Reality TV Star and Veteran Builder Charlie Frattini Reveals the Reality Behind Reality TV

Certified-Contractors Network Charlie FrattiniCharlie Frattini is a TV personality, survivalist and 31 year veteran of the construction industry. Charlie starred in A&E’s Sell This House: Extreme, where he provided hands-on construction work for the show’s projects. The show’s tight schedule required Charlie and a small team of other contractors to complete three months work of demo, building and repairs in five days or less.

Charlie is known for his strong work ethic, his expertise, his problem-solving skills and his no-nonsense demeanor. He can take a construction project from behind-schedule and over-budget, to a high-quality finished product that’s right on time. Charlie is, without a doubt, the most real builder on television.

He has completed some of the largest construction projects in New York City and he continues to work in both construction and television. As Charlie himself says, he’s the best builder in New York City.

Charlie also served in the Marine Corps, where he became a jungle survival expert. He appears in the June 7th episode of the Discovery Channel’s Naked and Afraid.

CCN caught up with Charlie on a job site, and we could hear the heavy equipment in the background while we spoke. We spoke to Charlie about the reality of “reality TV,” his time on Naked and Afraid, construction leadership techniques, completing jobs on time, educating homeowners, and his own advice for contractors.

Charlie Frattini:

I am the best Builder in New York City. What else do you need to know?

CCN: You’ve been in the  construction industry for more than 25 years. How did the job change when you started working in front of the camera?

CF: I’ve been in the industry for 31 years, buddy. 31 years I’ve been doing this, but I look like I’ve been in it for 15.

Actually, I took to it very well. Let me tell you something: In construction, I’ve been building everything from airport runways, viaducts, elevated roadways, levies. I’ve done underground utilities, roads, highways. I’ve done major buildings, high-rise structures in the toughest market in the world, which is New York City. I’ve done all of that.

I’ve done it from both a laborer’s perspective, where I had to walk around with a shovel in my hand and had to learn what it’s like being in a hole. I’ve learned what it’s like to be in the seat of an excavator. I’ve learned what it’s like to manage projects from the bottom, all the way up to being a project exec running a $1.1 billion project, being in charge of over 640 men and women. And being responsible for the planning, budget and successful completion of the project. The one man that everybody turns to. I’ve done all that.

And to be successful at all of that– everybody in construction is an actor. We act like we know what we’re doing every minute of the day, because there are times when we have no idea, I don’t care how good you are. There are times when you scratch your head and say, “Holy [cow]!”

How did I take to the camera? I’ve been acting like I know what I’m doing my entire life. I was very good at it because I was able to do what I do every day. Just be a leader: act like you know what you’re doing and people will follow you.

The difference between successful ones in this industry and those that aren’t successful is the ability to act like you always know what you’re doing. You want to be a leader, even if you’re in the Marine Corps like I was, you have to act like a leader. If you can convince people that you know what you’re doing, they’ll follow you anywhere.

The other thing is having the intelligence and the wherewithal to solve problems and be able to motivate people. I take pride in my ability to get men to do things they don’t want to do or don’t have the confidence to do. And to have them be successful and come up to me later, and say, “I didn’t think I could move that piece of wood, but I did it because you motivated me” or “you made me realize I could do it”– that’s an innate ability to be successful in construction.

How did I take to the camera? I’ve been acting like I know what I’m doing my entire life. I was very good at it because I was able to do what I do every day. Just be a leader: act like you know what you’re doing and people will follow you.

Now, the caveat is that I do know what I’m doing. Even today, there are times when something comes up. There are an infinite number of things that can occur on any construction project in the world. If you’re managing a construction project from a leadership position, there’s always something that’s going to occur that you’ve never experienced before. Everybody turns to you and says, “What do we do now, boss?”

I took to cameras very well.

CCN: So, that’s probably how you were able to work with the local contractors and subcontractors on Sell This House Extreme so well. How did they deal with the time constraints? The show always made it look like you had a ton to do in a short amount of time.

CF: Okay, first of all, the TV show– aside from Naked and Afraid, every reality TV show is about 70% real, the rest of it is not. My portion of the 70% is real.

…every reality TV show is about 70% real, the rest of it is not. My portion of the 70% is real.

I’m going to tell you the reality behind the TV show. I had to do, without exaggeration, anywhere from six to nine weeks worth of construction in four and a half days. Now, you can tell me “That’s bull, Charlie, you’re a liar.” I’m not a liar.

I have to do demo, structural repairs, go back and start my finishes, all while I’m doing my plumbing and electric. It all has to happen at the same time. I said in a couple of my shows that it’s like a tree of people, and that’s the reality of it.

