By Chuck Ross
Ellen DeGeneres got the hype started this past Monday afternoon, March 2nd, at 1:21 in the afternoon (PT) when she tweeted “Tonight’s the finale of my Design Challenge on HGTV. You’re not gonna believe what happens at the end. I promise it’s not what you think.”
Later that day she tweeted, “My Design Challenge finale is about to start! I’m telling you, you’re not gonna believe what happens.”
As the finale wound down, DeGeneres tweeted, “Who would you pick to win the show?”
And then “Make sure to watch ’til the very end, ‘cause it ain’t over ’til it’s over. And it ain’t over.”
And next, breathlessly, “Make sure to watch ’til the very end, ‘cause it ain’t over ’til it’s over. And it ain’t over.”
And THEN: “Here comes the twist. Don’t miss the ending!”
Phew. She ended her tweet string with this: “What a great season full of incredible designers & pieces. I hope you had as much fun as I did. Thanks for watching!”
Judging from the explosion in social media after the “twist” reveal, most viewers did not seem to be having the fun watching the end of the short six-episode season that DeGeneres had hoped they had.
As we previously reported, Ellen announced that contestant Tim McClellan won “Ellen’s Design Challenge,” which included $100,000 and having his work featured in a spread in HGTV magazine. Confetti fell from the ceiling, hugs were had all around. McClellan was thrilled.
Then, on the screen flashed the words “One Week Later”
That’s when viewers were told, matter of factly, that McClellan had been disqualified because of the similarity of his last piece of furniture to another piece of furniture already available in the marketplace.
An unseen narrator says “After the finale, it was discovered there was an existing piece of furniture designed by European designer Simon Schacht that resembles Tim’s. That led to the conclusion that Tim did not fulfill the requirement of the final challenge, which was to create an original piece.”
On-screen viewers saw both McClellan’s final piece and Schacht’s piece. Yes, they were similar. Viewers were then told that the runner-up, Katie Stout, had won the design challenge, including the $100,000 and the spread in HGTV magazine. Viewers then saw Stout again, this time on the set of Ellen’s talk show, where Stout had been invited so Ellen could surprise her with the news that Tim had been disqualified and that she was actually the winner of the design challenge. More confetti, hugs and end of show.
Regardless of viewers’ reactions, we can tell you that “Ellen’s Design Challenge” was “among the highest rated series in HGTV history,” according to an announcement HGTV put out Tuesday afternoon, the day after the finale aired.
The announcement continued, “The finale on Monday, March 2, which was the highest-rated show of the night on HGTV, averaged a .86 P25-54 rating — making HGTV a top 10 rated cable network in primetime among viewers P25-54. Averaging a .83 P25-54 rating this season, the six-episode furniture design competition grew 48% versus the prior 13 week average. Since its premiere on Monday, January 28, at 9 p.m. ET/PT, ‘Ellen’s Design Challenge’ consistently ranked as a top 10-rated cable program for the Monday 9P-10P time period among P25-54.”
One of the reporters covering “Ellen’s Design Challenge” has been Emily Yahr of the Washington Post. Yahr is described by the Post as a reporter who “covers pop culture and entertainment for” the paper.
Though HGTV was quick to get out the ratings for the show, Yahr has not been about to get any answers about why the ending of the show was so bizarre. Yahr writes, “Angry viewers filled Twitter and HGTV’s Facebook page with hundreds of comments, the majority feeling cheated that McClellan (a fan favorite) saw his prize money taken away and reputation tarnished by a mysterious ruling. So many unanswered questions remained: Who realized that McClellan’s table resembled Schacht’s? When did they find out? Who tipped them off? Why didn’t they realize this before awarding him a “life-changing” prize? And most importantly: Was this all a publicity stunt to get more viewers?”
Yahr adds, “HGTV has remained mum: A spokeswoman would only give us the same statement uttered by the narrator. Meanwhile, McClellan hasn’t returned multiple calls we made to his Arizona furniture store — but is apparently scheduled to make an appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” on Thursday. Which just underscores the other strange vibe of this whole thing.”
Yahr then quotes the tweets DeGeneres made above and notes that DeGeneres has also hyped McClellan’s appearance on her “Ellen” talk show on Thursday with this tweet: “It’s the most talked about moment in furniture design show history. Tim was disqualified after winning my show.Thursday he tells me his side.”
Yahr then writes, “…why would a producer appear so openly gleeful about a ‘twist!’ that leaves one person admittedly elated, but another whose reputation and bank account takes a hit? Or is this another famous DeGeneres prank? Can we expect a ‘twist’ happy ending where McClellan keeps his prize after all?”
We here at TVWeek have had the same thought. Like Yahr and a lot of “Design Challenge” viewers, we have similar questions about the finale, and could find no one connected with the show willing to answer any of our questions on Wednesday. One person with knowledge of the circumstances of what really went down who declined to answer any of our questions on Wednesday, added that a further conversation with us could take place after the airing of McClellan’s appearance on “Ellen” on Thursday, if we still had any questions.
We also tried to reach McClellan, and though we were told on Wednesday that he was indeed here in Los Angeles – where we are as well – he did not return our phone messages we left with his shop in Arizona (though McClellan was described in the show as being from Durango, Colorado, his shop is actually in neighboring Arizona).
Furthermore, our suspicion is that Yahr is right when she concludes, “With HGTV not providing an explanation, we’re going to guess that even if there is another ‘twist!’ in store, the network has a fundamental misunderstanding about the kind of reality show ‘twists!’ viewers love.”