IN ANYONE'S language, $448,000 for a few months' ''work'' is a windfall. For a couple in their 20s setting out on their life together and their careers it is, in the words of Dani Wales, the recipient of one such win in 2012's season of The Block, ''life changing''.
By contrast, Amity Dry and her husband, Phil, walked away from The Block's first season, in 2003, with a more modest prize of $60,000. Ten years later, they live in a rented house in Adelaide and, with two young children, hope their participation in the reunion show, The Block All Stars, will help them lay down a deposit on a house of their own.
While some elements of the renovation competition seem almost impervious to change - the uniform of tool belt (for him) and cut-off jeans (for her), the gender-based wink-wink conspiracies, the lack of ethnic diversity, the endless product plugs (sorry, ''integrations'') - many of the rules of engagement have shifted substantially in the decade since it was created by former Channel Nine producers Julian Cress and David Barbour.
Back then, it ran one night a week; the contestants held down day jobs while renovating small, two-bedroom apartments at night; the ratings waxed and waned (The Block's second season was occasionally out-rated by bland lifestyle show Hot Auctions); and the concept of reality-show ''nobodies'' becoming one-name household celebrities was in its infancy.
When it was refashioned as a stripped week-night show, challenges and extraneous competitions were added to fuel the hungry machine. It morphed from being primarily a DIY renovation show to a prime-time soap opera, replete with heroes and villains, tantrums and tears.
As the ratings rallied, sponsors lined up for a piece of the action. The stakes rose exponentially, in terms of both the scope of the renovations and the prizemoney - save for the notable exception of 2011's season, in which three of four cottages in Richmond were passed in at auction and the contestants walked away with very little to show for their efforts.
''We were the happy couple, newlyweds,'' recalls Dry, who was a fledgling 24-year-old singer with no design experience when she and her husband appeared on the show in 2003. ''We had fun. We knew we weren't the best renovators, but we thought we could be the most entertaining. We were conscious that we were making a TV show. We weren't the arguing couple and were hopeless in some tasks. We made fun of ourselves. People related to that. It was the makeover boom; every man and his dog had a home-renovation show.''
Dry had no expectation that The Block would make her a household name, but it did. Her first single, The Lighthouse, which was released while the show aired, propelled her on to the top-10 charts.
The Block All Stars premieres on Monday on Channel Nine.
As the initial advertising of the four Bondi cottage offerings gets further underway, The Block All Stars ratings have picked up a tick, with four consecutive nights above one million viewers.
But it still can't get close to the Channel 7 juggernaut, My Kitchen Rules.
Wednesday night's Block audience was 1.041 million to MKR's 1.75 million. The Block was the night's third most popular show, excluding news and current affairs.
Estate agents have been limited in rolling out all the internal images as just two rooms have been revealed, although the floor plans give more than a hint of what's to come with the $1.4 million plus inspection by appointment listings.
In a demure strategy, McGrath agent Chris Volpatti has been marketing 6 Tasman Street, but without any reference to The Block what-so-ever. It's the cottage renovated by his clients, the Melbourne couple, Dan and Dani. The ad does say its been renovated in a "signature style."
By contrast, Phil and Amity kicked off their marketing with fanfare last week for 12 Tasman Street through 1st City - Hasemer + Caldwell.Eyles.
Ray White agent Cameron Airlie has begun marketing 8 Tasman Street, the Josh and Jenna renovation set for March 19 auction. He plays down the Block association, with just the one pic of the renovation couple.
BresicWhitney have yet to post any marketing for 10 Tasman, which was renovated by the tradies, Mark and Duncan.
Two contestant couples on The Block Allstars have built designated third bedrooms. The other two contestant couples stuck with the two-bedroom plan and offer a study.
The contestants Phil and Amity along with Mark and Duncan have the three bedroom options which are set for March 19 auction.
The young Melbourne contestant couples Josh and Jenna and Dan and Dani have the two bedroom options, although Dan and Dani reckon they might find a way to turn their attic space into a bedroom rather than a storage option.
Price estimates start at a cautious $1.4 million plus, with another offered since marketing at $1.5 million plus.
Phil and Amity who appeared in the initial 2003 series at Bondi Beach taking home a $60,000 profit despite coming last, have suggested their third bedroom could boost the selling price by $100,000. They have 12 Tasman Street (floorplan below).
