When we binge-watched The Hills earlier this year, among all the perspective and life lessons, the resounding theme was, "man, you couldn't pay me to be in my early 20s again." Rotating relationships, silly squabbles, and the uncertainty of everything you're experiencing for the first time. Now, imagine then that you were paid to be in your early 20s. That's Lauren Conrad, a small-town girl who inadvertently helped shape the future of reality television.
Inadvertently, that is, depending on whom you ask. It's been widely and exhaustively speculated that everything on The Hills was scripted. Audrina Patridge, Lo Bosworth, Brody Jenner, Jason Wahler, Whitney Port, Heidi Montag, and Spencer Pratt were all alleged pawns in the not-quite-reality game. Bits and pieces about what was and wasn't real have slipped out from these former cast members in interviews, with most going on to insist that they'd just rather put the whole thing behind them.
As the show celebrates its 10-year anniversary this year, Lauren — who stepped away before the series even ended — was the one to have the final say in an hour-long special, The Hills: That Was Then, This Is Now. She began by ceremoniously driving down a California highway, looking at us through a rear-view mirror while blasting Natasha Bedingfield and talking about the soundtrack to your life. Just when we think 20-year-old Lauren is about to bust out her Sidekick phone, the song changes and clear that it's 30-year-old Lauren, reminding you that times have changed.
The past was ever-present though, and the hour was spent in discussions with her parents and former producers, diving into some of the details of daily life on the set. They showed old clips and even jumped into "the boxes" that held all of the extra footage we didn't see. Make no mistake though, this far from a reunion. Perhaps by design, none of the other cast members were there and this was very much the "Where is Lauren Now?" show. Perhaps this thing was pulled together in a hurry and everyone's schedules just couldn't work. Or, we now know what we probably knew all along: This is Lauren's world; they just lived in it.
But first, a message from our Lauren Conrad brand sponsors. You didn't think she spilled her guts just for nostalgia's sake, did you? No way. She wanted to make it abundantly clear that she is crushing it with two fashion lines (LC Lauren Conrad and Paper Crown) and the quite-awesome philanthropy project, The Little Market. Photoshoots, brainstorming meetings, and traveling the globe were carefully placed among reflections on working hard in life and clips from when Lauren was a lowly intern. It was genius, really, and a testament to how savvy this woman really is. Which brings us to the first of the big things we learned during the special.
Lauren was much more in control than we thought
During the show, LC kept insisting that they were all "so young" and "didn't know what we were doing." Maybe that was the case at the very beginning, but as the show progressed, she knew exactly what needed to be done. In regards to her messy breakup with Jason Wahler, she told producer Sophia Rossi during hiatus that they were on the outs. She knew she couldn't have a major life moment like this and not tell anyone because it was her job. Even when she forced herself into uncomfortable conversations, she had the power to close the door and end it. When the producers tried to insert a love interest during her Paris trip, she insisted she wouldn't kiss him. When they tried to have him kiss her anyway, she still found out and made a quick exit — all while looking back just-so for that perfect shot. Rossi complimented her during their sit-down, reflecting that it was a lot to ask, but Lauren was great at producing her own life.
The shows weren't scripted, but they were staged
We're still not totally buying that they weren't given exact things to say or scenarios to play out, but they gave us a little taste of what we had suspected. In the same Paris episode as the ill-fated kiss, they also made her ruin a dress to create conflict. The most poignant moment about the staging was Rossi reading the exact set-up sheet that was used to prep the crew before the infamous "you know what you did!" fight between Lauren and Heidi. It described the scene, the fact that the presence of Spencer and Heidi would be looming, and that they'd eventually collide. To her credit though, once Lauren was met with that situation, she let the producers have it, screaming that MTV set her up and that they should care what Spencer did to her. This was all seen in one of the bonus clips, where she then ducked into one of the club's rooms to avoid filming the rest of the night.
Another moment was when Heidi showed up to Lauren's boat party and was then stuck "at sea" with her, which led to a tearful reconciliation between the two. What wasn't seen was the fact that the boat was only about 500 yards from the shore. There were also plenty of scenarios where fights that could have cooled off if given space were exasperated by reality of shooting schedules overlapping. They also held some conversations for when the cameras were actually on, sometimes reliving them over and over. The biggest revelation, though, was one of the first points Lauren made: These were people who would have probably met each other at some point, but wouldn't be good friends. Throw that lens over a lot of the situations in the show and most will not seem very important.
