Come Dine With Me used to be television’s equivalent of an African water hole. Some contestants approached cautiously, checking their every move for fear of being outmanoeuvred by a more far more capable and often more rotund competitor. Some were sneaky and plied their prey with Champagne before attacking. Others foolishly trotted right on down to the water’s edge without a care in the world, drunk on the prospect of success and blinded by the big cash prize. CDWM was a natural and entertaining arena in which one could observe the survival of the fittest or rather (considering the physical anatomy of some of the contestants) just their culinary competence.
The appeal was simple; four or five amateur cooks took it in turn to try and hold a dinner party in the bid to win not just the £1000 cash prize, but also to be recognised for being the host-with-the-most. Viewers were attracted to the premise of the common man trying to showcase his/her particular level of skill in the kitchen, and found that they could identify with the contestants. As with any reality TV show all types of people were queuing up to appear on CDWM, and there was often controversy, snippets of hilarity and some down- right rudeness, but in essence it was a programme for normal people with a passion for food. Some had a certain amount of finesse, whilst others needed a few more years of practice with their childhood Easybake Oven! Nevertheless, all of the dinner party was caught on camera and narrated by the national treasure Dave Lamb. It was a recipe for success.
Sadly, over the last 12 months, CDWM has gone from sublime to ridiculous. The show has fallen victim to the greed and the producer’s desire to keep outdoing themselves in terms of entertainment value. Contestants vetted for the show now need to be either incredibly bitchy, mentally unhinged or a megalomaniac in order to be considered shocking enough to cook up a storm on the popular programme, and by ‘a storm’ we don’t mean a Michelin-star masterpiece. As we were continuously presented with this array of miscreants, we at OTB started to notice that our interest in the show was beginning to dwindle and it gave us some serious food for thought.
When Big Brother – the original reality TV show – began back in 2000 it was as fresh as Gina G. Jam-packed with an assortment of people from various walks of life, the contestants were left in a house under stressful circumstances for the public to observe. And that’s when the magic happened. Picked for their individual characteristics by a group of producers with no preconceptions, the contestants provided a perfect balance of entertainment, drama and sex-appeal over the course of the series and re-launched the career of Davina McCall in the process. But as the years went by, TV bosses became desperate to improve the show and each year sought a plethora of more ridiculous and abstract personalities to join the house, leaving the programme as little more than a multi-million pound freak show. Even the celebrity versions became total madness as George Galloway pranced around pretending to be a cat, Vanessa Feltz went insane and Pete Burns…well, Pete Burns was just allowed to be on our television screens..
But the Big Brother bug was catching. In fact, the desperation to constantly create shocking entertainment appears to have become a common weakness for all reality TV shows now. Just this week we saw Masterchef misjudge its audience by introducing an X Factor style audition round that has been dismally received by die-hard fans and left the judges looking foolish and phoney. Then David Hasselhoff was caught grumbling that contestants vying for a spot on this year’s Britain’s Got Talent were proving to be, well, far from talented, and with the complaints that surrounded last year’s Cowellathon it’s easy to see a problem with the direction reality TV has taken.
It goes without saying that we at OTB enjoy the swarm of talentless bedlamites that audition for The X Factor each year just as much as the next fan, but we also appreciate seeing some form of talent tangled in amongst the theatrical weeds. The ability to relate to contestants is what draws us as viewers in to reality television, even if it is only to feel better about ourselves. Once normality leaves the building and contestants are about as sane as Janice Dickinson, it’s time to stop watching.
Perhaps now that even the uber-successful CDWM has reached this point, reality TV is really past its sell-by date.