Cousins Theresa Culling, 53, and Jarrad Delegat, 50, have been having fun together since they were little. As kids, they'd hang out during family holidays, becoming the inseparable pair of the extended family.
These days, Theresa lives in Timaru and Jarrad in Auckland, but they are just as close as ever. Both credit the other as the person who got them through tough times, including their difficult divorces and some serious health issues with two of Theresa's four children. So, when Jarrad decided to enter Three's renovation show House Rules NZ, there was never any question of who he wanted to do it with.
"We are kindred spirits – Theresa is my human," says Jarrad, who is a dad to two teenage boys. "You know when you meet people and you just connect? That's how it's always been with Theresa and me. We've been there for each other through so many hard times. On the show, she is so grounding. Her level-headedness was a saving grace for me, but I'm the funny one. Like, she's moderately funny, but obviously not as funny as I am!"
Theresa laughs at Jarrad's affectionate teasing. Theirs is clearly a symbiotic relationship, where Jarrad is quick and chatty, and Theresa more calming and quieter. Together they make a balanced pair on the show, where 10 contestants spend five days renovating sections of the others' houses, with just a list of rules from the homeowners as a guide.
"Being on TV and doing this show definitely put me out of my comfort zone – it's not something I'd ever normally consider," smiles mum-of-four Theresa. "But when Jarrad asked me to do the show, to do something nice for his two boys by renovating his house, I just thought, 'What the heck, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Why not?' But it was very unfamiliar and overwhelming for me."
Neither Jarrad nor Theresa consider themselves seasoned renovators and it didn't take long for the pair to find themselves in hot water, after Jarrad picked a sparkly teal wallpaper for Jemma and Alvaro's "Scandi coastal fusion with earth tones" kitchen and dining area.
"Crikey, we got slammed for that!" exclaims Jarred of the awkward moment that was dubbed "Wallpaper-gate". "Then the girls got slammed for not using colour – I mean, what did they want? Why go on the programme if you don't want something a bit different?
"You can't please everyone – and anyway, that wallpaper is still up. And the lady from Wallace Cotton said they loved the wallpaper. So it can't be all that bad, right?"
Adds Theresa, "The wallpaper was Jarrad's choice. I did say at the beginning that it wasn't my favourite. In the end, it came down to availability – we were running out of options and we needed to pick something. That wallpaper added life to the space and once it was up, I actually really liked it."
But while the pair have been on the receiving end of some fireworks, the backlash was nothing compared to the moment last week when contestants Char and Violet decided to implement some strategic scoring, giving all the other teams just a one out of 10 to keep themselves in the game to win $100,000.
"I thought that was absolutely appalling behaviour," says Jarrad vehemently. "I don't care whether it's a game or not – that showed a real lack of integrity.
"I think what made it worse was their faces when they delivered the message: they were smiling. Violet tried to validate it by saying she'd done it for her daughter and she'd do anything for her daughter's happiness, but if I'd done that, my kids would be really unhappy with me."
Continues Theresa, "I was pretty shocked, yes. We'd talked with Violet and Char a bit beforehand, but I thought there was no way they'd do something like that. I was sure, in the end, they'd score fairly. Yes, it's a competitive environment, but it's not like the competitiveness you get in sport. I was sure they had more integrity than that."
Despite the drama, and the ups and downs, the duo say the show has been good for their friendship. "Because Jarrad handled himself so well and knew what he was doing, I could follow his lead and be there to support him," says Theresa. "For me, that was good because I had no idea what I was doing!"
"The show was stressful, for sure," agrees Jarrad. "At times, I was like, 'Oh, my God, this is too much.' But we had each other's back the whole time."
Watch House Rules NZ Sunday to Tuesday at 7.30pm on Three.
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