Why is the cruel and sadistic Celebs Go Dating still on TV?

The reality show brings together yet another selection of people mostly famous for being famous – human beings who make a career out of playing themselves, or a distorted version of themselves, physically and emotionally, writes Sean O’Grady

Wednesday 26 January 2022 12:51
<p>Ulrika Jonsson in ‘Celebs Go Dating’</p>

Ulrika Jonsson in ‘Celebs Go Dating’

You may wonder why Celebs Go Dating has enjoyed such a long and happy relationship with Channel 4 and its viewers. It’s been around since 2016 and is on its 10th series, which is certainly an achievement, though not one that necessarily helps Channel 4’s case that it’s an essential component of our public service broadcasting infrastructure. I’m not sure Nadine Dorries would regard it as sufficiently “British”. Then again, it is quite vapid, much like she is.

I suppose the explanation for the relative success of CGD is quite simple: it’s a matter of supply and demand. The wannabe celebs will work for next to nothing, because of the current vast over-supply; and the television audience actively wants to see other human beings losing whatever dignity they still possess, in yet another incarnation of the Victorian freak show. In the case of Celebs Go Dating, the programme hosts pretend to be helping the celebrities find love. In reality, if you’ll pardon the expression, the celebs routinely find rejection.

For all the supposed wokeness of life in the 2020s, and all the glam gear and the posh restaurants the victims get treated to, CGD feels like an exercise in age-old voyeurism and sadism. It’s like Big Brother but with starters, cocktails and a cast of grotesques. Had he been born rather later, I can’t help feeling that John Merrick would today be the emperor of the reality show and panel game circuit. He might even have his own chat show by now. Anyway, CGD brings together yet another selection of people mostly famous for being famous – human beings who make a career out of turning up for a modest fee to play themselves, or a distorted version of themselves, physically and emotionally. There’s an awful lot of them out there, too. I think there are now more people in the UK doing this than engaged in the manufacturing industry.

Another feature of the contemporary reality show is the extreme youth of the contestants, so much so that they’ve had no time to do anything with their lives other than appear on television reality shows. They are professionals, in that sense, but it’s verging on child abuse. On CGD we find get Chloe Brockett (20) out of TOWIE, Nikita Jasmine (27) out of Married at First Sight, Marty McKenna (27), ex-Geordie Shore and a kind of apprentice Sid the Sexist, Miles Nazaire (25), first seen in Made in Chelsea, and apple-cheeked sweetie Ryan-Mark Parsons (21), a reject from The Apprentice.

The oddest fellow is Abz Love, a randomly tattooed 43-year-old ex-pop star (he was in 5ive) who plays with his food like he’s three. The celebs are teamed up with strangers presumably looking for their own 15 minutes of fame – such as Chelsea girl Chloe, who owns a sausage dog named Rupert, or Georgia, a legal adviser from Doncaster – who neither the celebs nor we will ever meet again (unless they turn up on another reality show, naturally). As if the self-immolation on camera wasn’t sufficient for the stars, the potty-mouthed comedian Rob Beckett provides a commentary, which is excessively fruity. In one episode I count eight “pubes” (word mentions not hairs), three “tits” (word mentions not actual idiot celebs), a couple of “cocks” (again, word mentions not CGD contestants) and a “vagina”.

Ulrika Jonsson is the exception as the oldest (54) and biggest star on the show, but this only means she has further to fall. The kids don’t quite know who she is, an interesting reflection on fame in itself. She mentions her role on Gladiators to Marty and it does spark some recognition: “Weren’t you shagging one of them?”

They fix her up with a couple of blokes around her own age, filmed and spied on by the hosts/judges, and the dates go OK. Then comes a “feedback” session with the guys plus the rest of the cast, which Ulrika didn’t expect to be subjected to. She has to stand there while these old codgers/prospective suitors are rude to her. So far from “reality”, such things do not happen in real life, at least not in such a theatrical format.

Over at the other end of the age scale, Ryan-Mark Parsons, who should be at school, goes out with a fun-loving Welsh chap in his own age group by the name of Dan, who awards him a mere two out of 10. Like Kim Jong-Un, whose sense of fashion he shares, Ryan-Mark retaliates with nuclear force – tossing a two out of 10 Dan’s way basically because he’s “ugly”. One of the hosts calls out Mark-Ryan, advising him that he won’t get anywhere doing that sort of thing, ignoring the fact that Ryan-Mark intends to make some sort of living doing precisely that.

The contestants on ‘Celebs Go Dating’ season 10

The “reality star” feels like a concept that’s been around forever, but it only really got going in 2000, with the arrival in Britain of Big Brother, which some of us viewed with the same horror as we later experienced at the first reported case of Covid. It’s a very 21st-century thing, and, like any virus, the shows feed on themselves exponentially, and so now they are an endemic feature of national life.

I suppose the only thing one can do in the middle of a reality-star epidemic is to take necessary precautions and, if you are close to it, make the best of it, by trying to spot the rare glimpses of talent, those who will mutate from being mere reality star to real star. Of all the mostly ridiculously vain and banal personalities that flit around the celebrity dating agency, it is the “dating coordinator”, an actor named Tom Read Wilson, who combines the general persona of Kenneth Williams with the teeth of Freddie Mercury. He’s 35, and it’s about time he had his date with destiny.

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