Mike Holmes Talks HGTV's Battle On The Beach And His TV Career - Exclusive Interview

After more than two decades on television, Mike Holmes has definitely made his mark on HGTV. Few know that he started by building houses for the network behind-the-scenes before being introduced on-camera in 2001 — and his career certainly hasn't slowed down since.

Now, the "Holmes on Homes" star is set to appear as a celebrity judge on a brand new show on the network. "Battle on the Beach" will follow three pairs of ordinary house flippers as they compete for the ultimate cash prize of $50,000. Along the way, these couples will be mentored by some of HGTV's best, and at the end of each week, Holmes himself will determine who had the best flip and even give them advice on how to make it right if they didn't.

In an exclusive interview with The List, Holmes told us all about what it was like behind-the-scenes of his new series, the story of how he accidentally ended up on television, and that we may be seeing this iconic carpenter appear as a cartoon next.

Mike Holmes explains what it was like working on Battle on the Beach

What was it like working on "Battle on the Beach?" How was this experience different from some of the other renovation shows you've been a part of?

I'll tell you that every time I do another television show, it's usually "Mike, we want you to do this," and I'm filming here in Canada, non-stop for the U.S. I go in and really not knowing, I've got an idea of what I'm going to be doing, and then all of a sudden it turns out to be a wonderful experience. And that doesn't always happen.

This "Battle on the Beach" was such a fun time. The producers were great, Ty [Pennington] was great, Alison [Victoria], Taniya [Nayak], Mina [Starsiak Hawk], and everyone was so good — including the three families, husband and wife teams, going for the $50,000 win, the big bragging rights, was incredible. I think it was so well executed that people are going to love this show, and I can see this being a continuation from here.

What Mike Holmes has learned from working on competitive shows over the years

I got the chance to watch the first episode of "Battle on the Beach," and it reminded me a little bit of "Rock the Block," which you were just competing on instead of judging. Do you feel like you have a unique perspective now as a judge since you had just done a competition show?

Most definitely. I've been a judge for many years. A lot of television shows that I do, I've been the judge, and that's who I am. I'm the guy that if you make a mistake, I'm going to see it and I'm going to explain it, which I love doing because I'm about education to all homeowners.

When it comes to judging this show, I think the surreal part for me was not realizing the three different homeowners, their ways of doing things, their ideas, their impressions of what to do. Again, they're newbies, they're not professionals, but to see the difference in what they can do and how they could grow from week to week, and especially seeing me at the end of every week, how they grew, and that was a really cool process.

Mike Holmes admits the hardest part about judging Battle on the Beach

What was the most difficult part about being a judge on "Battle on the Beach?" You've been a judge like you said many times, but were there any difficulties in this competition?

Yes, there always is. Especially if you go to like the people, I'm a fair guy. I'm not going to pick two people just because I liked them. I'm going to be who I am. I think the hard part was, I don't want to say punishing, but letting down their spirit at the end of that week, that "you did something totally wrong that I do not recommend, and it has been a problem, and I hope you fix it. I hope you learn from this." So that makes me like the bad guy, even though I'm not the bad guy. I'm actually the good guy.

But it's a learning experience for these competitors too, right?

Well, that's what I want it to be, and the wonderful part is that they did learn. By the end of it, they became friends, and they became friends of ours — back and forth. It was honestly a wonderful experience.

What working with Mina Starsiak Hawk is like, according to Mike Holmes

What was it like judging with Mina Starsiak Hawk on "Battle on the Beach?" You had met her before, right?

I've met her before, yes. She was on the very first "Rock the Block" when I judged the kitchen between four of the women. It was a different role, because I didn't know her when I first met her and I was just the judge. Now, she's working with me as a judge. She's got her own style also, and I loved a lot of the things that she said. I just not only grew more respect for who she is, but she became a friend.

Mike Holmes shares the best thing about being a part of Battle on the Beach

What was your favorite part about doing "Battle on the Beach"?

Just getting to know the three families, which was a wonderful experience. Getting to know a new production company that I thought was so talented and just had their stuff together. They knew what they were doing and what they wanted and how they tried to get from the families — not to mention Ty, Alison, Taniya, Mina, and myself. We had a blast working together. I mean, I got to know Ty more. I didn't know he could sing. I got to know Alison more. I didn't know she could sing. I got to know Taniya more, and she's just — in herself is — a unique person, not to mention Mina. The wonderful experience for me was actually working with the other four people and getting to know them better. That just made it great for me. I went home with a smile and not like, "That was a pain. It wasn't great." It was wonderful.

Mike Holmes has some behind-the-scenes stories from Battle on the Beach

Was there any favorite moment that you had from shooting "Battle on the Beach" — you were talking about them singing? Were there any special moments that you wish that we could see at home?

