Now, they have revealed to Yahoo Lifestyle what their biggest regret is, how unprepared they were for the public backlash, and why there needs to be change behind the scenes.
Sharon isn’t a stranger to the camera, after playing Dipi Rebecchi from 2017 to 2019 on the Aussie soap Neighbours. After the pandemic, she decided to give reality TV a shot — with her husband Ankur sharing the devastating reason why.
“We had a pretty rough time, we went through a bit of a personal issue. We had a late-term miscarriage, so that really threw us for a six,” he tells us.
“I wanted to do something to get out of our comfort zone. Sharon and I definitely have an interest in renovating,” he explains.
Sharon agrees with her husband and adds: “It [was] like an adventure post-Covid. We were like, you know what, after Covid, we did the whole 'f**k it' when it came to anything. Yep, eff it, we’re gonna do it.”
The former lawyer also touches on representation, something that she has been extremely vocal about. When given the opportunity to represent Punjabi Indians on mainstream television, she jumped at the chance.
“[On] Neighbours, when I was on that I was the first Punjabi Indian to be on that show. And I know what it meant to Indian people all over Australia, including really young girls,” she says. “[Australia is] so backwards when it comes to representation. I couldn’t think of anything better than for an Indian to be represented on The Block.”
The pair believed it would just be ‘really lovely’ for people from their community to see themselves on screen, and the thought of being demonised onscreen didn’t cross their minds.
The couple share their biggest ‘regret’
Ankur admits that the couple were ‘really naive’ going on the show, and thought The Block would be the least ‘dramatic’ reality TV program.
Once the show started airing, they soon realised how passionate and ‘deeply invested’ the show's fanbase really is.
Sharon adds: “I suppose [to be] successful for 18 years, they do follow a format where there is high drama, there’s usually characters that are kind of pushed around and people play those characters.”
Sharon and Ankur believe that being ‘honest’ was actually their downfall. By showing emotion, such as frustration, or crying onscreen, meant Australia instantly labelled them as ‘whingers’ or ‘sooks’.
In a strange turn of events, the one thing the couple regret most is how honest they were.
“I never want to do things with regrets,” Ankur says. “Not that I’d do [the show] again, but [if I did], I would unfortunately not be as open — like everybody else played the game and they did it well.
“I think honesty, which is ironic because we got painted as liars and cheats, sort of cost us in the end.”
Sharon also adds that the ‘manipulative’ aspect behind reality TV was the hardest thing for her to cope with during filming.
“It was really obvious when things were set up, and I found that really hard. It didn’t feel like reality,” she confessed. The pair said that sometimes producers would ask questions while they were sleep deprived which didn’t make sense at the time, but when they watched the final edit on TV they realised how ‘clever’ the editing was.
‘Lazy’: They weren’t prepared for the ‘tough’ backlash
Sharon has been outspoken about diversity onscreen in Australia, and previously released a statement about alleged racism she received while working on Neighbours.
After getting a barrage of racist hate messages and comments from trolls, Sharon says that she wasn’t surprised that trolls targeted her ethnicity.
“It’s just really lazy, honestly, by trolls to straightaway go to the colour of my skin. It’s happened to me before so I thought I’d be used to it, it happened when I was on Neighbours as well,” she begins.
But the star wasn’t prepared for how far The Block fans were willing to go.
“These people come and find you, they find your email address. They find your family’s email address, they try to dig dirt on you. They just don’t stop and it’s relentless.”
The couple adds that none of their friends or family watches the show anymore, and the only saving grace has been previous contestants and genuine people reaching out to offer support.
Sharon says that at least 15 contestants have reached out to let them know they’re not alone, adding that she’s extremely ‘grateful’. “It’s easy to focus on those couple of really sad humans who go out of their way to hurt others, but the ones that go out of their way to lift others up, I think are the real MVP,” she reflects.
Sharon and Ankur call for ‘culturally safe’ TV shows
Sharon and Ankur aren’t the only couple on the show to address racism, with Omar and Oz also pointing out Foreman Dan’s blindspot.
After Dan labelled the pair ‘dodgy’ during an episode, the damage was done and the label stuck. Even weeks after the incident, people still call Omar and Oz ‘dodgy’ on social media.
When Omar and Oz explained that it’s different to call a person of colour ‘dodgy’, Dan turned the conversation back onto himself, saying he is equally hard with all the teams. Instead of acknowledging how dangerous it could be, he assured the pair he didn’t see them differently and said he ‘respects’ them.
“He probably does [say ‘dodgy’] to all the other contestants as well. But I don’t think he understood what it actually meant when you’re saying it to two boys from a Middle Eastern background,” Omar tells Yahoo Lifestyle. "I hope looking back he does get it, that he does understand it a little bit more now."
In a separate storyline, Sharon and Ankur were labelled ‘cheats’ for looking up wine-tasting notes before a challenge, something they categorically deny as ‘cheating’. Sharon backs up Omar’s claim and adds that it’s ‘different’ when a person of colour is given a label.
“Everybody said it wasn’t cheating…but when you start promoting it and say, ‘$50,000 cheating scandal’, when you attribute the word cheater to people of colour, straight away it goes to, ‘Oh these Indians steal our jobs, get out of our country, you don’t deserve to be here’.”
Ana Tiwary, a respected producer/director and champion of representation onscreen, explains that people of colour are set up for failure due to systemic racism.
“When they fail, they are blamed and judged. It’s not a level playing field either – different standards are set for people of colour,” she tells us. “People think that just sprinkling diversity on screen is enough - but to create cultural safety it is so important that there is true diversity and sharing of power behind the scenes.
“We need diverse producers who create cultural safety for everyone on the show.”
There is a common phrase championed by queer, disabled or marginalised communities that says ‘Nothing about us, without us’, and Sharon touches on why ‘cultural safety’ is so important.
She says that producers didn’t have enough ‘awareness’ to ‘protect’ them from racist backlash.
“You have to really consider how to make it a culturally safe workplace for people, and for us that means everything. It means what’s going to happen to us once we’re thrust into that spotlight, and the social media and all that…once the show’s gone, we’re still going to carry all that stuff with us,” she explains.
The journey has obviously been very hard on Sharon and Ankur, but they have come out of it with one amazing result, regardless of how much money they make at auction.
“The biggest positive is [our] relationship went from strength to strength on it because you can actually only rely on each other in this space,” Ankur says.
“So that’s I think the greatest thing that we’ll take from the whole experience.”
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