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Spencer Pratt has been laying on the horn of his black GMC Denali for a good minute now. He started honking just after turning onto the private drive that leads to the house he lives in in Carpinteria, Calif., and after driving about 100 yards, he’s come to a full stop. Because his wife, Heidi Pratt (née Montag), is blocking the way in the middle of the street, waving her arms and swaying her hips enthusiastically in a slow strut. A Weeknd-ish song that a producer sent the couple blares from the Denali’s speakers. Then, right there in the street, amidst the cacophony of a horn mixing with the droning bassline of this R&B song, Heidi starts twerking. Her back still to the car, she spreads her legs a little and bends over, all the while shaking her ass. She then, in the words of FloRida, gets low, clearly a master of all white girl club moves. Heidi turns towards the car, continuing her dance/gyrations—at this point Spencer’s given up on honking—and just as I think to myself, “This is really similar to that scene in The Counselor where Cameron Diaz has sex with a Ferrari,” Heidi begins to climb onto the hood of the SUV. She slips at first, but makes it up there, and starts whipping her blonde hair around and grinding on the Denali from her knees. A middle-aged female from the small, quiet California neighborhood jogs by, snapping the three of us out of this surreal moment, and prompting Heidi to slink off the SUV and sprint back towards their house. “Delgado’s tequila got her again,” Spencer says to the jogger, who smiles and nods back, but doesn’t say anything more. And then, as Spencer moves the vehicle from Park to Drive, the street finally open again, he leans over to me in the passenger seat and says, “If I had a dollar for every time this happened.”
Explaining who Spencer, 32, and Heidi Pratt, 29, were seems pointless, like going over addition before a calculus test. Anyone who had a television—or the internet for that matter—between 2007 and 2011 knows about the villainous couple at the heart of the drama on MTV’s reality show, The Hills. They remember the cute blonde sidekick who just liked to party and the unstable, possibly sociopathic boyfriend with a flesh-colored beard who got in the middle of it all and disrupted a blissful California girl friendship. People remember the name “Speidi;” the “You know what you did!” that Lauren Conrad screamed at Heidi in Season 3; the healing crystals Spencer surrounded himself with; the plastic surgery Heidi got during and after The Hills—for the record, breast implants (and then breast reduction), a brow lift, a nose job revision, a chin reduction, liposuction on her neck, stomach and thighs, and a butt augmentation, among a few other smaller procedures; and the ubiquity that being the couple that America loved to hate brought (in 2009, USA Today named Spencer and Heidi the third most popular couple in the country, just behind Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and the Obamas). “Harvey [Levin] said we landed on the moon—that’s how famous we were at the time,” Heidi told me.
But explaining who Spencer and Heidi Pratt are after the dust has mostly settled is much more complex, much more interesting. The couple hasn’t really gone anywhere since The Hills ended in 2010, even though it feels like they have. In the five years between then and now, Speidi has appeared on four other reality shows, always playing the role of the villains, the couple that comes in and shakes things up. But they’ve never regained that level of popularity they had on The Hills, and their subsequent reality TV appearances have a feeling of sadness and existential futility. You watch them on Celebrity Big Brother or Marriage Boot Camp and see two people going through the motions, stirring up drama not because they want to necessarily, but because they need to. “Mercenaries is pretty much what we are,” Spencer tells me with a certain resignation. “Call us in when you are ready for some action. That keeps the bills paid.”
“People can bring me down all they want, but try to get on a magazine cover. Good luck.”
Spencer and Heidi live in Carpinteria, Calif., a small, tucked-away town near Santa Barbara. They’re regulars everywhere they go in town—Lucky Llama, the cafe where Spencer goes every morning, lets him go behind the counter to fix himself coffee; the brothers who work at Delgado’s, a Mexican restaurant less than a minute away from the couple’s house, talk to Spencer and Heidi like they’re old friends, not famous customers. Spencer and Heidi rarely visit the Hills that they used to roam, and seem thankful for the tranquility offered by living two hours outside of Los Angeles. Their home, which Spencer’s father has owned for the past 30 years, is a large, long, blue-gray house that backs up to the Pacific Ocean. The plants that line the walkway to the front door are slightly overgrown; an off-centered “Beware of the Dogs” adorns a locked gate in front of the house; two cars, an orange 1968 Camaro and the black Denali, fill the house’s small driveway. It’s a nice, unassuming property, a true retreat lacking any signs that would indicate that it’s housing the most hated couple in television history.
