Much to enjoy in toxic teens' transformation

23:59, Jan 27 2013
REALITY CHECK: Australian school dropout Zaine is shocked by the emphasis on education in Singapore.

The World's Strictest Parents (Prime Tuesdays 7.30pm) is one of those reality programmes artificially manufactured for our enjoyment.

After all, where else in the world would you find two Aussie teenaged horrors being forced to toe the line spending a week under the roof of a strict Singaporean family?

But that's one of the beauties of television, it can get people to do the most amazing things. I have to say Mrs Brown and I thoroughly enjoyed the programme.

The scenario was simple. Two stroppy young Ockers were placed with a strict Singaporean family to see what happens when some discipline is imposed.

We meet Memphis, 17, an obnoxious high-school dropout.

Her parents split up a few years ago and mum thinks that just might have something to do with her daughter's appalling behaviour.


"I suppose I've given up and let her have her own way," she admits.

Dad, who doesn't have to live with daughter, is a bit kinder. "She's a strong-willed individual; she's her own person."

We meet Zaine, 16, another obnoxious high school dropout and he not only struts like a peacock, he has a hairstyle to match. He is not getting along with his mum's new hubby and their two children, and is remote and detached.

Memphis and Zaine hadn't met each other before and as they walk towards the immigration hall Zaine gets past his embarrassment by limply shaking her hand in a wet fish sort of way without breaking stride, or looking at her.

Soon they are in Singers, meeting the Chua family.

Everyone gets on well for the first few minutes, until Zaine and Memphis learn they will be going to school with daughter Ada. They groan. It's not just any school either, it's the prestigious Raffles Institute Junior College, which takes only the top 3 per cent of Singaporean students. Zaine and Memphis would be lucky to make the bottom 0.3 per cent of students in Toowoomba.

Both say they hated school, but are about to hate it more. Zaine needs to get a haircut and Memphis isn't allowed to wear any jewellery, including studs, or shock, horror - makeup.

Things don't go well. By lunchtime, after sleeping in class, and only occasionally leaving the ground during the mass skipping game during the break, they do a runner. Ada tries to stop them, saying it won't reflect well on her, but, they don't care and the two have a fun day shopping and seeing Singers' sights on their own.

Mother Chua is not impressed. She takes them home, but in the best of Singaporean traditions (we are told) sleeps on her next move because she is angry. That's what they do whenever their kids are naughty. I bet one of her girls did something naughty - once. And it might have been when she was two. But one of the beauties of this programme is that when the kids are at their worst, they are handed heartrending letters from their mums. Memphis bursts into tears when her mum writes to tell her how much she loves her.

It's sad. Mrs B asks me to hand her a tissue. I would but I've used them. I get another box. Zaine doesn't cry, but is also clearly affected by his letter. Both turn a little corner. They don't have to go to back to school, for them, it really was a bridge too far (they should have been shown the one over the River Kwai in Thailand).

Instead they are made to do the local equivalent of meals on wheels for the elderly. It is the closest anyone gets to a government pension in those parts, and the Chua family volunteer to do it twice a month. It is meaningful work though, and another corner is turned by the toxic teens.

After a fun day out with the family, it's time to go home. Both vow to do better. "I couldn't believe people live like this," says Memphis. "So much emphasis put on school. I thought everyone lived like me."

Clearly it's a Gracelands moment for Memphis.

Zaine vows to make a few changes in his life when he gets home too.

It's all a bit nice, and you wonder if the transition is a bit too quick and it's all done for the cameras. Not so. They report on how things went after six months and the proof is in the pudding. Or not.

Zaine has got an apprenticeship and things are going well with his family. Memphis has moved out of home but talks to her mum every day, we are told. And nothing else. We can presume it didn't end well. Both of them keep in touch with the Chuas on Facebook.

A realistic ending to one of the better reality programmes.

The Timaru Herald