‘We have the stupidest premise for a show in the world’: Uncovering the recipe for I’m A Celebrity

Ahead of the 2020 premiere of I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here on Ten, Mumbrella’s Hannah Blackiston speaks with executive producer Alex Mavroidakis to find out what the special sauce is that keeps the show going for its sixth season.

Andrew ‘Freddy’ Flintoff. Brendan Fevola. Casey Donovan. Fiona O’Loughlin. Richard Reid. Those are the five celebrities who have bested the jungles of South Africa to date to win Ten’s I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here. The show returns in 2020, with celebrity chef Miguel Maestre, formerly of The Living Room,  and Charlotte Crosby of Geordie Shore currently signed up.

ITV EP Mavroidakis is confident 2020 will continue to deliver for I’m A Celebrity

But rumours have swirled across the holiday break, fuelled by Ten’s almost constant baiting in the form of hints and tips. Love Island’s Erin Barnett, comedian Tanya Hennessy, Survivor’s Luke Toki, The Project’s Tommy Little, and ABC’s Dylan Lewis have all had their names thrown around, alongside former Bachelorette Sophie Monk and Married At First Sight’s Ryan Gallagher.

What makes a celebrity?

The criteria these celebs all need to fill, according to ITV executive producer Alex Mavroidakis who also works on Love Island and Big Brother, are the three H’s which make for great jungle antics.

“It’s going to sound really cliche and horrible, but I’m A Celeb lives and dies by the three h’s – heart, humour and heroes. They’re all heroes because they’re all out of their comfort zone and they’re playing for charity, so that makes them heroic, but if a celebrity displays real heart, someone who’s going to give anything a go, someone who’s going to miss their family, someone who the charity really means something to, someone who is going to be the warm character that the audience are going to be drawn to, then they’re a massive tick and they’ll always get picked if they’re up for it.

“Then our biggest drawcard is humour. There just isn’t enough funny stuff on Australian television, and I’m A Celebrity, you can call it a reality show if you want, but I almost see it as a comedy show. We are not a social experiment by any means, we are a ridiculous show. We know we have the stupidest premise for a show in the world, we take the piss out of ourselves mercilessly, and we will continue to do that, we take the piss out of celebrities and we will continue to do that.”

One of the biggest criticisms any show in Australia that promises to deliver ‘celebrities’ faces is, well, a lack thereof. Dancing With The Stars often divides social media for its choice in famous faces, The Masked Singer Australia faced it upon its debut in 2019, and I’m A Celebrity also cops its share of criticism and skepticism. But following Mavroidakis’ honest explanation of the program as ridiculous and piss-taking, maybe the level of celebrity doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s funnier when Love Island’s Justin Lacko, a name most households wouldn’t have heard of before his inclusion in the program, launches into a completely unironic tirade about being too attractive and has a meltdown over a missing lip balm considering the very minor level of fame that has been afforded to him by modelling jobs and reality TV. It certainly provides plenty of ‘Celebrities, they’re just like us’ moments, from ex-Gogglebox and current radio star Yvie Jones’ speech about body image which exploded across the internet, to Casey Donovan’s open discussion about anxiety, panic attacks and her experiences with record labels after Australian Idol.

“95% of the audience didn’t know Justin from Love Island, but within 10 minutes they knew everything they needed to know and he ended up coming sixth because everyone just loved him,” Mavroidakis tells me.

In the UK, where the show originally began, 19 seasons have aired, something Mavroidakis hopes will be the future for the Australian version. Alongside the secret recipe for the program, Mavroidakis says the team behind it is also pivotal to its success, saying the show is his favourite to work on.

“We have a very, very good bunch of people with incredibly creative minds that just love this form of television. I love doing this show. It’s my favourite show, I believe I have the best job in TV and long may it continue. Hopefully it just keeps coming back and we just keep coming up with more and more stupid ideas.”

5 January

This year, the program will premiere earlier than it has done in previous years. The 5th of January is the start date, with Ten’s chief content officer Beverley McGarvey saying the success of 2019’s season buoyed the network to put even more faith in the format for 2020.

“Last year we took a risk and programmed family entertainment against summer sport with I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here kicking off two weeks earlier than in previous years. The show was funny, feel-good, engaging and surprising and launched with an average audience of over 1m. It beat the cricket every night they competed and beat the tennis five out of nine nights. Our strategy demonstrates that although Aussies love their sport, there is a massive potential audience for premium entertainment over summer.

“In 2020 we’re going even earlier – kicking off our 50-week programming strategy on 5 January.”

‘We can’t fix you’

In a practical sense, there’s a lot more that goes into making I’m A Celebrity than just thinking up new ways to get celebrities to eat testicles and entrails. Each episode is movie length with just 24 hours of filming to fill that time, which puts extra pressure on the casting process. The team need to find contestants who won’t just bring viewers to the show, but who will give the producers and edit suite enough content to make an episode. And, speaking of that edit suite, they also only have that for a matter of hours.

“There are two types of reality television. The only sort I’ve made in the last few years, Big Brother, Love Island and I’m A Celebrity, they’re all 24-hour turnaround shows, which makes them the most honest type of reality television in the world. There’s no time to change anybody into anything they’re not.

“No disrespect to other shows, because I know the people who make them and like them very much, but Married At First Sight and The Bachelor, The Voice, anything that has three months in post has the ability to put a bit of music under the scene to make it into one thing or another, whereas I’m A Celebrity has ten hours in an edit suite.

“I say this to all the celebrities walking in, ‘You’re going into an environment where you are what you are and there’s nothing we can do to change it, you can’t change it. If you go in there and you’re the nicest person in the world, that’s what you will be on the show, if you go in and you’re the biggest dickhead in the world, that’s what you will be. There is no time to save you or fix you.’”

Christmas in the jungle

In 2020, despite the fact Mavroidakis had to spend both Christmas and New Years in the jungle to have the show ready to go on 5 January, including a dry run on New Year’s Eve with stand in celebrities who will celebrate the end of a decade in the I’m A Celebrity camp, Mavroidakis is championing Ten’s choice to give viewers an alternative to sport during the summer viewing period.

“I hate Ten for making me spend Christmas in the jungle, but I love them for taking this punt because it did work last year, and it will work again. Early January, it’s a miserable bloody time of the year and we are going to put on the funniest show on Australian television and make everyone’s lives better.”

Mavroidakis wouldn’t give me the inside scoop on which celebrities will be hitting the jungle on 5 January, aside from Maestre, but he did promise the most diverse group in terms of “the countries they’re from, who they are, how old they are and how they became famous” and said 2020 will see the show deliver the Scariest Trial Ever Done (a literal title).

“I have no idea how it’s going to go and that’s very exciting to me. Fingers crossed it will go well and fingers crossed in a year’s time we’ll be talking about series seven.”


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