One of my favorite reality shows of the past five years is an Australian competition series that I couldn’t stop watching.
It arrived on Netflix in the U.S. three days after Christmas in 2018. Alas, as of today, just four weeks remain to watch it, as Netflix is taking it away from us on Dec. 27.
I am crushed, so I just started re-watching again, and it’s as great as the two previous times I’ve seen it.
As a mash-up of House Hunters, The Amazing Race, and, say, Big Brother, the 2017 Seven Network competition offers:
- breathtaking properties
- fascinating and questionable interior design
- dynamics between people who know each other
- drama between teams
- and a strategic game layered over all of this
It’s just a glorious combination of a lot of fun reality TV elements.
The show is Instant Hotel, and season one became an instant love for me. That’s in part due to how well it’s cast. At the risk of being hyperbolic, I think it’s one of reality TV’s all-time-great first-season casts.
Each team owns and/or operates an “instant hotel” in Australia, a phrase that’s used to refer to a rental like an Airbnb or VRBO property. Teams stay at each other’s places—four couples, one place, one night—and then rate their stay.
Those amazing teams include “fussy” and judgy gay couple Brent and Leroy; Babe and Bondi, a fascinatingly acidic mother/daughter duo; the charming and kind Mark and Jeanine; newlyweds Sam and James; and the almost unbelievably stuck-up and snobby teams of Serena and Sturt, and Mikey and Shay. (Mikey’s Reddit AMA is a must-read after you’ve watched.)
The arc of the season’s 12 episodes is just immensely satisfying, even knowing how things turn out.
Without giving anything away, the brilliance of the format is watching couples tear other couples’ places apart, and then getting to see that couple’s place, to see how it holds up.
What kind of style, skill, and taste will it turn out a team has after they’ve spent several episodes tearing apart others’ style, skill, and taste?
While I generally dislike an overuse of interviews (ahem), I welcome Instant Hotel’s generous use of interviews because it’s just another opportunity for them to react and criticize, constructively or not.
It’s not all catty competition. Expert Juliet Ashworth tours the properties alone, and judges by giving her own critique and score. While she, too, can be rather critical, she’s also very fair, framing everything in terms of industry standards.
All of this builds to the end of a stay, where host Luke Jacobz reads what the other teams wrote about the house, and reveals the combined score while everyone stands around awkwardly.
Season one seems like two seasons in one, because first we meet five teams of two, and see each of their places. Then we switch to five new teams and do the same thing all over again.
For the final two episodes, the winner from each group competes head-to-head, having had an opportunity to change up their spaces. And some of the earlier teams returning for a stay and become a jury.
Meanwhile, we get a tour through Australia, into different cities and regions. Each visit to a place includes a local excursion planned by its team, which is another opportunity for teams to complain and/or have a great time.
In 2019, season two arrived on Netflix, and it was pretty disappointing compared to season one. I will absolutely still re-watch it, but it just doesn’t recapture the magic of season one, in part because of changes to the format.
There were just four teams/houses in season two, so it was a highly condensed season, with far less drama.
What’s really disappointing is that season two will be the only season of Instant Hotel on Netflix at the end of this month. And there’s no more: The Seven Network only aired two seasons before it was cancelled.
I have no idea how someone hasn’t yet brought the format to the U.S., where it would fit perfectly on either HGTV or Netflix, and could not be too expensive to produce.
House Hunters asks couples who’ve already bought houses to pretend they haven’t and then verbally tear apart other houses, acting as if they’re considering them. So we’re already halfway to a show where couples who own their own rental properties go around and say vitriolic or venomous things.
That’s not to say Instant Hotel is just mean for the sake of cruelty or strategy. The strategy is interesting, especially with teams scoring each other—and scoring the teams who stayed in their home.
And while there is a lot of delusion, questionable decision-making, and juicy drama, the teams remain amiable. They sometimes even seem friendly during their casual interaction at the house and on the excursions.
It’s overall a lighthearted watch, starting with its cheerful and fun opening credits. So whether you’ve never heard of it or are watching it again like me, don’t miss Instant Hotel season one before it disappears.