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Tears and Recriminations: The Ugly Truth (or Lack Thereof) on the "Flipping Out" Reunion

Cameras are funny things. They're meant to capture the reality of a moment but there's something inherently artificial about them being there in the first place. Reality television isn't exactly reality as it exists; it's an edited-together version of actual events, threaded together into a cohesive narrative for television. It gives us an image of reality but not the whole picture.

The reason I'm bringing this up is that I'm still in shock about last night's dramatic and intensely stressful Flipping Out: Season Three Reunion on Bravo.

While the reunion special brought up a number of intriguing (and in some cases hilarious) plot strands from the third season of Flipping Out including "rollover Number Two minutes," Roomba (dubbed a "big bitch" by Zoila), the poisoned bacon, and the status of Valley Oak, the main set piece in the episode was a confrontation between Jeff Lewis and his former business partner Ryan Brown.

It was, shall we say, heated. The former best friends--who hadn't spoken in the four months since Jeff walked out of Chloe's birthday party in the season finale--attacked, defended, and deflected and ultimately reached another stalemate, unable to convince the other of their perspective.

It's impossible to say who is telling the truth but it's clear that there are some mightily bruised feelings on both sides. And it's also clear that Jeff believes with all of his heart that Ryan deliberately misled people and siphoned business away from him via some rather shady dealings including a "smokescreen" website, sponsored links on Google, and other misleading practices. Ryan, for his part, vehemently denies any wrongdoing, saying that he can't apologize for anything as he hasn't done anything.

Which brings me back to my original point about the cameras. To say that watching the duo air their dirty laundry on camera was uncomfortable is a massive understatement of the highest order. Would it have been better for Jeff and Ryan to attempt to talk without the prying eyes of the cameras (and host Andy Cohen)? Perhaps. But it was also the cameras themselves that led to the breakdown in their relationship and to their coming together one final time.

Putting aside the accusations that Jeff has very publicly made against Ryan for a second, things were incredibly mismanaged in the way that Jeff went about confronting his former business partner. For one, he should have never made those accusations on national television without speaking to Ryan and attempting to find out the truth first. It does, as Ryan was indicating on the reunion special, create a dangerous situation as Ryan's very reputation is being damaged in front of an audience of millions. Likewise, Jeff opted to engage both his father and "long-suffering assistant" Jenni in conversations about his suspicions... on camera.

Furthermore, the confrontation on last night's reunion took a turn for the nasty, with both sides making accusations and bringing up information that the audience shouldn't really be privy to, such as Ryan's monthly mortgage or the fact that Dale isn't working (though we did know that: he's in culinary school). Ryan, in turn, attempted to paint a portrait of Jeff as an unstable, paranoid, and delusional individual who thrives on tearing down his friends for amusement and stated that clients should know who "the real Jeff Lewis" is.

The truth of the matter is that we don't know what actually happened between the two, just as we still don't know a season later what actually happened between Jenni and her ex-husband Chris Elwood. We see one side of the equation on reality series and we, as an audience, only see part of the truth. Do some of Ryan's choices seem unethical? Based on Jeff's perspective, yes. The matter of the Google sponsored links still hasn't been dealt with head-on and Ryan didn't deny that he paid for sponsored links to Jeff's name. So will we ever know what really went down? Probably not. Given Jeff's televised accusations, Ryan would be crazy to do anything other than defend himself and vigorously deny any wrongdoing. After all, his professional and personal reputation depend upon it.

What we do know at the end of the day is that these two did, and possibly still do, care for one another. The pain and anguish that both people feel is palpable. Ryan moved on from Jeff a long time ago; he has a husband and a baby now and naturally their relationship would change. He says that he's stuck by Jeff and supported him. Jeff says that he misses the old Ryan, "ugly haircut" and all. But it's not enough to mend the massive rift between them and I don't know that anything can at this point.

As stressful as the confrontation was, it was the sight of Jenni struggling to hold back tears that brought home the message for me. Regardless of what might or might not have happened, things have changed, perhaps irrevocably, in the various relationships depicted on Flipping Out. And that, cameras and all, is painfully real.


kimberlea said…
I think you totally nailed it. Had Jeff gone to Ryan sooner about his suspicions OFF CAMERA they may have been able to work this all out. But to accuse someone of such malicious behavior in front of a national audience, and threaten their reputation, is just dirty. I believe that Ryan did do some shady things but Jeff is equally at fault for not going directly to the source to try to get the truth.
Harper said…
Last season ended with the destruction of a marriage. This season ended with the destruction of a close friendship. I hate to think what season 4 will bring...
greebs said…
There's no way Jeff could go to Ryan off-camera ... and still get paid for the reality show. This is the stuff reality show producers dream of, and since he openly wants a Season 4, he can't hide this. He can hide his boyfriend (and props for that) but not something like this with Ryan.

Whatever it was, I think Jeff made a mountain out of a molehill, and Ryan refused to acknowledge why it was a bit icky.
ewench said…
Wow what a sad, terrible painful show. Yes exactly – as you say, I see what he wanted from Ryan but Jeff left him with no alternative but to deny and defend – there is no way he could say on national tv he was basically a liar and a thief.

Jeff didn’t think it through when he started all this but it’s way too late now – I really feel for him, he didn’t lose just his best friend, Ryan and Chloe were family, But somehow I think Ryan (and Dale) were maybe tired of Jeffs ways and drawing away from him already anyway, as Jeff said it’s been a year that Ryan was “different”

@greebs – I disagree -marketing is expensive - if Ryan took all the sales leads that were meant for Jeff it’s kind of a huge deal and I really wouldn’t be suprised if some lawsuits come out of this.
tina said…
i don't Jeff made a mountain out of a mole hill at all.

I think he is justified to remain stalwart in his case that Ryan has done a few things that, at their core, demonstrate Ryan's callus disinterest in wanting to maintain trust w/his (now former) best friend. (buying links to Jeff's name online w/o telling him). This is major to Jeff, esp. as he tearfully admitted on camera that he doesn't trust easily. All the other words that are being thrown around throughout this whole mess from Jeff are really just symptoms and reactions to the main issue - disloyalty and breaking of trust. He's right to be so impassioned about this. He can't trust his best friend anymore.
Barbara said…
I know Jeff is paranoid, infantile and offensive, but the last episode, and this reunion show both point out his vulnerability and his sense of loss. It's hard not to feel sorry for him---and I don't say that in a demeaning way. I think the tide of my sympathy turned in that episode when he said that when he looks at Chloe he thinks she "could have been my baby if I hadn't messed things up." That's alot of insight for a guy who has always seemed pretty limited. And not such a happy insight, at that.On the other side, Ryan seems a little disingenuous. He's happy, he has a family and the money that Jeff helped position him to make. Something in his eyes, that sheen on his face (nervous perspiration?), says he's not all that innocent. I guess that puts me on Team Jeff.

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