Scott Cam with this year’s Block contestants.
Scott Cam with this year’s Block contestants. Channel 9

Scotty Cam, you’ve gone too far

OPINION

The Block is one of Australia's most enduring reality TV franchises, with its first ever blockbuster series launching back in 2003.

It was and remains a huge hit. The show's debut on Sunday was the number one non-news program in Australia this week.

But by the time you're kicking off season 15, which is what we're watching now, the pressure is on to switch things up to keep your audience interested.

Unfortunately, this year it looks like the trick producers have chosen to keep viewers invested in the veteran format is that reality TV stalwart that almost every show resorts to eventually: outright sadism.

The show's host Scott Cam set the tone early, when he told the five sets of couples renovating a behemoth, dilapidated former backpackers' hostel in St Kilda that they had a mere three days to renovate their first bedroom, with a bathroom to be completed a few days later. "This is the toughest week one challenge that I've ever set," Cam told the aghast contestants again and again, grinning with waspish glee.

This year’s property presents a mammoth challenge.
This year’s property presents a mammoth challenge.

But even Cam's smile began to fade before the rooms were anywhere near finished. He was yelling at the couples before the end of the second episode. There was chaos everywhere, piles of rubble, last minute layout changes and tears.

At least two couples - Tess and Luke and Andy and Deb - didn't come anywhere close to finishing their guest rooms this week, with Tess admitting she "hated" the room she and husband Luke presented to the judges.

Even that bloke they hauled in from Mitre 10 to help the couples - who, as a human advertisement, should have been all jovial thumbs-ups and gleaming white smiles - looked utterly wretched at the mess he'd been conscripted to clean up.

The Block isn't meant to be the kind of entertainment that panders to our sick primal desire to revel in the suffering and humiliation of strangers. That's why we have Married At First Sight.

The challenge pushed contestants to breaking point.
The challenge pushed contestants to breaking point.

The Block has always been cut more from MasterChef's cloth. We cheer on contestants who we actually quite like as they perform miracles that are grand-scale versions of two things most Australians do in their ordinary lives: cooking and renovating.

That unwavering commitment to niceness is what kept MasterChef on air for 11 seasons, even if last month's departure of all three judges suggested it wasn't all rainbows and lollipops behind the scenes.

Of course time constraints have always played a critical role in these kinds of shows. If the contestants were given free rein to complete their tasks then Mitch and Mark would be fussing over chandelier options indefinitely and Tess and Luke would knock down and reposition their ensuite bathroom like a never-ending game of Tetris.

Scott Cam has a confrontation with Jesse in tonight’s episode. Picture: Channel 9
Scott Cam has a confrontation with Jesse in tonight’s episode. Picture: Channel 9

But ridiculous time limits on MasterChef are one thing; on The Block their consequences have the potential to be far more serious. On MasterChef, if contestants only have an hour to recreate Peter Gilmore's White Coral or a 12-foot croquembouche then the worst case scenario is a sludge of untempered chocolate or a sticky mess of caramel.

On The Block, haste and corner-cutting could mean that the final products, billed as luxury residences and expected to fetch top dollar when they go to auction, could be littered with faults and slapdash finishes. I'm convinced that someone is sent in - maybe the glum Mitre 10 fellow - to go buck wild with a staple gun and gaffer tape moments before each of the room reveals. Behind every fabric feature wall a thick raft of Blu-Tac; under every valance a hastily swept pile of sawdust.

It is, of course, early days. There's still plenty of time for Scott Cam to pull back the punishment; and for a team of legitimate tradies to swarm in and plaster over - literally - any rushed mistakes once the contestants have moved on to new challenges and long before the residences go under the hammer.

But now that MasterChef has shuddered to a grinding halt in the absence of George, Gary and Matt (let's not kid ourselves; however they try to revive it, that show is deader than a deflated souffle), we're relying on The Block to be our feel-good family franchise, our nightly dose of niceness.

Let's hope its creators resist the urge to rely too heavily on the emotional junk food of other people's misery.

Do you think The Block has gone too far this year? Comment below | @Alex_Carlton


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