Heidi and Lauren were actually at peace
The friendship between Lauren and Heidi was, in fact, genuine. They met at art school in San Francisco and made plans to move to LA, which is when executive producer Adam DiVello called to pitch an idea he had for her. They really were best friends and they really did have a falling out, but as it sometimes happens in your early 20s, friends go away and you move on. However, that wasn't good TV, and the producers kept putting them in situations where they'd clash. In the end though, they were mad and then they got over it. They knew that sometimes things happen between friends and you can get over them, but it's just not possible to have a relationship again.
The Teen Vogue internship was a total charade
One of the more endearing moments of the special was Lauren's parents and the producers laughing about how seriously she took her interview for her internship at Teen Vogue. She told her dad how nervous she was and he assured her that she was absolutely getting the job, of course. After her interview, she realized something was up because when she got to the lobby, the girl who met her had a mic pack on. As Rossi pointed out, she felt so bad for Lauren, thinking she was literally going to be working at Teen Vogue, when it was more like, "You know you're on the cover of this magazine, right?" In the end, she owns a fashion empire, so whatever experience she did or didn't get probably doesn't matter much.
There was a big secret in the Lauren and Jason Break-Up
It was pretty clear that once Lauren made the choice to stay the summer with Jason Wahler instead of going to Paris, the relationship was doomed. What we didn't know until much later was just how toxic it had become. They quickly addressed that they decided to break up, and showed the two exchanging belongings, as many couples do. However, she revealed that during that exchange, he was in fact drunk, and the worry on her face was not for herself, but for him. He was deep into his alcoholism and she was concerned about the fact that without her to pick him up at a club at 2 a.m., who was taking care of him? In one of the bonus clips, she becomes flustered, telling him that he doesn't seem normal and that she feels like it's her fault. Her family admitted that they were happy for her to break this cycle, even if it upset her at the time. Since then, she's gotten married to her husband, William Tell, and Jason is in recovery, married, and happy.
Lauren and Brody definitely, 100 percent did not have a thing
If you're going to point out anything that was fake in The Hills, this was the most egregious one. Lauren admitted that while she did have a crush on Brody Jenner, she knew very well that they had no chemistry. They truly were "just friends." However, she was feeling the pressure to find a boyfriend, not to mention one who was okay with being filmed. For that reason, she played along with the whole thing. The first behind-the-scenes clip we saw was of her and Brody having a romantic moment that was aired and only seconds later, she turns and says "can we please be done? This is so awkward!"
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Other Random Tidbits
- Kim Kardashian was filmed at Spencer and Heidi's housewarming party, which isn't actually that weird since Brody Jenner is her half-brother. What was weird was Heidi showing her their jellyfish tank. ("We're the only people in America with jellyfish.")
- Lauren's parents admitted that they knew everything before it aired — the good and the bad. If you're going to be on reality TV, you have to keep them in the loop. During the Laguna Beach days, a lot was filmed at their house, so when it came to The Hills, they all knew they had to be transparent. "We want her to be able to tell us anything, but we also didn’t have a choice," said Jim Conrad.
- The rift began between Audrina and Lauren when Audrina installed a lock on the door of the guest house she lived in. When it aired, it made it seem like it all happened out of nowhere. "That really wasn't a big deal, I was just being dramatic," said LC.
- Lauren was not a very good student. In her 2004 audition tape for Laguna Beach, she said she wanted to go to art school because her parents weren't proud of her academics. In present time though, they were all in agreement that they knew she was meant for something different.
- Lauren's husband of two years claims he has never seen the show. One time, it came on while he was flipping the channels, to which he earnestly yelled, "Hey, that's you!" The scene was LC talking about being at The Roosevelt pool partying every weekend, to which he turned off the TV and said, "Nope, I don't wanna know that you."
- There was an alternate ending to the show, where after Kristen left to go, uh, somewhere, Brody returns to his condo and finds Lauren there. Take a look: