watching myself on TV

I thought about never watching it. I was worried that all the ridiculousness that happened over the three days of filming in Bishkek and one day in DC would be a half-hour of embarrassing nonsense. Still, I had come to terms with the fact that other people, friends, family and complete strangers, would watch me pretend to search for an apartment and pretend to enjoy eating boiled sheep. I thought that as long as I didn’t see the episode for myself, I could remain blissfully ignorant of how awkward I really am.

Of course I couldn’t completely avoid the episode forever, and I was a bit curious to see it, but it also seemed to be my responsibility to disseminate a copy of the episode to friends in Bishkek and anybody in the states who missed the first showing. I asked anybody with any knowledge of techy things to, you know, just magically make the episode go from their TV to my computer. Isn’t that what this Internet thing is for?

Nobody could figure it out. It looked like I would have to just cross my fingers and hope that the hard copy the production studio said they were sending would eventually make it out here. Although, with instructions to write the address in both English and Cyrillic, and knowing the Kyrgyz postal system, I had little hope.

Then, the universe aligned in a serendipitous way. An exceedingly nice gentleman found my blog while researching Kyrgyzstan in preparation for an impending business trip, recorded the episode and wrote me an email that said he could give me a copy.

Yes, so it turns out that in our advanced digital age, somebody had to literally fly out here to give me the file. Go figure.

So I watched it. Several times by now, in fact. And here are my thoughts on it. (You can follow along at this link, and a gigantic thanks to Larry for making this possible!)

(0:26) “Smoked meat, boiled meat, fried meat…” A very Forrest Gump moment from Aidar.

And, I know it’s tough to sum up a whole country and culture in three phrases, but “where meat is plentiful, rent is flexible, and revolutions are possible” seems campy.

(0:45) Farrell says, “So this is it? This is just the room?” BAM! Setting it up early to fool everybody.

(1:00) Bishkek, KURG-gistan

(1:03) That white liquid that Farrell drinks is called jarma, and it’s some combination of salt, yogurt, carbonated water, grain, and fermentation. Blink and you’ll miss Farrell’s reaction to it, but I’m guessing they didn’t show more because they said we weren’t allowed to say anything negative about the food. And, well, our acting skills aren’t that great.

(1:21) Taking clothes out of my friend’s closet.

(1:30) TV magic! My hair/makeup looks fantastic. My voice sounds like a teenage boy though.

(1:36) It was nearly midnight in Bishkek when we filmed the Skype call. Farrell was on the drunker side of tipsy at that point.

(1:57) That’s a picture of me next to one of the fallen hands from Victory Arch in Baghdad. I’m making a thumbs-up because I’m crouched next to a giant thumb. No, really, it’s just to compare sizes, I swear I’m not deliberately trying to be culturally insensitive.

(2:00) Giggle! Dodging rockets is funny!

(2:20) Wow, I really sound like a child. They kept the part where I said moving to Kyrgyzstan was my idea, but even I’m not convinced.

(2:32) Whoa, legs. That’s me walking into the Kyrgyz Embassy in DC, where we filmed this whole elaborate scene trying to make it look like I was picking up my Kyrgyz visa and triumphantly showing it off for the camera. I’m OK with that scene being cut.

(2:54) A piece of history! That statue isn’t there anymore. Also, I really dig this whole sequence with the serious-sounding music and the marching guards.

(3:19) “…emerging from the shadows of its Soviet occupation.” Occupation? What? Really? Who decided it was an occupation?

(3:26) Not a real estate agent.

(4:04) Harvey is waving around a kalpak, a Kyrgyz hat, but the part where he explains what it is was cut out.

(4:20) “We want to be where all the exciting things are happening.” When I showed this to some friends here, they all laughed when I said that, “Where are all of these exciting things?!”

(4:36) The map is Bishkek, but the locations of the houses and landmarks, plus the scale of everything, are all sorts of wrong.

(5:12) Incorrect price, it really goes for at least $1200 a month.

(5:30) This is Harvey’s actual apartment.

(5:50) How can such a fancy apartment not have an oven!? I’m not an obsessive baker or anything, but seriously? No oven is a deal-breaker.

(6:47) Harvey’s laundry.

(7:05) Dorks. We’re totally impressed by the view, but I don’t know why I decided to wear such a goofy grin and grab Farrell’s arm like that.

(7:32) I’m setting myself up to look like a housewife.

And I’m so sorry, but I can’t figure out how to clip the commercials out. Watching U.S. commercials made me want to claw my eyes out and apologize to the world. Dina from the Real Housewives of New Jersey has a decorating show? And it’s not a joke? I’m so so sorry, world. The show resumes at 10:29.

