I’m a Celebrity Get Me out of Here – The Ultimate Problematic Fave?
Comedy presenting duo Ant Mcpartlin and Declan Donnelly have been household names for decades.
The pair began their careers as actors on Byker Grove, had a brief affair with pop music, began presenting in 1995 and haven’t looked back since. Nowadays, it seems that anything they touch turns to gold – Britain’s Got Talent, Saturday Night Takeaway, and of course, I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. The pair has won ‘Most Popular TV Presenters’ seventeen times, and are pretty much on our screens the whole year round. When earlier this year Ant was arrested for crashing his car under the influence, the star pulled out of his upcoming shows – leaving Dec on his own for perhaps the first time in over twenty years.
This year’s I’m a Celebrity was expected to be a flop, as a result. No one could imagine one half of the duo without the other, so ITV invested in some big-name stars to take on the jungle this year, including DIY SOS’s Nick Knowles, Noel Edmonds, Fleur East, and of course John Barrowman. There have been rumours flying about online claiming that ITV saved money on hiring Holly Willoughby rather than Ant, and therefore pumped extra money into the line-up in order to keep viewers watching. If this is true, it worked. This series’ live final was watched by 10.8 million people vs 9.2 million last year, and according to the BBC, these were ‘the highest ratings the show’s final has had for five years.’
So, what is it that really pulls the viewers back in?
As anyone who’s been watching for a while will know, the jungle-themed reality TV show has come under immense scrutiny in the past and caused many controversies- yet ratings continue to improve. In 2009, campmates Stuart Manning and Gino D’acampo killed and roasted a rat on television – and the editors chose to show this to the public. This wasn’t part of any trial, nor was it necessary, they had simply been so hungry that they ‘hunted’ a wild rat, and cooked it over the fire. ITV was fined nearly £2000 for the misdemeanour, and nothing of the sort has happened since. Yet, somehow, this incident seems to resonate even now. Vegetarianism and veganism have boomed since the show first aired in 2002, and this, added to the rat incident, seemed to incite a higher awareness amongst the public of how problematic the ethics of I’m a Celebrity could be, in terms of its treatment of animals.
There have been reports that any crocodiles used in trials or on the show, in general, have their jaws wired shut, so as not to hurt the celebrities, and that the scorpions and spiders used have their stings/venom removed. Each year, ever increasing quantities of rats, snakes, and hundreds of thousands of cockroaches can be seen being forcibly shoved through holes and onto celebrities, and then in 2015, Ferne McCann was made to eat a live water spider on air. If animals are ever physically harmed or killed it is certainly edited out carefully – we rarely see shots of the celebrity’s feet or what they may or may not be treading on, nor are we shown what happens when a celebrity must climb out of a coffin filled with 80+ rats.
In 2014, wildlife presenter Chris Packham went so far as to write an open letter to Ant and Dec, claiming ‘I know that you have consultants to advise on animal welfare, but I’m afraid I can guarantee that some animals are harmed during production because they are fragile or easily distressed.’ He then goes on to say that the show ‘does immense harm to the establishment of a fundamental respect for life,’ and that it makes a mockery of cultures that must eat invertebrates ‘because there is no choice.’ Despite this, the show continues to defend itself by stating that ‘expert animal handlers are present at all times.’
So, it’s unlikely that the public is watching for their love of animals. Yet, it seems that the show is rather sadistic to the celebrities themselves, as well. Usually, the celebs will conduct an interview at the beginning of the series, admitting their fears and insecurities, and throughout the next three weeks in camp, these fears will be exploited and (sometimes) overcome and (most probably) worsened. But this all makes for great television and ratings for the show. Recently, previous stars of the show have spoken out about how the conversations around the campfire may be staged, and it’s been revealed that many parts of the ~jungle~ set are just that, a man-made set. We may never know exactly what it is that keeps the viewers coming back year after year to such a problematic, yet entertaining show, but the fact remains that I’m a Celebrity has been going strong with the exact same dynamic for sixteen years now, and it doesn’t look set to slow down, even when faced with the impacts of Ant’s break from TV.
It’s well known that most reality TV shows put their stars into uncomfortable situations or conflicts in order to create interesting content, but does I’m a Celebrity push it too far?
Despite burying celebs underground, dangling them over cliffs, and literally starving them, apparently not.