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Lost at Sea With the Property Brothers

Jonathan and Drew Scott, HGTV’s twin tandem, have built a home improvement empire, and garnered enough devotion to compel hundreds of people to set sail with them across the Caribbean

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At the moment, the Property Brothers are standing somewhat precariously at the top of a fake waterfall. Six-foot-four and a generic sort of good-looking, they are dressed for vacation as though auditioning for the part: carefully rugged stubble, each with sunglasses tucked into deeply unbuttoned Hawaiian shirts. Platters of Mai Tais wait close at hand. In the distance, the Miami skyline grows smaller, framed for now by a cluster of artificial palm trees farther down the gently swaying mini golf course. Closer afield is a clamoring crowd, one that is overwhelmingly female, overwhelmingly 40-plus, and overwhelmingly eager to get into selfie range. It is Day 1 of a five-day Caribbean cruise hosted by Jonathan and Drew Scott, identical twins and HGTV sensations, and the first thing their fans would like to know is: Do they really love all those children on their show?

The best and worst thing I can tell you about the Property Brothers is that they are exactly the same in person as they are on TV. The answer to that question—well, of course, cutest thing in the world, and by the way did you know they just published their first kids’ book?—is secondary to the charm offensive. They smile—megawatt; identical. They mime, in response to a question about difficult clients, kicking a misbehaving cat. (Laughter ensues.) They imitate an excessively particular wife’s kitchen countertop demands. (More laughter; when the same story is retold nearly verbatim the following day, the laughter is, if anything, even louder.) Jonathan teases Drew when a Canadianism—saying zed instead of zee—slips out. The audience coos.

“Our fans, fortunately, are …” Jonathan trails off a couple of days later, looking around the grandiose ship atrium where we were speaking, before lunging toward a towering pillar nearby. “Knock on fake marble,” he says, rapping his knuckles confidently, “are not like Justin Bieber fans.”

The premise of Property Brothers is that a young family—occasionally it is merely a young couple, or the odd retiree, but it is nearly always a young family—decides to look for a new home and contracts the Property Brothers to find it. Then comes the catch: The young family demands that this new home be in an expensive neighborhood with all sorts of bells and whistles far beyond their price range. It seems impossible! But then Drew, the real estate agent brother, finds a fixer-upper in a desirable location, and Jonathan, the contractor brother, sets about transforming it. Bad roofs are fixed, floor joists replaced, and tearful young mothers thank the Scotts for catching faults in the electrical system. In the final scene, the Property Brothers march the young family through their new home room by room as they ooh and aah over the open floor plan, mudroom, hardwood floors, dog-washing station, etc. Then the Property Brothers go on their way in search of the next young family.

The show debuted in 2011 on Canada’s W Network before moving to HGTV, where it quickly became one of the network’s top-rated programs. In the years since, the show has spawned nothing less than an empire. HGTV, which inked a multiyear deal with the Scotts in February, now airs four different shows starring the Scott brothers: the original Property Brothers, now in the midst of Season 13; Property Brothers: Buying and Selling, in which the brothers both fix up a family’s home for sale and then find and renovate its replacement; Brother vs. Brother, which has the brothers complete dueling renovations in the same city in search of the largest profit; and Property Brothers: At Home. They have, in turn, grown popular enough to compel people to set sail on a December Monday for the chance of meeting them (and for two much-hyped, officially designated photo opportunities).

The Scott brothers, who turned 40 earlier this year, were born in Vancouver, British Columbia, two years after the oldest Scott brother, J.D. They grew up on a horse farm in nearby Maple Ridge, where as young adults the twins participated in enough colorful activities—bagpipes, decorative coat hanger sales, magic (Jonathan, born John Ian Scott, eventually had his legal name changed to the more enigmatic Jonathan Silver Scott in service of his budding career as a magician), and tween clown performances—to fill, well, a cruise ship slideshow. As adults, the brothers worked together as flight attendants for the airline WestJet and—fatefully, as it turns out—flipped a handful of real estate properties to help make ends meet. Jonathan’s magic career continued in earnest until, according to the brothers’ 2017 memoir, It Takes Two: Our Story, he had some $80,000 worth of illusions stolen by a Calgary conman, forcing him to declare bankruptcy. “All those late nights drafting ideas, building in the barn, and choreographing routines were essentially now for nothing,” he wrote. “A lifelong dream up in smoke.” It was as Drew pursued acting that he attracted the interest of a production company called Cineflix, which sought to cast him in a realty-focused reality show alongside a female cohost. Then the company learned he had an identical twin and, voilà, the Property Brothers were born.