(11:09) “My friends think I’m cRaAaAzY!” This part probably explains why so many people emailed me saying they were surprised I’m actually 23 and not, like, 16.

(11:32) Our “meager” budget. Geez, didn’t know HGTV was such a snob.

(12:09) What is this shot?

(12:30) Incorrect price, it’s actually $600 a month.

(12:55) By “traditional” furniture, Farrell means “gaudy.”

(13:36) There was a HUGE spider in the bathtub. It took a lot of determination not to freak out.

(13:55) YAY! AN OVEN! OMG!

(14:40) I didn’t notice before, but they’re really pushing the “WOW, this last place is suuuuuper small”-theme. I especially like Harvey’s comment, “This could be a bedroom. Well, it would have to be a bedroom.” And the narrator’s “box” comment.

SORRY. More commercials. Show resumes at 18:18.

(18:30) “Wow! It seems that we’ve stumbled upon a random group of strangers! We’ll just crash their lunch and not explain who they are.”

(18:37) I’m bummed they didn’t include more of the girls! They’re two of our close friends and, come on, stunningly gorgeous. They were pretty chatty too, but it didn’t make it into the show.

(18:58) Zara tries to stifle a laugh when Aidar is explaining the food. We probably shot this scene a dozen times and by the end it felt really scripted, and Zara was done trying to pretend like she was interested. Just one of the many reasons why I love that girl.

(19:28) The official Kirstin and Farrell House Hunters International Drinking Game: take a shot every time someone says “adventurous.”

(20:15) The outside of our apartment building is horrendously ugly.

(20:19) The price is probably incorrect on this one, too. The actual rent we pay is combined with our office space, but we suspect the apartment would be around $300 on its own.

(20:45) This whole scene makes me giggle. What!? This is the room? Ugh, we’re so skeptical.

(21:20) The door under the sink is stuck open because there is a rusted monstrosity hiding in there; a water boiler that our landlord installed incorrectly and never bothered to fix. And the washing machine has never worked until last week when we finally decided to stop waiting on our landlord and hire a repairman ourselves.

(21:40) “Would you mind if we check out the main room again?” I’m giggling so much.

(21:47) “So this one doesn’t have any furnishings.” No, it does. We didn’t choose the furniture that is shown later. It was all moved out to make the transformation look more dramatic.

(22:03) They had to sweeten the deal somehow. We couldn’t possibly choose the cheap studio apartment unless there was something else included.

(22:17) What is this face I’m making!?

Commercials are over at 25:01.

(25:12) The cameraman is skillfully blocking a 5-foot tall marijuana plant right in front of Farrell, growing wild at the “Friendship Monument.”

(26:12) The recap of the three apartments goes like this: 1) no oven, 2) an oven! and 3) too small, but there’s an office next door.

(26:25) Now here’s the part where we mull over all of our choices, weigh the pros and cons, and make a huge decision about where to live all in the time it takes to walk a few feet.

(26:54) “The soviet efficiency?” Har har! Smirk! I’m so awkward.

(28:08) Uh, we’re a bit uncoordinated.

(28:15) “Kirstin and Farrell signed a lease on the studio apartment.” Ha! Leases. In Bishkek. That’s funny. How official-sounding.

(28:26) It was graduation day for Bishkek high schoolers, kids don’t usually walk around wearing red and gold sashes like that.

(28:32) By “two months later” they really mean “earlier that day.”

(28:48) The timing on this shot is just perfect. “Here’s the living room” (shot of the couch and coffee table) “…slash-bedroom” (shot of the bed, right behind the coffee table). Personally, I think the furniture arrangement works out well, but this shot, plus my overly enthusiastic “Let me show you around!” voice, make it seem ridiculous.

(29:31) This is the scene I like the least, where I’m sitting on the couch, while my darling husband is over in the office, working and supporting his stay-at-home wife. I work, too!

Overall, it’s definitely not the worst thing in the world. I’m shocked at the sound of my voice, and my terrible acting skills make me blush something fierce, but I’m comfortable with the fact that it’s out there for the world to see (and judge). Thankfully, everybody who’s left a comment or sent me an email has been incredibly nice. I even went against my better judgement and looked around the Internet to see if people were writing about it elsewhere. And they were! I found a message board of HHI fans, and they also wrote exceedingly nice things about the episode.

