Please note: This post has been updated from its original version, “Review: Hotel Impossible, Sandy Part 1.” In this revised version, I have included an update at the end of the post based on the “Sandy, Part 2″ episode, focusing on the controversial Thunderbird Motel project.
I’m a big fan of the business makeover shows, including Restaurant Impossible and Hotel Impossible. As someone who doesn’t own my own business, but might like to some day, it’s interesting to see how someone at the top of their profession can quickly get to the bottom of why a business is failing.
But my biggest frustration with these shows, as I’ve written about before on this blog, is the projects they select. More often than not the biggest reason why a hotel or restaurant fails–at least on these shows–is the ownership. They’re typically lazy (kitchens or hotel rooms are filthy, obvious repairs aren’t made, the customer service is half-assed, etc.) or clueless (“We thought it would be fun to buy a restaurant!”). I have yet to see an episode where a hotel or restaurant owner is doing mostly everything right but is still struggling to turn a profit. While that would be decidedly less “impossible” to turn around, I might prefer that every once in a while to helping people who have been unable or unwilling to help themselves.
In the most recent episode of Hotel Impossible, hotel guru Anthony Melchiorri takes his talents down to the Jersey Shore to help reverse some of the damage done by Hurricane Sandy last October. A worthy cause, or so it seemed.
The episode takes place about a week before July 4, the following summer after Sandy. As he arrives, Anthony seems genuinely shocked at the condition of the hotel he’s there to fix, the Thunderbird Motel in Seaside Heights, NJ (a.k.a. the town where Jersey Shore was filmed), nine months later. The rooms on the ground floor are still being gutted and he’s been told that 20% of the hotel’s inventory is not ready to be sold.
When Anthony questions the family–a couple in their fifties and a grown son and daughter–as to why so little has been done, they talk about how the insurance money was slow to come in. The patriarch tells Anthony about the Thunderbird: “You’re lookin’ at my 401K here” and that the hotel was meant to be the parents’ retirement.
Anthony goes in for a room inspection–a room the son has assured him is ready to be rented immediately–and finds the usual stuff he always finds: dirt, dead bugs, filthy shower heads, and, of course, a week-old pizza box in the fridge (with one slice left!). The son, Ray Jr., goes into the contrite routine we see often of hotel owners on the show, falsely accepting the blame but clearly believing it’s someone else’s fault, in this case housekeeping
Anthony, in classic straight-shooter Melchiorri style, tells Ray Jr. (who believes he runs the hotel), that he is not general manager material. Anthony leaves, and Ray Jr. follows a few minutes behind him, cursing Anthony under his breath. Later, Ray Sr. is recorded behind closed doors saying that he wants to chop Anthony’s head off–so there that is.
Meanwhile, the rest of the family gangs up on Anthony, telling him that they were too hard on Ray Jr. (Direct quote from Ray Jr.’s mom: “He didn’t have to chew my son sixteen new a**holes.”) As he usually does, Anthony gives the family a chance to cool down and explains that he’s there to help, and he can only do that if he’s completely honest. The family seems to get it, sort of, but Ray Jr. still won’t speak to Anthony. Given a chance to walk away from the project and cut his losses, Anthony chooses to stick it out.
Next, Ray Sr. and Anthony take a drive, having apparently patched things up after the whole “chop off his head” thing. Ray Sr. casually points out other real estate in the area he owns, explaining that his assets total about $40 million. Yup.
Anthony doesn’t start screaming at him (as some of us might have) but calmly asks him why, if the hotel was so important to him, he didn’t consider selling off some of his other assets to pay for the repairs. Ray Jr. replies, “I prioritized. I don’t like digging into capital.” Totally see his point. I mean, who does?
Later, Anthony has another closed door conversation with the family, where Ray Jr. asks him to delete the footage of the hotel inspection from the beginning of the episode that shows Ray Jr. in a negative light. Anthony refuses, saying the only way the footage would be deleted is if they cancel the show. Ray Jr. walks out.
Then, still behind closed doors, it is revealed that Ray Jr. was not actually being tapped to be the general manager, and that a new GM the family had already hired would be starting in a few months. This is the last straw for Anthony, who pulls his crew off the set. He declares that he never leaves a job unfinished, but that he can’t deal with the family’s dishonesty. He believes he’s being “played.” If that’s true, it’s hard to see what the family’s game plan was, since Ray Jr. blatantly told Anthony about his substantial assets without any probing. Nevertheless, Anthony is outta there.
The show ends with previews of Part 2 of the Sandy episode, which has Anthony helping other Jersey Shore hoteliers get back on their feet (plus a cameo by NJ Governor Chris Christie!). Disappointingly, the last scene of the preview has Anthony trying to reconcile with the family from the Thunderbird.
Meanwhile the family that owns the Thunderbird Motel is none too happy about how they were portrayed on the show, as scammers. If I came off the way they did, I wouldn’t be, either. Not to mention, $40 million doesn’t go as far as it used to.
The end of Sandy, Part 1, teased that Anthony would attempt to reconcile with the Braun family, who own the Thunderbird Motel. Reconciliation proved, well, impossible.
Ray Jr. was barely willing to look at Anthony when he tried to open a dialogue about restarting the project. Meanwhile Ray Sr. expressed, again, that he felt the family was blindsided and that Anthony’s crew had come in and wrecked his hotel. (This statement was confusing, as I don’t believe they actually did any work on the hotel apart from Anthony taking a week-old pizza out of the fridge in one of the rooms.)
Anthony and Ray Sr. shook hands and went their separate ways. However the dialogue continued between Ray Sr. and Anthony’s camera crew, who apparently brought bodyguards. Ray Sr. took offense to HI‘s “muscle,” and said he would bring his own muscle next time.
After they shook hands–which was about as forced as Ray Sr.’s previous handshake with Anthony–Ray Jr. asked whether HI still planned to use the footage from the beginning of the first episode, which he felt made him look foolish. The producer said that they would be using the footage, which was a different story than the one Anthony told him at the end of the first episode. Anthony had told him the footage would be deleted if the show was canceled–but clearly it was not…
I don’t feel great about the way things played out, especially considering that it seemed like Anthony lied (or at least misspoke) about the footage. While the Braun family clearly did not deserve Anthony’s help, they were basically used by the producers to create enough footage for an entire episode and didn’t end up getting a hotel renovation out of it. I don’t know about the waivers they might have signed or the legalities involved, but it seems kinda messed up.
Finally, Anthony goes back to the Thunderbird one last time. As a peace offering, he tells Ray Sr. that his designer had had three rooms and a front desk’s worth custom cabinets made for the Thunderbird already, and that if he wanted them, they were his (on the house). In a cliffhanger that only a reality hotel renovation show can have, HI cuts to commercial before we find out whether Ray Sr. will accept the free cabinets. I can tell you it was a VERY long ninety seconds waiting to find out if Ray Sr. would, in fact, accept the free cabinets. (He did.)
Oh yeah and a bunch of other stuff happened in Part 2, including some hotel renovations. Here are the TripAdvisor pages for all the hotels in the two episodes:
Thunderbird Motel: 4/5 rating on 17 reviews (but none since Hurricane Sandy)
Palm Villa Suites Motel: 3.5/5 rating on 51 reviews
Tradewinds Motor Lodge: 4/5 rating on 14 reviews
Charlroy Motel: 3/5 rating on 49 reviews
Did you watch both episodes? What do you think?