Matt Hancock has been unseated at last. Not from his West Suffolk constituency - not yet anyway - but from his campfire chair in the Australian bush. His third place finish brought to an end the former Health Secretary’s surprise run to the grand final of I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here! (ITV1). It’s a measure of how much he’s exceeded expectations that the fact Hancock was bronze medallist and not the champion came as something of a shock.
Instead it was England Lioness Jill Scott who was named Queen of the Jungle. A win for Hancock might have proved divisive in certain quarters but everyone could get behind Scott’s victory. The relentlessly positive retired footballer has been an utter delight all series. With her fondness for puns and rude rhymes, Scott was also funnier than the actual comedians in camp. She duly won her second final in four months, only this one involved less swearing at Germans. Rugby-playing royal Mike Tindall, who finished fourth, was on hand to gallantly crown her.
Runner-up was Hollyoaks actor Owen Warner. The guilelessly lovely lad was bookies’ favourite mid-series but his food fixation became repetitive, perhaps costing him the crown. The endearingly naive 23-year-old said he’d become a man in the jungle, albeit a permanently peckish one.
As a sitting MP and punchbag for post-pandemic ire, Hancock had serious brass neck entering a light entertainment show. Against all odds, it paid off. He beat eight celebrities in the public vote to get this far. In the jungle of popular opinion, he rose above the ritual humiliations and rehabilitated his image.
He had the Conservative whip removed and generated thousands of Ofcom complaints about his participation. The government’s advisory committee on business appointments found that he broke the rules by not consulting the watchdog before signing up. Yet Hancock would argue it was all worth it.
A late arrival in camp, Hancock handled the initial hostility and hard questions well. The public subjected him to six consecutive Bushtucker Trials as pandemic payback. He defied critics by tackling them courageously and uncomplainingly, winning 67 meals out of 85. Hancock fed his campmates single-handedly, getting a scorpion bite for his trouble. As he proved a good sport and amiable presence, viewers tired of targeting him. Hancock’s Half Hour turned into Hancock’s 18 Days. Sure, he was a walking midlife crisis, occasionally reminiscent of Alan Partridge, but not a bad bloke really.
ITV pulled off a coup by signing up the controversial minister. The broadcaster has been amply rewarded for its gamble. Hancock made this series far more talked about than usual. Ratings rose from 8m to 11m. It’s been a resounding return to form for the khaki-clad franchise.
In the process, Hancock went from whipping boy to team player. His success can be seen as two fingers up to the bullies and backbiters, humanising him more than anyone thought possible. He exited across the rope bridge into an emotional embrace from girlfriend Gina Coladangelo, who’d flown out for his elimination and ended up waiting a week longer than anyone predicted. “That was something, wasn’t it?” Hancock said with wry understatement in his exit interview - before cringing at a clip of his karaoke singing.
This climactic episode began with the remaining threesome celebrating making it to the end. “It’s unreal,” said Hancock. “I can’t believe I’m in the final. I’m just so grateful.” It helped that there’s been a concerted effort from his PR team and a TikTok campaign to canvas votes. It wasn’t quite enough but Scott was a worthy winner.
The trio tackled one last trial to earn a slap-up send-off meal. Scott conquered her fear of rats. Warner scoffed unsavoury parts of a camel’s anatomy. He didn’t get the hump, in either sense. “Flood Your Face” found Hancock’s head in a tank full of eels, toads and water spiders. His eyes bulged and his ear was nipped but for a man accustomed to the House of Commons, a chamber of slimy creatures posed no problem.
Hancock’s choices for the candlelit last supper were garlic king prawns, followed by steak. For dessert, he had apple pie, then cheese and crackers, all washed down with red wine. A stomach-straining feast after 18 days of rice rations. Before the famished finalists tucked in, they chinked their plates and said cheers.
The absentee MP’s reality TV career continues in the New Year on Channel 4’s SAS: Who Dares Wins. He dared to enter the jungle and regardless of the result, can console himself with the fact that he was a winner too. Has it paved the way for a political comeback? Primetime infamy didn’t do Boris Johnson’s career any harm...