News From:The New Paperposted on 17 April at 8:57 AM
17 April at 8:57 AM

RenovAID host Paige Chua feared segment would make family look bad

By Mervin Tay

The show, which is into its fourth season, airs 9pm on Tuesdays, helps needy families renovate their homes, in hope of helping them improve their lives. It runs for eight episodes and features four families.

She knew it was a tough job, but when it got too tough, Paige Chua did not hesitate to pull the plug.

As the new host of Channel 5's reality show RenovAID, the MediaCorp actress was asked by the producers to stay overnight at the homes of underprivileged families they were trying to help.

The show, which airs at 9pm on Tuesdays and is into its fourth season, helps needy families renovate their homes, in the hope of helping them improve their lives. It runs for eight episodes and features four families.

Speaking to The New Paper last week, Chua, 31, said she was up for the challenge of taking over from Belinda Lee, who hosted the second and third seasons, but not spending a night in someone else's home. "The producers wanted me to experience what the family members are going through, and tell it to the audience," she said.

So Chua went to the three-room flat of Ms Joanne Ong, a single mother of three, who was featured in the first two episodes.

Her children are between nine and 18 years old. But, as an outsider, Chua ended up feeling uncomfortable. “Even if I was staying in a hotel, I wouldn’t be comfortable during the first few nights,” she said. Chua also saw that the family was uncomfortable on camera.

“The kids were covering their faces with pillows, so... I felt it wasn’t organic for me, and for them,” she said. After Chua raised her concerns with the producers, they decided to drop this segment for subsequent episodes.

Chua said she was aware that the producers were trying to “create dramatic effect”, but she felt a line had to be drawn.

“Obviously this is television, but I was concerned it was excessive, and would reflect badly on the family,” she said.

But when Chua broke down while interviewing the second family for this week’s episode, she was not worried about being accused of “creating dramatic effect”.

“As a host, I do feel very exposed and vulnerable, but I don’t think about whether I should cry or not,” she said.

This week’s episode features a family of five, which includes three children, living in a poorly ventilated home with 11 birds. “In that situation, I cried because I was affected by the fact that children are involved, and in such situations, they’re most vulnerable and helpless.”

Indeed, Chua went beyond the call of duty to help the families involved. She felt it would be good for the children of the first two families featured to have computers at home, so she appealed on Twitter and Facebook for pre-owned computers. “The computers eventually came from my fans,” she said.

Chua said she initially did not plan to reach out to the families beyond the show. “But I saw a need which I have the means to match, so I did it.”.

Reality check

While Chua said hosting RenovAID was “less life-changing” than Channel 8 reality show The Activist’s Journey 2 (2012), it did give her, and her mother, a reality check. “I was shocked to know there are Singaporeans still living in such conditions,” she said. “It seems regardless how prosperous a country may be, there are still many issues which are not uncovered until we actually dig deeper.”

Chua, who cleans only her own room at home, said her mother felt for her after seeing her on RenovAID. “My mother texted me and said ‘Your hosting is great, but it must have been tough on you’,” she said.

“I was quite touched, because I think her heart went out to me after seeing me trying to work things out in a tiny, cluttered flat, and realising how engaged I was in the whole process.”

Chua’s prior experience on The Activist’s Journey 2, which saw her visiting developing countries in Asia to see how activists there are helping to tackle social issues, also helped her cope with RenovAID.

“I was traumatised and so worked up, telling myself ‘I want to change the world’ and all that, I was totally off-balance,” she said. “But now I’m more balanced and grounded.”

Chua is also embracing the fact that she seems to always be the “replacement host”. She is taking over RenovAID from Michelle Chia (Season One) and Belinda Lee, and took over The Activist’s Journey from Joanne Peh.

“It’s totally understandable,” she said. “I’m a new host, and the production team will definitely be unsure if I can handle a new show.”

There are also expectations and standards set by the previous hosts. “It is indeed daunting to take over RenovAID from Michelle and Belinda, given that they are experienced hosts, and I can’t say I scored it for My Activist Journey,” she said.

“But I’m very fortunate to have these hosting opportunities, especially when these are programmes with a social cause, which relate to me a lot.”

This article first appeared in The New Paper on April 15, 2013.

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