So a strange thing happened to me on Sunday. I turned on the TV at around 8 PM, and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition was on. I’ve seen this show once or twice (yes, who hasn’t seen the deaf family with the blind, autistic child episode?), but I’ve never really written about it. Since last night was the big season finale though, I decided to bust out the old pen and paper and take some notes. Granted, I had completely missed the first hour (although I did see a stupid segment where Ty and two of his lackeys climb a mountain and pretend to be thoughtful), but since I did have an hour of the show left, I knew I could find some good snark. Sure enough, after nearly two seconds, I found myself in a ball pit of schmaltz that only the Alphabet Network could pull off. Middle America, ABC hearts you!First, a little background. Apparently in the first hour, the design crew had descended on Tuba City in Arizona to find its lucky family. No, Tuba City was not a musical discount store specializing in brass instruments and German oompa music. It was an actual city — or town (again, didn’t see the first hour) — where the Piestawa family lived in a trailer. Of course, this is a season finale, which means that this isn’t just your normal, run-of-the-mill downtrodden family. The heart and soul of this Native American clan was Lori Piestawa, a soldier who was killed in the Iraq war. Not only that, she was the first female casualty of the war and also the first Native American woman to die in a foreign war. Truly some unfortunate distinctions. But you know, I’m feeling like this just isn’t enough. I mean, how can you top that deaf family? I mean, Marlee freakin’ Matlin showed up! Oh wait, here we go. Turns out Lori was also the best friend of, you guessed it, JESSICA LYNCH. The only thing that could have made this event any better for Middle America would have been if a Hallmark figurine had suddenly arrived at their doorsteps.
Anyway, Jessica Lynch — or J. Lyn, as I like to call her — had made a promise to Lori that if anything were to happen to them, they’d take care of each of their families. And so a two hour season finale was born! Now, in case you don’t remember who Jessica Lynch is (you idiot), design team member Constance Ramos was happy to tell us WITH A SMILE: “Jessica and Lori were part of a convoy, and they were ambushed!” Oh wonderful! Let’s go have a daiquiri!
Later, we found Constance pouring through a truck of gifts, knickknacks, and cards — all given in the memory of Lori. You see, Constance was in charge of creating the Lori room in the house. “I think I found one of the focal points of our room,” she said, holding up a tacky airbrushed picture of Lori, a flag, an eagle, a headdress, and clouds. Hey, did Constance steal that from the McDonald’s in Barstow? I swear I saw that hanging by the Men’s room. Yeah, this was going to be a classy affair.
Meanwhile at Disney World, the Piestawa family were having the time of their lives. Man, they seemed really sweet. Oh, and look, the daughter is so cute in her princess outfit. Well, Ty Pennington had quite the surprise for them. “I know how much Carla is into princesses, and I wanted to give her a dream come true,” he said. Oh, that’s right. I forgot that Ty is just the bestest guy in the world whose heart is so big, he just has to give back whenever he can (or when the producers tell him to). Well, Ty got on the cell phone and told young Carla that he had something special for her. Sure enough, Cinderella and Prince Charming (or “the little prince guy” as Ty called him) showed up and gave the young girl a big hug. Yes, Ty, way to go. I’m sure no other little girls ever get to meet Cinderella in Disney World. Next you’re going to tell me they’re going to meet Mickey Mouse. Now that would be really impressive!
The show then paused to give us one of those knee-slapping comedic moments. You see, “In Arizona, there are two constants: sun and wind,” explained Ty. As a result, the design team attached solar panels and a windmill to the house, but which one would provide more energy?? I was dying to know! Well, Ty and Paul DiMeo had a rolicking good time battling it out in a bit that must have had Candace in Omaha lying in stitches. In the end, Paul declared, “I got him good!” Yes, you did! That comparative energy source comedy is always killer!
Of course, Ty was able to demonstrate how in the end, it’s not about helping a family, it’s about reminding us how awesome he and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition are. Apparently, solar panels and a windmill have never been used in tandem in the state before, leading Ty to say, “It’s the first time ever in Arizona, and I’m just glad we can be a part of that.” All you did was hook up solar panels and a stupid windmill! You didn’t end Apartheid! Then again, I never did get around to seeing “Extreme Makeover: 20th Century South African Policy Edition.”
