Combining the social dynamics of Survivor, the hidden cameras of Big Brother and a cast of Kiwi five-year-olds, Alex Casey finds the perfect reality show.
While it’s unbelievable that it’s been 125 years since women got the vote in New Zealand, it’s absolutely mad that it’s also taken this long for The Secret Life format to make it to our screens. Drifting down under the vast parasol of Suffrage 125 celebrations, The Secret Life of Girls puts hidden cameras on our future leaders to see what Kate Sheppard would think about the five-year-old girls of 2018, or something like that. It’s mostly just very cute.
Narrated with a wry warmth by Hayley Holt, and professional analysis by Nathan Wallace and Dr Annette Henderson, The Secret Life of Girls is the ideal combination of the greatest reality shows without any of the headaches. It has the experts of Married at First Sight, the social strategy of Survivor and the candid, hidden camera moments of Big Brother. And, the greatest drawcard of all, the talent isn’t there for money, love or Instagram followers. They’re mostly there to play with marbles.
As the girls arrive one by one, thankfully without the limos and sequin dresses because The Bachelor Children won’t be okay for at least another two years, the bonds between the girls start to form instantly. Manaia arrives. Amairaa follows. “I like your earrings Manaia.” “Thank you.” “You’re welcome.” It’s civil as hell. They become best friends within three seconds before the rest of the girls arrive and the teachers introduce three play options: dolls, camping or a pirate ship.
The young pirates flock to the ship like kohl to a Depp waterline, with only a few choosing the dormant dollies and The Bachelor Australia-style toy campsite. This is where the expert analysis kicks in. Watching elsewhere, they note that the girls might not have been so enthusiastic had there been bolshy boys tousling for position on the pirate ship. Even still, there’s no lacking in the dominance department. “Can I please be the captain?” begs India. “I NEVER be the captain,” replies Shiloh. They both become captain. Hashtag lean in.
There’s no shortage of social strategy, with moments that could be straight out of a Survivor NZ merge. “If you want to come into my house, you have to be a witch FOREVER,” says India to Meimei. Fresh off the imaginary seas, it would appear her god complex has only strengthened. “I’m the Prime Minister of Auckland!” she shrieks, tearing through the playground while undoubtedly drafting plans for a large waterfront stadium that also doubles as Witch HQ.
Perhaps the piece de resistance of The Secret Life of Girls is a performance segment to rival The Block NZ’s ‘Block Stars’, where the girls are asked to wear a range of challenging wigs and impersonate their parents. India, naturally, steals the show completely. Wobbling up to the podium in velour heels, activewear and blonde Zed drummer dreadlocks, it’s a show-stopping look. “My mummy goes to the gym, drinks a cup of vodka, and watches telly.” Shantay, you both stay.
The suffrage link shines through later in the episode, when half of the girls are invited to vote on what their next activity will be. But do they know what ‘voting’ means? “A vote means something you want to win,” nods Aurora sagely. India sums up suffrage succinctly in three words: “Kate changed everything.” With half the group unable to vote, the empathy is palpable. “We feel a bit happy but we feel sad for them too,” says Aurora. “We will share the vote with them,” says India. “That’s the kind thing to do.”
Having experienced the terror of having their voting rights stripped away, the everyday horrors of 1893 come in the form of donning vintage garb, learning how to stand up straight and execute tiresome household chores. As well as being a stellar opportunity to dress the kids up in extremely cute bonnets and ruffles, it’s also a sign of how far their opportunities have developed in New Zealand, which is nominally the point of the show.
“I’m getting married today and I’ve got a baby that’s a possum” announces India, Prime Minister of Auckland, from beneath her bonnet. Wow, raising a child AND holding down a leadership position? I wonder where she got that whacky idea from…