The first thing you see upon entering the house is a customized LEGO-rendered portrait of the cover of the book Spencer and Heidi wrote together, How to Be Famous. To the left of the portrait, which hangs above the staircase, is most of Spencer’s infamous crystal collection. The rest of it—the much bigger pieces—is down the hall, filling up a game room along with a pool table they don’t use and a handful of vintage arcade games, a few of which Hills superfans would be able to recognize. Spencer has that same tired sarcasm and resignation as he shows me his bigger crystal pieces. “This is supposed to be bringing in money, but I can tell you it doesn’t work. Citrine is supposed to bring wealth. I’m just waiting.”
The crystal obsession all started “right before the rabbit hole,” Spencer says, referring to the latter part of The Hills. He walked into a crystal store in Los Angeles, saw a massive crystal he liked, and bought it right on the spot. An hour later, his business manager called him wondering why he just laid $75,000 down on his AMEX. “I was like, ‘It’s a rock, bro,’” Spencer says. But he was convinced that he was supposed to have it, and despite protests from his business manager, he accepted the charge. It snowballed from there. “This one I’m convinced attracts other crystals. That’s why I got into collecting.” It now sits in the corner of the game room; Spencer has rigged it with changing colored lights.
Elsewhere in the house is the “office,” a nook off the living room on the second floor where Spencer conducts his podcasts, “The Spyson Hour” and “The Sheriff of Baghdad.” Lining the walls of the office are nearly all of the magazine (and tabloid) covers Heidi and Spencer have ever been on. There are Heidi’s Maxim and Rolling Stone covers, but there are also covers from Us Weekly and Life & Style. DESTROYED BY FAME and HEIDI’S NEW SURGERY DISASTER, the cover lines read. The wall is a perfect distillation of Spencer and Heidi’s seeming acceptance of all publicity, whether good or bad. They have a different mindset than you, or rather, the people writing them hate-tweets every day, would think. Their goal isn’t to be liked—it never was. It’s to be famous. Do these tabloid covers annoy them? No. “It’s like Messi—when he retires is he going to look at his trophies and be like, ‘Does that annoy me?’”
The comparison’s a little shaky. For one, it doesn’t acknowledge that Lionel Messi’s trophies are representations of his world-class talent, his supremacy in the sport of soccer, and ergo, the fact that he was adored by millions of people for his accomplishments, whereas Spencer and Heidi’s tabloid covers are reminders of the opposite—that they were the world’s punching bag for a stretch of time.
But Spencer sees it another way, and explains his analogy a little more. “To me, I can be like, ‘Oh. That was $100 K!’ Or, ‘That was a bottle of Screaming Eagle that I bought for fun at Wolfgang’s!’ These take me back to, ‘I made it.’ People can bring me down all they want, but try to get on a cover. Try to get in a magazine. Good luck.”
Spencer’s eyes are almost too blue in person. They’re the kind of eyes that only someone like him can have—charming and entrancing, but with an underlying sense of potential chaos. When he talks they widen, and burn intensely. As does the rest of his body—more than once over the course of seven hours, Spencer has to take his shirt off to cool down. Heidi has a much less threatening presence and in person she looks exactly like she looks in magazines or on the cover of her book. The work she’s had done on her face is evident, but not grotesque. And she certainly seems comfortable in her own skin, something that couldn’t be said five years ago.
For the first hour or so that I’m in Spencer and Heidi’s home, she mostly hangs back and lets Spencer do all the talking, perhaps inadvertently playing into the narrative that Spencer brainwashed her. (Her later response to that: “I’m a very stubborn person. You can’t make me do anything.”) She might just be a little shy though, especially compared to her husband. As the minutes tick by, she starts opening up more and more. By the time we’re jumping into the Denali to grab lunch at Delgado’s, she’s much more closely resembling the bubbly blonde from The Hills.
“Today, I would be like, ‘Bitch, you know what you did.’”
“Extra skinny Don Julio margaritas with no triple sec or mix. Just the lime juice. Salt on the rims.” Heidi is good at ordering margaritas. She apparently loves tequila, and is pretty unashamed about how much she drinks it. “Tequila is like her spinach,” Spencer says. He then runs off to take photos with a couple of women who recognized him and Heidi, and then video tape a chef making guacamole for his Snapchat story.
