As a lover of travel, one of my favorite TV shows to watch is House Hunters International. It takes us on a grand journey in every episode, showcasing fascinating glimpses into how the other half lives.
Some destinations the show takes, us to allow viewers to see how inexpensive it can be to live in an alternate paradise. My mind was blown during a recent episode in Peniche, Portugal. One American family rented a spectacular beachfront home large enough for eight people, for a mere $1300.00.
But now that I’ve been through the casting experience for HHI twice, I’m not as enamored with the process as I used to be.
Yes, the show is still dreamy to watch but having inside knowledge of how it works sort of deflates the colorful balloons at the end of the journey.
**Disclaimer: I was cast in 2011 and 2012 so the show may do things differently now**
Both times I was accepted for House Hunters International, I was moving to Jamaica. The first time, I left on my own free will to give life in the Caribbean a shot. The second time, I was specifically leaving for a work contract.
Both times, I had applied to be on the show mainly for publicity purposes because I was a travel writer and a Jamaica destination expert. I figured the notoriety of being on the show could give my writing endeavors an added boost.
When I took off in 2011 I already had my own apartment on the island. Since I traveled very frequently it made financial sense to keep a home base rather than spend on accommodations each trip.
My rent on the one-bedroom, fully furnished apartment was the equivalent of $350.00 CAD per month. When I wasn’t on the island I would rent it out to my blog readers going on vacation, for $350.00 per week.
Applying for HHI was a very simple process. You simply email them your pitch and if they feel like slotting in that particular destination they’ll get back to you with their requirements.
What viewers may not know is that many house hunters on the show already live in their destinations. It would be impossible to coordinate each episode with live moves in real time.
Since I already had my apartment, show producers explained how shooting would work. We would enlist a realtor to find two comparable rentals in the area and then we’d go on three mock viewings with the film crew, one of which would be my own apartment.
After the mock viewings, I would put on the act of weighing out my options and voila! I would magically choose my own apartment and they would slip me $1500.00 for appearing in the episode.
It seemed a bit silly and fake but realistically, how else could it be done? The show does a marvelous job of turning average people into scripted actors.
My casting in 2011 went all the way to the script planning stage. They had even gone into detail about how I should remove my contents from my own apartment during filming, to make it look as if it’s unoccupied.
For $1500.00 and screen time, I could certainly do a fake move-out.
But then suddenly, without apparent reason, the show pulled out at the last minute. If I remember correctly the actual destination had something to do with it and they decided Jamaica wasn’t suitable at the time.
Although disappointing, it was of no consequence to me. I was leaving anyway and had a home to go to.
My new island life in 2011 didn’t go as planned. I fell flat on my face and returned to Canada with my tail between my legs due to financial reasons.
One year later I was hired to go back to Jamaica for a writing contract. This time my employers would be putting me up in a location of their choice so I had nothing to do with choosing my accommodations.
It’s worth mentioning that in Jamaica it’s very common for residents to cohabit in shared living spaces. Quite often, locals and foreigners alike will rent a single room in gigantic villa-style homes.
If you’ve ever been there and driven on any road other than a resort road, you’ve no doubt noticed these monstrous looking homes everywhere you go. They don’t always house one big wealthy family, they often accommodate several average income people.
Knowing how the show worked, I decided to reach out to HHI again to see if they were ready for Jamaica yet, and they responded favorably.
I had explained to producers that my employers would be providing my accommodations in one of these large villa-style homes. I would have my own furnished room and ensuite bathroom in a house with shared living and kitchen space.
In this particular villa home, no one else lived there at the time. It would have just been me and villa staff which would have made it appear as though I lived there alone.
The show agreed to cast me again and started the process all over. As far as I was aware they were also in the process of locating another realtor to round up a couple of mock properties.
All was well until days before my departure when HHI backed out yet again.
This time their reason was because they didn’t think the particular living style would suit the purpose of their show, even though I had explained that this is legitimately how many people live on the island.
In my opinion, if an American TV show truly wants to showcase how other cultures and countries live they should be open to all options, not just options they think will appear typical to viewers.
This is a disservice to others who think they might want to embark on their own relocation adventure.
Half the reason people travel the world is to escape an average, everyday lifestyle and learn to adopt new cultures. If shared accommodations or uncommon living styles happen to be part of that culture, it shouldn’t be excluded.
When I owned my Jamaica travel blog two of the top inquiries I’d receive from readers is A) How to move to Jamaica and B) How to find a home there.
Since I have done it three times over a ten-year span I knew exactly how to go about relocating and where to find accommodations.
Most foreigners think that searching real estate ads online is the only way to acquire a home, when in fact, one of the best ways to find affordable and unique housing options is to go local.
So, while House Hunters International does do a fabulous job of introducing us to a world of different lifestyles, it doesn’t open our eyes to all the possibilities. That simply wouldn’t fit into a script.
But in reality, which part of travel abroad does fit into a script?