The untold truth of TLC’s My Feet Are Killing Me

The untold truth of TLC’s My Feet Are Killing Me

January 17, 2020

In January 2020, TLC’s My Feet Are Killing Me, a reality show that gave whole new meaning to the phrase “putting your best foot forward,” debuted. The series introduced Dr. Ebonie Vincent and Dr. Brad Schaeffer, two podiatrists who, according to the network’s announcement, “have never met a foot too funky to fix.” With Vincent based on the west coast and Schaeffer on the east, TLC explained that the new series would follow the docs as they take on some of the most jaw-dropping, eye-popping foot problems ever seen on television.

“It was clear, following the debut of Dr. Pimple Popper, that our audience was craving even more powerful and heartwarming stories of medical transformation,” said TLC president and GM Howard Lee, promising to take viewers on “emotional rollercoaster journeys through to their uplifting conclusions.” From folks with extra toes to a patient with Proteus syndrome (a.k.a. Elephant Man’s Disease), My Feet Are Killing Me is all about fixing feet and changing lives.

The new series quickly made an impression, with nearly 2.8 million viewers tuning in to the premiere episode. There is much to be discovered about this unique show, so buckle up for the untold truth of TLC’s My Feet Are Killing Me.

TLC's My Feet Are Killing Me is not for the faint of heart

If viewers found themselves shocked by the downright frightening feet on display on TLC’s My Feet Are Killing Me, they can’t say they weren’t warned. That’s because each episode opens with a stern disclaimer. “This program examines podiatry conditions and the procedures involved with treating them,” reads the warning. “Due to their graphic nature, viewer discretion is advised.”

Even People, which shared a brief trailer of the show on its website, cautioned its readers that the clip “contains graphic images that may be unsettling.” In fact, viewers who watched the clip did indeed encounter some downright horrific-looking feet. Among these were a patient whose massive infected growth on the sole of her foot looked like something out of The Walking Dead and another who had neglected his feet for so long that one of the doctors had to use a kind of power tool to grind all the nastiness off.

“At last,” read a tongue-in-cheek review on Jezebel, “TLC has formulated a show that is as (or perhaps more) disgusting than Dr. Pimple Popper.”

The promo "foot" for TLC's My Feet Are Killing Me freaked people out

Ahead of the debut of the first episode of TLC’s My Feet Are Killing Me, the network used an unusual promotional strategy to draw attention to its new show. During broadcasts of other TLC programming, a gnarly-looking pixelated foot appeared at the bottom of the screen, along with the show’s logo.

Viewers, however, weren’t quite sure what to make of it, and many of them took to Twitter to express their confusion and, in many cases, dismay. “Hey @TLC. Get that foot out of the corner of my TV. Super Annoying,” wrote one viewer on Twitter. Another wrote, “I don’t know whose idea at TLC it was to put this foot at the bottom of the screen but they need to be fired IMMEDIATELY!!!!!!” 

Along with the complaints were the usual attempts at Twitter humor, including this one: “Dear @TLC, please stop with the zit doctors and the shows about horrifying foot issues. I can’t take much more of these ads during my completely normal shows about polygamists, 90 day fiancés, little people, and people who don’t know how to buy a decent house with lottery money.” Yeah, why not let viewers of 90 Day Fiancé and Seeking Sister Wife watch their shows in peace?

TLC's My Feet Are Killing Me star Dr. Ebonie Vincent has her own YouTube channel

In addition to a presence on Instagram, Dr. Ebonie Vincent has her own YouTube channel. There, viewers will find videos in which she explains how she treats such foot-related issues as plantar fasciitis, ingrown toenails, and neuroma, a painful “nerve tumor” that can develop between toes.

In one video, the star of TLC’s My Feet Are Killing Me shared her technique for scrubbing up before surgery, something viewers have seen fictionalized countless times in TV medical dramas. As she demonstrated, it’s actually quite a meticulous process, involving a sterilized one-use scrub brush and even a little pick that is inserted beneath fingernails to clean out any gunk. 

Her rule of thumb is to “count to ten slowly for each portion of the hand that you’re going to be scrubbing,” she explained, using the brush on her hands, wrists, and forearms, all the way up to the elbows. “It does take quite a long time,” she conceded, “but this ensures that everybody is clean and sterile and no germs or infection get into the patient’s body part.”

The star of TLC's My Feet Are Killing Me Dr. Brad Schaeffer competed in The Rock's Titan Games

In 2019, wrestler-turned-movie star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson served as host and executive producer of Titan Games, a televised athletic competition that made American Gladiators look like Romper Room

One of the competitors on that show was none other than Dr. Brad Schaeffer. While Schaeffer didn’t end up winning, he did make it to the semifinals as one of the last eight men on the show. “Just being picked was an honor,” Schaeffer told My Central Jersey. “Competing in it was truly something special, especially having my parents out there watching it. It was very humbling. Just to prove to myself once again that the dedication I have inside of me can get me there.”

