The Secrets Behind Laguna Beach

It was the era of denim skirts, painfully-low rise jeans, Ugg boots, and Hollister graphic tees when MTV's "Laguna Beach" premiered, a reality show that followed the lives of privileged high school students living seaside in California. It was unprecedented in its time, catapulting regular teenagers into the pop culture stratosphere and giving us storylines that remain forever in many of our adolescent nostalgia. The series was a mega success, launched in 2004 at a time when shows like "The Simple Life" and "The Real World" were the only comparisons, and Bravo's "Housewives" franchise wasn't yet a thought. The coming-of-age, angsty "Laguna Beach" drama was unique in its kind, and several cast members have maintained celebrity status long after the series wrapped. 

As with every reality show, fans are often drawn to the blurry facade producers create that makes you wonder what's real and what's for show. Viewers get fixated on storylines that are often fabricated by a team of editors; villains and heroes are chosen based on what kind of edit a producer gives a cast member. Lauren Conrad and Kristin Cavallari anyone? Despite the dramatization of catfights, love triangles, and wild parties — or maybe because of it — the show was an undeniable success, drawing millions of viewers for its Season 1 finale. Though the series ended in 2006 after three seasons, the tide has yet to go out on the drama that the iconic cast of "Laguna Beach" orchestrated. We're diving into the secrets behind "Laguna Beach."

Fake it til you make it

While "Laguna Beach" producers didn't hand out scripts, producers found ways to get the cast members to deliver the drama that drove up the ratings. Kristin Cavallari, who was often dubbed the show's "bad girl," revealed to Us Weekly just how orchestrated the series was behind the scenes. "They would text us what to say so that to people around us, it would just look like we were looking at our phones, and then we'd talk about whatever," the mother of three confessed. 

Stephen Colletti recalls a list of "wild lines" given to him by production to use for dramatic effect in conversations with cast members. He launched the "Back to the Beach" podcast with former cast member and ex-girlfriend Cavallari to give viewers the scoop on the drama that went down nearly two decades ago. "I remember one time sitting in my car, they've got a page of wild lines that we're could be three words [that] is going to be put in a very pivotal spot," Colletti said. 

Cast member Talan Torriero told Us Weekly the show felt scripted. "I remember distinctly having to recreate phone calls. Like, they would pretend that I was in Mammoth in a hotel room with a phone, and I was supposed to be talking to Kristin so they could piece something together," Torriero said. While executive producer Gary Auerbach denied any scripting to HuffPost, he did admit to consulting TV drama writers on the plotlines.

The infamous love triangle

It was a feud so sensationalized Hollister even made graphic tees about it. It's the classic recipe for reality TV drama — one that had Kristin Cavallari and Lauren Conrad pitted against each other for Laguna Beach's number-one hunk, Stephen Colletti. The "One Tree Hill" star balanced both women, Conrad was his longtime friend and Cavallari was his on-again-off-again girlfriend. It was a drama that played out season after season, and Conrad was usually there for Colletti to kiss it better — no pun intended — during his rocky relationship with Cavallari. 

But decades later the trio reunited on the "Back to the Beach" podcast to spill the tea on what was real and fake on the show, revealing that the heated love triangle was the production's idea, and heavily played up by editors. "They didn't want me to have anything else," Conrad said on the podcast, who jokingly admitted to seeing several boyfriends at the time which was omitted from the storyline to play up the feud.

"You and I never really had any beef," Cavallari said on the Season 1 finale of "BTTB." She added, "There was a little truth to what happened with the three of us but I felt like MTV coming kept it alive and made it way worse than it ever would have been." The two stars went on to feud on the spinoff series "The Hills," over — you guessed it — another guy. But shockingly, their on-again-off-again love interest Brody Jenner admitted both his romances with both women were fake. 

Kristin Cavallari and Stephen Colletti were actually in love

While the love triangle might have been heavily orchestrated, the relationship between Kristin Cavallari and high-school beau Stephen Colletti was very real. Viewers were pitched a different story, however, that showed the pair constantly at odds. "They made it seem like we were just honestly so toxic for one another," Cavallari said on Episode 102 of the "Back to the Beach" podcast. "They never showed us in a good light of why we continued to want to be together." The pair recalled many positive moments in their whirlwind coming-of-age romance — glimpses that were overshadowed by selective editing. 

Lauren Conrad even admits to being taken aback by their relationship after rewatching the show decades later. "They were in love and I didn't know this," The Little Market founder admitted on an episode of "BTTB." Conrad goes on to question why fans and production didn't root for Cavallari and Colletti's angsty teenage love, to which Cavallari joked back, "I think most people were cheering for you guys back in the day." Cavallari was often villainized by production telling Colletti on their "BTTB" podcast "They made it seem like you and I are together and I'm over here getting some guy's number — absolutely that was all MTV," the Uncommon James founder said.

The pair's chemistry was ignited yet again when Cavallari revealed the pair met back up in 2020, shortly after she filed for divorce from her ex-husband Jay Cutler. "I went to Laguna Beach, we went on a date and we made out," Cavallari revealed.

It was staged

If producers didn't get the right shot or angle, "Laguna Beach" cast members were asked to reshoot scenes or rehash events on camera for the sake of the plot. Lauren Olsen, who went by "Alex H" on the show, told Us Weekly, "It would be, like, the end of the summer, so, like, July [or] August, and then MTV would come and be like, 'Hey, we need to re-talk about a conversation that happened about prom. So, we're gonna meet at the beach and I need you girls to talk about the drama that happened,'" Olsen said. The former cast member also recalled having to recreate looks or makeup from certain days upon production's request.

"Laguna Beach" alum Jason Wahler found himself in a show love triangle between his cast mates Alex Murrel and Jessica Smith, and admitted to Us Weekly "[I] didn't feel that it was super scripted. It was very heavily edited. A lot of the situations and scenarios for me were — they were pretty true to [reality]. So, I would say, like, on a scale of one to 10 of being scripted, [it was] probably like a four or a five just because of the editing."

Murrel told Us Weekly that MTV producers manipulated timelines on the show to add to the show's soap-opera-like feel, especially since the series was produced without the perspective of interview confessionals that are characteristic of reality TV nowadays. "It was very contrived. Like, they knew that there were story lines and they built upon those," the Chapman University alum said.

Kristin Cavallari had no problem being the bad girl

If somebody's got to be the villain, Kristin Cavallari is happy to do the job. The Uncommon James founder snagged her reality TV career after missing the show's casting call while on vacation with her parents. "So there was this girl that everyone was buzzing about that was the hot bad girl," series creator Liz Gateley told TV Guide. "We were waiting and waiting and waiting, like, who could this girl possibly be, and she showed up and she was everything and more than we hoped."

The "Balancing in Heels" author told Insider that she was cast as a villain for her ability to speak her mind, which producers used to their advantage. Cavallari recalled being asked repeatedly to talk about subjects she didn't care for to nail down a specific storyline. "I had a strong personality. I have a strong presence and I think that's way easier to manipulate and edit into this villain role than any other type of personality," she said.

And manipulate they did, painting a story that Cavallari was the mean girl pitted against Lauren Conrad's girl-next-door persona. "If Kristin said something nice about someone, we would edit it out. We wanted her to be the bad girl. That's what you do in reality producing," Gateley admitted. But despite what the series had viewers believing about Cavallari,  she admitted she saw a different girl onscreen than who was portrayed. "I don't see a confident girl at all. I actually see someone who's extremely insecure," she said.

The cast members weren't actually friends IRL

MTV's "Laguna Beach" followed a group of high school students as they navigated life, love, and friendships in the small resort town — but fans might be surprised to know that the cast members weren't friends before being cast for the show. On an episode of "Back to the Beach," it was revealed that the cast didn't spend much time together before the show was created.

"We knew who everybody was," Kristin Cavallari explained, "but [we're] not hanging out." The "Very Cavallari" star went on to explain that her connection to the cast was through her then-boyfriend Stephen Colletti, who was a grade older than her in school. "We would see each other at parties here and there," she said of her cast mates, adding, "I was definitely not friends with that group."

Part of Cavallari's difficulty while filming was production putting her in situations she would never have been in had she not been cast for the show alongside a totally new group of friends. "I was forced to hang out with these people that I really, just didn't necessarily want [to]," the Uncommon James founder admitted. "They made this group of people seem like this is a clique of friends and they're around each other all the time and that was just not the case," Colletti said. 

MTV footed the bill for wild parties

A lot of "Laguna Beach" scenes wouldn't have been possible if it weren't for MTV's budget. Stephen Colletti spoke with co-host Kristin Cavallari on their "Back to the Beach" podcast about just how unlikely some of the parties would have been had it not been for the lucky swipe of the network credit card. "For example, in the first episode, this hotel party," the former "One Tree Hill" actor explained. "We did not have hotel suite parties where somebody was just, like, throwing out a credit card, booking a suite."

In addition to the parties sponsored by the network, the cast even received a small salary for being on the show. Colletti jokingly invited MTV on to the "Back to the Beach" podcast for an interview, saying, "You guys paid us $2000 bucks for the first season and not too much more for the second." Cavallari quipped, "You owe us man!" The "One Tree Hill" star even admitted to negotiating a higher salary for the second season alongside Lauren Conrad. But despite the added monetary bonus, Cavallari would have signed up for the show regardless. "I would've done it for free," she admitted. "At that point in high school to me, it was more of a competition, everybody wanted it ... so when they told us they were going to pay us I was like, 'Oh great!'"

