Chip Gaines' Gift For Joanna That Kickstarted Their HGTV Careers

It's hard to imagine a world where "Fixer Upper" reruns aren't available on HGTV or where we can't decorate our homes with Magnolia brand items in an attempt to make it look like Joanna Gaines designed it herself. But there was a time when Chip and Joanna Gaines almost lost the opportunity to be on "Fixer Upper," the juggernaut of a show that launched them to celebrity status.

While Chip's personality is infectious, and Joanna certainly knows her way around home design, the duo actually owes their television deal to a very particular gift. To set the stage (pun intended), Joanna and Chip agreed to allow a film crew to grab a few days of footage to see if they would be a good fit. According to the pair in their book, "The Magnolia Story," things weren't going well. Joanna was a bit quiet and disliked being on camera, while Chip said, "My mouth was all dry and I couldn't think straight."

Everyone was about to pull the plug when Chip showed up with a completely unexpected gift — a dilapidated houseboat.

Chip's surprise purchase sealed the deal

The day after the camera crew reportedly told the couple, "If something doesn't happen here, there's no way you guys are getting a show," Chip Gaines blindfolded his wife, Joanna, put her in his truck, and drove her to an empty plot of land that sat lakeside. He planned to surprise her with his brand-new purchase of the unseaworthy boat, a gift he had bought especially for her. 

With cameras rolling, Chip pulled off the blindfold and told his wife, "I got this for you, Jo!" Joanna admitted that, at first, she wasn't sure what she was looking at, "A shipwreck, maybe?" As her vision cleared, she became less and less enthusiastic, writing, "It was the ugliest, rundown-looking, tow-story shack of a boat I'd ever seen." And the surprises just kept coming. Chip told her it was their new home.

Joanna admitted it was a very expensive home at that: "Then he fessed up and told me how much money he'd spent on it. As it all sank in, I realized I'd never been so mad at him." Fortunately, the holey, moldy boat (purchased sight unseen) and the fight that ensued because of it was just the drama the production crew needed to market "Fixer Upper" to the heads of programming. The rest is history.

What happened to the boat?

Initially, Joanna Gaines wanted her husband Chip to return the shipwreck of a houseboat he bought, to which Chip said, "It's paid for, it's done." Unconvinced, Jo asked the semi-driver delivering the boat to "hook it back up and take it back where it came from." But unfortunately for her, the deal was done, and Chip wasn't about to go back on his purchase. RadarOnline revealed that Chip really couldn't pull out of the purchase because twelve days post-surprise, the owner of the boat took him to court for not paying the remainder of the boat's $19,400 price tag. By March 2013, Chip was officially ordered to pay the balance plus legal fees amounting to $20,000 — yikes! 

The duo didn't divulge their side of the story in their book. Still, it's clear Joanna wasn't on board with allowing the family to live on the boat, even if they did manage to fix it up. She wrote, "Since the houseboat wasn't a livable option, my parents let us move into their house." Further explaining that three of the Gaines children didn't even know how to swim.

Chip and Joanna did renovate a 1970s houseboat for a friend during a 2017 episode, but it wasn't the same boat that served as the catalyst for their television series. We may never know what ultimately happened to the Gaines' floating fixer-upper, but it certainly was the gift that kept on giving, resulting in five seasons of "Fixer Upper."