On television, you manage a project where you have tapers on the ceiling, working over the guys doing backsplash on the kitchen, working over plumbers who are working on the kitchen sink, over the flooring guys who are working underneath the plumbers. A tree of people.

The only way to manage that tree is to have total control of it. More importantly, men and women need to believe in you. If you can sell your product, which is building a house, and it should take you six to nine weeks; and we have to do this in four to five days, you have to be able to say, “listen to me, follow me and it’ll happen.”

And in every single instance except one, it occurred. The only one that I did not make it in four and a half days, because that’s what production gave me, I did it in five and a half days. It was the log cabin, because every time I would turn around a piece of the log wall would fall off and I’d have to fix it.

The whole goal of getting contractors to follow you and listen to you is very important– listen, you can hear it in my voice. You can hear it in the first four minutes of talking to me. I’m a leader. Follow me. I write my schedules. Both for television, and real life. I build my schedule. It’s very aggressive, but it’s also got plenty of fluff in it. People don’t realize that (laughs).

I was on a job the other day, I run a company for someone so I do multiple sites now. I do television, too. I do both. I wanted to get a model apartment in. You look at this building I’m putting up, there’s nothing around it, it’s a skeleton. It looks like a disaster zone. It’s safe, but it doesn’t look like anything that could be finished. Then you open a door and you’re in an actual apartment.

Everyone asks me why I put a model up. Now, when I start a building, I spend three weeks going through all of my drawings. I could have anywhere from 200 to 1,800 drawings, depending on the project. I go through the drawings and build it in my head, this is just how I do things.

After I’ve built it, once I get to a certain part of the project, I’ve seen this job done. It’s no longer a project, it’s a finished building. I walk away from it and turn it over to somebody else. The model apartment that we put in was key to successfully completing this building– everybody fought me, but we identified a myriad of problems that weren’t identified in the contract documents. By putting the puzzle together, we realized that it doesn’t fit. It saved the owner a tremendous amount of money.

I’m very hard on the people that work for me, but we have a lot of fun. We have a blast! If you do something stupid, no problem. We can overcome it. If you do that same thing again, you’re an idiot. I don’t want you around me and I’m going to call you on it. That’s why people like to work for me. It’s usually the idiots who hate to work for me.

Even though I’m in this to make money, how do I keep on getting work? Because the owners know me as somebody that’s not out to take advantage of them. A lot of contractors will take advantage of homeowners, which is an absolute shame. They’ll take advantage of the owner of a major building. They’ll actually go out and steal money from them.

I’ve experienced homeowners who have had money stolen from them because contractors don’t do the right job. I’m known as being extremely fair to both homeowners and contractors. Everyone’s going to make what they’re due; not more, not less.

Everybody likes to work for me. I’m very hard on the people that work for me, but we have a lot of fun. We have a blast! If you do something stupid, no problem. We can overcome it. If you do that same thing again, you’re an idiot. I don’t want you around me and I’m going to call you on it. That’s why people like to work for me. It’s usually the idiots who hate to work for me.

So, how do I get contractors to finish it in time? Follow me. I’m a Marine, man. How do you get people to attack a machine gun nest? It’s a motivational technique you learn in the Marine Corps. Get people to follow you and you’ll never fail.

CCN: Going back to these shows being about 70% real, renovation and remodeling shows are huge right now, especially shows like Property Brothers.

CF: First of all, Property Brothers, those guys are pretty boys. I’m not a pretty boy. I’ve tried out for quite a few of those shows and the eventually said “no” because I tell it like it is.

I was on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and I’ll tell you a little story. Ty Pennington was a very nice man, I have nothing poor to say about him at all. Some other people, idiots. Can’t stand them.

These people would go through and put one nail in a dresser. The camera would turn off, and then they’d send in the 22 carpenters to finish it. They’d say “save the last nail!” and then they’d show the cast at the end, the last nail would go in and then they’d wipe their brow and say, “Man, that was hard!”

Meanwhile, what’s behind the scenes, and nobody realizes it, is they don’t do the work. Somebody else comes in and does it.

I’m going to tell you right now, I’ll stand right here and say it. I’ll stand anywhere and say it. I’ll challenge anybody. I do the work. I’m there 20 hours a day. I’m there laying 1,400 square feet of tile myself, I’m there putting in the kitchens myself, I’m doing my own plumbing, I’m under those houses doing the ductwork, I’m there in the attic doing the electrical. I do it myself. I don’t have anybody else doing it for me.

That’s where my show was the most real. And that’s why I will tell you this, and I will go on record saying it: I am the ONLY builder on TV.

