After ten weeks of furious villa renovation and TV production, The Block NZ finished on Sunday night in a flurry of six-figure profits at the live auction finale. Calum Henderson went along to kick the tyres of New Zealand’s richest reality TV franchise.
Five minutes before they assembled on the balcony of the Rendezvous Hotel to await their fates at Sunday night’s live auctions, the eight contestants from The Block NZ: Villa Wars lined up for a group photo in in the media room.
Good sorts Cat and Jeremy; bold nonconformists Jamie and Hayden; scheming villains Brooke and Mitch; plucky sisters Sarah and –
“Minanne!” shouted Sarah, just as she had done probably several hundred times over the show’s ten weeks of filming. The younger sister, and the youngest contestant on the show at just 18, was getting some last-minute makeup touches at the other end of the room.
“Minaaaaanne!” wailed Cat dramatically, a call back to her outstanding open mic comedy performance during the Block Stars challenge – itself a call back to the Dinner Wars challenge some weeks earlier, where Minanne had forgotten to put a box of Paddle Pops in the freezer.
Good times. Although every effort was made to project tension and rivalry between the teams, all eight were evidently very close, and left The Block – on the weekend of the Rugby World Cup final – firm friends. After the group photo they formed a tight huddle and shared some final, private words before the auctions. “Oh. Are we all going around saying something?” asked Cat loudly.
Over the following two hours they barely stopped hugging and cheering and crying. They stood on the balcony in a state of mild delirium as one by one teams were ushered inside to watch their houses go under the hammer, and one by one their houses exceeded reserve – by $190,000, $123,000, $160,000, and $160,000 again.
With the largest profit being topped up by an additional $100,000 prize money, Brooke and Mitch were The Block NZ: Villa Wars’ winners, but there were really no losers. “This morning we were all talking,” recalled a buzzing Brooke, “and we were like, “imagine if all of us win 100k – how awesome would that be?”” Mitch concurred: “Dream result for everybody.”
These were meant to be the show’s big villains. Brooke and Mitch were selfish, nasty, completely ruthless – “the most awful people on television?” suggested one headline from Steve Braunias’ nzherald.co.nz reviews, screenshots of which weirdly flashed across the screen at one point in the broadcast. “We had a wee laugh sometimes,” said Brooke of being the target of Braunias’ strange wrath. “If you don’t laugh at yourself then you’ll cry, so…”
Much of the public scorn for the pair seemed to stem from one episode where they scored the other teams zeroes in a room judging. “We’re not ashamed of how we played the game,” said Brooke, although she did admit to having had second thoughts. “The amount of media backlash that you get – social media and that – was quite intense.”
Reactions onsite in the aftermath of the pair’s controversial scoring were less ferocious than online. The worst retribution the pair suffered was probably Hayden hiding Mitch’s toolbox. “Hayden actually high-fived Mitch after the judging,” Brooke remembered. “People on The Block don’t really hold a grudge because it’s wasted energy.”
Speaking of energy, one thing that always intrigued me was the teams’ eating habits while they were on The Block. They didn’t get kitchens installed until week 9, and barely an episode went by where someone wasn’t shown scoffing an enormous pita from one of the show’s many sponsors: Pita Pit. How much of their product did each team actually eat?
“In the thousands of dollars worth,” estimated Sarah. This sounded like a gross exaggeration, but it worked out to be consistent with the others’ recollections of near-daily Pita Pit runs. Each team had a card they could swipe in store to claim free pitas seemingly whenever they wanted.
“If someone was going to Pita Pit, like if Hayden was going to Pita Pit he’d pick up something for me – he’d pick up 3 or 4,” remembered Jeremy. “You’d have them cold for breakfast in the morning.”
“It was great because they had other options as well,” noted Sarah, “like wedges…” Minanne laughed. “Yeah, we went hard on the wedges.” Like the others, the sisters remained oddly enthusiastic for a meal they had eaten almost daily for two-and-a-half months. There was a fondness to Sarah’s voice as she recalled one tip unique to life on The Block: “When you’re exhausted and you feel too tired to chew you can get a salad, so you don’t have to chew the wrap.”
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