‘The Story Trek’: Real reality TV

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Virginia Miles of Ridgewell, S.C., never expected to become the town celebrity at age 71, but that’s exactly what happened thanks to the help of Todd Hansen and his show, “The Story Trek.”

“The Story Trek” is a BYUtv weekly program featuring Hansen and his crew roving streets and persuading seemingly average people to tell their stories on television. Hansen and the crew report most of the people they talk to as fairly closed off at first.

“Sometimes we talk for 45 minutes before we get to anything … (but) everybody has something compelling inside of them; it just takes some sharing with me,” said Hansen.

What is even more surprising than putting complete strangers on television is Hansen doesn’t choose which strangers get air time and which don’t. He just starts knocking doors.

“If they agree to an interview, their story goes on air,” Hansen said.

What happens after the stranger agrees to an interview, said producer of the show Nichole Coombs, is nothing short of a miracle.

Hansen and BYUtv program, The Story Trek, seek to tell the heart-warming stories stories hidden within your average stranger.
“The Story Trek” seeks to tell the heartwarming stories hidden within the average stranger. Hansen and his crew interview Jack Faulkenberry in Lexington, SC. (Photo courtesy BYU Broadcasting)

“There is a sense of magic when Todd connects with someone,” Coombs said. “I see these people meet Todd, who was a stranger before, and connect with him in a way that they have never connected with anyone in their life. Nothing else can explain it. A spirit reaches out to another.”

Coombs herself has been on the other end of that connection, as she was a participant on the show before she became the producer.

“It was July 2012; I was writing for a newspaper when a friend of mine posted on Facebook that, ‘Todd the guy who tells stories is here,’” she said.

Coombs, who had been coworkers with Hansen while they both worked at Fox 13 News, sought to catch up with her old friend and sent him a message that read, “Hey I hear you are harassing my neighbors. Message me after you are done.”

At 3:00 p.m. that afternoon, Coombs received a knock at the door. Coombs was surprised to see Hansen and his camera crew standing outside her office. It turned out that Coombs, Hansen’s old producer at Fox 13 News, was the owner of the 42nd door Hansen knocked on while filming that day.

Hansen and his crew filmed Coombs’ story, and it aired three months later. In December of that same year, Coombs received an invitation from Hansen to come on the show as its producer, a position that, up to that point, he had filled, in addition to being host.

Coombs left her job at KSL and went on to be the producer for “The Story Trek” for 2013, despite not knowing whether or not there would be a 2014 season to follow. In appreciation of her past work, KSL keeps her on staff in a part-time position.

“‘The Story Trek’ has given me a renewed sense that every single person matters. Every person. I came back a better person, a better woman and a better wife,” Coombs said. “Many of (the participants on the show) will remain my friends for a long time because that’s just how you connect.”

The results of these connections are engaging stories that have an effect on those who watch the show.

According to Coombs, dozens and even hundreds of people who relate to the show’s participants flood BYUtv and “The Story Trek” inboxes and social media pages with messages after each episode airs. These messages are full of well-wishes, empathy and prayers intended for the show participants.

Miles sits in her living room with Hansen as she tells her inspiring story of overcoming the heartache of overcoming the loss of her son.
Miles sits in her living room with Hansen as she tells her inspiring story of overcoming the heartache of the loss of her son. (Photo courtesy BYU Broadcasting)

“After my episode aired, a lot of people called me and wrote to me saying, ‘I had no idea what you had gone through.’ Now I watch (‘The Story Trek’) every week, and so does everyone in my town,” said Miles, the new town favorite.

According to Miles, she is the third oldest in her town, and as such, the only ones who had known her story were mostly dead. Now she feels good knowing that the young people in her town know it too.

“I hope it (the show) stays on TV forever,” Miles said.

Jon Andrus, production manager for the show, explained that “The Story Trek” plays an important role in BYUtv’s programming.

“In more ways than one, ‘The Story Trek’ fits the mission of BYUtv better than any other show. We actually highlight gospel principles that people use to overcome trials,” he said.

Andrus further explained that the show offers a nonthreatening way for people to be introduced to the church and its principles as they are lived out by ordinary people.

“This is reality TV; you can’t get any more real than this,” he said.