Our Journey to Becoming Lego® Masters NZ Champions

On Monday 6 June 2022, the final episode of Lego Masters New Zealand was aired, and my teammate Glenn Knight and I were in it. We were watching the episode with my friends and their kids at their off-grid home near Auckland. The generator had to be turned off during the ad break so as not to destablise their internet connection at a crucial moment, which added to the tension!

For those unfamiliar with Lego Masters, it is a reality television competition where teams must build against the clock to create something that fulfils that episode’s brief, using pieces from a supply of nearly 3 million Lego bricks. There have been four seasons of this format from Australia and two from the USA. It is a positive, fun show that’s popular with families as it’s something they can watch together. Everyone loves Lego! The NZ show is hosted by comedian Dai Henwood and is on TVNZ2 and TVNZ+.

On the set!

Our journey had begun 10 months beforehand when news that the show was being made spread like wildfire through the NZ AFOL (Adult Fans Of Lego) community. As soon as I heard, I was 100% sure I wanted to be in it.

For me, and many others who are trying to do the right thing, working on climate change professionally and devoting a lot free time to advocacy too is wearying and mostly thankless. Emissions keep rising, villains keep winning, and real climate solutions require things to change, which most people are unwilling to contemplate, let alone do. And the world is falling to pieces in dozens of other ways too.

I use my enthusiasm for Lego to create things that delight people instead of depress them (including me), and I’ve gotten pretty good at it over the years (if you don’t believe me, check out my YouTube channel). What better way than going on TV to share my creations with a larger audience? It was a chance to work in sync with a likeminded person and show everyone what we could create when we had a single focus and effectively unlimited bricks.

I’m competitive too. When I was a cub scout at age 6, I made a promise to always do my best, and that has stuck with me ever since. If I was going to go in a Lego competition, I was going to be my best on and off camera and do my best to win it too. This ambition I shared with Glenn, whose Lego skills I had admired for years. We had wanted to team up before and this was a golden opportunity to do that, with the show environment overcoming the logistical issue of not living nearby to each other. I asked him and I was relieved when he said yes.

Glenn and I started the application process and started developing our strategy and teamwork in case we were successful. This involved Teams calls to brainstorm and set each other building challenges, and a few meet-ups. At our first one, my son challenged us to build a prop from a 90s movie. Three hours later we had decided upon and whipped up a 1:1 scale replica of the box of chocolates from 1994 hit ‘Forrest Gump’. We’d worked together effectively and it was a huge confidence boost. 

The first build Glenn and I did together – the box of chocolates from ‘Forrest Gump’.

The last hoop to jump through was a ‘live’ build challenge with camera crews and Brickmaster Robin Sather on hand to ask us questions as we did it. We had one hour and a limited selection of bricks to build the not-necessarily-true story of how we met. We started talking about how maybe we met at a famous landmark and somehow landed on the story of me being an unsuccessful human statue busking in Trafalgar Square where Glenn took pity on me and started a conversation. Glenn titled it ‘S’tat You Bro?’. It was an okay build, but we bantered well with each other and Robin as we did it. A nervous wait ensued – were we TV material?

Our audition build – conceived and built in one hour, on camera.

We received the tremendous news that we had been accepted as contestants on Season 1 of the show at the end of November 2021. Filming would start in less than 2 months. We’d live in Auckland for the duration of the filming, which could be up to six weeks. I made arrangements with my clients and my family to be away. Luckily my children are old enough to mostly look after themselves with only a little ‘light maintenance’ from their mother (mostly being their taxi service!), but it would be the longest time I’d ever been apart from them.

It was a long hot summer in Auckland. The experience of filming was initially overwhelming – there was so much to take in: new people, new places, a new unfamiliar working environment, and so much to learn, like hitting our marks and finding the bricks we wanted in the ‘brick pit’. The main challenge in the first episode for Glenn and I was overcoming our nerves. When we saw the finished builds of the other teams in that first episode, they were all of a really high standard. We realised to win, we’d have to push our skills, imagination and strategy to the limit.

A close up of our Episode 1 Build – not pictured: working animal monorail train, working elevator, observation tower and swan-boat! For a closer look see this video.

Gradually Glenn and I found our groove, quickly processing and filtering our ideas to arrive at one that ticked all the boxes. As well as fulfilling the brief and the standard criteria of showing great storytelling, aesthetics and technical ability, it had to be something we could build in the time available with the parts available, have a wow factor (size, height, lights, movement and colour), have consistent scale, interesting composition of its elements and play to both of our respective strengths (Glenn’s is making things pretty, mine is making things move).

The judge Robin had his own tastes too, which we needed to tune into. His was the only opinion that counted after all. After the first episode it was clear he wanted to see big, fun colourful characters that could be recognised and ‘decoded’ from 10 metres away, so that’s what we needed to produce. And finally, our build idea had to be something that both Glenn and I actually liked and could get excited about.

Glenn and I came second in episodes 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6. While this was frustrating, it made us hungry and eager to push ourselves further. Also we knew that the final was the only episode we really needed to come first in to win, and we were on track for getting there, so we didn’t get too downhearted.

Finally in Episode 7 we cracked it. Our ‘Save the World’ boardgame had elements drawn from so many things that we love, and it showed. We won and got to skip episode 8 and go straight to the final. Glenn and I used this time to plan and prepare, since we knew the final brief would be to build whatever we wanted. We also recharged our batteries with a trip down to Piha Beach.

Finally getting the win with our mechanised board game build!

The final was filmed over 4 days. It was grueling. Concentrating through to end of each day took extraordinary focus. All of us remaining competitors boosted each other with encouragement, jokes, ‘quote-athons’, singing and music. Once we were done, we went home, keeping the outcome of each episode secret until they aired.

Robin and Dai checking out our finished final build – the ‘Seal of Approval’ Roger Wilco, a very positive pencil pusher!

Mercifully, we didn’t need to wait long. Three months later and we and our creations were in people’s living rooms, in the paper, magazines and social media. It was very exciting.

Which brings us to the night of the final’s broadcast. Why were we in Auckland again anyway, and not with our families? Because we’d won of course! Glenn and I needed to be there for media interviews the next morning. While being away from home wasn’t the best, sharing the big night with old friends was great too. Meanwhile at my house, the neighbours who came around to watch the final were surprised by the special guests also present, Brickmaster Robin and his wife Diane, who happened to be passing through!

Us meeting Jono and Ben for a morning radio interview.

Now it’s all over. What’s next? Personally, I intend to continue exhibiting my creations at all the brick shows I can get to. I look forward to reconnecting with the other contestants with whom we’ve become good friends. I’m arranging a donation of a portion of my winnings to charity (Glenn already has, donating Lego sets to the children’s ward of Palmerston North hospital). And I still hold out hope that I can bring more Lego into my professional life too. But if what Glenn and I did on Lego Masters NZ is my peak achievement with the medium, that’s okay with me. Hearing the stories of how our creations have inspired and delighted people is the real reward, and not a bad legacy at all.

For more detail and photos of all the creations and the stories behind them, see my public Facebook profile.

People based in New Zealand can stream the show on demand at TVNZ+.

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