Schulz was a different story. After winning a locker one day, Scott asked him to speak on camera, and three months later, he and his wife were in. “It was dumb luck. I was just at the right place at the right time,” recalls Schulz in the back office of Now and Then, his Orange, Calif.–based thrift store, which draws no distinction from your average Goodwill location aside from the crude Day-Glo portraits of the couple painted on the front windows and a trophy case full of autographed memorabilia in the entryway. Schulz’s aunt worked at a Public Storage, and after watching his mortgage business fail three years ago, Schulz began buying lockers with his uncle and processing the contents in his increasingly vacant office.
“He started bringing it home and putting it in the garage, then it overflowed onto the side yard, into the family room, into the driveway,” says Passante — who’s shy and deflective away from the cameras while on-screen she’s the over-the-shoulder nag who keeps Schulz from spending too much.
“If we overpaid [when the show first started] it affected us for that whole week: What we ate for dinner, how far I sent the guys out in the truck, every penny was counted,” Schulz says. “We literally turned this dying business into a thriving business.”
In Gardena, 10 units that appear to be nothing more than heaps of junk furniture and stockpiled garbage bags emitting foul odors sell in two hours; half of them are picked up by the talent. A potential guest star, Jeff Jarred, buys three lockers for increasingly head-spinning prices (more than $2,000 total) to the tittering chagrin of the cast members, who are secure in the knowledge they don’t have to buy their way onto the show.
Regardless, the cast is routinely whipped into shape after each of Jarred’s wins, with producer Shannon O’Rourke yelling, “We need take two” or “We need Jarrod [Schulz] to pay attention” or “We need Barry to be quiet” so they can capture the moments of manufactured reality for posterity. Meanwhile, Schulz and Passante pick up a unit filled with Barbie toys and sundry toy furniture for $700, while Sheets buys the last unit of the day — a skimpy 5-by-5-foot locker filled with overstuffed trash bags, which auctioneer Dan Dotson says “may not be the best, but it is the smallest” — for $140.
In the world of reality TV, you don’t have a show without three of the stars buying units. To wit: At the previous auction, the Dotsons auctioned 18 units, but only eight went to the talent. And only a fraction of the units purchased by the cast will actually make the show. Much like a compulsive gambler, Storage Wars producers focus primarily on winning “gold strike” moments and rarely on the detritus-filled money pits.
“I can’t even donate 80 percent of the stuff,” admits Weiss after the auction. A former produce wholesaler who retired six years ago to go watch NASCAR, Formula One and motorcycle racing events around the globe, Weiss got nudged onto the show over drinks with Beers, a friend of 14 years.