This is Animal Cruelty, Get it Out of Here!

Every November, the British public is treated to three weeks of the BAFTA-winning “I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!” [sic] Now, before I get started on my issue with show, I just want to say that I am not being a reality-TV snob. I think there’s a lot of great reality television out there, such as The Great British Bake-Off, Strictly Come Dancing, and so forth.

Until last week, I had never watched IACGMOOH for one good reason: the horrendous and unnecessary animal cruelty involved. Every year, my friends and family warn me not to watch it as they know I’ll be upset by what this show does to animals in the name of prime time “entertainment”.

However, this year, amidst all of the good publicity the show received, I decided to tune-in in the faint hope that my friends and family were wrong about this show. Sadly, they were right. In fact, it was even worse than I had imagined. I find that this is often the case with animal abuse; situations involving animals are usually much worse than they first appear.

Last Monday night, November 19th, the British public was treated to 90 minutes of this smash-hit show. During this episode, comedy actor Emily Atack went into an artificial snake pit as part of a “Bushtucker trial”. Whilst the caves looked artificial, the snakes were definitely real. Atack’s task was to collect ten yellow stars from the caves, which were filled with various species of snakes. Like many people, I found this episode incredibly hard to watch, but not because of Emily’s discomfort. I found it hard to watch because of the unacceptable way the snakes were treated. Firstly, most snakes are solitary, yet during this task, numerous snakes were forced into small spaces together without an exit. Secondly, throughout the trial, the snakes hissed at Emily, but I didn’t see any open their mouths. There are two possible reasons for this: either the snakes had had their teeth removed, or their mouths were sewn/ taped shut. Both are common in the tourism industry. Thirdly, for the last part of the trial, Atack was placed in a coffin that was slowly filled with water and snakes, one of which was a jungle python. This box tipped back and forwards as Emily lay down. Again, there was no escape for the snakes, but Atack could escape at any time by declaring: “I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!” Atack clearly consented to being there, and she could have left at any time. Obviously, the snakes had no choice in the matter and had no way of leaving the situation. I should add that Atack did claim to have a snake bite at the end of the trial, so I could be wrong on the second point. However, given how many snakes there were, and how long the task lasted, it is very questionable that none of the snakes opened their mouths in that time. Also, I doubt this stunt would be insured if the snakes hadn’t had their teeth removed or mouths sewn shut. What producer would seriously risk a celebrity getting a real snake bite as part of an “entertainment” show?

Emily Atack during her “bushtucker trial”

The next night, I decided to try the show again to see whether or not this cruelty had been a one-off. Sadly, the next night was even worse.

In the third episode, on Tuesday, November 20th, Anne Hegerty had 6 kilos of live mealworms, cockroaches, and leeches poured onto her as part of her “bushtucker trial”. These insects were depicted as nothing more than icky props even though they were clearly alive. There’s a high chance that many of these insects died during the trial. These animals suffered and died as living props, existing only to make viewers say “Eugh”. Hegerty only lasted a few minutes before declaring “I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!” and ending the task.

Anne Hegerty being covered with live insects

I really cannot believe that this was primetime entertainment. Is this really the best we can do? The UK created some of the best television shows ever: Doctor Who, Only Fools and Horses, Planet Earth… Yet we are now pouring live insects onto people and taping snakes’ mouths shut in the name of prime time “entertainment”? This is upsetting not just for the cruelty involved, but also because we can do so much better entertainment-wise.

I tuned in the next night and saw John Barrowman taking part in a challenge where he was in an artificial tank with 20 small crocodiles, 1 big crocodile, 40 eels, and various crabs. The big crocodile didn’t open its mouth once, again leading me to think its mouth was sealed shut with tape or similar. At one point, one of the presenters Holly Willoughby even joked that one of the prize stars Barrowman was searching for may be inside the crocodile’s mouth. Of course, this wasn’t true. It was clearly a cruel joke. We all knew that there was no chance that poor crocodile’s mouth was opening.

