In the ever-challenging world of The Block, contestants know the one thing they can expect is the unexpected.
Last-second challenges, surprise visitors, extra rooms, pools, pretty much anything and everything can be thrown into the mix to keep life interesting for The Blockheads.
And usually, they just roll up their sleeves and get on with the job.
But then came 2020’s most unexpected shock, Covid-19.
“It was a very tough decision because I knew I was also putting a lot of people out of work,” Scott Cam tells Insider Style.
After weeks of slowly building, the full strength of the global pandemic rolled in like a storm front that had been hovering on the horizon, hitting the teams of Melbournians Harry and Tash, Queenslanders Jimmy and Tam, South Aussies Daniel and Jade, Sydneysiders Sarah and George and Perth’s Luke and Jasmin just four weeks after they had first walked onto The Block site.
Already, they’d started to notice supply chains were being disrupted, with building materials harder to come by, some shops shutting down and social distancing being introduced, but when Scott Cam’s familiar whistle called them away from work in mid-march, he had much bigger news.
Assembling literally everyone on The Block site, from carpenters to camera operators, roofers to runners, contestants and crew, he told them Covid-19 had reached the point where major cities were shutting down, that there was as yet no cure and no vaccine and until it was safe to go back to work, he was going to have to do the one thing he had never done in the history of the series. He was shutting The Block down with no idea when it would return.
“It was a very tough decision because I knew I was also putting a lot of people out of work,” said The Block’s host Scott Cam.
“But there was no choice. The reality is we’re just making a TV show. People’s safety is what’s important and making sure our team and our people all get home safely is the most important thing, making a TV show comes a long second.”
So, with just hours to go before state borders were closed, those from interstate flew or drove home, the locals returned to their houses and everyone went into an immediate two-week lockdown.
Meet the 2020 Block contestants!
Nobody knew when The Block would resume - or if it would at all - but just in case, the producers immediately started working with doctors, government agencies and health and safety officials to make sure it would be done properly.
“Preparations commenced for how we could get back into renovating and production safely,” said The Block executive producer Julian Cress.
“That involved hiring a nurse to be on site, creating a dedicated “Covid Suite” for all of the contestants and trades and visitors to have temperature checks, we had a team of people whose sole job was to continuously disinfect the site, we gave the entire cast and crew a flu shot, we went through every single room in the entire site to designate how many people could be in each area and comply with the four-square-metre rule and more.”
Nobody knew when The Block would resume - or if it would at all.
Which is why, when the Victorian government restrictions were eased and The Block reopened on May 4, the Blockheads came back to a very different world.
Contestants, crew and every worker or visitor were temperature checked and asked health questions every day with results recorded.
Hand sanitisers were everywhere – the production department even made their own “Block Brew” sanitiser to make sure they didn’t take supplies from where it might have been needed – and former Block winner turned milliner Chantelle Ford was enlisted to produce reusable cloth masks for anyone heading off site.
“The whole environment changed,” Cam said. “For a start a lot more of the construction had been completed, so they could work inside their homes now, with a lot less contact with and other people on the site, we had a skeleton crew on the site.”
Even foremen Keith and Dan were enlisted to police the social distancing, patrolling the site armed with 1.5m measures, to ensure the rules were followed and numbers in workspaces were kept to the required levels, policed the new “no-outsiders” signs, ensured contactless deliveries of supplies and more.
The Block contestants, who had been living together as a family within the show, were closer to each other than others, particularly when celebrating or commiserating the program’s high points, but even before it became law, anyone else was kept apart.
The majority of contestant shopping was moved online, any unavoidable outings were scheduled and made to shops cleared in advance where possible.
Like it would soon become in the rest of the world, video conferencing became standard, with contestants briefing builders, landscapers and more through virtual meetings.
And above all, the medical team’s word was law.
All hard surfaces were disinfected regularly, anyone feeling even slightly unwell stayed away from the site until they could be tested and cleared by a doctor and if there was any doubt at all over any step of the build or production, it was elevated immediately.
“And we enforced a message throughout the entire suite that people who worked at The Block were not to do anything but that,” Cress said.
“They came to work and they went directly home, they didn’t engage in any activity outside The Block that would put them in harm’s way.
“That was a big sacrifice to make but they were all willing to do it for the sake of the show. That just shows the dedication of our crew.”
Aware of what was at stake, the contestants joined in on making sure rules were followed and everyone was safe.
“We took the Covid precautions very seriously when we came back to The Block,” said Sydney contestant Sarah.
“One of the biggest things we had to do was make sure we didn’t have too many people in a room, so we had to schedule trades very carefully and make sure there was no overlap.
“And we had to be vigilant about wearing masks when we did go off site. I remember going to Harvey Norman very early after we returned and I was wearing a mask and trying to stay 1.5m away from the sales people.
“Masks hadn’t even been mandated yet, but we just wanted to stay as safe as possible.”
It was a close call, Cam says, but The Block got there.
And on Monday July 29, against all the odds and two months later than was expected, The Block was done.
Once again, it was just ahead of another lockdown.
“I left my house in Melbourne with dishes in the sink, food in the fridge and dirty clothes on the floor,” Cam says.
“We all knew lockdown was coming, we just didn’t know how long we had! As it turned out I made it home and four days later there was total lockdown.”
It was a close call, Cam says, but The Block got there.
“And a lot of the credit goes to all our people on the ground that adhered to the plan,” he says.
“As soon as someone goes to a barbecue ate their mates place with 20 people and comes back to work, we’re gone. But everybody played the game for the good of the series and its credit to them we got thr0ugh that.
“Two months in the middle of a pandemic with 100 people on the ground and we got through it! Amazing.”
Unlike other years, there’s been no open for inspections at The Block 2020 and nobody is sure just how the auctions will happen, but whatever happens, it will be done in the same way the rest of this unprecedented series has run.
“The signs again are starting to look positive for us coming out of the second wave of Covid 19,” Cress said.
“We’re still three months away from the auction and we’re remaining hopeful that by then there will be a return to some level of normality that would allow us to conduct the auctions onsite as we normally do.
“That’s the hope, but we’re also looking at Plan B and Plan C. Everything has to be done as safely as possible.”
Meet the 2020 Block Contestants HERE
Everything you need to know about The 2020 Block HERE