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