From its original King of the Jungle Tony Blackburn to last year’s winner Georgia Toffolo, I’m A Celebrity continues to ply audiences with a heady formula of famous (and not-so-famous) names and gross-out moments.
The show is now in its 18th season and Ant McPartlin is absent but this year has seen an upturn in fortunes. Holly Willoughby has proven to be a more than capable stand-in for Ant as Declan Donnelly’s co-presenter. There are more recognisable celebs than in recent editions. And ratings are up, with 13 million viewers tuning in regularly.
The lure of the jungle
We used to watch the show religiously but tailed off after season ten. Too much unnecessary conflict. Too many desperately limelight-hogging Z-list ‘stars’ in the line-up.
But this year we were drawn back in. Maybe it was a deliberate move to compensate for Ant’s absence, but this year’s celebs carried a little more stardust than usual. Noel Edmonds was the obvious jewel in the crown but he was far from the only household name. And while my immediate reaction to several of the other contestants was “who?”, they soon proved themselves to be a likable bunch.
That’s the attraction of I’m A Celebrity for me. More than any other reality show, you get an insight into the person behind the personality. While watching them drink pig’s penis cocktails and getting on first-name terms with Huntsman spiders.
Some celebs are exactly what you expect. I knew John Barrowman would bring more camp than a Scout Jamboree. But I also knew he would show a layer of steel to put the lie to those who assume that campness equates to weakness.
Others defy your expectations. I assumed Harry Redknapp would be an old-school, chauvinistic East End geezer who would slot into the grumpy old man role. Instead we have seen him form unexpected friendships with the younger campmates and talk adoringly about the love of his life,
jam roly-poly his wife Sandra.
And then there are those who start off as a blank slate to you. But over the course of three weeks you come to know them by watching them eating rice and beans endlessly, clearing out the dunny and submitting themselves to the torture of the Bushtucker Trials. Anne Hegerty spoke openly about her Asperger’s and the entire camp rallied around her. Malique Thompson-Dwyer admitted he didn’t know who Noel was. Nick Knowles charmed viewers with his old-fashioned chivalry. Sair Khan was the quiet one who surprised us with her toughness during her trials.
The biggest difference between I’m A Celebrity and other reality shows is that it isn’t dependent on manufactured conflict and over-the-top (for which, read ‘obnoxious’) personalities. It’s a more organic, less forced narrative. And, despite its inherent artificiality, it feels more authentic as a result. I like that.
Sadistic, grotesque … and fun
Of course, the real fun lies in the Bushtucker Trials.
In past years, this has been a sadistic pleasure, watching celebrities try and frequently fail spectacularly from the comfort of our own living rooms. Who remembers a shrieking Wayne Sleep with waffles strapped to his head, fending off rats? Or Katie Price being voted to do six trials in a row?
This year’s crop, though, have been as hard as nails. I won’t soon forget Noel and Harry gamely holding a succession of creepy-crawlies in their mouths. Or Fleur East strapped to a giant pizza and covered in toppings ranging from offal to rotten veg (and meal worms, and cockroaches and …) while trying to whack a series of pinatas overhead.
Fun for all the family?
What has added to our renewed I’m A Celebrity experience this year is the fact that the kids have started watching it too.
Okay, it’s not exactly what you would call traditional ‘family entertainment’. But I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that they love the more disgusting aspects of the Bushtucker Trials. Our house has been rocking with uproarious laughter these past two weeks. And, of course, it means they’re not missing out on all the discussions in the playground the following day.
It’s not exactly Strictly (which we do watch). Or X-Factor (which we don’t). And it’s certainly not high-brow television. But I’m A Celebrity has proven to be a hit in our household during these dark autumn evenings. Who’d have thought it?