Why are the I’m a Celeb viewing figures going Down Under?

It’s one of the best-loved shows on television – but this year’s rumble in the jungle hasn’t quite captioned the nation’s imagination like it used to

I'm a Celeb 2019 (ITV)

We’re nearing the end of this year’s helping of I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! – and it’s safe to say that the 19th series has fallen a bit flat.

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Don’t get me wrong, I am the biggest I’m a Celeb fan – it’s a series I’ve watched religiously since I was about six years old. It’s one of the best-loved shows on television, and rightly so, with its annual outing to the jungle providing some of the very best TV moments of the last two decades.

But despite 17 years spent perfecting its well-trodden, tried and tested formula, and bowing out with a record ratings high in 2018, this year’s outing Down Under has seen viewing figures go, well, down under.

Having pulled in an impressive 10.63 million viewers for the series’ launch episode, that number dwindled over the first two weeks, with only 5.46 million tuning in on Saturday.

In further bad news for the show, the figures are significantly worse than those for the 2018 offering, with an average of 1.23 million fewer viewers watching each episode than at the same stage last year.

It’s a huge pity because, when dissecting the camp on paper, this should have been one of the best series yet.

(Screenshot, BA)
(Screenshot, BA)

Buoyed by the glory days of last year, our 2019 line-up is one of the strongest in the history of the show, with preened and polished American royalty Caitlyn Jenner settling into pooing in a shed and doing Bushtucker Trials alongside Kirk from Corrie and former footballer Ian Wright.

But the camp hasn’t quite gelled in the way producers may have been hoping for – instead of the high-spirited camaraderie, bonds and bromances that made the 2018 series so well-loved, 2019 has lacked any true close-knit friendships. This year’s camp has been defined by bickering and rows.

While arguments and catfights are not unusual in reality shows, I’m a Celeb prides itself on being all about the friendships formed, with Celebrity Casting Executive Micky Van Praag revealing she casts the show “as a comedy, not a drama”.

“I think warmth is very much a part of the show. We will always try and cast for warmth and to see people get on,” executive producer Richard Cowles said at a BAFTA masterclass earlier this year.

“Arguments are fine if they happen, but if they go on for too long, it gets quite dull and a bit relentless – and it can become uncomfortable.”

You said it, Richard: while the class of 2019’s personalities may have been complementary, should they all be well-fed and rested, the chosen 12 have failed to click as a group, with sniping and cross words peppering every episode.

And even the rows this year are dull – they aren’t big, shocking flare-ups or moments of high drama (ie 2017’s Strawberry-gate or series one’s Rhona Cameron v. Nigel Benn) they’re just irritating, wasp-like buzzes that quickly die away into a tearful hug and nothing more.

I'm a celeb Love Island (ITV)

The £500,000 gamble on Caitlyn Jenner may have also backfired. She has gotten her hands dirty and spilled small amounts of tea on life with the Kardashians, but as someone who knows the reality TV game so well (and having previously taken part in the American I’m a Celeb in 2003) she can easily manipulate the narrative around her; something we as hardened viewers are now more savvy to and we have since seen her popularity in and out of camp dip.

The only saving grace this series has been the return of Ant McPartlin after taking a year out of his filming schedule after a drink driving charge. While Holly Willoughby was the perfect caretaker, it’s Ant and Dec’s silly, cheeky chappy humour (“Look at my little knob!”) which has carried an otherwise ill-tempered series.

Despite falling viewing figures, I’m a Celeb is still one of the biggest shows on TV, and still has the power to keep over five million of us hooked every night for three weeks. But in another 10 years time, when we reminisce about classic I’m a Celeb moments, series 19 will be mostly forgotten.

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I’m a Celebrity continues every night at 9pm on ITV