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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

12 Families Build Home, One Gets to Keep It

MT"House" contestants showing off the five-room, $220,000 dacha that they are building near the Iskra River, 15 kilometers north of Moscow. The winner gets to keep the house.<br><a href="/photos/photo-essay/2003-08-05/page1.html" target="PhESSAY" onclick="w
This is the house that Dmitry built. And Andrei, Alexander, Sergei, Vladimir ...

Welcome to "Dom," or "House," the reality show on TNT television that manages to mix up family dysfunction and cattiness with an opera singer and Russia's love for dachas.

Twelve families have been living for the past month on a plot of 5 hectares near the Iskra River, 15 kilometers north of Moscow.

The contestants have to build a five-room, 8 million-ruble ($262,000) dacha on the land by the end of September.

The winning family gets to keep the house or, as is more likely the case, sell it.

Like any of the dozen other reality shows that have sprouted on television in recent years, this one makes a group of strangers live together, isolated from the outside world and deprived of basic luxuries. It then waits for the fireworks to begin as cameras record every minute.

"House" is strictly set to the oldest stereotypes. The men get to build the house, while the women and the children get to cook and provide for the workers in small huts 10 meters away from the construction site.

Controlling it all are the odd duo of popular opera-cum-pop singer Nikolai Baskov and Alexei Kulichkov, the construction foreman. Baskov is a flamboyant singer; Kulichkov is a Russian "muzhik," or "real man," who expects hard work, no nonsense and discipline from all, including Baskov.

A month after starting, the wooden frame of the house is already visible from across the river. The roofless structure looks tiny in comparison to the stone-and-brick mansions on the hill above it. Pop diva Alla Pugachyova lives not far away in a house that makes the new one look like a matchbox.

Asked what the neighbors think of the building, Baskov said they like it, adding, "But mainly because I'm here."

The neighbors certainly know when Baskov is around because of his black limousine, which at three meters is as long as the huts the families live in.

A family is knocked out of the program in an excruciating, if compulsive, ceremony every Friday. Contestants pick -- with the help of viewers' votes -- whom they want to leave and then have to explain again and again, in often personal terms, why they are throwing the losing family out.

Baskov helps stir things up by dissecting the families' lives and relationships.

"It's the first time that I have to interfere in people's personal lives because of a game," Baskov said.

He expressed reluctance about doing this to a group of visiting reporters last weekend, explaining again and again about one family that had to leave after a relative was involved in a car crash.

Baskov himself lives in a humble accommodation, a small, two-room hut with an upright piano where he can practice for an upcoming tour. Noticeably, a book about family psychology was lying on the piano.

In a question-and-answer session with reporters, contestant Natalya Ryabikova, 22, of Moscow said she has not changed since the start of the program, but Baskov interrupted a number of times to say she had become a better wife.

"You have become more caring, tender," insisted Baskov, as Ryabikova looked at him with a more and more strained expression.

Tensions between the families were evident as well, although most said they were getting along fine.

Contestant Dmitry Shchavelev, 24, of the Moscow region perhaps said it all when he declared: "There are people here who I talk to and others I won't talk to."

The reality show may tap into a national dream of owning a dacha just outside Moscow, but few of the families seemed to be interested in keeping it.

"Not many of us can afford the cost of taxes to live here," said Vladimir Ryabikov, the 33-year-old husband of Natalya Ryabikova.

Even so, the contestants are already showing signs of being possessive of the house.

"That'll cost 50 rubles," said one contestant when a photographer asked if he could go up into the second floor of the house.

"House" is on TNT daily at 9 p.m. The series finishes Sept. 28..