Tanked: An Aquarium Reality TV Show

Author: Shari Horowitz

An exclusive interview with the stars of Animal Planet's new program Tanked, who build some of the world's most imaginative aquarium setups.

From Dreams to Reality

Have you ever wondered who designs those high-end, glamorous aquariums for celebrities, hotels, and Fortune 500 businesses? Did you ever imagine that a car, a telephone booth, or even a beer keg could become a fish tank? Wayde King and Brett Raymer—co-owners of Acrylic Tank Manufacturing (ATM) and the stars of Animal Planet’s new reality TV show Tanked—not only build those tanks, they boast that if you can dream it, they can make it a reality.

Spectacular Setups

According to Wayde, ATM is famous for its “turnkey” setups—everything from the tank, the stand, all the woodwork, the facade, the pumps, the filters, and the coral inserts are created and installed by ATM, and they even stock the fish. They install aquariums internationally and are currently the #1 manufacturer in the world for custom-shaped tanks. Using an in-house oven and a technique called thermal forming, they can actually bend acrylic and shape it to whatever the client wants. For example, if you have a little cove in your house and you wanted to match the radius, they can do that.

It also means that they can make tanks as large as their clients desire. Brett’s favorite tank that he installed is in Scotland and is a whopping 32 feet tall and 11 feet in diameter. In fact, there was no crane in Scotland large enough to support the aquarium, so one had to be driven in from London. Located on what used to be the Gleneagles golf course, the tank is in a four-story private home that was designed around the aquarium. The tank and installation cost $1.6 million and has everything from sharks and rays to triggers and angelfish.

Limitless Possibilities

They also built a million-gallon dolphin pool with acrylic viewing windows. By putting acrylic viewing panels of sufficient thickness in cement or fiberglass-reinforced plastic, there really is no limit as to how large an aquarium can be, Wayde explains. “If it’s the size of a Costco building and they want us to put panels in it, we do it, and then we put in the life support.”

Helping Animals

Wayde and Brett pride themselves on using their work to help animals. “You know, one of the things that Wayde and I really enjoy doing is aquariums or windows for conservatories, nature centers—and we do a lot of work for those types of facilities. We are doing the Calusa Nature Center & Planetarium in Fort Meyers, Florida right now; we did the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, and we’re getting ready to do Gumbo Limbo Nature Center’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Center in Boca Raton, Florida. We also did the California Academy of Sciences, which is more of a science building,” said Brett.

“The reason we got into aquarium building is because we’re big fish nuts, and we want to give people a great, exotic aquarium where they can house fish as opposed to making those small, little 20-gallon or 30-gallon tanks. We want to make exotic stuff people can use to hold animals,” he added.

Going From Work to TV

Making custom aquariums certainly has its perks, and Wayde and Brett count such celebrities as Usher, Kobe Bryant, and Jorge Posada among their clientele. Similarly, their work is famous in its own right and has appeared on such TV shows as The Real World, Monster Garage, Extreme Home Makeover, and Man Cave. Yet it is quite a far stretch from appearing occasionally on a few episodes to having your own show. Brett said that other people gave them the idea.

“About 5½ years ago we sat in our old building, where we had a big group office and five or six of us sat in one office. People used to walk in and say, ‘You guys are great, you guys are awesome, you guys build crazy stuff—you guys should be on TV!’ Not one person, but 50 or 100 people used to say it regularly.

“I said, ‘Wayde, everybody is saying that we have to run with it.’ We came up with this crazy idea to formulate a show. Orange County Choppers was pretty huge at the time, and we said we could do the same thing that those guys do but with aquariums. We had a company out in LA come and film it and they pitched, but it didn’t go anywhere for like 1½ years. Then we got a hold of my friend Mike Scores from New York, and he got a hold of the production company, and the production company sold it to Animal Planet.”

Appeasing the Mob

The show features Wayde and Brett, along with Wayde’s wife (and Brett’s sister) Heather, and Heather’s father, affectionately known as “The General”—as well as the engineers and designers who work for the company. Brett is more of a salesman who all too often makes promises before they are fully thought through. The lead designer, who they call “Redneck,” is then charged with fulfilling those promises and making the client’s dream a reality.

Tropicana Hotel and Casino

For example, in the first episode, Brett decides to offer to include flat-screen televisions in a tank for a “Mob Experience” tank in the Tropicana Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Unable to renege on his word, it is up to the guys at ATM to figure out how TVs can survive (and work!) in an underwater environment. If they can’t, Brett will be the one wearing cement shoes.

The Palms

In that same episode, they install a large shark tank with coral inserts at another hotel and casino, The Palms. Only Heather could fit into the tiny access point in the shark-filled tank to put in the inserts, something she was not told about until the end.

Wayde explained such an event is par for the course. “Brett starts this stuff, then when he calls her in to discuss it he says, ‘Wayde, you tell her.’ So he puts me on the spot and gets me in trouble all the time.”

Brett jokingly defended himself saying, “It’s different when you’re not married to her. When she’s your sister, you can do whatever you want. I don’t have to go home with her, I don’t have to sleep next to her, and I don’t even have to see her. But she can take care of herself; don’t worry. She might be little, but you know what they say about dynamite…”

Being terrified of sharks, the only way Heather agreed to enter the tank was with what she thought were protective “shark sticks,” given to her by Wayde and Brett. She later found out the supposed protective devices were merely mop handles.

“Well, the funny thing is, at the time she thought they were real shark sticks. We had to tell her that to get her in the tank. But after the fact, after she stepped out of the aquarium, we kind of filled her in that they weren’t. So it didn’t wait until we actually saw it on TV. She knew at that point and she wasn’t happy,” said Wayde.

According to Brett, “We will never live that down. Wayde is still on the couch!”

All About the Fish

Despite their antics and their far-flung promises, both Wayde and Brett take their jobs very seriously. They are certified scuba divers, avid hobbyists, and devoted fish enthusiasts. As Brett put it, “We don’t want people to think that we’re just these aquarium builders and we don’t care about the fish. It’s very important that everybody knows that we love fish, we’re knowledgeable, we have a huge, huge retail store in Las Vegas that’s probably one of the best stores on the west coast, and it opens up in three weeks. I want people to understand that not only are we aquarium builders, that we are fish enthusiasts, hobbyists, and we want to do whatever is in the best interest for the animals.”

For example, the “Mob Experience” tank includes a parrotfish, which are notoriously difficult to keep in captivity. However, by including hard-shelled prey items for them in the tank and giving them plenty of room, Wayde says the parrotfish is thriving.

Wayde says, “We make sure any of the fish that we’re going to get are eating and are in good shape and condition. Reality TV is reality TV; most of the time everything looks like it’s done overnight. We don’t want people to think that it’s being done overnight—people need to understand that all the builds and everything that we do, they don’t happen instantaneously; it takes time. We do whatever we can to ensure the proper environment for the fish, whether it be food, feeding, so forth and so on.”

And Wayde’s best piece of advice for someone first setting up a tank? “After someone is done they always want to go a little bigger, so if you have the space to go bigger, do it now, because you’re going to want it later.”

Tanked airs Fridays at 9 p.m. (ET/PT) on Animal Planet.

For a transcript of the full interview with Wayde and Brett, visit the TFH Extras blog at www.tfhmagazine.com/blogs.