Ask Property Brothers to build an airport runway, and give them the regulations if they don’t know them. They couldn’t do it.

Mike Holmes? Yeah, he did one and two family homes. He has a group of people that come in. When my show was on, I had maybe three men from a local contracting company, maybe one electrician, maybe one plumber. We had to do six to nine weeks of work with the five of us. And that’s impossible. But we did it.

Extreme Makeover and all the other places, they’d have 20 or more people there. Now, I say I’m the most real contractor on television? I’m the only real contractor on TV. Mike Holmes, he can do a little one or two family home. Property Brothers? They’re pretty. Girls love them. Great. They don’t know anything about construction.

See, you’re getting to my passion now. You can hear it in my voice. Construction is in my blood, it’s what I do. They don’t know anything about construction. They do a little apartment somewhere.

You get any of the guys on HGTV, and I’ve talked to HGTV about this– you give them a little one or two family home? Great, they can do it. You give me a little one or two family home? I’ve done it. I’ve been there, man. No problem.

Now, give these same people 1800 drawings, 640 men and a budget of $1.1 billion and say, “Here you go, Mr. Holmes! Go build me this building!” Mike Holmes would sit there and wouldn’t know what to do.

Ask them to put up a 77 story highrise in the middle of Time Square, and tell them to make sure nobody gets hurt. They’d look at you like you were crazy. They’re not builders.

You give me that, I’ll do it. Ask Property Brothers to build an airport runway, and give them the regulations if they don’t know them. They couldn’t do it.

Ask them to put up a 77 story highrise in the middle of Time Square, and tell them to make sure nobody gets hurt. They’d look at you like you were crazy. They’re not builders.

I’ve done everything in those examples and more. I am the only builder on TV, and until there’s another one like me, there’s only one. When I find a builder with a resume like mine, I’ll shake his hand and then there will be two.

I am real. I’m a Site Safety Manager licensed by New York City. I have seven different licenses from the fire department. I’ve been around this job a long time. I’m conceited I guess, but there’s no one out there like me.

CCN: Switching gears for a minute, your episode of Naked and Afraid airs on June 7th, right? That was 21 days out of your life you spent on it, right?

CF: That was 21 days in the jungles of Colombia. Now, I’m a former Marine who’s trained in jungle survival in the Philippines. I became a jungle expert in survival in Panama. I spent quite a bit of time in the jungle so I was familiar with it.

Honestly, you’ll never hear me more humble. There’s two things that will humble me. One of them is Naked and Afraid. It was, without a doubt, the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I’m 53 years old, I don’t look it or act it, and I sure as hell don’t feel it. But, in all my life: from the Marine Corps, which was really hard, to being married for 32 years, which is hard; being naked in the jungle for 21 days with nothing is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.

Now, I told you reality television is 70% real. Naked and Afraid is easily 95-98% real. It is not a joke. It is the most real show on television. You’ve heard me a lot louder and a lot more confident in this conversation, but: I’m the best builder in New York, dude. That’s just the way it is. But I couldn’t even build shelter, and I’m the best builder in New York.

It is the most real show on television. It is not a joke. If you go on my Facebook page, you’ll see a picture of me having my first meal when I got out and I look like I’m 15 years old. Not because my face looks 15, but because I lost so much weight. I was 202 lbs going in, and I came out at 160. I lost a ton of weight.

Honestly, you’ll never hear me more humble. There’s two things that will humble me. One of them is Naked and Afraid. It was, without a doubt, the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.

And you’re thirsty. The worst part of the jungle was being thirsty. I had water and I had fire. I had bamboo, and I know how to make pots out of bamboo to boil things. But you’re not getting as much water as you’re expending, so you become dehydrated. Very quickly. Dehydration is a killer.

Forget about waterboarding. You want to get information from somebody? Don’t give them water for three days. Watch what they do. They’ll give you whatever information you want. People go on hunger strikes, they don’t go on water strikes.

It is the worst thing I’ve ever experienced. I was delusional. I’m not a quitter, as you can imagine, but the only time I wanted to quit was when I was dehydrated. I took a risk and found a water source. I used my experience to determine if it was good, and thank god I was right. But for those first three days, I was in really bad shape.

It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The girl who was in the jungle with me, she was an amazing person. Her name is Dani Beau, you’ll see her name on my Facebook page occasionally. We still keep in touch and I talk to her once or twice a week. We became very close because we were within three feet of each other for 21 days. You either become very good friends or or very good enemies.

We became good friends.

CCN: How has your other new show, Homeowner Justice, been going so far? You’ve started filming, right?

CF: That show, that’s where contractors take advantage of homeowners. HLN was picking it up but they decided not to. We have 8 episodes shot and we’re looking for someone to buy it.

