In 2010, Scotty Cam became the host of a little Australian show called The Block. He talks to Tara Ward about why the reno series is still going strong.
Every season on The Block Australia, five teams try to make their fortune by transforming run-down homes and selling them for a huge profit. And every season, the show’s host Scotty Cam gives these teams the same piece of advice: manage your budget. Those three little words are the secret to winning the entire show, Cam tells The Spinoff, because it’s the only way to ensure teams can build a beautiful house that will connect emotionally with wealthy buyers. “That’s what I tell them every year,” he says, “and they never listen.”
Who wouldn’t listen to Scotty Cam? As host of The Block for the past 13 years, he’s seen more bickering and budget blowouts than anyone else on Australian television. In The Block’s new season, starting tonight on Three, teams will squeeze those precious budgets for every last cent as they renovate a series of original 1950s houses in Melbourne’s Hampton East. Cam promises some big property transformations this season – the biggest builds The Block has ever done, in fact – and some even bigger tension.
“We’ve got some big personalities that I think are threatened,” he reveals, teasing ”a slight alliance, a broken alliance, and another broken alliance”. Cam says The Block doesn’t orchestrate any of this drama, but rather captures what happens when you put 10 strangers under huge amounts of pressure and judgment. “Our style is to leave them to their own devices with eight cameras, and just follow stories as they pan out. I think it’s a bit Lord of the Flies. Someone ends up being Piggy.”
The Block is the perfect marriage of Cam’s favourite skill sets: building and television. He was working as a carpenter when he was first discovered in a pub by a TV producer, and went on to star in lifestyle series like Backyard Blitz and Renovation Rescue. He landed on The Block in 2010, and while the reno series saw Cam win the Gold Logie for Best Australian TV personality in 2014, he never expected the show to last. “I thought we’d get two seasons if we were lucky, and then I’d look for something else.”
The Block was a different show when Cam first joined. There was only one episode each week, the room reveal results were announced in a car park and the contestants all had day jobs. “We were emulating what mums and dads did at home every weekend, working during the day and painting at night,” Cam recalls. “It was exhausting for them.” Since then, the series has grown in popularity, budget and scale, and now delivers viewers a steady stream of cheating scandals, midnight departures and inspirational design choices in multi-million dollar properties.
The show may have evolved over the past 17 seasons, but one thing remains the same: the gripping unpredictability of auction day. It’s the culmination of 12 weeks of hard slog by ordinary Australians, when dreams are realised or destroyed in a matter of minutes, and it always makes for compelling viewing. Cam admits it’s the one day of the year when he wakes up feeling sick to his stomach. “People say to me, ‘Why are you nervous? Like, it doesn’t matter’. In fact, we rate better if no one makes any money, because there’s controversy.”
But Cam points out that The Block doesn’t set anyone up to fail on the show, and he takes offence when people suggest he plays favourites. “I say on day one: we all want you to make money and do it well. We all want you to have a life-changing moment.” While The Block NZ is on hiatus due to the challenging housing market, Cam says the Australian show’s saving grace is that the high-end Sydney and Melbourne markets have remained strong, with last year’s winning team Oz and Omar achieving a record-breaking profit.
But changing lives never comes easy on The Block, and while Cam loves his job, sometimes he has to be the grumpy dad who needs to keep the kids in line. “My job is to poke them in the ribs when they’re too happy, and pat them on the back and give them a hug when they cry.” He admits to ruling with “an iron fist”, has no time for shirkers, and he definitely doesn’t like laziness. As for those contestants who whinge about finding their own builders and having to turn around a bathroom in a week, Cam has one message: “Well, you shouldn’t have come here then.”
“The Block is the hardest thing you’ll ever do,” he says in farewell, and it seems that giving it a good Aussie go gets you a long way with Scotty Cam. Our quick chat is over, but not before Scotty compliments me on my freshly painted closed-in verandah that I’m Zooming him from. “You’ve done a good job,” he tells me, and I feel like I’ve just won that $100,000. Wait until I tell him about my excellent budgeting skills.
The Block Australia premieres Sunday 19 November at 7pm on Three and ThreeNow, and screens every Sunday-Wednesday.