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The United States has many thousands of square miles of storage space, enough to house every man, woman, and child in the country seven times over. When a storage unit's owner defaults on their rent, the company hires an auctioneer to sell it to the highest bidder. Storage Wars follows a group of urban explorers in a modern-day treasure hunt for the forgotten gems buried at the back of these units.  

Obviously, this is a high-risk, high-reward kind of operation. As such, the five buyers the show features – two teams and one individual - are the kind of people who take wild gambles.

First up there's Darrell and Brandon Sheets, a father and son pair, usually act as a team but occasionally go their own ways on an auction. They have a reputation for hanging back and waiting for just the right deal, being unable to stomach a bad deal. Even so, Darrell has made some big scores in his time, including four Picassos and the world's most lucrative comic collection. As a self-styled 'big game' player, he has the track record to back up his words.

If Darrell is cautious, Jarrod Schulz is almost too fond of gambles much to the frustration of his hard-nosed, sharp-tongued wife, Brandi. They might not have the deepest pockets, but they're scrappy, determined and more than willing to use mind games to get the best results. And they desperately need to, because keeping their second hand store business afloat is no sure thing. Too many bad buys and they could go under.

The show is filled out by fast talking auctioneer couple Dan and Laura Dotson. Dan has been performing auctions since he was 11 years old and has long since mastered the quick rhythm of rolling speech known as the 'auction chant.' The buyers are in safe hand with the Dotsons at the helm.

At all times, of course, there's the question of just who walked away from this stuff or didn't bother to retrieve any of it before it was repossessed. In some cases, like a unit filled with the detritus of a failed fast food restaurant, it's obvious that someone is running away from what was once a business opportunity. But in others, it seems like people are running from dreams or giving up on pieces of themselves that no longer fit, like a giant baseball card collection or a bag full of watches.

The buyers of Storage Wars would say that it doesn't matter. In an America where many of the old certainties no longer hold, finders keepers remains the surest law of the land.

by Alistair Bohm