On the BLOCK
A Hamilton couple put their DIY skills to the test in front of a national audience. Tracey Cooper reports.TRACEY COOPER
More than 2000 people like it on Facebook, last weekend the Australian version had 1.889 million viewers – second only to The Voice – and it's still four days away from hitting our television screens.
Yes, it's another reality television show, and yes, it will probably rate its socks off.
The Block, which will be launched on TV3 on Wednesday at 7.30pm, is based on the successful Australian franchise, where four couples live in and renovate apartments a room at a time, with rooms judged at the end of each week. Throw in a few challenges, prizes for the best rooms, pressing deadlines and the usual squabbles that people under pressure go through, and you have a recipe for ratings success.
Of course, the home makeovers have to be in a well-to-do part of town, the contestants have to be similarly young and attractive and there has to be plenty of opportunity to show off the sponsors' products.
The Block fits the bill perfectly.
The show taps into our voyeuristic instincts of wanting to see inside other people's homes and shows people doing something many other people deal with in their own homes: renovating within a tight budget, says show host and former international cricketer and Crowd Goes Wild presenter Mark Richardson.
But since the show is being made for TV, the contestants are also renovating within tight and unrealistic deadlines.
Of the 10 weeks of the series, the first two episodes deal with selecting the contestants and the contestants select their homes from the four dilapidated do-ups next door to each other on Auckland's North Shore. In the final eight episodes, they renovate one room a week in their houses.
The houses are not identical, but all four are in a sorry state, partly because the production company helped things along by knocking holes in walls and generally trashing the houses.
However, legal issues such as resource consents for structural work were taken care of before the contestants moved in.
Waiting for several weeks for a resource consent to be processed doesn't make for great TV.
More than 1000 couples from around New Zealand applied to be in The Block. The attraction, besides being on TV, was the chance to win the $80,000 grand prize.
The winner is decided by the real estate market. All four renovated houses will go to auction on live TV and the title will go to the couple whose house fetches the highest price above the reserve on the night. The three couples who miss out still get to keep any profits from the sale of their house.
None of the four couples taking part in the show are from Auckland, making it harder to call on favours from mates and giving them no local knowledge when it came to employing local tradespeople and builders to help with their renovations.
Among the four are Richard Boobyer, 24, and Sarah Adams 21, both of Hamilton, who have some experience with renovations, having bought a Queenwood bungalow as their first home last year.
"We're doing it up. We're about halfway through it," Boobyer says.
"We've done the bedrooms – painting, mainly."
They have done a bit more than that on The Block and in what can only be described as challenging conditions.
When they first moved into their houses, the couples found holes in the roofs, smashed walls and no plumbing or electricity.
They had to cook on a barbecue under a lean-to out the back. They had portable toilets and showers in the backyard.
All they moved in with was a suitcase and a mattress to sleep on.
Thankfully, a bedroom was one of the first rooms to undergo an extreme makeover.
With no shortage of rain during filming, there is deep mud everywhere and when the Times visits the site, it's wet enough for most tradespeople to down tools, but not on The Block.
About the only cleanish place on the entire set is the Bunnings tool shed, where every conceivable power tool sits on the shelves waiting to be used. It's a bloke's dream, with drills, saws, sanders, nail guns and everything else needed to build a home all within easy reach.
The whack, whack, whack of hammers mixes with the swish of cars driving by in the rain on the busy road in front of the four houses.
Everyone is wearing gumboots as, near the end of filming, the renovations turn to the front and back yards.
Richardson says it's been interesting watching the judges analyse each room as they've gone along.
"I kind of know what I'm doing, but I've learnt heaps," he says.
Particularly about design, such as having the toilet by the bathroom door or having to reach too far for the shower taps.
The rooms are being judged by Stewart Harris, former head of design for Hilton International, and real estate agent Victoria Bidwell, who is consistently in the top 10 agents on the North Shore.
Winning rooms come with prizes, which help ease the budget on subsequent rooms, and the couples are forced to make do if they are running out of money.
Boobyer, a landscaper by trade, says he has learnt plenty of skills on the show that will come in handy in their Hamilton home.
"It's been good learning and I will be able to do more at home now than I could before.
"It's quite hard sometimes. It's good to learn, but I don't like getting in the way" – especially when he is paying tradespeople by the hour and has a limited budget to play with.
Adams says project managing the renovation has been one of the most challenging things she has done, since builders, plumbers, electricians and other tradespeople have to be co-ordinated around tight deadlines.
"You want to get on with them, because you have to work together, but you have to get on their backs too," she says.
"Doing everything in a week is really hard, but you get used to it."
There are also rules to stick to, such as no power tools after 7pm. Most of the contestants have had warnings from Noise Control during filming for breaching that one.
It also takes some getting used to having a television crew filming your every move.
While it's not scripted, they do have to repeat some things to get the required shots for the show.
"Hang on, do that again – all the time," Adams says, and she reckons the building, the mud, the film crews and having to live in a continually dirty home is not the worst of it for her partner.
"He's never liked Auckland before," she says.
Their interest in taking part in the show came from seeing the original series being screened here.
"We saw the Australian show and loved it, so we thought we'd give it a shot."
The Block was launched in Australia in 2003 and 2004 and returned in 2010.
Versions have been made in Britain, Israel, the Netherlands, Belgium, Russia, Norway, Romania, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, South Africa and the United States.
The latest Australian series is being filmed in Melbourne, after the two initial series in Sydney, and it has its grand finale this weekend.
Millions of viewers are expected to tune in after more than 40,000 queued to have a look inside the completed homes during open homes last week.
A similar experience is expected in the first New Zealand series, which goes to air next week, with two shows on Wednesday and Thursday at 7.30pm.
The series will end with the open homes and auctions, which will be screened live.
Boobyer and Adams have yet to see themselves on television and they're not looking forward to it.
"We haven't even watched the video they've got of us on the website," Adams says.
So why do it?
"Evidently we're crazy," she says.
Perhaps they are, but if they pull off the win, it will have all been worth it.
- © Fairfax NZ News