Colleen Hawkes is a senior journalist for Stuff/Homed.
OPINION: We shouldn’t have been rocked by the news that Country House Hunters NZ faked an Otematata viewing on one of last week’s shows – it is reality TV after all. But somehow it seems worse when it’s close to home, and some of these people are our neighbours.
Nobody likes being deceived, and to find out Adrienne and Paul Reeves had owned the first house they viewed for 30 years was a pretty big deception.
Stuff has received many messages from “locals” suggesting we look at other towns in the series where the same thing has happened – there is chatter all over the Facebook community pages. We have investigated several of these, and it is true the Otematata faked viewing is not the only one. But it is fair to point out that in each other example, the couples are not looking to move on – the show was essentially “re-creating” the original viewing experience.
The couples we checked moved into the houses they “chose” long before the show started filming in March 2023. Notably, we found examples of owners moving in during 2021, including the couple who bought the five-bedroom mansion in Kaikōura (August 2021) and the couple who bought the converted church in Duntroon in Waitaki (October 2021).
Sue and Ted Dons, who already owned the Kaikōura house and feature in the first episode of this series, tell presenter Matt Gibb that they think the house is worth “over $2 million” – they paid $1.42 million for it in 2021. And, bizarrely, Matt says it’s $2.2 million, when of course it’s not listed at all.
What else do they say? “How do feel about the place looking at it from here,” Matt asks, and Ted says it’s just “crazy good”.
“Wow, look at that Sue,” says Ted (more than once). And on it goes. This couple turn out to be better actors than the other couples we reviewed.
But what was in it for them? How about the fact they were already running a B&B on the lower level – they call their place Mahiarotia House and you can find it listed everywhere. They are superhosts and they get excellent reviews. And they have been running the B&B for two years. Fair dues to them. They got away with it. Well, almost.
Michael Meek and Gillian Gee moved into the beautiful old church property in Duntroon in the Waitaki district in October 2021, long before their “search” on TV. There’s a church and a house they rent out as a B&B in summer.
You can see why this one appealed to the producers. A heritage church conversion makes for great TV. But it’s still odd to think we are looking at their furniture, and they are well and truly settled in there, pretending to be otherwise.
And that’s just two more examples – there were others. Although it’s nowhere near as bad as what we know happens on the overseas versions of this show. More on that shortly.
But nothing could compare to the Otematata viewing of a house the Reeves bought 30 years ago, and were looking to sell. Such pretence. And the thing is, it really isn’t necessary.
Where’s the ‘magic’?
TVNZ’s response to the fake viewing was to tell us sometimes, due to circumstances that include a limited pool of listed properties, they resort to “the magic of TV”.
This is the statement they provided: “We always endeavour to show participants a broad range of properties to suit their needs, but with filming time constraints and working within currently available housing stock there are occasions where the magic of TV will factor in.”
I am not sure what is “magic” about visiting small, boring suburban homes in small towns. Of course, there is nothing wrong with these houses; they are perfectly good homes, but surely, this show is supposed to be inspirational?
We want to see property porn. We look at that beautiful villa you can see above in the video promo, and we are (foolishly) led to believe we’re going to be seeing something special. While some of the episodes do present lovely homes, others simply should not have been made. And Otematata was one. For two reasons.
The producers have been too ambitious in their scope. New Zealand is a small country, with very few degrees of separation. It would be better to have fewer episodes that are real, than dozens that now raise questions.
When I have watched overseas versions of this show, it has been obvious some viewers are dreamers. And sure enough, those people end up not buying anything. That doesn’t seem as bad, somehow, but it’s still a deceit.
A colleague was approached, while living overseas, to take part in House Hunters International. The couple was asked to “pretend” to settle on a house they were already living in (renting). They turned it down.
And House Beautiful ran a story last May about fake viewings on the international version of the programme. One participant had shared their story on Slate, admitted to touring Airbnb rentals and friends’ houses instead of actual properties for sale.
Deceit appears to be standard.
Summary: Reality TV has always been edited to fit the story the producers want to tell, as everyone knows. I can stand a bit of fake jeopardy, but this feels like a step too far for a home-grown Kiwi series about people looking to purchase what, for most, is their biggest asset.
How do we feel about watching Country House Hunters again tonight knowing it may or may not be real? Take-it-or-leave-it I am guessing. The show has always been “once over lightly”.