Secrets of Reality TV: How I ended up on HGTV’s House Hunters International

Our web editor Shawn Knox shares his experience being cast on HGTV’s House Hunters International during his move to Dublin

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Lights, camera, action.

Well, this is unexpected. Sure, I worked on the TV side of news for more than a decade before coming to the Calgary Herald. My wife still works for a local network. TV news is how we met. What’s different this time is we’re not the ones sharing the story, we are the story.

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The story is about our move abroad from Calgary to Dublin, which was featured on HGTV’s House Hunters International.

I never imagined I’d find myself in front of the camera on a reality show, but, then again, moving to Ireland just eight weeks after getting married also wasn’t on my Bingo card. It was one hell of a plot twist, and I guess that makes for good TV.

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How did I get here?

My Dublin dream started during the cooped-up phase of the COVID-19 crisis. I began to explore my family ancestry as a pandemic passion project. I qualified for my Irish citizenship through my grandfather, Joseph Knox, who grew up on the island of Ireland before immigrating to Canada in 1949. I’d nearly forgotten I’d applied due to processing backlogs, but two years later my Irish passport appeared in the mail. It still didn’t cross my mind to move, but it must have been in my wife’s mind because she decided to apply to grad school in Dublin.

Photo taken in May 1949 of Joseph Knox and his father before he left for Canada cal

When we decided to move to Ireland, we were also in the midst of planning our wedding. We admittedly, hadn’t carved out as much time as we should have for an overseas move, so when I saw a social media post from the show looking for people who were moving overseas, it seemed like a chance to offload some of the heavy lifting. I’d always been a fan of the series, but I also saw it as an opportunity to help find a ‘flat’ in a country neither myself nor my wife had yet to step foot in.

We were shocked and excited when we opened an email from a recruiter in New York City. One video call led to an audition with the show’s producers. I was nervous, I’m a web guy and this isn’t exactly my comfort zone. I managed to squeeze in some jokes and after a few laughs, we were cast for the show. The excitement was off the charts! Ready or not, it was time to begin my showbiz career…

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Shawn Knox and Teri Fikowski-Knox found themselves on HGTV’s House Hunters International as they moved from Calgary, Alberta to Dublin, Ireland. Photo by Shawn Knox /cal

It’s Showtime

If you’ve never seen the show, here’s a crash course: A local real estate agent lines up three potential places to call home and we were supposed to select one before the end of the episode.

The filming was condensed into four, 12-hour days. I couldn’t believe how much footage was needed for a 22-minute episode.

We viewed three different places scattered across Dublin. We oohed and awed at cobblestone streets, Georgian homes, and the more modern sides of a moody city steeped in rich history.

The character and charm was also met with downfalls that included high rental prices, shoebox-size kitchens, strange layouts, and in one case, a strangely tiny garden (backyard), that had barely enough room for the both of us.

My wife and I were exhausted by day four of filming, but the finish line was near, and the final day was fun. We biked around Phoenix Park, the largest urban park in Europe. Viewers will get a laugh at how unstable we were on two wheels, but we got through without falling off and humiliating ourselves – phew!

Shawn Knox and Teri Fikowski-Knox found themselves on HGTV’s House Hunters International as they moved from Calgary, Alberta to Dublin, Ireland. cal

We also shared a pint of Guinness at a local pub, a rite of passage in Ireland. Pints, mid-afternoon, while traditional Irish music plays? If you knew me at all, this wasn’t a hard sell. Our final scene was more up my wife’s alley. We boarded a double-decker bus outfitted to serve traditional Irish tea and little sandwiches and dainties. This is the scene where we pick our new home as we tour our new city.

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No spoilers, you’ll have to watch to see which flat we chose!

Speaking of Spoilers – Reality TV Secrets

I hope this doesn’t come as a surprise to many, but the reality of reality TV is… it’s not all real. I signed a non-disclosure agreement so I’m limited on what I can share, but rest assured the excitement shown for our adventure abroad wasn’t an act.

What was absent was the stress of finding places to see amid a major housing crisis in the country. The third place we viewed was a beautiful apartment in a trendy neighborhood with everything we needed, and it would have been a no-brainer to select. I can hear people shouting at their TV screens that we are idiots for not picking it. The only, but major, problem was that it was rented out a day before we were scheduled to see it, so it was an automatic elimination.

Shawn Knox and Teri Fikowski-Knox found themselves on HGTV’s House Hunters International as they moved from Calgary, Alberta to Dublin, Ireland. Photo by Shawn Knox /cal

There is also a lot of staging involved, including a quick shop to buy clothes and shoes without logos, because it was made clear to us that brands can’t be shown.

The show accurately represents the living and cultural differences between Canada and Ireland. And, perhaps my favourite part of filming was the focus on me reconnecting with my Irish roots. It was a really cool experience to meet family I’d never met before. I even got a chance to visit the house my grandfather grew up in (my great-aunt was still living there if you can believe it).

The episode aired in the U.S. in early September and will hit HGTV here in Canada on April 26th. I am excited for my family, friends and hopefully some of you to watch.

As they say in showbiz, that’s a wrap!

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