The Long-lost Sister: Ashley Arend
By Travis HoewischerPublished April 1, 2011
Ashley Arend, 26
Find My Family, Season 1
Real Life Occupation: Teacher at Academic Acceleration Academy
Going on a reality TV show is often billed as potential life-changing experience; thousands of dollars and instant celebrity always seem to be at the end of the rainbow.
In the case of Columbus’ Ashley Arend, her life will certainly never be the same after her reality TV revelation – and she didn’t win a single cent.
Growing up, Ashley had always been aware that she was adopted. But at age 13, her teenage curiosity got the better of her. When she discovered her adoption papers in a closet, Ashley found out she had a birth brother whom she had never met. From that day forward, she always planned to try to find out more about her background, but the personal quest didn’t really take shape until a decade later after she graduated from college.
Since her adoption was ‘closed’ – meaning only limited information about the birth family is revealed – her research had largely resulted in dead ends.
Until one day, on a whim, she signed up on the website Adopteeconnect.com, hoping to have better luck. Little did she know, her life would change that day – really, that afternoon – as producers from the new ABC show Find My Family were searching for subjects on the other end.
Within three hours, they contacted Ashley and a camera crew was at her house within months, setting in motion a series of life-altering events – all captured for a national television audience.
Not only did the show find Ashley’s brother, David, but revealed to Ashley for the first time that she also had a sister, Danielle. Their introduction under a tree on the first episode of FMF is one of the more emotional moments you’ll ever see on TV.
What was your initial reaction when you were contacted by the show’s producers?
I was like, ‘Sure, you’re some Nigerian dude who wants my money’ (laughs). At the same time, I had hit so many dead ends and had so few options, I thought there was no harm in e-mailing her. The thought that I was going to be on the show was exciting – I mean, who wouldn’t want to be on TV? And you’re gonna find my brother?
Was there any hesitation? This was a pretty heavy thing you had been carrying around for 10 years.
I was a little wary. A million what-ifs were going through my head: ‘What are they going to do that I couldn’t do? How are they going to find these people? How can they prove they’re my brother and sister? What if they don’t like me?’ Still, I was like, ‘I have to do this. It’s my last option. I’m doing it.’
What do you think is the biggest misconception about reality shows after your experience?
There was a short article in The New York Times about the show, and it actually used a picture of me and my brother and sister on the hill, saying this show was just trying to get ratings and that they were dramatically and radically changing people’s lives and then just leaving. That’s really not what it was at all. The producers that I worked with were so amazing. One of them, Risa, stills calls me or texts me once a month or so. They were out to make a good show, but they were not these cold-hearted people that article was making them out to be.
Tell us about the actual moment that the show’s producers revealed they’d found your brother.
One of the producers said he had to take a call, and it had to do with my story, so he couldn’t have me listening. ‘I need you to go your room,’ he said. He sent me to my room (laughs). I was by myself – no family, no friends – and just freaking out.
I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, what’s going on with my story? Did something bad happen? Did they find somebody? Has this all been a waste of time?’ Risa walked in and told me the host of the show, Tim Green, took a redeye into Columbus the night before and he was on his way to my house. They were being a little manipulative with my emotions – I won’t deny that. But I got to have a more full emotional experience because of that and that doesn’t upset me at all.
Was there ever a time during this process where you felt you were taken advantage of? Not at all. I don’t feel abused by them, I don’t feel manipulated … well, I feel manipulated, but for a good purpose (laughs). The show wasn’t out to hurt anyone. It wasn’t a Jerry Springer situation – nothing like that. It’s been a year and a half and I still feel very happy about the way the things worked out. I mean, they didn’t make me look like an idiot, and I say stupid things all the time (laughs)! My dreams came true; that’s not something that the average person gets to say.
So you were happy to play along to accomplish your goal?
None of it was acting, but, yeah, I was willing to do what they asked, what they needed me to do. It was give and take. If you want to lock me in my room and freak me out for 45 minutes, go ahead – 45 minutes of miserable anxiety is well worth a lifetime of family.