I’m trying to do other things that are similar. I want to educate homeowners, because homeowners don’t know the first thing– contractors hate coming to my house. I don’t let them get away with anything. I don’t bake them a cake or offer them lemonade because it’s hot out.

Screw that. I’m in the middle of a site right now. It’s a three acre site, there’s no trees. I’m doing the foundation for a 10 story structure, it’s going to be about 200,000 square feet. Do you think the owner of this building is going to come bring me lemonade because it’s hot? No.

My job is to build this building for them. Homeowners want to be friends with these contractors because they’re inviting them into their house. I’m not the owner of this lot I’m standing on, but if you invite someone into your house it becomes intimate. They don’t want an enemy in their intimate location.

…contractors hate coming to my house. I don’t let them get away with anything. I don’t bake them a cake or offer them lemonade because it’s hot out.

The problem is, contractors will never be best friends with anybody other than the people they choose to be friends with. So they end up taking advantage… it’s like, “Hey, Mr. Homeowner, I need another $15,000 to continue! And if you don’t, I’m going to raise my voice a little and get angry!”

And then the homeowner gives them the money. I had one homeowner– by the way I don’t just do this for TV. Alex the Barber, my barber, he was building his house and asking questions. I went over there and found nine things wrong. Serious structural deficiencies. Stuff the contractor was doing wrong. And Alex wouldn’t know, so I had him get a hold of his architect. The architect came over and Alex told the guy who I was and that I know what I’m talking about.

We made him take down and reframe parts of Alex’s house because it was wrong. The contractor tried to argue with me, but I argued right back. I’m not even working for Alex, I just did it as a favor. I don’t like to see a homeowner taken advantage of by a contractor, and they do it all the time.

We had one guy, nine felony convictions related to construction, he was 6’6” and 275 lbs. He was afraid to talk to me. I’m 5’9” and weigh 202. Granted, I’m aggressive and I’ll kick your ass no matter how big you are. But he was afraid because he knew I had him and he was wrong.

I don’t care how big you are or what karate you know. I don’t care if you’re an MMA fighter. If you’re a jerk, you can beat me up and when I get out of the hospital you’re still a jerk. It doesn’t change the fact that you’re a still a jerk. And I’m going to make sure people know it.

Homeowners don’t get that. They want to be friends. I relayed this to a friend of mine who’s a stock broker. I asked him if his boss buys him lunch every day. Does your boss make you an apple pie? Does he put an extra fan out there when it’s hot? No!

He’s your boss. You work for him. Do your job. Homeowners fall into the trap of wanting contractors to like them, because that persons in their home and it’s an intimate situation. But it’s really not. It’s an employee/employer relationship, and that’s what I hope to teach homeowners.

I want to teach them when a contractor is cutting corners. Eventually that’s what I want to teach. That’s my goal.

CCN: On the flip side of that, what advice would you give to contractors? For managing expectations and advice in general.

CF: Well, that’s just it. Sometimes homeowners are a pain, too. But no matter what, contractors have to make sure a contract is fair to the homeowner and fair to them. Sometimes you get a homeowner that’s a real pain, but you have to make sure that they have the information, try your best and know that sometimes a relationship just can’t be formed.

You have to know that going in. If I’m sitting down at a table with a homeowner, I now know what their home looks like and I know their personality because I’m dealing with them. If I pay attention to that, as a contractor, I can decide if I want to get into a relationship with that homeowner.

There are a lot of signs you can use in your day-to-day life to decide if you want someone to be part of your life, whether it’s business or personal. You have to pay attention to those signs. A lot of contractors ignore those signs. A lot of contractors get hungry. They don’t know what they’re doing.

They’ll use Job A, which they started last week, to pay for Job B, which they’re going to start in a month. You can’t do that. Every job has to be independent, so one isn’t relying on the other. So if you walk away from one because of a problem with a homeowner, you can walk away and still survive off the other job.

If I’m sitting down at a table with a homeowner, I now know what their home looks like and I know their personality because I’m dealing with them. If I pay attention to that, as a contractor, I can decide if I want to get into a relationship with that homeowner.

A lot of times they use one to pay for the other, that’s always done in this industry.

I’ve had my problems with homeowners, but not one homeowner can say that I’ve either taken advantage of them or had a low level of integrity. My integrity and my morals have never changed and I’ve never taken advantage of a homeowner. I’ve actually left money on the table so that a homeowner could have his way.

My reputation is more important than any homeowner fight I could get into. Just pay attention to the warning signs. Keep your integrity.

CCN: Thanks, Charlie.

CF: Thank you, pal.

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