Duncan Greive watches The Block’s final nail and asks what this strange show tells us about New Zealand in 2018.
1) Auckland property is definitively chilling the hell out
It was never intended to be a quasi-documentary about the other side of the housing crisis (the side where people made heaps of money flipping homes), but that’s what The Block NZ was in its first five years. It’s genuinely not a stretch to suggest that 300,000 plus people watching a three month-long reno ending in vast tax-free profits would likely have had a small but real impact on money flowing into property. Last year, we hit bottom – houses turned in, tiny profits, a clear result of a slowdown running headlong into an election campaign which had seen the spectre of a capital gains tax raised (not for real! As if we’d ever do that!).
This year was a bounce back from the TV hell of 2017, which featured shattered contestants realising they’d spent three months making a three figure sum live on television. But it was still a pretty sane haul, ranging from Chloe and Em’s $9,500 to Amy and Stu’s $69,500. Hopefully that will be received as a signal to market that maybe you should find something more productive to do with your time and money than playing real life monopoly.
2) Mark Richardson was the most nervous person on screen
I can only imagine that Mark Richardson is extremely well compensated by MediaWorks: there were days this winter when he was on screen for more than one hour in five across The Am Show, The Project and The Block NZ. Yet even his background in test cricket can have produced few situations as unexpectedly devastating as last year’s finale. It was one of the more underrated feats of televisual stoicism that he kept it together, kept making television while everyone on screen was realising they’d put in monumental sleepless effort for essentially nothing.
This year he bore the scars of that experience, lapsing into coach mode in telling contestants what a great experience it was, when all had said as much to him in interviews just prior. He needn’t have worried – the only ones who truly had a right to feel aggrieved were Chloe and Em, who spent three months working incredibly hard for far less less than minimum wage. But they emerge as modern feminist icons – blocking toilets with tampons, comparing armpit hair growth and displaying a more bold and unashamed sexuality than most TV romance contestants. So some sort of post-Block career as personalities seems assured.
3) The Block NZ continues to work as a microcosm of the broader market
Which is to say that the older you are, the better off you are. Amy and Stu are both the oldest contestants in The Block NZ history and, in truth, not that old: just 40ish. But they ably played the role of Boomers in our housing market: selfish sometimes-cheats who had a clear advantage and exploited it to the hilt while acting wounded whenever anyone questioned their behaviour.
Gizzy Hard had a distinct advantage with Stu being a literal tradie, while Amy will have her own very successful interior decor business launched within months. The fact the public watched them be total dicks and still gave them people’s choice and a crucial extra $12,000 and a car says all you need to know about the core demographic watching this show. (And don’t think the network won’t have seen this too – expect some more geriatric 40-somethings next season).
Basically we spent three months watching oldies do very well out of flipping houses, while the youngsters donated incredible amounts of labour and ingenuity to properties they’ll likely never be able to afford. Sound familiar?
4) This is now our signature imported reality franchise
Seven seasons, with an eighth announced on the night. For all the hype which surrounded the arrival of the likes of Idol and X-Factor, it’s The Block NZ which has endured. The show rated extraordinarily well throughout its run, and is now the single most-important show in MediaWorks’ stable. Where other reality franchises last a couple of years before being shunted on, with all the associated expense of packing down and imagining a new one, The Block NZ is a permanent fixture: it has now run for longer than Outrageous Fortune did, and likely had as strong an impact on our culture (not saying this is a good or bad thing). And while the core conceit – doing up and on-selling houses – is kind of bleak, this year showed that it’s a lot more than that too. It was one of the best casts yet, ornery and funny and very much a bunch of recognisable New Zealanders. It had electric tension for a few weeks there. For all my whinging about house-flipping, the increasing density of the spaces, from villas to terraced housing, are good things for us all to see on screen. It’s a bizarre, repetitive show which drags a lot in the mid-section – but it’s also super compelling, still.
5) You’re going to see a lot more television like this
Where in the past we often had one headline supplier to the exclusion of all others, this year The Block NZ had dozens. At times it felt like it was hard to tell where the ads ended and show began. There were branded skylights and paints and tiles and furniture and food and electrics and… honestly, it was everywhere, all the time. When you add in the ad revenue from the ads that played between the big ad, you’re looking at a huge proportion of Three’s overall commercial revenue coming out of this one property. It’s little wonder that TVNZ is once again casting about to make a competitor. It’ll have to be pretty special to avoid the fate of Our First Home and really challenge the familiarity of The Block though.
I’ve heard that Project Runway, which starts tonight on TVNZ2, uses a similarly immense amount of product integration. This is now settling as the new model for free-to-air linear TV: multi-night tentpole reality productions; multi-product integrations; promoted across all platforms and channels. To many it’s a vision of hell. To our media companies, it’s life, and hope.