Ah, the baying for blood, the scent of public humiliation, the pantomime villain and the promise of mob justice ... not since the Tyburn crush of 1807 have they gathered so eagerly (a record 11 million for last Sunday's opening night).
The focus of their fury? A woman who, as the show's hosts delicately put it, is mainly known for "poking around in people's poo-poo". The next day, as is now usual every day on one subject or another, the blogo-Twit world was abuzz. "Gollum McKeith" they called her. "Let's get her to do the maggots, worms and roaches challenge – You Are What You Eat," they joked. And, in the now time-honoured cycle, the red tops, sensing the public mood as they circled overhead, moved in for the kill.
Merrily we laughed and verily she deserved a lot of it. (This olde speak seems to match the mood, no?) After all, why would you sign up for a show such as I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here! if you had "a serious phobia" of creepy-crawlies? And further, wasn't this the woman who had called herself Dr Gillian McKeith, before it was revealed that her "PhD" was not worth the paper it was written on and you would as soon go to see her with a serious medical condition as you would those other great medical practitioners Suess, Fox and Who.
Stop it, ITV (Inspiring Televisual Victimisation?), you're spoiling us. All this, straight after we get to boo and hiss the Waissel witch on The X Factor. Not – let's be quite clear – that this reviewer is a fan of either Waissel or McKeith. In fact, it's difficult not to dislike the pair of them heartily. But right-minded people should dislike even more what our reaction to them says about us.
As the week progressed, the fever intensified as – predictably chosen for two Bushtucker Trials in a row – our villain was first buried in a coffin full of rats which then filled with water (drown or confess, kill the witch) before declaring herself a vegan and watching as one of the other contestants (because there are other contestants) ate the now familiar spread of animals' bits and bobs.
All of which is not to say that the 10th series of this reality TV stalwart has not had fleeting moments of its former glories. The teasing of former MP Lembit Opik has (so far) stayed just on the right side of the line between banter and bullying. Wacky wannabe singer Stacey Solomon's "his penis looks smaller than mine" line as she settled down to kangaroo cock supper with Aggro Santos (the one no one's ever heard of) was priceless. And who could not delight in the fact that Sheryl Gascoigne – the woman who said "I will" to footballer Paul – declared from the off that she "won't say no to anything", as if we didn't know that about her already.
There are characters with depth in there, too. Nigel Havers can go from sophisticated charm to teenage strop at the drop of a gnat. Britt Ekland is living proof that a 1960s siren can turn into something altogether more formidable. Linford Christie is as complex an individual as we always suspected him to be. And Shaun Ryder is Shaun Ryder: strange, normal and (a rare thing in reality TV) real.
It's the format that has become the problem: the infinite possibilities of the reality TV experiment reduced by our collective need to find a victim on whom to vent our sense of righteous indignation and moral superiority. From Nasty Nick to Gillian McKeith, from Jade Goody to Katie Waissel, they have lined up for their five minutes of fame or infamy.
Now part of the formulaic furniture, it leaves a taste in your mouth as foul as anything the contestants will ever be given to eat.Reuse content