TV & RadioAnalysis

I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!: Is this year’s series a sign the show is sinking into irrelevance?

Television: Should ITV have given Nigel Farage, the former leader of Ukip and the Brexit Party, airtime in the reality show?

It can be hard for viewers in Ireland to care about even high-profile British reality TV – especially when there isn’t an Irish contestant for whom to root. In fact, it can be hard to care even when there is an Irish contestant. Hence, the latest season of the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing coming and going without much coverage despite the involvement of Co Meath presenter Angela Scanlon.

But in the case of I’m A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here!, airing nightly on Virgin Media for the past three weeks/thousand years, there is no denying the horribly fascinating spell it weaves. This is what passes for entertainment in 2023? Z-listers doused with mealworm and antagonised by snakes, watched by chirruping twosome Ant and Dec. We have the internet, video games, and half dozen streaming services. And yet, there is still a market for recreational celebrity humiliation.

The latest I’m A Celeb, won by British radio presenter and reality TV star Sam Thompson, has been especially divisive in the UK. And not just because the competitors are often “celebrities” in the loosest sense – they have included Britney Spears’ sister, Jamie Lynn, and the usual sprinkling of soap actors. The contentiousness comes from Nigel Farage, a driving force behind Brexit and finalist on I’m A Celeb. Should ITV have given airtime to Farage, given the consequences of Britain’s exit from the EU for millions of ordinary Britons?

To some, the answer is clear. “ITV provides an uncritical platform for a dangerous demagogue to present himself as a man of the people,” wrote comedian Stuart Lee in the Guardian.


It’s also been suggested Farage hoped that I’m A Celeb would revive his moribund political career. The day after Farage’s jungle exit, former British Labour party minister Ed Balls put that point to him on morning TV: “What we all want to know ... is, are you seeking to use your I’m A Celebrity journey in order to rejoin the Conservatives and maybe finally get into the UK parliament, because you tried lots of times before?”

“I’ve literally just come out of the jungle,” complained Farage. However, he will have noted that he placed third – indicating he still has a considerable support base in Britain (the public decides who stays or goes on the TV show).

Farage told his fellow contestants he wanted viewers to see the “real” him. Matt Hancock said much the same last year. Farage, was careful to present a non-ridiculous face to the nation. He clashed with YouTuber Nella Rose over cultural appropriation and First Dates star Fred Sirieix about Brexit. However, the default tone on I’m A Celebrity is manic jolliness. Stiff upper lips are encouraged, and Farage was well within his safety zone.

But perhaps ITV was not operating with its space of comfort. Even as I’m A Celeb beamed into Irish homes every night on Virgin Media, it suffered plunging ratings in the UK. This is on course to be the least successful I’m A Celeb in a decade (not counting one of the Covid seasons shot in a castle in Wales). The Farage-factor surely contributed. Given the havoc of Brexit, some viewers will have preferred to avoid his smug mug.

There is also the wider question of why I’m A Celeb is still on the airwaves in 2023. It was first broadcast in 2002, when reality TV was different.

The genre has had to take into some consideration about the mental wellbeing of its subjects. Yet in its own alternative universe, I’m A Celebrity is still making contestants consume sheep eyeballs and cow anus. There are concerns, too, over the live animals, insects and reptiles. Last week, Britain’s RSPCA launched a petition calling ITV to reconsider using live creatures.

Many will consider the third-place finish by Farage a low point for I’m A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here! But maybe the entire series is sinking into irrelevance. Time, perhaps, for the ITV jolly in the jungle to be consigned to the great Bushtucker Trial in the sky.