Behind the scenes of Hoarders: Randyland

Half of last night’s episode of Hoarders profiled Randy Senna, the proprietor of Randyland in Wildwood, New Jersey. (The other half profiled Vicki, a hoarder who essentially rejected the help that she desperately needs; her conflict with the crew and her family made Randy and Matt Paxton’s conflict seem inconsequential.)

The episode filmed over the weekend of March 25, and I was there for two full days and part of the final day to write about the show for Playboy. The article covers a lot of the behind-the-scenes interaction, and some of what happened on camera, including Randy and Matt’s fight, which lasted more than 25 minutes in real life—longer than Randy’s story took to play out during the episode. (You can watch it online or download an HD version.)

I actually have a cameo in the episode, despite my best efforts to remain behind the cameras at all times: Right after the 40-minute mark, before Randy and Matt fight about moving the machine, I’m visible on the left-hand side of the screen. The publicist in charge of supervising me also has a cameo: He walks quickly to get out of the shot right before the fight. He is also credited as a Location Scout in the credits, thanks to his suggestion of the shot of the Wildwood sign and joking with the episode’s producer that he get credited for that.

The magazine piece covers a lot of the details that didn’t make it into the show, which had to compress time (just as I had to compress and limit my observations in the story), but it was still shocking to see that. Five seconds of moving machines on screen was an entire day in real life. Dr. Suzanne Chabaud, who’s totally awesome in person, spent a lot of time talking to Randy and the cameras, but very little of her insight made it on TV. The producer and editors pick the best, most representative moments, and that stands in for everything else.

The only real discrepancy I noticed was the introduction, as it made Randy seem crazier than he is. I don’t think that was by design, but editing him down to soundbites doesn’t illustrate his analytical thinking or his intelligence. He was often being funny and/or performative (you can really see that when he’s giving Dr. Chabaud the tour; he even glances quickly at the camera).

TV also didn’t do justice to Randyland: its scale (two stories of an old Woolworth’s), its detailed displays (from Walt Disney World artifacts to Randy’s baby crib), or its organization. There also wasn’t much time spent on the upstairs storage area, which was the real hoard, and which contained a lot of stuff that I’d consider trash (in the episode, Randy says, “there’s nothing here that’s garbage,” but while it was the cleanest hoard in the show’s history, that wasn’t entirely true).

A few other stray observations:

  • Randy’s bed was underneath a few pinball machines upstairs; that the show didn’t show that is, I think, proof that it isn’t at all exploitative—or at least, far less exploitative than it could be if producers wanted to be exploitative.
  • The crew is tiny: two cameras, two audio guys, two producers, two PAs, plus a few others.
  • Matt’s Clutter Cleaner partner Cabell Hatchett, who was on screen but never said anything, has both an awesome name and is a really great guy: low-key, smart, no-nonsense. I hope the pilot of Matt’s A&E series Dirty Money gets picked up if only to see more of him on TV.
  • Other great people who didn’t make it onto the show (for obvious reasons) or into my Playboy piece (because of space) were Scream Flea Productions producers Pat Barnes, who supervised the shoot, and Jason Brewer, never mind their crews. All really low-key but professional people who were always deferential to Matt’s cleaning process and things Dr. Chabaud needed to do.
  • I left right before Matt broke his hand, which was mid-Monday morning, their last day. The two days of clean-up I’d seen were preceded by two days of shooting b-roll and interviewing Randy.
  • It was positively freezing in that empty warehouse. I was poorly dressed with a few layers of shirts and a zip-up sweatshirt, but I also thought I might be slogging through feces and setting fire to my clothes at the end of every day (I exaggerate only about the fire: I brought clothes and shoes to throw away), and as a Floridian, my cold weather attire is limited.
  • Wildwood, New Jersey, was essentially abandoned in March; even the McDonald’s was closed. That gave the whole experience a weird vibe that didn’t quite come across on TV.
  • We ate lunch in cars, because it was too cold outside.
  • Matt’s crew were day laborers (just out of or on their way back to prison, Matt says, though he prefers working with those guys rather than, say, recent college graduates who won’t work as hard), and that was a source of major conflict. Although Randy applied for the show himself, he doesn’t consider himself a hoarder, and signed on for the moving services. That Matt didn’t hire professional movers irked Randy; part of their conflict was over whether Matt knew about that monstrosity of a horse racing machine beforehand, which Randy later proved to me that he did (it was mentioned in an e.mail; its scale was not). As I explore in Playboy, Randy felt very, very betrayed, as if the fight was set up (it was not; it was ultimately a misunderstanding). The crew had to adjust to Randy and were, well, very skeptical of him and unsure of how to interact with him, but they eventually all grew to trust each other. Fascinating stuff that a 40-something minute TV show episode can’t really cover.

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