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It’s hard to pin point exactly what is was about the reality television show The Hills that has me penning this article thirteen years on. On May 31 2006 in the 10pm timeslot, the MTV network in the United States aired the first episode of it’s newest reality program; one that would follow the personal and professional lives of four young, all-American women living in Los Angeles. Two seasons in and the reviews had gone from “mediocre” to “insanely watch-able”, each scene carefully crafted to spark national (and international) conversation.
LA was suddenly reduced to a mini-microcosm which focused in on the happenings at Les Deux nightclub or The Villas at Park La Brea on West 6th Street.
Packed up into a nice little edited package, the now cult’ish The Hills was presented to us every week, bookmarked by Natasha Bedingfield’s anthemic and octave-climbing track Unwritten. Staring at the blank page before you/Open up the dirty window… you know the one. And oh, how the nostalgia now floods. But how did viewers stay invested for so long? And why, more than a decade later, do we still care about what Lauren, Heidi and Audrina are up to?
Today, Audrina Patridge has a theory. In an Australian exclusive, the now 33-year-old mother and swimwear designer says the new television formula and subsequent longevity meant viewers became hooked on the cast’s every move. “The show came at a point in time where there weren’t many reality TV shows like it. In the beginning, The Hills was very real, it was very genuine,” says Patridge, her voice sweet. “It was about four girls becoming friends and making it in LA and dating. It was something that had not been done yet and I think people care so much now because they grew up with us.
“I started filming when I was 18-years-old and I didn’t finish until I was 25. People went on that journey with us, we were so young and going through so much. The thing is, we’re still young and after following our dating lives and our friendship ups and downs and the emotional roller coasters at parties, people are interested in that next chapter of our lives and who we’re marrying and what’s next.”
Even after the show, the cameras never did stop and, to Patridge’s point, neither did the narrative. And while her story continues to play out in the media, the pace of life has slowed down.
In 2005, producers aptly discovered Patridge lying poolside at Lauren Conrad and Heidi Montag’s apartment building. From here, cameras with boom mics in tow followed the girls for a whole year before footage was even cut together and aired. “They didn’t really know a lot about us or how we could fit together and what story they were going to create,” says Patridge. “We didn’t really have any time off. One day we might film going out at night and then the next day we’d have to film lunch or breakfast to talk about what happened and then maybe film a date that night and the day after that we’d go shopping. That was my life. It certainly wasn’t shooting for three months and then you have three months off.”
In the first few seasons, going on dates was what Patridge became known for. But the reasoning behind this storyline was more complicated than you would imagine because, dates aside, the guy she was actually interested in, known as Justin “Justin Bobby” Brescia, wasn’t at all interested in being on the show. And as Patridge had a “reality” outside of her “reality show”, producers began to grow tired of her storyline, and instead she became Conrad and Montag’s sounding board. And a good one at that.
Still, with the only real romantic relationship on the show being the outrageous Heidi and Spencer Pratt, audiences (and producers alike) yearned for something a little more relatable that wasn’t Conrad’s ex, Jason Wahler. Enter Justin Bobby.
It was the third season and Patridge had finally convinced him to appear on the show, her bargaining chip being if he was going to be with her, he had to be filmed on camera. Cloaked in dark clothes and the poster boy for the relationship slogan, “When something is working, you don’t f—k it up with labels,” Brescia, in all his tattoos and leather, became the mysterious bad boy who could never commit.
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Turns out, he couldn’t quite commit to filming either. Producers found it difficult to confirm dates with Brescia and subsequently they couldn’t confirm cameras. “You could get the President to come sooner than you could get Justin Bobby to film a scene,” said one producer.
“The cast were talking to the producers on a daily basis so if something happened, they instantly knew and the cameras were there that night or the next day,” explains Patridge. “They would ideally want us to talk about it, instead of reenact it.” He also was known as the homeboy who wore combat boots to the beach, as Conrad so eloquently put it.
