I guess it’s fitting that TLC chose to debut its new reality series Extreme Cheapskates so close to Halloween, because it’s horrifying. I know that a lot of the network’s shows are “let’s profile these weird people” — and, some might argue, poke fun at them simply by highlighting their quirks — but wow. From the first few minutes in, I was gasping and yelling back at the screen.
An experience not that different from seeing a horror movie in the theater, I realized.
TLC smartly devoted the entire first episode to Kate Hashimoto, a CPA living in New York City. Despite making bank at her job and owning a condo, Kate decorates her place with furniture found on the street, dumpster dives for food, and hasn’t bought new underwear since 1999. And she’s proud of all this! Over the course of the episode, we follow her through the streets of Manhattan as she excitedly prepares to host her old friend Matt and his girlfriend Rose for dinner.
We learn that Kate spends only about $200/month on living expenses. She never flushes the toilet and doesn’t use gas, so her utilities are barely nonexistent. She combines showers with laundry by washing clothes while naked. The whole time she took us through her apartment, I kept thinking, New Yorkers must hate this woman. She calls her dishwasher “a waste of water and energy” and instead stores electronics in it, yet I know people who would kill to have that stainless steel appliance in their kitchen (myself included). She also spouts such gems as, when defending her tendency to keep and reuse paper towels, ”I dont believe in spending money on something you’re just going to throw away.”
When Matt and Rose come over, we learn that he hasn’t seen Kate in over a year. (My immediate, snide remark: “What, was it more frugal that way?”) Obviously TLC brought him and his poor girlfriend over just to have a foil for Kate. Immediately they’re uneasy when they see that Kate sleeps on a stack of yoga mats and that she picked up her guest futon off the street without worry over bedbugs. Poor Rose has to excuse herself twice—first to cool off in the hallway because Kate doesn’t pay for A/C, and then later when Kate serves them dinner.
Like I said, Kate dumpster dives for food. I’m all for picking up the packaged goods that eateries throw out; I once followed a bunch of freegans around NYC doing exactly this, and it’s appalling how much good food gets thrown out on principle. But Kate doesn’t seem to connect the dots as to freshness; she claims to frequent only the high-scale places, but the turkey meatloaf and cake she picks up are definitely stale. I don’t blame Matt and Rose for almost throwing up, especially after Kate cooks all the food in the same pot.
Here’s where the horror-movie aspect comes in. After watching this episode, I truly believe that Kate is mentally challenged. More than once I wrote in my notes, Is she high-functioning? In the beginning she explains that she lost her job when the dotcom bubble burst; my roommate and I theorized that it must have affected her psychologically, because it’s almost compulsive how much she needs to save money.
She also lacks the social intelligence to realize just how much her behavior bothers Matt and Rose. Not that she needs to cater exclusively to their needs, but she says she would go to a restaurant only if they would pay. (I loved Matt’s last line to the cameras: “It was good seeing Kate, she’s a good person, but my girlfriend and I were excited to leave.”) All of Kate’s behavior sounds like something out of the brain of Ryan Murphy.
Similarly, it’s chilling to watch Terence Candell force this cheapskate lifestyle not only on himself but on his whole family. At first it’s small things, like his wife Dyra complaining that she finds it difficult to entertain without furniture. Terence just laughs. This is a recurring theme; someone tries to fight back against his frugal ways, and he laughs it off like it doesn’t matter one bit.
The most horrifying part of Terence’s episode was when he revealed just how much money he’s hiding from his wife and children. ”I have 16 accounts,” he tells the cameras, “but the minute my family finds out where they are, they’re gonna be asking me for money.” One account alone has $113,978, and others have at least $21,000. It’s appalling how selfish he is, giving his wife and kids an allowance even though his wife brings in a paycheck as well.
And the way he laughs at everyone’s discomfort! At least poor Rose was clear in her disgust. Again, things come to a head over dinner. Terence has to take out his family plus other relatives, but he tries to get away with getting only three plates from the buffet for six people. Dyra is mortified and says, ”What about one time eating something really nice we want to have?” When she says she’s upset, he responds, “You’re not upset.” YES SHE IS, TERENCE.
I’m not even gonna go into Greg, who seems normal enough but also reveals the depths of his compulsion on a dinner date where he orders one rib and makes his date share her pulled pork sandwich and mac’n'cheese with him to save money.
The weirdest part of this is how unnecessary this all is. None of the three subjects needs to be this thrifty; it’s not as if they’re trying to stretch a dollar because that’s all they make, like so many of our nation’s economically disadvantaged people. Being an extreme cheapskate is more like a hobby for them, which almost makes it more insulting.