The Untold Truth Of Fixer Upper

HGTV's Fixer Upper is our favorite home improvement show to marathon on a lazy Sunday, and that's thanks, in large part, to the dynamic husband-and-wife duo of Chip and Joanna Gaines. He's goofy and lovable; she's laid back but all business. On every episode, Chip combines his real estate and construction know-how with Joanna's eye for design (and shiplap) to transform dilapidated homes into real estate and reality TV gold. That's lovely, but let's mine for the lesser known details about this record-breaking series and the couple who makes it all happen.

What is Joanna's ethnicity?

Let's go ahead and get this one out of the way. At some point while watching Fixer Upper, you've probably wondered about Joanna's ethnicity. Is she Native America? Asian? Both?

You're not alone in your curiousity. Joanna gets asked about her background so much that she decided to set the record straight on her blog. "I love hearing all the guesses," she wrote. "Although I did play Pocahontas in high school, I am not Native American. My father is half Lebanese/half German and my mother is full Korean." Now you know. Don't you feel better?

They met because Chip needed his brakes fixed

Chip first set eyes on the love of his life in a family photo her father hung behind the counter of his automotive repair shop. "I knew I'd marry her one day just by the picture on the wall," he told Popsugar, but he needed an excuse to make his move. One day, Chip reportedly came into the shop to have his brakes fixed. Joanna was working in the office.

"We met in the waiting area and hit it off immediately," she told Popsugar. "He was genuinely engaging and he had such a sincere smile." While Chip was smitten, Joanna said she took a few months to let her guard down. "At first, I couldn't believe how kind Chip was—he had kind eyes, and made me laugh a lot. I knew he was the one because I knew I could trust him," she said. Oh, Chip, you sly dog.

Fixer Upper wasn't Joanna's TV debut

Clearly, Joanna's fresh-faced beauty and friendly demeanor factored into HGTV's willingness to center a show around her, but they weren't the first ones to have this thought. As we previously mentioned, Joanna's dad owned an automotive repair shop and cast her in commercials for the store. It's easy to see in the above clip that Joanna is a natural in front of the camera, even if she is talking about tire warranties instead of open floor plans.

A blog post was their lucky break

Fixer Upper's big break began in January 2012, when the Design Mom blog published a post titled, "Living With Kids: Joanna Gaines." A production company reportedly saw the blog, liked a photo of one of her and Chip's designs, and reached out. "They called us and just said, 'Hey, we love that you guys do real estate and you guys work together, that's intriguing,'" she told Glamour. "From there, that's where the whole courtship began."

Fun fact: Joanna was a communications major. Her first design project was the fixer upper she and Chip bought the first year of their marriage.

Chip's surprise houseboat purchase landed the show

It may have been their designs that attracted the attention of HGTV, but when the camera crews first showed up to see if the Gaines family had what it took for reality TV stardom, things didn't go so great. According to the couple's memoir, The Magnolia Story, both Chip and Joanna choked big time in front of the cameras for the first time.

"The crew had me stand in the kitchen and try to make pancakes with the kids hanging off of my legs while Chip was basically sucking his thumb over in the corner," Joanna writes, adding, "I certainly didn't feel natural, and it definitely wasn't fun."

But things took a turn when a massive houseboat arrived, which Chip had purchased unbeknownst to Joanna with the intention of fixing it up and moving the family into it. The ensuing argument over what Joanna described as "the ugliest, rundown-looking, two-story shack of a boat" she'd ever seen was all caught on camera. But so was their quick reconciliation. Joanna soon changed her mind about the boat and starting to rattle off design ideas for its renovation. In that moment, the couple's passionate dynamic and its penchant for risk-taking and creative genius became clear to HGTV. And yes, because we know you are wondering, Joanna floated the idea of using shiplap on the boat. Seriously.

What's the deal with 'Magnolia' anyway?

Even occasional watchers of Fixer Upper will quickly notice a reoccurring theme: magnolia. The couple's real estate business is named Magnolia Realty, and its property renovation company is called Magnolia Homes. The gated community they're building is known as Magnolia Villas, and Joanna's retail store is the Magnolia Market. Their bakery? Magnolia Flour. Their 40-acre home sweet home is called Magnolia Farms. Their bed and breakfast is the Magnolia House. It's safe to assume the word bears significance.

