All was not well when we left The Block NZ last year.
In a shambolic finale, winners Andy and Nate looked mortified as they took the top prize after their house was initially passed in at the live auction. Fellow contestants Stace and Yanita were in tears after having victory snatched from their grasp. And brothers Ling and Zing looked about as happy as you'd expect walking away with $500 each for their three months of work.
Host Mark Richardson, appearing just as shell-shocked as the contestants, tried desperately to put a positive spin on the train wreck unfolding before him.
"Forget what the profit margins are," he told the teams. "You guys, by virtue of who you are and how you behave, have made this the most successful season in Block NZ history." At the time, I applauded the contestants for not immediately punching him in the face.
And as the live auction disaster limped to an end, Richardson promised viewers the show would be back in 2018. I snorted. "No fool is going to take a chance on this show now," I thought.
But what do I know? Because not only is The Block NZ back on our screens this week, but apparently 6000 fools applied to be part of it.
So here we are, once again, with four teams building a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home each, this time in Auckland's Hobsonville Point. And not much has changed.
Just like last year, the duos are working on a row of large townhouses. They're still grappling with ridiculous design briefs. (Can somebody please tell me what a 'Peacock Blue Lux' guest room is?) There are the same challenges that have absolutely nothing to do with home renovations. And there's yet another couple keen to paint their walls black, despite this almost always being a terrible idea.
But unlike last year, the people doing all those things are actually proving fun to watch.
For me, The Block NZ has always lived or died on the strength of its cast. I gave up on the show and its lacklustre teams almost immediately in 2017. But I think the producers may have struck it lucky this time around, with the balance of personalities boosting what is a tired format.
For a start, we have the oldest ever team to compete on The Block NZ – Gisborne couple Amy and Stu, who are a positively elderly 39 and 46 respectively. I imagine Stu especially will strike a chord with a large chunk of the population who appreciate a wily bogan looking bewildered when told to "think Kandinsky" during an art challenge.
They're joined by Hamilton gym junkies Claire and Agni, Palmerston North best friends Chlo and Em, and childhood buddies Ben and Tom, all of whom seem comfortable with a bit of banter.
Any drama on site has so far been contained to a heater catching fire and a stoush over a hidden safe containing a game-changing prize. But Richardson assures us a bigger conflict is just around the corner.
Because there's always drama on The Block NZ, usually after a few weeks when nobody's had any sleep. There will also likely be another ill-fought "Dinner Wars", another completely irrelevant talent competition, a string of painting all-nighters, and many bouts of self-pity as budget constraints start to bite.
Yep, it's all looking much the same, as is my main complaint about the show each year: why must The Block NZ air for almost five hours every single week? As impressive as it is to stretch the issue of a troublesome skylight over three episodes (and counting), there's only so much debate about boxing trusses a person can take.
Contestant Stu hit the nail on the head during Monday night's challenge as he tried to create a winning artwork for his and Amy's house.
"Less is more, less is more," he muttered to himself as he dripped paint on to a giant canvas. If only the show's producers would heed the same advice.