Listen: 5 Decisions Away (Podcast)

Hoarders has turned into a cultural phenomenon. If you mention the name of the show in the right company, you bring about a lively discussion of garage piled four feet high, shocking discoveries under layers of trash, and absurd fights over the fate of urine soaked teddy bears, cocktail stirrers, and decades old magazines. It has been nominated for an Emmy award and is sometimes played on the same night as Intervention, another shocking candid reality show from A&E, that some sites refer to as "Misery Night." Part of what makes the show consistently work is the surviving professional organizers, cleaners, and therapists that travel across the country to work with compulsive hoarders. One of the more popular professionals is Matt Paxton. He has a great sense of humor and seems to be able to build a sense of trust with the hoarders very quickly.

Matt recently launched a podcast called 5 Decisions Away. Sometimes he discusses his experience on Hoarders. Other times, he discusses major events in his life that led him to start a major cleanup company. Still other times he's just answering listener questions and having a great time.

The great personality that helps him stand out on Hoarders is perfectly showcased here. He jokes about being a bad guy or a jerk, but you can clearly tell he's a people person. He puts his guests each week at ease and gets them to start laughing and joking along in just a few minutes. Even when handling a serious topic, he brings about a great sense of levity that makes it palatable.

I was drawn to the podcast because of the behind the scenes glimpse at Hoarders. While Matt can't say anything about the season being filmed right now, he can talk at length about his post-show relationship with previous subjects and what actually happened on the shoots. There's a ton of footage shot for each episode that's condensed to less than thirty minutes (unless someone warrants a full hour to themselves). In six episodes, Matt has dished out behind the scenes info on Paul (the man with the full scrap yard in his front yard), Shirley (the show's first animal hoarder), and a bunch of other subjects I didn't recognize by name alone. The discussion tends to be the liveliest when he is talking about Hoarders with other people who have worked on the show.

This does not mean that other subjects discussed aren't as entertaining or insightful. They are. Matt is willing to talk at length about his previous struggles with finances and addictions. His guests open up very quickly to talking about their own struggles in life, which goes into the whole concept of 5 Decisions Away. This isn't just a behind the scenes look at a TV show; it's a look out how minor decisions in our lives can push us in radically different directions.

The most telling example of the theme comes from Matt Paxton's own life. Struggling to make end's meet, he contacted Oprah's preferred organizer, Peter Walsh, saying he could earn him a lot of money. By some stroke of luck, Peter Walsh called him, demanded a 30 second explanation, and eventually passed his name along to the producers of Hoarders. After one episode, where Matt was convinced he would be fired every step of the way, the producers saw a personality emerge that would guarantee him a regular job on reality TV. As Paxton himself says, you won't get rich doing that kind of reality TV show, but the paycheck and exposure from taking the chance to contact a total stranger has allowed him to pay all his bills each month and set up a comfortable life for his family. The one decision spiraled into a series of events that put him in the place to start a podcast talking about that phenomenon.

You can subscribe to 5 Decisions Away through iTunes or follow the show on his website. I haven't quite heard a program like it before. It's young and still finding its voice, but I feel like it's worth taking a chance on.

Thoughts? Love to hear them.

The Link Rally: 5 December 2011

Art of the Trailer: Shame (2011) (Red Band)