entertainment

The sinister hidden message in 'I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here'.

Six weeks of physically gruelling tasks coupled with a near-starvation diet. Is this simply a celebrity reality show dressed up as a dangerous crash diet, undertaken for the nation’s enjoyment?

You’d be forgiven for thinking that ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’ was a television show about B-grade celebrities camping in the jungle. But if you’ve tuned into more than a few minutes of Channel 10’s  reality offering, then you’d know it’s not: It’s about food. Or more specifically, the lack of food.

Every element of the show revolves around food.

The audience nominates celebrities for involvement in ‘tucker trials’ where they must compete in terrifying or disgusting challenges to win a decent meal for themselves and their competitors. If they don’t succeed? Beans and rice to the caloric value of 500 is all each contestant receives for the day.

These tucker trials often involve eating vomit-inducing food, and as the contestants struggle to keep the traditional African meals down, they often lose even more of their precious calorie intake to vomiting. There are also additional challenges, where the celebrities can compete for sweet treats to add to the day’s meagre fare but these are rarely won.

The outcome is six weeks of physically gruelling tasks coupled with a near-starvation diet.

Is it just a weight loss show in disguise?

Unsurprisingly, many of the celebrities drop a substantial amount of weight during the course of the show. Already slim women become gaunt and bones may even begin to protrude. For larger celebrity contestants, they can drop 10, 15, 20 or more kilograms during their short jungle stay; rapid weightless medical professionals would all advice against.

Recent media headlines triumphantly proclaiming the stars ‘achievements’ have made us wonder if this weight loss is the real interest element of the show.

Chrissie Swan drops three dress sizes in four weeks” shouts one.

“The Jungle Diet: Merv the biggest loser” proclaims another.

“Stars lose combined 75kg in three weeks!”

Indeed, when Merv Hughes was evicted last night the first thing the hosts asked him to do was jump on a set of scales before he was applauded for his 17kg weight loss in a mere five weeks.

The Biggest Loser: Merv.

While the focus on rapid weight loss, food deprivation and physical exertion is unhealthy and even a little bit unnerving, I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here is not unique amongst reality TV shows.

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Shows like the Biggest Loser and Extreme Make-Over are upfront about their focus on weight, others including Survivor and Dancing with the Stars involve a more surreptitious focus on and promotion of starvation dieting.

Which begs the question:  Is it that these shows are really just unhealthy weight loss programs in disguise or is it simply the that we are a society obsessed with weight that leads us to focus on this element of the programming?

The Biggest Loser may promote dangerous weight loss but at least viewers know what they’re getting.

For Christine Morgan, CEO of The Butterfly Foundation it’s the latter – and also a sad indictment of the society we live in.

She told Mamamia that our default position is to judge celebrity through the filter of physical image.

“We immediately go to how something will affect our weight and shape. It shows where our values are” Morgan said.

Morgan is particularly alarmed by New Idea’s recent focus on contestant Chrissie Swan’s weight, who claim the star had lost a massive 18kg and dropped four dress sizes at the week five mark in the jungle.

“We should be looking at her [Chrissie Swan’s] emotional well-being,” Morgan insists. “Instead we look to her weight. That’s what we regard as important.”

Chrissie Swan competes in a vomit-inducing tucker trial.

In fact, Chrissie Swan would be first person to dismiss the scrutiny over her body and ask that weight-loss tips not be the ‘teaching moment’ for Australia out of her participation in this show.

She has spoken on numerous occasions of how she deplores body shaming. Swan told A Current Affair last year “I’m a bigger person, but I spend approximately zero minutes a day thinking about it… I don’t think I’m ugly. I just don’t think it’s relevant, the size of my arse.”

Related content: Chrissie Swan’s most honest interview yet. 

Chrissie Swan is someone who would never have gone on a weight-loss show; it’s not how she’d want to be portrayed.

She’d hate to think others would be watching the show and inspired to healthy weight loss as a result… and yet that could be exactly what’s happening in the minds and psyches of many unsuspecting viewers.

Chris Thornton, Director of the Redleaf Practice and a Clinical Psychologist has specialised in the treatment of patients with eating disorders for nearly 20 years. He told Mamamia “You will notice on the show, and on other shows like it, an increased focus on food.”

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“An increase in obsessiveness around food is a natural consequence of starvation – it is exactly what we see in patients with anorexia.  You also notice the lethargy, mood swings, irritability, low mood which are also consequences of starvation.”

“What you also notice in “reunion” is that most contestants have notably gained significant weight back.  This is often as a result of binge eating. We know that when people starve they will develop a normal period of over eating and binge eating not infrequently to the point of purging.  This behaviour is another fairly predictable outcome from starvation,” Thornton explained.

In a recent American interview with the latest winner of Survivor‘s $1 million prize, 28-year-old Natalie Anderson proudly told CBS News how she and her fellow contestants binged with delight upon their return to reality.

Natalie Anderson with the finalists in Survivor.

“My body was wrecked,” she said. “My hair was falling out. I lost all my muscle. I was so frail.”

She told CBS News once she “returned to civilisation she ate her fill of junk, discovering Krispy Kreme and Chick-fil-A for the first time and developing a new love for donuts and fried chicken.”

For a million dollars perhaps it’s okay to put your body through this, perhaps that’s the choice you have made, but you have to wonder if it is healthy, and you have to wonder what it says to its target audience of women.

Episode Re-cap: The first look at Australia’s ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here

I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here may seem like harmless – albeit voyeuristic – entertainment. But it’s more than that.

While there is nothing in the name that gives away a dangerous weight-loss message, the main reason people seem to be tuning in each night is to watch celebrities starving themselves. Going hungry for our entertainment.

And with a target audience of women and teenagers, groups in our community most vulnerable to eating disorders, that should be reason enough for us to feel very uncomfortable.

Do you feel uncomfortable about the weight-loss on I’m A Celebrity? 

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