"When we were just dating, I would pick these blooms from Magnolia trees," Chip told Glamour. "If you've ever seen them, they are almost just bowl-like, and that whole thing just always inspired us. So when we had the opportunity and were trying to figure out what to name her little boutique, Magnolia Market just stood out to us."

Now that you are fully prepared to answer Fixer Upper trivia questions about Joanna and Chip, let's talk about some things that happen—or don't happen—on the show itself.

The furniture leaves when the cameras stop rolling

At the end of each episode, homebuyers experience the big reveal—their completely renovated dream home filled with gorgeous furniture. The buyers love it! The audience loves it! But the bookkeepers? Not so much. The furniture on the show is for staging purposes only. If you want to keep it, you can always take out a second mortgage, but we suspect most clients beat feet over to the nearest IKEA.

HGTV doesn't fund renovations

Unlike ABC's former behemoth, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, nobody on Fixer Upper is donating their services or materials to the show. However, HGTV might throw in some money if the property lacks curb appeal. According to the Waco Tribune-Herald, the show, "doesn't fund the renovations, though producers may throw in some extra landscaping or design flourishes."

You need at least $30K in your pocket

Fans of the show know the format: Chip and Joanna show homebuyers three potential properties; the buyers fall in love with one; the co-hosts work their magic. If it seems very storybook, and that's because it is. According to the Hooked on Houses blog, Fixer Upper prefers "you already have a fixer upper before applying to be on the show. That means the house-hunting we see in the first half hour is probably just for entertainment purposes." As for the renovation itself? The blog said homeowners must be prepared to invest at least $30,000 in the project and follow the Gaineses' lead.

Fixer Upper is fixing Waco, TX

When most people think of Waco, Texas, the first image that comes to mind is the U.S. government's 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian compound. During the siege, 76 followers of cult leader David Koresh died in a fire that was broadcast live on television. You may also recall the 2015 biker shootout that left nine dead. The city's battered image may be improving thanks to Fixer Upper. In a 2016 article in the The Dallas Morning News, residents of Waco credited the show's popularity with rejuvenating the community's public image. "...all around the world, you can say Waco and people automatically have images." said Baylor Professor Robert Darden. " I think, now, there's more Fixer Upper than David Koresh."

Chip's former business partners sued him

Though the Magnolia brand has become a juggernaut in the home and living space, it was not solely the brainchild of Chip and Joanna. In fact, according to the Waco Tribune-Herald, the entire thing started out as Magnolia Realty, a teeny tiny real estate firm founded by Chip, his lawyer buddy, John L. Lewis, and another friend, Richard L. Clark. That's cool, right? A small business hit it big with a lucky break on a reality TV show. But ask yourself this: Have you ever seen Lewis or Clark on Fixer Upper? Right.

According to Chip's former business partners, that's because the Waco construction guru allegedly bought them out of the business—for $2,500 each—just two days before the announcement that HGTV had picked up the show, and despite allegedly negotiating with the network for more than a year. Four years later, Magnolia Realty, as we've previously mentioned, has ballooned into Magnolia everything, leaving Lewis and Clark feeling like they were left in the dust.

The result of the falling-out is a lawsuit filed by the jilted Magnolia partners. It names "Chip Gaines; Magnolia Realty; Scripps Networks, the company that owns HGTV; and High Noon Productions, the company that produces Fixer Upper," and seeks more than $1 million in damages. As of this writing, there hasn't been much movement on the suit, but Gaines' attorney has dismissed it as "meritless" and claimed it's just a product of "people try to take advantage of the hard work and success of Chip and Joanna Gaines."

Controversy over their "anti-gay church"

In November of 2016, Buzzfeed ran an article titled "Chip And Joanna Gaines' Church Is Firmly Against Same-Sex Marriage." The article centered mostly on a 2015 sermon by Antioch Community Church Pastor Jimmy Seibert delivered shortly after the Supreme Court's reversal of DOMA, which effectively legalized same-sex marriage in the United States. In his remarks, Seibert claimed the church's position aligns with that of the Bible, alleging that "marriage is between 'one man and one wife.'" Buzzfeed reported that Seibert advocates for so-called "conversion therapy"—the controversial practice of faith-based counseling to reverse homosexuality. Given their connection to the church, are the Gaineses against same-sex marriage?

