Entertainment

I'm A Celebrity 2016: Why the so-called celebrity makes for better television

COMMENT

Laurina Fleure was a contestant on the second season of The Bachelor Australia.
Laurina Fleure was a contestant on the second season of The Bachelor Australia.  Photo: Channel Ten

Another fresh batch of jungle-imprisoned celebrities, another wave of Twits asking: "Who are these so-called 'celebrities'?"

Which, of course, is the whole point. 

Can't stomach it ... Maureen 'Marcia' McCormick takes on the 'Yuck of the Draw' Challenge.
Can't stomach it ... Maureen 'Marcia' McCormick takes on the 'Yuck of the Draw' Challenge.  Photo: Network Ten

Channel Ten never actually wanted a dozen megastars in I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!

It couldn't afford them, for one. Its biggest name, the teflon-like Shane Warne, cost them a rumoured $2 million. If they had to pay that much to the entire cast, they wouldn't have a lot left over to make the show.

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More importantly, the producers deliberately drop in people most of us have never heard of – hoping we post smart-arse cracks on Twitter and Facebook, making their show a top-trending topic. 

Last year, it was Tyson Mayr, the travel blogger who looks great without a shirt. This year, it's ironwoman Courtney Hancock. 

Shane Warne in a promotional shot for <i>I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me out of Here.</i>
Shane Warne in a promotional shot for I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me out of Here. Photo: Channel 10

Social media is crucial to Ten's big-budget reality show. They get lots of mileage from viewers putting inverted commas around the word "celebrity", proudly announcing they don't have the faintest clue who these "so-called" stars are.

But this dies down after a couple of days. Which is why I'm a Celebrity relies so heavily on formulaic casting. 

Hosts Dr Chris Brown and Julia Morris.
Hosts Dr Chris Brown and Julia Morris. Photo: Channel 10

When contestants are encouraged to eat ostrich anus – then be filmed vomiting in a bucket – who better to do this than a comedian (Akmal), an AFL star once caught wearing a foot-long dildo with a pink muu-muu on the streets of Melbourne (hi, Brendan Fevola!), and a reality TV starlet (Laurina, yay!) famous for freaking out over a "dirty street pie"?

Obviously, the producers cast people who will behave in the most entertaining fashion. Not the most famous people. 

The spider eating event that caused a fuss in UK I'm A Celebrity 2015.
The spider eating event that caused a fuss in UK I'm A Celebrity 2015. 

We might snark on Twitter about it, but the ratings suggest they got it right. 

Season two's debut on Sunday was the top-rating non-tennis show, drawing 1.32 million metropolitan viewers – up 13 per cent on last year. The "Welcome to the jungle" segment had 1.08 million, up more than 50 per cent. It was the top-trending Twitter topic in Australia, and it peaked at No. 3 worldwide.

Andrew Daddo and Anna Heinrich from the last season of <i>I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here</i>.
Andrew Daddo and Anna Heinrich from the last season of I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of HerePhoto: Channel 10

You can't just have contestants constantly melting down, though.

Last year, Chrissie Swan and Joel Creasey were the show's heart and soul: it's wit and warmth. We also took an instant shine to Julie Goodwin. 

It's too early to say who'll be this year's voice of reason. 

As with the first season, it's a suitably eclectic bunch – with a few apparent similarities. 

There's the famous-in-the-seventies-actress: The Brady Bunch's Maureen McCormick in season one; Prisoner's Val Lehman in season two.

We have the knockabout sportsmen: Freddie Flintoff and Barry Hall, versus Warnie and Paul Harragon. 

The sportswomen: Leisel Jones in 2015; Hancock this year.

Former reality contestants: Big Brother's Chrissie Swan, MasterChef's Julie Goodwin and The Bachelor's Tim Robards and Anna Heinrich last year; The Bachelor's Laurina Fleure and Australian Idol's Dean Geyer and Anthony Callea this year.

Then there's dancer and former reality TV judge Bonnie Lythgoe, DJ Havana Brown, and '90s TV star and singer Jo Beth Taylor. 

If you suspect we're being dudded compared with our UK cousins, have a look at the celebrities on their show over the years

No, me neither.

Not only does Ten bank on the "who are these people?" social media posts, it also benefits from weeks of pre-show speculation.

My favourite was the batshit rumour that Dame Julie Andrews would be eating live grubs with Warnie and Fev and crapping in a pit toilet.

Umm, no. 

Still. How delightful is it to imagine Dame Julie putting Warnie in his place? Not only would she shut down any buffoonish behaviour with brisk, Mary Poppins efficiency; I suspect she'd get to the bottom of the drama over his now-closed children's charity, which he'd much rather we didn't mention. Hi, Warnie!

If Ten could pull off that coup – if it could helicopter Dame Julie into the South African jungle as a surprise intruder – half the world would tune in.

Don't be surprised, though, when next year's cast includes both Jacki and Fiona MacDonald, the dog from long-forgotten Aussie sitcom The Bob Morrison Show, and the dude who played the disgruntled deputy on '80s American comedy She's the Sheriff (side-splitting premise: a police officer ... who's a WOMAN!)

It's just all part of the formula.

mlallo@fairfaxmedia.com.au

@Michael_Lallo