Reality Roundup: Take Me Away

It wasn’t until I recently needed to dig out my passport that I noticed it had literally been gathering dust (and yes, part of that is just because I’m messy, but still).  This startling discovery has left me scrambling, from the air-conditioned comforts of my couch, to make up for lost travel time.  This summer, whether you’re looking for something serious, silly, or anything in between, take a chance on a new country (or two, or ten) – one episode at a time.

House Hunters International

Of the approximately fifty million episodes housed in the untold number of House Hunters International seasons, I found my true match in last week’s “Bermuda Triangle Attraction.”

Not since Evan and Carly’s twisted romance have I been pushed so far to the edge of my sofa that my shocked scream at the show’s ending nearly landed me on the floor.

Granted, real estate agent Penny’s overtures of “you are in the kitchen, the dining room and the living room” brought my own Manhattan apartment scramble back into focus with dizzying clarity.  But once I realized that I was not going to be bound by Bermudan-to-be Sameera’s life choices, the episode’s real estate explorations of three different one- and two-bedrooms provided a light sense of the island’s geography, as well as a stronger sense of what it might be like in a country where, at least according to one of Sameera’s potential abodes, it’s bring-your-own-stove.

After all, even if you’re not like me and are completely uninterested in the episode’s love story angle (weird), the episode has a lot to offer if you (also like me) keep confusing Bermuda and the Bahamas.  Or if you want to know what your life might look like if you were to throw caution to the wind and move to a not-so-deserted island (the world’s third wealthiest island, as Penny gravely informs us – but an island all the same).  Or even if you just want to creep in other people’s living space to see what $2200 in monthly rent looks like in Bermuda  – and honestly, who among us would say no to that?

New episodes of House Hunters International air 10:30pm ET weekdays on HGTV and are available the next day on-demand.

States of Undress

This wasn’t my first Viceland experience – but last week’s “Couture and Conflict in Lebanon” was certainly my most jarring.

Watching host Hailey Gates make her way through the ateliers of Beirut, it quickly became clear that the story wasn’t just about the dresses.  It was about the people who make them.

“Roughly one in every five people living in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee,” Hailey explained, before turning back to the tailors around her.  And though the story skipped from Lebanese fashion (“crystals.  Lots and lots of crystals”) to haute couture to wedding dresses, the presence of Syrian refugees and their relationship with the Lebanese designers was never far from the shiny sparkly dresses lighting up the screen.

Through a couple of awkward confrontations (one designer wants to push his Syrian workers from the spotlight; another has a not-so-hidden propagandist past) and a few touching moments (many centered on Hailey’s time with a Syrian designer and his family), the show sheds a new light on both Beirut’s current climate.  And amidst the glitz of glowing gowns, Hailey draws out the individual stories that highlight not only Lebanon’s complicated relationship with its refugee population – but also, ultimately, our own.

New episodes of States of Undress air 10:00pm ET Tuesday on Viceland and are available the next day on-demand.

The Real Housewives of Auckland

Every once in a while, I catch myself in mid-smug-thought that, when it comes to the world of Housewives, I’ve seen it all.  Shifting alliances, cancer scams, family feuds – nothing can really faze me.

But then Bravo unearthed a flashback of Louise Wallace (current Auckland Housewife and – apparently — former host of New Zealand’s iteration of The Weakest Link).  Followed later by Julia’s husband, a charmer if there ever was one, explaining “I pay for the pants and I get into the pants.” Topped off with Michelle, in a private, glass-walled dining room of some expensive Auckland restaurant that had no idea what it was getting itself into, casually looking Angela up and down before saying: ”You still model?  What, plus size, or…?”

And, just like that, my Housewives world was upside down.

As a self-proclaimed Housewives connoisseur (I even watch Dallas) I can honestly say that I can’t remember the last time that a franchise premiere got me this jazzed for the season to come.  Even the mandatory “getting-to-know-you” narratives of the show’s opening scenes were short, punchy (Angela’s self-serious description as ‘lifestylist’ is only the tip of the cast’s fabulously dysfunctional iceberg) and wrapped up in the action at exactly the right juncture.  The Auckland ladies are viciously clever, comfortable in the spotlight (without coming off as too desperate for it) – and while they lead lives nowhere near what the rest of their country can expect, I’m game to tag along for it all the same.

New episodes of The Real Housewives of Auckland air 12:00pm ET Saturday on Bravo and are available the next day on-demand.

Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown

There’s a frankincense-styled soft spot in my heart for the Sultanate of Oman, though it’s been years since I last set foot in the country.  But I had gotten used to watching it fly under the radar as the world focused on its more controversial gulf neighbors.

And then Anthony Bourdain came onto the scene.

Easily picking up on Oman’s main narrative – the country’s dramatic evolution from the 1970s – the episode’s opening scenes followed a predictable framework.  But the narrative then dove deeper, offering an examination of Oman’s civil war in Dhofar. Videos and stills alike flooded the screen during Anthony’s interviews, further contextualizing the country’s near-mythical origin story.

Yet with Anthony Bourdain also comes food (lots of it), and for that, I’ll be forever grateful.  Shots of traditional Omani preparations pepper the narrative, but paled in comparison to the scene of him joining an Omani family for a meal.

Anthony Bourdain’s exploration of Oman is an excellent primer, flagging a number of key questions (the role of religion and an economic future without oil, for starters) even in the span of its hour-long run.  And while there a few other topics that could have stood to be glossed over a little less (the role of multiculturalism; the relationship between the so-called ‘interior’ and the country’s capitol), those ultimately didn’t hold the story back.  The profound delicacy with which the show captured the role of the sultan, natural beauty of the interior and the overall vibe of Muscat has so much to offer – but even if you’re just in it for some pro tips on goat meat preparation, you’ve come to the right place.

Episodes of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown are available on-demand through CNN.

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