Wednesday, August 7, 2013

When Reality (TV) Isn't Really Real

Bringing truth to the old saying that "what goes around, comes around", I've recently revisited some of my core experiences and feelings from when I first made the move from the U.S. (Raleigh, NC) here to Cork, Ireland.  And, similar to the reasons for that first move, I did it for filthy lucre and the adventure of it all!

Some of you readers who'll be most interested in this ramble down memory lane will have searched out this blog in the 24 hours after having seen me last night on the American cable TV channel, HGTV's program, House Hunters International.  Those of you who didn't catch it are going, "Whaaat?  Why didn't you tell us you were going to be on TV?!"  Because I was terrified, dammit!

Anyway, so here's the skinny.  Involving both truth and lies.  I've had a couple of shocked and questioning emails from new readers about how come my blog says I moved six years ago but my HHI episode last night, Put A Cork In It! (Season 56, Episode 3) said I just moved?

The truth is, reality TV is not 100% real!  Are you surprised?  Me too!  Going through the experience of filming this episode in December 2012 (backstory with my sister and her family in Miami) and January 2013 (Cork scenes) showed me just how carefully crafted, tweaked, and re-rehearsed these shows are.  By the time you've gone through your interviews over and over, saying the same thing in just slightly different ways, but all to the direction of the Director, and have filmed every scene with 4 or 5 different takes so the cameraman (person, but they were both actually men) can get reaction shots, alternate angles, and cutaways, every word of truth coming out of your mouth and every instinctive action or reaction feels... well, fake.

And then they take the 7 hours of filming the family backstory scene (just as the first example) and cut it down so much that the editing room floor is littered I tell you, littered!  All the work!  All that angst.  All that slooowwwlllyyyyyy draining energy, all for 3 or 4 minutes of quick clips mixed up together, that somehow do give a glancing overview of the underlying reality of it all.

Did I love it?  Yes and no.  It was tiring, and made me feel just slight dirty for taking part in it at all.  But, it was also LOADS of fun and really, really eye opening.  The producer in London that I worked with and the crew in both locations were gold star professionals and, by the end of the day, we all were having a great time together.  I tried not to make it too much work for them, and they... well, they made me work for it, but they did their jobs well.  The proof in the pudding is that, despite my massive panic building up to the airing on HGTV last night, I didn't actually come off that bad.  There were a lot of weird hand movements in the initial interviews - LOL, but the camera's extra 10 lbs were mostly hidden by my coat (excellent outfit choices, if I do say so myself) and I didn't come across as either too fake or a crazy person.  You laugh, but this was my real worry.  Hey, I said stop laughing!

In answer to the main email and blog comment question I've had:  It was actually relatively easy for me to get on the show.  As an (Jamaican) American expat who blogged about the experience for a good while, I actually rejected several invitations over the years to take part.  And I'm not the only one who's ever got approached.  I always thought that 1) you had to actually be in the the process of moving and 2) you had to be actually buying a "house".  As has now been proved, neither of those are true.  You just have to have a sort of interesting story and be relatively articulate.  The bar isn't ridiculously high.  In large part, I'd say, because they produce a huge number of episodes (at least one new one per weekday) and so are always in need of content. 

To answer another question specific to non-US residents, the episode is only airing in the U.S. for now.  Hulu has the show, but they're still months behind.  The Travel Channel in the U.K. is currently airing episodes from August of 2012, so my episode might actually be showing this time next year.  You'll be happy to hear though that I plan to upload the DVD copy to YouTube once I get it in my hot little hands a few weeks from now, so you can be on the lookout for that.

 Ok, that's it, that's pretty much the relevant parts of the story.  Except to say a heartfelt (truly and deeply) thanks to all the strangers who have stalked researched me and sent really very sweet emails saying how much they loved the episode and my story.  I'm more touched than I expected to be.  Thank you.

Edited Note 8/10/13:  I realize I never actually answered the burning question... yes, I was already living in Cork, and in my apartment, when we filmed the episode.  They did it as a (silent) retrospective of my experience.  A mover emptied out my apartment so they could film it as one of the 3 choices.  Weird, but that's how they roll.  All that stuff about visiting my family in Miami and shopping for Jamaican food really happened right before I left the U.S. 6 years ago.  They just recreated it ;)  About the Cork scenes, I'd already visited Blarney Castle several times and kissed it once during a flying visit 20+ years ago.  I was made to kiss it 4 more times during filming takes!  The cooking lesson scene with my friend, Margaret, who owns (a catering and cooking school), was a first for me, but so much fun!  I never knew soda bread was that easy to make.  It was yummy, too. 