The Scotts now operate a minor constellation of concerns under the umbrella of Scott Brothers Global. Together with J.D., the twins run Scott Brothers Entertainment, which now produces a handful of HGTV programs not starring the brothers. They’ve written books: Both their memoir and Dream Home, a fixer-upper how-to guide, were New York Times best sellers; this fall they published Builder Brothers: Big Plans, the first in what they say will be a series of kids’ books. They star in ads for Chase Bank and Jaguar, among others, and will come motivate your next corporate gathering for, according to a booking agency for celebrity speakers, somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000. They’ve written screenplays, including one about a lonely pickup artist that they once described as “Hitch meets The Hangover.” Jonathan is in the midst of putting together a documentary about renewable energy. Last year, Drew competed on Dancing With the Stars alongside Emma Slater. (He finished fourth behind Jordan Fisher, Lindsey Stirling, and Frankie Muniz.) Their proprietary homeware line, Scott Living, can be found at Lowe’s and Wayfair and Amazon and many a home improvement locale near you.

Also aboard the cruise ship were nearly 200 members of the greater Scott entourage. This included family—notably J.D., who occupies an uneasy position as a non-Property Scott brother; he lacks his younger brothers’ telegenic buoyancy, not to mention their monozygote, so apart from occasional guest-hosting duties stays largely behind the scenes. J.D.’s fiancée, Annalee Belle, and Drew’s wife, Linda Phan, were at times mobbed by matrimonial well-wishers. Phan’s siblings, plus their children and partners, partook as well. Appearances by the Scott parents, Jim and Joanne, caused regular sensations throughout the ship: “Go say hi to your future in-laws!” one woman hissed to a Jonathan aficionado friend. This group of vaunted Scott plus-ones also included a roving posse of assorted Scott Brothers Global employees: producers and camerapeople and general contractors and the kinds of people who might sit just offstage with a Sharpie at the ready should, as happened, a fan proffer an oversize fish-shaped phone won on a previous season of the show for an autograph. “Friends,” the brothers call them all. “Did I see you at the wedding?” they ask people in the halls.

The cruise was, in fact, the second time the Scotts have hosted a voyage for fans. In 2015, they set sail on the first edition alongside a handful of other eager HGTV personalities. This time, though, they carried the trip all on their own, and, you know, not that it’s either here or there, but none of their former cohosts’ shows are still on the air. The 2018 edition of Sailing With the Scotts set sail aboard the MS Mariner of the Seas from Miami, en route first to a private island, then to the Bahamas, and, finally, back to the Florida mainland. The plan, the brothers say, is to do this every year, an annual HGTV bacchanal in the tropics—a few days each year to live the Scott brothers lifestyle. Or the Scott Brothers Lifestyle™, as the case may be.

“Can I just say this is the prettiest audience we’ve ever had?” Drew says as he takes the stage early the first morning at sea.

Dorothy Rybicki, a flight attendant based in Scottsdale, Arizona, delayed a kidney transplant to make it on the cruise. Rybicki also went on the first edition of the Scott brothers’ cruise. She found them, she says, to be the most down-to-earth celebrities she’s ever met—and she’s met plenty, working in first class. On the 2015 outing, an onboard painter created a large-scale portrait of Jonathan and Drew using just his hands. The painting was then auctioned off, with proceeds going to fight children’s cancer; the brothers pledged to match the winning bid and treat the buyer to dinner onboard with them to boot.

