A Lesson In Extremism: The Ty Pennington Story

“BUS DRIVER! MOVE! THAT! BUS!” Ty Pennington yelled down his bullhorn. With every word, he would jab his finger skyward He had said it a thousand times before, so it was, by now, a very practiced shtick.

The Cordero family stood huddled on a neighbor’s lawn. Their faces glowing with Ty Pennington-related anticipation. Around them neighbors, next of kin, hard-hat-clad volunteers stood rapt. Here was the crescendo of the piece and Ty was in the pit conducting masterfully. Like the showman he was.

With a chug and a hiss, the bus that at night housed some of the construction crew began to haul itself out the way. The tension was palpable – the Corderos with their hearts in their mouth beside the tall figure of Ty. Smirking. Confident. Staying in the bit. He knew exactly what he was doing.

And there it was, their new house, gleaming in the golden Tucson morning light. It was perfect. The crowd went wild; Mrs. Cordero broke down in floods of tears; cameras swarmed to capture the moment that would later lend credibility to whatever sob story applied to this particular family. And amongst all the chaos, one figure remained resolute: the statuesque figure of Ty Pennington. Ever the professional, he knew his job was only just beginning.

“OK Corderos!” He said grinning boyishly, his eyes burning with an impish joy “Let’s go check out your new house.”

The tour was textbook. The open plan living area was a hit; the basketball-themed bedroom was to die for. One particularly over-exuberant Cordero described the kitchen splashback as, “transcendent”. And throughout the entire tour, Mrs. Cordero continued to wail about whatever sob story applied to that particular family.

Yes. Thought Ty Pennington moistening his lips, but not in a way that might be considered creepy and therefore unprofessional. Things were going perfectly to plan.

Except for one thing.

One Cordero hadn’t spoken yet. The youngest Cordero, little six year-old Selena hadn’t said a word since entering the house. This troubled Ty more than you’d think it would trouble a successful adult in his late forties.

“Selena, what do you think of your new house?” He asked her, privately congratulating himself on his directness.

Selena Cordero cast her eyes around the room, but didn’t seem to take anything in. Almost like she was blind. Wait, was she blind? Ty thought hurriedly. That wasn’t this family’s “thing”, was it?

It wasn’t.

“I dunno…” she said at last. “It’s not very… extreme, is it?”

“I’m sorry?” asked Ty, assuming he had misheard her.

“That’s the name of the show, isn’t it? Extreme Makeover: Home Edition? Well all of this, it’s not very… I mean, with all due respect… Extreme.”

“What do you mean?” Ty asked, faintly now.


“Well, let’s take this basketball room por ejemplo.” She switched between English and Spanish with a fluency that was disarming. “Here you installed a hoop and a ball rack, which is cool. But could you have done more? I’m talking the whole nine yards: Cheerleaders, a spotlight, a jumbotron... Could you have reeeaaaally blown it out?” She stretched the syllables of really out so that they sounded like dry skin being bulled across a balloon.

“I suppose…” said Ty.

“… And this kitchen splashback. I know you love your hyperbole, abuelo, but – what was it? Transcendent? Really? What are you, off your meds?”

An older Cordero guffawed sheepishly in a way that neither confirmed nor denied her query.

“… Don’t get me wrong, Ty, you’ve done a real number on this one – that pulley system is really going to help with my cystic fibrosis…” (That was it!) “… But right now it’s just… Well… Cool. Maybe we could call it Cool Makeover: Home Edition. Would that be good for you?”

She paused, seemingly waiting for Ty to absorb all of this.

“I didn’t think so. Honestly, you’re a nice guy, Ty, one of the best. But as it stands now, this is a total do-over.” Her words fell like stones on Ty’s ears.

Later in the darkness of his hotel room, Ty Pennington was livid. He was livid with Selena Cordero for calling him out on television (on his show no less!) He was livid with his design team for cutting corners. But mostly, Ty Pennington was livid with himself. Because, if he was frank, she was right. He had become soft. He had taken the easy way out: Mugging off to the camera, playing the audience for cheap laughs and easy tears. He had turned his back on ‘extreme’ in the name of something far less radical, something bland and popular. The opposite – no! – the enemy of ‘extreme’. Cool. Ty Pennington was very cool, but he was not extreme. And this realization hurt more than anything Selena Cordero had told him.

