I am not a fan of ‘Reality TV’. I cannot bear the suspense, the drama, the angst, the unbearable, cringeworthiness of it all. Fundamentally, I dislike all that makes it worth watching. And it’s not just programs like Big Brother, X-factor and I’m a Celebrity, it’s anything which you might have a vested interest in. So when, for example, the Rugby World Cup was on a few years ago, I had to watch the significant matches from under the duvet-cover, because I just could not deal with the emotions I was feeling. It was torture. I am confident that the players could not have felt more delighted, ecstatic, relieved and sick, than I did once it was all over.
And yet, there are a couple of programmes which I find so compelling that the exquisite agony of watching people blunder and stress and cry is worth the satisfaction you get from watching it. I might be over-egging the pudding as far as Strictly Come Dancing goes. I have followed it since the beginning and generally been quite good at backing the ultimate winner from the beginning. I have had to start watching it on playback though. This is partly because we do not have television at the Beach House and so I have to Sky+ it to watch during the week. It’s also because I cannot bear it when Tess Daly talks. Mind you, after eight series, Brucey’s crappy jokes are beginning to get to me too.But I love the dancing. I absolutely love it. I so wish that I had that kind of skill. And the costumes are extraordinary. I do find though that it’s getting to be more and more about the costumes and theatrics, rather than simply about the dancing, so am growing to be less devoted to it. I can’t get as invested in the competitors as I have in the past. I can’t see myself actually calling in to support my chosen candidate when it gets to the final as I have in the past. And I truly struggle to warm to the idea of Tess presenting the Sunday show.
But it doesn’t matter that Strictly’s Star is waning in DG Manor because of finals week on Masterchef: The Professionals. And it was truly mesmerising to watch, from the cringeworthy beginnings where professional chefs mess up what they should be able to do with their eyes closed (I say this as an untrained backseat-chef) to the final moments when the champion was announced. As a viewer, you can see the development of the chefs as they progress through the rounds. You agonise with them through their trials, you salivate as Greg and Michel sample the offerings and you really feel everything for them. I found myself on the edge of the sofa, just willing them to get everything plated on time, hoping that when Michel cuts into the fondant it will be gooey, or that the lamb will be cooked. I found myself holding my breath waiting for the judges’ verdict. I also loved the balance of the judges: it’s so hard to read Michel as he tastes, and no matter what he says, you always expect there to be a ‘but’. Gregg, by contrast, is all about the flavours: he’s expressive and excited before the food even gets in his mouth. And it’s his descriptions of the food he’s just tasted that makes you feel like you are in the kitchen with them.
It makes you want to dash to Waitrose and buy ingredients you’ve never heard of, just because they look good.
It makes you want to sprinkle flowers on your salad, and buy big white plates to serve teeny tiny slivers of carrot on.
And I think that it’s what ‘Reality Television’ should be about. It shouldn’t be about how many people dial your premium-rate number and add to your coffers, charity or not. It shouldn’t be about watching other people suffer. It should be about the moment you realise you are watching something magical: an undiscovered talent being unearthed. It’s about inspiration, not just of the contestants, but of you: to do better, to be better.