Throughout lunch, Heidi and Spencer vacillate between having no regrets and having many. They both have a tendency to insist that things are one way or the other, and as passionate and convincing as they both are while arguing for one side of their ids, their feelings about their lives are actually much more relative. In regards to The Hills, neither regret being on the show—“It fell into my lap and was cool and fun and exciting,” says Heidi—and neither regret, or apologize for, how things went down with Lauren Conrad, The Hills’ main character who fought MTV to have Heidi on the show, only to turn on her once Spencer came into the picture. (Or maybe it was Heidi who turned on Lauren—it depends who you ask.) The couple maintains that Conrad did have a sex tape with her former boyfriend Jason Wahler, an allegation that was the main source of the dissolution of Heidi and Conrad’s friendship. “Today, I would be like, ‘Bitch, you know what you did,” Heidi says.
Heidi orders a second round of margaritas.
Spencer’s only issue with that whole fight is that Conrad yelled “You know what you did!” at Heidi and not him—seven years later, he’s not ashamed to admit that he was the one who leaked the sex tape report. And if you ask him, Conrad was the one who started a war, referring to an interview in which Conrad said he had no friends as well as The Hills’s overall negative depiction of him and Heidi, which Spencer claims Conrad spearheaded in collusion with creator Adam DiVello (neither Conrad nor DiVello opted to comment for this story). “Lauren is a cold-hearted killer. That’s what people don’t get. She will cut you in your sleep,” says Spencer. “She tried to destroy us. If you want to throw missiles, I’m throwing a nuke. This is how I operate.”
What Heidi and Spencer do regret about The Hills is the damage it did on their respective relationships with their families. Spencer stays in touch with his father, but isn’t on speaking terms with his sister, Stephanie, and though he doesn’t go into detail, is clearly at odds with his mother. “My mom’s a Lauren supporter,” he says, after also mentioning that his mom doesn’t love that he and Heidi are living in the family house. “She’s like, ‘Mark Cuban says on Shark Tank that you shouldn’t help your kids.’ I’m like, ‘Mark Cuban can go jump off a freaking cliff for all I care.’”
Meanwhile, the fracture between Heidi and her family was broadcast on national television, as The Hills showed Heidi basically choosing Spencer over her mother. But the real root of the rift was the fact that Heidi’s family members agreed to come on the show and become part of the parade in the first place. “They paid off her mom and her sister, who were broke. They were writing them twenty thousand dollar checks to be Team LC,” Spencer says. “They didn’t really feel that way,” Heidi insists. “That was the hardest thing, when everyone else still had their families.” It’s taken time, but Heidi’s repaired that broken relationship. Both sides have apologized, and Spencer and Heidi have spent the past two Christmases with her family in her hometown, Crested Butte, Col. Spencer doesn’t exactly agree with Heidi’s decision to forgive her family, but he does his best to bite his tongue. “I don’t drink—that’s the key.”
We are drinking at Delgado’s though. Spencer and Heidi have both plowed through the taco salads they ordered for lunch, but they’re in no hurry to leave. With a large section of the restaurant to ourselves, and tequila doing what tequila does, the couple has whipped out their phones to Snapchat and show off their personal playlists. Heidi’s into Fetty Wap, “Hotline Bling,” and The Weeknd. Spencer’s hip-hop tastes go a little deeper—Lil Durk, Lil Boosie and Lil Bibby line his playlist—and he clearly gravitates to songs that capture his circumstances and his feeling towards them, which more or less boils down to a line Kanye West raps on Rick Ross’ “Sanctified”: “Lames try to tell me, ‘Cut the wildin’ out’/But who the fuck is you reachin’?” He’s angered by how much he’s hated and ridiculed, but in his opinion, he’s more famous and relevant than any of his haters, so to quote Kanye again, you can’t tell him nothing. Heidi playfully tells Spencer to turn his rap off. “You’re so annoying,” she says, in the midst of singing One Direction for a Snap.
I go in and out of feeling sorry for Heidi and Spencer, cast away from Hollywood both in spirit and geography, living out their days watching movies and Snapchatting, taking the occasional paycheck and exploiting themselves on TV. But any empathy I have for the place they’re in is laced with the understanding that they’ve mostly put themselves there. “I would have done a lot of things differently,” Spencer says. “I burned a lot of bridges. You think you’re Tom Cruise and you’re not. Presidents of networks would be like, ‘Come in,’ and I would be like, ‘Come to me.’ All those people are still right where they were.” Spencer and Heidi may have been painted into a corner as the villains of an MTV reality show, but they didn’t fight the personas that had been forced onto them, they perpetuated them. They lashed out at Al Roker after Roker berated them during a Today interview in 2009; Spencer called Mary-Kate Olsen “the less cute twin” after she took a couple shots at him during a Late Show With David Letterman interview—both instances where the couple was responding and defending themselves, but their hostile reactions only villainized them more. “Reacclimating off that high of that fame and lifestyle was really hard,” Heidi says. “We had these expectations of, ‘Oh, we’re going to have our own show.’ My expectation of life and where I thought we were going to be is so different from our reality.”
