Reality is Fantasy and Fantasy a Reality AKA Our Experience on TV

Posted by Cassie

We recently had quite an experience and learned a lot from it. I couldn’t write about it until it aired, but it truly was amazing and a lot of fun.

Our first scene in our tiny house

We were cast for a reality house hunting show! It is basically the same premise and format as House Hunters International except on a different channel. I’ve always thought being on TV would be a fun thing to do and it really was! This show is called Waterfront House Hunting and airs on FYI network which is part of A&E.

Before we were cast we had to make a submission video that sort of spelled out some of the things that are unique about us and our search for a house. We knew we had to pretend that we were still looking for a house, but they would try to show us things that were sort of in the same line of thought as we had when we were looking in Puerto Rico. Boy were we ever wrong about that! For instance:

Some of the factors we mentioned that we were interested in a property in Puerto Rico were:
Most important feature: LAND! This was the biggest factor for us. The house really didn’t matter as long as we could grow food and raise animals, had some privacy and seclusion and had room to expand or build if we wanted later. In Fantasy-land none of the properties had much usable land at all. And the ones by the ocean would be little use to grow fruit trees.
Style of house: Not important, but Spanish Villa architecture would be kind of cool. In Fantasy-land we did look at a few cool styles, though in reality this doesn’t matter to us.
Size of house: Not important but 3-4 bedrooms or extra buildings would be nice for rental income potential down the road. In Fantasy-land this varied.
Price: Around $150,000. This was our budget when we came here and we found plenty of properties in this range. I said I would be willing to pay a little more to have what we really want like land. In Fantasy-land we would be looking at houses in the $650,000 to 800,000 range! That would be craziness for us!
View: A nice ocean view would be great, but not necessary as long as there was usable, flattish land. In Fantasy-land all of them had nice views, but very little usable/arable/flat land.
Location: Rincón, if possible (balancing out that things are more expensive in Rincón, but also with more rental potential due to tourists the closer to the ocean you are). In Fantasy-land all the properties were in Rincón.
We also mentioned that we know real estate, both here in Puerto Rico as well as in Colorado. And we see property as shelter, potential income as well as a food source and not simply a status symbol. Though it can be that as well.

Film crew
Lots of people and equipment in only 300 sq feet!

The first day we just did our backstory. Basically introducing ourselves to the audience. Most of this was true with just one major lie: that we were currently renting (where we actually live) and looking for our first house in Puerto Rico! It was a tight fit getting everyone in our tiny cabana for this one! We met the whole crew. Two camera-people, a sound guy, the field producer, and two assistants. I am not sure what their official titles were. We all had to go turkey herding because they were going to mess with the sound, so that was pretty funny.

Casa Miramar Cassie
At House #1

The next day was the first house we were to see. They wanted each house to be a surprise to us to see our true reaction. There was a learning curve to this because we weren’t sure what was allowed and what wasn’t. They said they wanted us to move around a lot and interact with the house/environment not just stand around and talk. Make it interesting to watch! Well, I am always up for having fun…

On the bed
Like Goldilocks I tried out each of the beds

I think we have lost all ability to be really WOWED by a house because we have seen sooo many houses in our real life. We have seen pepto pink walls, brothels, meth houses, wine cellars as big as houses, houses literally hanging off a cliff, fun houses with crooked floors and tiny hidden rooms and houses frozen in time like a museum. So anything that is not wildly amazing just doesn’t get much of a reaction from us anymore like it might if we were first time home buyers. So a lot of our reactions to these properties were fabrications. Don’t get me wrong! These were awesome places -right by the water or with amazing views! It’s just that I know I have a much different take on properties than most people, or probably at least most TV-watching Americans.

Casa Miramar

One thing that was super cool about House #1 was that we were able to get our band in it! Go Rincón Continentals! Since we “buy” this house in TVland, and our “characters” are also in a band we pretended that we got the whole band together for a party to celebrate our new home. We even played a few of our original songs! What awesome exposure!

Getting music set up
Getting the band set up for the scene

Rob and sea
What a cool backdrop to play music! Rob on drums

Band at Casa Miramar
A fun experience for all of us in the band!

We learned that they do try to actually show properties that are for sale, but sometimes, they are not. Such as this one that our characters ended up buying.

