JANESVILLE—Eric Richards’ life nearly changed forever in the summer of 2012.

An NBC representative called the South Central Wisconsin Builders Association asking for local builders to apply for a reality show that the TV network wanted to run, originally called “Home Transformers.”

SCWBA Executive Officer Carol Engebretson thought the whole thing was a joke at first.

“I had noticed on my caller ID that I had a missed call from NBC studios,” she said. “I kinda thought, ‘Yeah, right.’ I was skeptical—extremely skeptical.”

After noticing a few more missed calls over the next several days, Engebretson eventually picked up when she saw NBC calling.

The representative said NBC was looking for builders from all over the country to audition for the reality show in Los Angeles, she said. Engebretson emailed SCWBA members and told them they could apply.

Richards did, and he received a call within two days.

The network’s casting company interviewed him several times on the phone and through Skype. He then had to send in a five-minute video showing why he’d make a good pick for the show.

In January 2013, Richards drove to Chicago to do in-person interviews with the casting company. The network did extensive background checks on Richards by contacting his customers, looking at pictures and videos of his work online and even hiring a private investigator.

Richards eventually got the call that he was on the show, and he found himself on a plane to L.A. He went through more interviews, training and psychological evaluations in California.

“It was exciting,” he said. “It was kind of a rush.”

NBC assured Richards he was in and sent him home.

Three months went by, and the show’s focus shifted from architecture to interior design and became “American Dream Builders.”

“I’m a building contractor that has a good feel for shapes and design and layout and structure,” Richards said. “The actual placing of pillows on couches and stuff like that? It’s not really my forte.”


Still, Richards made it through casting for a second time and prepared to fly out to L.A. to begin shooting in November of last year. That’s when his year-and-a-half journey came to an end.

“Literally two days before I fly out there, I get a call, and they say, ‘We cut the cast from 14 to 12. You’re the first one out,’” Richards said.

He jokingly refers to himself as the show’s first loser.

“It’s disappointing,” he said. “You get that far. You’re right there. You can see it. You can taste it, and you can’t quite get there.”

The producers still asked him to fly to California as a backup in case one contestant quit. Richards decided to go because he knew it’d be a unique opportunity, he said.

“The first day of the shoot came, and, lo and behold, no one dropped out, so they threw me on a plane and sent me home,” he said.

In his exit interview, NBC asked Richards if he’d be willing to do a second season. He isn’t sure that he would.

“Business here is first and foremost,” he said. “It would have been extremely hard to be away from my family for that long.”

Of the several thousand applicants for the show, Richards was essentially number 13, a fact he and Engebretson are proud of.

“Obviously, they saw something in me that they liked and saw something in what I do in my business that they liked and that they thought would work out good for the show,” he said.

“He’s got high quality and high standards in the building industry,” Engebretson said. “He thinks outside the box and does something unusual or different from someone else.”

Richards doesn’t regret his decision to apply for the show. Going after something you want is important, he said.

“It’s like anything in life. If it’s something you think you wanna try, go for it,” he said. “Be willing to take every opportunity possible when you can and just run with it.”

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