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‘The Player’: New Zealand’s Grimmest Reality TV Show

The Herald asked us to contribute entries to a forthcoming list of the worst reality TV shows in New Zealand history. Here’s an extended cut of Duncan Greive’s entry – a love letter to a televisual cesspit known as The Player. //

In April of 2004 filming commenced on Sky’s first ever reality TV show. Entitled The Player, it starred the newly single Nicky Watson as a both host and some kind of weird prize, and was breathtakingly lecherous in both concept and execution.

10 men would live in a central city penthouse equipped with ‘state of the art’ cameras (read: cameras) while attempting to romance any and all of Auckland’s womankind. Watson would give them a series of lurid challenges, and would cast one from the flock each week for not being enough of a creep.

It aired during a fairly low period of my life, when I wasn’t living life to the max. Watching the show was the highlight of my week, and I made sure to get good and buzzed for viewings. As a result, though, my memories of The Player are hazier than I’d like. Couple that with its pre-YouTube skimpy internet presence and you get a show which remains stubbornly opaque.

I’ve tried to relive the glory. Calls to its production house, Touchdown, have never been returned. Tellingly The Player is not listed among the dozens of other productions on their website, which makes me wonder if it the whole television community would prefer to pretend the whole sordid episode never occurred at all. I can understand that – it was an affront to humanity – but man, was it ever fun to watch.

The Player’s main strength was its amorality – particularly pointed for a New Zealand production. The show existed in a permanent midnight in which f***in’ was the only end game, and coincided with an era during which Auckland’s nightlife was a chemical wonderland – party pills for the plebs, coke and pills for the elites.

The one scene I concretely recall concerned a challenge to build a dream date for Watson. The competitors would then pitch their scenario to her, and she’d pick the least disgusting. The budget – $30 – tells you all you need to know about the show’s dazzling production values.

One particularly delightful fellow bought her a bottle of Bernadino “to loosen her up” and a pornographic film to “get her in the mood”. Those quotes come from memory, but I’m pretty confident in their accuracy. It was both an extraordinary scene and entirely typical of every frame of The Player.

I don’t know who won. I do know it later contributed to a barrel-scraping legend years later, when it became subject of a heated and extremely tawdry email exchange between the late Charlotte Dawson and Touchdown head Julie Christie. The gist was that Dawson was supposed to have spent a wild night at the penthouse with another woman and a pair of competitors. And that while Christie never aired the footage, she reportedly retained a copy to hang as a sword of Damocles over Dawson to ensure her collaboration on future projects.

It sounds outrageous and libelous and might not even be true. But the fact it’s even plausible tells you all you need to know about The Player and 2004 in New Zealand television. Those were much cruder days, but wildly entertaining ones too, and The Player remains one of the earthiest and most brilliantly base moments in New Zealand’s television history.

If you have any more information about The Player please let us know in the comments, or if you have a copy upload it to YouTube and get in touch with The Spinoff – I really want to know if the show really was as nightmarish as I recall it to have been.

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