Interview: Rico León Crowned Winning Mentor of 'Battle on the Mountain' Season 1

Rico León gives HGTV an inside look at what it was like working with designers Stephen and David St. Russell and renovating the winning Battle on the Mountain home.

To be crowned the champion of an HGTV competition series is a remarkable feat in and of itself, but to do so during the show’s freshman season? “It’s beyond exhilarating!” says Battle on the Mountain mentor, Rico León, of Rico to the Rescue.

Rico and his Boston-based teammates Stephen and David St. Russell (@renovationhusbands), along with two other teams led by Kim Myles (Design Star: Next Gen) and Kim Wolfe (Why The Heck Did I Buy Thxis House?), were each given a budget of $100,000 to renovate three mountain homes in Breckenridge, Colorado, over a six-week period. The prize: $50,000.

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Rico pictured with his mentees, David and Stephen.

Photo by: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Rico pictured with his mentees, David and Stephen.

Chelsea and Cole DeBoer (Down Home Fab), Egypt Sherrod and Mike Jackson (Married to Real Estate), Jasmine Roth (Help! I Wrecked My House) and Page Turner (Fix My Flip) judged the weekly competitions, bestowing a $3,000 cash prize to the winners of each challenge. The judges based their decisions on overall design, craftsmanship and resale value of the homes. In the end, Battle on the Beach mentors Alison Victoria (Windy City Rehab), Taniya Nayak (Build It Forward) and Ty Pennington (Rock the Block), along with local real estate experts, crowned Team Rico the winners, after agreeing they added the most value to their home.

Ahead, Rico shares what it’s like being crowned the OG champion of Battle on the Mountain.

Rico Opens Up About Battle on the Mountain

HGTV: When did you actually meet Stephen and David for the first time?

RICO: All of the mentors met their teams on day one in Colorado, right after Alison and Taniya stepped out of the helicopter. At the time, we had no idea who we'd be matched up with!

HGTV: What did you love most about Stephen and David?

RICO: Stephen and David are from Boston. I’m from Pittsburgh. We share an East Coast mentality where nobody cares if you’re sick or if your dog died or if your car tire is flat — you get to work! Their work ethic is insane. It’s not easy to find exceptionalism, yet these two guys are insanely impressive. They remained focused on their mission and kept their cool. They’re the most dialed-in people I’ve ever worked with.

HGTV: Your team chose the most expensive house to renovate. The thinking behind that?

RICO: I live in Colorado and work in real estate, so I knew the value of the properties in this area and what it takes to fix something up. The house we chose didn’t need big, expensive fixes, only upgrades.

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The finished exterior of Team Rico's cabin.

Photo by: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

The finished exterior of Team Rico's cabin.

HGTV: You kept saying you had the “hometown advantage.” How excited were you to be part of a show taking place in Colorado?

RICO: So excited! But the truth is, I grew up in Pittsburgh. I've [only] lived in Denver for the last seven years. I thought I’d end up in Miami or New York City or somewhere in California, but my car broke down when I was traveling through Colorado, and I fell in love with the area, just like everybody else when they come here. Surrounded by the mountains and fresh air, it’s just so beautiful; the perfect place to film this show!

HGTV: Your team won the first two competitions. How did coming out on top early set the tone for the remainder of the competition?

RICO: Winning the two first challenges was a huge confidence booster but it placed a target on our backs and put us under even more pressure because we knew the other two teams were going to work twice as hard to prove themselves.

HGTV: What lesson did you learn from being a mentor?

RICO: As a mentor of a team in a competition series, you need to know when to give and take — you want to be there for your team but know at the end of the day, it’s their competition to win. I was able to educate Stephen and David when it came to money, time management and what actually adds value to a house in Colorado. I let them do their creative thing, but at times I had to put my foot down, especially when it felt like they were losing valuable time on a project.

HGTV: Describe the experience in three words.

RICO: Insanely mind blowing!

HGTV: You said a few times your team may have bit off more than they could chew. Do you still feel that way?