Yeah. Honestly, it was Alison who started this, because Alison had the juice trailer, and Taniya had the coffee trailer. They were really enticing all the crew, not to mention the families, but the crew especially, "Come and have a coffee. Come and have a juice."

And Ty, I didn't know him that way. Getting to know him personally, he's a great guy. I'm telling you, when that freaking box came out that they started singing, I was blown away that Ty just pulled out his own character and got up and sang like he was a rockstar, was not afraid of cameras because everyone had their phones rolling to record it. It was just a wonderful time. If you look at that, that's a television show behind a television show.

What Mike Holmes looked forward to seeing each week while shooting Battle on the Beach

Was there a room in the beach houses that you were most excited to see renovated?

That was the great part, because as I think I got to know the homeowners — or as you say the competitors — they surprised me each and every week. At the end of every week, of course I judged them, and they should learn from it, and then they surprise me again. Things that I didn't expect. I do these things like, "Okay, I think I know who these people are. I can't wait to see their bedroom, what they're doing or their bathroom." Then when I go see it, I'm blown away, because whether it was totally wrong or right off the top, which I'll tell you, there was some exciting points of how people did what they wanted to do or what they saw in their own vision, what they could do, how it was executed. Then what was the final? Sometimes I was like, "I did not expect that. You guys won."

The lesson that Mike Holmes learned from Battle on the Beach

You've been in this business for such a long time, but was there anything new that you learned from being a part of "Battle on the Beach?"

That's a great question. Yes. What I learned from the competition is what's going to make good television. I think through this whole group of everyone that was involved from production right down to family, not to mention all the wonderful people — Ty, Alison, Taniya, Mina, and myself — the combination was a perfect scenario. It was the perfect way to do a television show that I think everyone is going to enjoy. They're all going to get something out of it, whether it's [a] design feature, who Ty really is, a different side of Alison, a different side of Taniya and Mina. Viewers are going to get so much out of this show. That's, to me, what made the difference.

Mike Holmes has lots of advice for house flippers

What is the biggest advice you have for house flippers who will be watching "Battle on the Beach" from their own homes?

Okay, great question. Slow down. Take your time. Just because — it's great to find out what other people's imaginations are, but don't mess with things you don't know. Just don't do that. Bring in the right people, or learn how to do it. I don't ever want to say, "Don't tempt it."

Don't mess with structure. That's a big thing, because that can cause a massive issue. Don't play with electrical, and don't play with plumbing — but be adventurous, because that's what this type of show can be. "Battle on the Beach," three houses on the beach. That was adventurous.

The crazy way Mike Holmes ended up on television

I did want to talk to you about your career in general, because you were doing construction even before you were ever on television. You were kind of accidentally "discovered" in a sense. What is it that convinced you to want to go into television, and were you hesitant at all to enter the industry at first?

Holy cow — was I ever. Not too many people know this, but I got to know someone big at HGTV only because they wanted me to build them a custom home, and that was many years ago. I'll never forget. The plans were drawn up. It was a very unique home. It was a straw bale home, just so you know, so I studied straw bale, looked at them, and thought, "Okay, you want a Fred Flintstone house? Okay."

Now, I go into his office, and we started going over, "We're going to need to thermal break this. We're going to need to do this." So I'm telling him what he needs to look at, because that's my part. Then when he told me — it was the funniest thing — he says, "No, I know what I'm doing. I want this. I want that." Well, that just put me on — it got on my wrong side. And I said, "You know what? This reminds me of the shows on your channel. Very bad information. I can't believe that you guys are airing crap shows like that. I've seen so many mistakes. I can tell when no permits are pulled." And trust me, I went on for about 30 minutes straight. I had diarrhea of the mouth. I was looking at him, and he's looking at me really strange.

So when I realized that, you know, he was probably tired of hearing me, I said, "I'm sorry. I think I should leave now." And I went to leave his office, and he jumped up out of his chair, and he said, "I want a pilot right away!" And I laughed my head off. I said, "I'm a contractor. I'm not a TV guy. Maybe I can help you behind-the-scenes to make sure that you make it right."

And he bugged me for three months, and in that three months, he kept saying, "I need you to. It's got to be you. It's got to be you." And at the end of it, he said to me — this was his words, "I noticed you like to help one family at a time." And I said, "That's what this is all about." He says, "How would you like to help them all at once?" And I said, "You S.O.B. I own the show, or I'm not doing it." That was the beginning of "Holmes on Homes."

Oh, my gosh. What a story!

Nobody else has heard that, so you've got it hot off the press.

How fame has affected Mike Holmes

How has being on TV affected your life?

There's no doubt that it's changed my life, because I remember three years in, it broke every — Jesus, in the first year, it broke every single record on the channel, and then went around the world. And in over a hundred countries, it just continued to be a massive phenomenon. I think it was only because it related to people. Everyone wants to fix their house. They want to know how to do it right. It would give them inspiration and design.

