Backstory on the Extreme Ranch Makeover

Did you watch the Extreme Makeover episode on March 14th?  It was the Skaggs makeover in Oklahoma—the one where I stood in the cold for three days to cover the story (as mentioned in a previous posting).  

Celebrities with the Skaggs Family. Photo by Amy Dee Stephens

Well, the Distinctly Oklahoma magazine article on the interior design just came out, and here’s the backstory on that!  The ABC network was very secretive on what the house’s inside looked like.  For obvious reasons, they didn’t want word leaked until the show aired.  As a media representative, I wasn’t allowed inside at all.  And the story about the interior couldn’t run until the show aired, either. 

So, standing outside for three days only netted me three things:  chills, pictures of exterior construction, and tidbits from volunteers.  A nice ABC representative named Rachel took pity on me, and I got an exclusive story with Jillian Harris, the guest celebrity designer from The Bachelorette.  (Still trying to sell that story, because it was a lovely and emotional interview about the value of volunteering, with a little bit thrown in about fashion and her fiancé).  

How To Write About a House You’ve Never Seen 

I wouldn’t trade the experience of watching the Skaggs’ reaction at seeing their new ranch-style house during the “Move That Bus” sequence.  BUT, I still had a story to write, about the interior of a house—which I’d never seen.  The volunteers who had been inside the house could only give me pieces of information like, “I painted the chair,” or “I was in charge of sweeping the floor.”  Not the exposé bits I needed. 

Amy at the job site

Just days before my deadline, I knew only that the house was decorated in ranch style and that some teal accents were used.  Still not enough.  

Then, several things fell into place.  First, I got a TOP SECRET disc of interior photographs taken by an Ideal Homes photographer.  I was sworn to secrecy by Steve and the marketing team that these would not be revealed prior to the show’s air date.  Second, my article came out in Edmond Outlook magazine about Edmond volunteers who worked on the project. 

Extreme Makeover, Edmond Outlook 

That article was a joy to work on.  The volunteers were fresh from the job site and excited about their contribution.  I tried to discover what they knew about the interior, but alas, they had done exterior rock work or closet building—all prior to the decorating phase.  

But, (and here’s where I learned the value of networking) I sent out a link about the Edmond article to my various list serves and email contacts.  I got a reply from Julie, museum friend who said, “Oh yes, we got to help with the Extreme Makeover.  The camera crew came to the Natural History museum to see some dinosaurs.”  

Now, what, you might ask, did dinosaurs have to do with any of this?  I wondered the same.  Turns out, two-year-old Jhett Skaggs loves dinosaurs, and that was the theme that designer Michael Molony chose to decorate Jhett’s bedroom.  Within days, I had an interview with Kyle, the museum’s Fossil Preparator, who showed Molony the subtle nuances of the pentaceratops—which became the design of the bed.  This was “something extra” I could use.  

Other tidbits came rolling in much the same way.  Beckie, the Ideal Homes designer who picked the light fixtures, knew the name of the gal who painted five-year-old Merit’s crayon headboard. Larissa, a friend from church helped sew the heart quilt laying in the master bedroom.  Mack, the architect, shared the goals of the home’s design.  And so on.  

Considering the hours that went into this story (oh, 40 plus), I certainly lost money writing this article.  I DON’T CARE!  It was so satisfying to pull it all together into a cohesive story.  If I’ve ever used my detective skills to connect a million clues—this was it.      

The Night the Show Aired 

The best part was seeing that “I got it right” when the show did air.  I was fortunate to be at the Ideal Homes watch party that Sunday night–sitting in a theatre with the very people who made this enormous undertaking happen.  And with the Skaggs family.  

Ideal Homes owners, Gene McKown, Vernon McCown and Todd Booze in front of the Skaggs original home.

Prior to 8:00 show time, Brian and Audra Skaggs and the company owners made speeches and showed behind-the-scenes clips (the parts not shown on the episode). The weather had been brutal and construction was behind schedule from the first hour, as crews battled the mud that kept them from simply getting to the site.  However, these amazing volunteers and trade contractors went above and beyond.  The stories are unbelievable. 

For example, Silver Star brought in their heavy construction equipment so that a road could be built through the pasture to the house site.  A few hours of work.  But the drizzle continued, rocks kept sinking into the muck, vehicles had to be pulled out—in the end, they put in over 1,000 hours!  

As Brian Skaggs said, “That road sure is nice now.  You could land a 747 on it.”  

Of course, watching the episode with folks like Silver Star and the Skaggs’ in the room made for an emotionally charged hour.   Those film-makers knew how to pull on our heartstrings; and for those of us who witnessed such sheer generosity first hand, well, we all had more personal tears to shed.  I think the Skaggs held up better than the rest of us.  I’m sure they’ve spent many hours behind closed ranch doors dealing with the magnitude of this gift they’ve received.  

Audra made a lovely statement prior to the showing.  “This house was built with a tremendous amount of love.  My children have seen first-hand what people can do for others, and that’s a real life lesson I could never have taught them just by telling.  They have visually seen our community come together and build a home for them.  The Lord can work in your life like you never imaged before.”  

See, that’s why writing this article was not about getting a paycheck.  All those hours—those were MY volunteer hours.  Using my talent to further the cause for this family, to share the value of community teamwork, and reinforce that doing for others has great gain. Now that’s an extremely worthwhile message, and I’m glad to have peeked into the lives of so many giving volunteers in the process.  Theirs is the real backstory that needed to be told. 

The new Skaggs ranch house--built with love in 7 days.


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Filed under Inspiration for Writers, Published Article Announcement

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