Pat Stacey: I'm a Celebrity is deeply unpleasant viewing, a new low for a show that used to be great fun
Nice guys finish last. Only cream and bastards rise to the top. That’s the conventional wisdom and much of the time it’s true, unfortunately.
Except, strangely enough, in the realm of reality television, where niceness tends to get the upper hand over nastiness. Consider the first series of Big Brother in 2000.
Back then it was as much a genuine social experiment, and an intriguing one at that, as a reality entertainment show.
The media coverage at the time focused almost exclusively on the the arrogant Nick Bateman, who plainly considered himself the smartest guy in the house . . . until the producers kicked him out halfway through for blatantly scheming behind his housemates’ backs, but in full view of millions of viewers. So not all that smart, then.
It’s notable that the eventual winner was the polar opposite of Bateman: the thoroughly nice Liverpudlian bricklayer Craig Phillips, who’s gone on to have a decent career as a presenter of DIY shows and has raised a lot of money for deserving charities. The runner-up by margin of just two per cent was the equally nice Anna Nolan.
Big Brother nowadays is overrun by attention-seeking idiots and ignoramuses, whose patron saint is the late Jade Goody. But it’s still as rare as teeth in a hen for one of them to actually win it.
Up until its current series, which comes to an end on Sunday, I’m a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here! held the unofficial title of Nicest Reality Show on Television.
The list of winners from the 14 years it’s been on air practically reads like a roll call of the blandly inoffensive: Tony Blackburn, Phil Tufnell, Kerry Katona, Joe Pasquale, Carol Thatcher, Matt Willis, Christopher Biggins, Joe Swash, Gino D’Acampo, Stacey Solomon, Dougie Poynter, Charlie Brooks, Kian Egan and Carl Fogarty.
Yes, there’s a few that might mildly irritate you from time to time; Katona for one, Pasquale for another. None of them, however, ever made you want to put your boot through the TV screen and vow to never watch the series again.
I’m a Celebrity . . . even managed to turn those old rascals John Lydon and Shaun Ryder from outlaws into British national treasures.
Lydon leaving the carefully controlled environment of the camp to go walkabout and commune with nature endeared him to millions and earned him a lucrative contract promoting butter, which he used to fund another PIL album.
Ryder, the badboy of Britpop who once got himself banned from TFI Friday for swearing live on air, finished as runner-up behind Stacey Solomon.
There’s unlikely to be a similar outpouring of warm feelings towards bizarre aristocratic harpy Lady Colin Campbell, who walked off the show yesterday morning, citing health issues.
It’s more likely her departure has something to do with the consequences of her toxic behaviour since the beginning of the series, which caused the kind of rumbles in the jungle never seen before.
Even Ant and Dec, who normally keep their true feelings to themselves, preferring to milk laughs from the more idiotic behaviour of the camp dwellers (remember the fun they had with Gillian McKeith fainting on cue in the 2010 series?), seemed genuinely taken aback by the sheer nastiness of “Lady C”, as she quickly came to be known.
And she was nasty. Nasty, spiteful and seemingly riddled with the kind of class prejudice born of a life of idle entitlement.
While she was astonishingly rude to pretty much everyone except willing acolytes Kieron Dyer and Chris Eubank, radiating enough oily sycophancy to fill a Shell tanker, Duncan Bannatyne was her primary target.
She called him “a coward”, “a pussy”, and “a vain old goat who can barely speak English” and is “poverty-stricken compared to what I’m used to”.
Second in her sniper’s sight was Spandau Ballet singer Tony Hadley: “a chippy oik with the brains of a pea and a mouth of diarrhoea”, “a pretentious shit”, “a fat slob”, “a buffoon".
Bannatyne (who’s not short of a bob or two) and Hadley are both being generously rewarded for their time, and I imagine both of them are resilient enough to get over being snarled at by a foul-mouthed, dysfunctional old bat.
A long soak in the hot tub at the luxury hotel the celebrities stay in once their jungle time is up will surely soothe those bruised feelings.
But for some of us watching at home (Lady C also branded the viewers “oiks”, by the way), it won’t wash away the bad taste in the mouth left by this year’s series.
Package it any way you like — it’s only a television show; they’re only minor celebrities; nobody died and nobody will give it a second thought come Monday — but it was deeply unpleasant viewing, a new low for a show that used to be great fun.
The show’s producers will be delighted, though. I’m a Celebrity . . . is pulling in eight million viewers in the UK alone. The Murder Detectives on Channel 4 got half that. What does that say about us oiks?
I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! continues tonight on UTV Ireland at 8.30pm and concludes on Sunday.