Now, the Piestawa family was getting a new home in Flagstaff, but back in Tuba City, the design team decided to erect a meeting place for the local Navajo and Hopi war veterans. Unfortunately, they only came up with the idea with about three days to go, which meant this very special place would basically be… a prefabricated home. Well, something’s better than nothing, right? Well, to show how wonderful a corporation they were, Sear showed up with a truck full of merchandise to donate to the center and the entire reservation as a whole. And look, here’s the driver hopping out of the truck! Wait a second, it’s just a corporate rep dressed up like one of the common folk. “He’s just like us. Sears is my favorite! Now pass the Cheetos, Bobby Dale,” commented Crystal in West Virginia.
Hey, how did folksy Sears executive know to come? “I called the guys at Sears,” boasted Ty. Man, Ty is such a saint. HE called the guys at Sears! You would have thought the producers would arrange that, but no, Ty just takes care of it all himself! Man, I won’t take back much from this show, but at least I’ll always remember what a wonderful, genuine person Ty Pennington is.
Anyway, Sears announced that it would be outfitting the entire reservation with new clothing. Hey, that’s actually pretty generous. So congratulations Tuba City! Enjoy a new wardrobe of ugly, poorly made clothes!
The next morning, Jessica Lynch showed up with a box of Lori’s items she had kept. Ty told us that she hadn’t been able to part with them, but luckily, the design team had made her feel ready to give them back to the family. Aw, design team. You are just wonderful. You should pat yourselves on the back one last time. You deserve it. By the way, if anyone doubts how wonderful the design team is, just ask them. They’ll agree.
Jessica Lynch handed over an old comforter which Constance immediately caressed with her hands in a lame attempt to form some sort of a connection with Lori. We then moved back to Tuba City for the grand opening of the veterans center. Dreamboat Preston Sharp became wistful as he noted how the memories and voices of the ancestors carry on the wind, and as the ceremony began, “the wind arrived with the veterans.” Uh, according to Ty, the wind is a constant in Arizona, so should we be really impressed with this “coincidence”? Yeah, I thought so. Sit down, PRESTON.
But Preston wasn’t the only one getting all emotional about the wind. Ty tried desperately to put his sad face on as he said, “I’ve never seen winds like I’ve seen out here.” This just in: Ty has apparently never seen winds at all. Oooh – the flags are flapping: UNBELIEVABLE! Let’s not blow his mind with a hurricane or a tornado.
Well, just when this segment was making us meditate about the losses of the Native American community and their contributions to wars, Preston was back to remind that, hello, this is about Extreme Makeover, not some old Indians. “Any Native American war veteran that’s served has always had to go somewhere else, a hotel or something, to have their conventions or gatherings. Now they finally have one place.” A modular home! How wonderful! Hey, pat yourself on the back again, Preston!
Soon it was time for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, and guess who performed the honors? One of the vets? No. Jessica Lynch? No. Someone remotely connected to any sort of military conflict? No. Instead, it was Ty Pennington, a.k.a. the ranking officer of the douchebag army. Seriously, just go away.
As everyone shuffled in, Preston once again attempted to recapture the Most Self-Congratulatory Award from Ty. “It was one of our best efforts!” he exclaimed proudly, adding “Sometimes I just think we might be Jesus.”
The English construction guy, Ed, soon came on screen with a certain “Aw shucks, blimey!” attitude. Some guy gave him an Iraqi dollar with the signatures of all his friends who had returned safely from the war. The gift profoundly moved Ed who immediately turned to the camera to explain how bloody emotional this all was. Later, in an interview, he said of the mysterious man, “And he was gone. As soon as he was there, he was gone.” Well, maybe if you hadn’t suddenly started talking to the camera, you would have seen him walk away dejectedly, you dumbass.
But anyway, congratulations veterans. You now have a meeting place built with all the attention and care that a three-day rush job can provide. Okay, okay, it actually looked really nice. I just don’t want to give the design team the satisfaction that they did something good.
Back at the Piestawa house, a team of Lego experts were assembling Lego furniture for the little boy’s Lego room. “I’ve never seen such cool structures made by so many, you know, really caring people,” gushed Ty, who had previously boasted about how HE recruited them. So basically, we have Ty to thank for all those “really caring people.” You’re the best, Ty! NOW DIE.
Coming onto the screen next was resident gay superstar Michael Maloney whose latest task was to design a playroom. “I’ve always wanted to do one of those ball pits!” he exclaimed, paving the way for all sorts of dirty jokes. I think it was his way of quietly infusing the gay subculture into Middle America, kind of like the Village People and “YMCA”.
