We Got Rejected for TV

One of my goals in writing this blog has always been to encourage others to live their dreams – bucking societal expectations and pursuing independence, whatever that means to them.

I was intrigued, then, by a recent request to speak with a television producer about appearing on a show about van-dwelling and traveling on a tight budget. We’re not dying to be the next reality TV stars, but I’m all for new experiences, and I would happily take advantage of such a public platform to spread the word about financial independence, frugality (or pseudo-frugality), early retirement, and full-time travel.

I agreed to an informational phone call to learn more.

We Got Rejected for TV

I spoke with two people – a producer and a business development person, if I remember correctly. After some initial small talk, we got down to business.

We started with the content of the show. “We’re pitching a reality series about van-dwelling,” they explained, “following the stories of people living frugally in their vans.”

I watch so little TV that it took me a minute to process “reality series.” I gathered that the term meant that if this all worked out, we’d have cameras and producers following us around for months – not just filming a ten-minute segment and moving on. Kind of like that Kardashians show that I’ve never seen, but with much less attractive stars.

The conversation turned to me and Daniel, and I gave an overview of who we are and what we’re doing. I walked them quickly through my journey to financial independence, our decision to quit our jobs in early 2016, and the travel we’ve done to-date in Eastern Europe and around the U.S. and Canada in our lightly converted Dodge Caravan.

As the conversation progressed, I could sense their enthusiasm waning.

“Matt, this is reality TV. We’re looking for drama,” the business development manager told me, sharing an example of someone whose van-dwelling lifestyle had gotten him disowned from his family.

“Is there some tension or some conflict in your story? If all we air is your happy-go-lucky travel lifestyle, everyone’s just going to hate you.”

I ignored the dig at my upbeat tone and racked my brain.

Sure, there was the dissonance I still feel about dropping my professional career ambitions to pursue the things that are most important to me. There was the conflict between my values and the endless social pressure to consume more. There was the complication that I’m financially independent but Daniel is not. There were a few differences of opinion with my more expensive friends. And there’s always a little bit of day-to-day drama, whether it’s mechanical issues with our van or navigating foreign language bus stations in remote parts of the world.

But aside from that… us, dramatic? Not really.

Last week's drama: stay on the beach or get more tacos?

Last week’s drama: stay on the beach or get more tacos?

In fact, I’d venture to say we’re two of the least dramatic people I know. Part of that is personality; even my very first formal job review referred in the first two lines to my “calm, laid-back demeanor.” Part of it, too, is good fortune. We don’t have chaotic family dramas, homophobic parents writing us out of their lives, or friendships falling apart. For that, we’re thankful.

On top of all that, I told them, we don’t exactly “live” in our minivan, either. I find that notion quite unappealing. We’ve traveled and camped in it for a few months here and there, but it’s hardly our home.

“I’ll be honest with you, Matt,” the producer commented, “I think we’re missing a layer here.”

I appreciated his candor. “Yeah, sounds like it,” I laughed.

Sadly, you won’t be catching The Resume Gap cable TV show any time soon – at least not in this form. If you do someday, it will be preaching the benefits of financial discipline and pursuing big dreams, not drama and conflict. That’s just fine by us.

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41 Comments

  1. Oh, well – as fun as it might have sounded, you are probably better off not having your life story on everyone’s screens. “Conflict is the engine to the story” is an old adage and you wouldn’t want them to edit up your life and find tension that isn’t there, or isn’t you!

    • Agreed. I’ve watched some shows where you can tell that they splice phrases and words together to form whole new sentences for the participants — things they didn’t even say! That would drive me nuts!

  2. You two really dodged a bullet with this one!

    Maybe you should hook up a gopro camera to your dashboard and livestream your travels! 🙂

  3. Yeah, I think you’re better off! It sounds fun to be on tv, but I bet the publicity would bring a ton of criticism and could take away from the blissful conflict-free life you have!

    • That’s true. Thankfully, I’ve managed to avoid getting many disgruntled commenters on the blog. Could my fragile self-esteem handle all the criticism of reality TV?

