What is “Storage Wars”?
Millions of reality TV viewers around the world are familiar with “Storage Wars”, the popular American competition series that airs on A&E. Following its December 2010 premiere, the series aired for 12 seasons, with the 13th premiering in April 2021 after a year-long break in filming caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Filmed in California, the show sees professional buyers visit storage facilities in the state, and bid on abandoned lockers. In California, an auctioneer has the right to sell the contents of storage lockers after three months of unpaid rent. Before each locker is auctioned off, the buyers have five minutes to inspect its contents from the door, but aren’t allowed to touch any of the items or enter the locker.
After the day’s auctions, the winning bidders search through the lockers, often consult with experts to appraise certain objects, and estimate how much they’ll make from the contents. At the end, a tally estimates how much the buyers have made or lost.
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At the beginning of each episode, the narrator and executive producer Thom Beers, explains what the show’s about, then at the end of each episode, he recaps the featured buyers’ losses or profits. Thanks to its success, AETN International has sold the series to channels in Norway, Germany, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Ireland, the Netherlands and Singapore to name a few countries.
The first season of “Storage Wars” consisted of 19 well-received episodes, while season two’s premiere becoming A&E’s most-watched program until then, with a staggering 5.1 million viewers. In January 2019, fans were sent into a frenzy after the production team failed to give an update regarding the show being renewed for a 13th season, however, it was announced in March 2021, and premiered a month later, closely followed by season 14 in November that year.
“Storage Wars” has spawned a range of moderately successful spin-offs to date, including “Storage Wars: Barry Strikes Back”, and “Storage Wars: Back to the Locker”, which focuses on the buyers’ best and worst purchases.
Dave Hester, Darrell Sheets, Brandon Sheets, Jarrod Schulz, Brandi Passante, Barry Weiss, and Ivy Calvin are just some of the show’s main buyers.
Dave, known as “The King”, appeared in seasons one to three and five to 12, and is known for his bullish attitude and on-screen spats with Darrell and Brandon. When the series began, Dave was the owner of Costa Mesa’s Newport Consignment Gallery and the Rags to Riches thrift store. Both businesses were closed in June 2011, now as of 2022 he operates the Dave Hester Auctions house.
Having worked as a bid-catcher in auction facilities, by helping auctioneers spot likely bidders, Dave also became famous for his signature catchword: “YUUUP!”. In fact, he even went so far as to sell hats, shirts and other merchandise with the word. In December 2012, he sued the show’s producers for wrongful termination after being fired, with part of the lawsuit being dismissed three months later. Then after being a no-show for season four, Dave returned in March 2014.
Darrell, who has been a permanent fixture of the show since season one, is a storage auction veteran, born and raised in San Diego. Known for his catchphrase – “This is the WOW factor!” – he earns a living through his online store, and by selling his purchased wares at weekly swap meets. According to Darrell, his biggest finds include a letter written by Abraham Lincoln which was sold for $15,000, and four rare Pablo Picasso drawings. Some of his sensational claims include that he once found a plastic-wrapped dead body in a storage locker, said to be the wife of the unit’s owner.
Darrell made history in the season three finale, after buying a locker for $3,600 which contained original artwork by Frank Gutierrez, appraised at $300,000, making it the show’s biggest profit to date.
Brandon, Darrel’s son and partner, was present in seasons one to nine. Despite starting out bidding alongside his father, in later seasons he attended auctions and bid against Darrell for the same units.
Due to budget cuts, Brandon announced in December 2016 that he’d be leaving the show, then soon found a job as a real estate agent in Arizona.
Jarrod and Brandi, also known as “The Young Guns”, are the former owners of a California-based thrift store. During the fourth season, they opened a second location in Long Beach, but it was later revealed that the couple were facing a financial crisis due to the store not making a profit from its opening date. As of 2016, both stores had been permanently closed.
In April 2014, A&E premiered “Brandi & Jarrod: Married to the Job”, a short-lived spin-off series which showed the couple juggling parenthood with being business owners. Fans were disappointed to learn that the duo had actually never married, despite being identified as husband and wife in a few episodes. In the premiere of season 13, it was revealed that Jarrod and Brandi had broken-up, and would henceforth be bidding separately.
Barry, who was a show regular in the first four seasons, is a life-long antique collector and friend of Thom, who joined the show upon his suggestion. Before retiring, he owned a successful produce company with his brother. In June 2013, viewers were shocked upon learning that Barry would not be returning for season five, but just months later, he starred in his spin-off, “Barry’d Treasure”.
Now working as a brand ambassador and spokesperson for Sherwood Valley Casino, Barry returned in season 14, after a years-long hiatus from TV.
Ivy, who joined the series in its third season after Dave’s departure, soon became one of the main buyers thanks to his tenacious personality and outspokenness. The former arena football player and MMA fighter is now the owner of a Palmdale-based thrift store named “Grandma’s Attic”. Often joined on set by his son Ivy Jr., he also regularly bids with his best friend Mary Padian.
Other main buyers include Kenny Crossley, Justin Bryant, Shana Dahan, Edwina Registre, and Rene and Casey Nezhoda.