Mark and Duncan, who came to be known as the Two Fat Tradies, struggled with styling in the 2010 series. Like Phil and Amity, they also finished fourth, splitting $47,000 between them after the Vaucluse renovation. They have 10 Tasman Street (floorplans below).
Josh and Jenna, when they appeared in the Richmond cottage series in 2011, were the youngest couple to ever appear in the series. They still hold the record for the most Room Reveal wins in The Block's 10-year history. They have 8 Tasman Street (floorplans below). They have a smaller attic offering of about 4 metres by 2.6 metres.
Dan and Dani are fresh from their appearance in the 2012 South Melbourne terrace house renovation series. They have 6 Tasman Street (pictured below). Its attic roof spaces are given as 3.2 metres by 4.8 metres plus 4.3 metres by 2.4 metres.
Everything about the Block All Stars (Nine, 7 O'Block) is clever television, except the Blocktastic word play on the title. It's all Blockeriffic and Blocktacular and it's about as annoying as a circular saw starting up next door before 7am.
Last week's Blocksational promo took the punishment a step further, with the storyline about Amity and Phil having spray paint drama given the scary movie treatment as ''The Amity-Phil Horror''. I almost didn't watch.
The simple core of this show is hurling real people into a renovation hell to which so many can relate. Put them in positions of stress, exhaustion and competition and eventually the camera will become invisible and genuine emotion will out. Cue tension, cue tears, cue ratings.
Like My Kitchen Rules (Seven, 7.30pm), the bonus is we're dealing with people already in relationships, so they're much more prone to honesty in their internal dealings. Who's doing more work? Who's making all the tough decisions? Who's getting less sleep?
Tonight, physical exhaustion tips into dangerous territory, with one (urgh) Blockhead collapsing and rushed to hospital. How much do you know? Probably everything but, just in case, I'll spoil nothing. Because the drama of tonight's medical emergency is real, the trick for the production team is to keep out of the way. There's a hint of a slow-mo shot, but the story is told simply, effectively and with care.
It was the last thing Dale Vine expected: to return to television on The Block: All Stars in 2013.
After all, he and his wife, Sophie, had been two of the most popular contestants on The Block last year and they were settling in to their new life with prize money won from the profits of selling their renovated property.
But Vine will be back on television screens this week after getting an urgent call for help from producers at the Channel Nine show.
''I got the phone call one evening and they told me there was a situation where someone had suffered a health scare,'' Vine says. ''Sophie's not keen on staying at home by herself at the best of times but, yeah, it was one of those things where it was such a tragic situation, I wanted to help. Sophie's been very supportive as well.''
In a dramatic episode on Monday night, Mark Bowyer, the 55-year-old contestant in the pairing known simply to viewers as ''Mark and Duncan'', has a major heart scare, with an ambulance called to set.
''I felt tight in the chest and was having trouble breathing,'' Bowyer recalls. ''They laid me down and Keith [the lead tradesman on the show] took my pulse and they called an ambulance.''
After concerns about his heart - and the rigorous weeks ahead on The Block - Bowyer accepted Nine's decision that he wasn't well enough to continue his renovations in the series.
''They did some tests and they did find there was a minor blockage; nothing conclusive, but they think that may have been related to it,'' Bowyer says.
Apart from taking medication, he now walks about six kilometres every morning. But despite his dearest wish to return to the show, he accepted the reasons why Nine wouldn't take the risk.
Last weekend, when The Block opened for inspection, Mark and Duncan stood outside House #2, and as fans left their property, they were inundated by questions. Whose idea was the urinal? Who's the funniest? Who would do it all again?
But every so often, a fan would ask Mark how he felt, or say how good it was to see him back. They'd read a report or heard a rumour that was confirmed on televisions tonight: a health scare forced Mark to leave The Block All Stars prematurely.
"I dodged a bullet," Mark said in a statement.
The 55-year-old carpenter called the incident that saw him leaving the Tasman Street properties in an ambulance "a wake-up call".
"I had become run down on the show, but once I got to hospital and they ran some tests, they actually discovered a previously undiagnosed condition which meant that I not only couldn't return to complete The Block, I also had to change a lot of other things in my life," he said.
He is now fitter than ever, having changed his diet and started exercising daily. He has, to use his words, "dodged a bullet".
"I get up every morning and walk six kilometres and so far I have lost eight kilos," Mark said. "If I keep going at this pace, I'm going to catch Duncan [who has lost 35 kilos since his first appearance on The Block in 2010]."
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