I was on ABC’s Great Christmas Light Fight

And I won $50,000

The Great Christmas Light Fight show into
The Great Christmas Light Fight show into

Now that everything is put away, the dust has settled, and the check is cashed, I thought I’d take a few minutes to share our experience with the ABC’s The Great Christmas Light Fight, in hopes that those of you who may be sitting on the fence about applying will take the leap and participate in Season 2.

Our family and our display, “Christmas in the Grove” were the winners of Episode 4.

When It All Started

We were contacted in Dec 2012 by a production company that was putting the show together. I guess someone scoured the light finder sites and sent out a bunch of emails. I remember reading through the PlanetChristmas forum wondering if it was legitimate. My wife and I thought we’d apply and see where it went.

 Tony Paradowski's house
Tony Paradowski’s house

They asked us to make a short audition video and complete a simple questionnaire. After that, there was a long period of time where we didn’t hear a thing. I thought something must have changed or the project had cancelled. As it turned out, there was a change in production companies and Fremantle had taken over the project. Once they took over, things started moving. We were finally notified of our selection in late August 2013.
The initial concept for the show was that there would be 16 families competing for one grand prize of $50,000. 4 episodes with 4 families each, with the winner of each of those episodes competing against each other in a “finale episode” which would be judged by a live audience. Just prior to filming, the concept changed to 5 episodes of 4 families each. Each episode having a $50,000 winner. As Executive Producer Brady Connell (from Extreme Makeover Home Edition) told me, “We thought it would be better to have more families, so we scraped up another 200K and added 4 more.”

 Tony Paradowski's house
Tony Paradowski’s house

From that point on, it was a roller coaster! Lots of paperwork to complete, including contracts and background checks. Prior to the crew’s arrival for filming, there was a conference call, with all four families in our episode, where we discussed the rules. They also asked us to have an area inside the house decorated for Christmas so they would have an area to do interviews. We were not allowed to have any outdoor decorations in place but were allowed to have things staged and ready to go in the garage and behind fences.

Since we had never been involved with any sort of TV production, the initial shooting schedule was a little alarming. There was some discussion of filming in early October, which had us a bit slack jawed. As it turned out, our producer came to the house for the first time in the evening of 10/14. It was a very low key meeting where he gave us an idea of what to expect over the next few days.

The Crew Arrives For The First Visit

 Tony Paradowski's house
Tony Paradowski’s house

The next morning 10/15, we got started

! The crew of 6 showed up with more equipment than I could have ever imagined. There was the producer, assistant producer, sound man, camera man, an assistant cameraman, and a production assistant (PA). The first 5 were from California. The PA was hired locally.

The majority of the first 2 days was for interviews and walk around shots of the house and yard.

I have to give enormous kudos to the crew. They were able to, very quickly, get us used to having a $150K camera in our faces, while surrounded by lights and sound equipment. Surprisingly, it became second nature very quickly. Mistakes were common, but we just started again and did it over, and over, and over! Even my wife Katie, who is incredibly shy, got comfortable quickly, and described the interviews as “just having a conversation with a friend.”

Toward the end of the second day, we shot a scene in our kitchen where we got a “simulated” phone call from the host of the show telling us that our 21 days started “NOW”! As you know, they ultimately decided to do the show without a host, but we sprang into action and started decorating for about 3 hours.

On day 3, we were decorating like crazy and they filmed every aspect of that that they could. They especially liked filming when things went wrong. Like when we couldn’t get the bucket lift to work or when it wouldn’t reach quite far enough. There were more interviews that night and before they left, they placed time lapse cameras in the yard to document our progress and provide footage that they used in the show. They also left a video camera with us and asked that we film progress reports and anything else that might be interesting as our build progressed.

The next three weeks were crazy to say the least. We told our neighbors that we were involved with a reality TV show until ABC started promoting The Great Christmas Light Fight. After that, we were free to tell them the details. Everyone was so supportive and excited for us! We were allowed to use as many friends and family members as we wanted to put up the display, but no hired help! We got some great help and had great weather so things went well for us. Our display usually takes about three weeks to put up anyway, so the time limit wasn’t as big a deal for us as it was for some of the other families. We knew that the film crew would be back on day 19 so our goal was to be done by then. They tried very hard to minimize their impact on what we were doing, but some impact was unavoidable!

The crew arrives for the second visit

On Day 19, our crew arrived as planned and spent 2 days doing additional interviews and filming while we put the finishing touches on the display. Day 20 ended with a test run of the 4 songs that we were planning to use.
Day 21, Reveal Day, started much later than any other day. The crew told us that they probably wouldn’t leave until around 3 AM and they were right! We started to realize just how big an evening was in store when more and more crew members started to show up! I never got an exact count, but there were a minimum of 20 people here and probably closer to 30! They had a director, the boom camera (Jib) operator, 2 other cameramen, 2 sound people, our producer, and a whole slew of additional technicians and production assistants. They worked with our county officials and got permission to actually close our road. They asked us to invite a limited number of family members and friends/neighbors and we ended up with a crowd of about 75.

As with every other aspect of the production, they got multiple shots of the crowd cheering and Sabrina Soto’s arrival. We talked with her for a few minutes (again, multiple takes and angles) and finally got to start the display.
Once it ran through the first time, we did it again without sound so they could record our comments during the show.

Once the show was complete, we shot the “give me a tour” segments.

After we finished the tour, there were additional interviews for Sabrina and us. While all that was going on, the Jib operator was busy filming the display from every conceivable angle which resulted in some incredible footage of the display.

The crew was true to their word and was packed up and gone by 3!

Waiting to be told we had won

ABC's Great Christmas Light Fight trophy
ABC’s Great Christmas Light Fight trophy

While I am reluctant to give out too many details, the reveal and the part were they told us we won were filmed eight days apart. We weren’t 100% sure that we won until Sabrina told us.

Even if we had not won, my feelings about being on the show would be the same. It was an amazing experience from start to finish. We had a once in a lifetime opportunity to see how reality TV is done. It was simply phenomenal that the nearly 40 hours of video that they filmed got trimmed down to roughly 12 minutes.
The people from Fremantle and ABC were consummate professionals. They were constantly respectful of our needs, feelings and property. Their kind and friendly manner made the terror of being in front of a TV camera warm into a fun conversation with a friend. This was a first class production from beginning to end!
Sabrina Soto was absolutely delightful. She is the “real deal” and was fun to spend time with.

The only thing that we did differently because of the show was start early! The plan that we had in place for our 2013 display was decided on in February of 2013. Not a single thing changed after that. The filming added some interesting aspects and challenges, but we did what we were going to do any way, made some wonderful new friends, had a great time, and won $50,000 in the process.

As anyone with a big display will tell you, traffic can be crazy and it certainly was after the showed aired on ABC.
I went to Christmas Expo in 2013 and Brad Boyink gave a discussion about “Going Big”. In it he talked about working with local authorities about a traffic plan and general ways to be proactive about managing traffic. While we will never be as big as his “Holiday Road” display, we did work with our local homeowners association to come up with a plan to manage traffic a little better. We have signage asking people to park nearby and walk up, cones to discourage people from parking on both sides of the street, and whenever we are contacted by the media, we ask them to share that info. Otherwise, it self-regutates. I am fortunate enough to have a good friend who is a county police officer. We had him directing traffic on our two busiest nights, Santa’s visit, and Christmas Eve.

I remember the same question about “Decorating a public place” somewhere in the application process. There was nothing ever said about it again.


This article was included in the April 2014 issue of PlanetChristmas Magazine.

By Tony Paradowski

Related Articles

Back to top button