Day 15 of our trip to the jungle of Papua New Guinea and everyone was in a sour, dour, long faced state of mind, including yours truly. None of the remaining celebrities wanted anything more to do with the programme, the crew were coming down with all manner of ailments, and the producer was becoming crabbier with each passing day. I too became somewhat snappy after the ordeal with the judo player, and even plucked up courage after a particularly strong G&T on day 16 to tell the producer that I was not at all content with being cast in the role of camp doctor. Her only response was to snort, and to tell me that as of tomorrow my services as medical officer would no longer be required. 'How so?' I enquired.
'Because,' she snarled, 'you're going up on the tightrope'
'What the....what....you mean...'
'Yep. I just renegotiated your contract. We're missing one celebrity, and in the last challenge we need 5 of them. Congratulations Crumble, you've just become a contestant'
'You can't do that!' I protested. 'My contract was to provide advice on dangers in the jungle, not take part in the stunts. I protest most strongly!'
'Check the small print Crumble. The words 'at the producers discretion' appears about 5 times. Now shut the fuck up with your poncy moaning and go speak to Charlie, he'll brief you on the stunt. We begin shooting 8am. Oh, and go see Gaz, he's vomiting again.'
I tried to protest further, but the producer first of all blanked me then strode off muttering under her breath. At this point I made a mental note to file an official complaint to the production company on my return to the UK. I also thought about simply refusing the producer's instructions but I knew it would just cause more trouble. I was being bullied, I knew it, but I couldn't find the strength to fight back. It was like being back at school, with Toby the school bully threatening to castrate me unless I stuck his sports socks in my mouth and sang happy birthday.
Charlie was whittling a piece of wood when I found him sitting on the edge of the swamp. He nodded by way of greeting and told me to sit down beside him. I asked him what he was up to, and he told me that he was fashioning a weapon in case of any trouble in the morning. When I pressed him on the details he switched subjects and launched into a detailed briefing of the stunt I had been pressganged into participating. To cut a long and technically detailed description into a blog-sized nugget it was essentially thus...
A tightrope was to be constructed across the swamp. In the swamp were five cages, each one containing a plastic ball. Each celebrity was expected to cross the tightrope and remove the ball from one of the cages. They were to be given a fishing rod to help them reach the cages if necessary. To make the task a little harder each celebrity on the tightrope was to be blindfolded, with the next one in the queue shouting instructions. A safety rope was to be put in place for the celebrity on the tightrope to hold on to whilst they fished for the cages containing the balls. Each celebrity was given two minutes to complete the task, otherwise they had to give up and move to the end of the tightrope. After the collection of the balls, they would be broken open to reveal the prizes.
Sounded simple enough...(though I really couldn't see why they needed five of us when all they had to do was remove one cage.)
Next morning we all lined up and did a piece to camera. I was introduced by an off camera voice as the 'brave camp doctor' who had volunteered to take on the mantle of the poor ex-judo champion. The other contestants looked miserable, especially the miniature car salesman who complained that he had a terrible sense of balance and was likely to be the first in the water. I told him not to worry as I had personally tested the temperature of the swamp and found it warm enough for bathing.
First up on the rope was the newsreader. He was guided by the former wife of an ex MP (or wife of a former MP, I was never quite sure), and together they made a reasonable job of things. His high pitched swearing contrasted awkwardly with his rather baritone news voice, but his legs didn't give way and he managed to catch a cage without even using the fishing rod. Everyone clapped and sighed with relief when he reached the other side.
The former MPs ex wife couldn't even get up on the tightrope. She tried, but each time her legs would just turn to jelly and she eventually had to scream 'I'm a celebrity - get me a new agent!' to be excused (the standard punishment in such cases was for the defaulter to nominate another celebrity to eat a live cockroach. So far, they had all chickened out of one event each).
The folk singer was next. She started singing one of her old songs ('Do you remember the day old Granny died') as she climbed up onto the rope. On the bank the miniature car salesman was next in line, and he tried to sing along with her as she made her tentative way into the centre of the swamp, clutching onto the safety rope with both hands. She reached point close to where a cage was floating and was told to stop by the miniature car salesman. She was then instructed to cast her rod to her left, about ten metres. But all that instruction produced was small whimper. The poor girl was frozen to the spot. And the clock was ticking. If she didn't get a move on the miniature car salesman would have to start his own journey across the rope.
Now I'm no expert on these things, but I sort of guessed that might make things a little unstable....