Of his time on Titan Games, the star of TLC’s My Feet Are Killing Me noted, “The people that got chosen for these things, not only are they fit and try to have a focus on health and wellness, these people have amazing backstories,” adding, “They are true inspirations.”

How Dr. Ebonie Vincent came to star on TLC's My Feet Are Killing Me

Dr. Ebonie Vincent wasn’t looking to be on reality television when she was contacted by Renegade 83, the production company that created TLC’s My Feet Are Killing Me.

As she explained in an interview with Present E-Learning Systems, as an “independent contractor,” she’s expected to “do my own marketing and field my own patients and grow my practice from the ground up,” which led her to expand her presence on social media. This ultimately led producers to discover her online presence and YouTube videos. Producers then set up an hour-long Skype interview that led Vincent to sign a “shopping agreement,” meaning she was attached to the show while producers shopped the project around to different TV networks.

At that point, she said, there were other potential doctors in similar agreements. When TLC decided to pick up the show, “the network actually picks the doctor or doctors,” and ultimately TLC selected her and Dr. Brad Schaeffer to be My Feet Are Killing Me‘s stars. “It turned out to be this grand reality TV show,” she said. “I wasn’t trying for it, but … it had to be somebody, so why not me?”

TLC's My Feet Are Killing Me isn't TV's first reality show about feet

While My Feet Are Killing Me may represent TLC’s first foray into the apparently wild world of podiatry, it isn’t the first television show to focus on feet and a medical professional who treats them.

That honor goes to The Toe Bro, an A&E reality series that followed Dr. Jonathan Tomines, a Toronto-based chiropodist described by The New York Times as a guy “who can handle the most unpleasant of foot problems.”

Viewers of The Toe Bro, which premiered in May 2019, watched him do precisely that, tackling foot-related issues ranging from ingrown toes to concrete-like callouses. While TLC’s My Feet Are Killing Me was clearly influenced by Dr. Pimple Popper, The Toe Bro apparently was too. Tomines told Hollywood Soapbox that it was actually that show that inspired him to bring his practice to YouTube, before he made it on TV. In fact, it was after he watched an episode of Dr. Pimple Popper that he said to himself, “You know what, I do some pretty gross stuff, too, and pretty interesting since I hope everyone can relate to feet.”

TLC's My Feet Are Killing Me star Dr. Ebonie Vincent wants people to stop hating their feet

Dr. Ebonie Vincent is hoping that TLC’s My Feet Are Killing Me will help end the stigma associated with foot problems. On her website, she writes that medical issues involving feet are typically accompanied by “embarrassment and shame,” pointing out that 50 percent of women admit “their feet embarrass them.” In fact, Vincent revealed that there are actually “thousands of ‘I Hate Feet’ Facebook pages and groups.”

With all those people disliking feet, Vincent wrote on her site that one of her biggest goals is “to bring awareness to the fact that there is hope and relief available for everyone,” declaring that she has “innovative ways” of dealing with all manner of foot problems, including “heel pain, plantar fasciitis, deformities, nail fungus, foot odor, ankle sprains, bunions, corns, calluses, hammertoe or ingrown toenails.” She encourages anyone suffering from these and other foot ailments to transcend the stigma and think about the importance of having healthy feet. “Don’t let embarrassment hold you back from finding a solution that can bring you confidence and happiness,” she added.

This star of TLC's My Feet Are Killing Me felt "like a fish out of water" after starting medical school

A talented high school athlete who played on the Palm Beach Atlantic University baseball team, Dr. Brad Schaeffer had a journey from sports to medicine that was not without its challenges. In an interview with My Central Jersey, he revealed he felt way out of his element when he shifted his focus from athletics to a medical degree.

“When I got to medical school, it was a completely different beast,” said Schaeffer. “I tried my best to prepare for it growing up, but when I got there, it was a challenge. I felt like a fish out of water.” As Schaeffer explained, the obstacles he was forced to overcome contributed to providing him with the strength and dedication that he now uses to treat his patients.

“My story and my journey involved the setbacks that I had and continuing to persevere and never quit,” the star of TLC’s My Feet Are Killing Me added, noting, “With my story and the setbacks, I had in medicine — feeling like I was not fitting in and really struggling — I hope my journey inspires other people that are ‘failing.'”