RICO: There were times I thought they were focusing too much on one idea or project, but I recognize they're exceptional in their talent. I knew if they were going to take on a lot, it would be for the win or it would be the thing to break them — and they'd never know unless they tried. Our motto was always, “Let’s go, let’s set precedent!”

HGTV: What was something that surprised you about the show?

RICO: This was my first competition series, and when I say the rules are legit, they’re legit. It’s a level playing field when it comes to money spent and time allotted. Nobody gets an advantage. When your time is up, it’s up. You can’t go back and touch or redo anything. The 48-hour lockdown challenge when the teams had to makeover two rooms? There was a producer at each house making sure everything was fair and nobody got an extra ten minutes.

HGTV: For the kitchen and dining challenge, Stephen and David were concerned your style was too modern. How was it working with a team whose design vibe didn’t necessarily match your own?

RICO: Stephen and David's midcentury, rustic style might not be my style, but they have great taste. The way Stephen wrapped the refrigerator in avocado green and added a custom logo? That was an awesome move. After seeing what they did with the first challenge, I stepped back and realized there were better places for me to add value, like when it came to construction and lighting.

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Photo by: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

HGTV: Ty showed up, the most recent winning Battle on the Beach mentor, and warned the teams they’ll get so tired they’ll forget to take risks and do something unique. What was the biggest risk your team took?

RICO: A great design idea doesn’t mean anything if you don’t finish the job. Knocking down walls and reframing, like we did in the primary room, was expensive and time consuming. But we knew we had to open up the rooms to get the money shots.

HGTV: What was your favorite design feature in the house?

RICO: When you’re living and playing in the Rocky Mountains, you participate in a lot of outdoor activities — like skiing, snowboarding and hiking. The houses out here that don’t have mudrooms can look dirty and feel grungy. I loved the mudroom we added in the back of the house because it was so functional. We created this gorgeous open area where people could store their coats, shoes and equipment. To me, that was one of the smartest, coolest parts of the house and something that really added value.

HGTV: In hindsight, what’s one thing you would have done differently?

RICO: Honestly, we did a phenomenal job in every room. Maybe we could have added a rope for the kids to get up and down in the loft or extended the back deck to make it bigger, but that’s kind of nitpicking. I really feel like we nailed everything.

HGTV: What do you think was the key to winning?

RICO: We stayed focused on the mission. Because the truth is, you can win every challenge yet lose the competition if you don’t add value. It’s not just enough to make something look pretty, you have to constantly add value while creating a house that’s both attractive and functional. When the renovations were complete, and before the judges made their decision, I walked the two other houses. I’m not going to lie, I was nervous because both Team Myles and Team Wolfe did a great job. But I kept reminding myself of all the things we did, like creating more places for people to sleep and making the tiny bathrooms larger. All that added value took us over the top.

HGTV: Breckenridge sits 9,600 feet above sea level. How did the high altitude affect everyone’s stamina?

RICO: The low oxygen levels can actually make you feel sick. And if you’re coming from the East Coast, like Stephen and David, you’re definitely not going to be used to it. My team was in great athletic shape, but sometimes they’d tire easily and run out of breath when doing things like lifting heavy demo equipment and needed some oxygen to recover.

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Taniya, Alison and Ty gather to announce the winner of Battle on the Mountain Season 1.

Photo by: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Taniya, Alison and Ty gather to announce the winner of Battle on the Mountain Season 1.

HGTV: How was it spending time with the other mentors and judges?

RICO: Besides working on a fun project with an incredibly talented team, what I loved most about the experience was meeting the other mentors and judges and tapping into their knowledge. It felt surreal being surrounded by all of these HGTV legends.

HGTV: Did you share secrets with the other mentors?

RICO: Nope! When I'd have meals with the two Kims, we kept things close to the chest. We were all confident we had a shot of winning, but none of us were 100% sure. In the end, we all felt we could have won.

HGTV: Are you still in touch with Stephen and David?

RICO: We text all the time. They’re so talented and have such great personalities — I told them they need to have their own show and I'd support them all the way.

Stream Season 1 of Battle on the Mountain on Max.

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