‘Final straw’ in ‘grubby’ Block scandal
It's a cliche to say that something is "like crack" but reality TV really is like crack.
We need bigger, harder highs every year just to get off.
What this means is that manufacturers and dealers - the show's staff and the network - have to come up with crazier, bolder, more horrifying scenarios to titillate us every season. In 2001 we thought Sara-Marie Fedele on the first series of Big Brother "bum dancing" was the pinnacle of voyeurism. In 2019, we need our Love Island contestants to flash their butts in technicolour prime time or we're out.
But one show that should be above the rush to flood our dopamine receptors with scandal is The Block. The Block is about home renovating which should be excitement enough. Australians love fantasising about fiddling around with houses; it's practically our national sport. That's the genius of the format; the "product" of the show isn't the contestants - as it is with Married At First Sight or The Bachelor - it's the building itself and the marvellous, magical transformation is undergoes.
Which is why this series - which has pretty much descended into MAFS-in-a-hard-hat - is so viscerally off-putting.
Last night was the final straw, the grubbiest, grimmest descent into the gutter, as host Scott Cam tried to defend the homophobic stereotyping that had been repeatedly levelled at the contestants in House 1, Mitch and Mark.
Finally fed up with being perpetually marginalised as "the gay couple" with the endless references to their loud party house and feather boas and Mardi Gras and disco music, they finally exploded. "In 2019, homophobia is not f***ing on," spat Mitch furiously.
This was too much for Scott Cam. His response was to do exactly what every member of a dominant group does when someone hurts their feelings by pointing out the truth of their behaviour.
He doubled down.
First he tried about six different explanations for the allegation - always a telltale sign of a weak defence. He wasn't responsible for any of the judging, he was simply the messenger! He didn't even know what the two men were even upset about! They called it a party house too!
Nothing was meant by any of it, Cam protested, wide-eyed, as he confronted the two men - or "boys" as they're perpetually known. It is a party house, surely Mitch and Mark can accept that. He and the judges were simply referring to the couple's target buyer as "cashed-up empty nesters" - not a "gay couple"! Not even one little bit!
"I was perplexed! I was flabbergasted!" Cam cried, making sure both men knew that their hurt feelings were nothing compared to his own hurt feelings about being accused of hurting their feelings.
Acutely aware of the hi-vis power imbalance standing right in front of them, Mitch and Mark made themselves small. They nodded and placated and tried to let it go.
"We accept that and thank you," they said politely.
That, however, wasn't good enough for Scott Cam. He's been wronged, and would not stop until that wrong was made right.
He wanted an apology.
"Some things were said about my character," Cam told the men. "About me, with regards to you guys, and I don't accept that. I was expecting you to say sorry once I'd explained it but you didn't say sorry. You said 'thank you'. So that's it."
And with that, he turned on his heel and stormed off set.
The perpetrator - one of them, anyway, everyone who produced or edited the show played a part in this - had become the victim. What a sickening sleight of hand.
It's not the first instance of nastiness directed at contestants this season. Several weeks earlier a plot line nearly pushed Perth mum El'ise - who has openly spoken about her struggles with anxiety - over the edge by openly taunting her in front of another constant, Mel, about her poor budgeting skills.
El'ise, who along with husband Matt has made it plainly clear that they are here in a desperate attempt to provide for their children's education, sobbed her heart out on camera.
That's what makes The Block's pivot from renovation show to contestant character assassination feel so deeply uncomfortable.
With dating shows, the participants are fair game. Some of them are nominally there "for the right reasons" but they're just as committed to leveraging their profiles to become "brands" and "influencers" and "the new face of various d-grade cosmetic procedures".
When you make yourself, your looks and your behaviour into a commodity, you're fair game.
But The Block contestants are there because they have a genuine skill, one they want to use to win prize money that betters their lives, not because they want to get a lifetime of free lip filler. That doesn't make them heroes but it does mean they deserve to be spared a constant kicking by a show whose success rests on their shoulders.
Earlier this year, when MAFS hit its own rock bottom during Ines Basic's verbal abuse scandal, staff were reportedly ordered back to the edit room to round off the ugliest edges of upcoming episodes, despite the fact they'd already been through the production process.
If The Block's top brass have any sense of decency they'll be also preparing their production crew for a few late nights ahead.
Alex Carlton is a freelance writer. Continue the conversation @Alex_Carlton