Business reality TV shows are all the rage, but Travel Channel‘s Hotel Impossible was one of the best. Almost a decade after it premiered, the show is still one of my favorites in the genre. Anthony Melchiorri is fantastic as he travels the country improving hotels, inns and other properties that have fallen far below the standard of hospitality.
While we all could use some escapism at the moment, I’ll be rewatching some of the show’s early episodes – because I still enjoy checking them out and hopefully can share my love of this series with people who haven’t seen it. If you’re one of those folks, know that Amazon Prime members can stream every episode for free on Amazon Prime Video, and non-members can purchase episodes or seasons on Amazon or iTunes. It’s well worth your time.
Without further ado, let’s look back at the second episode: “The Penguin Hotel” from April 16, 2012. If you want to know even more about this episode, photos and clips are still available on the Travel Channel website, though the series ceased production after 2017.
Vital statistics: “The Penguin Hotel” was season 1, episode 2 and featured The Penguin Hotel in South Beach, Florida. It originally aired on April 16, 2012.
What happened: South Beach is a hugely competitive area when it comes to the hotel business, as Anthony Melchiorri points out in his introduction. That makes it a bad place to have the “crazy idea” of buying a hotel with zero hospitality experience. But that’s what Markus did, and now he and his wife Giada find themselves burdened with a struggling hotel.
(Fun fact: The Penguin Hotel is located on Ocean Drive, the same street as the Clevelander South Beach, home of my favorite radio show – ESPN’s The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please go here and enjoy. I’ll wait.)
This is the first of many similar stories, not only on this show but other business reality TV shows: someone gets into the hotel, restaurant or bar business because they think it’s a fun and/or easy investment, and they’re soon caught out by their lack of knowledge. A lot of this episode is Anthony teaching Markus things that are hospitality basics, like that you have to maintain your lobby.
It’s also frustrating to watch, moreso than “Gurney’s Inn” before it, beause Markus’s ego comes into play. In another familiar trope, he insists that Anthony is insulting him just by showing him proof of his hotel’s shortcomings, and storms off. He insists that he’s “too old to be treated like a little boy,” while behaving exactly like a petulant child. Eventually, though, he does come around.
Keep an eye out for the truly head-scratching scene where Anthony is sent to a whole other hotel to get his “complimentary” drinks. He ends up wandering down an alley and having to ask a total stranger for directions, and then still winds up at the wrong venue. It’s a bizarre sequence of events, made even moreso by Markus’s justification when the two discuss it afterward.
This episode is also notable for being the first appearance of Blanche Garcia, who is Hotel Impossible’s most well-known and most frequent interior designer. Blanche does some amazing work with her company B-garcia Designs, and almost as important, she has a wonderful rapport with Anthony.
They banter with one another, but Blanche also has her own opinions and holds her ground when she disagrees, which is a welcome change of pace from other reality TV shows where the host just tells the designer what to do and expects that they’ll do it. Blanche and Anthony truly feel like equals, and that partnership is part of the reason that Hotel Impossible was successful for over 100 episodes.
(You may also recognize Blanche from HGTV Design Star season 6. Other fun fact: Travel Channel and HGTV are both part of the Discovery family of networks, and so all of Hotel Impossible‘s biggest designers happen to be Design Star alums, including Casey Noble, Britany Simon, Danielle Colding and Anne Rue.)
In the end, Anthony and Blanche are able to put The Penguin Hotel on the path to success. While this isn’t one of the best Hotel Impossible episodes of season 1, just because of the numerous confusing moments, it’s worth the watch just to see Blanche’s debut and an elevator that is literally full of penguins.
Hotel Impossible can be streamed on Amazon Video and purchased on iTunes.