Block controversy an ugly new low
There's very little that can shock me on reality TV. I've chortled my way through cheating and tantrumming, name-calling and wine-chucking. More often than not it's simply harmless entertainment: stupid people willingly doing stupid things.
Host Scott Cam's confrontation with gay contestants Mitch and Mark is gearing up to be one of the ugliest altercations I've ever seen on 21st century television.
Here's what's gone down so far.
Earlier in the series, Sydney-based couple Mitch and Mark, who have been renovating houses together for most of their 14-year relationship, decided to convert the terrace on their top floor into a third living area, or entertaining space. The architect's plans had originally earmarked it as a master bedroom.
So far, so what.
But over time, an uncomfortable pattern has developed whenever host Scott Cam, the judges or even the other contestants spoke about this specific area. This, everyone said over and over, was Mitch and Mark's "party house" designed "for people like them". There was a snigger to it. A nudge. A condescension.
When it kept happening, over and over, particularly in the broader context of the way Mitch and Mark were portrayed by the show in several other ways, the implication became clear.
The gay boys from Sydney were making a big, noisy, clichéd gay disco for themselves and other frivolous gays just like them.
As the series went on you could see the two men becoming increasingly frustrated, and by Sunday night's judging, Mitch was at boiling point. Their style, said Neale Whittaker, was all about "theatricality". Their terrace room, nudge, wink wink, was a "party room", according to Darren Palmer (at this point, it's perhaps worth noting that Palmer and Whittaker are both gay themselves).
You could see that Mitch was at the end of his rope.
"Oh please," he fumed, his face a picture of barely-contained anger.
Mark was quick to back his partner. "It is a living space as any house in any suburban part of Australia has. And if they're making a judgment about us - because they've often said, 'People like us' - I need to understand what does that mean? Are you judging us?"
This was too much for Scott Cam.
"I certainly don't think they are making a judgment about you guys personally," said Cam. "It's a judgment about having an entertainment space next to a master bedroom."
Perhaps if the endless "party house" comments had been made in isolation, you could argue that Mitch and Mark might be overreacting. Yes, they have called the space as a "party" area in the past.
But the sniggering tone of the repeated references gives it an entirely different, uglier edge.
And even more tellingly, the broader context of how Mitch and Mark have been portrayed by the show overall makes things very clear. Ever since the "boys" - as these two mature men in their 50s are invariably called - were introduced, the audience has been reminded again and again that their defining characteristic is that they are "gay".
During Mardi Gras, the couple's tradies donned fuchsia feather boas - because "gay". A few episodes in, Kylie Minogue appeared on set and Mitch and Mark were the only couple told to forfeit precious time working on their build to go and meet her - because "gay". Other contestants get The Travelling Wilburys or Vampire Weekend as background music during their segments. Mitch and Mark? Disco Inferno. Because "gay".
And this is how casual, insidious stereotyping and marginalising works - whether it's aimed at gay people, people of colour, women or other non-dominant groups. It's a joke. It's a bit of fun. It wasn't intentional. You're all the same, aren't you, you all love these feathers and discos and flashy theatricality?
But it's veiled enough that you can semi-plausibly deny it altogether.
And the targets need to shut up and pipe down and learn to take a joke if they want to fit in with everyone else.
The teasers for Monday night's episode suggest this won't be the last we hear of the matter. "Mitch and Mark are angry and they're spitting chips at me," thunders a miffed Scott Cam before the audience learns that the host will be storming off set as the week begins.