In a top-secret laboratory at the University of the Blindingly Obvious, a team of scientists is working frantically to explain a new medical phenomenon. What causes the mysterious disease that makes two people on any given reality TV programme fall immediately and hopelessly in love with each other? And is there any cure?
Alerted by the latest romantic shenanigans on ITV's I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here, the boffins have come up with a formula to explain the heightened romance of a 24-hour surveillance situation: S = C x N + B, where C is the number of contestants, N is the amount of nakedness, B is bugs eaten and S is the likelihood of true love occurring. In a show such as IACGMOOH, S is close to 100 per cent.
Victims of this affliction, known as Jungle Heart, have spoken movingly about their experiences. "I'm devastated," said EastEnder Marc Bannerman last week as he headed home from Australia to persuade his girlfriend to forgive him for visibly falling for Cerys-out-of-Catatonia in front of millions of viewers. Naturally he added that he "couldn't help it".
Other victims will find his words sadly familiar. In January 2006, when Preston met Chantelle on the set of Celebrity Big Brother, millions of viewers and his fiancée tuned in. After three weeks of on-air flirting, kissing and a live proposal of marriage, Preston broke up with his real-life girl and got together with Chantelle. "No one went out to hurt anyone," said the baffled objet d'amour. "It just sort of happened. You could be married and go to the baker's and then fall in love with the baker."
But new research shows that those who enter televised popularity contests are significantly more at risk than the local baker. Their evidence is terrifying.
One case study, Brendan and Camilla, were dancing partners and lovers who appeared on the programme Strictly Come Dancing. They had lived together for nine years but after only a few weeks of Brendan's "laughing and joking" with his on-screen dance partner, Natasha Kaplinsky, they broke up. "I could see the chemistry between Brendan and Natasha and it was hell," said Camilla. Typically, the victims "couldn't help" what happened.
Doctors working on a cure have blamed one programme in particular for its spread: Big Brother. Remember Mel and Tom, Helen and Paul, Jade and PJ, Michelle and Stuart, Max and Saskia, Pete and Nikki or Ziggy and Chanelle? Or I'm a Celebrity's Tara and Darren or everyone and Myleene?
And Jungle Heart's cruellest symptom has only just been discovered. Preston and Chantelle divorced last week, after "much soul-searching and tears". Ziggy told the News of the World that Chanelle is a "psycho". Reality contestants have all gone their separate ways – apart from Jordan and Peter – which is the cruellest thing of all. Jungle Heart is a love that cannot last.
Meanwhile, its latest casualty has confessed, inevitably, that he is "in love with two people" – and therefore "can't help" hurting both. If only Marc could shake off this terrible disease and stay with his real-life love. Sadly, it seems it has gone too far for that.