And I remember my kids — I've been doing television, now, 21 years — so my kids, walking around with me, seeing people being — I'm recognized wherever I go. They became the little protectors, you know, and "Dad, walk in the middle of us." And then now, the irony behind it is that they're on the show, and now they have people recognizing them wherever they are. But the wonderful thing about this is that they're just good people that want to say hi. I still get the odd, you know, "Have I got a basement for you!" But it's a wonderful experience to have, to meet good people around the world, and the majority have stories.

Mike Holmes talks about how his TV career has become a family affair

How does it feel now to have your kids on TV with you?

Having my kids work with me in construction was one of the most wonderful things, because I get to teach them and better them. Sherry, representing women in skilled trades, and Michael, becoming the next best.

On television, I never would have thought that they would have what it takes, and it just grew in them. Sherry, a natural in front of the camera. Michael — I don't even think they realize how natural they are. It's only because they were no longer afraid of the camera, so they became themselves. Looking at the opportunity that, one day, they could probably have their own television show, I feel pretty proud of that. It's never been about TV for me, but if it betters the people around me, then I feel pretty good about what I do.

Out of all of the projects Mike Holmes has been a part of, this one is his favorite

You've done tons of different types of TV shows that educate people on construction. Do you have a favorite one or a favorite project that you've worked on?

There are so many, to be honest. In Atlanta, I built 22 houses and gave them away to deserving families on "Home Free."

Going to New Orleans and working with Brad Pitt, the Make It Right Foundation, which I own Make It Right, and that's how we got hooked up together. Building that home and making it withstand a category five hurricane was my interest. And it was my company working with all of their people to confirm that we were going to do that and show the world. The truth is that I would love to see us do more of that, because with the environmental changes that are happening, it's only going to get worse. More severe storms, more tornadoes, more hurricanes, and we should be building smarter and stop building something that can blow down. Think of the three little pigs.

There's only one celebrity who has left Mike Holmes starstruck

Speaking of Brad Pitt, you've worked with him, you've worked with lots of different HGTV stars. Do you get starstruck? Has there been anyone that you've just been starstruck by?

Wow, that's a great question. I have met a lot of people. I mean, a lot of big stars. I've been on Ellen DeGeneres, Dr. Oz multiple times. And I don't think I'm the type that is starstruck, but I do have to admit the one time that I met — my goodness, what is her name? It was more than anything that she watched my show and I'm talking about — You can help me here. She's in my phone for Christ's sake. What's your name? Valerie [Bertinelli], Eddie Van Halen's [ex-]wife. She watched my show and loved it. I met her new husband, and we're at an event and [she's] just being a sweetheart, [and] that she would love to have me come fix her house. I thought she was a great person. That's a good part about my world is I get to meet these people and go, "Holy cow. You watch my show? I've watched yours."

If Mike Holmes wasn't working in construction, this is the career he would love to have

You've been a part of construction and TV for a long time, and you know it very well. If you weren't doing that, though, what would you want to be doing?

I think I was destined for construction as a little boy. There's no doubt in my mind that I was. I think even along the way, I would have ended up being a teacher somehow, some way. Even if it was in college, that's probably the direction I would've ended up going or a building inspector, but building inspectors just really — it's like being a police officer. It's not the greatest job in the world, and I don't want to say that police officers don't have that, but it's the point that as a teacher, you get to touch people more. And I think you get to help people more in the world that I live in, and one way or the other, that's what I would have done — is a teacher in construction.

What will we see Mike Holmes working on next?

You recently debuted a podcast. What's next for you?

Well, we're going to play more with podcasts. We're going to do more things like that. I'm working on something else with HG[TV] U.S., and I have something that we have been playing with.

And then never mind the cartoon that no one really knows about. There's going to be a "Mighty Mike" cartoon, and whether or not it's going to be called "Mighty Mike" — I think that name is already taken — but who would've thought that, you know, I could become a cartoon? I didn't. I think that's wonderful, but there is something really big beyond that, and we'll see how that goes, and it would be the new, new step of the Holmes family.

I love that! Do you have any other information you're able to share about this cartoon?

I'll tell you this, they want it that it's me at the beginning, and then more into the cartoon. And my family's involved in it, and it's really about, you know, communities and kids being good. And it's — I love the idea. I really do. And not so much about building houses, but enticing the young to get into the trades, but it's more about being a good boy or a good girl, especially your mom and dad, the family, or don't steal. There's all kinds of involvements in this cartoon that, really, it's just something I didn't see coming, but the more we played with it, the more that it [felt] good.

"Battle on the Beach" premieres Sunday, July 11, 2021 at 9/8c on HGTV and Discovery+.