Reasons American Pickers Is Totally Fake

The History Channel has a knack for binge-worthy reality shows — from taking us on a wild ride through the dangerous highways of Ice Road Truckers to gifting us with the wonderfully strange, gator-hunting Swamp People. Nestled between that line-up of the bizarre and dangerous is the decidedly low-stakes American Pickers, which managed to carve its own niche between similar antique-flipping shows like Storage Wars, Pawn Stars and Flea Market Flip, thanks in large part to the chemistry between stars Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz.

Millions tune in to watch Wolfe and Fritz travel the country in search of hidden gems. Instead of combing auctions and flea markets, the pair digs through old warehouses, junkyards, and treasure troves that are decidedly off the beaten path. Like any real-life business shown through the lens of a TV camera, fans have long questioned the authenticity of the show. The line between real and scripted is often a blurry one, and Pickers certainly wavers around the edges. From legal trouble to scripted scenes, here are some reasons why elements of American Pickers are totally fake.

Are their picker credentials up to par?

Reality television is always at least a little bit manipulated. Some shows direct with a heavier hand than others, but most fall in a purgatory between documentary and scripted show. In this regard, American Pickers is probably no different. According to a report on Killer Media, it's extremely likely that cast members are asked to repeat lines in a studio. This is a common trick called "looping" or "automated dialog replacement," which is typically done when something goes wrong with the sound recording on-set (i.e. an airplane flies by, the line was delivered poorly, etc.)

American Pickers has long faced scrutiny for being scripted, but it goes a lot deeper than ADR. Some allege that Mike Wolfe is the only actual picker on the series. Before starring on the show, Wolfe's business partner and childhood friend, Frank Fritz, was a fire and safety inspector for 25 years. Despite his unrelated career choice, The History channel claims Fritz had a lifelong passion for collecting. He reportedly quit his job and launched Frank's Finds in 2002, and quickly found out that his business overlapped with Wolfe's. It was Wolfe who supposedly convinced Fritz to create a show about their work. 

They don't always haggle, but they do nab good deals

The hallmark of American Pickers is the way Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz haggle over hidden gems, which they later flip for a mega profit. They're such notoriously great dealmakers that the internet is rife with tips about how to achieve their skills. C'mon, don't try to pretend you don't walk into every yard sale hoping to "pick" a treasure. Unfortunately, most people probably wouldn't take Wolfe and Fritz's bait in real life.

While there's no denying these two stars have some deal-cutting skills, they may not actually use their talents on their TV show. According to an IGN user whose dad supposedly communicated with the show, selling prices were discussed in advance over the phone. The insider also claimed the show tried to "hardcore rip us off" with low offers on antique signs and a 1936 Schwinn Excelsior C bicycle. 

They don't always follow through with their deals

There's nothing like a lawsuit to bring your true business practices to light. The stars of American Pickers paint themselves to be honest business people who follow-through on handshake deals and always offer a good price, but that may not be the case, at least according to Jerry Bruce, who sued the show after it allegedly failed to hold up its end of a contract.

According to USA Today, Bruce is an auctioneer whose life dream is to open a museum that depicts country life between the 1840s and 1900s. His interest was piqued when he saw a polarimeter, a device used in the 1800s to measure the sugar content in alcohol, in a 2010 episode of American Pickers. He contacted Fritz to buy the device and claims the picker agreed to sell it for $300 plus shipping. Fritz reportedly sent a confirmation via text message but never followed through with the sale. Fritz didn't cash the check, and Bruce never got his precious item.

Bruce took his claim to court on the ground of breach of contract — and won. He was reportedly awarded $1,000, plus $80 in court costs because Fritz failed to respond to the pleadings.

Producers are the real pickers

Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz often uncover hidden gems in unconventional locales, like abandoned warehouses or closed-down Cracker Barrels in Middle America. You may wonder how they manage to find these low-key goldmines, but it turns out they have a lot of help. The real American pickers are arguably the show's production staff.

According to Ken Young, whose Ken's Toys shop was featured on the show, locations are scouted by producers in advance of filming. If they find a place that looks promising, they don't send out Wolfe and Fritz. Instead, they send a representative (someone Young referred to as a "snoop") who looks around and decides if there's anything worth buying.

"We had a three-week lead before they came," Young told the San Angelo Standard-Times, noting that the actual filming took about 10 hours and included a food truck for lunch. (Apparently, this show is also picky about its food.)

Practice makes for perfect TV

It's fairly common for reality shows to recreate scenes. Does that make the whole show totally fake? It depends on your idea of "reality." In shows such as HGTV's Fixer Upper, house-hunting scenes are staged. In the History channel's Pawn Stars, deals are supposedly arranged in advance. In American Pickers, some of its so-called "reality" also involves recreated scenes.

According to Rob Dinkins, a South Carolina-based auctioneer, scenes were recreated in order for camera crews to get the perfect, TV-worthy shot. Dinkins discussed these "filming tricks" with the South Carolina Radio Network. " go from one room to the next, you have to do that, like three times. They've got to film you leaving the room, then they've got to film you coming into the room."

