All told, there are around 75 to 80 people on the set of the reality juggernaut each day. To date, no one has been tested for coronavirus because no one has displayed any symptoms.
However, with travel restrictions being imposed and the country seemingly inching towards total shutdown, the risk of the contestants being stranded for an extended period, far from family and unable to leave their semi-renovated temporary homes, loomed large.
“We wanted to get out in front of [a potential shutdown], not get stuck behind it, to get our contestants safely home for a short period of time, we hope,” said Cress.
Even now, without a full shutdown but with advice to work from home wherever possible, filming the show had become near impossible. Though already in semi-lockdown by nature of living in their workplace for the duration of filming, the contestants need to make frequent trips to shop for materials for their renovations, visiting up to 20 stores a week each.
“That’s a lot of interaction with people, and I feel it presents a clear and present danger to the contestants and to the community,” said Cress.
The production is about 35 days into its scheduled 90-day shoot. Cress is optimistic that it can still be delivered in time if the shutdown lasts no more than six weeks.
“We’re in uncharted waters but we do believe we’ve got the team, the people, to get this show back on the road to deliver for the network and the audience,” he said. “But I feel that ultimately we’re all going to be judged on how we respond to this crisis, and I’m happy to be judged on the decision we’ve made today.”
Meanwhile, production on 10’s MasterChef is continuing, albeit with modifications and strict social distancing and hygiene measures in place.
Travel plans for the series have been cancelled, and some guest chefs from overseas are no longer able to participate, given mandatory self-isolation periods. Team challenges have also been modified in response to restrictions on social gatherings.
On Tuesday, production company Endemol Shine Australia issued a statement in which it said new hygiene measures had been introduced “for the foreseeable future. These include, but are not limited to, social distancing measures across every facet of the production and additional hand sanitising stations positioned around the set and offices”.
Contestants will use gloves and have access to dedicated hand-washing stations.
In addition, judges Melissa Leong, Jock Zonfrillo and Andy Allen will “step up to taste individually portioned meals and no cutlery or plates will be shared”.
How COVID-19 is shaping TV’s new reality
- Australian Ninja Warrior – six episodes filmed, two to go
- The Block – suspended
- The Voice – suspended (blinds filmed, live shows not filmed)
- House Rules High Stakes – in production, final weeks, premieres in April
- Farmer Wants a Wife – completed
- Plate of Origin – in production
- Big Brother – brief shutdown due to crew member being in close contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID-19. Production resumed on Tuesday after crew member’s test came back negative
- All New Monty Guys and Gals – completed
- Better Homes and Gardens – in production
- Holey Moley, SAS Who Dares Wins and Australia’s Got Talent – shut down until further notice
- Australian Survivor – Sunday’s season finale to be hosted by Osher Gunsberg as Jonathan LaPaglia is unable to return from the US; second season due to start production in April suspended as cast and crew are unable to travel to Fiji
- Dancing With the Stars – finale airs, sans live audience, on Sunday
- The Amazing Race Australia – in pre-production; the course is now Australia-only, no international destinations
- MasterChef, The Bachelor – in production
Karl Quinn is a senior culture writer at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.