Dr Andrew Rochford on his reality TV comeback
Winning The Block was never part of Dr Andrew Rochford's plan.
He entered the second season of the popular renovation show in 2004 with his then-girlfriend (and now wife) Jamie Nicholson on a whim, and the pair would go on to take out the top prize, winning $178,000 in total - a modest sum by today's property-reality-TV standards. And Rochford has only good things to say about the series that kickstarted his media career.
"It's always amusing when people remember I was on The Block because it was so long ago now, and my hair was a very different colour," the 40-year-old recalls with a laugh.
"I was a final-year medical student when I applied, and I was just trying to win some money. I wasn't looking for a media career - there was no social media back then. It was just like, 'Maybe we should give this a shot.' I've been extremely lucky."
Appearances and hosting roles on a raft of topical television shows such as The Circle and What's Good For You followed, often with a medical focus. He was also a regular guest panellist on The Project and, for a spell in 2012, the short-lived Network 10 show Breakfast.
Six years later - and after some time as Seven Network's national medical editor - he was back at 10 to host game show Pointless with satirist Mark Humphries. The co-hosts were praised for their easy banter, but the fun didn't last; after failing to garner an audience, the program was cancelled less than a year later.
Rochford still misses it. "I loved that show," he says. "If you get an opportunity, you should take it, and that's what that was. It was different, and I am someone who likes taking on different challenges. I don't think we should ever be tied down or pigeonholed into what other people think we should do.
"I loved working with Mark. We had so much fun, and I know we'd both love for it to come back."
Not that the cancellation left him looking for things to keep busy. Rochford is an ambassador for DrinkWise and CEO and founder of Docta, a digital healthcare company now building mobile primary-care clinics for remote villages in Indonesia.
He also works as an emergency doctor in the Northern Beaches region of Sydney, where he was raised. His love for the area has never waned, and he resides there with Nicholson and their kids - son Archie, and twin daughters Ava and Georgia.
Working in emergency is never easy, but Rochford admits that lockdown has presented a particular set of challenges. "It's high-risk, and you have to make sure you have your mask on and you're gowned up. We're all kind of looking out for each other. It's a very different world," he tells Stellar.
"But when you're working in a section helping people with COVID-19, it's quite satisfying because you're helping people who need you."
Helping people has always been at the forefront of his mind. It is the reason Rochford found himself, some 16 years after The Block, on a reality television show of an entirely different kind - SBS's social experiment Filthy Rich & Homeless, wherein a group of known Australians spend 10 days living on the street to better understand and raise awareness of homelessness.
Rochford admits he went in blind, not having watched either of its two previous seasons. Still, and with more than 116,000 Australians sleeping rough, he says he was determined to try to understand what it's like for those who have no place to call home, and to challenge his preconceived ideas of the situation.
"I was embarrassed by my lack of true understanding," he says. "You can treat someone's medical condition, but you never learn their story. That was one of the great gifts of being able to do this.
"I could never say I was in the shoes of somebody - it's disrespectful and wrong. But you can see how dark and lonely it gets; you can imagine what it's like for somebody who truly has nobody there for them."
The experience had a profound effect on him. "It's really hard to explain. The one thing I learnt is that very few things help you learn like emotions," he reflects.
"Getting home after filming was over was hugely emotional. I just sat for a very long time at the bottom of a shower. It's something I do; it's kind of my place. It took time - time for me to readjust, and time for my emotions to be managed."
And, Rochford says, if there is a silver lining to be found amid the current pandemic, it is that he believes it has the potential to act as a "reset button" that gives us an opportunity to make changes for the greater good.
"Homelessness has to be something that we all care about and decide that it's not OK," he says. "If we want to pat ourselves on the back for being a civilised society, we can't do that until there are no Australians sleeping rough on our streets."
Filthy Rich & Homeless airs 8.30pm, June 9-11, on SBS.
Originally published as Dr Andrew Rochford on his reality TV comeback