Jon and Gina Brunson are Addicted to the Outdoors and so that is the name of their television show on the Outdoor Channel. Now they are working on a new show that will include their six children, ranging from age 5-16. I spoke to Brunson about how it feels to be on a reality television program and the steps he takes to make sure that his family is not subjected to the tabloid pressures that have been so difficult for Jon and Kate, the Hogans, and other families on television.
What steps do you take to make sure that this is a positive experience for your family?
We do things a whole lot differently from most reality shows. We control everything, as much as it can be controlled. The reason we’re so successful and it keeps the family together instead of a marriage-breaker is the way we run things. I don’t come from a traditional TV background. I had to figure it out on my own, for myself on down. Our employees, producers, cameramen, they really know just one way and that is my way. Every single person who works for us has an iron-clad contract that they cannot take any of the footage but more important these are people who have worked for us for years and they know what we want. We do things a lot differently than many mainstream reality shows do. Our TV show is pretty much outside the house. The kids are on camera if they’re on the trip. We keep them sheltered so much from it.
We’ve had several mainstream producers approach us over the past two years to offer us a reality TV show spin-off of our show, to bring cameras into the house, about how we run the show and have three different companies and juggle six kids. It is fun and exciting and interesting. We talked to them and said, “We think that could be a good product.” But the reason we decided to keep it all in-house and launch it as a web-based show, which we should be launching this month, is so that we could maintain control. It is called “Meet the Brunsons.”
We can always go mainstream. If we control this in-house and establish a fan base we can always take it to a network and hook up with a mainstream producer but we can build the product our way. If it gets too personal we can turn it off, we can just shut it down. If it works well and we’re comfortable, we can always have the option to allow strangers into our house. Our family is the most important thing to us. So we have to be the ones to decide whether the cameras are on or off, whether to keep them out for the day or give the family a break.
No matter how good and exciting it is, if I give them a signal, they shut the camera down. If you bring a mainstream production company in, their job is to get the drama. Their job is not your family’s best interest, it is ratings and money. We don’t run cameras 24-7, which a lot of the others do. If you want to make sure you don’t miss anything good you have to do that, but we do not. And we let the kids be involved in the process. If it’s weird or embarrassing to the 16 year old we’ll tweak it or edit it or change it. I won’t do something to make the show look a little better if it is going to embarrass my son. Family first, product second. In many cases on other shows it is the other way around. They will try to sell you by saying, “It’s going to be good TV, so let’s just do it.” People get sucked in. Even if it is a hit with millions of viewers I will shut it down if it is not right for the family. And I won’t even blink. I won’t think twice about it.
How do you decide what to make public and what to keep private in your show?
“Addicted to the Outdoors” is reality-based, but it is more about Gina and me and the things we do and the trips we make and the kids are occasionally on the show. As we move more into “Meet the Brunsons,” we’re learning. There’s no secret formula; we’re easing into it. To me, the determination comes more on the edit than up front. The footage does not leave us and go to LA. It stays in our control. The crew make what they think is the best show and then I have the final edit. They know what we like and they have a pretty good feel for what we want. And then they bring it to me. There are times when I’m not sure when we’re filming and it looks fine, and other times when I think something is okay while we’re filming and it is not right when I see it.
The product is overseen by me extremely closely. I tell them, “Tweak this, cut this, make this shorter,” and that is what they do. Our kids are as normal as you can find. It doesn’t really compute to them that we’re on TV. When it comes to standard reality television, their job is to get the drama. Their job is to produce a product that will generate ratings and make money. Their job is not what is best for your family.
How has the program made your family closer?
Prior to going full-blown TV/entertainment, before we made that transition, I owned a marketing company. I worked like a mad man, 6-7 days a week, 100 hours a week, but making a living in the outdoors was what I always wanted to do. I told my parents when I was 15 years old that by the time I was 35 I was going to spend my life in the outdoors. I got there by 32, a couple of years ahead of my goal.
Since I began doing this, I shifted gears and started spending a whole lot more time with the family. I always made time for the family but could not spend the time I wanted to at home. Now we spend tons of time together. With the exception of the trips, we’re home, and I don’t got to an office. I turn my phone off at 7 and we eat dinner at the table every night. It’s family time. We both come from a traditional background. My dad was a Southern Baptist preacher. So the show has helped us because I went from working a normal job being away 5-6 days a week, to being home 3-4 weeks straight with the kids and traveling all over the world with my wife, doing things we love, and she’s my best friend. My goal is to be in a place financially where I can able to hang out with my wife and kids and hunt and camp and fish and goof off.
Do you have a favorite trip?
Man, there’s a bunch — it’s hard to pick! We love going over the US. Africa is one of my favorite trips, I love New Zealand. They’re all completely different experiences. We love Alaska, we’re going back there again this year. Canada, Mexico. They’re all a blast. The kids love Colorado and the mountains and the snow. They went skiing there for the first time and some of them said they wanted to live there when they grow up.
What is the most important lesson for people to learn from your travels?
Conservation first and foremost, trying to keep the outdoor lifestyle alive. Hunting, fishing, camping, outdoors — those are traditions we like to see passed down in families. The charities we are involved in are about teaching kids about the outdoors. Taking care of property, game, making sure that it’s going to be around for our grandchildren, great-grandkids, great-great-grandkids will be able to enjoy them.