The dream was, of course, Come Dine With Me but it didn't happen. He's how I survived the The Devil's Dinner Party selection process...
The dream was to appear on Come Dine With Me. To be critiqued by the mighty Dave Lamb, to devise and cook an incredible menu, to host an enchanting evening that leaves tellies and bellies trembling across the nation… I’ve got a semi just typing about it. Naturally I would definitely NOT come across as a total tosser. I would kick ass. But alas, the show’s production team didn’t agree. I fell at first telephone interview hurdle.
I cooked nothing but beans on toast for weeks after. Sometimes I just ate cold beans with my hands, straight from the tin. I cried every time I heard Lamb’s voice on adverts and put my fingers in my ears and shouted ‘LA LA LA I’M NOT LISTENING’ every time someone said the word ‘come’… Just in case the words dine, with and me were about to follow. That was embarrassing.
A friend thought applying for Devil’s Dinner Party might rouse me from my fug of rejection. A brand new game show, it didn’t offer a chance to flex my cooking muscles, but it did involve food and a prize six times the puny jackpot on Come Dine With Me. I took my hand out of the bean tin and got my life on track. The two months that followed were a whirlwind of questions, interrogations and, eventually, a ridiculously slick production procedure that would put the secret service to shame. The whole application process is an experience I can’t recommend enough.
Here’s how shit went down…
The four page document was a commitment. Any game show application form is. Your sole role is to sell yourself as THE quirkiest, chirpiest, most interesting human being ever. Even with a million trivial pursuits and daft anecdotes this gets tiresome. I’ve got a whole folder of incomplete application forms, but I persevered with this. I’m glad I did… they called back within 24 hours.
“Hi there, this is Barrington from Devil’s Dinner Party! Have you got ten minutes?”
Make that thirty. He grilled me like a Foreman. If you’ve not seen the show (don’t worry, I haven’t yet either), it’s based on the contestants’ first impressions of each other, and how they deal with tricky questions and scenarios about each other. To asses whether I was a suitable candidate, Barrington wanted Dave data on a major scale…
“How attractive do you think you are?”
“You have an unusual job. How do you think people will react to that?”
“What do you hate in people?”
“What do you love in people?”
“What do you think your friends say about you?”
“Are you flirty?”
“How about with older ladies?”
An intense interrogation, but I must have said something good… Three days later they invited me to a filmed audition.
Destination: a fancy Bristol hotel. Here I underwent all of Barrington’s questions – and more – in front of a camera. I was to fix up, look smart and back myself up to the max; the executives were going to watch the videos and pick the final contestants. The production crew pummelled me with questions and scenarios, including what my first impression was of them. I played safe and told her off for wearing scruffy shoes and him off for having low trousers and revealing some rather natty boxers. They were putting me off my A-game… but not enough to stop me from securing myself a spot on the show.
Another critical point of the game we have to discuss my weight loss and previous as an erstwhile fat fucker.
Don’t call us. We’ll call you…
… and call you, and call you, and call you. I’m unsure if research is just as thorough on other game shows, but the very nature of the game demanded this level of contestant background; each round a player is removed from the dinner table and the remaining players have to guess how they’ll react to a particular multiple choice dilemma. The more the producers know about you, the trickier – and more entertaining – that question will be.
I was called no less than 10 times. Each call well over 10 minutes… What’s my political stance? Do I believe in a God or Gods? What do I think of vegetarians? Have I had any embarrassing illnesses? How much wood would a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Which episode of Quantum Leap did Sam jump into a nun? The works.
This reached fever pitch in the final week before filming with different producers calling each day, asking the same or similar questions. One last thing, one last thing… They were making sure they knew everything they could about the six contestants to make the episode as entertaining as possible. And we were contractually bound to tell them everything.
I must add, I wasn’t complaining. I liked the attention and the drama as everything built up to the big day.
And so began one of the most bizarre, unforgettable days I’ve had so far. Even the hotel breakfast was shrouded in intrigue as I smiled and said hello to every single hotel guest, just in case they were my future competitors. They weren’t of course. This is the cool part of the story; meticulous measures were being taken to ensure we never crossed paths until we saw each other for the first time on the camera.
It was just like being in 24. I’d imagine. Even my taxi driver was in on it, turning down leafy cul-de-sacs when fellow contestants were within a two street radius. A clear five minutes was left between each studio arrival where we were all assigned our own body guard (!) and taken through the building waiting for the all clear at every corner.
“We’re moving player three to the stairway. Are we clear?”
“Just clear. Proceed.”
And so on. The same ruthless process took place on every toilet and ciggie break. Unfortunately I had two hours to kill…
“Com 1 this is Com 3, player 3 wants another fag and a slash.”
“Com 3, can you ask player 3 if it’s really necessary.”
“Com 1, player 3 says ‘don’t hate the player, hate the game’”
“Roger that. Move to stairway four. Clearance in two minutes.”
What fun! I was already implicated in a fucked up, freaky spy game before I even got a sniff of the cameras. Body guards? Clearance? Stairways? These aren’t regular things in my life. I made as many mission requests as possible. I also helped myself to the entire table of Haribo in my dressing room.
Just as the tension had built up in the days before filming, the last moments before show time were naturally the most thrilling. The final march to the set, my body guard and I waited on every corner for what felt like hours. We had to be absolutely silent: at points we were separated from other contestants by a flimsy brick alcove. Slowly but surely we edged our way around the maze of corners until the final doorway which led to the set of a cosy living room and dining room, loaded with bright lights, massive cameras… And five other contestants who each looked just as excited, nervous, charged, scared and interested in the £6000 prize pot as me.
And that’s where this story ends. The game itself is a whole other feature. But that can’t be written until I’ve seen the episode for myself. If it’s written at all. At 8pm tonight I’ll be tuning into Sky Atlantic for my game show debut and I have no idea how I’ll be portrayed. Wine was involved and there was at least one occasion where I was jeered up to make over confident declarations by the producers while filming between rounds. Another critical point of the game we have to discuss my weight loss and previous as an erstwhile fat fucker. Yes, unlike my Come Dine With Me fantasies, I fear I will come across as a total tosser.
Tune in and see for yourself… But no matter how much of a dick I look; all that grilling, interrogating, secrecy and studio subterfuge was an experience I thoroughly enjoyed and will never, ever forget and will definitely try and go through again. Come Dine, I hope you’re reading!
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