Barbie said...

I loved the episode too! So you're still with that nice man then? Yay! All the best.

Anonymous said...

So you were actually already living in Cork when the episode was your current apartment or were you looking for a new apartment? I have had fun looking over your whole blog -- you have a great sense of humor. Glad to see you are a member of the family as well!! Georgeann

So you were already living in your current apartment when you filmed your HHI episode or looking for a new apartment? Love your sense of humor as I have read through your entire blog. Also glad to see you are a member of the family!!!

Anonymous said...

Hello Arlene,
I am new to your blog. I discovered it because you mentioned it on HGTV. I hope you are loving Ireland. You seem like a very charismatic person.I am a Jamaican American living in Atlanta and I think about finding a country with a more community based lifestyle to spend most of the years. How did pick Ireland?


robin said...

I am one of those stalkers, lol! Actually, I love watching that show, HHI, and absolutely loved your episode! You appear to have a great personality (and sense of humor!)I am looking forward to reading more of your blog posts! I had a friend who lived in Ireland a while and enjoyed her stories about living abroad.

Tiffany said...

I really enjoyed the episode! The fact that you were so worried about the episode, yet so many people are "stalking" you (just kidding) because of it proves that we are our own worst critics. You were delightful!

I'll be back to visit your blog again.
Have a great weekend!

Sirmelja said...

Yup, Barbie, I'm still with that very nice man. He's wonderful. Even laid flat by the man flu as he is at the moment :)

How did I pick Ireland? I needed a country where they spoke English for work, so it was either the U.K., Ireland, or Saudi Arabia (all the health workers there are drawn from the West). I actually got a job offer in S.A., but decided the lifestyle wouldn't work for me. Too many restrictions. Ireland just seemed more fun than the U.K., and it paid better :)

Sirmelja said...

Also, can I just say, I LOVE my stalkers! In this age of googling and social media, I should have expected this, but I must be the luckiest person in the world, because I've only gotten the absolutely sweetest comments and compliments from you all! Thanks so much for reassuring me that this was a good thing to do.

Anonymous said...

I loved the show....watched it last night because I went to Ireland a few years ago and loved it. Wanted to re-visit Cork, which I really liked and tuned in to "re-visit" by TV. It was so nice to watch you - you have a great style and are really down to earth. As one of your new "stalkers", I though you were great! We are our own worst critics aren't we? I have heard that many parts of the show are staged and figured the very nice man was fake to spice things up. Glad I was wrong; you were so cute together. Enjoy your time there! I will definitely follow your blog now.

Patty - Santa Cruz, CA

Anonymous said...

I loved the episode and the hunky boyfriend was a huge plus. Are there more men like him Cork? If so I'm on my way lol. I'm kidding but Cork is definitely on my list of places to visit. Thanks for sharing your wonderful journey. K from Dallas, TX

Nancy said...

Another stalker here. :) Whenever someone mentions on HHI that they blog, I usually try to find them because I'm envious of their ex-pat journey.

I would love to try it someday but with 3 little kids, I doubt it will ever happen. I'll just continue to live vicariously through people like you. :)

So happy to read you're still with Finn. I hoped through the entire episode that you two would end up a couple. You were so good together and he seems like just a nice man (handsome too).

Sirmelja said...

I love my stalkers! Y'all are great :) I'm glad you guys liked my man on TV. He came across great, despite hating every minute of being on camera :) I encourage everyone to visit Ireland if it's on their list. And, it's never too late to make a move abroad! It feels much more scary than it actually turns out to be.

Kate said...

I watch IHH all the time, it my dream to live aboard someday. Anyway you look great and you got me thinking of visiting Ireland someday.

Stacy Chambers said...

I just watched your House Hunters International episode tonight via Neflix. You seem like the sweetest lady EVER. Hope all is great. My Family was from Ireland...."Calahan's"....greeting from Nevada, USA. 😊