The relationship between Patridge and Brescia was one audiences became heavily invested in. Every girl has that one guy, I explain to Patridge, and Brescia was definitely that one guy to her. So what was it like being young and with a guy who didn’t want the label?
“It was tough, you know,” she says.
“I was in my early 20s and Justin didn’t want a commitment so I’d go and date other guys and he’s get mad at me.”
“The fight was always the same. I’d say ‘Well, you can’t get mad at me if you don’t want to be committed, so I’m allowed to date other people’. But he didn’t want me to but you can’t do that, that’s not fair. It was a constant struggle and I wasn’t used to that and then I had to go through it on camera.”
For me, there were a couple of scenes that stood out as wins in the Patridge/Brescia on-again-off-again-but-were-they-really-on-in-the-first-place saga. You may recall the scene where Patridge called Brescia to meet up for drinks. With new honey-coloured highlights and the leather jacket she knew he loved on her, Patridge didn’t waste any time getting to the point. “I’ve come to say goodbye, don’t call me, don’t text me, we’re done,” she told an aloof Brescia as she got up from the table, putting her bag over her shoulder.
“That was actually real!” exclaims Patridge. “ I just started seeing someone new and every time I started dating someone else, he would creep back into my life and I would always fall for him again and ruin my new thing. So at that point, I was fired up. I was like, “Okay, I’m ready. Let’s do this. I’m not letting him suck me back in.’
I felt stronger than ever and I told him that and I was like, ‘This is it. Don’t call me, don’t text me, leave me alone. I’m ending this for the good,’ because there were so many games, you know? You get to a point where you’re completely over it.”
The hard part was, producers wanted Patridge to continue the relationship with Brescia for the show, an order that put great strain on her relationship in real life. “The show still wanted me to be in love with Justin and they wanted me to fight with Kristen. At that point, it was ruining my real life relationship because I had to keep faking all these scenes and it was starting to affect my reputation and my work. I had to eventually talk to the producers and say no,” says Patridge.
“It was definitely looking like I was always desperate and wanted Justin all the time and that was probably the hardest thing for me because it wasn’t like that.”
Regardless, the duo remained the couple you rooted for. You wanted them to have that happy ending. You wanted Brescia to mature and turn his light on and want Patridge in the same way she wanted him and not be a complete d—k to her. Because they could have been great together. Nearing the end of season six – and after Kristen Cavallari had too “dated” Brescia (“I refused to film scenes with them because their relationship was done strictly for ratings” says Patridge), the reality star showed Brescia what he was missing. Big-time fans will recall the scene where Brescia stole the flower Patridge’s former-husband Corey Bohan had given her. But it was her body that the bad boy couldn’t stop looking at.
Patridge laughs as I recall the scene.
“Lauren and I a personal trainer that we’d go to,” she says. “We worked out all the time and were on a strict diet. I was eating healthy and cooking all the time.”
I interject and ask her if she keeps in contact with Conrad.
“I’ve talked to Kristen, I’ve talked to Heidi and every now and then I see Brody,” says Patridge. “I haven’t talked to Lauren since the finale.”
As startling as that claim is, we resume talking about Brescia. And Patridge – who married Australian BMX rider Bohan in 2016 (he was one of the guys she hung out on The Hills. They share a daughter but have since split) – has some advice for GRAZIA women who may be in a label-less relationship, one where you know you shouldn’t be with him but, gosh, you can’t help it.
“If there’s a red flag, run,” she says. “Don’t try to force yourself to be someone that is not giving you 100 percent. I was so trusting all the time and always hopeful. Sometimes people show you who they really are and it’s right in front of you. Take it for what it is, don’t make excuses for how they are and be like, ‘OK, this is not good for me. If you don’t want to be with me in the way I want to be treated, then bye, see you later’.”
If only this strong character was written into her on-screen narrative. For now though, with her little daughter in tow, the rest is actually beautifully written.