Nigel Farage has defied the odds, not to mention the naysayers, to reach the final five of I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here! (ITV1). As he saw off another campmate in soap actress Danielle Harold, the prospect of Farage donning the jungle crown got a little closer. He’s pulled off surprise poll results before. He couldn’t do it again… Well, could he?
The GB News presenter was paid a record £1.5m fee in the expectation that fireworks and headlines would follow. Initially his stint fizzled, rather like the series overall. Farage was too polite to start rows and too image-aware to lose his inhibitions. He wasn’t subjected to endless gruesome Bushtucker Trials, as many assumed he would be, so struggled for screen time. Even those gratuitous clips of the 59-year-old’s bare backside in the waterfall shower dried up.
Rather than making a concerted effort to win over young viewers, his stated mission for signing up, Farage kept his head down and hoped he didn’t get “cancelled”. This week, though, the shackles have come off. Farage has visibly relaxed - presumably thanks to a combination of his nemesis Nella Rose departing, controlling Frenchman Fred Sirieix getting le boot and the confidence boost of knowing he’s getting public votes. He’s been all the more human and likeable for it.
Thursday night’s departure of designated chef Nick “Don’t call him Tony” Pickard left a big hole - potentially in the campmates’ rumbling bellies. They struggled to light a fire, let alone cook edible food. Farage and Sam Thompson combined to burn the rice, then blamed each other. You can take the politician out of Westminster but not vice versa. “This is just like Brexit,” said boxer Tony Bellew. “The s**t hit the fan and Nigel jumped ship. He 100 per cent burnt the rice, then looked to blame someone else. It’s politics all over. F--- everything up and pass the buck.”
Nights in a hammock have taken their toll, with Farage complaining of a bad back and creaking joints. He again displayed hyper-awareness of his image by openly speculating about what social media might be saying. Such peeks behind the curtain tarnish the illusion of reality TV and tend to go down badly with viewers.
Duracell bunny Thompson shouted and shrieked his way through a spy-themed Bushtucker Trial called “No Time To Cry, Cry Harder” - a recycled sequel to the challenge Rose failed a fortnight ago. He army-rolled out of the villain’s lair with an impressive six out of six meals for camp but was dismayed to see rubber-lipped fish on the menu. Fortunately, sous chef Farage was a skilled fishmonger. “You’re making up for your rice debacle,” said Thompson. Farage’s robust reply was bleeped out.
All the campmates then undertook a “Jungle Hotline” challenge to win a breakfast butty and mug of tea. A modest prize which assumes epic proportions after three weeks of basic rations. At a cockroach-filled call centre, they fielded phone-in general knowledge questions. Farage said it reminded him of his City days and took his job a tad too seriously. This Morning’s Josie Gibson called him a “jobsworth” but they answered enough correctly to win the coveted breakfast.
Another 90-minute epic - surely it would be better to keep episodes to a punchy hour and leave the 10 O’Clock News in its proper slot? - culminated with Harold taking the walk to five-star hotel freedom across the rope bridge. Cue EastEnders-style doof-doofs. It leaves Gibson, the self-styled “daft Bristolian bird”, as last woman standing.
A dozen campmates have been whittled down to five, with just two more evictions before Sunday’s three-way final. If Farage makes it as far as Saturday’s chaotic Celebrity Cyclone trial, a fan favourite which is always a series highlight, will he be allowed to take part on health grounds? Can he match former Health Secretary Matt Hancock, a finalist last year? He’s already comfortably outperformed previous jungle politicians Robert Kilroy-Silk, Nadine Dorries, Kezia Dugdale and Stanley Johnson. Next in his sights is Edwina Currie, who finished fourth in 2014.
With “Vote Nigel” campaigns gaining traction on social media and GB News flying the flag, a groundswell of support is building. He’s still a long shot to win but with viewers able to cast five votes per day on the I’m A Celebrity app, a surprise could yet be sprung. Bellew would be a worthy winner but I fear he’ll be pipped by eager-to-please Thompson.
Whenever he emerges from the Queensland bush, Farage will doubtless be amused to learn what’s been happening back home in his absence. Suella Braverman and Robert Jenrick have both resigned over the Rwanda policy. David Cameron has made a shock comeback. Tory splits are deepening.
Leaner, sun-tanned and seemingly more popular than ever, could Farage ride to the rescue? A King Of The Jungle title surely wouldn’t hurt.