I'm a Celebrity 2019 final, review: Ant and Dec's knowingly awful puns added to the agony

Sean O'Grady
Former 'EastEnders' star Jacqueline Jossa was crowned this year's winner of 'I'm a Celebrity': itv
Former 'EastEnders' star Jacqueline Jossa was crowned this year's winner of 'I'm a Celebrity': itv

Not quite a once-in-a-generation decision this one, but maybe a welcome distraction to the substantial proportion of the population, who are tired of the party battle. Maybe the sheer ordinariness of Jacqueline Jossa contrasted so starkly with our political leaders that the people turned to her for salvation – the People’s Queen of the Jungle.

You see, the British general election, if you’ve not noticed, is full of people doing ridiculous stunts and trying to manipulate others, like in I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! (ITV), but of course politics is designed for show-offs who are too ugly or untalented for showbiz. I’m a Celeb is probably also free of Russian interference, although there is a nasty rumour that Vladimir Putin gave orders for the Federal Security Service to remove Kate Garraway from the jungle. She knows too much, you see.

As usual, and even with some limited exposure to the show, I had little to zero idea about the contestants, and I’m proud of that. We still live in a civilised country, I may remind you. The contestants’s (relative) youth and comparatively narrow range of achievements made them easy enough to research, though.

The bookies’s long-time hot favourite to win finished as runner up – the other soap star, Andy Whyment. who comes up as “Why Mention”, unfortunately enough, on predictive text.

I did vaguely recognise him from Coronation Street. He has played Kirk Sutherland for about two decades and makes little secret of his ambition to surpass William Roache/Ken Barlow’s record for longevity, which means he’ll be on our screens five times a week until about 2080. That really is a test of endurance.

He ate a witchetty grub, which might have been shocking and disgusting when the likes of Tony Blackburn, Carol Thatcher or Peter Andre had to do it decades ago, but such an act of depraved appetite has lost its ability to horrify after so much repetition. Also, these fat little organic wood-eating larvae of Australasian moths are actually a quite fashionable choice of starter for foodies at dinner parties in Dalston.

In third place came Roman Kemp. This Richard Hammond-lookalike is literally a child of celebrity culture – the fruit of the union of Martin Kemp and Shirlie (out of Pepsi and Shirlie). He is a Capital FM disc jockey, whatever that entails, and ITV’s list of fun facts tells us he is frightened of SpongeBob SquarePants (he has a point), and is a “MASSIVE” Arsenal fan: So maybe it’s just as well he’s been kept away from the match reports for a few weeks. His third placing is more than the Gooners are going to manage in the Premier League this season. More torture awaits him at the Emirates.

The winner though was remarkable for being unremarkable. Jacqueline Jossa (a surname that sounds like an Arsenal footballer’s nickname, but isn’t), was in EastEnders, married a bloke off The Only Way Is Essex, and was voted Best Dressed Soap Star in the 2012 All About Soap Awards. That’s it.

She was, to be fair, game for game. “Jungle critters” (live creatures – RSPCA please note) were chucked over Jossa, while she was tied down on the jungle floor in some sort of pentagram, as if a human sacrifice. She gave up her dignity, screaming in fear, but of course that’s what this macabre bore-athon is all about.

Some 15,000 cockroaches, mealworms and spiders were dumped on her – an even more terrifying experience, one supposes, than having to pump emotion into lifeless dialogue around dear old Albert Square.

None of the celebs mentioned Nigel Farage or Jo Swinson. Given the Brexit Party and the Lib Dems’ dismal showing in our own political jungle, they will no doubt find themselves undergoing the bushtucker trials circa 2025. Imagine the pair of those sitting around the camp, asking each other if they pee in the shower or whether they’d prefer food to sex. Or trying to persuade you to vote for them.

Ant and Dec‘s task was to make the whole familiar tedious business that much less painful for the viewers and, true to form, they were as much fun as masticating a pig’s teste. Their knowingly awful puns, faux corpsing and lame double entendres just added to the agony.

When that colossus of telly criticism Clive James died a few weeks ago, it was noted that the inspiration for I’m a Celeb may have come from those grotesque Japanese TV survival shows he used to mock. In those days, around the late 1980s, James and the British used to giggle condescendingly at how any society could find entertainment in such a bizarre display of organised cruelty: Human beings so desperate for a chocolate biscuit, some money and a modicum of C-list fame they’ll do anything – and we’ll pay just to watch them. It’s as sickening to contemplate, in its way, as the next five years out of Europe and under Johnson – during which we will all be covered in social, economic and political offal.

As Ant and Dec indelicately asked Jossa as she was juggling the last invertebrate out of her shorts (and that’s not a euphemism): “Do you want the toilet?”

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