Ty Pennington, you fool. He laughed to himself. How vain, how jejune, how hubristic you have been! And it was in this lowest moment, in the enwombing darkness of the Ramada off I 10 in Tucson that Ty Pennington vowed never to sink so low again. Never to turn his back on the state of being that was the bedrock of his career. He would rediscover what it meant to be ‘extreme’.

In the months that followed, Ty was as good as his word. He retreated from the public eye to better serve his quest of becoming definitively extreme. He practiced extreme sports rigorously – skydiving, base-jumping, heli-skiing. He experienced extreme climates and submitted his body to extreme temperatures, paying for expensive saunas and cryotherapy treatments (both in Finland). He even succeeded in acquiring a press pass to Guantanamo Bay – something that was very difficult to do for a man who decorated houses professionally – to interview some of the more ardent jihadist inmates on the extreme mindset. 

He started meditating daily. Five minutes at first, then adding one minute every day until he was spending an hour and a half a day meditating. He thought daily about Selena Cordero, taking care to remember how each of her words had stung him. Never again. He would murmur. By personal request to the show’s EP, her comments had never aired. But that mattered little to Ty “They aired in my heart.” He would always maintain.

After three months, he took a meeting with the ABC big wigs to talk them into granting him a special Extreme Makeover: Home Edition redo episode. At the meeting Ty was so animated, so well scrubbed, so purely vital that the ABC board members had no option but to grant him the episode.

“It was like he was Ty but somehow not.” One board member was overheard saying.

“Yes.” Another agreed. “Perhaps a more extreme version of Ty??” he suggested in jest. The entire boardroom erupted in jowly chortles. What myopic fools they all were.

*

On the morning of the makeover, Ty sauntered easily up the Cordero’s lawn. Past the Romantic water feature, past the full-scale basketball court – how one-dimensional he had been he thought with a wry smile. Who on Earth loves basketball THAT much?

The curb behind him was slowly filling with neighbors, none of whom were aware of the comments Selena Cordero had made and so were understandably confused about the whole situation that was unfolding. Questions had started to fly around the group: Was that Ty Pennington? What was he doing here? A do-over? Unheard of in the EM franchise history! One neighbor, Dave, argued that he looked thinner than the last time they had seen him. The others thought that was some classic Dave bullshit and agreed that, quite the opposite, Ty had gained weight in the intervening months. But there was one fact on which they all concurred, Dave included – they were in store for something here.

Ty halted just short of the burnished oak door, where the elegant reclaimed stone walkway met the whitewashed porch step. Inhaling deeply, he took a moment to reflect one last time on Selena’s words before putting them out of his mind for good. He closed his eyes. Here it came. The phrase he had bellowed on so many occasions, only this time it felt different – clearer. Truer. It was as though he had been sounding out the sentence phonetically all those other times, as in a foreign language that he had no real understanding of. Well, he understood now. He understood perfectly. There was a moment of absolute silence in which he resided briefly, or perhaps infinitely. Then:

“GOOOOD MOOOORNING CORDEROOOOO FAMILYY!”

Epilogue

The house was a complete disaster. Mrs. Cordero wept throughout the entire tour, only this time it had nothing to do with cystic fibrosis. Nobody enjoyed the extreme heat or extreme cold rooms. The area of the house that had been converted into the museum of terrorism left the family distressed and confused. And the entire family despaired (!!) at the sections of the building that had been leveled as an homage to the, “despair that attends homelessness.” One particularly desperate Cordero, no doubt an agitated abuelo, described the entire scenario as “el Apocalypsis!

The network issued an official apology. The Corderos agreed to settle out of court and were re-housed. Ty was fired with immediate effect. Years later, when he finally spoke about the project on the Tonight Show, Ty told a shiny and dumb Jimmy Fallon this:

“When I think about it now, yeah, it was a mistake. But in another sense, I also stand by what I did, you know? Because I went there, I stood by something I believed in. Believe in. I did not go gentle into that good night. I guess what it really comes down to is that people don’t want to be truly extreme. People just want to be cool.”

The episode was one of the least watched in Tonight Show history.

Ben Brown