Janet Jackson's nip slip threw a wrench in filming plans

Producing "Laguna Beach" proved to be a challenge, as filming took place only on the weekends. The series was originally supposed to be shot inside the cast's high school, but the plans were derailed due to the controversy surrounding Janet Jackson's infamous wardrobe malfunction during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show. "The school pulled out because parents were freaking out about cameras being in the classrooms," Kristin Cavallari said, per HuffPost. "But MTV had found all of us, so they didn't care. They said, 'Great, we're still going to do the show.' I think we filmed for like eight or nine months on the weekends, and it was crazy."

Cavallari went on to admit on an episode of "Back to the Beach" that limiting camera time to after school turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as nobody predicted at the time for the show to blow up the way that it did. "It was interesting and hard enough in its own right, let alone having cameras in class with you," the "Very Cavallari" star said. 

What happens in Cabo stays in Cabo

When cast members of "Laguna Beach" took a trip down to Cabo San Lucas, not everything about those drunken nights was brought to light. Stephen Colletti and Kristin Cavallari came together with Lauren Conrad for a special finale episode of the first season of the podcast "Back to the Beach" to discuss what exactly went down in Mexico. 

Conrad admitted to some serious shaming when she told Cavallari, "My biggest regret was I called you a slut." She continued, "I'm so sorry ... where I'm at now, I would never call another woman that." The two women, now mothers, were able to put the past behind them and apologize for their catfights back in the day. "I was actually so insecure and I took it out on you," Cavallari told Conrad. 

On a lighter note, the trio confessed to some drunken off-camera antics during the trip which never made it to air. Colletti admitted to jumping into a fountain and ruining a mic pack, and Conrad admits to dancing on a bar, something cast members gave Cavallari a lot of heat for. "I mean I didn't do it on camera," Conrad confessed. Cavallari even admitted she still orders "Miami Vice" cocktails to reminisce on her wild high school days. Bottoms up girl!

Lauren didn't choose to narrate the show

What is a reality TV series like "Laguna Beach" without the poetic, dramatic lead-in to the episode teed up by its chosen narrator? Lauren Conrad was the voice of Season 1, but the mother of two said she didn't really have a choice. "I was just sort of told I was going to be the narrator, I don't really remember it being a conversation," Conrad said on the "Back to the Beach" podcast.

The role is often seen as an advantage as the reiteration of events is often told from the narrator's perspective. Kristin Cavallari, who narrated Season 2 of the hit series, asked Conrad if she ever "pushed back" on any of the scripts she was given to read. "I don't think I understood I was allowed to," Conrad admitted. The trio all agreed that the difficult position of answering to adults while producing a TV show they all agreed upon often made it difficult to feel like they had a say in the production. "It's their job ... it's not ill will, and everyone has the same response from the show, we would go back and do it all over again," Stephen Colletti added. "It's just so funny how naive you are at that age." 

But with age comes wisdom, and in Conrad's case, so does reality TV. The Little Market founder admitted she found her voice on MTV's spinoff show "The Hills," when she was selected to narrate yet again. "When I got into 'The Hills' I pushed back all the time," Conrad said.   

The cast refuses to rewatch the show

The cast of "Laguna Beach" admits that watching their high school selves back on screen is every bit as cringe-worthy as it seems. On the finale episode of the "Back to the Beach" podcast, it was revealed that many cast members refuse to watch the show back. "I actually haven't watched full episodes ever," Lauren Conrad admitted. "I used to skip over other people's parts and I used to just watch my own," To which Kristin Cavallari quipped back, "Maybe that was smart." But Conrad took the time to rewatch herself in her high school days before joining the podcast saying it was "so much worse than [she] imagined it would be."

"You're the first one that has seen the show since it has aired," Stephen Colletti told Conrad on "BTTB." Cavallari also had a hard time reliving her teenage years on the show. "I blacked it all out of my memory," she confessed. But despite how cringey those memories might be, the platform far outweighs any dignity lost. "I wouldn't be able to build the career I have without it," Conrad said. 

Producers still managed to keep some humanizing moments in the episodes, with graduation and prom being heartwarming events that Colletti, Cavallari, and Conrad happily look back on. "They did a good job of keeping those moments in there, I don't think that would happen today," Conrad added. "They had to keep a storyline, but there was [sic] also parts in there that were very like, this was high school, it feels very nostalgic and sweet."