The best bit in I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! (ITV) will be when the prisoners finally revolt and turn on their evil captors, Ant and Dec. The sparky Geordie comedy duo will be imprisoned in a semi-submerged, rat-infested cage like the one in The Deer Hunter, fed on a diet of liquidised kangaroo bottom and wombat testicle, and released only to participate in a series of amusing challenges, such as a recreation of the Lemmiwinks episode from South Park, involving two giant funnels, a bunch of inserted eucalyptus leaves and a pair of ravening koalas.
Though it hasn’t happened yet I’m going to keep watching every night, just in case. I wish it weren’t so. It’s such a terrible waste of life. But I’m afraid that, for whatever reason, I’ve become an I’m A Celebrity addict. Now I’m going to try to justify it by ludicrously and implausibly arguing that it’s the most brilliant thing currently on TV.
I think it probably is, though. This is the 15th series — the first was in 2002, when it was won by Tony Blackburn — and it really ought to have run out of steam by now. But though the set and challenges are indeed looking a touch overfamiliar, the interplay between celebrities in extremis offers such endless dramatic variety and tension you could almost be watching Shakespeare. Well, Webster, at any rate.
I’m particularly intrigued at the moment by the burgeoning alliance between former world boxing champion Chris Eubank and former white Jamaican boy (till her parents discovered they’d got her genitalia confused and she was in fact a girl) Lady Colin Campbell.
It didn’t get off to a good start. Mincing, fastidious, softly-spoken Eubank proposed that celebrities who failed in any of their challenges should be punished by their fellow group members as a disincentive to further weakness. Lady C (as she’s known) had just failed a challenge at this point, so naturally she took umbrage.
And rightly so. This was one of those moments where Eubank — who has spent a lifetime cultivating an image of groundedness and gentlemanly decency — let slip his inner control-freak weirdo. (I love this about I’m A Celebrity. You can maintain your mask for a few hours. But never with the cameras on you 24/7 over a period of weeks, with hunger pangs playing havoc with your mood.) As any sane person understands, the punishment for failure is already quite bad enough — short rations; the misery of having let down your comrades — without having some tinpot fascist in a fake monocle piling on additional forfeits.
More recently, though, just when some of us had given up on Eubank, he was assigned by the camp’s new dictator, dour Scottish entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne, to go on knicker-washing duties with Lady C. This led to an unlikely bond being formed by the jungle washpool as Eubank and Lady C united in mutual contempt for an idiotic observation by another contestant — one of those ones you’ve never heard of before: Brian Friedman, an American choreographer who apparently works on X Factor.
Brian — whom we viewers had all liked up till this point because he’s genial and vulnerable in his mildly camp gay way — suddenly lost the older persons’ vote by taking umbrage at an allegedly ‘sexist’ remark of Eubank’s. ‘I don’t believe a woman should get strenuous work if men are around,’ Eubank had said. Friedman called this ‘thinking from another generation’. And on this he was correct. It created an immediate division between those geriatric members of the camp (Spandau Ballet’s Tony Hadley; Eubank; Lady C, of course...) who cleave to the traditional view that there are fundamental differences between the sexes; and the younger ones (e.g. the girl from The Only Way Is Essex; the girl from Geordie Shore) who appeared to agree with Friedman that gender is largely a social construct.
This is the (probably accidental) genius of I’m A Celebrity. TV is full of chat shows trying to find out what famous (or semi-famous) people are really like; it’s full of documentaries exploring the nature of celebrity (how to achieve it; what it costs); and, of course, in all its output it’s forever seeking to examine the faultlines of contemporary culture, how our mores are shifting, where the yoof are heading next. I’m A Celebrity achieves all these things in a completely unforced and natural way, while simultaneously fulfilling its other vital function as bread and circuses for the brain-dead masses. It’s like The Simpsons: good if you’re thick; even better if you’re not.
Apparently, the current favourite to win is Vicky Pattison, a feisty Essex girl with splendid knockers. I hope she doesn’t, not because she’s not fun but because I think Britain needs someone more old school to heal the bitter class/age divide: let it be lovely Susannah Constantine or staunch Lady C.