Then, on Saturday night, the public saw Harry Redknapp and Noel Edmonds hold live animals in their mouth for one minute at a time. This included stick insects, grubs, beach worms, cockroaches, spiders, and more. As Noel Edmonds held the stick insect it his mouth, the insect lay motionless, which suggests that it was terrified. Even worse, Holly Willoughby tried to reassure Noel by advising him that it was “just a stick”. Later in the trial, Redknapp carelessly spat live grubs into a bowl after he had held them his mouth inside for a minute. The welfare of the animals was never mentioned, and only the celebrities were offered reassurance and comfort during the trial. We all know that if these celebrities had been asked to hold live kittens or rabbits in their mouth, people would have been (rightly) outraged. Therefore, it shouldn’t be acceptable with any animal. Oddly, on several occasions during this trial, the animals were referred to as “he”, which shows that the people involved knew that these animals were not simply insensate objects. They were living beings with an identity.

Noel Edmonds holding a live animal in his mouth

The argument in support of meat eating (which is not one that I believe) is that humans need meat to survive. Whilst I don’t eat meat, I can see that many people do it out of a believed necessity rather than cruelty. However, these “bushtucker trials” are completely unnecessary and benefit nobody. There are numerous ways that these celebrities could be tested on their jungle survival skills without resorting to pointless animal cruelty. For example, they could be asked to build a treehouse, make a meal from the vegetation around them, or design some clothes from leaves. Challenges like this would test the participants on jungle life, without the need for any animal cruelty. Personally, I would find this much more entertaining too.

This show reaches an inter-generational audience. It teaches impressionable young people that unnecessary animal abuse is acceptable in the name of light entertainment. As a culture, we need to move past this, for the sake of ourselves and the next generation. Animals deserve to be more than icky objects. Personally, I found none of the tasks in IACGMOOH to be educational or entertaining. If anybody did, I would genuinely like to hear why. I am perplexed as to why anyone would willingly watch this show.

On Tuesday, November 27th, I tuned in for the last time to see if things had improved. Once again, both the celebrities and animals were placed in horrible situations, all in the name of light entertainment. This challenge saw Anne Hegerty making her way through a “haunted hospital”. The various “haunted” rooms included live snakes, pigeons, thousands of insects, a monitor lizard, and piles of raw meat. Anne did not complete the challenge. However, this was due to her own anxiety rather than the cruelty of the situation.

I don’t think that the challenges are easy or pleasant for the celebrities to do. However, I would like them to show more concern for the animals involved. If they all refused to do trials involving animals, the producers would have to find alternatives. The celebrities willingly sign up for this, and, from what I have read, they are paid handsomely to do so. The animals are not paid to do this, nor do they get a choice in the matter. Many of them will die or be severely traumatized as a result of these challenges. It just isn’t fair.

It is clear that many people find this type of animal abuse to be socially-acceptable. And the reality is that if something is socially-acceptable, most people won’t question it, regardless of how horrible it is. An animal isn’t worth less if they’re tiny, scaly, wild, or anything else. A cat’s life is just as valuable as a lizard’s or a mealworm. Nobody deserves to end their life by being poured onto a celebrity’s head in the name of entertainment. We should treat all animals with the same amount of respect. There is no good reason for these inhumane trials, so let’s stop them now. We owe it to ourselves, and to animals, to move forward. We don’t need to behave in this way. It’s not fun for us or the animals, so let’s do better.

This show is sponsored by Tombola, the UK’s biggest online bingo website. Their CGI-adverts feature talking insects that joke that humans are the most dangerous animals in the jungle. That is something that they have sadly got right. IACGMOOH pretends that their celebrities are camping in a dangerous jungle surrounded by wild animals, but this is a role-reversal of the truth. The truth is that it is the humans who are dangerous. It baffles me that Tombola, or indeed any business, would choose to be associated with such overt animal cruelty. Even worse, they joke about it.

I am going to be e-mailing ITV (and copying in Tombola), and I urge you to do the same. I want them to put a stop to this cruelty and provide better entertainment. I am also asking them the following questions:

1. Where are these animals sourced from?

2. What happens to them after the trials?

3. Is there a vet on sight during these trials?

However, if I’m honest, I don’t want to know the answers to these questions. Because I know that they won’t give me the answer that I want to hear. And that is why this needs to stop.