“I thought, well, that’s a nice thing to do,” Rybicki, 67, says. “And the next thing I knew, I blurted out three thousand dollars! Drew got me up to $3,900.” She had dinner with all three Scott brothers and took the painting home. At dinner, she showed Jonathan pictures of her home at the time in Detroit, which she’d recently renovated. “He’s looking at the pictures and he says, ‘Oh, you do watch HGTV!,’” she says, proudly. She saw them again when they came to a local home show, where she says that Jonathan recognized her when she asked them to sign one of their books. “Dinner’s on you next time,” she says he told her.

Lately, however, she’s had health issues that have forced her to go on medical leave from her job. Following a stint in the ICU, Rybicki landed on a kidney transplant list a year and a half ago. “I hate to say this, but they called me for a kidney transplant and I explained to them that I was going on this cruise and had spent a whole lot of money,” Rybicki says. “I said, if I have this surgery will I still be able to go on the cruise? And they said no. I said well, I’m going to take my chances.”

“I could not afford to miss this cruise,” she says, speaking both literally and figuratively—to treat herself, she’d upgraded her flight to Miami to first class, and her cabin to a junior suite. She talked to her doctors, she says, and they told her people with hepatitis C can donate a kidney now, “because it can be cured.” So she signed a waiver saying that once she’s back, she’ll accept a kidney with hepatitis C. Laughing a bit, she adds, “Now I know what a groupie is.”

Some of the Property Brothers’ fans do seem to take things too far. At one point, Rybicki had planned to share a cabin with a fellow solo traveler from Canada who had also booked her trip through the travel agency organizing the cruise and had, like Rybicki, gone on the 2015 cruise. But a day after confirming they’d share a suite, Rybicki received a call from the travel agency telling her, Rybicki says, that “the brothers will not allow this woman to go on the cruise.” The agency offered no details, telling her only, she says, that “someone’s looking out for you, let’s just put it that way.” Rybicki ended up bunking with a woman from California who found her through Facebook.

Asked one afternoon whether the Scotts barred anyone from attending the cruise, Jonathan points to my recorder and says nothing. For the Scott brothers’ week at sea, each roams the ship with a private security guard, who generally stands a dozen or so feet at bay and eyes the waves of fans swooping in for selfies. The hired muscle don’t seem terribly concerned about the threat level of the Mariner of the Seas: “Go ask him for a picture!” one of them exhorts upon noticing me waiting to talk to Jonathan. “He’s friendly, he does pictures all the time.”

On the second day of the cruise, the Scott brothers host a keynote address to, in their words, take attendees behind the scenes of Property Brothers. Lesson 1: No, you cannot remodel your house for the sums depicted on the show; the Scotts don’t charge for their services, and receive many of the materials they use for free or at steep discounts. Lesson 2: Yes, they do plenty of the renovation work themselves, but, OK, maybe not quite as much as the show depicts. While filming in a given city, the brothers typically have seven or more full-time construction crews working on different homes at any given time. Ostensible contractor-in-chief Jonathan flutters between them, seldom, one thinks, without a camera crew in tow.

Jonathan’s recent bachelordom is something of a through line for the week, which would perhaps be weirder were the Scott brothers’ love lives not themselves major Property Brothers plot points. One of their shows, Property Brothers: At Home, functions as something like wholesome Scott family propaganda, with the brothers working on their own personal projects. Case in point: Drew moving to Los Angeles with his then-fiancée, Linda Phan, and renovating their new home—complete with a spa-like master bathroom and a dedicated crafting room, natch—in a series called “Drew’s Honeymoon House.” Their subsequent wedding, in a lavish celebration this summer in Italy, became a TLC special—Linda and Drew Say I Do—that featured a moony single, “You Chose Me,” written and performed by the groom himself (with, fine, a little help from Auto-Tune).

