Leading Australian interior designer and The Block judge Darren Palmer will be back on our screens on Sunday as the new season of the show kicks off on Nine. Season 14 will see five teams transform one derelict boarding house into luxury apartments – and Darren thinks it will be the best one yet!
The Block 2018 has been filming at the old Gatwick Hotel – a 1950s building in St Kilda, Melbourne which has had a bit of a shady past. The derelict 66-room boarding house has been dubbed a ‘flea pit’ and has even been avoided by some homeless people. In the past, the Gatwick has gotten the name ‘The Ghetto’, ‘Hotel Hell’ and ‘Hotel of Horrors’.
“This is the single biggest building project The Block has ever carried out,” says Darren. “To put it in context, the very first Block’s building footprint would fit inside one of this season’s apartments.”
The Block’s producers were approached by The Gatwick’s owners to buy the dilapidated building way back in 2016. Given its prime beach-front location and the love The Block crew have for a challenge, it was a no-brainer for the team, who jumped at the chance. Channel Nine bought the decrepit property in 2017 for $10 million.
“It was a grand dame of Art Deco architecture,” explains Darren. “It used to have a ballroom and was quite a luxurious hotel when it was built. As time wore it down, its clientele changed, and it became a halfway house of sorts for people struggling or trying to get back on their feet.”
This year will mark Darren’s ninth season as a permanent judge on The Block and he confesses that one of the things he loves most about the show is how it reinvigorates and gives new life to forgotten buildings. His least favourite part of judging? The misconceptions and rumours about the judging process…
“I recently had someone tell me on social media that they were frustrated because the producers rigged an outcome in last season. That’s just not true,” he explains. “We go into detail on every decision and share lots of information, but the show has constraints on what they’re able to show due to the time they have to tell the story.
“I can guarantee you that the producers never give us information on what happened in the week. They never tell us what to say, think or feel.”
While the self-proclaimed “Mr Nice Guy” judge aims to be as compassionate as possible while judging the contestants’ work, he admits that there’s no way to sugar coat a bad room.
“The best thing for my judging is when I’m doing or have just done my own home renos as it makes me that bit more understanding,” says Darren. “Thankfully for these contestants, I’d done a little work around my house late last year so that memory was fresh!”
The new Blockheads include pro netballer besties Bianca and Carla and reno rookies Courtney and Hans. Then there are the couples with some building experience: Queenslanders Norm and Jess, Kerri and Spence from the Barossa (who had their build on Grand Designs Australia) and outspoken Sara and her partner Hayden, a former Bisley catalogue model.
More than 45,000 couples applied to be on The Block this season (that’s over 90,000 people) all for the chance to walk away with $100,000 prize money and any profit made when their apartments go under the hammer at a live public auction later this year.
“The Block is a once in a lifetime opportunity for people to use their skills to change their circumstances for life. That’s why we see so many people with little kids entering,” says Darren. “The toll it would take being away from your small kids is huge, so they are obviously gambling on there being a big financial payoff at the end, but as we’ve all seen, that’s not a guarantee.”
Indeed, given that the market is now cooling off, who knows how sale day will finish up this season or what bombshells the producers will drop on the contestants.
“There are two apartments that literally don’t exist when the show starts. We have proper penthouses this season and we’ve never had that before, and of course, there are always surprises, challenges and curve balls being thrown left, right and centre.”
The Block premieres on Nine this Sunday, 5 August, at 7pm
You can look forward to our usual room reveal posts on Mondays!