The Rules have changed
House Rules cast. Picture: Supplied

Last year House Rules was the show that gave the ratings a renovation. After launching to a disappointing preliminary overnight audience of 803,000 metro viewers nationally, the grand final drew an impressive 1.53 million metro viewers. That jumped to 1.837 million for the announcement of the winning team on Seven, proving a fierce rival for Nine's enduring reno show The Block.

While the State v State home-revamping series, based on the highly successful My Kitchen Rules format, took a while to warm up, executive producer Maxine Gray had faith it would work.

"Last year was a very steep learning curve," she said on the set of the WA house late last year.

"We were working with an original format that wasn't tried and tested and we had every reason to think it would work but it was unproved.

"Going into this series we had the confidence to know that it works. It's a win- win show and the viewer can see that as well because even the losers get a brand new home."

This season sees six new teams picking up the tools to travel the country renovating each other's homes for the chance to have their mortgage paid off as with season-one winners, Adelaide couple Carly Schulz and Leighton Brow.

The show "will definitely be recognisable but we've added in some twists and turns", Gray said.

"We have to keep the viewer guessing and the contestants.

"The cast are very aware of what they're competing for this time around. They know how high the stakes are and they've come in really hungry for it.

"The level of competition has gone up a notch."

As is the case with My Kitchen Rules, the key to the success of House Rules is casting, a process which took more than three months to complete.

This time there were more than double the number of applicants but that didn't make it any easier for Gray and her team to pick the contestants.

"We've deliberately gone for a mix of people," Gray said.

"We don't have more experienced people across the board this year.

"We've got a couple of people who haven't stepped on building sites before and we've got a skilled chippy and a sparky in the mix.

"They think they have an advantage but this show isn't just about renovating, it's about design and that's where they can come undone."

Confident WA team Carole and Russell Bramston are grandparents in their early 50s with renovation experience under their belts but their house in Boya was bought on Gumtree and boy did they get what they paid for; a home to "renovate or detonate".

"When we brought our build manager to the site he said no," Gray said, laughing.

"It's up on a hill, there are structural issues, it's too hard, so of course I said I really wanted to do it. That's like a red rag to a bull but in the end he very generously found a way to make it happen.

"They made it habitable but it was very shaky and it's the kind of house a lot of people wouldn't waste their time with but the reason they bought it was because of the view. You look out the lounge room to a beautiful view of the Perth Hills."

The first house to be renovated belongs to NSW couple Ryan, an electrician, and Candy, who works in pathology.

They struggle to meet the mortgage payments on their small brick-veneer house and hope the teams will transform the small abode to something open plan with "wow factor".

"Don't forget we're coming to your house after this," they say to the other teams as they leave their future family home in the hands of strangers.

"They are a couple to watch because they have a very good eye for design and even though he's a sparky, working in the building industry a lot has rubbed off," Gray explained.

Queensland couple Maddi and Lloyd each have ties in the building department - Lloyd worked as a plasterer/labourer before becoming a firefighter, while Maddi grew up around building sites and is not afraid to get her hands dirty.

"He is quite laid-back and she comes across as a typical blonde but she's really quite smart," Gray said.

South Australians Bomber and Mel have only known each other since April last year. The third-generation painter/decorator and schoolteacher met online and moved into their house with their blended family of four children 10 weeks before the competition started.

"It's a rollercoaster watching them," Gray said.

"They work together for a little while and then it's explosive."

Victorian team Adam, a chippy and fiancee Lisa also provide some drama from day one.

"She was completely overwhelmed by everything," Gray said of Lisa, who has a double degree in commerce and business and works in human resources but struggles from the start with tools, driving and decorating.

"She's very stylish and she puts her hair in hot rollers every day and that's where things level out, because even though he's a chippy he has to carry her."

Last but certainly not least are Tasmanian couple Brooke and Grant, who together have seven children, six boys and a girl, all aged under 10.

For two years their blended home has been a 100-year-old-plus cramped 2 1/2 bedroom house.

Brooke works in child care and is the daughter of a builder, while Grant is a cabinetmaker.

They declare they are not in the competition to make friends, they're there to win and make a better life for their children.

"They are just amazing people because they don't complain," Gray said.

"I don't think we've had a couple who need this as much as these guys, so you can imagine they are fierce."

The West Australian

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