Last week – before Trump won and the Earth shook in fear – it was announced that Mike Puru was being replaced as the host of The Bachelor New Zealand by Dominic Bowden. Alex Casey sat down with with Puru on the day the news broke.
He’s got his fingers in a lot of pies, he’s juggling a lot of balls and he really doesn’t want to shit in his own nest. Mike Puru spoke in many clichés, none of them distracting from his perpetually moist eyes, as he explained how he had been shafted by the same company that once gave him the most gilded of roses in the television hosting universe.
Sipping on bottled Antipodes water in the airy, stark white Ponsonby loft of his agent Paul Ellis, Mike bounded up the stairs to meet me. He was 10 minutes late, but still smiling his brightest, Mike-est smile. The smile that masks the pain of being trapped in some perpetual Café hell, guarded by a satanic barista. The smile that masks the agony of spending every weekday morning for years and years sat next to Dom Harvey. The smile that can sell 1000 slap-on sunglasses. I asked him how he was feeling and his face wilted faster than a rose under a hot studio light. “I guess I’m angry,” he sighed. “I’m a little disappointed and a little angry.”
Beyond being replaced by Dominic Bowden, Mike was – to use a reality television term – completely blindsided by last week’s news, buried under Paul Henry and then Trump, like a terrible bad man trifle. Just the previous week, The Bachelor New Zealand had been announced to return for a third season. Mike had set about posting to Facebook and Twitter encouraging people to enter, as he has always done. Having received an email to come in for a meeting the following week, he blocked out potential dates for next year’s filming.
Five days later, sitting in MediaWorks HQ, he quickly realised that wasn’t the case. “They sat me down and said ‘let’s cut to the chase: we don’t need you as Bachelor host next year’.” As part of a new strategy to “refresh” the franchise following a disastrous second season, they told him that he was set to be replaced by serial pause-artist Dominic Bowden (NZ Idol, Dancing With the Stars NZ, X Factor NZ, Squirt, Are You Smarter than a Ten Year Old?). To frame this in Bach-speak, Mike thought he was getting an overnight and all he got was a koala poop in a bellybutton.
“It’s embarrassing, you know?” Mike began to well up, and I bit the inside of my mouth harder than ever before to stop myself from joining him. “That’s the thing. It’s embarrassing. It makes you look like a failure, and that’s the hardest thing for me to deal with really.” A moment’s silence passed, his phone flashing with what looked like hundreds of messages and calls from people who were just finding out the news of his bronzed replacement.
This is not the first time Mike has been, to coin a phrase, edged out by his employer. “The reality is that MediaWorks, for the second time, have dumped me,” he explained, recalling the announcement late last year that he had been locked out of the Edge Morning Madhouse once and for all. “As far as the public were aware I had chosen to step out of that role, even though the reality is that they chose not to renew my contract.” He had no inkling of that either, joking at his 20th anniversary party at The Edge that his boss’ speech sounded like a farewell speech. Turns out it was.
Despite losing the early mornings, Mike still had The Bachelor. “People loved it, some hated it – but at least everyone was talking about it,” he chuckled, reflecting on starting out as host. “The reality is though, there is not a lot of support. The production company makes it – and Warner Brothers are very good. But when the Bachelor finished, nobody ever says ‘great job, here are the ratings’. There’s no communication at all.”
Take heed Dom Bowden. It turns out being on The Bachelor set can be an isolating experience for a host, which might explain the oodles of shots featuring Mike, circling The Bachelorette jacuzzi like a lonely satellite in orbit. “Nobody comes out and says ‘are you doing okay? Is there anything you like or don’t like? You just stand there on your own.”
As a MediaWorks employee, Mike revealed that he wasn’t even allowed to eat the catering provided for cast and crew on set. “You’d sit in the corner by yourself with your little packed lunch,” he explained, as I bit the inside of my mouth hard again. “But once they were all back into filming,” he added cheerily, “you could walk past and take some bits and pieces.” My teeth were about to pierce through my cheek.
We had a deep dive into the ins and outs of ‘The Women Tell All’ – “it was full on, I had the sweats on stage” – before Mike dropped another miscommunication bombshell. “What annoyed me the most [about season two] is that I was sitting at home watching Story, and that’s when I found out that Fleur and Jordan had broken up.” With his phone running “red hot” from friends and media alike, Mike could only tell people he was finding out along with the rest of them. “Again, I was just standing there alone, left out of the loop.”
But there is a light elsewhere on the horizon for Mike, as he continues to put his fingers in other slices of the MediaWorks pie. “The Café is still going and that’s a great little show!” he pepped up. “It’s weird because it’s filmed inside TVNZ.” He gestured to his bag, spewing out multiple strands of corporate lanyard-ery. “Look at all my lanyards, I am what is referred to in New Zealand as a media slut.”
There’s no bad blood with Dom Bowden, with Mike saying he wants to use the opportunity to reposition himself and “grow a little older” in the New Zealand entertainment landscape. He’s done the weather for TV3, and regular RadioLive slots – you may remember seeing him hand over to Louise Wallace in The Real Housewives of Auckland.
Just remember when Dom Bowden strides on into The Bachelor mansion, all sticky-up hair and finger guns, to spare a thought for Mike. “The fact remains that I had two of the greatest gigs in the country and I’ve lost them both,” Mike said. “Ah well” he sighed, straightening out one of his many lanyards. “It’s still a dagger to the heart.”
“Now I know how all those poor girls feel.”
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