It was one of the craziest things ever to happen on New Zealand primetime TV: a hidden camera caught a cleaner sniffing underwear, spraying it with perfume, then masturbating into it while he watched porn on the household computer. Alex Casey finds out how it all came about.
We can all remember the most iconic moments in recent New Zealand television history. Always blow on the pie. The three-way handshake. When Rodney Hide dropped that lady on Dancing With The Stars. But nothing has left a stain on our national collective memory quite like that episode of Target.
Ah yes, 15/05/2012. The day that ruined the reputation of cleaners everywhere. The day that made everybody rethink the positioning/existence of their laundry basket. If you missed it, (how did you miss it?) Target ran one of their now infamous hidden camera trials on three different cleaners. The result? Something straight out of an Eating Media Lunch dream. One of the cleaners didn’t exactly clean. One of them did, what you could argue, is the exact opposite of clean.
We talked to Catie McDonald, who was working for the production company that made Target at the time. Retire your work stories everyone, this is not a tale to be sniffed at.
What exactly was your role on that episode of Target?
My role was hidden camera actress and schedule manager for the Target house. So I would call all the tradesmen and say “Hey I’ve got a stain on my carpet and I need to have it cleaned – can you come around?”. I only ever called three tradesmen and would meet them at the house. Once I’d let them in, I’d leave them to go to ‘uni’ or a ‘meeting’.
So one of those tradesmen you called was that one, how did you choose them?
I literally just opened the Yellow Pages and picked three companies at total random. That’s how it was for all of the trials. Lots of people think that we tested about 20 different tradesmen and put the worst three on TV – that’s not how it worked. We only ever chose three across all of the trades. We didn’t have the budget for any more.
It wasn’t your house was it?
It was a house that Target rented for about three months. I decorated the place to look like I lived there with a few flatmates. In the past, some hidden camera actresses have actually lived in the house, but it was close to where I was living anyway.
Did you use your own… belongings in the house?
They were props. So some of them were my things like the old clothes in the wardrobe and photos on the wall. But the underwear in the washing – those were props. Probably from Kmart or somewhere. And no they weren’t worn – I know you are going to ask that.
It would’ve been a weird detail for the props department to anticipate. How many tradesmen went through before the one?
He must have been the last one through – I remember that because after him they shut the house down. I wasn’t allowed to go back into the house, because the police thought he might have some weird interest in me. The whole house was just completely shut down.
I’m very surprised they didn’t just torch the whole place down. How hidden were the hidden cameras?
They were really well hidden, there’s no way he could have known. We worked with a technical director and it was his job to hide them away. He would set them up, and then stay there and film when the tradesmen were there.
So he’d be hidden somewhere as well? Wait, he was in the house?!
He was underneath the house when it happened. At first I just got a text saying “this is gold, he’s snooping around”. At that stage we thought: “cool, this will be good for ratings”. Then we got a text saying, “uh-oh, it’s getting a bit worse now…”
What was the chain of events after everyone realised what exactly was happening?
Basically he had to let it play out as if nobody was there. So it played out, and then we basically just had to have a giant meeting about whether or not it would go to air. And we decided it would. We contacted the guy to let him know.
People always ask, “what if the tradesmen don’t want to be on the show?” They never really had a choice. They would get a rundown of all the points we were going to make on the show, so they could write a response back. So yeah, the house got shut down, the show went to air and that was one of – if not the last – episode of Target.
Was that a coincidence?
I think the network wanted to change the concept of the show a bit, which never really eventuated…
And I guess, where do you go from there?
So you obviously met the guy before the incident?
Yeah I had to meet with him before I left the house. And I thought he was lovely. It’s weird because most of the time with dodgy guys you’d get a vibe and think to yourself, “he’s going to do something”. I wasn’t suspicious at all.
Had anyone anticipated anything like this happening?
No. We hoped to have people do a good job and a bad job, but you’d never hope for somebody to jack off on national television. I mean it’s very gross. I didn’t watch it.
Did it really freak you out?
Not really, I mean it was gross but he didn’t know people were watching him. He thought he was on his own so, what can you do?
Well, there are some things you can do. You can avoid doing that.
People were always like “do you feel bad that you trapped him” Everyone always thought Target was trapping people. It wasn’t, it was just a normal house. Everyone has a dirty laundry basket. He just took things a bit too far. It’s good that he’s not off doing that in other people’s houses.
Do you know what happened to him?
I know that he got charged with a couple of minor offences. Because he hooked the internet up, he got charged for theft. They wanted to get him somehow. He got some community service, and that’s about it. I think he’s probably been punished enough.
And since then, have you hired cleaners in your own house?
No. For a while after the show I had some paper with the Target letterhead that I would leave out when I had tradesmen in my house as a little warning. But you know, the majority of people are honest.
I think he was a very rare exception. What score did he get?
I think he got a zero.
As we were wrapping up the interview, Catie told me another work story too good to ignore – this time about a creeping plughole bandit.
We held a vinyl-laying trial for a small floor space in the laundry. The tradesman was only supposed to come two times. Once to prep, once to lay. But for some reason this guy kept coming back over and over again and asking me leave a key out. It was really old small villa and a couple of times we saw him creep the same path from the front door to the bedrooms. He would tiptoe along the floorboards and say “hello, hello”. He’d just be constantly creeping back and forth and looking all over the place. And we would just be watching him on the cameras trying to figure out what he was doing. Nobody could figure it out.
The show went to air – he got a bad score because he was doing other weird stuff as well. He was looking in the bathtub and kept touching the plughole and stuff. I don’t know what he was up to. It was weird. About a week later we got a letter from this ex-con who used to write to us regularly from prison. He said that they guy was detecting a “night-path”. Basically, he was figuring out how to walk to the bedrooms without making a sound on the floorboards at night. And that explained why he was coming back and creeping so much.
Doesn’t explain the plughole-touching though…
No. No it doesn’t.