I say our characters because it became immediately apparent that we were not actually supposed to be ourselves. We were playing a role. We were basically actors playing a part that has some similarities with our normal day-to-day life but not many. We even asked them to spell our names incorrectly for the show (Kassey and Briton instead of Cassie and Britton) because we wanted it to be clear to anyone who knew us that we were acting. Obviously in order to be these characters we had jobs again, we were very wealthy to be able to afford an $800,000 ocean front place, we were not concerned with income potential of these properties, and were sort of aloof to pretty much anyone else around. We were fed lines and points of contention in order to build a conflict in the story line to make the viewers wonder which one we would ultimately choose! We joked that they would all be wrong because we chose none of the above (in real life we have our little farm and cabins)!! Haha. So much for “reality” TV.

I think most people know that shows like this are something of an escape, a sort of fantasy, but I don’t know if people really quite grasp how much so! Especially when it is presented as real. Sometimes the houses had more bedrooms but we said they had less or the kitchen is downstairs but we acted as if it were upstairs, and the choice out of the three places was not even made by us!

Palatine house
Playing the part

And all of this is just fun entertainment, I get that, but I think sometimes these shows may be sending the wrong message. People may not wake up to the fact that you CAN indeed just up and move to the Caribbean and you don’t have to be a millionaire to do it! That you can have a great life without all the materialist garbage of whether or not a granite counter is the make or break point in a house-buying decision. That you already ARE good enough! That you can leave the rat race. You don’t have to work all the time just to get the next great toy or bigger house. You don’t need to compete or struggle or battle against something or someone (your weight, your career, your house, your car). All of that struggle is just to sell you more of the same lie (and more stuff). But it’s all fake.

It also was a fantasy because it barely skimmed the surface of what it is truly like to live in Puerto Rico. Most people do not live in or buy these types of properties. It also sort of paints a strange picture of the North Americans who move to Puerto Rico as an escape from their “realities” of life in the states just to have a playground here. This dichotomy is especially apparent in the current economic crisis of the island and the heavy hand of the US government and corporations.

Kitchen and crew
Face the cameras but don’t look directly at them! Jeff, Hillary with the cameras and the great host of the show: Seth

But it was not our job to portray “real life” in Puerto Rico. It was to act in this Fantasy land. And it was a lot of fun being an actor. We had to learn not to look directly at the camera because this breaks the “fourth wall” as they explained to us. The fourth wall in theatre is where the audience watches. Or in TV it is where the screen is. So if you break the fourth wall, it feels to the viewer that you are looking right at them through the set. It breaks the spell of the fantasy. The illusion is that there are not cameras, that all of this is not a show. And I suppose this is a type of parallel to life. When you realize all of this is an illusion that you are simply experiencing through your senses for a short time, it may become slightly uncomfortable. But you may also feel more awake and in tune with it all! Here’s a great video about purposeful 4th Wall breaks. Very interesting!

Throughout the scenes we focused on surface stuff. Tiles, sinks, ceilings. We didn’t get into construction, foundations and settling, what it would actually mean to take down a concrete wall (sort of like a 4th wall?) or build something. It was basically “house porn” -just the titillating sexy side of house buying. Whenever we would touch something in a scene we would have to go back and film a close up of our hands opening the oven door, turning on the water in the sink etc. And whenever we would have a discussion about a house we would have a “reaction” period where they filmed us just looking and smiling and nodding at each other without talking. It took some getting used to but this crew knew what they were doing.

On the couch
Also tried out all the couches in the various houses with the host Seth

This was another part of this process that I don’t think many people talk about or appreciate: All the people you work with to make this happen. You learn about their lives and interests outside of this job. You learn the toll this takes on them to travel so much and the long hours they put in. They are seasoned pros for sure! In some ways in their world we were just another couple to be filmed because they have done so many of these shows. But they made it so easy. Pretty cool to see such dedicated people in motion.

Like Dave the sound guy. So knowledgeable and all around fun person

With Fran film
Or Fran the local Puerto Rican film student and production assistant

Palatine castle in background
Some of the crew at a house in Palatine Hills

Jackie the field producer has the hardest and most demanding job of them all! She had to coordinate EVERYTHING from the ground like coffee and wardrobe to story line to continuity to back in Los Angeles to the next episode or show down the line. This woman worked non-stop from 5am to midnight! Just thinking about what she had to deal with wore me out!

