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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.