Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
My homestead's brief venture into the world of reality TV production began with a simple casting email and entailed hours of creating home videos, several 6am Skype interview sessions, and ultimately ended with rejection from the Discovery Channel.
In case you read too fast, The Discovery Channel (not to mention countless British casting agents) have seen my historic Appalachian homestead, heard Ian and me talk about what we love about it, and then formed an opinion about what they saw. The fact that they turned us down is less important than the fact that they found us worth looking into- this experience alone is already far more exposure to the world of TV than I ever expected from my life.
My summary of the experience? Pretty dang bemusing.
Called alternatively “Homestead Living”, “Homestead Rescue” and “Off Grid Living”, this TV show is explained as a home improvement show with a simple-living twist: Recruiters were looking for eight households around the country with people that were beginning to live a homestead or off grid lifestyle and were becoming overwhelmed with the experience and needed some expert help.
Each episode of the show would feature a homestead being visited by “homestead experts” that would give the struggling family advice and help them to make some necessary changes and improvements that would make them better able to succeed with their new lifestyle. Improvements could be anything from installing solar panels to building better fences, and it would be paid for by the show. If you could deal with the publicity, this show had the potential to be a fantastic opportunity for homesteaders.
My involvement began when a UK production studio found my contact information from my personal blog and sent me an email asking if I would be interested in applying for the show. I try to live with the mentality that it’s best to say yes in these situations, so I figured there was nothing to lose by spending a free evening filling out the application. Most unexpectedly, I landed a phone call. The next day I had a long conversation with a casting agent that very quickly became two grueling weeks of casting and interviewing.
Ian and I worked long distance with a man I’ll call Eddie, an enthusiastic Brit that saw great TV show potential from our idiosyncratic lifestyle. He loved our youth and quirky, chicken-loving personalities, our wonky, rambling homestead, and the fact that we worked closely with two nuns that broke just about every stereotype of religious life. He poured himself into producing a casting video for us that would be sent to the Discovery Channel seeking their approval of us being featured as an episode in the eight-part series.
The three of us had plenty of long phone calls where I divulged as many details as I could about our historic Appalachian homestead. Our passion for this lifestyle was evident, but we didn’t shy away from talking about the problems we faced or the things we would have loved to see improved.
We talked about our inability to drink the water from our rainwater collection system and our fears that the poor road conditions compounded with bad weather would someday prevent us from making the necessary trek into town for our drinking water. We spoke of sleeping on the floor of our living room because the broken chimney in our bedroom made it impossible to keep the temperature above freezing in winter weather. We even spent a whole weekend taking home videos around the property to better document the things we loved and alternatively wanted changed.
The photos, videos, and phone calls that I had with Eddie was only half the material that he needed for our casting video. Ian and I also needed to be filmed via Skype talking about our lifestyle so that clips of us talking could be spliced in with the videos I had taken. Because of the time difference and our marginal-at-best internet connection, it was necessary to conduct these Skype sessions at 6am in our freezing cold living room.
As a reality TV rookie, I found these interviews to be a fascinating look into manufactured drama. A pumped up and overly excited Eddie exclaimed that our every answer was “brilliant” and “pure gold”. Clearly he was trying to make his enthusiasm contagious- not an easy task for two people huddled in a dark room that would both rather be asleep.
Many of his questions focused on our safety and the ‘horrifying’ dangers we face here. He would get very worked up about trifles like poisonous snakes and the dead mouse we once found in our water tank; things that we find far less alarming than, say, the plethora of trash that litters the woods around us. Occasionally we caught him subtly rephrasing our answers to his questions in more dramatic ways and trying to get us to repeat his new version. He was fishing for sound bites. A small comment from Ian about wanting to try bow hunting was adapted to “if I don’t learn how to hunt soon the two of us could starve!” Obviously our true situation is far less desperate.
Giving alarmist sound bites was an uncomfortable experience for us. Many times we were coaxed to act upset about parts of our situation that we had willingly chosen to live with when we decided to move here. For instance, our lives would be easier if we didn’t have to haul drinking water up from town, but we knew this was the reality when we moved here and have no right to be angry if the situation remains unchanged. In the same way we felt uncomfortable complaining about how cold the house was when it wasn’t a big deal to simply move our mattress to where the wood stove was.
Besides, many work groups had given their time in service this fall by helping us to chop and stack the firewood that we were burning. In order to make for good tv, we needed to act ungrateful for what we did have, and that wasn’t a gracious way to act when we have been served by so many. But let me tell you, it was very tempting to act a little dramatic when getting solar panels installed for us was a very real possibility. A conflict of interests, if you will.
Regardless, Eddie got enough good material out of us to make a solid casting video for the Discovery Channel. We waited for two nerve-wracking weeks before finally learning that we had been a top ten contender, but that the channel had ultimately turned us down. Considering eight families were cast, we missed the show by one or two slots. How crazy is that?!
Though it’s pretty amazing to have gotten so close, I’m adamant that I’m not going to give up too quickly. If and when a second season for this show gets announced, you better believe I will be sending a few emails to Eddie, just to remind him what the tv world is missing by not making my amazing chickens reality tv starlets.
What a pose! This silkie belongs on the silver screen.
Lydia Noyes is serving as an Americorps volunteer with her husband in West Virginia at the Big Laurel Learning Center. There, they live with two nuns and help to run a sustainable homestead mountain-ridge retreat and ecology center that resides on a 500-acre land trust. You can find her at her personal blog and Instagram. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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