Silly group photo
The whole crew after the “Decision Scene” at the Horned Dorset

Britton, Seth- the host of the show, and I definitely had the most glamorous of the jobs. And it is no doubt why so many people want to be rich and famous and be on that side of the camera. In fact touring all these places and hanging out at the ritzy spots you start to get a feel for what it could be like to live that lifestyle. When we were filming at the beach people looked at us like we were stars and asked us what movie we were making! A pretty cool and ego-boosting feeling. It is truly the hook of any of these shows and probably show business in general.

Cassie at Pool
Do I look the part yet? At the ritzy Horned Dorset

Most people have watched television or movies but not nearly as many have seen what goes on behind the scenes, beyond the walls! The production of the whole enterprise. To me, more so even than all the fabrications we had to put together for the story this was the most impressive part of fantasy-building. The whole illusion is a sum of its parts. We saw a little of it with our friends Jon and Rachel when we filmed the short movie and the commercial, but this took it to a whole new level.

Horned Dorset pool
Yah we’re just a couple of Hollywood stars haha

Flipping through
In this scene you will only see what the camera sees, but look at all  that you don’t see behind the curtain! 

A cool feature of this particular show is that the couples also have a water activity. In our case, we went out on a small sail craft with our friends Jeanne and Jeff from Rincón Sailing.

Loading up

While the camera crew circled around us -just be sure not to look at them when filming!

Britton, me, Jeff and Jeanne

Overall, this experience is one I will cherish and never forget! Because I like to look at the bigger picture in things this helped me to sort of understand more in depth how the media in general forms a sort of reality that is anything but. With just a touch of truth it magically turns everything else into fantasy. And my reality for these five days was a sort of fantasy away from the norm.

Setting up the beach and B-roll scenes at the Marina

It also took me some time pondering exactly what my role was in this fantasy-creation. Once I understood that it wasn’t Cassie as I know myself, but the character “Kassey”-as-seen-on-TV, I was able to sort of detach from my personal outlook on conspicuous consumption and see that I was just playing a role that was really not like me though we may look the same on the outside. It’s also sort of funny, I think, to note that we don’t even have a television or cable/dish to watch this show on. We filmed in February and it aired in August! We were very excited to see it and how they edited down 5 days of filming!

Cassie and Britton on TV
Sort of surreal. We watched ourselves on TV at Jackie’s Gyro shop in downtown Rincon

Celebrity at Jacky On the TV
Seeing yourself on TV is a trip!

Our life has truly come around to being kids again. This was just a bit of make-believe on the other side of the wall.

I haven’t been able to get a good easily playable link to the full episode (if you have cable or dish you can login and watch it here), but here’s a little I caught off the TV of the ending “band scene.”

I found this link to the full length video but I was unable to play it here in Puerto Rico. Let me know if it works for anyone else.

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Processing Coconuts for Coco Water

Posted by Cassie

So after the coconuts are harvested from the palm trees what happens? Well, as I mentioned in the previous post, they are mostly used for the coconut water. Fresh coconut water is so much better than any coconut water you can buy in a package. It is a great hydrator or drink mix. It has an interesting taste. Not sweet and not salty but something in between. And really doesn’t have a “coconut” flavor to it even though that is actually what it is!

Cocos locos
Hanging out with the coconut guys

The other day we went down to La Placita, the little fruit stand/gas station down from our house, and bought a half gallon of freshly processed agua de coco for $6. We have plenty of coconuts at our house and often harvest and process them ourselves, but on this day we left it to the professionals. Here’s a little video snippet. Working with a machete can be dangerous, but these guys have been doing it for some time!

Cassie and Britton
At La Placita with our coco water

Not only did we get some agua de coco but one of the men offered to make me one of his special rings! Always so much fun whenever we go out!

Wearable money. The newest fashion trend?

Cassie with dollar ring
Me and my bling!

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Coconut Harvest and Other Island Scenes

Posted by Cassie

Climbing Coconut tree
Climbing a coconut palm

When we are out and about we often see things that we call “Island Scenes,” you know, scenes that you would never see if you didn’t live on a tropical island. Palm trees, especially coconut palms, to me are one of the quintessentially tropical markers. And as we were walking down a beach one day we came upon two men who were harvesting coconuts from tall 50 foot swaying palm trees.  One of them climbed up using his spikes and the other one caught the heavy bundle of coconuts that descended from a rope.

Man in the trees
Hola from on high!