It goes without saying that the turbulent relationships between the “Storage Wars” cast members are just as entertaining as their bidding wars, or even more so. Dave is the undoubted villain of the show compared to Jarrod, Darrel and Brandi, who are described as the “good guy cast members”, and has been embroiled in countless verbal spats with his colleagues.
Although most viewers believe that the on-screen drama is just for show, the bad blood between Dave and Brandi is genuine. In a live Q&A session, Brandi was asked if Dave was really as much of a jerk as he seemed, to which she succinctly replied: “Yes”. Meanwhile, Dave boldly stated in an interview that he wasn’t there to make friends, but to pay his operating costs and make a profit.
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Given Dave’s history of unpleasant behavior on set, it’s little surprise that the other cast members tend to avoid him – especially the women. TMZ previously reported that he struck Laura Dotson, another buyer, to which she said: “You like hitting a woman? You like knocking a gal on the goddamn ground?”.
Other controversial statements from the veteran bidder include: “Nearly every aspect of the series is faked, even down to the plastic surgery that one of the female cast members underwent, in order to create more ‘sex appeal’ for the show”. Although Dave has a large fanbase, his behavior has led to negative publicity for his auction house, with one review boldly stating that “Hester is trash who buys trash then overestimates its value, just like he overestimates himself”.
As for the other cast members, viewers thought Jarrod and Brandi’s split was a publicity stunt, especially as it was announced in the season 13 premiere – according to People magazine, the former lovebirds went their separate ways after filming season 12.
Since then, Brandi has stated that she isn’t seeing anyone in particular, while online sources have linked Jarrod to a possible new flame named Rochel Beckman.
Unfortunately, the exes haven’t remained on the best of terms. On 30th April 2021, Brandi and Jarrod bumped into each other in an Orange County restaurant, and got into a heated argument which led to Jarrod pushing his ex. Weeks later, he was charged with on one count of misdemeanor domestic violence battery by the Orange County District Attorney.
In November 2021, netizens speculated that Brandi’s close friendship with Kenny, another solo bidder, would lead to them joining forces on the show. According to Brandi, they speak almost every day, with Kenny asking her how she is, and referring to her as “homegirl”.
Dan and Laura Dotson, who have been working in the auction world for decades, and come from an auctioneer background, are considered the show’s most solid couple.
Together, they’ve been running their company for almost four decades, organizing an wide range of auctions around California. The pair have also overcome their fair share of struggles: in season 5, Dan suffered a double brain aneurysm, but Laura’s quick thinking and CPR saved his life.
According to online sources, Casey and Rene have also been together for decades, and together run Bargain Hunters, an impressive 7,000-square-foot San Diego thrift shop. In addition to being paid handsomely for their appearances on “Storage Wars”, the couple also run a YouTube channel.
“Rene has been buying and selling since he was 11 years old,” Casey shared in an interview. “Plus, you can’t get involved in that ‘I am famous’ attitude. We’re working just as hard as we always have!”. Although some cynics doubt their picture-perfect relationship, Casey and Rene assure viewers that they find ways to make their personal and professional partnership work.
Although some of Dave’s scathing past comments are to be taken with a pinch of salt, the general consensus is that “Storage Wars” relies heavily on scripted drama. In a panel discussion sponsored by the National Geographic Channel shortly after Dave’s explosive 2012 lawsuit, Thom admitted that occasionally the production team would combine finds from 20 or 30 lockers in one individual locker, to save time while filming.
With that said, Radar Online previously claimed that a paper trail shows how certain objects were planted in storage units. An anonymous source claimed that the production company compensated cast members for supplying items that were then “discovered” on camera, after being planted in the lockers.
The claims, despite sounding outlandish, were backed up by another anonymous insider, who gave a sit-down interview and alleged that he knew someone whose job was to purchase antiques for the “Storage Wars” production team to plant in storage lockers.
Apparently, producers would also appraise certain items weeks before they were “discovered” by the cast members.
Dave’s lawsuit added that: “While on location filming an auction, Defendants also film footage of the cast members and the public bidding when no actual auction is taking place, in order to make it appear that any of the cast members is bidding at any given auction, whether or not he or she is actually bidding on the unit”.
According to Business Insider, the more established bidders had to pay for their lockers out of their own pockets, while the network helped out the “weaker” cast members by funding their purchases. However, knowledgable sources have pointed out that if it weren’t for help from the network, the bidders with less money to spare would go bankrupt.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Thom also admitted to scripting some interviews with cast members. “There’s some writing involved,” he said. “We do it in ‘Storage Wars’, we do it in ‘America’s Lost Treasures’… I’m so tired of narration driving story”. Apparently, cast members are given “half” of their own lines.
Last but not least, one eagle-eyed viewer found damning evidence of the storage units being purposely rearranged to fit the show’s narrative. In one episode, a locker which was at first full of junk and half-opened boxes was later cleaned up, with the cast discussing how the boxes had been “neatly packaged”. A second shot of the unit showed that the half-opened boxes had been carefully stacked and closed.
Be that as it may, we can all agree that “Storage Wars” makes for entertaining viewing, regardless of possible scripted elements.