Happy hunting

Just admit it: you're obsessed with 'House Hunters'

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HGTV's Brian Balthazar with a "before" bathroom on House Hunters Renovation.

cheryl@sfbg.com

TV Stainless steel appliances. Hardwood floors. Walk-in closets. The House Hunters drinking game, which lovingly mocks the HGTV program's predictability, will have even a seasoned lush drunk before the first commercial break. "But there's nowhere for my man cave!" DRINK.

Brian Balthazar, who is HGTV's Director of Programming, has a sense of humor about the drinking game ("If I ever played it, I'd be hammered, because I watch a lot of House Hunters!"), and also about some recent online muckraking that revealed that what you see on House Hunters isn't one hundred percent real. "We're making a television show, so we manage certain production and time constraints, while honoring the home-buying process," he explained in a statement to Entertainment Weekly this summer. "To maximize production time, we seek out families who are pretty far along in the process. Often everything moves much more quickly than we can anticipate, so we go back and revisit some of the homes that the family has already seen and we capture their authentic reactions."

Wait, so reality TV isn't actually real? Shut the custom-painted front door! "Mostly I was happy that people cared that much about House Hunters," Balthazar says of the controversy. He's currently promoting the latest House Hunters spin-off, House Hunters Renovation, which follows buyers as they pursue remodeling projects in their just-purchased homes. The next new episode airs Oct. 21 at 11pm; it follows a couple whose "dream house" (DRINK) contains a pink-and-gold nightmare of a bathroom.

"On this show, we see them buying the homes, and then making all these changes to them. So it's exciting to be able to show that," Balthazar says. "But I'm always excited that people are talking about House Hunters and that it has had such longevity. It's nearing its 1,000th episode this year. That's more than Law and Order!"

And like Law and Order, every episode of House Hunters is basically the same. "The concept is very clear. You know what's going to happen on the show," Balthazar says. "They're going to see three homes, and we'll see which one they choose. But what is always different are the homeowners and the homes. That voyeuristic, play-along quality of the show changes every time, which I love. We have some really interesting characters that come along, and everyone has a different reaction to different aspects of a home. I think that's what makes it such a guilty pleasure among people who love to spy on the real estate process."

House Hunters International follows the same basic formula, with an obvious difference: instead of a new construction in Indianapolis with a three-car garage (DRINK), the buyer (or renter) is seeking an apartment in a slightly more exotic locale. Like, say, Cambodia. Or Serbia. Or the Arctic Circle.

"I'm amazed at some of the stories the production company we work with on International finds. They've developed relationships with real estate agencies all over the world," Balthazar says. "For a long time we didn't go to some countries simply because it was too complicated. In some countries, you can't actually buy a home if you're not a resident. In others, you have to pay cash completely up front, in full. That was really a daunting thing for us to tackle. And now that the show's been around for so long a lot of people write in to be on the show. It's like this grassroots effort in some regards."

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