Ty Pennington: When things go wrong on ‘Extreme Makeover’ and the magical spirit is felt

After the first episode of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” we know we have something special that’s never been done before. We change the life of a struggling family and go pretty EXTREME with the makeover.

This leaves us in tears, for many reasons. It’s emotionally draining, not to mention physically exhausting.

Once you have a taste of doing something that’s never been done, such as rebuilding a house in seven insane days, you want a few days to sleep it off, but then you want to go even further, to push life to the extreme.


The other problem with actually pulling off the impossible is that you think you can do it again, only slightly better. And bigger. It makes sense, right? Logic tells us that if you did it once, then you can do it again. But some things, like building a house in fewer days than the fingers on your hands, aren’t exactly logical. Or sane, for that matter.

It’s one thing to accomplish greatness with the same team of workers who learn from being in the trenches for the first time; it’s another when you’re renovating houses for the first time on the first show to ever do this, working with a different builder each time.

Think about that. Let’s say you’re a builder, and you hear about a show that’s doing incredible things by helping deserving families. So you say to yourself, You know what? I think me and my crew of subs want to build the next one with you guys.

After phone calls with the previous builder, explaining what to look out for and how to stay on schedule (as if that’s even humanly possible), you tell yourself you can do it – simply because it’s such a rush going into the unknown. To climb a mountain you’ve never climbed.

Even if demolition goes well, the real test comes the minutes or hours it takes to pour the foundation. If that takes too long, then the framing crew will be waiting for hours, and these aren’t the hours when people wait long. When it’s 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. before the foundation is ready to frame, those guys who’ve been waiting since 8:00 p.m. are gonna bolt. Who can blame them? They have families, as well as other jobs, they have to get back to.

And when you’re going Extreme, luck swings both ways. Now that you’re delayed, the electric, plumbing, and drywall crews are being pushed back, or just deciding to take rainchecks. The general contractor has been up for two or three days without sleep and is starting to implode.

Of course, with all these deteriorating delays and drama, my job is to go find the guy and ask him how it’s going.

“It looks like we’re a little behind. How are you feeling about all this?”

The poor guy’s voice is already gone, but he wants to believe it when he tells me, “We’re a little behind, but we’ll make it up.”

Let me tell you something. I’ve learned over time that you never make it up.

Our general contractor looks like he’s aged 20 years in three days. Eventually we get so behind that he collapses just after mumbling, apologizing, and possibly crying. I feel so bad for this guy. He’s climbing Everest for the first time without realizing he is barely breathing oxygen.

Now with more volunteers and workers standing around looking for answers to what we should do, we call every contractor we know who can come help save the day. Luckily about four different ones with crews show up. Literally an hour later.

I’ll never forget how humble our exhausted GC is when he thanks the new teams for showing up.

“Look, guys, I don’t know all of you, but I got in over my head and needed help. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for leaving your jobs and families to be here. Let’s build this house – together.”

Sometimes the real hero is the one who knows his limitations and sees the benefit of working as a team.

That and the benefit of getting a short nap.

I think those really tough moments of feeling like you’re failing when everyone’s expecting something great can cause you to lose confidence in yourself. But then someone shows up in your life and says, “You look like you could use some help.” This right here is the magical spirit of what being a part of Extreme is all about.

In this moment, we turn our hard hats around backward. I channel my best "Braveheart" speech while screaming into my megaphone, “Let’s do this!” and leading the charge. Within forty-eight hours, we make up an entire lost day. It makes us push the reveal by one day, but we reach the summit.

I guess it’s true what they say about the struggle: the harder it is to achieve, the sweeter the feeling of overcoming it. And being overcome with feeling is exactly what happens to us once the family sees not only the bus move but their lives move in a new and more positive direction.


Which, come to think of it, is how we all feel.

Well, that and needing to take a really long shower.