Kids provide building blocks for reality TV gig
Jess Eva and Norm Hogan would never say going on The Block was a breeze, but it wasn't a shock to the system.
As the busy working parents to four-year-old Freddy and 18-month-old Matilda, they know all about tight deadlines, budgets and sleepless nights. They're just swapping Lego bricks for the real thing, and toddler tantrums for adult ones.
"I reckon kids are just mini Blocks. You've got all-nighters, you're out of your depth and you don't know what you're doing,” Jess says. "At least on The Block there's tools down. You can't use power tools after 6pm, whereas with kids there's no tools down ever.
"We missed our kids of course. It's one of the greatest and hardest things we've ever done in our lives. Your children are an extension of your soul so you definitely feel empty while you're doing it but we're doing it so we can spend more time with them and not work so hard.”
The Maroochydore residents are the first Sunshine Coast couple to make it on to the long-running renovation series.
A record-breaking 45,000 couples applied to be on The Block and it's easy to see why.
Known for its jaw-dropping designs and lucrative auctions, the reality show has generated a whopping $18,895,501 in prizemoney across 13 seasons.
Jess, 33, is a breakfast radio announcer on 90.1 Sea FM and Norm, 40, is a builder. Jess is keen to dispel any misconceptions about how she got on the show or her being a 'celebrity' contestant.
"I've seen on social media people saying they're helping people who are already doing well, but I promise you there's no money in media,” she says. "We've got no savings; we live week to week; we've got two kids, childcare, a mortgage. Things like this don't happen to us.”
Tomorrow night viewers will see Jess and Norm and the other Block teams take their first steps inside the building they'll spend the next three months renovating: St Kilda's infamous Gatwick Hotel.
The 1930s beauty, which has fallen into disrepair, will be transformed into five luxury apartments. While it's not the biggest building The Block has taken on, it is the show's biggest construction with 150 tonnes of steel reinforcements going into the building before the contestants even arrived.
"I'm a builder myself and I went into this thinking how hard it was going to be,” Norm says.
"I was thinking it was the hardest thing I'll ever do, but it was five times harder.
"You've got so much to do in such little time. On a normal building site you have more time to focus on different areas. This was just go, go, go.”
Norm quickly formed a bond with The Block's host and fellow tradie Scott Cam.
"Norm and Scotty would be really in-depth in a conversation,” Jess says. "I'd walk up because it looked really interesting and they'd be talking about different types of nails (laughs).”
A construction site seems like a strange place for romance to blossom, but Jess says the experience has brought them closer together as a couple and even prepared them for marriage. They also plan to expand the brood, and have promised to name their next child Scotty if it's a boy.
"We fell in love with renovating together,” she says. "As parents with separate jobs - I think this is the case for a lot of parents - you get into survival mode. You forget what it's like to work together on a personal level. You get the kids' lunches done, get them ready for bed, pay your bills and if you have any energy left over you'll watch a movie. Norm's a builder so to see him excel in what he knows, it was almost like we recommenced our relationship again and are ready for chapter two. No matter what happens we've got more than we could have ever anticipated out of The Block, and that's a new-found friendship and respect for each other. It's the best marriage counselling.”
Most importantly, Jess and Norm hope to set an example for their children.
"We wanted to teach the kids to just have a crack no matter what people think,” Jess says.
"A lot of people might have thought it was silly when we said we were going on The Block but you've got to have a crack.”
The Block premieres Sunday, August 5 at 7pm on Channel 9.