Building up steam
The crew from The Block.
Dani Wales wears the same horse-shoe necklace everyday. What's surprising is that it wasn't a gift from boyfriend and fellow reality television contestant Dan Reilly or a present from family or friends. Rather the elegant little charm and chain were a gift from the producers and crew of WIN's hit renovations show last season.
The pair who squabbled endlessly (or so it seemed) during season five are obviously good friends with The Block's producers.
''One of the producers and his wife and another crew member gave it to me for my birthday last year .. I wore it to the auction last year and everyday since then,'' Wales says.
Dani and Dan from The Block.
But she also blames producers for her role as the villain of the 2012 series, which saw the couple's explosive feuds fuel cyber bullies on Twitter and fan forums. The abuse was hard to take - it weighed on the pair's relationship and their families. In fact, the couple felt so strongly about being misrepresented, Reilly gave producers an ultimatum before they agreed to appear on the All Stars version of the show.
''We said to them 'If we are to come back, we're happy for you to show us fighting and all that - but show what happens five minutes after … then people understand that we get over it pretty quick and have a joke about it,' '' Reilly says.
''Last year they just showed us fighting. That was pretty unfair we thought so we said, 'This is what we want. We're not going to come back to be negative - we can't have that.'
''It's a hard time watching that and having social media just absolutely give you a caning.''
Wales says producers initiated many of their fights during their first season on the show.
''One of the producers - he wanted Dan to jump in the bed I'd just made obviously knowing that if I came in I'd get upset. Dan said 'no way,' but then they came out and told me Dan was going to jump on the bed … and that's just an example of them trying to cause a bit of trouble amongst [sic] us.''
But now both Wales and Reilly say it's easier to spot the producers' intentions.
''You become a bit more familiar with their techniques at getting a story and developing a story. Sometimes a producer would mention something about another couple … sometimes you bite but usually you realise what's going on,'' Wales says.
''Half the time the crew become better friends than the contestants because they are with you all day whereas the contestants are in their house or shopping,'' she says.
Wales says her necklace has ''good juju''. She was wearing it when the pair pocketed a $448,000 profit for selling above the reserve for their redevelopment of a south Melbourne Federation-style terrace last year. And she plans to wear it again this year when their renovated heritage-listed Bondi terrace goes under the hammer.
So far this season it seems producers have taken Reilly's demands to show the couple in a better light to heart. ''If they show a bad part of us now, they show what happens after, too. Where we joke about it, which is not what they did last year. It's helping us and our image and it's showing on social media - we're not copping it as much as last year.''
But Wales admits seeing fellow contestant Mark support his wife through her cancer surgery, made her more insightful and put the show in perspective. ''There are a lot of emotions this year … and I struggled with coming to terms with the fact that we were stressing over a renovation when there was much bigger things in the world.''
But that's not to say that the Melbourne couple whom Australians love to watch fighting have calmed down or stopped sticking up for themselves. (This month more than 1.9 million households tuned in for room reveals and the show averaged 990,000 viewers on regular weekdays.)
Wales says even the prospect of millions of people watch them fight didn't stop her from blowing a fuse.
''We're not the type of people to stop fighting when a camera comes by. There were a few couple like that on our series - that turned off when the cameras came. For Dan and I - when we have something to get across we have to do it in that moment in time otherwise we end up having a massive explosion. If we had an issue we speak about it straight away,'' Wales says.
And this year the fights weren't only directed at each other. The pair, along with contestants Josh and Jenna, took on the judges, accusing them of being inconsistent and giving destructive criticism.
But interior designer and judge Shaynna Blaze says the couples overreacted.
''They didn't hear all our comments and they got hung up on one point we picked on - instead of wondering why we said that and asking if it's valid they go on the defensive,'' Blaze says.
Overall the houses were finished to an incredibly high standard but Blaze says she was disappointed the contestants didn't listen.
''I've done at least 80 houses for sale and I do know what sells a house. They weren't listening to our reasons and they took it as a negative … we're making the points so they get better value for the house and that's what it comes down to.''
And she hasn't forgiven Dan and Dani for carpeting the bedrooms of the heritage terrace.
''I get why they wanted to do it but it's a heritage home and people buy heritage homes for their heritage features and beautiful floor boards is the just the way to go. They are doing this to sell and they need to show every beautiful feature that's in there.''
(You can read an extract from Blaze's new book in today's home pages.)
Judges and sleep deprivation aside Wales says she enjoyed her second season of The Block more and it's part experience - not letting producers goad her into indiscretions - and part perspective.
''You need to still make time for each other. You can spend so much time, especially on The Block, discussing everything else except for your relationship and ''How's your day? How are you feeling?'' - you don't have those moments and you need to make sure that you do.''
While Reilly says the key to keeping any relationship healthy during renovations is making time to have fun and communication.
''You have to be honest with each other and talk about things that's key. When someone blows up don't take it to heart.''
The 29-year-old says when he and Dani fight it's always over in a few hours. ''We get over things pretty quick and that's how you have to be. Laugh if off - everyone will be okay in a few hours.''
We caught up with the pair on Valentine's Day. Reilly had forgotten but Wales was cooking a surprise gourmet feast for her man that included all his favourite foods.
''For entree - oysters Kilpatrick, for main - eye fillet with garlic prawns and twice-cooked chunky chips and for dessert I bought Adriano Zumbo macarons and hand-made ice-cream.''
But it seems that another Block wedding isn't on the cards just yet. ''I do get a little 'I wish I was planning mine', but I'm not in any rush to get married,'' Wales says.
Dan agrees. ''It's happening one day - when we're both ready.''
Since they finished filming just before Christmas the pair have been catching up on sleep and staying in the Bondi home they renovated.
In fact, if there weren't strict rules against it Reilly would bid on the house. ''I'd love to live in this house. It's not just the house it's the area, it's the street. We just love it. It's not quite our dream home but it's not far off it.''
Once the home is sold the couple will go back to Melbourne where they have started their own business a renovation and property development company called Red Door - a nod to the television show that gave them new careers.
''We're looking forward to the day we can go back to Melbourne and get stuck in to that,'' Wales says.
As for another shot at reality television - they won't rule it out. Especially as they have just figured out the formula.
''We don't have any burning desires to continue in reality television but we're always open to new opportunities.''
■ The Block All Stars, WIN, weeknights at 7pm. Watch tonight's formal living and hallway room reveal at 6.30pm.