I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here

Saturday, August 31, 2002 by and

For a programme which had such a low-key start, virtually no pre-publicity, no clearly explained purpose and a “cast” of fairly minor celebrities, I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! has – in contrast – provided a week of gripping, almost unbelievable, television.

Commencing last Sunday with a series of live evening editions that ran throughout the week, from the off I’m a Celebrity … had a sure-thing going for it: the consummate wit and skills of presenters Ant and Dec. But beyond that things seemed unpromising. The first edition was bland and uninvolving; the programme’s line-up of mostly minor hate-figures (Nigel Benn, Tony Blackburn, Rhona Cameron, Darren Day, Uri Geller, Christine Hamilton, Nell McAndrew, Tara Palmer-Tompkinson) working against it. As we watched Tara confront her fear of snakes, it could only provoke feelings of apathy at most. Who cares that a dull and privileged socialite has been able to put a phobia to rest?

However, once out in the jungle and into the game proper, I’m a Celebrity … quickly turned around. Perhaps dispelling preconceptions, the conditions the celebrities have been forced to live in are genuinely miserable: the climate is unrelentingly wet, their campsite (which is fast turning into a mud-bath) is sheltered from direct sunlight by the dense foliage overhead, the nearby stream is too cold to comfortably bathe in and their surrounding environment is so potentially dangerous that it has confined them – in the main -to the relatively small camp area. This has been one of the factors in swiftly bringing the programme to critical mass.

Alongside this, the programme has not had to take the time out to introduce us to the players, and thereby endure that slow burn whilst we gradually make our minds up about them. By using celebrities we are dealing with known quantities from the off, and as such we’ve already been furnished with our own preconceptions and prejudices.

As revealed by Celebrity Big Brother, it is actually more fun watching celebrities rather than “real” people engaging in “reality TV” formats, anyway. But while Celebrity BB could only boast Vanessa Feltz’s minor outbursts, I’m a Celebrity … enjoys a surfeit of bitching, fighting and hypocrisy. In fact, the programme has quickly become almost solely dedicated to documenting the “mood in camp”. Unlike its unacknowledged predecessor Survivor, I’m a Celebrity … has wisely unbound itself from the format. Whereas Survivor slavishly followed its ritual of challenges and expulsions to the expense of the human drama going on in between, I’m a Celebrity … focuses almost entirely on these “in between” bits. During this week the daily “Bush Tucker Trials” (where celebrities have to complete a challenge to earn food for the camp) have been slotted in almost as afterthoughts, and certainly secondary to the fractious goings on in camp.

This is not to underplay the seriousness of the disputes we have witnessed. Arguments are characterised by extremes, ranging from threats of physical violence to childish petulance. Not only is the environment heightening the tension, but celebrity egos have proven to be ludicrously fragile and responsible for some of the nastiest moments so far. Both Nigel Benn and Darren Day have consistently been seen to behave in a bullying and aggressive manner whenever they have felt themselves challenged by any of their team mates (particularly the women). Their behaviour ranges from the overt (being physically domineering and loud) to the more subtle (taking people aside for talks and general undermining chatter behind other peoples’ backs) and has caused even the peacemakers Tony Blackburn and Uri Geller to feel unable to tackle them over their conduct.

But whilst the conduct has been reprehensible, it has also made for great television.

There are many possible theories as to why we have seen a week of such appalling behaviour. Perhaps the celebrities are naïvely assuming that Granada will edit the finished episodes to ensure everyone is positively represented? Perhaps their confidence in their own stance is so strong they feel the footage will simply serve to vindicate their beliefs? More likely, it’s probably because their egos simply won’t allow them to let perceived discourtesies and insults go (the most extraordinary example of this being Nigel Benn’s interruption of Saturday night’s live dénouement to announce that all was not well in camp, and that somebody had been stirring things.) Whatever the dynamics are, Darren Day was visibly shaken on Saturday night’s edition to find that the public had nominated him two days in a row for a dreaded “Bush Tucker Trial”, clearly signalling their displeasure at his conduct.

And passing judgement on their behaviour is the main preoccupation here, reinforced by Ant and Dec’s commentary. Except for their positive take on the celebrities tackling the “Bush Tucker Trials”, they consistently undermine and poke fun at the participants. A fairly lengthy treatise from Uri Geller on why he is much more than just a spoon-bender was tailed by Dec’s “Uri Geller, spoon-bender, there.” One wonders how many egos will be challenged by the fact that throughout they have been held up for fairly gentle ridicule.

While so many aspects of I’m a Celebrity … edge into uncomfortable territory, the programme looks most likely to cross the line in its staging of the regular “Bush Tucker Trials”. Here the celebrities have been variously chosen to have buckets of insects showered on them, retrieve objects from a tank of snakes, be buried alive in an animal trap, eat various insects/grubs and retrieve objects from a stinking, snake-infested swamp. In each instance these trials have presented real challenges, and have been quite uncomfortable to watch. In particular, Nigel Benn having to put his hand back into the snake tank after being bitten by one, and the claustrophobic Rhona Cameron being grabbed at underground by an unseen hand has suggested that the programme is veering perilously close to becoming unacceptably cruel. But is that part of what makes it so compelling?

For a format that seemed so spurious in conception and then initially vague upon realisation, I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! is actually proving to be extremely taut. Pre-empting the possibility of stagnation, next week will see the public voting celebrities out the camp on a daily basis, and with that a certain change in dynamic will come.

True to form the stigma of being voted out first seems to be weighing heavily on the minds of most. If we have our way Cockney-Sparrow-turned-mysoginistic-bully-boy (apparently) Darren Day will be first to go. However it pans out it looks like we can be sure of another week of addictive and entertaining fear and loathing. And it’s all for charity.


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