Back when we were at the house, Spencer was looking back on the last decade-plus, marveling at all the roads he didn’t take. “I always joke to Heidi, ‘We bumped into the wrong dimension! There are all these other dimensions where we are killing it still!’” Spencer says. After leading his high school soccer team in goals, he was invited to a developmental camp at Princeton, but left after two weeks, unable to adjust from busy L.A. to the quiet New Jersey suburbs. Then at the age of 20, Spencer, noticing the success of MTV’s The Osbournes, created The Princes of Malibu, following Brandon and Brody Jenner, their mother Linda Thompson and her husband at the time, David Foster. (Proof that Spencer lies at the nexus of all reality television, aside from his affiliation with The Hills: the Jenners went on to be in Keeping Up With the Kardashians, while David Foster married Yolanda Hadid, future star of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and mother to Gigi and Bella.) But instead of becoming a master producer and showrunner, Fox took Spencer’s headset and put him in front of the camera. “That was it. Game over. Life’s over,” Spencer says at lunch. Either way, the day after Fox aired the first episode, Thompson filed for divorce from Foster, leading to the show’s cancellation after just two episodes.
“We were 22, 23. Shit happened way too fast.”
The show put Kim Kardashian on a reality show for the first time though, and Spencer tells me that he could see Kris Jenner’s eyes light up, as if she was foreseeing the riches and ubiquity that lie ahead. He also says that Jenner soon after asked him to manage Kim. “She can deny it if she wants, but she comes up to me and is like, ‘Spencer, I want you to manage Kim.’ I literally started laughing,” Spencer says. “What is this lady talking about?” Another road not taken. (Kim’s rep denies this conversation ever took place.)
Spencer and Heidi made decisions with 100 percent of their hearts, and only a fraction of their heads. They wholeheartedly jumped into trying to get Heidi’s music career off the ground, sunk $3 million of their own money into producing tracks. And though Heidi’s output has been prolific—go look on Spotify—hardly anyone knows about it. Only now do they see that they approached the whole venture the wrong way. “Body Language,” a song that was made free of charge by David Foster had a shot at becoming a hit, until Spencer and Heidi killed it themselves. “We yelled at Ryan Seacrest for playing it. He called me up and is like, ‘Everyone is loving it!’ I was like, ‘Ryan, how dare you? We don’t even like that song. Take it off the air.’” Instead of trying to promote the one song, Spencer and Heidi made a million more—with their own money. “That was a mistake,” Spencer admits, noting one more road they left untrodden. “We were 22, 23. Shit happened way too fast.” Heidi, with a frown on her face, laments, “We knew The Hills was going to end eventually. It seemed like such a logical thing—it just kind of didn’t [work].” Now, Spencer says he and Heidi are the models for what reality stars shouldn’t do. “If I got to watch Spencer and Heidi get murdered I would be like, “Oh, I’m not going to do this.’ Kim almost came out with a song. She used to call Heidi to organize Heidi’s closet. Kim was edited out of Hills episodes organizing Heidi’s closet. Now it’s like, ‘Kim Kardashian breaks the internet with her booty.’ Like, what the fuck? That’s real life for us.”
Real life. It’s a jarringly fluid concept when it comes to Spencer and Heidi. On the final episode of The Hills, the fourth wall was broken, the camera panned out, and a street in the Hollywood Hills was revealed to be a movie set. Yet the show remains the basis for so much of what we think we know about this couple. “I would say 80 percent of the show was scripted,” says a talent manager for The Hills who requested to remain anonymous. The talent manager isn’t breaking news here—almost everyone who was on the show has admitted how fake it was. Conrad, Jenner, Kristin Cavallari, Spencer, Heidi—they were actors on a show marketed as real life so that an audience could buy into a fantasy. And though that audience seems willing to accept the unreality of The Hills, they never accepted the unreality of Spencer and Heidi’s characters on The Hills. It’s why the couple can only get jobs as reality TV “mercenaries;” it’s why people were literally concerned for my safety when I told them I was going to Spencer and Heidi’s house. Millions of people suspended their belief for six seasons of The Hills, and left that belief suspended once the show ended. Imagine people thinking Jon Hamm was actually Don Draper. The fantasy of The Hills is just easier, more fun to maintain.
“It was ridiculous,” says Hills co-star Jen Bunney, who’s still friends with Heidi but no longer close with Lauren Conrad. “The show is a very poor representation of people’s character all around. As the series progressed and it became more popular, the portrayals stretched reality more and more.”
