Recurring “Storage Wars” bidder Mark Balelo was found dead in his car at his auction house in Simi Valley, outside of Los Angeles on Monday. TMZ first reported the story and also says that the death was a suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. Days earlier Balelo was arrested for a drug-related offense.
Balelo made appearances on the show in the second and third seasons as a flashy, high-roller type of bidder who would come and spend big money on lockers but would typically come up short.
There’s a fine line that any reality TV show needs to walk when it comes to how orchestrated the show is nowadays as competition increases and audiences become more savvy. If the show is good enough, audiences are willing to bury their heads in the sand a bit and appreciate a show even if elements of it are orchestrated or even outright faked. Reality shows that are more on the soap opera end of the reality spectrum can get away with this more easily than competition based reality shows. Shows such as “Teen Mom” or “The Bachelor,” which would make any seasoned viewer question their validity, still have very loyal audiences because, even if it isn’t 100% genuine, they deliver exactly what their fans want, drama. Competition shows need to be on the up and up because all they really have going for them is the validity of the competition. I could be wrong, but I feel if it were revealed that the winner of “Survivor,” for example, was handpicked by production and contestant votes were faked, it would spell the end of the show.
A&E’s hit “Storage Wars” is hard to place on the reality spectrum. On one hand, it has a consistent cast which were clearly brought in to fill certain roles. If you haven’t seen the show, you have “The Collector” Barry Weiss, “The Young Guns” Brandi and Jarrod, “The Gambler” Darrell Sheets, and “The Mogul” Dave Hester, whose signature “Yuup” has made him the star of the show. This type of casting and branding of characters is consistent with a show like “The Bachelor,” which doesn’t use the same cast year to year, but does have clear roles that are always filled on the cast. This leads us to believe that A&E wants “Storage Wars” to be more of a soap opera, playing up the tensions between cast members and goading viewers to root for or against them in certain situations.
On the other hand, it’s hard to argue that “Storage Wars” isn’t a competition show. The show always concludes with how much money the “contestants” earned or lost based on what they found in their lockers and by all accounts, the auctions themselves are legitimate and public bidders besides the main cast can come and participate. Because real people are bidding real money on these lockers it should be A&E’s responsibility to make sure that everything about these auctions is legitimate. But once a cast member wins an auction and that door is opened, that’s where things start to come into question.
In December, Hester was reportedly fired from the show for alleging that producers were “salting,” as he calls it, the lockers after they were purchased. What Hester means by salting is that producers would place valuable or interesting items in the lockers, often in plain sight of the cast and crew, for the cast to “find.” Going even further, Hester also alleges that producers would pay a “rental fee” to cast members for interesting items that they already own and then place said items in the lockers. Hester has filed suit against A&E and is asking for at least $750,000 in damages. He has also taken to his Twitter page to bash the show and its remaining cast members.
If the items are placed in lockers after they are purchased by cast members, this falls into a grey area of acceptability as the locker is now owned by the cast member and if they want the show to put something interesting in there for them to find for the TV show, it’s not the worst thing since the item values and profits given at the end of the show are more based on speculation rather than actual sales anyway. If the items are placed in the lockers before they go to auction then Hester’s allegations are very valid as the contents of the lockers are his livelihood and the money of unsuspecting members of the public is also on the line.
This two-disc DVD contains 16 episodes and follows the same format as each of the previous seasons. The first half of the episode shows the lockers being auctioned off, then the second half is them going through their lockers and determining the value of what they find. It’s a simple but very effective format, the show. It is A&E’s most successful show, there are numerous copycats on cable such as Spike’s “Auction Hunters” and A&E has spun off the show with Texas and an upcoming New York edition. New cast members Nabila and Jeff are peppered in throughout the season, perhaps in preparation for Hester’s ouster which A&E likely saw coming.
The show is presented in the same widescreen format on DVD as it was broadcast, but the DVD video quality can’t match the HD broadcast quality. Perhaps, you could increase the video quality by spreading the episodes over three discs, but that would then increase production and retail costs.
The set comes with a 2.0 Dolby Digital Audio, which is enough for a show like this as it is more likely to be watched on a laptop over a long road trip than it is at home on a powerful home theatre system. Every “Yuup” and dubbed in “Cha-ching” when someone finds something good is perfectly audible.
Unlike the previous “Storage Wars” releases, Volume 4 does have at least one special feature. There’s about 25 minutes worth of deleted scenes spread over the two discs. There’s not much of note in any of the scenes, but if you’re an “Storage Wars” addict, it will give you the extra hit you’re looking for.
To me, putting a cool item in a locker for someone to find after it’s been purchased is akin to “The Bachelor” producers making sure two girls who hate each other end up alone in room together after a sleepless night so they can have it out. It’s manipulation for the sake of television. If it makes the show watchable, it’s an acceptable crime. While it’s format is repetitive and the allegations have taken some of the fun out of it, the reality is that “Storage Wars” is an addictive and fun show, the best of its kind on TV. Is it rigged? Yuuup. Should we care? Nope.