It's not usually a location that sparks feelings of romance and excitement, but for The Block NZ contestants Claire Rapira and Agni Bhorkar, the gym was the place that ignited their fairytale love story.
"I tricked her into going out with me," grins Agni, 23, as he gives his girlfriend of almost two years a nudge.
Laughing, personal trainer Claire, 25, explains, "I'd just finished with a client and Agni approached me to say he was setting up his own gym. He wanted to sit down with someone who worked in the gym every day to get some ideas for which equipment he should be getting. I was like, 'Sure, I'll have this business meeting with you.' But it was actually a set-up for a date!"
Since then, the Hamilton lovebirds have gone on to open their own gym and buy their first home together – and now they're competing on The Block. But despite the fact their relationship is so firmly rooted in fitness, working out and healthy eating have been far from their minds during the hectic filming schedule of the Three reality series.
Maori beauty Claire, from Tainui and Ngapuhi iwi, explains, "Like a lot of females, I struggle at times with how I feel and look. Training makes me feel good inside – energised and fit. Not being able to do that has been quite hard."
Having lost muscle but gained fat, Agni adds, "I've made a new achievement of getting skinny and chubby at the same time! There's just no time for working out, but that's not what we're here for. We came on The Block to achieve something – there will be plenty of time to train when we get home."
The long days and sleepless nights have certainly taken their toll, with the couple fighting frequently and Claire breaking down in tears. But Agni insists, "Bickering is actually a good thing because it shows that we care about each other. The easiest thing is to not care and not say anything."
Claire nods in agreement. "Because we're in a relationship, we can yell at each other, we can be ourselves completely and it will be fine."
Another challenge the couple have faced on the show has been the constant criticism of their relationship, with claims Agni has been making Claire do all the work.
He says, "That's tough and demoralising for me because I'm putting in 100% effort all the time, but it's outdated to think that the guy should be the only one doing the labour on the building site and the girl should be out shopping – that's not how Claire and I work."
Adds Claire, "It's quite bad that the show's a little bit sexist in that way. In reality, I get really overwhelmed when there's lots to do. I often send Agni shopping, which he's really good at. I'm better off staying back and doing one task at a time, like the painting or the sanding."
Their reno rivals, older couple Amy Moore and Stu Watts, have been especially critical of Claire and Agni's work dynamic, with the two teams feuding throughout the series.
"It's quite strange because Stu will stay back and Amy will go out shopping every single day, but when it's reversed and Agni wants to go shopping, all of a sudden it's a big deal," tells Claire.
"Agni does twice as much as Stu because he does building as well as designing and shopping. We mix it up."
The couple admit they had a difficult first three weeks on The Block, but things are looking up after they scooped two room wins from Amy and Stu, who were disqualified for cheating in one challenge, then beaten by Agni's game-changing advantage point the next week.
No matter what happens come auction night, though, Agni and Claire say they're happy with what they have accomplished. "This will be the hardest thing we ever do as a couple," says Agni.
"Working together can be really tough, but I wouldn't want to do it with anyone else."
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