I Was On 'Trading Spaces' (And My Friends Still Talk To Me)

by Tina Drakakis
Originally Published: 
Two old photographs of Tina Drakakis, a former ‘Trading Spaces’ star
Tina Drakakis

My friends saw this coming. Hell yeah, they did.

They all knew without a doubt there was no way I was ever getting to the premiere of the Trading Spaces reboot without shouting “I DID THAT!” from as many soapboxes that’d hold me.

Tina Drakakis

The truth is, with the exception of tearing up Nashville on my milestone birthday, getting on that ubiquitous show (gulp) fifteen years ago was THE most significant fun I’ve ever had. That it threw me into the pop culture spotlight was more than this publicity-whore could ever fathom.

We had the great fortune of coming in at Season 4, at the height of the show’s popularity. Ratings were soaring so they’d decided to blow out all the stops to keep the momentum steamrolling: with cameras rolling to catch our genuine reactions, we four unsuspecting friends were told our decorating budgets had been increased from $1000 …. to $50,000 (Insert string of disbelieving emojis, which weren’t even a thing back in 2003). We had been selected for their Trading Spaces: 100 Grand! 2-hour special and like Ed McMahon showing up with a cardboard check the size of a canoe, we hit the jackpot.

We spent the weekend listening to Ty Pennington strumming his guitar at night. We saw just how scripted unscripted television really is. And we formed favorites in the cast (who was our least favorite? I’d tell you in person only – winking emoji).

Tina Drakakis

It was quite spectacular.

The episode had been pre-planned with nary a nod in our direction. To them, we were more props than people, but we happily went along for the ride. Sponsors had been lined up for months and we sat back and watched as trucks of furnishings, appliances, electronics, and plasma TVs (again, the year is 2003 so this was a very Jetsons-like moment) just appeared.

Tina Drakakis

I cried into my lapel mic that unless someone in my graduating class had scaled Mt. Everest that summer I was definitely going to be the hottest sh*t at my upcoming high school reunion. I was.

For a full two weeks following the reveal, after we’d moved back in, given away our old furniture to stunned friends and neighbors and tried to resume a normal life (no easy feat since we were expected to keep things under wraps until our episode aired at the height of sweeps week eight weeks later). I would still come downstairs in the mornings and become overwhelmed with emotion. I’d look around in disbelief, feeling the adrenaline and exhaustion of the experience come flooding back and sob. Every morning.

Tina Drakakis

I’d dry my tears before the kids came bounding down and did my best to keep them – ages 2 through 10 — off of $800 white chairs and a $4,500 silk rug and far, far away from a $1,600 table lamp. Side note: 15 years later those chairs, though no longer white (fabric spray paint!) are still holding up and the lamp has survived multiple close calls (because, boys). Not so lucky for the $5,000 plasma TV. Hey. There’s only so much four kids can control (and rumor has it they’re blaming me for that one), but it’s all good.

The publicity for the show’s premiere was behemoth. We were a segment on the Today show, appeared in USA Today and dominated our own local newspapers for weeks. After the show aired, I was stopped in parking lots. Yes, that was me; yes, I’m still using coupons (laughing emoji). Whatever they did was lightning in a bottle: our 2-hours on basic cable garnered the highest ratings a non-network show had ever seen. And they did it without Twitter. Imagine that.

Tina Drakakis

To promote the show’s reboot they’ve been showing lots of old episodes to drum up hype, but I know mine won’t be aired. My episode aired at the height of its popularity and it was the first of many gimmicks they employed to breathe new life into a show that inevitably saw a revolving door of cast changes. I get it. It happens to the best of shows (we got over it, Mr. Clooney, but we certainly missed our Dr. Ross when you bailed). I know they’ve gone back to basics to give the people what they enjoyed the first go-round, but that’s okay, I concur with the smart move (and really, I have a VHS. Again, all good).

We’ve since moved out of our Trading Spaces house and have downgraded to rugs from Home Goods but we keep some framed pictures around the place to remember our good fortune. Plus, I’ve got a killer scrap book from that time.

I’ll likely talk about it forever, but I guess a once in a lifetime experience like that gets a permanent hall pass. My friends know I still find ways to sneak it into random (cough, deliberate) conversations and they tolerate me all the same. True story: I was recently sitting at a restaurant bar chatting with a feisty senior next to me, a fellow Friday-happy-hour-early-bird-special-enthusiast. She was describing where she lived and — not even kidding — OUT OF THE BLUE said her house was “right near where that TV show came to town.” I think I may have slapped her shoulder. My eyes lit up and I stage whispered “That was us.” My husband actually kicked me but it was for naught; she didn’t even hear me so I let that one go.

Tina Drakakis

I wrote about it all those years ago (check it out here) and due to the statute of limitations that my kids have imposed I probably have to move along from writing about it ever again and simply be content with my memories. I think I can do that.

But I would tell you anything you want to know. Go ahead. Just ask.

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