It’s been a decade since The Hills rocked our world, introducing a generation of viewers to fake jobs, real love, and Lauren Conrad. Through five seasons of Pratt family drama, Kristin Cavallari feuds, and sex tapes, the Laguna Beach alum taught us that while frenemies come and go, reality TV fame (and perfect hair) is forever. At the end of her character arc in Season 5, LC had tentatively made up with former BFF Heidi Montag, thanks to Heidi’s boyfriend Spencer Pratt’s telephone apology. In real life, Conrad later confessed that she actually “wasn’t on the other line” of Pratt’s phone call mea culpa. Of course, The Hills never let reality get in the way of transcendent television. Conrad showed up to celebrate Montag and Pratt’s unholy union before jetting off into the proverbial sunset of incredibly early retirement. Once California’s best-ombréd daughter made her dramatic exit, it was up to Kristin Cavallari to assume lead position. While Cavallari gave it her best shot, she was no LC. A handful of fabricated feuds and unwatchable Heidi-Spencer fights later, The Hills folded after six seasons.
In its 10 years off the air, the reality TV trailblazer has continued to make its mark. Without the success of Laguna Beach and The Hills, we might not have Gossip Girl, let alone NYC Prep. The Hills popularized reality TV that suspends reality, paving the way for a world in which we all watch as bachelorettes pledge their entire lives to unemployed aspiring celebrities season after season, reality TV divorce rate be damned. And without The Hills, which revealed America’s endless appetite for watching pretty people check their BlackBerry’s and stare vacantly out the window at L.A. hotspots, how would we have been able to predict the runaway success of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, a show on which two sisters eating salads constitutes a legitimate subplot? Suffice to say, every unemployed actress, fake intern, professional villain, and walking haircut with reality TV airtime on their résumé owes a debt of gratitude to LC and Kristin—not to mention Heidi Montag, Audrina Patridge, the Pratt siblings, Lo Bosworth, and even Whitney Port (let’s not talk about The City, though). Additionally, The Hills introduced an entire generation to the kind of 21st century fuckboy who would one day lay waste to their twenties. His name was Justin “Bobby” Brescia, and he was one problematic hottie.
Surprising absolutely no one who decorated their walls with pictures of Justin Bobby during the aughts, the lion-maned pseudo-celebrity is currently peddling his haircare line and operating salons in California, NYC, and Nicaragua. After a slew of acting gigs, Kristin Cavallari settled down and had three kids. Lo Bosworth is based in NYC, where she runs her lifestyle blog. Audrina Patridge is married to a BMX rider, and hosts a travel series on LXTV. Spencer Pratt, Heidi Montag, and Spencer Pratt’s crystals are still pursuing reality TV stardom. Brody Jenner is still Brody Jenner. LC has her long-coveted career in fashion, as well as a successful young adult series under her belt. She’s living happily ever after in a $4.4 million Pacific Palisades mansion with a waterslide. While that’s all well and good, we still have some questions: Why did Justin Bobby consistently dress like an East Village betch on her way to brunch? Did Audrina insist on appearing at least once an episode in a bikini and tanning oil? Does People’s Revolution still exist and, if so, is Kelly Cutrone still wonderfully terrifying?
Tuesday night’s heavily teased anniversary special, The Hills: That Was Then, This Is Now, promised to answer all of these questions and more. Billed as a tell-all with LC, the trip down memory lane opens on a shot of our heroine driving down the freeway, sunnies on, blasting a familiar track: Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten.” I mean, 2006 was so fricken’ awesome, you guys. From the get-go, Conrad is upfront about what went down and what was about to, explaining that her special would flash back and forth between her new life and commentaries on some old, never-before-seen footage. After acknowledging that the beloved cast was “a group of people that would’ve met each other but maybe wouldn’t have been close friends,” LC explains that they all have a common dream: to share “the real story” with the world. These are their stories (except that Heidi and Spencer have already dragged the special, with Montag dismissing it as “a great Kohl’s commercial.”)