These coconuts are mainly used for their coconut water, but of course can be used for any number of preparations from coconut oil, toasted coconut, coconut milk, even piña coladas! This is a great service for the beaches because a coconut that falls from that height could easily kill an unwitting person below. Win/win! Here’s a video of them at their work:

We hung out for a while nearby with a friend and enjoyed the sunset. I tried my monkey best to climb a coconut palm, but without the spikes I couldn’t get too far :-)

Cassie in Coconut Tree
My coconut tree climb is not nearly as impressive!

Dogs and Horse on Beach
Horse riding and a pack of dogs on the beach

Cassie and Britton at Sunset Nice
Classic sunset shot

We also watched another traditional method of living off the land and water when we saw a man setting up the fishing net at the edge of the sea as the tiny ripples lapped softly against the sand. I’m not exactly sure what he was fishing for, perhaps sardines as we often see them when we enter the water. This is the kind of economic activity that has been going on for hundreds of years and that you probably won’t hear much about on the news or through the government: a direct connection to nature and your livelihood.

Boat and Beach
Boat at sunset

Island Time literally
A ceiling fan and a clock on a bamboo pole. Is this where island time came from? haha

Cassie and Britton Monkey and Horse

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Construct It: Cabin Floors and Walls

Posted by Britton

I figured it was maybe time to do a little construction update.  One thing nice about doing things at your own pace is that you can take a step back when you start to feel overwhelmed or don’t have an answer to a “how to” and want to take some time to research.  A lot of building this house has required research because I’ve never done it before.  Like what screws to use for drywall and WHY?  What screws to use for cement board and WHY?  How do you construct a shower basin in a wood framed house?

The company that delivered the drywall delivered screws too.  They were black phosphate coated drywall screws BUT they were fine thread.  When I asked about it they claimed of course “It’s fine to use them in wood!” which isn’t really true.  Wood screws use a coarse thread for holding power.  Fine threads are used for metal studs.  Just an example of how a small thing can turn into a small ordeal when you are ready to start a project in the morning.

Using what are considered the “correct” fasteners might not matter to some people, especially if the fasteners are difficult to locate.  I have been called “Mañoso” (picky) a few times which is accurate I guess.

Mud, Tape and Ready for Primer/Paint

This past week have been getting the inside ready for paint and flooring.  Since we decided to go with tile, we needed to prep the sub floor.  We got 24 4×8 sheets of 3/4″ thick cement board.  Those weigh 136 pounds each!  It took a whole day just for us to move them over to the house.  It was actually easiest for one person to carry an entire sheet on their back than it was for two people to awkwardly try to move one.  So there was a lot of resting in between trips but we got it done.

While I do a lot of the research myself it is tremendously useful to have Waldemar help with each step. He propels us forward so much more than we can do alone. I really appreciate his help. He brings skills, experience as well as lots of energy and motivation when I just don’t have a whole a lot.

Britton and Waldemar floors
Installing Cement Board

We then cut and installed the cement boards (generically called plycem here).  Those things were ridiculously heavy.  The floors however are SOLID and we shouldn’t have any problems with tiles popping or cracking.  Under the cement boards we used thinset to fill any space between the 3/4″ inch plywood.  There are a few write ups about this online.  The professionals who sold me the cement board told me I didn’t need to use thinset, but again for me it comes down to the “why” and the write ups did a good job of convincing me that it should be done.

Waldemar and Cassie 2
Cassie brings over lunch for us and helps where she can

Our tile is on order and should be here in a week or so.  We wanted to get a natural feel instead of using ceramic printed tiles and went with a red clay tile almost like terracotta.  Again, Mañoso but what can you do?  If you want something, sometimes you have to wait.

Waldermar and Britton
¿Tu quiereme? Waldemar and I work together a lot and have gotten to know each other well, even with the language barrier.

We also used cement board for the shower stall.  Over top of the cement board I used aqua defense, it is a paintable rubber membrane that adheres well to thinset when dry so you can tile over it.  The paintable membrane will keep any moisture from seeping past the grout/tiles and cement board into the wood below.  One thing I have learned is that cement is porous and should be sealed if you want to keep water out.  There is also a 3 piece drain.

Blue bathroom
Green Water-proof Membrane

Soon we should receive some tiles.  Until then we will be painting the walls.
Cassie Painting
Cassie Priming the Drywall for Paint

So as you can see, we haven’t JUST been chinchorreando and having fun…We are making really good progress on the cabin too. Now that we can see the walls and floors taking shape we are super stoked to move in!

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