In the first two seasons of Bravo's "Flipping Out," professional house flipper (and OCD-afflicted) Jeff Lewis had a busy real estate market to keep his many business endeavors flourishing. What a difference a year makes. Along with the bottoming-out economy, Lewis's business has also taken a hit, which is where season three of the hit reality series begins with tonight's season opener. Lewis and his staff (assistant Jenni Pulos, housekeeper Zoila and ex-partner/ex-boyfriend Ryan) are all back but, as Lewis and Jenni told our Jim Halterman during a recent press call, they are all feeling the sting of the economy.
Lewis began the call by saying that he had to rethink his business when he saw the market changing and, as a result, he had to figure out how to keep his business afloat. "I decided to go back into the design and remodeling business," Lewis explained, "so I've started working for other people again, which isn't my favorite thing in the world but it's actually been okay because we've had a pretty good amount [of work]." He also said that even though he's making ends meet now, the uncertainty he faced in the last year wasn't fun. "I was paralyzed last year and I was pretty scared. I didn't really know what I was going to do. And then I would say it took me about a couple of months to figure out how I was going to kind of almost I guess restructure my business." Pulos chimed in and, showing their trademark bantering, she observed, "I think this season his coping skills are definitely being put to the test working for other people." Lewis replied, "Well, I've had a lot of therapy now so I'm pretty good at it." Pulos added, "And I'm now in therapy!"
Regular viewers can guess why Pulos needs therapy but, for those who aren't familiar, Pulos's personal problems were a large part of season two when, after Lewis installed hidden cameras in his home office, he discovered that Pulos's husband, then also working for Lewis, had been going through his personal items. Lewis was forced to fire him and, shortly thereafter, Pulos was getting a divorce. While Pulos stated on air that it was not the firing that ended her marriage, the discovery and the aftermath were played out in front of the cameras. "You know, it's hard to watch yourself and really for me it's hard to have this edited little package of the dissolution of my marriage for people to watch. That was definitely odd but I think that I've tried to definitely look at my choices and you know just change and grow... you have to fail sometimes to get where you're supposed to actually be."
Lewis's reaction to Jenni's personal drama revealed that the feelings between the two are more than just employer and employee. "[When] I told her and she literally collapsed to the ground, that was on my nanny cam and I had no idea they were going to use that. And I was actually pretty shocked. That was something I actually tried to block." Despite agreeing to let the cameras record everything, Lewis asked producers not to use the footage from the hidden cameras. Lewis said, " I didn't want people to see Jenni that hurt and vulnerable on TV." However, without his knowledge, producers used the footage from the hidden camera to show Jenni's dismay at being told of her husband's indiscretions. Lewis admitted, "I was actually really pissed."
There are no hard feelings from Pulos, however, who had no problem saying that Lewis "has been lovely. He's been lovely. He's been supportive. He's been understanding." Wanting to make light of a heavy situation, Pulos joked, "currently I'm dating my therapist and it's going really well."
The feeling of family that comes from working together, according to Pulos, is impossible to avoid. "I think because Jeff is so hands on with his business [and] we're in a very close working environment there's really no choice but to become like a family and Zoila, myself and Jeff know we've come close just over the many years of being together."
Working together for so many years, Lewis explained that while he might not be the easiest to work with, at least those working with him understand him and know he's not a total tyrant. "If Jenni and Zoila have been around me for eight [or] nine years, clearly there is a warm side and I think people are understanding that you know Jenni isn't a masochist. She just understands the way I operate and I am a perfectionist and when it comes to work I'm very, very rigid but she knows that at 6:30 I'm the first one to start making martinis. We all really enjoy each other's company but during the work hours we've got a lot to get done. And there's only so much nonsense that I can put up with. Now I like a little nonsense here and there. It makes the day fun but then I have to step in and say, 'OK, back to work.'"
Looking back, Lewis admitted that while he isn't proud of who he was during the first season of "Flipping Out," the show's success has reflected how he has become more likable. "I think that a lot of people really disliked me after season one and I think season two people started to understand where I was coming from and my sense of humor and my personality. As a result, the ratings I think almost tripled and I do see a growing popularity in this show because people are hating me less. I mean there is still those people out there that love to hate me and that's okay. There are people that will never understand me. I don't even understand me."
In tonight's season premiere, Lewis is seen trying to play matchmaker for both Pulos and Zoila. But what about a little romance for himself? "I'm actually dating somebody," he revealed. "It's a young relationship but I am dating someone and it's going really well. Now I don't know if I would have attracted the same person in season one if I hadn't done some work on myself... but I do believe that there are other reasons why the show happened for me. And I think that on the quest to be happy, I think that I've done a lot of personal growth and I don't think that I would draw in the kind of people that I'm drawing in now if I didn't do that work."
Getting back to talking about real estate, Lewis said there is a silver lining to the way the economy has affected his business. "There are a lot of people that are able to enter the real estate market now that couldn't afford to before so I still believe that this is the absolute best time to buy. It's also the absolute best time to remodel because... if it cost me $110,000 to remodel a house before, it's costing me $65,000."
Whether audiences watch "Flipping Out" for the personal lives of Jeff, Jenni and Zoila or to see how the real estate market is changing, they can begin watching season three tonight on Bravo at 10:00/9:00c.