As for Jonathan: He met his ex-wife, Kelsy Ully, while both were working at WestJet. They divorced in 2013 after six years of marriage. When he began a relationship with producer Jacinta Kuznetsov in 2015, the romance was, like his brother’s, hyped extensively on Property Brothers as a sort of extension of the domestic bliss the Scotts sow in each episode. Jonathan, Kuznetsov, Drew, and Phan all lived for a time in the Scott brothers’ shared compound in Las Vegas—the renovation of which was the subject of another season of Property Brothers: At Home—and Phan and Kuznetsov took jobs with the greater Scott production complex: Phan, as Scott Brothers Entertainment’s creative director, and Kuznetsov as the development producer. In April, however, Jonathan and Kuznetsov consciously uncoupled, crafting dual solemn Instagram posts to mark the occasion, both of which are no longer online. Kuznetsov has since gotten engaged; she remains with Scott Brothers Entertainment.

You might find, then, the first question from the audience following the Scotts’ keynote address—“So I was wondering what happened to your first fiancée from the first cruise?”—a touch, um, insensitive. (“We broke up,” Jonathan says. “We broke up.”) However, the hour opened with Drew asking how many members of the audience had come along on the voyage just to be with “Jonathan, the single brother,” prompting said single brother to respond, “On the final night, there will be a rose ceremony!” (Jonathan says he’s been approached by The Bachelor about a starring role on three different occasions, including this past August. He declined.) The next day, as Jonathan hosts a solo workshop, a significant portion of the crowd mishears his story about someone shouting at him “open concept sucks!” as “open-concept sex,” which more than a few participants make clear they might be interested in. For the duration of the cruise, the brothers commandeer a channel on the in-room television network, so that 24 hours a day you might be able to find Property Brothers episodes, footage from the day’s celebrations filmed by the onboard camera crew, or else other samplings from the Scotts’ musical offerings, including a parody of “Despacito” called “Desperate Reno,” whose music video features copious closeups of Jonathan’s very tight jeans:

The fascination can get, let’s say, a little bit serious.

Christine Salter, 46, works as a professional psychic medium in Phoenix. Four and a half years ago, she says, she dreamed of a man. “He was tall, dark, and handsome,” Salter says. “He was self-made, romantic. And I was wearing this long, peach gown, and he was wearing a tux.”

She knew, she says, that he was her soulmate. Taking this as a sign, she ended the relationship she was in at the time. “In this dream he had two corsages for me,” Salter says. “One had wedding rings attached and one didn’t. He said, which one do you want me to give you? And I said I want you to give me the one you really want to give me. And it was the one with the wedding rings attached.”

Salter came to believe that the man was one of the Property Brothers; given Drew was spoken for, she settled on Jonathan. The dreams came back with a vengeance this April, around the time that Jonathan became single again. Through either happenstance or something more cosmically intended, a client, grateful for Salter’s past assistance helping him connect with his deceased wife, offered to pay for her to go on the cruise and, well, that was that.

In the months leading up to the cruise, Salter sent a pair of postcards to Scott Brothers Entertainment’s Las Vegas address: “Sending you love and light,” she wrote, “see you on the cruise.” She commissioned a peach gown like the one from her dream from a local seamstress to wear to one of the week’s more formal events (Sailing With the Scotts Presents: White Hot Caribbean Nights).

On the final night of the cruise, she stands beaming on the deck, not far from where all three Scott brothers hold court at the front of a long photo line, each dressed in a colorful holiday-themed suit on behalf of the evening’s ugly-Christmas-sweater theme. Another guest, 35-year-old Matthew Booth, says that he and his wife (a 2015 cruise alumna), brought a whole extra suitcase just to carry their various costume changes.

Salter didn’t end up getting much time with Jonathan, she says, but that’s OK. She got to make her first attempt at singing karaoke—“Shadows of the Night,” which she both liked and felt avoided the cliché of “a sappy love song”—and follow Jonathan (and others) down the appropriately named Leap of Faith water slide at Nassau’s Atlantis Resort—a $200 add-on for interested parties—while Drew and Linda hosted a chocolate tasting elsewhere on the island. “I’ve had so much fun,” she says.

“They say it’s a vacation but I don’t know how much of a vacation it is for them,” Salter concedes. “I believe they’re really here for us.”