The backlash to the story was immediate. Conservative-leaning media outlets slammed Buzzfeed for shaming HGTV's famous hosts over their alleged religious views. HGTV issued a statement saying they "have a crystal clear, consistent record of including people from all walks of life in its series," and there is no discrimination against the LGBT community in any of its shows.

As for Chip and Joanna, they never publicly responded to the article. Chip, however, did respond to the general controversy in a post on the couple's At Home blog in January 2017. He wrote about his and Joanna's desire to "help initiate conversations between people that don't think alike," adding, "Disagreement is not the same thing as hate, don't believe that lie." He also stressed that they "operate from a position of love in all things [his emphasis]," but that they "are not about to get in the nasty business of throwing stones at each other."

Divorce and show exit rumors

For anyone who's seen even a single episode of Fixer Upper, the idea that Chip and Joanna's marriage is on shaky ground is pretty unbelievable. As is the idea that Joanna would ever leave the show and/or their absolutely thriving array of businesses to hawk some kind of "miracle" skin cream. But regardless of the incredulity of both rumors, fans freaked out at the prospect of their favorite reality TV home renovators parting ways.

The debunking site, Snopes, tracked the origin of the skin cream rumor to two different marketing scam publications that claimed to be featured in People, Cosmopolitan, Vanity Fair, and Women's Health. In response to the uproar, Joanna penned a blog post aptly titled, "Don't Believe Everything You Read" to shut down several rumors, including one about the couple moving its business to Vegas. "YES! We are currently filming season 5 of the show. No! I am not getting into the business of facial creams. And No! We are not expecting baby #5. And no worries, believing some of these stories happens to the best of us," she wrote.

As for the divorce rumors, Chip handled those with a single tweet. In response to a fan tweeting about how "sick" she was of hearing divorce rumors, Chip replied, "Won't ever happen.. you can take that to the bank! #loveOfMyLife."

They aren't thrilled that some renovations became rentals

One of the byproducts of being featured on a reality show is the inevitable heightened interest from fans. In the case of Fixer Upper, this apparently applies not only to the stars of the show but also to the owners of the flipped properties, some of whom, have turned their renovated gems into vacation rentals, according to the Waco Tribune-Herald.

Having your property featured on the show is essentially a free one-hour commercial should you decide to rent it. The problem with that, according to Magnolia spokesman Brock Murphy, is that it goes against "the true intent" of the show, which is "to do remodels for clients' homes," not for their investment properties. Murphy also says that while the company has no problems with their non-TV clients turning their renovated homes into investment properties, they do intend to address the issue in "contracts involving Fixer Upper clients moving forward."

They don't own a TV

This is kind of a familiar trope with a lot of celebrities—they have an amazing lifestyle thanks to TV, but they don't let their kids watch it. It does sort of smell hypocritical, especially in the case of Chip and Joanna, who once told ET, "I tell the kids that you are probably not going to get a cell phone," to which we can already hear a sassy teen responding with, "Oh really, Mom? That's cool, because how exactly would you be able to run your fifty thousand businesses without modern technology?"

But there's also the possibility that the ultra busy family just has no time for binge-watching Netflix. In that same interview, ET visits their 40-acre farm where they keep "everything from turkeys to longhorn cattle." How they maintain livestock on top of everything else they have going on is mind-boggling. Maybe all of Joanna's talk about "going outside" and "connecting with nature" is just code for "Those cows aren't going to milk themselves, kids."

A Fixer Upper gone bad

After a drunk driver plowed into Ken and Kelly Downs' Fixer Upper-featured home, the renewed media interest in the property revealed that the couple wasn't exactly happy with their dream flip. According to the Waco Tribune-Herald, the homeowners, whose home was nicknamed "Three Little Pigs" on the show, said they "feel deceived by the city of Waco and Magnolia Realty" because of problems they've had with the surrounding neighborhood.

Among their complaints, they cite "late-night noise from nearby bars, suspicious activity," and "anti-Fixer Upper" pushback from neighbors who became upset when Ken and Kelly complained to police. The homeowners questioned "why Magnolia Realty showed them a property in such an area." Of course, one could ask the homeowners why they didn't take a peek around the hood before buying the house—after all, a bar across the street should be pretty noticeable—but we'll leave the witty responses up to Chip and his Twitter account. As of this writing, neither Magnolia nor the the Fixer Upper stars have responded to the Downs' complaints.