Kristin Cavallari, Lauren Conrad, Audrina Patridge and Whitney Port attend...

Kristin Cavallari, Lauren Conrad, Audrina Patridge and Whitney Port attend MTV's "The Hills Live: A Hollywood Ending" finale event held at The Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood on July 13, 2010. Credit: Getty Images

So, was "The Hills" cooked the whole time? Or perhaps partially cooked, like a still-bleeding steak that has to be sent back to the kitchen?

What exactly did that ending mean Tuesday night?

In a classic wrap for a classic reality show, Tuesday's finale stripped away the artifice, literally, as stage hands pushed aside a huge Hollywood backdrop revealing nothing more than a drab, industrial movie lot where these glam lives presumably glittered for six seasons.

But still the question, as it's supposed to, lingers: Were fans suckered over 102 episodes, or suckered for merely portions of them? If so, "The Hills" could go down as one of the greatest trompe l'oeils in TV history - a master forgery that fooled some of the people sometimes, but (let's be candid) not all of the people all the time. The dialogue always seemed much too - what's the word? - practiced. The on-again-off-again-on-again romances seemed far too camera-ready perfect. It often felt counterfeit.

Yet still MTV insisted: These lives are real, and this show is "reality," which of course meant these lives were authentic enough to be covered by tabloid magazines and shows. And they were, exhaustively.

Final word on the finale goes to Liz Gateley, executive producer of "The Hills," who said Wednesday night in a phone interview, "we wanted to go out with a bang and thought that at the end of the day, the one thing that viewers constantly ask is - 'is it real or fake?' [The ending] was a wink and a nod to them and certainly not a statement that everything was fake." She adds, "all the dynamics on the show are really real. Did we produce situations and say 'you broke up with your boyfriend between seasons - could you at least go and drop off his stuff?' Sure. We cajole. Those were the kinds of things we do, but the underlying dynamics are all real."

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