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A ‘hot-pot of insanity’: What to expect from Ten’s new season of ‘I’m a Celebrity’

Ahead of its premiere this weekend, Zoe Samios hops on the phone to South Africa with ITV executive producer Alex Mavroidakis, to discuss why I'm A Celebrity is one of the most 'honest' reality shows, its Saturday night addition, and why its producers are not twiddling their moustaches and plotting.

It’s 5:30pm on my second day back at work for the year and I’m on a crackly line with I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here’s executive producer, Alex Mavroidakis, over in South Africa.

Mavroidakis, who is also the ITV producer for Nine’s Love Island Australia, has been working on the show for a number of years and has agreed to take a call as he sits on a ledge waiting for a car to pick him up for the day.

He’s gone to South Africa ahead of the celebrities, who will be joining I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here ahead of the premiere on January 13 – a slightly earlier entrance to market than previous years. It’s all part of a plan to give Ten the head start it needs in the ratings battle in the absence of major sports events like The Australian Open and The Big Bash League.

Mavroidakis has worked on I’m A Celebrity for a number of years

It’s also a head start on the reality shows for commercial free-to-air channels Seven and Nine, which will launch My Kitchen Rules and Married At First Sight in the following weeks. I’m A Celebrity is a unique format to Ten and is a step away from the usual dating and cooking shows which frequent the airwaves throughout the year.

“I honestly believe I’m working on the two most honest shows in television. I’ll tell you why they are the two most honest shows – because we make them in a day,” he says.

“The audience appreciate that, we have no ability to turn a story into something it isn’t. Our competition – My Kitchen Rules and Married at First Sight – they are not real. You can call it reality TV if you want, but it’s not a cooking competition, and the marriages aren’t real. I’m A Celebrity is real, and we don’t change a character with music, we don’t use a line from yesterday, today, we don’t take a look out of context or a grab out of context, and the reason we don’t do that is, quite frankly, we don’t have time to.

Former Googlebox stars Angie Kent and Yvie Jones are the first two stars announced to enter the jungle in 2019

“I’ve got nothing against those shows – I’m very good friends with the people that make both of those shows, and if I were doing those shows I would do the exactly the same things they are doing, because that is the show,” he later adds. “But if you ask me which one I’d be making, it’d be I’m A Celebrity all day long because a) it’s live and after six weeks you go home, back to family, and it’s real.”

The concept is quite simple: put a bunch of celebrities in a jungle, remove contact with the outside world, and get them to compete to earn meals and luxuries, all for a charity of their choice. Locally, the season has delivered sizeable overnight audiences, with each premiere cracking the 1m metro viewer mark for the last four seasons.

However, as would be the case for most thrown into the jungle at any given point, popular media personalities put into this environment can struggle. Last season was a particular struggle for Australian tennis star Bernard Tomic and boxer Anthony Mundine, who both left the jungle of their own free will.

Mavroidakis says the decisions of Tomic and Mundine to exit the jungle of their own will last year, was “good TV”, but an “anomaly” in the Australian market.

“People like Mundine and Tomic, all they’ve ever known is sport and they’ve lived on planes and in hotels and in the gym and on the tennis court and in the boxing ring or on the rugby league pitch since they were kids. They’ve come to this foreign country with all these huge personalities fighting for air time, and it wasn’t their bag. They were unsaveable,” he says.

“It’s not like doing a show like Big Brother or Love Island, or any of the other shows that I’ve done, you are talking to people that have got a media presence and a media career and when it’s time to go, they want to go.”

Outside of the change in celebrities and a “beautiful twist” in the first week of the show, Mavroidakis says viewers can expect a shorter season – four and a half weeks – and the inclusion of a 60-minute Saturday night show, I’m A Celebrity: Saturday Schoolies.

“It’s not part of the main narrative, it’s called I’m A Celebrity: Saturday Schoolies,” he explains. “It’s hosted by Scott Tweedie, and it’s going to be the celebrities – we will pull them out of camp every Saturday to play stupid games with them so they can win awards and sprayed with disgusting stuff.”

“I’m very excited about the strategy, I’m so confident about all of them. It’s going to be this hot-pot of insanity,” he adds.

Naturally, a show like I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here comes with its challenges. For Mavroidakis, the biggest is duty of care.

“To take people away from the outside world is a big thing,” he says. “In this day in age, you don’t have your phone for six, seven eight weeks on these shows. You can’t talk to your mum and dad, and you can’t talk to your girlfriend or wife, or kids, and you don’t know what’s happening with your work – they become incredibly vulnerable. They need a lot of love sometimes and that can be very, very hard for us. But, at the same time, they’re actually in safest place in the world, because they are being watched every single place they go. It’s just assuring them that if anything bad happens, trust us, you’ll know about it.

“Trust is huge in reality TV because the perception is that reality TV producers are in bathrooms twiddling their moustaches plotting the downfall of society when really we are actually just normal people.”

How will the show perform? Well, Ten’s chief content officer, Beverley McGarvey, hasn’t given a definitive answer. She’s pleased with the last four seasons’ performance, and is hoping the earlier run will bring more audiences in.

“The show has had a consistent audience over the past four seasons and we’re doing things a little differently this year. We’re launching earlier in a different TV viewing landscape,” she says. “We do regular research to understand what parts of the show resonate with audiences and the great thing about the unscripted, live nature of the show is that we can constantly change things up.

“This is the first time audiences can enjoy first-run entertainment content in mid-January and we’re looking forward to seeing how they’ll respond.”

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