Despite all the TV that I consume, I don’t currently watch any reality TV. This isn’t some highbrow decision; I don’t think that reality TV is below me. In fact, I used to watch several shows in the genre: Survivor, Big Brother, Joe Millionaire (I know, I know), one season of American Idol, Real Housewives of New Jersey, Project Runway (Bravo edition) various seasons of The Real World (back in the day – I think I quit sometime after the first Vegas season) and Keeping Up With the Kardashians (hangs head in shame). During my bouts of insomnia, I even watched a reality show on CMT in 2005 that no one I know has ever heard of called Popularity Contest. You didn’t miss much. I watched the majority of these programs back in my grad school days as they provided me with some mindless entertainment and a much needed break from the rigors of academia. I also think that it is no coincidence that they year I watched the most reality TV was also the year that I had a housemate. Reality shows are at their best, in my opinion, when they are consumed communally. There is just something so fun about watching all the ridiculousness unfold with someone else and commenting on all the drama.
However, I began to find reality shows less and less entertaining and the participants on these shows less and less likable. In the competition based shows, I found I didn’t care who won; I found most of these people so repugnant that there was no one left to root for. The more personality driven shows weren’t much better. I finally realized I was hate-watching the Kardashians and my only enjoyment from it was how much I despised these people. Same went for RHONJ. I’m agitated enough with real life; I don’t need the extra agita from TV. It was time to pull the plug.
Over the Memorial Day weekend, I took on some reorganization projects around the apartment and wanted to have something on the TV that wouldn’t require my full attention as I was sorting through various files. Normally I would have put on the Yankee game, but since they were on a west coast swing, the games were on later than usual. Flipping through the channels, I found that holiday weekend programming is pretty slim pickings. There weren’t a lot of options that met what I was looking for. And then I stumbled upon a Storage Wars marathon on A&E.
I’d never seen Storage Wars, but had heard vague rumblings about it. I had my doubts about how a program about people buying abandoned storage lockers at auction would be very interesting. I couldn’t imagine that there would be much interesting in a storage locker. Isn’t that just where you throw extra furniture and stuff that you don’t want, but aren’t ready to get rid of? So imagine my surprise when I found the show to actually be fairly compelling and borderline addictive.
The show follows people as they travel around bidding on lockers in the hopes of discovering treasure amongst the rubble. They only get a glimpse of the storage space before they bid and they are not allowed to touch anything within the locker, so they are unaware of what is inside trunks, plastic tubs and bags. They have to guess as to the possible value of the contents based on the few items that they are able to see from the preview and, depending on how jam packed the unit is, that might not be much to go on. While the bidders are always hoping to score big on some unexpected collectible or antique, most of them also have to rely on grinding out a living based on reselling less flashy merchandise in their stores, like tools and books. If they can get the locker for a low enough price, they can usually eke out a profit even without finding buried treasure. But it is the quest for a big score and the personalities of the bidders profiled that gives the show its real entertainment value.
There are four main people/teams that the show profiles: Barry (“The Collector”), Brandi and Jarrod (“The Young Guns”), Dave (“The Mogul”) and Darrell (“The Gambler”). Since the four of them interact on a regular basis, you get to know them and their relationships. No one really likes Dave and his “YUUUUUP” catch phrase, especially Darrell. Barry has a soft spot for Brandi and Jarrod. Brandi and Jarrod are partners in their business and have two children together, but they tend to argue quite a bit, with comedic results. Brandi is usually the more fiscally responsible of the two and she has mixed results in attempting to reel Jarrod in. They also often disagree on the value of the merchandise once the locker is purchased. Barry is quite the eccentric, often showing up at the auctions in vintage cars or motorcycles with a team of psychics or little people in tow. From the episodes that I’ve seen, he tends to lose the most money. But he’s also the most fun to watch and he has a good sense of humor.
The first few episodes I was just surprised as to what people keep in their storage lockers. People have all kinds of stuff in there that I wouldn’t have imagined. I found myself making up little back stories for each locker as the contents were examined. I was also surprised that there was a market to resell some of the ho-hum routine items. Perhaps the bidders were being optimistic on how much the items would fetch, but what looked like regular junk to me was often estimated to be several hundred dollars’ worth of stuff. I guess the saying is true: one man’s trash is indeed another man’s treasure.
Of course, the novelty of seeing what was is actually in storage lockers rubbed off pretty quickly, which the producers of the show realize. So while the B storyline often focuses on the more routine lockers and whether the bidder will be able to recoup their investment by nickel and diming it, every week at least one of the bidders discovers something within the units that they have obtained that they believe will be worth a lot of money or that is particularly unusual. Therein lies the drama: are they going to score a major profit or are they going to be disappointed?
The best episodes, in my opinion, are the ones where they discover something that is both unique AND valuable. In one, Brandi and Jarrod found a tribal tattoo set that was worth a nice chunk of change. Darrell finds an Eskimo Pie cooler that was pretty neat looking and was predicted to net $3,000 at auction. Barry discovers some hardhats that are intricately covered in metal engraving. Someone (Brandi, I think) found a metal horse head that was used in France to indicate that a restaurant served horse meat. They often get some little history lessons from the appraisers that they meet with, which I find interesting.
Of course, it is also kind of fun when they are convinced that they have something of value and are completely wrong. Someone on the show (not one of the regulars) was adamant that the Xbox that he discovered was worth thousands. It was not. Barry hoped that an old magician’s trick would be a big payday and walked away very disappointed. A wanted poster for Pablo Escobar wasn’t worth much more than the paper it was printed on. Since Dave is so smug, it is always especially enjoyable when he makes a misstep. Schadenfreude, my friends.
I wound up watching a few episodes even after my projects were finished and have found myself looking to see if the show is on at random times. I really can’t put my finger on what exactly makes the show so addictive; while it is entertaining, it is also kind of repetitive and rumor has it that it might be fixed. But the people are generally pleasant to watch and if you don’t dwell too much on the fact that they are most likely profiting off the goods of people that were too down on their luck to continue paying for their storage locker, it seems like harmless fun. Even Dave isn’t so bad; on any other reality TV show he wouldn’t even be considered “the villain.” I guess it taps into the same thing that made 30 million people tune in to the opening of Al Capone’s locker in 1986 – the possibility of hidden booty can be very appealing. I don’t know that I’ll be a regular watcher, but I am glad I stumbled upon it and may check in on it from time to time.
The new season of Storage Wars debuts Tuesday June 5th at 10 pm ET on A&E.