Teamed up: New Zealand's Johnny and Muzza, third and fourth from right, are ''the larrikins''.
There’s a fundamental problem in trying to interview contestants in The Amazing Race Australia, which starts tonight on Channel Seven but which is already over for the contestants. They know who the winners were, but they’re contractually forbidden to give any clue on that. Even if they let something slip, I wouldn’t want to know, because I like trying to work out in the early episodes who will be the best travel strategist.
In the two preview episodes I’ve seen, a Melbourne couple called Ashleigh and Jarrod (known to each other as Ash and Jazz) and a New Zealand couple called John and Murray (known to each other as Johnny and Muzza) emerge as the most interesting teams. Ash is clearly a lot smarter (and more patient) than Jazz. Our interview started awkwardly when I asked which countries they’d most like to go back to and explore more deeply, now the need for speed is gone.
Jarrod: “We’ve been pretty well drilled, and it’s the same for all the contestants. We pretty much can’t give away the countries we’ve been to or how many we’ve seen. We’ve got to be pretty quiet on those sort of things.”
Drama: If you want to watch Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) in Game of Thrones it will cost you.
And please don’t draw any conclusion from Ash and Jazz being in Bali when I spoke to them. It was for a friend’s wedding, arranged before they started the race, so it can’t be taken to mean they recently came into $250,000. But then again, Jazz indicates, we shouldn’t assume they had not come into the prize money.
Ash was a little more forthcoming when asked about the selection process they went through. They sent the production company a video of themselves last October, and then had to fill in questionnaires and go through a series of interviews.
Ashleigh: “January was pretty full on. They were pretty much making sure you were mentally fit, healthy enough for the challenges, and you were the sort of personality they were looking for. They were sifting through all the different personality types to get 10 teams of completely conflicting and opposing personalities that would make relatively good television.”
Out there: Ashleigh and Jarrod, from Melbourne are keeping quiet about the outcome of The Amazing Race, Australia.
She wouldn’t speculate on the qualities that led to her and her husband to be chosen, but I’d guess their good looks had a bit to do with it. Different factors were in play for Johnny and Muzza.
John: “Psychologically they are trying to get a bit of drama going. They are looking for as many character derailments as possible, so they can continue to make beautiful TV. We were the right kind of crazy. They thought we had the ability to play up and be larrikins and attention seekers, and also turn on each other.”
Both teams were slightly anxious about how the editors would portray them in the series, and they have their explanations ready.
John: “Muzza and I have a little more depth than we personify. We act more larrikin to make people feel comfortable. You think we’re fighting but we’re really enjoying each other’s company. We’ve got some core principles that we follow and we won’t budge from. We didn’t want to revert to the whole ‘win at all costs’ mentality. We wanted to do something really pure, be open and honest.”
Jarrod: “Me and Ash are pretty thick-skinned people, so if Ash wasn’t performing or I wasn’t performing, we can sort of stir each other on. We’ve been together for 11 years so if Ash had to have a go at me for something, or if I have a go at her for something, it’s so what, move on, get on with it. You don’t have time to put on a fake persona, you’re so in the moment; things just come out before you have time to think. It’s a pretty natural show, I think.”
The Amazing Race starts on August 4 at 9pm on Seven.
Pay and stay
Is television worth paying for? Two-thirds of Australia has offered a firm No to that question. The one-third who answered Yes seem to be mostly sports fanatics, who use their Foxtel subscriptions at this time of year to catch footy that isn’t available on Nine or Seven.
A tiny proportion subscribe to Foxtel because they want access to recent dramas from America and Europe. These people get pissed off at this time of year because the series they pay for – such as Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Mad Men, Veep, True Detective, The Americans and Justified – have finished their seasons, so there’s not much return for the $89 a month you need to shell out to receive drama channels such as showcase, FX, Soho and SyFy. They’re even more tempted to cancel their subscriptions when they see that SBS has started offering, for free, cult programming such as Fargo, From Dusk To Dawn, Borgen and Real Humans.
Those frustrated dramaphiles may be mollified by the arrival on August 3 of a new Foxtel channel called BBC First, which will schedule British series alleged to be almost as exciting as the output of America’s legendary HBO. But they will be outnumbered by the non-subscribers who will be mightily disgruntled that BBC First is about to fence off several popular series that used to be available free on the ABC, such as Call the Midwife and Death in Paradise.
This will force ABC viewers to confront my opening question all over again. To encourage them to change their answer to Yes, BBC First has put up on YouTube two of its hot new series – The Musketeers (a swashbuckler based on the Alexandre Dumas novel, starring the new Doctor Who, Peter Capaldi) and Peaky Blinders, about a criminal gang operating in Birmingham just after World War I. You can sample them free until next Sunday.
These are a few of the other experiences BBC First will offer: Women In Love, a two-part miniseries based on the D.H. Lawrence novel and starring Rosamund Pike (yes, there are nude scenes); The Politician’s Husband, a three-part miniseries about the shifting balance of power in a political marriage, starring David Tennant and Emily Watson; Burton and Taylor, a telemovie about divorced couple Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, starring Helena Bonham Carter and Dominic West (from The Wire and The Hour); The Fear, a four-part miniseries about a crime boss whose empire disintegrates as he sinks into dementia; The Honourable Woman, an eight-parter in which Maggie Gyllenhall plays the daughter of “a Zionist gunrunner”, tangled in warfare between Israelis and Palestinians.
Is that enough to convince you? If you’re one of the 15 million Australians whose household does not receive Foxtel, here’s my suggestion: Hang on to your money until January. That’s when FX starts playing the new season of Justified, and shortly before showcase launches new seasons of House of Cards, Veep and Game of Thrones. You’ll catch repeats of all the BBC First shows, and be in time for the new seasons of Call the Midwife and The Fall (starring Gillian Anderson as an English detective in Ireland).
Six months later, when Foxtel’s annual drama drought sets in again, you can cancel your subscription and go back to SBS.
BBC First starts on August 3 at 9am with The Musketeers.
Truths of reality
The term “reality show” is much abused. It originated with fly-on-the-wall fabrications such as Big Brother but has now been stretched to include talent quests such as The Voice.
The producers of a new ABC show called Reality Check have gone for the widest possible definition, because that enables them to offer these scary statistics: There are 41 international versions of MasterChef (with the Swedish version known as Masterkock); 49 Big Brother houses, 48 clones of Survivor and 42 X-Factors. And 56 nations have Got Talent.
If you’re thinking of auditioning, you will need Reality Check’s answers to these questions: How important is a back story? How do you cast a bachelor? What is “Frankenbite editing”? When does a “journey” begin? Why does every country in the world have a toothless old guy who’s taught his parrot to sing opera?
Reality Check starts on on August 13 at 9pm on ABC.
For a daily update, go to smh.com.au/entertainment/blog/the-tribal-mind