Last Night's Television: Unbreakable, Five; Amazon with Bruce Parry, BBC2

In the new reality show Unbreakable, six men and two women undertake a series of gruelling challenges to see which of them can endure almost unimaginable levels of pain and discomfort to emerge with body, mind and spirit intact. Rather neatly, although not, I think, intentionally, the viewer is subjected to a similarly gruelling exercise. Can he or she emerge from watching Unbreakable with mind, spirit and indeed television intact? Can he or she suffer a sustained assault on the senses of such derivative, manipulative, undignified twaddle (in which our would-be unbreakables had to kill piranhas by breaking their skulls with their teeth) and not end up a gibbering wreck? Or will the histrionic narration, by the former EastEnders actor Chook Sibtain, eventually prove intolerable? I'm proud to say that I managed to haul myself through the whole hour, but only by biting on a wet towel.

The opening programme took eight "elite athletes" (including a failed boxer and an unknown rugby player, which made me wonder whether Joe Calzaghe and Jonny Wilkinson, for example, belong to the same elite, or perhaps to an even more elite elite) to the Amazonian rainforest. This was described by Sibtain as "the biggest, wettest, dirtiest jungle on earth, a billion boiling acres". A jungle-warfare instructor called Billingham, with a Kirk Douglas chin, had an even more poetic name for it. He called it "Satan's Garden". This was one of the points at which my endurance almost cracked, but I managed to hang in there. Billingham also declared, as his eight charges staggered around after belting through the jungle carrying enormous backpacks, and one of them collapsed to the ground having convulsions, that "pain is glory". Not even my 10-year-old son, Jacob, was going to fall for that one. "No it's not," he said. Last year, in a freak accident, Jacob ripped open his scrotum. Glory was conspicuous by its absence.

On the whole, however, Jacob and his brother Joe, aged 13, very much enjoyed Unbreakable, and while I would prefer such an enormous pile of dung not to be dumped in my living room at any time, the time for it to happen is surely Sunday tea-time. This is children's television woefully camouflaged as adult television; indeed, if Billingham had sported such poor camouflage on one of his jungle- warfare missions, that hole in his chin would go all the way through to the back of his neck.

Still, I can't claim that there wasn't something gruesomely watchable about it, not least when the contestants took turns to whip each other's bare backs with strips of bamboo. This curious exercise in homo-eroticism was suggested by the presenter, the explorer Benedict Allen, who, according to Sibtain's incorrigible narration, "has spent his life cheating death". One of the ways in which he cheated death was by surviving four beatings every day for six weeks in New Guinea. Apparently, it's a rite of passage in some tribe or other, which Allen underwent quite willingly. I don't know whether he once attended one of England's more traditional boarding schools – the pukka accent suggests that he did – but if so that would explain a whole lot.

Anyway, my sons are keen to watch more of Unbreakable, and at least the action moves next week to the vast walk-in fridge-freezer, as the narration will doubtless have it, that is northern Norway. One of the reasons I so objected to last night's programme is the way it cast the Amazonian rainforest as, in Billingham's absurd expression, 'Satan's Garden', whereas we know from dear old Bruce Parry over on BBC2 that it is a repository of wonder. Never mind "a billion boiling acres", it is, in Parry's estimation, "one of the richest natural landscapes on earth".

His expedition from the mighty river's source to its mouth, in the unambiguously titled Amazon with Bruce Parry, has been one of autumn's great treats. I particularly enjoy the sequences in which he goes native, spending a week here and a week there with simple, decent folk who seem to live cheerfully, if not always fruitfully, off the land. It rather makes one wonder how he copes when he gets back to the UK. When you've been clutched to the bosom of indigenous peoples, what's it like to walk down Balham High Street with everyone avoiding eye contact? That said, there was one evening when his hosts seemed "a bit quiet, a bit distracted". It turned out that they had been trying to behave indigenously for the benefit of the British camera crew, while also desperately wanting to watch a Brazil football match on television. I was reminded of the Bedouin tribe that some years ago delayed its annual migration across the Sahara because its elders wanted to watch the last episode of Dallas. We are sorely deluded if we think these people spend their leisure time knitting kayaks out of palm fronds, and Parry had the wit to acknowledge as much. The Amazon deserves him, but the unbreakables I think it can do without.

Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?