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blow up hosts look at balloons
Blow up judge Dave Brenn and host Jaquie Brown (Photo: Three / Design: Tina Tiller)

Pop CultureApril 18, 2023

Does balloon competition Blow Up pop off – or is it all hot air? 

blow up hosts look at balloons
Blow up judge Dave Brenn and host Jaquie Brown (Photo: Three / Design: Tina Tiller)

Alex Casey watches Blow Up, the squeakiest show on television. 

The lowdown

It may seem like a fake show in 30 Rock or a short-lived series on Quibi, but Blow Up is here and it’s 100% real. Just as The Great Pottery Throwdown has done for pottery and Blown Away for glassblowing, Three’s Blow Up is the latest reality competition to hero another niche specialist craft – balloon twisting. Hosted by Jaquie Brown and judged by international balloon savant Dave Brenn, the series puts seven balloon artists through a series of creative challenges in the hopes of winning $25,000. With Lego Masters airing at the same time over on TVNZ2, fans of eccentric folk faffing about with colourful bits of plastic and rubber have never been more spoiled for choice. 

Dave Brenn and Jaquie Brown assess and mimic an Anglerfish.

The good

The contestants are extremely fascinating and loveable. There’s a mother and daughter who run a family balloon business, pitted against each other for the first time. There are best friends Pip and Paul (the artist also known as Zappo), who say delightful things like “far out, brussel sprout” and “I don’t mind a bit of hard grafting” (wrong show Zappo this is NOT Love Island). There’s the princess-mad Nancy and the children’s entertainer Trey, who may actually be filled with helium himself if this impressive amount of air is anything to go by: 

Contestant Trey jumps for joy in the Blow Up arena/carpark

Jaquie Brown is a great proxy for the audience as host, both endlessly curious about balloon art and endlessly terrified by the threat of them popping in her face. “I’m going to have to get used to that aren’t I?” she cackles as a cacophony of popping erupts across the room. Her chats with the competitors reveal some great niche trivia and techniques about balloonology – manicures must be matte to ensure they don’t stick to the rubber, and you can “double stuff” a balloon to make it stronger (basically a turducken but balloons). 

Another bonus of Blow Up is that the final creations are frequently incredible and, when they aren’t incredible, are at least quite funny to look at. Beavering away in what appears to be the underground carpark below the Wizard of Oz castle, the contestants create everything from angry anglerfish to life-size scuba divers to a family of turtles waiting for a “taxi crab” (prepare for many, many more puns as the season progresses). It’s astounding how they manage to make the creatures so expressive – tag yourself, I’m the terrified orange fish:

A terrified fish and a furious octopus walk into a reality show

The bad

Yes, Blow Up might strain as hard as Zappo wrestling with Mr Lobster-tini to mention that their balloons are 100% latex, grown from the rubber plant and compostable, but it doesn’t change the fact that balloons are broadly still quite a bad buzz for the environment. Given that balloons have been found in the stomachs of 78% of dead sea turtles and are 30 times more likely to kill seabirds than plastic, the first episode’s “undersea” theme felt bleak to me, and a missed opportunity to educate the audience on the perils of disposing of balloons incorrectly. 

If that doesn’t make you slightly uneasy, the incessant squeaking might. Although unavoidable on a show about twisting taut rubber, those who have weird feelings about balloons might struggle to relax in front of Blow Up after a long day. I had to pause the first episode about eight minutes in to observe the physical reactions I was having to the squeaking noise – strange salivating like I was about the vomit? Loose-feeling teeth? – but you do get used to it. Shout out to the unsung heroes who were in charge of sound for Blow Up, not a job many would envy. 

The verdict

If you can handle your family friendly reality competitions with a side of squeaking and a dash of environmental dread, Blow Up is actually quite a lot of fun. 

Blow Up airs on Three Mondays and Tuesdays at 7.30pm

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