossible to find the time to do the actual work when you’re filming a reality show because the crew is trying to create “story” which involves a lot of setting up and talking about what you want to happen or how you feel about what’s already happened. The real creative work for us happened at night after they’d left, which is why we didn’t sleep.
Oh yeah, we also have a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old while doing all of this.
My mom flew in from Maine to help out with morning drop-offs and afternoon pick ups. Jonathan and I couldn’t leave the house while the clock was ticking. Our work kept the kids up at night. Building is loud. At 3am, reeking of teak stain, I cuddled with my 2-year-old and recited Goldilocks and the Three Bears over and over until she fell back asleep, then I ran back to the garage to continue sanding and staining.
Just minutes before they called time, we struggled to install the panels of our slat wall. The drywall on this once exterior wall turned to powder when we drilled into it. The anchors weren’t holding. The mason bits were breaking. I thought we might not get it done. And then, just as the hosts said, “Hammers down!” we got the final piece up. The feeling of accomplishment was intense.
Upon completion of our entire room, the production team drove us to our competitor’s home and they were driven to ours. It was the part of the show where we critique the other teams’ projects and the producers really hope we provide some snarky soundbites. Looking around, we were underwhelmed by what they’d done. In fact, we felt kinda bad for them. They created less projects, and the projects they did create were not nearly as well-made as ours. They had a much smaller house, much less space to address. I looked around again and realized something else was missing. “Do they have kids?”
They did not.
On the drive back to our house a producer suggested I mention this fact on air. Not having children gave them an advantage in the game. But I didn’t mention it on air. I didn’t know these people. I didn’t know their story or their struggle. I decided not to use their lack of children to increase our chances of winning. After all, I was pretty certain our work would speak for itself.
The producers try to get you to say bitchy things because that’s why we watch reality television. I mean, I love me some bitchy pithy comments! But when you’re in the thick of it it’s not as easy as it looks. I had no interest in tearing apart the other team’s creations- I knew how hard they were to make. I didn’t like their completed projects, especially over my own, but I wasn’t going to be mean for the sake of entertainment. The fact that my girls are watching is always in the back of my mind.
Back at our place, the host-judges would reveal the winners and losers on our front lawn- all four of us poised in front of the crates we’d received from our first kitchen challenge. When instructed, we’d open them and either see $10,000 inside or nothing. The judges spent a good amount of time telling us how difficult this decision was to make, putting plenty of pauses in their speeches and shooting from different angles for suspense. Finally they said, “You may open your crates.”
A well-planted camera inside the box captured our reactions as we made our discovery.
We saw nothing.
The other couple had won.
The winners were surrounded in a victory circle by the hosts and the crew, and began recording their winning remarks immediately, what would they do with all that money etc… while we were quietly guided to the backyard for our parting remarks. I held my tears back and focused on the fun that Jonathan and I had together. The truth was that we’d won before we even started. We already lived in a gorgeous home. We have a beautiful family, and everything we needed. Being handed 7 G’s to do whatever we wanted was like winning the lottery.
But I didn’t do this for the money, remember?
When we were done filming we walked to the front yard. Everyone was gone. The winners, the hosts. They never said goodbye.
As soon as a crew member took off my microphone I felt free to release a few buckets of tears. I fell to the ground, not unlike Scarlett o’Hara at Tara. “But this is what I want to do! DIY is my passion!” I cried. I was exhausted. My ego was bruised. I’d felt entitled to that win. I’d been duped.
Before the show aired, I saw a promotional clip in which the female host slammed the tillandsia wall I’d made, “UGH!” She said, disgusted. “I HAAATED that. It looked like a woman got drunk and just hung her earrings on the wall!”
Jonathan and I had such fond memories of making the show together. We never watched the full episode.
But I did spend a few weeks ranting about that female host. I had plenty to say about how she behaved in my house, the things she said in between takes, and who I’d thought she was. I just judged her right back.
Did it make me feel better? Nope.
Here’s the thing about reality television shows. No one forces you to do them. No one invites people into your home, into your life, but you. If you can’t handle the judges, don’t let them in.
I invited the judges into my home. They judged. BECAUSE I LET THEM INTO MY HOME AND ASKED THEM TO LITERALLY JUDGE. Ask and you shall receive.
I swore I would never invite judges into my life ever again.
Oh wait, I do it every day.
In some way, every day, on the internet, on social media, we put a piece of ourselves out there. We make something, whether it’s a craft or a post or a 140 characters tweet. We send it out, and by doing so ask thousands of followers, “What do you think of that?”
Can I handle it? Sometimes. I’m getting better. Doing the show helped me find my power. I really thought someone else was supposed to take their fairy wand, tap me on the head and grant me my wishes. “But this is what I want to do! It’s my passion!”
So girl, make your own damn fairy wand.
Do. It. Yourself.
Judges are just judgey people. They’re everywhere. And everyday, whether we want them to or not, they will judge us. But they don’t have any power over our dreams. They don’t get to decide if we’re happy or sad, if we succeed or fail.
I am climbing my DIY Mt. Everest right now. And it doesn’t begin and end with a TV show. It begins and ends with me.
Go forth and conquer, Magical Fairies. xo