Claws out on cat­walk

Sarah Mur­doch couldn’t get over the whinge­ing on Aus­tralia’s Next Top Model, writes Dar­ren Devlyn

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Front Page -

THE fur is well and truly fly­ing in the Aus­tralia’s Next Top Model house. Though last year’s se­ries was crit­i­cised be­cause con­tes­tants were al­lowed to bully each other and al­ready-thin mod­els were pres­sured to lose weight, the new con­tes­tants are prov­ing bru­tal in their drive to claim the 2009 Top Model ti­tle.

There are tears, hissy fits, bitch­ing ses­sions, even vom­it­ing as the 13 fi­nal­ists ne­go­ti­ate their way though the first episode of the Sarah Mur­doch-hosted se­ries.

An early tar­get for scorn is the 16-year-old alabaster-skinned Clare Ven­ema.

Fel­low con­tes­tant Leah John­son, 18, says of Ven­ema: ‘‘I just told her to get out of the sun be­cause she might get a tan and look alive and look like she’s not f---ing dug out of a grave.’’

A cry­ing Ven­ema says later: ‘‘They just tried to make me feel iso­lated. I felt like s---. It re­ally hurt me.’’

A big­ger con­cern is 16-year-old Cassi Van Den Dun­gen from Sun­bury, who has a melt­down in the Top Model house af­ter a dis­as­trous day in front of judges Alex Perry and Char­lotte Daw­son.

Van Den Dun­gen slipped out of a heel and al­most fell dur­ing a pa­rade. She re­sponded by putting her foot in her mouth, ut­ter­ing the f-word on the cat­walk.

‘‘It all re­ally hit me,’’ Van Den Dun­gen says. ‘‘I just started not feel­ing well, my stom­ach started hurt­ing and I felt like I was go­ing to be sick. And even­tu­ally I was.’’

Con­tes­tant Lola Van Vorst, 20, says of Van Den Dun­gen: ‘‘She gets on my nerves. I think I’d just end up shoot­ing her in the head if I spent too much time with that girl.’’

In a fu­ture episode, tem­pers be­come so frayed at a cos­met­ics com­mer­cial shoot that one of the con­tes­tants at­tempts to punch a hole in a lift wall.

Mur­doch, co-ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of the show, says the be­hav­iour of the con­tes­tants has had an im­pact on her ap­proach to host­ing.

‘‘For me, it was a mat­ter of, ‘Where do I fit into this show?’ ’’ Mur­doch says.

‘‘A lot of peo­ple said, ‘You’re go­ing to be the mother fig­ure’. I do have kids, but they are a lot younger. I don’t know how to be a mother to teenagers . . . and girls at that.

‘‘I think I sur­prised my­self. I think I was a bit tougher than I thought I’d be. I thought, ‘I can’t wait to meet the girls and get to know them and look af­ter them’, but when I started to meet a few of them I didn’t know how much teenagers whinged. They whinge all the time. Com­plain. I re­ally started be­ing the tough mother. It was a mat­ter of, ‘You know what, girls, you’ve been given an amaz­ing op­por­tu­nity here. Ei­ther shut up or get out’.

‘‘I went into the in­dus­try without the head start th­ese girls get and I un­der­stand how hard it is to work in this busi­ness and how com­pet­i­tive it is. The fact th­ese girls have been given such a head start, I just kept re­mind­ing them of that.’’

Mur­doch feels there’s a re­spon­si­bil­ity to be bru­tally hon­est with con­tes­tants be­cause they are try­ing to break into an in­dus­try that is re­lent­lessly tough. To try to pro­tect the girls from the re­al­i­ties of mod­el­ling, Mur­doch ex­plains, would be to lead them astray.

‘‘You’ll see I just try to give them ad­vice in the best way pos­si­ble,’’ Mur­doch says. ‘‘I do take the show se­ri­ously. I don’t do or say things just be­cause it’s tele­vi­sion, I do it for the girls’ sake.

‘‘We had coun­sel­lors and we needed them.

MUR­DOCH be­gan her mod­el­ling ca­reer at 16 and ended up a huge in­ter­na­tional suc­cess story. It’s dif­fi­cult to be­lieve she had such deep-seated body-im­age is­sues in her teens.

‘‘I was teased, called ‘Anna’ at school — short for anorexia. I was so skinny and I never had an eat­ing dis­or­der. I was crit­i­cised for be­ing too thin. Girls can be bul­ly­ing, no mat­ter what. They are go­ing to find some­thing to bully about, so I was very self-con­scious about my body.’’

She says she never wore short sleeves or short pants, didn’t like peo­ple looking at her and won­ders how she ended up be­ing a model.

‘‘I think I saw this op­por­tu­nity to de­fer uni for a year and make some money and got talked into it, which seemed the worst thing for me be­cause I was chron­i­cally shy and so self­con­scious,’’ she says.

‘‘It (mod­el­ling) was prob­a­bly the best thing to knock all that out of me. I didn’t like be­ing so thin, but I was in a busi­ness where it worked and I didn’t have a prob­lem with it.’’

Model pris­on­ers: host Sarah Mur­doch and (above) blind­folded con­tes­tants be­ing put through their mod­el­mak­ing paces.

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