Host Mark Richardson took a deep breath and began to speak slowly, measuredly, the way a judge might deliver a long prison sentence. "Welcome ... to The Block ... for 2016."
It has been 178 days since the last edition of The Block NZ ended with the auction of four Sandringham villas at Auckland's Rendezvous Hotel; just under six months since we said goodbye and good luck with your $100,000 profits to Cat and Jeremy, Sarah and Minanne, Jamie and Hayden, Brooke and Mitch. Their absence lingered at every turn on Sunday night's opening episode of The Block NZ: Girls Vs Boys. The very mention of purple paint sent Richardson into a deep reverie recalling the time Sarah and Minanne painted their guest bedroom that colour last season; the prospect of a window seat being installed evoked even fonder memories of Cat and Jeremy's godforsaken "rhombus daybed".
Surely by anyone's measure it's far too soon to be doing this all over again. But here we are, in the "sought after central-east" Auckland suburb of Meadowbank, doing up a quintet of mouldy 1980s townhouses over four nights a week for the next 10 weeks. That's an hour every night from Monday to Wednesday, and an hour-and-a-half on Sundays. Who would willingly commit to that?
It happens almost involuntarily. If you've watched the first three episodes, chances are you're probably already starting to show low-level signs of Stockholm syndrome. By Monday night the show had settled back into its familiar churning rhythm, with Dylz and Dyls and Niki and Tiff engaging in a profoundly meaningless debate over where a living room ends and a dining room begins.
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"You don't walk into a lounge, you walk into a dining room," argued Dylz and Dyls. "That's not true, we walk into a lounge in our house," replied Niki and Tiff. It was like a comments thread come to life. "I don't think we need more room; it's a want more than a need," Dylz and Dyls mused lyrically. In the end they split the difference and drew a line down the middle.
Weird to think that in a few weeks we will have developed opinions and feelings - love, or possibly hate - for this amorphous collection of twentysomethings, the same way everyone not so long ago admired humble Kiwi jokers Cat and Jeremy or cursed humble Kiwi villains Brooke and Mitch.
While Dylz and Dyls and Niki and Tiff are already at each other's throats, the other two teams' storylines are yet to emerge. Emma and Courtney spent the first two episodes in a Sisyphean struggle to carry a mattress up and down a narrow flight of stairs, while childhood best friends Sam and Emmett have a disquieting Brad Pitt and Edward Norton in Fight Club vibe.
Their true characters will be revealed in due course - not so much by their grasp of indoor-outdoor flow or use of negative space, but by the show's many sublimely idiotic challenges. Monday night's episode was given over almost entirely to an event called The Block Olympics, where teams adopted different countries and dressed up as their national animal to compete in a "Blockathlon" at the 4WD course in Woodhill Forest.
On the surface it might appear to be a serious home renovation show, but at its core The Block is really just What Now? for grown-ups. Dylz and Dyls, representing New Zealand in kiwi costumes, raced to an early lead after Sam and Emmett, representing Brazil in parrot costumes, created a logjam on the balance beam.
They fired plastic bow-and-arrows and rode kids' BMX bikes down a muddy slope. Finally, soaking wet and with numb hands from the cold, they all had to use power tools to construct the flags of their adopted nations out of bits of wood.
Dylz and Dyls - a builder and a builder's apprentice - hoisted theirs first. Their prize was a central heating system. "We're the Kiwi boys, done it for the Kiwis," they shouted jubilantly, nonsensically, probably in the early stages of hypothermia - our new Block heroes for 2016.