DFW family battles for holiday supremacy on TV's Great Christmas Light Fight this week
UPDATE 12-22-2021: The last night of the display will be Sunday, December 26, the Burkmans have announced. It originally was scheduled to run until New Year's Eve.
UPDATE 12-2-2021: A family from Boerne, Texas was crowned champion of the episode. While the Burkman family didn't win the $50,000 grand prize, the lights are now on. Details on how to see them in person below.
A North Texas family well-known locally for their "extreme," 70,000-light holiday displays will shine in the national spotlight on Thursday, December 2 as competitors on the hit ABC reality series The Great Christmas Light Fight.
Husband-and-wife Corey and Jen Burkman, sons Alex and Jack, and Jen's dad, Eugene Skalskyj — otherwise known as the Burkman Holiday Home of Frisco — will plug in and battle it out with three other families, all vying for a $50,000 grand prize and some pretty over-the-rooftop bragging rights. In Dallas-Fort Worth, the episode will air on WFAA-Channel 8 from 8-10 pm (also available on FuboTV and Hulu Live).
A cast and crew of about 20 filmed the episode over four rainy, windy, cold days in December 2020. By then, the Burkmans had known for about five months that they'd be competing — plenty of time to up the ante by about 15,000 lights and design and build some new, show-stopping features. Not a problem, says Jen Burkman.
"I have a little bit of a clearance shopping issue,” she says. "I walk into Hobby Lobby and it's like Cheers — they know my name."
To be COVID-safe in those pre-vaccination times, the family had to quarantine for two weeks, get tested each day during filming, and mask up when they weren't on camera. The local sheriff's department blocked the street to help keep crowds and neighbors away, and the show even sent a COVID officer as part of the crew.
"Filming a reality show is interesting," Jen says. "The cast and crew was so amazing. They made us feel so comfortable, and we just had so much fun with them. We've stayed in touch with the producers, and they're part of my family now."
She says she felt a kindred spirit in show host, judge, and design expert Taniya Nayak and even incorporated a special wink to her in their display: "We did a 'Good Morning North Pole,' and she loved it because she'd love to guest host on Good Morning America some day," Jen says.
Another feature that impressed the judge: a full 10,000 lights glued to the Burkmans' house like gumdrops. "They've never had anybody on the show do that," she says. (A warning for anyone tempted to try it at home: It takes about 2,000 Gorilla glue sticks and wreaks havoc on fingertips.)
A train village in their garage was another showstopper, as was a detailed gingerbread house "where you look inside and it looks like the gingerbread is actually baking," she says.
But actually, the Burkmans aren't sure which of the other festive features will dazzle and delight TV viewers. The family wasn't involved in the editing, and they haven't seen the final show.
"Reality shows are great, and I think some people think it's all fake — and sure, there'd be times when they'd say, 'Let's try that again,' mostly our interviews — but the first time Taniya saw the lights was truly the first time she saw the lights."
The Burkmans do know who their competitors were, and they know who won — but they're sworn to secrecy, dang it.
Creating brighter futures
If they win the $50,000 prize, the Burkmans will plan a much-needed vacation — "the family's pretty exhausted by July" — and give the money to their newly formed Burkman Family Foundation.
The Burkmans don't just light up their house for fun each holiday season; they use it to, quite literally, "create brighter futures" for others. The new foundation, which they hope to get up and running officially in January, will give scholarships to high school seniors pursuing any kind of secondary education, including trade schools.
They also give generously to a local organization called 29 Acres, which teaches vital skills to young people with autism. The nonprofit connects them to their roots, as they started their holiday displays more than 20 years ago when son Alex, who was autistic, developed a love of lights.
"Our autistic son, really, was our priority financially, and so it was, 'Do we go to see Santa or do we buy prescriptions?'" Jen says. "And we just vowed, if some day we could give back to other people who helped us, we would, and that's what we're doing."
Each year, the Burkman Holiday Home adopts a family in need; this year, it's a Frisco family whose teenage daughter, Liyana, decorates hospital rooms to make other kids' stays a little brighter.
Jen says the family received no compensation for competing on The Great Christmas Light Fight. But a few high-profile national appearances last year — including on Live with Kelly and Ryan — attracted a sponsor that helped them raise over $15,000 for charity in 2020.
While she doesn't know exactly how much they spend to put on the light show every year — a few thousand, thanks to after-Christmas clearance sales — their power bill is surprisingly cheap since about 90 percent of their lights are LED. For six weeks, it's about $500, she says.
Viewing their light displays is free for the public. They sell special themed merchandise and welcome donations from anyone who'd like to make charitable contributions.
"We continue to do what we do because of our charities," Jen says. "So the attention the display has brought to that purpose has been really amazing."
This year, the Burkmans will flip the switch on their over-the-top display the same night the show airs, around 6 pm. Their official grand opening will be the next night, Friday, December 3. It will remain on nightly, 6-11 pm, until New Year's Eve.
The Burkman Holiday Home is at 3809 Hazelhurst Dr., Frisco, 75036. Follow them on their website and Facebook page for updates, such as special themes for photo sessions. For a list of other spectacular Dallas-area Christmas lights, click here and Fort Worth-area lights, click here.