Ireland’s Fittest Family: A mind-numbing series draws to a close

TV review: Watching four people shove a log up a ramp is even less exciting than it sounds

The final of "Ireland's Fittest Family" comes down to a tight finish as the Coneys from Tyrone narrowly defeat the McDonalds from Laois. Video: RTÉ

 

Everybody knows Tolstoy’s thoughts on the matter: Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

His opinion on fit families, sadly, was never properly sought. But on the evidence of Ireland’s Fittest Family (RTÉ One, Sunday, 6.30pm) – a tournament of intergenerational wholesomeness, now concluding its sixth series, in which kith and kin undertake all the rigorous challenges of a jerry-rigged sports day – I can’t imagine he would have found much to write home about.

By the time of the series finale, 20 competing families had been winnowed down to four, having proved themselves fit by running faster, climbing higher and, in one magnificently stultifying event, literally hanging on the longest.

These were the McDonalds from Laois, who had earlier distinguished themselves not just as accomplished long-distance runners, but also the only family who could pull off hot pink team jerseys; the Lawlors, second fastest, from Limerick; the double-barrelled Finnegan-Hogans from Cork, shooting from both; and, from Tyrone, the Coneys, four boys and their mother, who celebrated her 60th birthday on the day of the final.

That final, it had been suggested, would be something to celebrate itself: held in Croke Park, which the earnest and amateur competition, replete with bainisteoir-style trainers, made seem like a spiritual home.

Sadly, in a vast, empty stadium, a wilderness of upturned seats, it looked faintly as though the programme was trespassing. This also made filming their challenges difficult, such as shimmying up a spindly rope ladder to fetch flags, or hanging 40 metres above the ground, their minuscule bodies lost in the infinite grey.

As for atmosphere, you could cut the tension with a spork.

It didn’t help that the families themselves, interviewed solely on the matter of winning or losing, were barely distinguishable, always finding things incredible or unbelievable, always praised for working as a unit or giving it 110 per cent.

But what was here to fire their imaginations? “It’s not about you!” barked hurling manager and show creator Davy Fitzgerald, by way of inspiration, to the McDonald family, facing elimination. “It’s about them now. So do it for them!”

Them, in this case, was their family, which was confusing enough, while the task intended to honour them involved escorting a log, at speed, up a tortuous multi-storey ramp.

This, I have to confess, was not quite as exciting I make it sound, nor even a group challenge designed to transport several 10-kilo bags of sand over a series of horse jumps and under a series of hurdles and thence up a flight of steps.

As old memories of the goofier, costumed It’s a Knockout or the gaudier, grabbier Gladiators jousted in my memory, these modest events, depicted at mind-numbing length against a cavernous backdrop of empty seating banks, made it easier to wonder why anybody should be watching at all.

But, like the Coneys, who dangled from bars suspended high above the earth longer than anybody else, I hung on. The Tyrone family were finally victorious, clinching first place in a deciding obstacle course race by just a fraction of a second, winning €15,000, to spend, presumably, on sensible athletics gear and healthy snacks.

Their fitness is hardly in doubt. But what, exactly, is the show fit for?

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