The Extreme Reality of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

On a Sunday night at 8:00pm millions of families around the United States have showered, have their pajamas on, and are crowding around their television sets to tune into ABC’s moving and hopeful show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. In this show a deserving family is given the once in a lifetime opportunity to be whisked away to a magical place on a paid for vacation for seven days while their run down home is demolished and replaced by a brand new, top of the line home built completely from scratch. Millions of viewers tune in every week to watch these spectacular home be built for families who have gone through more struggles and hard times than anyone must normally. We do not realize that the process that is unveiled weekly through this TV show is extremely misleading. Shows like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition give its audience a sense of false reality because it takes hundreds of people, thousands of dollars, and many volunteers to build a house from the bottom up in just seven days. In reality, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is a show that fits into the category of “comfort television” by the fact that it takes families into a fantasy world where anything is possible.  However the reality is without the money and hard labor these things cannot happen. 

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition has been running on ABC for seven years, helping over 150 families in giving them their dream home. Ty Pennington is the loud, outgoing team leader and has been since the show’s beginning in 2003 most famously known for the saying, “bus driver, move that bus!” The concept of the show is to build a dream home for families that have had to undergo some very serious issues in life, like a family with  child suffering from a life threatening disease or a family with a single parent. This process it to be completed in seven days while the family is sent on a vacation paid for by the producers, usually the family is sent to Walt Disney World in Florida of Disneyland in California. The ratings for this show have only gone up throughout it’s seven years on television and it has also won several Emmy Awards along with much praise from parents and children alike. My mother has a close friend from high school that had the amazing opportunity to help build the extreme home that was built for the Nickless family, who reside in Holt, Michigan (the family’s episode aired back in November 2008.) Lori was one of the workers that did all the wallpaper, painting, and drapery for the Nickless family’s home and she recalls that the set is not what it seems to be on television. She said that the designers do not really help very much with their projects all they really do is make the design and film whatever is needed. Lori said that Ty Pennington is flying cross country during the filing because two homes are being built at the same time for two different episodes and he comes in, shoots the famous “wake up call” then leaves to do the same for the other family. Ty later returns to film other parts of the episode and then the final reveal then he is off to the other house to once again, do the same.

Film producers and writers of television shows have many tools that they use to get an audience hooked on their show as weekly regulars, some of these tactics are the stories told, the celebrity appearances, and the challenge that the crew has to complete an extreme home in seven days. The stories told on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition are not like most stories that you hear about in the media; for example, in one episode that aired a few seasons ago, the family that received the makeover had a daughter that was severely ill and was in hospital throughout the building of the house. The family’s home was about to go into foreclosure and had many problems that were not only an inconvenience, but dangerous. After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, the Extreme Makeover crew headed down there to help some families that were hit the hardest. On many occasions the show makes viewers cry and it makes them realize how good of a life they are living; the stories are heartbreaking and tearful which helps the show continue to get great reviews and weekly viewers. The show has recently been featuring celebrities on the show that help build the home from start to finish. some of these people include the cast of dancing with the stars, Kellie Pickler, Ashley Tisdale, and Tim McGraw. The challenge that the crew has to complete the home in seven days is another factor that gets the viewers return every week, viewers want to see if the crew can get it done and what will happen if they do not. In my history of watching the show I have only seen one episode where the family was able to spend an extra day in Walt Disney World while the crew was completing their home. The fact that they have only had to extend a family’s vacation a handful of times is pretty amazing because of the unrealistic deadline that they have set to have the house completed. These small things that are seamlessly worked into the plot of this show are so minuscule that the viewers do not realized that they are getting sucked into the show so much that even the things that could not normally happen seen real to them. It’s saying that Americans are easily influenced and producers know how to trigger emotions in their audience so they use these to their greatest advantage.

After analyzing this very popular television show it is pretty safe to say that Americans like two things; one, to be comfortable and use TV as an escape of reality, and two, that they like to see stories of everyday people overcome something that they otherwise could not have. This is where America has its downfall. It is no myth that reality TV is not 100% real, there are things that have to be added, enhanced, or removed so the show is not boring and nobody watches it. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is just like the rest of the reality television shows that are changing reality to make it more interesting for the audience. The producers know the little tricks that were stated above to real in their audience and most of the time the reality of the show is lost. Without the many resources that the show has the house could not be built. The viewers are the number one factor in making the show a success because without them the show would get cancelled. The large sum of money that is needed to build these spectacular homes is another factor that is part of the “manufactured fantasy” of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, the families that receive them have many struggles with money before an dater the makeover that some have let the homes go into foreclosure or have had to sell them because the bills have been too expensive for them to afford along with their other expenses (ex. hospital bills, special schooling for their children, etc.) The final part of the recipe of the false reality that this show promotes is the support that the team gets from volunteers. Without theses amazing people the houses could not be completed in the time frame that they set out for it. The goal is unrealistic so they need an unrealistic number of people working on the house, which will never be seen in an everyday setting. this show is giving Americans the idea that thousands of people all come together to build a home for a “deserving” family but in reality aren’t all Americans deserving enough to get a dream home for them; why just these specific few?

With the question posed above it causes much debate among many people that think that they also deserve an extreme home makeover. Similar questions are asked like, “why can I not get a new house, I think that I qualify for it,” and “why is that family so special, why not mine?” Yet despite all of these questions, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition still has millions of families tuned in every week. The reason is that Americans like to see people just like them receive their happy ending. It’s the stories like the ones that are featured on this series, showcasing extraordinary things happening to ordinary people. Just like Cinderella was just a normal girl that by chance had a magical fairy godmother waiting for her so she could find true love; the cast, crew, and producers of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition are the families “fairy godmothers.” The show gives the viewers hope that maybe if they try hard enough that they will one day get the life changing opportunity to have their home demolished then rebuilt so it will be like nothing that they ever imagined, and once again america proves that they are always looking for something or someone to help them out and give them their fairytale ending, but in reality they will be sitting and waiting for a long while because things like this are not magic, there is only a small number of families that get the amazing chance to have an extreme home.

Analyzing this popular television series and analyzing how Americans react to what they see when watching it has only shoed that it is safe to say that shows like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition like to tease the viewers and give them a sense of false reality. The amount of hard work, dedication, and money that is spent on these homes might not phase the families in the beginning but with money being tight right now reality does catch up to them in the end. The misleading genre of comfort television has invaded the homes of Americans with shows like American Idol, The Amazing Race, and Dancing With the Stars plus other shows that feature the everyday life of celebrities on shows like Keeping up with the Kardashians (plus the popular spin off Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami,) The Hills, and Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D List. These shows are known to not be one hundred percent real life activities and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition has also weaseled their way into tis category where reality is sometimes scripted.  Without the money and hard labor the show could not be what it is today and comparing episodes of the series when it premiered back in 2003 to present day episodes, there is a major difference in the way that it is presented. Many of the changes were spread out over time and designers came and went but the whimsical aspect of the show remains present. Ask yourself now, when will it be your turn for the magical Extreme Makeover: Home Edition crew to wake you up one morning so your family can be the deserving family featured on the next episode of the show?


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