All-in-all, filming the crew's visit to his old ice manufacturing plant took about 14 hours — a heck of a lot longer than a picker would normally spend checking out knickknacks. Despite the lengthy workday and the production embellishments, Dinkins was pleased with the result. "They made it look simple and easy and made you feel comfortable," he said. "Fed you lunch. They took care of everything. They were prepared."

The stories are more important than the stuff

American Pickers is a TV show, so when the cameras are rolling, the story has got to be good. Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz have introduced us to a bevy of curious characters, including the aforementioned Hobo Jack, as well as Mole Man Ron. Their interesting stories have helped the show amass more than 5.7 million viewers nationwide, so it's fair to say that the people behind the picks matter a whole lot more than the actual finds.

According to Rob Dinkins, a guy whose ice manufacturing plant was featured on the show, his rich backstory was probably the reason he nabbed his 15 minutes of fame. He told South Carolina Radio Network. "A lot of the time, it's not what they buy. It's the person or the story or the location that they're talking about is what makes the show interesting."

Ken Young, of Ken's Toys, also admitted that when dealing with Wolfe and Fritz, they "wanted the story as much as the item." In other words, the show is willing to let the business side slide to keep it interesting.

Danielle Colby Cushman was 'picked' for her looks

Danielle Colby Cushman is a staple on American Pickers, and she's known for her unique aesthetic — cat-eye makeup, tattoos (she's got more than 30) and boho style. The truth is, that's one of the reasons Colby was hired. Mike Wolfe admitted that he brought her on board, in part, because of her looks.

In fact, Colby is a show biz veteran. She was — and still is — a professional burlesque dancer. According to the Times Free Press, she spends hours practicing for her performances, though she does depend on American Pickers to make ends meet. She reportedly logs a 2-hour commute three to four days a week to work at Wolfe's Antique Archaeology shop in Nashville, and she helped open the Pickers' second shop in Music City. She also owns her own store called 4 Miles to Memphis. So, while Colby may have started as a burlesque dancer with some business savvy, she has certainly made a name for herself as a star picker on the show.

Fritz had trouble with the law

Frank Fritz may not be the jovial jokester we see when cameras are rolling. The American Pickers star reportedly has a hidden dark side. Behind the scenes, he battled substance abuse and faced possible jail time after being caught driving under the influence.

According to WQAD 8, Fritz was arrested in July 2017, after Iowa State Police responded to numerous 911 calls about a silver pickup truck driving the wrong way on Interstate 80. The police report indicated that Fritz failed a field sobriety test and "had slurred speech and admitted to drinking a beer and taking a dosage of Xanax." The picker reportedly reached a plea deal that required one year of unsupervised probation, a $625 fine, and a mandatory substance evaluation program. 

Needless to say, Fritz probably won't be driving the Pickers van anytime soon.

Hobo Jack isn't a hobo at all

Hobo Jack, who's real name is Jack Sophir, has appeared on American Pickers multiple times. He owns a unique treasure trove in rural Litchfield, Ill. and has even ventured to Mike Wolfe's Pickin' Corner shop in Nashville, Tenn. Though Wolfe describes Hobo Jack's spot as "one of the best honey holes we have ever had the chance to dig into," that nickname is misleading.

According to an interview with Traveling Adventures of a Farm Girl, Sophir never referred to himself as Hobo Jack before the show. He did call himself "Backwoods Jack" because he lived in a rural part of Illinois, but Wolfe supposedly invented the "Hobo" moniker for television. Contrary to what Wolfe's nickname may suggest, Sophir is no vagabond. He attends weekly auctions and reportedly added a dozen buildings to his property to showcase the items he's collected over the years. He's also a prolific writer and musician whose created numerous albums and books. In a 2010 interview with The Journal-News, Sophir said he was working on two fiction novels and some poetry.

Wolfe and Fritz lead separate lives

Wolfe and Fritz have been friends since the eighth grade, and as adults, it still seems like they spend every waking minute together. As two antique collectors who appear to be in a permanent dudes-only road trip, they've fielded more than a few rumors about their sexuality (and inspired more than a couple weird fan fictions.) Truth be told: Fritz and Wolfe are pretty darn straight. 

In 2012, Wolfe married his longtime girlfriend, Jodi Faeth, after more than 17 years together. As of 2015, Fritz was dating a woman named Diane, though there's not a lot known about her aside from a few pictures.

We hate to break it to you, but Fritz and Wolfe also aren't as close as they appear on TV. In fact, they live in totally different cities. Wolfe resides in Tennessee; Fritz lives in Illinois. "Although people think we're connected at the hip, we do have separate lives," Fritz told the crowd at a festival. 

That's strangely disappointing. 

The transportation is staged

And speaking of that iconic van: American Pickers would be nothing without all the travel Wolfe and Fritz do to find treasure in the trash, but the show has long fielded rumors that the transportation scenes are staged. If you watch the show, you might assume these two spends hours together on the open road chatting about life as they fill their custom van with antique discoveries. 

However, there's actually a lot more going on that you don't see on TV. During an appearance at FRY Fest in Coralville, Iowa (via Hoopla), Fritz reportedly explained that the team travels with a fleet of vehicles that includes a U-Haul truck, multiple vans, a motorhome, and a huge crew. "Fritz joked that when you see them load an antique into their white van on the show, they often take it right back out of the van once the camera's turned off and put it into the larger U-Haul truck," reported Hoopla