Hotel Impossible‘s biggest challenge on Tuesday’s episode, “Hershey Addiction,” was not bed bugs, mold, or a decaying property. Instead, it was alcoholism. A general manager’s addiction found its way into online reviews and was clearly affecting both his 91-year-old mother, who founded The Simmons Motel in Hershey, Penn., and his son.
The star of the episode, however, was a man identified on camera only as a social worker named Joe.
During a Periscope broadcast after the show, host Anthony Melchiorri said as much: “this was Joe’s Hotel Impossible” because “the guy was absolutely phenomenal” and “didn’t take shit from anybody.” Anthony said that he almost walked away because “I didn’t feel equipped to do the show,” so it isn’t an exaggeration when he said, “without Joe, there is no show.”
Bravo to Anthony and Hotel Impossible‘s producers for not doing what so many other television makeover shows have done, which is ignore, exploit, and/or have their stars act like the trained professionals they are not.
Anthony had never met Joe until the on-camera meeting because Joe was brought in during the actual filming. “A producer called a friend who called a friend,” Anthony said on Periscope, though apparently there was already a connection: “my production company was trying to get him a show.”
Joe conducted what seemed like a mini-intervention, but was remarkable in both his approach and insight. He was so direct and got right to the center of the problem, and repeated Whitney’s bullshit back to him in ways that revealed it to be, well, bullshit. He eventually convinced Whitney, the son of the owner, to get on a plane and go to rehab, and even monitored Whitney while he packed, drunk.
Alas, there was a sad coda to the episode—the Whitney left rehab early, and the front desk manager who took over operations quit after he returned.
The episode should serve as a backdoor pilot for Joe Schrank to get his own reality series, because he is exceptional at his job and also terrific on television. There’s probably a good reason for that: He’s been on television before.
Hotel Impossible’s best guest star, Joe Schrank
So who is Joe Schrank? He co-founded the addiction and recovery web site TheFix.com, founded a sober living space in New York City, and also gave a TEDx Talk, in which he he discusses being depressed and an alcoholic by age 25.
Five years ago, he co-produced and starred in a back-door pilot that aired as part of Intervention. Called One Man Rehab, A&E said it “follows this country’s leading ‘sober companions’ as they do whatever it takes to keep high-risk addicts struggling with relapse, from falling back into addiction.”
How did it go? In his TEDx Talk, he said, “It was horrible; they were just a nightmare; it was just the most absurd thing ever.” Part of his discontent came because the network sponsored a recovery event in New York City, then pulled its financial support yet claimed ownership over the event when organizers tried to find other sponsors.
Joe wrote on his blog in 2010 about his “brief yet glorious career as part of A&E’s galaxy of stars”:
“The short version is that it sucked, the experience sucked, it took forever and nothing really happened, and now it’s over. A rant will ensue, make no mistake. Is it the anger of a disgruntled would be/ never was star? I guess there is an element of that but not really, I have other offers from other TV networks trying to get their share of the addiction/recovery pie. Is this right? Watching people and their dissent into the fray of addiction? Who knows, there are valid arguments for and against, maybe it’s two rights clashing? As with everything dealing with addictive disease, there are no easy answers.”
If anything, I’d argue that’s why Joe Schrank needs a series: He’s skeptical about television’s role. (In his TEDx Talk, he refers to A&E’s Intervention by saying, “That’s the narrative we all like to hear about addiction, and it’s true of about less than 1 percent of people who try to live an intoxicant-free life.”)
Clearly, that skeptical voice would be a good one to have in the process of making television about these kinds of issues, never mind that he’s a terrific television character. Hopefully, if he wants to do it, he can find the right production company who can use his talents for good.