Nearly a Decade Later, The Hills Comes Back to Reality

By
Photography Bella Newman
Stylist Lana Jay Lackey

Published February 21, 2019

Heidi wears Earrings, Bracelet, and Ring by Bvlgari. Shoes by Christian Louboutin. Spencer wears Shoes by Christina Louboutin. Sunglasses Spencer’s own. Sunglasses and Boots Justin Bobby’s own. Jason wears Sunglasses by Retrosuperfuture. Shoes by Christian Louboutin. Frankie wears Sunglasses by Versace. Whitney wears Sunglasses by Carla Colour. Earrings and Belt by Laruicci. Shoes by Jimmy Choo. Audrina wears Earrings and Ring by David Yurman. Necklace by Bvlgari. Mischa wears Earrings, Necklace, Bracelet, and Rings by Bvlgari. Shoes by Roger Vivier. All Robes and Towels by Land’s End.

“Reality television is now a way of life,” says Justin Robert Brescia, the hirsute heartthrob better known in the late aughts as Justin Bobby. Huddled in white terrycloth robes next to a swimming pool in Beverly Hills, Brescia and his former MTV castmates have been reunited in anticipation of The Hills: New Beginnings, a reboot of the reality show The Hills (2006–2010), which was a spin-off of another reality show called Laguna Beach (2004–2006), itself a loose interpretation of Fox’s sudsy teen drama The O.C. (2003–2007). If the franchise made celebrities out of Brescia and his band of maudlin merrymakers, it also turned them into test pilots for today’s round-the-clock strain of rampant exhibitionism.

But the biggest difference between “reality” then and now has less to do with the players and everything to do with the audience, whose bullshit detector has evolved considerably since the passing of the torch from Sharon Osbourne to Kris Jenner. There was a time when Spencer Pratt, the anti-hero of The Hills, would make money for ratcheting up the drama at the expense of documentary— take, for instance, the moment when he kicked his future wife, Heidi Pratt (née Montag), out of his car during an argument, a scene they actually filmed ten times before going to dinner. “We got a million-dollar ratings bonus if we got to [a certain number of viewers], so whatever they wanted from me, I had no problem doing it,” says Spencer. “But that’s not the case this time.”

In a camera-ready culture, where everyone is the star of their own feed, it’s no longer necessary for producers to shoehorn personalities into 22-minute narratives. As cast member and self-described reality superfan Whitney Port puts it: “The audience is okay with just watching people gossip at lunch. They want to see people’s personalities as opposed to being entertained all the time. Reality television allows me to veg and not think about anything else. Some might look at it as a shallow version of meditation.”

The Hills is being revived at a time when the genre has produced America’s most successful mogul family — and, arguably, its president. To snark at reality television today is to snark at reality itself. Diving head-first into that juggernaut of meta-ness, The Hills: New Beginnings has replaced its former star, Lauren Conrad, with Mischa Barton, the actress whose introduction to fame came as Marissa Cooper on The O.C. “I swear to God, I got thrown into this last minute,” she says. “I was approached from every angle, by everyone I know. I ignored it at first, and then I got on a couple of calls with the producers and MTV. Then before I knew it, I was in serious talks with them.” For Barton and the lot, the rest is still, gloriously, unwritten.

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HEIDI PRATT

Sunglasses by Miu Miu. Bracelet and Ring (on right hand) by Bvlgari. Shoes by Christian Louboutin.

“People don’t treat reality television like they used to. Now everybody has their own reality show on Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms, where they can edit themselves. Almost everyone is a reality TV star.”

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SPENCER PRATT

Necklace Spencer’s own.

“I went into this season trying to be as genuine and authentic as possible, but the reality of my personality is that I just want success for this so badly that I’ve definitely caught myself. Like, I wouldn’t get blacked out at a pool party on a Tuesday at 1pm, but I want it to be successful. Heidi keeps telling me, ‘Success doesn’t mean partying harder than anyone.’ But my problem is that all of my favorite reality stars are always the drunkest or the most extra. So when the cameras are on, I’m like, ‘I gotta turn up.’ On the new series, I really am trying to explore real issues with other cast members on the show. They’re like, ‘Call me off-camera!’ And I’m like, ‘No.’”

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WHITNEY PORT

“I think I’ve been stereotyped as a person who is here to listen — the girl next door. That is a part of who I am, it’s true. I’m not necessarily going to bring the drama, so that’s the role I play. And these days, I’m definitely a bit more guarded. When you’re 20 years old, you don’t have a career yet and you can be very raw. But now I think everybody is more conscious of how their behavior is going to affect their family or their work.”

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MISCHA BARTON

Mischa wears Sunglasses by Carla Colour. Earrings, Bracelets, and Ring by Bvlgari.

“Throughout my career, people have totally confused Laguna Beach and The O.C. I think in people’s minds, it all kind of got blurred over time. When I was doing my own show, I saw a couple episodes of Laguna Beach here and there. Everybody would ask, ‘Have you heard about this reality version of The O.C?’ Being on the show now, I very much feel like what they do is a craft for them, and I give them props for that. I’ve found that what works best is to really embrace the process for what it is, which is just being yourself. If you’re not being yourself, it shows immediately. The camera doesn’t lie.”

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AUDRINA PATRIDGE

Earrings and Ring by David Yurman. Necklace by Bvlgari.

“I feel like a lot girls have grown up with us. And I still meet a lot of people to this day who tell me they’ve been through what I went through. People just walk up to me and start telling me about their lives, because they feel like we’re friends.”

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JUSTIN BOBBY

Sunglasses and Necklace Justin Bobby’s own.

“The biggest question I used to get all the time was, ‘Is it real?’ And I’m like, ‘It’s as real as you want it to be.’”

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JASON WAHLER

Sunglasses by Retrosuperfuture.

“A big part of what you’ll see from me moving forward is being in active recovery and sobriety. It’s my life, not a once-in-a-while thing. The whole reason I wanted to do this was to shed hope and show that recovery is possible. On every show that’s out there, there’s usually one person on there who struggles, or is sober, or is in recovery. On our show, that’s me.”

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FRANKIE DELGADO

Sunglasses and Sandals by Versace. Necklaces, Bracelet, and Ring by David Yurman. Cross Necklaces by Ben-Amun by Isaac Manevitz. Boxers and Watch Frankie’s own.

“Back then, I think I cared too much about what people thought. This time around, there’s no holding back. I want to be shown as I really am. Frank the Tank is still out — I’m still running the L.A. nightlife — but with a family, it’s a balance.”

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Hair: Andre Gunn at HONEY ARTISTS
Hair (Mischa Barton): Joshua Stinnett
Hair (Whitney Port): Mari Bowring
Hair and Makeup (Audrina Patridge): Emma Willis
Makeup: Jennifer Budner at ART DEPARTMENT
Makeup (Mischa Barton): Jessica Ahn
Makeup (Whitney Port): Phoebe Ogan
Production: Shawn Merz
Photography Assistant: Gabriela Forgo
Fashion Assistant: Fernando Picho
Hair Assistant: Nicole Konovaloff
Manicure: Merrick Fisher at OPUS BEAUTY
Production Assistant: Elle Lynch
Post-Production: Kevin Altorre