Spencer and Heidi mistakenly gave their lives to the narrative of The Hills, perhaps erroneously assuming that the people watching the show wouldn’t be so willing to abandon their awareness and accept the “reality” The Hills was giving them. Now the couple is forever stuck in a lose-lose situation—they can either buy into the narrative and forever be the garbage humans everyone else expects them to be, or they can be honest and get hammered for disrupting the “truth” everyone else has accepted. “You would rather us lie and deny that Heidi ever got plastic surgery?” Spencer asks. “Is that what you wanted? I would have loved to lie to everyone. All of these other celebrities get to do it all day long. Then everyone’s like, ‘Oh! What bra is it? So you just put the liner above the lip?’”
“I love Spencer so deeply and would do everything 100 times over to be with him. That’s it.“
As another round of margaritas hits the table, we get to talking about the future, which is really two different conversations. There’s the future of Speidi, and the future of Spencer and Heidi. For Speidi, the reality TV couple, there’s a potential starring show on WeTV in which Speidi, a la their book, coach up-and-comers how to grab headlines. In the pilot episode, which focused on a stand-up comedian, Heidi got drunk and heckled the comedian in an attempt to go viral and get on TMZ. The show’s an effort on behalf of the couple to control their careers and be the stars, rather than be characters on someone else’s reality show as they’ve done from the start—as Spencer says, “If you don’t have your own show, as far as I’m concerned, you are not famous.”
Less of a concerted effort, both Spencer and Heidi are building followings on social media platforms, especially on Snapchat. Their Stories are stream-of-consciousness, all-access broadcasts of their everyday lives: Spencer snaps while watching Rambo, and Heidi sings The Weeknd while drinking a glass of red wine. They’re completely fucking around, but feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. “On TV you can’t have rainbows popping out of your mouth unless you have CGI,” Spencer says, a point that’s hard to argue with. It’s a platform that makes a lot of sense for them. As of last year, half of Snapchat’s users were between 13 and 17. On Snapchat, Spencer and Heidi are connecting with a generation that didn’t live through The Hills, that didn’t take the villainy of Speidi so damn personally, and that understands the difference between reality and reality TV because they’ve been brought up surrounded by the genre.
As for Spencer and Heidi, who have been together for nine years and married for seven, their careers are still the number one priority, though there has been talk about having kids. However, it might be the one thing in their lives they’re not rushing into. “Right now we may be going into another jungle. Or we may be doing Celebrity Big Brother All Star,” Spencer says. “Those are huge checks in the real world. Heidi couldn’t be on a series right now pregnant. I’m just realistic.” It’s a little alarming to listen to Spencer speak for Heidi on the topic, when she’s sitting right next to him, but eventually she jumps in and concurs: “We were going to start trying this September, but I’ve been thinking a lot about it too and like, why am I in a rush? My real priority in life is my marriage.” Besides, Heidi points out, they’re already parents to four dogs.
Overall, Heidi seems more ready to have kids and settle into family life than Spencer—when you ask them their dream jobs, Spencer points to Kathryn Bigelow, while Heidi says she’s living her dream as a housewife. But they’re both insistent that after making so many rash decisions in their lives—and paying for them—this is one thing they want to be sure of before taking the plunge. And when they do, Spencer has a name all lined up: Spider. “Who is going to pick on Spider in school, especially if it’s a girl,” Spencer exclaims. “We’ll see,” Heidi replies.
“Let’s do one shot each before we leave,” Spencer says to Heidi at Delgado’s. “I love you,” she responds. At this point, two and half hours after we got to the restaurant, Spencer and Heidi are fawning over each other—and they’ve gone from ruing the way their lives have unfurled to professing that it was all worth it because it let them find each other. It’s actually sickening how sweet it is. “I’m so obsessed with my husband,” Heidi says. “I love to rub his feet. I love to brush his hair. I love him so deeply and would do everything 100 times over to be with him. That’s it.” Spencer plays it cool for the moment, but earlier he said something similar to me when Heidi was in another room of their house: “Only God would bring Heidi into my life. I don’t think I deserve someone who is really that sweet. For me, that’s my miracle.”
We finally get up from the table. Spencer and Heidi say goodbye to the restaurant’s employees as we shuffle out the door. As we walk by a few outdoor area tables, Spencer cracks a joke about salsa to a middle-age stranger sitting by himself. He doesn’t seem to know who Spencer is. We head towards the Denali, but a clearly faded Heidi lags behind, and then she yells to us: “I’m gonna walk home!”