BY: Derrik J. Lang
LOS ANGELES – Jeff Lewis isn’t quite like his reality TV peers.
The obsessive-compulsive star of ‘Flipping Out‘ is something of a black sheep among the Bravolebrities. He’s not as fabulous as ‘The Real Housewives‘ nor as chic as the fashionistas of ‘The Rachel Zoe Project,’ and his palate is less refined than any ‘Top Chef.’ (He feasts on McNuggets in Tuesday’s fourth season premiere.)
While most cogs in Bravo’s reality TV drama factory uniformly pop up on gossip blogs and in the pages of tabloid magazines between dispatches about Jennifer Aniston and the Kardashians, the sharp-tongued real estate investor and designer has rarely received such attention since adding reality star to his resume four years ago.
“I don’t want it,” he says. “There are red carpet events I could go to every single night. I don’t have that kind of time. I stay really focused. The goal of this whole thing for me, of course, is another stream of income, but you know what? I’m also building a business. I have to make money. I’m not just some wealthy socialite.”
As the show’s neat-freak leading man, Lewis has become infamous for his monstrous meltdowns and sarcastic jabs, usually directed at goofy right-hand woman, Jenni Pulos. He seems self-aware, however, and probably isn’t the totally delusional nut job that last season’s average of 1.27 million viewers came to love and/or loathe.
“Don’t tell anybody this because it will ruin my reputation, but every Sunday I’m down visiting my grandmother,” he says during a recent interview over breakfast at a Hollywood coffee shop. “I take care of her. I remodel her house. I bought her a car. I go down there and take out her trash and make sure she has groceries.”
Starring in “Flipping Out” has seemingly helped just as much as it’s hurt the manic 40-year-old Lewis, who once requested that Pulos bring him a drink ideally composed of “70 percent lemonade, 20 percent fruit punch and 10 percent Sprite.” Lewis and Pulos acknowledge he’s learned about himself from studying his conduct on TV.
“I think he looked at himself and said, ‘I don’t like a lot of my behavior. I don’t like how I go to blind rage. I don’t like certain things I do,’” she says. “For him, it was therapy edited into — what’s it now? — 30 hours total of his life. I know, for myself, it’s been odd when you see your own life edited into this package.”
For Lewis, being the subject of a reality TV show has come with costs. His relationship with Ryan Brown, Lewis’ ex-boyfriend and business partner, ended last year after he accused him of siphoning clients online. Lewis also reveals a four-year relationship he kept off-camera during the first two seasons ended because of the show.
“I think he was really embarrassed that I did the show,” he says. “I think the day it got bought, the relationship changed and went downhill. I think, especially after season one when it got a lot of criticism and not everybody understood me, I think he was really embarrassed. It wasn’t what he originally signed up for.”
Since last season, which largely focused on Lewis rebuilding his business after the real estate bubble popped in his face, he’s parlayed his fame into a booming business. The increased workload means more responsibilities for housekeeper Zoila Chavez, house assistant Jett Pink and design associates Sara Berkman and Trace Lenhoff.
“Last season, I was stressed out because we had no business,” Lewis says. “This season, it’s the complete opposite. Once we figured out the website, people were able to find me, and the business grew. The problem became handling the onslaught of business because I didn’t want to turn anybody down. In turn, I took on too much.”
Lewis, who launched a line of QVC home accessories earlier this year, says viewers can expect more flare-ups in the fourth season but no life-altering dramas such as Pulos’ divorce or the break with Brown. As far as another chapter goes, Lewis says he’s committed to a fifth season but not sure how long he can keep “Flipping Out.”
“I don’t know about after that,” he says. “It takes a lot out of me. It really does. I personally feel like I’m getting healthy, and I feel like as I get healthier, it’s not that I’m less interesting, but I just don’t know if they would be interested in me. When I was borderline insane, I think it was a pretty good bet.”
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