Top Design

When it comes to Reality TV competitions, it helps having an end-point.

Australian Idol‘s winner went on to recording contracts, Australia’s Next Top Model wins representation, MasterChef wins a publishing deal and The Biggest Loser champ gets a new body. Others such as Survivor, The Amazing Race, The Block, Beauty and the Geek really don’t win much more than cash.

I’m still trying to work out what you get for winning Dancing with Stars -a new show on Channel Seven perhaps? And let’s not even talk about Australia’s Perfect Couple.

For Top Design the winner gets $100,000, and presumably elevates their profile for career opportunities.

Based on a US format, Top Design brings together a group of 10 creative types of varying backgrounds: interior design, architecture, art, graphic design, fashion and more. Unlike some Nine series, the ten selected bring some diversity: three of them are aged over the aged of 40 and yes, one has an Asian background.

Host Jamie Durie talks up the series in his opening introduction in front of the Sydney Opera House. Every phrase. Has a new angle. Even before. He finishes his sentence.

Gee, this must be important.

The 10 are assembled in a shipping yard where they learn their first challenge is to turn a barren shipping container into a home. Durie even tells us they can double as “innovative and affordable housing.” For who, people smugglers?

Mack trucks transport them to Middle Head where empty containers await them before a more picturesque (and very windy) Sydney Harbour backdrop. The teams dream up all sorts of wild concoctions of how to turn a dull steel box into something warm and inviting.

Along the way we see the obligatory product placement when one member from the team goes shopping and phones their partner back on site (maybe they should call the guys at The Block?), and there are monologues to camera to highlight their reactions, as part of the storytelling. The more the show goes on, the more it feels like it has borrowed a little from every other renovation or Reality show that is out there.

It remains to be seen whether following on from The Block works for or against the show. At this stage it doesn’t feel like there is enough point of difference in either its aspiration or storytelling to justify sitting through back to back shows. In some ways I wish I could restore Nine’s universe and just put Jamie back on The Block where he fitted snugly into a good format.

The Block also has the advantage of reflecting the audience’s lifestyle. It’s about renovating property. Top Design aspires to extreme challenges rather than suburban dreams.

There are two judges joining Durie, Design Critic Amanda Talbot and Architect Nick Tobias, who grill the contestants. The interior set used for the elimination sequence could do with a makeover itself. We may have a contender for the cheapest set on telly.

No matter how inventive these transformations are (and to be fair, they are inventive), it’s hard not see them as mutton dressed up as lamb. Who would live in these shipping containers? They don’t even have a bathroom.

On the other hand, if Jamie had shouted “Surprise, you’re on Candid Camera” at them after it was all over I would have totally bought it.

Top Design airs 8pm Wednesday on Nine.


  1. I love these competition shows! But why dont they ever include how much the designs cost, Ive seen some things that I would like to replicate at home but not sure if its in my budget. I was whining to a friend and she told me to try the online million dollar competition being run by CNBC so she wouldnt have to listen to me anymore. Nothing like a free million

  2. I missed last night’s show (Wednesday the 20th) and I wanted to catch up with what happened. Is the show available to see anywhere else?

    I could watch renovation shows all day.. Loved the idea of the container makeovers and thought they all had elements that I liked.

    Who cares what the people on the show look like? Asian? Somalian? Why is that being commented on.? I don’t care if a brown kelpie does the renovation, I just like to see what people can come up with.. Also what happened to the containers after the reno’s

  3. I liked it… but I work in the creative field, so I’m always looking for shows that offer more than just ‘renovation for resale’. I’m hoping this show will offer something different… some awesome, big ideas that are not traditionally seen on Australian TV (like that bed on the pulley system – I know it didn’t work, but it was a great concept).

    The one thing that I really loved was the people. Finally, some great casting in an Australian reality show. They were head and shoulders above the people in Masterchef… and of course The Block.

    I’ll stay tuned in for now to see how things unwind.

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