Why is the tackiest show on TV proving so popular?
IT WAS a week of dramatic news, with the knife-edge tuition fees vote and the conclusions of the Hutton Report sending shockwaves through the British establishment. Yet far away, in a jungle in Australia, the antics of ten "celebrities" were encouraging many more millions to switch on their television sets.
Many dismiss I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here as trash TV of the lowest order, but it seems growing legions of viewers are not just post-pub lager louts hoping Jordan takes a topless swim. Its eclectic cast and increasingly cruel tasks have infiltrated high-brow conversations in boardrooms and at dinner parties.
Everyone, it seems, has been talking about the latest series of I’m a Celebrity. While 4.3 million viewers tuned into the BBC’s 10 o’clock News following the Hutton Report last Wednesday, almost 10.5 million watched the ITV show.
It is attracting the attention of ladies who lunch and high-flying executives. Even a church minister’s wife was overheard at a birthday party at a leading restaurant in Glasgow last week saying she "really fancied Lord Brocket". Her hostess stuck her nose in the air. "Oh, really," she sniffed. He’s not a patch on Peter Andre." Another guest at the table, a 60-year-old nursing sister, said she had been compelled to watch the show because she had overheard doctors talking about it at the hospital where she works.
And during a high-level business lunch in Edinburgh, also last week, corporate lawyers, business development managers, senior civil servants, project consultants and insurance brokers found the conversation continually shifting from politics and economics to the goings-on in the Australian rainforest.
One businessman caused a debate at the table after asking why former punk icon John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, had chosen to star on the programme. "Everyone had a view on the matter," said one of the guests, "and then we moved on to Jordan and why this show seems to appeal to a wider audience than Big Brother."
Last year’s programme - won by former England cricketer Phil Tufnell, who beat TV presenter and ex-footballer John Fashanu and design guru Linda Barker in the final head-to-head - attracted between six and ten million viewers during its run.
This year’s series - in which the tasks performed by the celebrities have been tougher and more degrading - started with in excess of ten million people tuning in.
Dr Jack Boyle, a leading Scottish psychologist, suggested the programme was tapping into people’s consciousness because they enjoyed watching celebrities being humiliated and degraded. "These figures show that people are just not interested in politics and opinion-makers such as Frost, Campbell and Blair," he said.
"People watch TV for entertainment, and the more titillating the better; that’s why this programme is doing so well. The last election had the lowest turn-out for a century, which shows that people are bored by politics.
"This programme is closer to their lives than anything to do with the Hutton Report."
Dr Boyle continued: "The opinion-makers watch it and sneer at it, and Joe Punter revels in it. It is very interesting that so many people are watching programmes of low intellectual content when we have more educated people than ever before."
This year’s series has seen Jordan suffer wearing a helmet of bugs and snakes, John Lydon being pecked in a pit of ostriches, and the BBC royal reporter Jennie Bond lying in a bath of rats for ten minutes.
Last night, Jordan and pop star Kerry McFadden were forced to eat live creatures to win food rations for the group.
Dr Boyle added: "I think the tasks are worse this year compared with last. The reason for this is that people seek more and more thrills, so the producers are forced to increase the levels of degradation and humiliation in order to keep viewing figures up.
"Eventually, they are going to reach a certain point where they can’t go past and people will become less interested."
Last night, millions were still very interested as Jordan and Kerry took centre stage for the latest Bushtucker Trial. They were forced to eat a series of grubs and walked off with seven meals after swallowing a revolting selection of creepy-crawlies, including green ants and bush cockroaches.
Kerry lost the camp one meal when she quailed before a three-inch long witchety grub - which Jordan managed to swallow - but both girls failed to eat eyes from the big reef fish.
The first celebrity will be voted out tonight, with athlete Diane Modahl the favourite.
Jordan and John Lydon are the front-runners to win, with Lord Brocket - favourite of the minister’s wife - close behind.
PETER ANDRE Chatty Aussie popster who reportedly said he was repulsed by Jordan before he went to the jungle, but has done nothing but flirt with her since arriving. Swings between being extremely irritating and vaguely charming. Impressed viewers by bravely tackling his jungle challenge. Odds: 16/1
ALEX BEST Hasn’t said very much at all and probably has the least genuine "celebrity" credentials - being the wife of a famous ex-footballer and alcoholic. Unlikely to go far unless she shows evidence of personality and overcomes reticence to talk about her significant other, without whom she would not be there at all. Odds: 25/1
JENNIE BOND Why did she agree to this? Is the BBC’s Royal doyenne trying for a career in mainstream telly? Has been quiet, spending most of the time applying illegal make-up, but increasingly described as "posh totty" in late-night text messages and performed amazingly in the challenge with a coffin full of rats. Odds: 33/1
LORD CHARLES BROCKET The convicted fraudster told an amusing story about taking Viagra at a party, and has won some fans with his aristocratic good looks and bravery on the ladder challenge. Has had a couple of gratuitous fondles of Jordan's assets in an effort to live up to his pre-show billing as "lusty Lord Brocket".
JORDAN The glamour model had more broadsheet column inches devoted to her last week than anyone not involved in the Hutton Inquiry - but is she really a post-modern feminist? Has overturned a few "brainless bimbo" prejudices, but reinforced others with some very vulgar comments. Won many supporters outside the lustful male legions for her performance in the first jungle challenge. Odds: 9/4
JOHN LYDON Seeing the former Sex Pistols frontman being pecked by ostriches while smeared in treacle and bird food was a highlight of the show so far. Funny, crazy and tremendous value. Hates Jordan for being a stupid airhead and has threatened to quit the jungle unless she improves. Odds: 6/4 favourite
KERRY McFADDEN The former Atomic Kitten singer appeared ready to quit the jungle after a dreadful effort in a waterfall challenge with Mike Read, when she ended up in floods of tears. But after being talked round, she is winning support by being a chirpy Northener and a pretty girlie - but precious little else. Has bonded with Jordan, with whom she has things in common. Odds: 6/1
DIANE MODAHL The athlete, famous for being accused of using performance-enhancing drugs but who went on to clear her name, is a jungle dullard. She has little of interest to say and is a rank outsider who seems unlikely to last more than a day or two once the vote-outs begin. Has often been seen working out, sometimes joined by Jennie, but doesn't even stretch Jordan and Kerry with her conversation. Odds 66/1
MIKE READ Although many remember his Radio 1 breakfast show jingle with fondness ("Mike Read, Mike Read, 275 and 285, Mike Read, Mike Read, National Radio One") and despite his waterfall heroics (when he was badly let down by bawling Kerry), Mike has been fairly boring. His sizeable male breasts have won comment, but he has shown little else. Still has a bad haircut. Odds: 50/1
NEIL 'RAZOR' RUDDOCK Aside from having an interesting nickname, his contribution to the jungle high-jinks has been negligible. Dubious credentials as a celebrity anyway, as he wasn't even that good a footballer and had more of a reputation as a hacker than a player of any skill. Overweight and seems to spend much of his time lounging in a hammock. Odds: 7/1
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