TV

The Fren family reveal: “Travel guides saved us!”

The fan-favourites reveal why the show has been a lifeline

By Zara Zubeidi
When the Fren family decided to apply for Travel Guides, they never imagined they would still be doing the series three seasons later.
Since the show's 2017 launch, Mark and Cathy, along with their daughter Victoria and son Jonathon, are often recognised as they go about their day-to-day lives.
But the show has served as much more than just a route to fame. For the Fren clan, from Newcastle in NSW, it's supported them financially through a turbulent time for their family-run German restaurant, Oma's Kitchen.
"It's been our lifeline, really," mum Cathy, 55, admits to TV WEEK. "We've had a few problems over the past few years with regards to the [construction of] the light rail and the V8 Supercars 500 racetrack in Newcastle. It's not a great place to be.
"The hardest part about being on the show is coming back and having to reopen a restaurant and get it up and running again."
The restaurant's location means the Frens are forced to close during the staging of the annual Supercars Championship. In the first year of the event, it remained closed for five months. The family claim they lost 90 per cent of their customers and suffered financially.
It's why, Mark, 57, says they're extremely grateful to the Nine Network for asking them to return to the quirky travel show year after year.
"We thought it would be like most reality TV shows − that we'd just have one year and that'd be it," the former primary school teacher explains.
"But people relate to us as a family."
Part of the Frens' appeal is their ability to cope with stressful situations − and to see the lighter side.
"We thought we were nuts," Cathy admits. "I kept on saying, 'I can't believe people think we're normal!' We just like to say what we think. There are no airs or graces."
The new season premiere of Travel Guides attracted an impressive 752,000 viewers, indicating that both the family and program have built a steady following.
People often approach the family to tell them how they've affected their lives.
"We get many emails from people who are sick," Mark says. "It's such a feel-good show and I think it brings people so much joy, even if just for an hour."
Cathy adds, "For me, that's one of the best things to come out of Travel Guides − that we can give people so much joy and happiness."
Mark says his son Jonathon, 27, probably gets the most attention. Fans of the show seem particularly obsessed with finding him a girlfriend.
"A little old lady came into the restaurant recently and said, 'Excuse me − does Jonathon get laid in this series?'" Mark says with a laugh. "She was well into her 80s!"
Jonathon says he's used to it.
"I don't know why everyone wants me to find a girlfriend," he says. "Maybe it's because I have to succeed at everything, and that's the only thing I haven't succeeded at."
Victoria's view is that her brother is picky and she says he has "a long list" of attributes his ideal woman must have.
"She can't be fat, short or have curly blonde hair," the 25-year-old explains.
Listening in, Cathy is quick to make a wry observation.
"He's describing his mother!" she exclaims. "Everything he says he doesn't want is me!"
Banter aside, it's clear the family share a special bond. Cathy and Mark love the fact they get to spend so much time with their children as adults. They also have fond memories of their kids as they grew up.
"They were beautiful children and were spoiled rotten," Cathy says. "Jonathon has always been quiet and was an excellent student. Victoria was beautiful until she was about 15, and then went totally wild until she was about 21."
Jonathon adds, "They were fantastic parents. And they did spoil us rotten. They always had time for us."
Travel Guides airs Tuesday, 9pm, Nine Network.

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