If you did a frequency analysis on the words used on primetime telly right now, I'm pretty sure "challenge" would be high up there on the leaderboard. It's absolutely obligatory in anything that involves giving celebrities free adventure holidays, such as 71 Degrees North, but it also crops up quite a lot in The Great British Bake-Off. To assume from this that the programmes have essentially been turned out of the same cake tin would be a big mistake though. Quite apart from the superficial differences between the challenges of having to jump into freezing sea-water and that of exposing your baked cheesecake to the glacial disapproval of Paul Hollywood, the real contrast becomes apparent in the little sections where the competitors offer a post-mortem on their performance. Here's three quotes from each of these "challenge" programmes. See if you can match the mood to the series. "I'm a fighter... I'm a champ"; "Defeatist attitude? Kiss my arse!"; "I cannot begin to describe how hardcore this is... if you're weak it will break your spirits", and then these: "You can't always be the best, but you can always do your best"; "I don't do things imagining they're ever going to be any good"; "I am really, really disappointed in myself."
Reward yourself with a home-baked ginger shortbread if you spotted the modesty gap there, and add a coconut macaroon if you correctly identified that self-deprecation is not a quality you would associate with 71 Degrees North but runs through Great British Bake-Off like the cream in a Victoria sponge. It's one of the reasons the programme gives off such a warming glow, because almost everyone involved refuses to fit the standard template for a television competitor. True, there's a bit of X Factor rhetoric about how much it all means to them, but very little in comparison with any other elimination show, and barely a week goes by without someone bursting into tears because one of their rivals has been knocked out. This week, Holly – whose chocolate croquembouche had left her dangerously exposed – looked almost inconsolable when Yasmin was sent off for overcooking her caramel. Some of this, I suspect, has a connection to gender. Sue Perkins nicknamed the now exclusively female bakers Team Oestrogen, prompting the thought that what rare moments of fist-pumping you get in Great British Bake-Off tend to come from the male entrants.
The women were showing themselves to be the superior sex in 71 Degrees North as well, a low-temperature and mobile alternative to I'm a Celebrity..., which takes place over the course of a trek to the most northerly point of mainland Europe. In theory, this should be a place where testosterone might triumph. In practice, the women prove to be far better at just getting on with it and pretending to be upbeat even when they're not. While they cheer each other up and chivvy each other along, the men – or at least some of them – trudge Eeyorishly in the rear. The "kiss my arse" comment, for instance, belonged to the actor Sean Maguire, who looks like a plausible action hero, but appears to whine almost constantly and doesn't care to have his spinal rigidity questioned afterwards. After hurting his leg while yomping through deep snow he simply decided to give up. John Thompson was almost equally fragile, sulking like a seven-year-old when his team failed to win a night out of the cold and declining to help them put up the tent. Given that he'd spent the previous night destroying their sleep with snoring loud enough to start an avalanche, this seemed churlish. To be fair to him he did at least manage a little bit of self-criticism in the taxi back to the airport: "To be honest, this trip has made me feel like I'm bipolar," he said. Not the magnetic kind, I think.
Missing Millions is essentially Who Do You Think You Are? with a tenth of the emotional payload, but a cash prize to make up the weight. The idea is that Paul Heiney and Melanie Sykes try to track down the rightful owners of some of the £15bn that languishes in British banks and building societies unclaimed. Or rather the researchers do and then Melanie and Paul turn up to do the reveal, in which someone discovers that an old friend left them £22,000 or that an unknown relative's wealth has trickled down through the years. Some of those getting the nice surprise have simply forgotten that they opened savings accounts years before, which makes you wonder whether the windfall might not have been diverted to a worthier cause.Reuse content