  4. I was so confused by the headline–I thought your story would make a great short segment on TV that would hopefully prompt some creative people to realize that there ARE other options besides the “learn, work, golf, die” script society has created.

    … then I saw the comment about “reality TV” (an ironic name, by the way) and it all made sense. Frankly, I think you dodged a bullet here! 🙂

  5. Basically, they wanted Jerry Springer set to #VanLife. Yeah, feel honored that you weren’t invited to continue down that line. I’m still amazed that “reality television” still passes as entertainment in this country.

    • “In today’s episode, after seeing Courtney and Steve’s awesome Airstream, Matt breaks down in tears and feuds with Daniel over upgrading their sad minivan.”

  6. That is funny. I think being followed by film crews might ruin your travel experience. But your right, most people living life with more financial independence would lack the drama and be just too darn lovely for TV.

  7. THE. BEST. Maybe you should pitch to Netflix… they’re always trying to build an alternative. 🙂

  8. Oh man this made me smile. I imagined my life as a reality show for a moment. It’s so boring I’m not even sure I would watch it! You have layers right? Like an onion!

    • We stay entertained, but I’m not sure our long rides in the van listening to music would be very good for cable. “Come on, guys, fight!”

  9. I would love to watch your story even without all of the crazy drama! You probably dodged a bullet here since they would have cooked up something dramatic to make the show more interesting (to who?). Hilarious though.

  10. I dunno…I think I’d watch 30 minutes of the tacos you guys have been eating. You’re like my new Food Network!

  11. Too bad you did not make the selection. IF they are looking for drama nd you can’t give that, than this is actually a good thing for you!

    • Agreed, we’re just fine with it! I actually can’t even imagine the stress I’d be feeling if we had agreed to do something like this.

  12. That’s too bad it didn’t work out. i get the impression that the people who do end up on reality TV generally end up regretting it – some just do it for the money – I feel like the producers tend to manipulate the story in a certain way?

    I know some of those House hunting shows ended up being essentially scripted. 😀

    • That’s not surprising seeing as most of those shows seem to portray people in a pretty negative light. I lost interest in House Hunters when I found out it was all fake, filmed after the people had already bought one of the houses. I had wondered before how it was possible that the people ALWAYS ended up living in the house they chose and never having a purchase fall through. Boo!

  13. Reality tv is totally not the best fit for you, you’re people I can imagine getting along with in real life and I don’t think that about anyone who wants to be or is on reality tv! But I think you’d be a perfect fit for a FI / travel version of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations type show. Educational, interesting, no useless fake drama.

    • Thanks for the compliment! Yeah, we were hoping for something more like a FI documentary or a Rick Steves/Anthony Bourdain type deal. Oh well!

  14. Honestly it’s probably for the best. The trend shows that reality TV stars don’t exactly make it out better on the other side 😉

  15. It’s probably better they passed. If it worked out you’d be a celebrity, never have any piece or be able to camp alone again. It fails your left with family and friends with incorrect tv created carachtures of yourself. Lose lose in my honest opinion.

    • No kidding, that would be the worst of all worlds! Frankly, putting our relationships with friends and family on the line wouldn’t be worth it for any price.

  16. I was invited to be on a reality TV show once about start-ups and went through multiple auditions, then when it came to the offer – they literally wanted me to sign away my life and likeness and tons of crap to be on 1 episode. And they only offered $5,000 for the appearance. No thanks! Stay away from reality TV!

  17. Funny stuff. Glad you are living a happy and drama-free life, even if it doesn’t make for good television 🙂

  18. It’s definitely for the best! Last year we were rejected for a van life documentary being sponsored by Red Bull. It was pretty clear the woman was hoping for something more when our answer to, “What’s the wildest thing that’s happened to you,” was, “Um, we’re not saving for retirement?” 😉 Reality TV will probably make all vandwellers seem like reckless crazies…

  19. Physician on FIRE

    February 14, 2017 at 2:03 pm

    Couldn’t you have at least agreed to quarrel twice weekly and hang up on your parents with feigned outrage? Hired an actor to play the estranged sibling who doesn’t agree with your van-loving lifestyle?

    Be more creative next time!

    😉
    -PoF

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