Even in the best of times, a half-eaten chicken carcass isn’t exactly easy on the eyes. But toss it atop a waist-high pile of garbage inside a suburban kitchen, let it turn gray and fetid, and you’ve got the exclamation point on the visual sentence “OH NO THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING!” that was a recurring theme of Sunday night’s installment of TLC’s Hoarding: Buried Alive.
Being of sound mind and tempermental stomach, I’d never actually watched any hoarders-themed programming before, but when TLC sent me a release touting a new episode of Hoarding: Buried Alive called “It’s Just Sex,” I decided it was time to don some double-ply yellow rubber kitchen gloves and find out what it was all about. I’ll admit I chuckled a little at the opening chyron warning me that I was about to face “content and images that may be disturbing.” I mean, isn’t that the only reason anyone would tune in to this show?
And sure enough, Hoarding: Buried Alive made good on its promise, taking us into a 1,600-square-foot home/landfill of our protagonists, Herv and Janet, that was reportedly four to six weeks away from being condemned by the local authorities. “We’ve kept things we shouldn’t have kept,” said Herv, in an understatement that bordered on the obscene, before taking us to a foyer piled almost to the ceiling with dusty trash bags and assorted strewn detritus. Not surprisingly, it had been 10-15 years since the couple’s front door had been opened.
At least half the trash in the front entrance was bagged and ready for disposal, though, which is more than could be said for the rest of the abode. Janet gave a tour of the unspeakably fouled upstairs loo, which except for a small path to the filthy sink and shower, was knee deep in waste, including what Janet referred to as “used bathroom items.” The downstairs bathroom (pictured, right), meanwhile, was used only for its toilet, though where one could find legroom among the beer cans and general muck is beyond comprehension. Janet then took us to the bedroom (pictured, above), where a lonely mattress sat surrounded by a sea of discarded horrors; she lifted a couple of empty wine bottles from the debris, then chuckled, “there’s a pizza box in there, too.”
Turns out that Herv and Janet’s hoarding began shortly after the death of their infant son, Gregory, almost two decades prior. Over the years, Herb found he couldn’t discard even the most useless items; Janet eventually got to a point where she didn’t even notice that her home looked and smelled like a transfer station. And because their lifestyle meant they had to keep replacing appliances, clothes, and other essentials, they wound up $80-100,000 in debt.
Other unspeakable moments from the hour:
* The couple’s 22-year-old son, Hervey, who grew up knowing only the hoarding lifestyle, showed off his former bedroom, which had been turned into a cluttered litterbox for the family’s cats. “I’m stepping in some right now,” he noted, nonchalantly, as the cameras panned to piles of feline excrement.
* Hervey giving best friend Derrick a tour of the home, with a stop at an abandoned refrigerator containing a plastic-wrapped processed cheese slice coated with bugs, and a black smear that Hervey identified as “a pie.”
* Jam-packed rows of fly strips in the kitchen that Hervey said were hung back when he was in high school.
* This line: “What’s that squishing beneath my feet?”
* The discovery of an unrefrigerated, green-ish pork tenderloin during Hervey and Derrick’s search for soda cans.
* Herv’s coworker Wendy attempting to be non-judgmental on her first tour of the house, but quickly giving this stream-of-consciousness monologue: “It’s overwhelming. The stench is terrible. The food left out is scary. This is really bad. I don’t know what to say. It’s disgusting. How long have those fly traps been up there?”
* The admission by Janet that Herv and Wendy had had a affair, and that they eventually drew her into their sexual relationship. “I was asked to be bisexual,” said Janet, and to “pleasure” the duo. Even though Herv claimed the affair was over, he and Janet began living with Wendy after being told by sheriff’s office officials that they couldn’t sleep in their house in its current condition.
* The shot of a mind-numbingly filthy toilet while professional organizer Mindy Godding noted the house contained “major systems that have failed.”
* The discovery of a wrapped turkey breast with an April 29, 2007 expiration date.
In the end, with the help of a psychologist and a team of cleaners/organizers, Herv and Janet purged their home of its waste, wrote heartbreaking farewell letters to their late son (which they subsequebtly burned in the back yard), severed ties with Wendy, and were shown six weeks after the main action sharing a meal in their bright, tidy kitchen. “It’s not atrocious anymore,” noted Derrick. And considering where the action kicked off, that’s about as much of a happy ending as anyone could want.
Did you watch Sunday’s installment of Hoarding: Buried Alive? Are you a regular watcher of hoarder programming? Or is the idea of tuning in even briefly too much for your stomach to bear? Sound off in the comments, and for all my reality recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!