So there it is, my adventure on TV. If I had to do it over, I would’ve tried to plan out what I would say and maybe attempt to make it more interesting, other than just saying “Yeah” with my Philly accent all the time. If I had my choice of TV shows to participate in, HHI would not be my first choice; it’s a dream for me to get Anthony Bourdain to come out here and film an episode of “No Reservations.” I think Farrell and I could show him a good time.

Who knows, maybe that could be our next TV appearance?

24 replies on “watching myself on TV”

  1. My fiance and I watched your episode of HHI the other night and I was amazed at the fact that there would be exciting things happening. My ex husband was one of the first people from US Forces to go into Kyrgyzstan and reopen the aerodrome at Ganci Air Base/Manas Transit Center. He had two more deployments there in later years and described it as pretty boring, but unlike Iraq, at least nobody’s shooting at you.

    I found your blog by googling for the name of the supposed real estate agent, Harvey. I suppose I always figured that House Hunters was fake, but I didn’t know just how fake until I started reading your blog, which led me to blogs of other house hunters. Quelle disappointment!

    ANYWAY… I was googling the name of the real estate agent because halfway through the episode, my fiance thought it would be neat to go and live there on a Fulbright award at some point in the future and teach at AUCA. There is a position at AUCA for faculty in his specialty, and it’s right in line with his PhD, his goals for internationalizing his resume, and our shared love of adventure, learning languages, and travel to places that are outside the norm. He has a bit of Russian and has lectured in Siberia, and I pick up languages fairly easily.

    The foods you mention have the same names as foods cooked by a university student from Turkmenistan, who I hosted in my home for a couple of months earlier this year. Manty, plov, lots of meat. And bread every day. I never learned from her how to cook them but it shouldn’t be hard, assuming there are recipes to be found. I’ve searched and not found any, though.

    I’ve read your entire blog, now, all the way back to the first entry, and I applaud you for your spirit of adventure, and wish you the best of luck in your business ventures in Central Asia. Maybe I’ll be there myself, someday soon.

    1. Your husband should definitely come teach here! Those kids are rabid for foreign professors with PhDs. Do it do it do it do it. And in that case, I think the school arranges housing for the professors, or there are actual real estate agents around to help you find an apartment. What is your husband’s specialty? I’m pretty familiar with the Journalism department and good friends with the woman who runs it, if that’s his area. We have connections with the sociology department as well.

      1. His specialty is mass media and broadcast journalism, as it happens.

        The PhD is not in the same field, but it would apply here. It’s something to do with internationalization/globalization of post-secondary education. I still don’t understand, but he explained it to me thusly: he can go to Africa and start a university.

        So there’s that. Maybe I’ll be able to sell knitted hats or handmade jewelry or teach English.

  2. Even with the flaws (and mistruths!) I liked the episode. I don’t know much about Kyrgyzstan or Bishkek so I enjoyed learning a little about it. And I am now following you on Twitter, so I will hopefully learn more! That said, it is sad that they have to misrepresent things so much on the show.) Good luck with your business — From a TV viewer in Arlington, Va.

  3. Dear Kirstin,

    People LOVE watching this episode, from middle-Americans to VERY senior Kyrgyz politicians to well-traveled sophisticates. You and Farrell (and Harvey) really showed a face of Kyrgyzstan that is not seen in the United States.

    Thought you might like to see some comments on the Fodors travel board:

    Frankly as head of the Kyrgyz-North America Trade Council, a group promoting trade and investment between Kyrgyzstan and the US/Canada, you have made my job easier by showing Kyrgyzstan as a challenging but “normal” place, especially in light of the political turmoil of the last 18 months.

    Best regards,


    1. I liked the one comment wondering if we were shunning opulence for street cred. Haha, nope! We really just can’t afford it. It is true that the rent we pay for the apartment and office space combined is less than the fake price they showed for Harvey’s apartment! I do dream of being able to live in a place that nice though, that view was gorgeous. And if I’m making enough money to live there, I could certainly buy an oven. Thanks for posting that link!

  4. Thanks so much for this! I have been obsessed with this show forever, but always wondered how they made the episodes and tied everything up so neatly. Now, I know! It was so fun to read your explanation, especially with the episode to re-watch at the same time. And, in the process, I discovered your great blog.

  5. This entry made me laugh SO hard. And trust me on this one: you don’t sound like a teenage boy! Also, I’m so glad you guys are in that last apartment – that’s a legit SOLARIUM right there! 🙂

  6. OK, so seriously, our episodes sound exactly the same…just replace “Kyrgyzstan” with “Florence, Italy.” No joke. Awkward Skype call to Rob to help explain why I’m in the “before” scenes and he’s not? Check. Awkward scene in front of an embassy/consulate where I was asked to get excited over a fake government document? Check. Embarrassing kiss scene? Check. Our episode airs in a few weeks. Lord help me!!!

