Richard Lutz dives into the world of talent shows and jungle fever
I’m still scraping my body clean with sharp instruments to remove layers of goop, slime and the reflections of industrially whitened teeth. I have been living in the world of weekend talent and reality shows as an Experiment in the Modern World. Feet glide across perfect shiny studio floors of the great television giants who’ve put their accumulated brain power to good use, not to solve starvation or halt murderous terror but to form the perfect light entertainment shows that now haunt us in the second decade of the 21st century.
To cut to the chase, I willingly enmeshed myself, sometimes appallingly, sometimes joyfully, in the cavalry charge of X Factor, I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here and, finally, Strictly Come Dancing. I have met and dealt with Georgia Toff Toffolo, Rak Su and the ghost of Aston Merrigold. I have viewed ex-political heroine Kez Dugdale in a hammock as she contemplated what she will do with her reported ’six figure’ bribe to plummet into Celebville. But I have survived.
Well, I think I have. I have been baptised, martyred, blessed and blighted by wave after wave of the most popular shows in the land.
The onslaught over, I am left dripping in memories and shiny floor perspiration, not sure if I was poisoned by the nonsense or just overwhelmngly entertained.
Without doubt the bottom line has been reached by I’m a Celebrity… made by ITV. It’s a charmlessly thickheaded programme about making unknown celebs eat bugs, moan about each other ‘in privacy’ (okay, in front of a camera) and basically show the depths the human spirit can descend to when left in a movie-set jungle surrounded by production staff. There is an arcane voting system to chuck them out. Somehow there is a winner. Though I have to say after the degrading and tedious chores that the contestants have to endure, the only winners are Geordie puppets Ant and Dec who must rake in zillions fronting this dumb but popular mess.
Nice touch, though, to have Stanley Johnson (Boris’s dad) in the the mock jungle camp dragging his tongue all over the mud floor as aforesaid reality star Georgia Toffolo steals the show.
Slightly less worse is X Factor, also on ITV. This is a mean-spirited and tired show. And though voice talent does shine through, it’s the airhead panel, led by chief airheads Simon Cowell and Sharon Osbroune, who are the real stars. They preen, mock and ooze gooey sentimental schmaltz trying to sway viewers about which unknown singer can make it. The production values are high, very high indeed, and this over zealous extravaganza retains its Saturday night prime time slot like the other two. But ultimately, it sadly follows the Celebrity trend in ensuring that human dignity is stepped on, buried in slime, buried in hopeless hope and ultimately crushed by the shattered dream of cherished transient TV fame.
These two shows are in a desperate ratings fight with BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing. And it’s this Beeb show that’s nosing ahead in sheer numbers with a recent high of 12 million viewers for a single episode. Celebrity is a glimmer below at 11 million while X Factor is flailing badly at 4 million. Maybe this is because, not only is Strictly the most visual with its exuberant dancing, but it is ultimately good-hearted fare.
Co-host muppets Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman bury you in brainless cheer and bonhomie and an unending fusillade of corny jokes. Their mouths are set in a series of eternal teeth whitened smiles, everyone is having a great time and shakey dance techniques are rewarded with warm smile and a chummy hug. It’s that kind of show: huggy, user-friendly and …..well, smiley. And what’s wrong with that on a Saturday night?
Strictly’s production values are extremely high here in Shiny Floor Land. There must be at least five billion cameras following the high stepping hoofers as well as honing in on the panel’s reaction, the proud and anxious families in the audience and, of course, the other contestants all dressed as full-size kewpie dolls. It’s in its fifteenth season and has a magic formula for likability which even arch bad guy panellist Craig Revel Horwood blesses with a bleakly ironic smile.
So, ten out ten for Strictly. Let’s hope the other two either improve or disappear into the bowels of Repeatland. Or, more optimistically, into black, black oblivion with not even a Green Room free bar to drown out the scream of another hopeful crushed by snarling defeat.