This time last year, I was sitting on a couch watching a parade of barely recognisable celebrities leap into the deep end of a swimming pool. Twitter descended into a cacophony of comments about how the show would be improved if it was recorded in a multi-storey car park, rather than the Luton leisure lagoon.
Well, someone at Channel 4 was obviously paying attention, because they’ve found a way of upping the stakes. In the process, they’ve even managed to trump Tom Daley’s show in terms of turgid pointlessness. Which is why we now find ourselves watching a live link from Innsbruck, as Davina McCall attempts to make small talk around the public screening of some pre-recorded slalom footage. Gripping stuff.
Sorry, I must be all caught up in the excitement, and I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s how it’s going to work. Twelve celebrities have spent several weeks training in a variety of winter sports. They’ll compete in a different sport each day, without knowing how they’ve done, and on the daily live show, they’ll see their results. The two with the lowest scores will have to tackle one of three ski jumps, to see who stays and who crashes out of the competition.
The appeal of the show seems to be predicated on the public’s desire to see celebrities placed in mortal jeopardy. Presumably, there a whiteboard somewhere in Endemol’s offices that still bears the marker pen legends ‘Bobbing for Scythes’ and ‘Corn Thresher Trampolining’. With Sochi 2014 tobogganing over the horizon, winter sports are enjoying an uncharacteristically high profile, which is how viewers like me have found themselves switching over from Dancing On Ice to this. But as much as The Jump might be trying to get its celebrities trembling like a shitting dog, a one kilometer downhill slalom is nowhere near as much fun as watching Bonnie Langford in a headbanger.
Aside from the triumphant return of Davina McCall, who makes this presenting lark look as easy as tumbling down a ravine, the rest of the show is decidedly low rent. Co-presenter Alex Brooker amazes, if only for the fact that his agent’s phone continues to ring, and ‘resident ski-jumping icon Eddie the Eagle Edwards’ is on hand to remind us how it felt to be an international laughing stock. The Jamaican bobsled team has clearly dodged a bullet here.
The celebrities (I refuse to capitalise that word) are assembled in their padded winter finery, which makes them look like a sleeping bag sale in Millets, to watch how the boys performed in today’s Giant Slalom. They’re all complaining about how sick they feel, but at least they’re not sat at home trying to make sense of this shit. There’s a big deal made about the three ski jumps that the two lowest scorers will be expected to master, without ever actually acknowledging that people are only watching in the hope of seeing bits of Amy Childs being power-hosed off the branches of a Douglas fir. With no phone-in vote to worry about; a calamitous accident must be the only reason Channel 4 decided to broadcast this live.
Commentator Graham Bell talks us through the Giant Slalom; apparently the most technical of all the alpine disciplines. “Legs and lungs are screaming,” the guitars on the soundtrack are screaming, and I’m pounding Panadol like it’s a bag of Haribo. “An awful lot can go wrong,” the voiceover warns, as Denis Norden asks his carer to turn up the volume.
The first contestant tonight is Darren Gough; England cricketer, Talk Sport presenter, Strictly winner and the face of Costcutter. The producers are trying to ramp up the excitement on the bits that no-one’s interested in, so every clip of the training has been shot to look as thrilling as possible. Credit to them – they’ve managed to make an EasyJet flight to Innsbruck looks like it was directed by Irwin Allen. Sadly, the skiing comes without any risk to life or limb, and Darren scores an acceptable 47.74 seconds.
Next up is Richie Neville. “You may know me from the band 5ive,” he grins, oblivious to the fact that most people only know him from The Big Reunion. For a non-skier, he’s committed to the training and impressed the experts. “I’m gonna give this everything I’ve got – focus, determination. Let’s see where we end up.” I can’t be the only one hoping for a snow-blower to freewheel into shot. “Richie has thrown himself fully into his training.” Unfortunately, he fails to throw himself into some fencing, and comes in with a time of 54.79 seconds.
Marcus Brigstocke, is struggling. Not so much with the skiing – he’s quite posh so had plenty of experience on the slopes. It’s being funny on the fly that seems to be giving some trouble. There’s lots of talk of tightening up his turns as Marcus scores a respectable 44.75 seconds.
Now we’re talking. If ever there was someone we’d love to see on the business end of a ski pole, it’s fashion writer and smug socialite Henry Conway. Looking like Roy Hattersley’s Spitting Image puppet smeared in lipgloss, Conway growls “Come on my lovelies” all the way down the course. I think that was an attempt to butch up his act, but it sounded more like the Wicked Witch of the West. His score of 47.77 seconds isn’t bad, but he confesses that he had his heart in his mouth all the way down. I imagine that’s an entirely new organ for him.
Five-time gold medal winner Steve Redgrave really should be above all this, but like any retiree; there’s only so much Sudoku a man can stand. He’s wowing the trainers by not falling over, then takes off to his room to practice moving his hips. His slalom is very impressive, and he’s tighter on the poles than UKIP, but I’m distracted by the deafening clang of cowbells on his descent – like someone’s jammed a goat in a tumble dryer. Steve ends on 39.30 seconds, which puts him in the lead.
Tonight’s final contestant is Nicky Clarke – a genetic fusion of Christopher Dean and Lion-O. We’re told his services to hairdressing saw him awarded “an OBE from the Queen” as opposed to the ones they hand out at B&Q. According to the experts, “he’s a classic 1980s skier” which goes perfectly with his stupid fucking hair. As he limbers up at the top of the run, Graham wonders aloud “Which Nicky Clarke will we see today?” Jesus, don’t tell me there’s two of the cunts. Happily, his pitiful time of 53.21 seconds means he’ll be tackling the jump alongside Richie Neville.
After some more excruciating banter-lite with Alex Brooker, we get to see what happened when Darren attempted the jump in rehearsal. And let me tell you – if you think this show is unwatchable, try sitting through it with someone who once suffered a knee injury. We also get a glimpse into tomorrow’s action, as the women tackle The Skeleton. It’s a one-person toboggan thing that looks like a tea-tray – so Monday’s show is going to be Last of the Summer Wine with collagen implants. After the quick VT recap, Davina says “Sinitta, that was you, wasn’t it?” I don’t wish to appear indelicate or insensitive, but when surrounded by a bunch of blonde women, the So Macho singer isn’t exactly hard to spot.
After 55 minutes of build up, the finale is a massive anti-climax. It’s less a ski jump; more like watching a sulky child hop down off the naughty step. Richie scores 11 metres, which barely seems longer than the length of his skis, and Nicky manages even less. Maybe some of the other sports will prove a little more captivating, but for now, The Jump is a stone-cold flop.