When Drew shakes your hand, he says, warmly, “Nice to see you”—a bit of professional business-ese on the off chance that you might have met before. At one event, he exhorts attendees to check the schedule “to make sure you guys don’t miss out on any of the fun activations”—a slip when he meant to say “activities,” maybe, or else a nod to a further bit of business-ese: that this cruise, and this mini golf session, and this karaoke night, and, yes, maybe especially this conga line, might fairly be considered brand activations. This is a Scott Brothers Global event, in service of the Scott Brothers (big B) brand, of whom, strangely, the Scott brothers (little B) themselves are mere ambassadors.

On the cruise, the duo are near fanatical in promoting their latest venture, a second homeware line called Casaza that they say will soon incorporate augmented reality to beam stylish, whitewashed spaces into your own home’s cluttered, dark ones, just so you can see which one you might prefer. Nine smiley young Casaza employees—the entire Casaza workforce so far—roam the ship in neon Casaza T-shirts, ready to spread the good word to anyone with room in their life for a live edge floor mirror ($1,480) or a set of four brass spheres ($87.50). Nearly every cruise event closes with the Scott brothers dispensing Casaza gift cards.

“The thing is, we have taken real family vacations, and we all always work. It’s just what we do,” says Annalee Belle, fiancée to J.D. and longtime Property Brothers makeup artist, a social media celebrity in her own right. Asked whether she managed to get out much in the Bahamas, she demurs. “I mainly just took photos, because it’s a work trip for us, so it was more just like I wanted to get cute content.”

“The only time we really, fully shut down is at home or, you know, a closed-quartered place together, where we’ll be out of the public eye,” she says. “We’ll just chill, be lazy. No makeup, no hair.” (Belle’s hair, it’s worth mentioning, is a signature fluorescent pink, and on this night she’s in full, festive holiday gear to match her fiancé’s three-piece Christmas suit.)

Jonathan is aware, yes, that his eligibility, or perceived eligibility, has created something of a sensation. In an earlier session, he told the audience, “We get half a million messages a week each on social media from you guys, and I read every single one.” Never mind the logistics.

In private, he’s a little more circumspect. “Sometimes people will mail us gifts, and that stuff automatically goes to charity,” he says. “People have sent gold bars. They send tools.” (It is unclear what, exactly, a charity might do with a gold bar.)

He says he loves the letters, for the most part, particularly the ones from kids. “We do get some weird letters from people who maybe don’t understand the social expectations of talking to a stranger,” he says. “If somebody’s going to propose to me via Twitter or a random letter and I’ve never met them, it’s probably not the right fit.”

The Scott brothers pitch their renovations as much more than a matter of aesthetics: This sort of living—the clean lines and kitchen islands and dedicated playspaces—is, they say, the key to happiness in the home. If your laundry room is the right size, they say, and has all the right shelves and folding space, you will have more time for everything else. If you give yourself a master retreat, your marriage will be stronger. If you hire skilled professionals—the kinds Casaza may soon be able to send straight to your doorstep, by the way—you might never argue again. Plus, you’ll add equity.

It’s a charming story, particularly when delivered by two strapping Canadians who believe so strongly, so palpably, so marketably in the importance of family and hard work and charity. When weather scuttles the intended stopover at a private island on Day 3—high winds mean 5-foot waves would’ve greeted the smaller boats intended to ferry passengers to land, and seasickness is definitely not part of the Scott family brand—the brothers move their beach party Olympics to the pool deck instead. It turned out all right, says Helen Kim, who’s lost count of how many times she’s met the brothers, and who competed on Team Drew in spite of, she says, a strong affiliation for Jonathan. “We have a lot of things in common,” she says. “We both like sushi. He’s really well read, which I like. The whole contractor thing, of course.”

To Kim, 28, much of the allure, she says, is that “they’re using their platform for the greater good.” Inspired, she recently got her real estate license, which she has yet to use. But you never know.

“Does anyone know where we were born?” the brothers asked at an earlier event. VANCOUVER! the crowd chanted.

“Where does Drew live now?” Jonathan asked next. L.A.! the crowd replied.

“Where do I live?” LAS VEGAS!

Then, without missing a beat: “What’s my address?”

The laughter drowned out what sure sounded like a handful of voices starting to list numbers.

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