Present-day Lauren is actually driving to her parents’ house in Laguna, where the family Conrad watches her audition tape together and reminisces about what a poor student she was in high school. Luckily, Conrad’s dream was always to pursue a career in fashion—hence her short stint at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, where she made a friend, Heidi Montag, in textiles class. The rest was history. Present-day Lauren fondly remembers her on-television Teen Vogue interview, and how badly she wanted to land the job. Her parents laugh about how clearly oblivious their daughter was—of course she had the job, she was literally a Teen Vogue cover girl. Her Dad chimes in, “Maybe that’s why it came off so real.” A slightly less charmed Hills producer adds, “She literally thought she worked at Teen Vogue.”
Lauren divulges that, although she never loved being on camera, “a lot of people” do. MTV’s editing aces artfully flash to a clip of Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt—Speidi—proving one more time why these people deserved to make millions (JK, The Hills editing team definitely did not make millions). While Speidi don’t deny their reality past, LC emphasizes that she never goes back and watches the show: “For me, it doesn’t always bring back the best of memories.”
These days, Lauren’s daily routine (at least according to this hour-long special) consists of photoshoots for her “contemporary line” Paper Crown, being driven to the CFDA Awards, and attending design meetings for her Kohl’s collection. We watch alongside her as she takes breaks from her busy schedule to stream choice Hills clips, like one shot of intern LC dressing Lady Gaga. Even I don’t remember The Hills being this lit. While Conrad herself doesn’t really seem to understand why the life of a 17-year-old Californian was like catnip for the American public, she credits her and her cast members’ “completely unfiltered” naiveté. She also emphasizes that she feels fortunate to have done the show, and insists that she told her parents everything ahead of time, thus saving them the humiliation of having to watch an MTV reality show. This is the down-to-earth, good-natured humility that has helped Lauren Conrad sell so many boho dresses at Kohl’s.
Next, we revisit an iconic scene: a brokenhearted Lauren returning Jason Wahler’s golf clubs. Apparently, this really was the first time LC had seen Jason since their breakup, which had occurred during a filming hiatus. Conrad describes how she felt the need to share the news with her producers so that they could capture that crucial heartbreak on camera, because “that was part of my job.” Apparently, the drama of the interaction was partly fueled by the fact that Lauren sensed that her ex wasn’t sober. We see footage of the two arguing over his level of inebriation. Present-day Lauren explains, “I felt a responsibility to take care of him, and I felt like when we broke up I was abandoning him.” Luckily, Jason’s story has a happy ending: he’s sober, married, and loving life. Present-day Dad has a less introspective take on the breakup, commenting that the dissolution of LC and Jason’s relationship was cause for a big party in casa Conrad. We love this Dad. He is our new Tim Kaine.
Then there’s a brief interlude consisting of some fabulous footage of Heidi Montag and Kim Kardashian making polite, on-camera famous people conversation. Heidi brags that, “We are the only people in America who have jellyfish”—which is not true—and they discuss whether or not Kardashian would be attending the VMAs (spoiler alert: she did). Lauren confesses that “confrontation was encouraged,” but that she would just leave the room whenever she felt uncomfortable with a situation being filmed for posterity. Good call. In fact, the cast favored the club Les Deux because it had so many rooms to disappear in. Still, she “felt an obligation to share everything I was going through.” While she swears that “it wasn’t fake,” Conrad is clearly using a very loose definition of fake. In addition to admitting that she would halt juicy conversations in order to save the drama for the camera, Lauren describes MTV-engineered parties that producers would deliberately stock with her frenemies, during which she “definitely felt set up.” With her good friend and former talent producer Sophia Rossi, she pours over an old “prediction” (yea…that’s a script), the kind that the staff would pen before any sort of big night out.
While Lauren remembers some blowout fights with Audrina, including one that started when her housemate literally installed a lock on her door, arguments with Heidi were different— “Heidi really was my best friend.” Of course, Heidi and Lauren’s turbulent relationship, which you can find under the dictionary definition of “frenemy,” was the heart of The Hills. Conrad recalls one of their emotional reconciliations: when Heidi shows up on a birthday booze cruise. Or as Conrad remembers it, The Hills staff put Heidi on the boat and then were like “go go go, leave the dock.”
