When I started Netflix's Australian import Instant Hotel -- after the streaming service numbed me into submission by auto-playing the trailer for it every night when I went to pull up Schitt's Creek -- I really had no idea what to expect. I have tried a lot of home and real estate shows on Netflix and let me tell you, not all of them are winners. But it didn't take long for me to realize that not only is Instant Hotel one of the best in the genre the service has to offer, it's also one of the messiest, pettiest unscripted series I have ever had the pleasure of watching.
The premise of the show is fairly simple: Five teams of two take turns spending the night in one another's "instant hotels," aka their short-term vacation rentals (the first season is split up into two rounds, each with a groups of five pairs). Each of the four guest couples give the instant hotel a rating out of 10 based on the house, location/local attractions, the quality of their night's sleep and value for money. In turn, whichever team is hosting the couples that week then gets to score them on how they did as guests (were they clean, did they check out on time, etc.). There's also a hospitality expert, Juliet Ashworth, who scores each instant hotel as well and basically acts as the voice of reason of the series. At the end of each round, all these scores are tallied together and the winner moves on to the grand finale where they will face off against the winner of the other round for the chance to score an all-expenses paid trip to California to stay in Leonardo DiCaprio 's instant hotel. (And no, I'm not making this last part up.)
The premise is definitely unique, but that's not what makes Instant Hotel so great. It's the casting. The clashes between these huge personalities and massive egos are far and away what takes this show from a fun distraction to an addicting binge. As Group 1's Leroy would say, "less is a bore," and these contestants really live up to that motto.
When you start Instant Hotel, you're introduced to the first group of contestants who do their best in the beginning to maintain a façade of civility. But it doesn't take long before a rivalry between mother-daughter duo Babe and Bondi -- who make their grand entrance on the show by driving their car into a ditch -- and Brent and Leroy -- who are literally (and accurately) labeled as the "fussy couple" in their chyron -- derails the tenuous sportsmanship and leads to a feud greater than Kanye and Taylor, Bette and Joan or Azealia Banks and pretty much anyone.
Throughout the first group's five-episode journey together, the pettiness grows until it begins to be reflected in the team's scores for one another -- and their reviews. While the individual rating each couple gives the instant hotels are kept secret, brief reviews written by the contestants about their stays are read aloud at the end of each episode. Most couples try to keep the hosting pair's feelings in mind, but as the season goes on, some of the guests -- namely Babe, Bondi, Brent and Leroy -- start getting crueler and crueler, culminating in cutting digs like calling one instant hotel a "mausoleum of the mundane" and saying another's decor "looks like lipstick on a gorilla." And this is only scratching the surface of the casual savageries being tossed around.
Watching this low-stakes, high drama train wreck with glee, I couldn't wait to see the slow dissolution of politeness occur again in the second group of contestants. However, it didn't take long before I realized there would be no pretension of civility in the second half of the season. Group 2 wastes no time before devolving into some truly petty drama that could give several Bravolebrities inferiority complexes.
This is thanks in large part to Serena, who -- as she loves to mention -- is in the top one percent of reviewers on TripAdvisor, whatever that means. In the seventh episode, when the guests are staying at Tristan and Bec's houseboat, Serena seemingly lies about there being no hot water available to shower (which, as is later explained to her, is impossible) and calls the owners to express this complaint in addition to claiming that some lights were flickering. When the exhausted hosts show up to help, Serena says this is only a few of the many issues everyone has been having and tells the other guests to "share your angst"; they don't, but only because there is absolutely nothing wrong with the houseboat or their stay.
When Serena later visits Mikey and Shay's house, she snoops through drawers and finds receipts showing that some of the art in the house, including a Dali, aren't original paintings but limited-edition prints, as though knowing that the owners only had thousands of dollars' worth of art in their house rather than millions was somehow an unforgivable sin. For context: When the guests stayed at Serena and Sturt's instant hotel, the main activity she recommended involved a three-hour tour of a sewage treatment plant. So... glass houses, stones, etc.
I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention the odd, low-simmering feud between Lynne, a woman who sells human hair, and Shay, a so-called socialite who doesn't even own or live in the instant hotel she is allegedly there to represent. In one memorable instance of the pair butting heads, Lynne attempts to drag Shay off a bed by her ankle in a fight to see who gets to sleep in the master bedroom. When that doesn't resolve things, they have their two male companions arm wrestle to determine the victor.
If this all sounds insane, trust me, it's only crazier when you watch it. I don't even have time to get into some of the other fascinating dynamics between the guests, some of whom are genuinely lovely and others are Lynne, who crashes her guests' stay at her instant hotel to explain which of the guests' hair would be worth the most money if they "scalped it." But it's moments like these, when the contestants are acting at their worst, that Instant Hotel asserts itself as one of the best new reality shows of recent years.
Instant Hotel is available to stream on Netflix now. It's already been renewed for a second season by Australia's Seven Network.