There's not much Natalie Spahle won't tackle. As owner of her own handywoman business, the Mesa engineering student routinely installs toilets, puts up drywall and hangs ceiling fans for clients across the Valley.
So when her aunt urged her to try out for a TV show testing her home-improvement skills, Spahle didn't shy from the idea. She appears Sundays on "All American Handyman," a television show on HGTV.
Now in its second season, the program pits 20 contestants against one another in woodworking and fix-it challenges. The winner gets a $10,000 Sears shopping spree and a show development deal with the network.
Spahle has survived 10 contestant eliminations so far in the series, which was filmed in April in Brooklyn. The third episode airs at 9 p.m. Sunday.
"I'm not a carpenter. Everything on the show is brand new to me," she says of the timed challenges scrutinized by HGTV judges Mike Holmes ("Holmes on Homes") and Scott McGillivray ("Income Property"). Tasks thus far have included building a functional gate and constructing an item from a picture only - no measurements or instructions.
"Every time, I would be thinking, ‘OK, please just let me get through this woodworking challenge so I can get to the next (challenge)' - and then the next one would be more woodworking," she says.
Spahle, 30, grew up watching her dad, a railroad engineer, make repairs around the house.
"Every time he'd fix a car, I'd sit there with him, whether it was just handing him a tool," she says. "It would always be, ‘Natalie, did you take my drill?' ‘Do you have my screwdriver?' "
Over the years, she showed an aptitude for the same kind of work, building a saddle rack in wood shop at Tempe's McKemey Jr. High School and taking automotive classes at McClintock High School. In her twenties, she installed home theater systems, learning about low-voltage electrical work.
There was a brief stint in a law office, where both she and her father questioned why she was sitting behind a desk all day, despite a passion for working with her hands. She turned to fix-it work, gaining experience with a handyman company before starting her own service two and a half years ago.
"Most of my customers are women - not by my choice, but just through word of mouth, because I don't do any advertising," she says.
Being on the show is strange, she says, because she never wanted to be on TV.
"I didn't watch last season; I didn't even know about the show. My aunt really pushed me to do it. When it became a reality, I went through the whole, ‘Oh, I don't want to see myself on TV!' What if I didn't do well? It's still nerve-racking," she says.
Spahle's thoughts for the future don't revolve around being a TV personality. A river rafter with her own boat, she says she can envision one day putting her engineering degree to work for the Bureau of Land Management.
For now, she works out of her 1971 ranch home, where the garage is lined with tools, backyard chickens roost in a coop she built herself, and the interior is transforming as Spahle removes popcorn ceilings, installs crown molding and lays new floors.
"I did go through a time when I worried about being a laborer, going the blue collar route," she says, but now Spahle has embraced going to work in jeans, coming home dirty and doing work she's good at.
"Everybody has a knack for something, and mine is picking up things quickly," says Spahle.
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