Lauren may have never truly mended her relationship with Heidi Montag, but she is two years deep in a very real-seeming marriage. Her husband, William Tell, has never seen The Hills. Well, except for one scene. “We were at a hotel once and he was flipping channels and he was like, ‘Oh, it’s you!’ Of all scenes for him to pick, it was like, us in a club, and I flip around, and I’m like, ‘I’m at the Roosevelt pool every Saturday!’ William was like, ‘Nope!’ and changed the channel. ‘I don’t want to know that about you!’” Good call.
While that’s all well and adorable, now we get to return to my favorite Hills topic: the fact that, despite all the evidence in front of her, Lauren Conrad never realized (and still seems reticent to acknowledge) just how fake all her internships were. And there’s a whole lot of evidence. We watch a clip of LC’s “first trip to New York”: a business trip (she’s an intern) where she was sent on a red-eye flight (just an intern) across the country to deliver a dress by hand (is that even a thing?). Once in New York, the world’s most valuable intern is told that she’s needed in L.A., and will be flown back that very night. Lauren politely smiles and nods, as if any of this makes sense. Even present-day Lauren coos, “I was just interning and it was very humbling.” Flash to a clip of intern Lauren being personally introduced to Marc Jacobs as if that’s just an average workday.
Because we’re nearing the end of the special, Lauren throws in a little something for all you Brody-LC ’shippers. While she confesses to having had a crush on Brody, they “had zero chemistry.” Apparently, that entire romantic relationship was fabricated for television: “He was my friend, but it always just felt forced.” As proof, we get a clip of the two buddies making out, and then immediately cracking up, with Lauren begging, “Can it please be done?” Present-day Lauren explains that at that point in her Hills career, she was sick of the pressure to land a man who would agree to be shot on camera, so she let some crafty editing take the place of a real romantic plotline: “We knew the cameras were making it look like more than it was.”
While a possibly well-meaning push toward the dating pool can be a good thing, Conrad describes being disenchanted when she would be approached by handsome strangers at a bar, only to realize that they were already wearing mics (meaning that they had been handpicked and mobilized by the MTV staff). Some producers went so far as to urge on some action: when Conrad went to Paris and rode on a stranger’s motorcycle, the Parisian was forcefully told to give Lauren a kiss. In the extended scene, you can see him trying to suss out his chance to make a move. Conrad, who was similarly advised but told producers that she wasn’t interested, clearly knows what’s up—she keeps the motorcyclist at a distance, and literally runs away the second she says goodbye.
In the iconic words of one Lisa Love, Lauren will “always be known as the girl who didn’t go to Paris.” But these days, Lauren travels all over the world! Through her company The Little Market, she sells global artisan goods. Going to Guatemala and seeing people with serious problems really gives her some much-needed perspective. Ok, cool! Let’s circle back to The Hills though! After showing the alternate series ending that she filmed for Season 6, Conrad opened up about her decision to finally leave the show. It took her “a really long time…It wasn’t like one day I woke up and was like, ‘I’m out!’” she explained. “It was hard on my relationships, it was hard on me, so that was when I knew it was time to go, when my heart wasn’t in it and I wasn’t living the kind of life that made me happy.” In terms of personal lessons, she admits that, “I was just a little harsh with people sometimes.” Now she understands that some people (Heidi Montag) just can’t handle that kind of truth.
Conrad probably thinks it’s a little creepy that we’re all so into The Hills, but she gets it. “No matter where you live, or who you are, you fall in love and have your heart broken, you make friends and lose them, you have trouble in work, in your personal life, and you’re still figuring out who you are.” That’s why every year, summer reruns of the instant classic earn the hit a whole new generation of fans. And as for LC? “Knowing what I know now, looking back, I would absolutely do it again.”