Later that night, it was time to move furniture in, but man, this would be a big job. Better call in some backup! I’ll let Ty explain: “I actually called the Arizona Army National Guard.” Actually, the producers probably called them, but that’s okay, Ty. Continue to take the glory for yourself. Anyway, all sorts of soldiers suddenly poured in and began moving furniture into the house. Is this really what our tax dollars go to? Having soldiers take orders from Ty Pennington? Shouldn’t we be putting them to better use, like, you know, securing the peace in Iraq? (Meanwhile, a dozen readers are now going to complain “Helping the Piestawa family is important! Lori gave her life for this country!” which is true. And that is the beauty of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. You can’t make fun of it without people getting all angry).
As the army carried various items into the house, we once again were privy to the comedy stylings of Ty Pennington as he schooled Jessica Lynch on how to properly use a megaphone. Putting the old windmill bit to shame, Ty yelled into the megaphone so maniacally that all his veins seemed to come popping out of his gangly neck. Oh, this is RICH! He’s yelling into a megaphone! Don’t you get how brilliant this comedy is?? Somebody give this guy a special on Comedy Central! [pausing to regain control of body, taking a few breath, wiping tears from eyes].
Not to be outdone, Paul DiMeo showed up again with his own comedy bit. You see, the wind was blowing really hard, and look, he feigned getting blown away! Somebody get this guy a writing gig on Yes, Dear, STAT!
Well, the next morning, the Piestawa family returned from their sojourn at Disney World, and blah blah blah, Ty bellowed out “Move that bus!” or whatever that stupid line is they say. Sure enough, the family was in awe of their new house. And to make it even better, the rest of the design team came running out the front door — because let’s not forget it’s all about them, people.
Okay, so the house turned out to be really beautiful, and the Piestawas were simply blown away. Leave it to Michael Maloney to frame the moment in an appropriately patronizing way: “We could have built them anything, and they would have been thrilled.” At this point, Michael tickled the family and gushed, “Because they’re so cute, those Piestawas! Yes they are! Yes they are!”
Anyway, as the family toured the house, the design crew either cried (Preston) or tried to cry (Ty). At one point, Lori Piestawa’s mother gave an eloquent, thoughtful, and emotional speech, and for a brief second, the rampant exploitation of people’s misfortunes for ratings faded away. And then of course Ty grabbed the grandmother and uttered, “God, you are a wonderful woman,” reminding us that it’s Ty who has benefited the most out of this.
Later, the family wandered into the much-hyped rumpus room where Ty surprised everyone by jumping out of the ball pit. “Check it out! There’s balls everywhere!” he exclaimed.
[pause to create your own testicular / balls / Ty Pennington jokes]
And we’re back. After playing with his balls, Ty then took the grandparents up to their master bedroom, which, by the way, was also Ty’s secret project! That meant that this room was even more about Ty Pennington than any of the others! Anyway, inside was actually a pretty impressive setup full of Native American artifacts and motifs. The Piestawas were blown away and complimented Ty for his good work, especially how he took in Navajo culture and made it a part of the room. “You did a lot of learning!” they said over and over again. Yay Ty! Take a bow! You’re the star! You learned about Navajo culture!
Lastly, it was time to enter Lori’s room, but before going in, it was important that everyone saw how sincere Ty felt about this moment; so he lowered his voice to a raspy whisper (that means he’s introspective!) and slowed his words (that means he’s respectful!) and kind of frowned (that means he’s sad!). What a wonderful, thoughtful host. Sorry, Piestawas, but I think we should really give this house to Ty. It’s okay. You’re used to living in a trailer home. But Ty, he put his heart and soul into this. He really deserves it.
Anyway, everyone filed into Lori’s room and tears were had by all, and dammit, was I getting emotional too? I REFUSE to be snared by this dumb show! Thankfully, I survived this extra manipulative scene (look at the little boy cry! YOU SHALL CRY TOO, HELPLESS VIEWER!) and managed to keep myself from vomiting as the young daughter then rode around on a horse that apparently could not be tamed. I HATE THIS.
Finally, the episode ended with everyone gathered around the new fire pit in the backyard. The bland executives from Shea Homes then forked over $50,000 to the family (hmmm… that’s good, but if Marlee Matlin isn’t showing up, I really don’t care) and soon everyone was crying once again, including Jessica Lynch and Lori’s father. As strings swelled on the soundtrack, I too found myself getting emotional again. No, Ty Pennington, you shall not win this battle. Sure enough, I battled through the assault of sentimentality, and I’m proud to say I emerged without shedding a single tear.
Honestly, I’m very happy for the Piestawa family, and I’m sure the outpouring of support has changed their lives for the better. But I hate Ty Pennington now more than I ever have before. Thank you ABC for letting me re-channel my disdain onto someone new.
What did you think of the finale? Did you cry?