    1. I found this series of blog posts through your blog, Kate… What about my househunting episode in Maremma – ita/canadian couple, sick of the bustle of the big city of Florence (Big city???!), moves to Maremma…. But I kinda thought we were not allowed to tell everyone it was fake, nor upload the video to youtube. Am I wrong?

      1. No idea, it took over a year for the youtube video to get blocked, but other people have since uploaded it elsewhere. I don’t think the production company is keeping track.

  7. dear kirstin,

    i was excited to watch an episode about my city but it was even more interesting to read about your experience with HHI and additional (truthful and fair) comments about kyrgyzstan.

    and wow, i suspected HDTV directs scenes but had no idea that they actually script and stage things! it’s the nature of TV, i forgot all about it!

    syracuse, NY

  8. Best episode ever. I found you much more likable than the vast majority of people on these shows. It’s disheartening that there’s *that* much fakery. I expected some, but jeez. Thanks for your mini-expose!

  9. Hi! I found your blog after watching the HH episode. I was curious about the people walking around with the red sashes on and am glad you explained it. I thought maybe it was some sort of pageant. Have a great Thursday.

  10. I’ve been reading your blog for some time now and I liked hearing you speak rather than just reading your thoughts. I thought the show was a fascinating view of another culture and I think you’re way to hard on yourself.

  11. The episode just came out on HGTV’s iPad app, so I just watched it commercial-free. I read your blog between viewing apartment two and apartment three, so it really changed the way I viewed the rest of the show. By far the most interesting HHI episode I have seen. Nice job and thanks for the insight into ”reality television”.

    You should post your experiencess about Biskek on the Tales from a Small Planet Real Post Report website. They haven’t had a report on Biskek since 2006! Lots of State Department people use the site for researching their next post. It is always nice to get a perspective of non-embassy expats.

  12. You know, my husband and I always thought the house hunter shows were odd. We knew there must be some shenanigans… who could choose where to live after visiting only three locations regardless if it’s to be rented or owned. But, wow! This fills in all the blanks… too funny.

    Now, we have a new game to play if we ever watch the show again…. fill in the blanks AKA guess what’s really going on behind the scenes.

    Love your episode and LOVE this behind the scenes glimpse into your episode…. so much fun!

  13. Hi there!

    I just watched this episode on my ipad and looked up your blog! I love it! I am in love with this commentary!! My husband and I are always watching House Hunters and wondering about all the ridiuclously fake nonsense that must go on.

    My husband and I moved to Norway together threeyears ago. We spent a year in Norway (300 sq. ft flat), a year in Scotland (very cold flat built in 1700s), a year in Austin, TX (100 degre temps) and are now settled in our hometown of Louisville, Kentucky! Those years abroad prepared us for anything- I’m a little jealous you’re still living the vagabond life– good luck!


  14. These posts have been so interesting. We watch this show all the time but, quite honestly, we don’t watch so much for the “pick a place to live” narrative as much as getting a glimpse into what life looks like and how people live in other places in the world. I’m particularly interested in the episodes that go off the beaten path, for lack of a better term. (Secondarily, it’s interesting to get glimpses of the stories of the people portrayed). So I don’t really mind the staging of it and am not that surprised. We found you by searching for Harvey on Google. We’re always curious about these American “realtors” and I decided to Google him in particular after noticing they never used the word “realtor” in describing him (and seemed to fastidiously avoid it). Anyway… so glad you blogged through the experience. Impressed with what you guys are doing at your age. Cheers!

  15. Hi Kirstin,

    Thank you so much for writing about your experiences! My best friend and I watch HHI because we love seeing houses/apts and different countries, and were getting fed up with HGTV’s fakery that we had caught on to (which wasn’t even as bad as it was!)

    We just recently watched the Bishkek episode, and it is great to find out what it was really like, and to read your empathetic and intelligent comments.

  16. I got into watching House Hunters & House Hunters International while we were in the states last year. I had even jokingly considered contacting them about our upcoming move to Spain. After reading this post (which I found after watching the episode online), I’m SO glad I didn’t! Thanks for sharing about your experience! I found that it actually made watching your episode a lot more fun!

    1. but you totally should still get in touch with them, it’s a fun experience and you get a free round-trip ticket! If you want them to help you find an apartment… then it’s not really a good idea.

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