Extreme wish: Local teen visits set of TV home makeover showWORTHINGTON — Stephanie Romero talks about Ty, Pauly, Paige and Michael — some of the principle cast members of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” — like she knows them personally. That’s because she does.
By: Beth Rickers, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Stephanie Romero talks about Ty, Pauly, Paige and Michael — some of the principle cast members of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” — like she knows them personally.
That’s because she does.
Stephanie and her family recently had the opportunity to visit the set of “Extreme Makeover” while the show was in Joplin, Mo., building seven homes in seven days in celebration of its 200th episode.
For Stephanie, a sophomore at Worthington High School, it was the opportunity of a lifetime — a shining moment after a year of uncertainty that followed a cancer diagnosis. A lump in her right hand was first discovered during a bit of sibling roughhousing.
“Me and my sister were fighting, and she pulled my finger, and that pushed the tumor out,” recalled Stephanie about the abnormality that up until then had remained hidden.
Initially, it was diagnosed as a benign cyst.
“They were sure this wasn’t cancer — 100 percent positive it wasn’t,” Stephanie said.
But a biopsy indicated a carcinoma of the muscle or tissue, and Stephanie’s case was referred to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. The lump was removed about a year ago, and during a subsequent surgery, the pinky finger on her right hand was amputated. The missing digit is hardly noticeable to the casual observer.
“Lucky for me, I’m left-handed,” noted Stephanie.
One of Stephanie’s doctors at Mayo is involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and encouraged her to apply for the program that grants requests for children who have been diagnosed with life-threatening conditions.
As she pondered the possibilities, Stephanie narrowed her choices down to two: a trip to the Bahamas or an “Extreme Makeover” experience. But as an avid viewer of “EM: HE,” for Stephanie there was really only one choice. When her wish was granted, Stephanie was ecstatic, knowing she’d get a behind-the-scenes view of her favorite TV show.
“I remember the very first episode I watched five years ago,” Stephanie explained. “This boy, 19, was legally blind and had mental disabilities, but he played in the band. It really inspired me.”
Stephanie also admits to being a bit enamored of the show’s host, Ty Pennington.
“But I really like how they help other people, although it’s really emotional,” she added. “I cry every time.”
On a weekend in late October, Stephanie and her family — parents Enrique and Heidi, older sister Brianna and 3½-year-old brother Alex — boarded a plane for the trek that would eventually get them to Joplin, a community that in May was ravaged by a tornado, killing 162 people and destroying more than 2,000 buildings.
Stephanie had hoped to participate in the actual build, which would result in new homes for seven families who had lost everything in the tornado, but due to liability issues, that wasn’t possible, so she had to settle for witnessing the reveal. After some relaxing and sightseeing, the Romeros were finally transported to the set as the final push was on in preparation for the unveiling.
“We got VIP passes, and everywhere we went we got to ride in a limo,” described Stephanie. “When we got there, everyone was running around. We got there on Day 5, and everyone was trying to finish everything up. There were 12,000 volunteers — a lot of people in blue shirts.”
Stephanie’s party was assigned a guide, Jason, who provided glimpses into the inner workings of the show and introduced her to the cast and crew.
“We got to see the houses — see inside — before they were totally finished,” Stephanie said. “One of them was an eco-house — the family is tree-huggers, I guess you’d call them. There were some really unique rooms that really fit the kids. The houses were all on the same block, and there was this connected garden thing — a healing garden.”
One of the highlights, of course, was coming face to face with her celebrity crush, and meeting the show’s designers.
“I got to meet Ty,” said Stephanie, her eyes lighting up with the recalled excitement of the moment. “He came out of his RV and did a signature and picture with me. He has this really raspy voice. I also met Paige (Hemmis) … and Michael (Moloney) was in the area where we ate. He even winked at me one time.”
She spent the most time, however, with designer Paul “Pauly” DiMeo.
“He was nice. He wanted me to go everywhere with him,” said Stephanie, who didn’t get to do any actual work but helped DiMeo “order people around. They shot a scene while I was there, although it might just be my back.”
Stephanie’s face did get on camera, but not for the actual “EM: HE” show.
“I felt like a designer. I had two interviews with local news stations,” she said.
For the show’s climactic moment — the big reveal when the recipient family yells “Move that bus!” — Stephanie had a front-row seat. Because this episode entailed reveals for seven families, the filming took a long time, and the bus was moved over and over again.
The Romeros shared the “Extreme” experience with another Make-A-Wish family — the Aquinos from Guam, whose daughter, Jolynn, 17, suffers from lupus, a long-term autoimmune disorder.
“We spent the whole day with them, and they stayed at the same hotel,” Stephanie explained. “Jolynn has to take a lot of medicines. I felt bad, because my cancer is gone and it hasn’t come back, and she has to deal with that everyday. Now I’m on Facebook with her, and I want to visit there when I get older. … After the site, we made plans to go out to eat with them, so we went to Red Lobster, because they didn’t have one in Guam. They said the lobster in America is better than in Guam.”
There are some other moments in her “Extreme” adventure that Stephanie will never forget: Being recognized — and called by name — by the main cast members; making friends with two building crew members who were staying in the same hotel; Ty high-fiving people as he zoomed past on a skateboard.
Now that Stephanie has returned to life as a high school student and her part-time job at Prairie House, the time spent on the set of “EM: HE” may seem like a distant dream, although little brother Alex continues to yell “Move that bus!” at every opportunity. She’s anxious for the Joplin episode to air — it’s tentatively scheduled for Jan. 20 — and put the finishing touches on her own once-in-a lifetime “Extreme” experience.
“All my friends have really been getting into it,” said Stephanie. “There are a lot of people who want to watch it with me.”