Sunday, November 20, 2011

Why I'm sold on Auction Hunters

When MTV made a reality show out of Paris Hilton's search for a best friend I thought “That's it, this genre is over.”

Then someone made Flavour of Love, about rapper Flava Flav's search for a wife and I thought “OK, they're running out of ideas now.”

Then Channel 7 launched Dinner Date and it was clear the bottom of the reality TV show barrel had some very deep scratch marks on it indeed.

From singing and dancing to dating, cake decorating, home renovation and hairdressing, there is almost no human endeavour that has not been turned into a reality show by some desperate network.

I like to imagine boardrooms full of exhausted scriptwriters, huddled around whiteboards shouting out things like “MALE ROOM: A dating game set in an Australia Post shop!” and “DOGGYSTYLE: A fly on the wall look inside a pet grooming salon!” (For the record, I would probably watch both of these).

You'd think by now they'd have run out of mundane, every day occupations to turn into reality shows, wouldn't you? Except they haven't. Which is why I am currently addicted to a show about two guys who buy abandoned storage units and sell the contents for a living.

Admittedly, Auction Hunters doesn't have the most thrilling synopsis. It follows friends Allen Haff and Clinton “Ton” Jones - the former with sparkling teeth and movie star good looks, the latter fat, bald, tattooed and resembling an extra from prison drama Oz – as they drive around America participating in storage unit auctions.

Guess which one I have a small crush on.

How it works is this: if the owner of a storage unit or locker doesn't pay their bill within 30 days, the contents can be auctioned off by the storage company.

But here's the rub, and the part that makes Auction Hunters so addictive: each unit is always auctioned off as one complete lot and bidders aren't allowed to see what's inside before they buy, save for a quick glance from the door.

To the untrained eye each unit usually looks like a collection of boxes and old furniture. But Allen, an antiques dealer, and Ton, a guns and mechanics expert, are wizards at forensically reading the scene (“Those boxes have at least 30 years of dust on them – that means money!”), or spying WW2 memorabilia at the back of a unit (“That's a limited edition 1944 German grenade launcher!”), or making out the shape of expensive equipment under tarpaulins (“That looks like a jet ski!”).

After the bidding war they dive into their units and start ripping open boxes to discover amazing hidden treasures. It's a voyeur's delight. Everything they find – from vintage pinball machines to rare motorcycle parts to jewellery – is then sold off to collectors and dealers, who cheerfully explain and value the items for the duo before negotiating a price. Reality be damned, this is reality TV!

Of course, Allen and Ton always come up trumps - last season they made an average profit of $8300 an episode, which probably explains why public interest in these auctions has skyrocketed since the show began in 2010.

I haven't yet made it to an actual auction, but I am half way through season two of Auction Hunters and I can't get enough. I've always loved auctions, markets and garage sales, but having recently put my entire house into a storage unit to move overseas I admit I may have a deeper personal connection to this show than most.

Now the question is, did I remember to pay my bill...?

This article was first published in the Adelaide Sunday Mail TV Guide on November 20, 2011.


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