TLC's My Feet Are Killing Me star Dr. Ebonie Vincent considers feet to be "a marvel of engineering"

According to TLC’s My Feet Are Killing Me star Dr. Ebonie Vincent, the human foot is “a marvel of engineering.” As she pointed out on her website, a person’s two feet contain more than 50 bones and actually account for about a quarter of all the bones in the body. In the midst of all those bones, she wrote, “somehow they also make room for more than 60 joints and 200 muscles, tendons, and ligaments that hold them together and help them move.”

With all those bones, tendons and ligaments, feet are clearly more complicated than most people assume, and that’s a fallacy that Vincent is hoping to eradicate with My Feet Are Killing Me. “Most people take their feet for granted, until pain or problems such as blisters or calluses develop,” she wrote on her website, encouraging folks to treat foot problems as soon as they arise instead of letting them grow bigger and more problematic over time.

Then again, if everyone did that, where would TLC find patients for My Feet Are Killing Me?

Social media brought this star of TLC's My Feet Are Killing Me to television

While being one of the stars of TLC’s My Feet Are Killing Me certainly raised his profle, Dr. Brad Schaeffer’s profile was already quite high, particularly on social media. In fact, the doc boasts more than 87,000 followers on Instagram.

While that may not be a Kardashian-sized number, it’s nonetheless pretty impressive for a New Jersey-area podiatrist. In fact, Schaeffer told My Central Jersey that it was his social media that initially caught the attention of Titan Games producers, who reached out to him after coming across his Instagram posts.

After sending producers a video at their request, Schaeffer became one of 100 invited to Los Angeles for the “combine,” a non-televised competition designed to whittle down the field of competitors to 32 men and 32 women. “That was awesome in itself to get picked for the combine, but to actually get picked for the show was totally mind-blowing,” Schaeffer marveled. “I just focused on being the best version of myself that I could be at the highest level.”

The important message Dr. Ebonie Vincent hopes viewers will take away from TLC's My Feet Are Killing Me

In an interview with Podiatry.com, Dr. Ebonie Vincent outlined the message she wants to get across with TLC’s My Feet Are Killing Me, while also simultaneously throwing some shade at rival A&E series The Toe Bro, by describing what differentiates the two series.

“If we just focus on the gross factor, we might as well be The Toe Bro,” she said, explaining her desire that My Feet Are Killing Me showcase the importance of podiatry in order to “market our profession as something vital to the medical field in terms of overall health” and “market it that we are a surgical specialty as well.”

Speaking with Present E-Learning Systems, Vincent explained that My Feet Are Killing Me is trying to “cover all aspects of podiatry.” She noted, “I think that was important for both Dr. Brad and I to showcase the variety of what our skills are.” While viewers of the show will be presented with some pretty horrific-looking feet, that’s not the show’s primary goal. Vincent stated, “You also see the more complicated surgeries … you see a whole range of what our training is. And that’s one of the biggest things both Dr. Brad and I wanted to convey…”

How to be cast on TLC's My Feet Are Killing Me

For anyone looking to be featured on TLC’s My Feet Are Killing Me, there are a variety of ways to be cast on the show. Renegade 83, the production company that created the show for TLC, has an online form that prospective candidates can fill out, designed to provide producers with information they need when seeking out prospective patients. Meanwhile, Lorraine Lewis Casting has also put out a call on Facebook, seeking people “suffering with an EXTREME FOOT ISSUE.” And for anyone wondering, yes, they require a photo of that foot issue as proof that it is indeed “extreme” enough for the show. 

In Renegade 83’s casting questionnaire, potential My Feet Are Killing Me subjects are asked an array of questions, including some obvious (“How has your foot condition affected your life?”) and some less so (“Have you ever been arrested?”).

According to Dr. Ebonie Vincent, the patients who ultimately get treated on the show are a combination of “authentic patients that come to [her] clinic and then also the network or the production company reaches out to people who have expressed issues with their feet,” as she told Present E-Learning Systems.

This doctor experienced a "learning curve" while filming TLC's My Feet Are Killing Me

Given that TLC’s My Feet Are Killing Me represented Dr. Ebonie Vincent’s first experience working in television, she said in a December 2019 interview with Present E-Learning Systems that “it’s been a pretty big learning curve in terms of filming the surgeries, filming everything in terms of the post-op recovery period and things of that nature, but I think it’s been a great experience overall.”

When it came time to film her very first segment for My Feet Are Killing Me, was she nervous? “You know what, yeah,” she admitted. “I feel like I was more nervous filming the surgery portions. I wasn’t really nervous filming the whole patient encounter … Surgery was a little bit different. Normally in surgery, you’re in there, you have your own groove, you have your own music. It’s quite different when there’s like three extra people with cameras, zero music, and it’s just silent. That was kind of something I needed to get used to, but I think once I got used to it, it was like any other surgery day.”

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