Friday, 16 September 2011

Next Top Model - Debbie Downunder



I took another sip of my cappuccino, I was down to the froth now, and looked at my watch again. So, I was only half an hour early.

I know faithful readers that this correspondent of all isn’t in the habit of turning up early for interviews…I only rarely schedule interviews, I seem to luck into them most of the time, but when a girl is offered the opportunity to meet with and interview Sarah Murdoch about her hit show Australia’s Next Top Model, you don’t turn it down, and you get there on time!

I’m a huge fan of the show. Strangely enough, I’ve never really taken to Tyra Banks’ parent show, or the Elle McPherson hosted British version, but I cannot get enough of our homegrown contender. I’m also immensely proud that the most successful winner of the show anywhere is our own Alice Berdeu. I’d been told that Ms Murdoch had personally and very specifically requested that I interview her.

Cycle 7, currently screening in Australia, is Ms Murdoch’s 3rd season as host, and to date she’s done a little better than the two presenters she has replaced. The original hostess; former model Erika Heynatz, split company with the show due to a contract dispute after her 2nd season, and her replacement; former model and swimwear designer Jodhi Meares, suffered a crippling attack of nerves prior to the live finale of Cycle 4. The show was hosted by regular judge and former model; Charlotte Dawson. Ms Meares was replaced by Sarah Murdoch with Cycle 5 and has hosted the show successfully since.


The beautiful and successful, stern hostess of Australia's Next Top Model; Sarah Murdoch.

I was debating ordering another coffee when a pleasant voice inquired “Debbie?”
I looked up into the arresting blue eyes of one of the worlds most successful and famous super models; Sarah Murdoch (nee O’Hare). I think I managed to get out a strangled word that could be interpreted as ‘Hi.’
Ms Murdoch slid her long lean form into a seat opposite me, ordered a coffee, and politely inquired if I wanted one, still unable to speak, I nodded and the hostess doubled her order.

Once we both had coffee in front of us, Sarah smiled at me, and I asked “Why did you request me specifically, Ms Murdoch?”
“It’s Sarah, Debbie,” the beautiful blonde assured me, “Elle recommended you.”
“Elle McPherson?”
“Yes, she said you spent some time with her and her family at Christmas.”
I blushed. I had indeed spent a Christmas in Aspen with ‘the Body’. I was surprised she remembered me, let alone recommended me to her friends.

I decided to be a bit controversial and opened up with a question about the previous years finale. Sarah Murdoch had been given the wrong name and mistakenly announced the elfin Kelsey Martinovich as the winner, before being advised that the actual winner was Amanda Ware. It had been reported internationally, and had the potential to damage the brand.

“Oh yes,” Sarah Murdoch sighed, sipping her coffee, and then setting her cup down, “that was heartbreaking. I felt so sorry for poor Kelsey.”
Was there any fall out?
“There most certainly was! It was embarrassing for me, the girls involved and the show. The producer responsible for the gaff had a long, painful discussion with me afterwards,” one look at those steely blue eyes told me what that discussion had involved, and I shuddered at the thought of being turned over those long, shapely legs and having my bottom spanked to a scorching lobster red, as I was sure the unfortunate producer was, “we also changed production companies. I can assure you there will not be a repeat this year. Bottoms will be reddened if there is!” Ms Murdoch vowed.

Putting that behind me I wondered about the altered format for this year.
“You mean starting with 100 girls, rather than our usual 16?”
I nodded.
“It wasn’t easy from a logistical viewpoint. As a viewer did you like it?”
I had to admit that I wasn’t a fan of the mass cull, part of the fun is getting to know the contestants and picking favourites. You can’t do that when 80 girls are going to be cut in the course of the opening 90 minutes.

I said it was better once they got down to the final 20, but then shocked me by taking that 20 to Paris. Normally the overseas trip comes towards the end of the show, this time they did it at the start. I then expressed that they were brave taking and supervising 20 girls between the ages of 16 and 23 in Paris.
Sarah laughed “Oh, don’t think Charlotte and I didn’t have kittens when they floated that idea. It’s hard enough to do this when you’re down to 4 girls and you’ve gotten to know them over the course of the show. Many of the girls had never left the country before, and you have to be completely responsible for any girl under the age of 18.”


The lucky final 20 girls from Cycle 7 of Australia's Next Top Model.

Despite their ages and inexperience I had noticed in the Paris episode that the girls had been really well behaved.
“There was a reason for that,” Ms Murdoch admitted, smiling into her cup, “once we got them to the hotel we read them the riot act and gave them all a good spanking, with the warning that was only a sample of what they’d receive if they embarrassed the show.”
20 spankings! Sarah’s arm must have felt like falling off.
“I find administering an old fashioned bottom warming a marvelous form of exercise,” I was informed, “but you’re right. Spanking 20 fit young ladies over the lap would certainly take it out of you. Charlotte and I split the spanking duties. We each did half.”

Who was the soundest spanker out of Charlotte and Sarah?
“That was something we discussed. We had to call it a draw. The girls over my lap said that I really set their backsides on fire, but those who were spanked by Charlotte said she spanked very hard. We did offer to let the girls decide by swapping and they could compare, but strangely enough no one seemed to want to take us up on the offer.”


Sarah Murdoch's co-host, former model and socialite; Charlotte Dawson. (ed's note: in some versions of this story Charlotte Dawson was mistakenly referred to as Charlotte Church. Debbie has been spoken to and reminded to get her facts straight before posting stories.)

At the point when I interviewed Sarah Murdoch the Paris episode had just been screened, and they were down to 16 contestants, so although I really wanted to know who went deep into the contest and who won I couldn’t ask and Ms Murdoch wouldn’t have told me anyway.

I thanked her for the interview, and the illuminating view behind the scenes of the show, and I was rewarded with tickets to the show’s live finale. Hopefully I can get a report from there as well.

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